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Top Fund Manager Doubles Cash Levels as Rally to End

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Dan Edwards
Dan Edwards has been with Alpha Southeast Asia since 2013 and edits both print and online versions of the magazine. He wrote the award-winning story ‘spotlight on unclarity’ soon as after joining Alpha Southeast Asia. He is based in Singapore.

The top-performing fund manager in the Philippines has almost doubled cash holdings, betting that the nation’s stocks will extend their longest monthly losing streak since 2002 as China’s economic slowdown roils emerging markets and the U.S. gets closer to raising borrowing costs.

The benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange Index could retest a 14-month low as a two-week rebound loses steam, said Smith Chua, who manages the four best-performing Philippine equity funds over the past year as chief investment officer at Bank of the Philippine Islands.

“Markets are persistently in risk-off mode so we will spend our bullets wisely,” said Chua, who’s “nibbling selectively” at consumer, property and energy companies while increasing cash levels since the start of the year. “It doesn’t pay to play too smart with the market when there are external factors that are too unpredictable.”

The Philippine stock index has declined every month since April, the longest string of losses in 13 years, as overseas investors pulled a record $1.24 billion amid concern that China’s economy is heading for a hard landing and the U.S. will soon raise interest rates.

The measure has climbed 3.8 percent since falling to a 14-month low of 6,791.01 on Aug. 24. The index dropped 0.7 percent to 7,051.78 on Friday, capping a sixth straight weekly loss, the longest losing streak since November 2007. The market needs a “trickle” of foreign funds to hold above 7,000 for the rest of the year, Chua said. 

Overseas funds have been net buyers for only one of the past 19 days, selling a net $5.7 million of shares on Friday to cap a ninth straight weekly outflow.

“Foreign investors have basically left the Philippines for this year,” Chua said. “For the index to really recover to a higher level we’d need a little bit of that flow coming back again to us.”

Volatility, which rose to a two-year high this week, also needs to ease before the exodus of foreign capital from equities ends, he said. While the nation’s economy is more sheltered from China’s slowdown than others in Asia, Philippine stocks can’t escape the regional contagion, Chua said.

Bear Markets

The Philippine economy accelerated last quarter as government spending increased. Gross domestic product increased 5.6 percent in the three months through June from a year earlier, according to official data on Thursday, compared with 5 percent in the first quarter. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index has tumbled 20 percent from its April high, with benchmark gauges in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia entering bear markets.

“In a scenario where there is lack of growth around the world, the Philippines is more resilient than others because of a market that’s relatively more domestic,” Chua said. “This fundamental strength isn’t filtering through because the Philippines is part of a region that’s hurting from slowing exports and falling commodity prices. Once markets have settled and this selling has passed, this market will be among those that will come up first.”

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