July 26, 2018 / 10:23 AM / a month ago

REFILE-Asset managers wobble as trade tensions hit client sentiment

(Corrects UBS flows in paragraph 12)

* DWS, UBS, Nordea all post Q2 outflows

* BlackRock sees outflows from active, passive equity

* Updates from Amundi, Allianz, L&G in focus

By Simon Jessop

LONDON, July 26 (Reuters) - A shock warning on demand from Germany's DWS and cautious outlooks from peers point to a tougher second half of the year for many asset managers as global trade tensions contribute to a more volatile outlook.

How widespread that concern is will become increasingly apparent over the next two weeks as a clutch of leading firms including Europe's biggest, Amundi, report earnings.

Years of easy monetary policy have inflated asset prices globally, luring trillions of dollars to financial markets as investors look for better returns than those on offer from cash, a trend bolstered by improved corporate earnings.

Partially offset by concern about the impact of tightening monetary policy, it is the prospect of slowing global trade that has got investors rattled in recent weeks, with U.S. President Donald Trump railing against China and the European Union.

While Trump agreed overnight to exempt the EU from car tariffs, giving hope to a broader easing of tensions, an impasse between the United States and China remains and overnight appeared to nix a $44 billion tie-up between Qualcomm and NXP Semiconductors.

"The key is whether they will bring down tax on American motors shipped into Europe too. A refusal to bend on tariffs on imported vehicles could lead to another stalemate," said Quilter Investors portfolio manager Sacha Chorley.

Europe-based mutual funds posted their second month of net outflows in June, data from Thomson Reuters Lipper showed Of the 38.3 billion euros in net outflows, 15 billion euros of which was from bonds funds.

Funds in the United States saw inflows, though, helped in large part by a strengthening in the dollar as did multi-asset funds, Lipper showed, as investors looked for funds that could spread risk across different asset classes.

A Reuters poll of UK investors in June showed equity exposure at its lowest level since March on the back of the trade concerns, a July poll by Bank of America Merrill Lynch showed an even deeper retreat.

This is beginning to hit the inflows and profits of some of the region's leading asset managers.

In a second-quarter trading update from asset manager DWS this week, the company said trade tensions contributed to net outflows of 4.9 billion euros during the quarter.

That followed 1.2 billion Swiss francs in second-quarter outflows at the wealth management unit of UBS, the world's biggest wealth manager, and a slowdown in the pace of inflows at Julius Baer.

Nordic bank and asset manager Nordea, meanwhile, reported second quarter net outflows of 5.7 billion euros.

NOT IMMUNE

Even the world's biggest asset manager, U.S.-based BlackRock , was not immune from the weakening in investor sentiment, with second-quarter net inflows slowing year on year to $20 billion from $103 billion.

That headline figure masked outflows from several key areas, though, including retail active equity funds, which saw outflows of $1.6 billion; institutional active equity, with outflows of $21 billion and active institutional fixed income, with outflows of $2.9 billion.

And Chief Executive Larry Fink warned of further ructions if the trade tensions escalate into all-out war, predicting a stock market slide of up to 15 percent.

It has not been all one-way traffic, though, with the asset management units of U.S. banks Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan all seeing net inflows, as did emerging markets-focused Ashmore.

Schroders, one of Britain's largest asset managers, saw outflows from some equity funds but inflows into multi-asset funds and wealth management, while smaller wealth management rivals Rathbone Brothers and Brewin Dolphin also saw inflows.

With asset manager profits linked in large part to their ability to attract and retain investors' cash, particularly in higher-margin products such as equities, the market keenly awaits updates from many of Europe's leading firms.

As well as Amundi, which reports on Aug. 2, other leading firms due to report include Allianz, and its U.S. bond house Pimco, Standard Life Aberdeen, Hargreaves Lansdown, M&G Investments and Legal & General Investment Management. (Reporting by Simon Jessop; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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