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Funds forecast a happy new year

Leading fund ­managers expect the FTSE 100 to power through 7000 points to an all-time high in 2014, in their most bullish forecast since the annual poll by the Association of Investment Companies began 11 years ago.

Last December's poll found 62% of managers believing the FTSE would finish between 6000 and 6500, as it now appears likely to do, with 14% predicting a 6500-7000 finish, and no support for a 7000-plus close.

But intriguingly, a massive 90% of managers this December believe the blue-chip index will finish 2014 above 6500, including 58% predicting a record close above 7000. Only 10% expect a fall below 6500 and only 5% predict a bearish 5500 to 6000 level for the FTSE 100 a year from now.

The poll tracks the views of fund managers representing £22 billion of assets under management, one-fifth of the investment trust industry.

The UK has come in from the cold, with 19% of managers tipping it to be the best-performing place in 2014 - no-one tipped it a year ago

Europe is the region most widely expected to outperform in 2014 (among 24% of managers) for the second year in a row. The UK is in second place, and the US is in joint third place with Asia Pacific, excluding Japan (14%). After the strong performance of Japan in 2013, it is only expected to be the best-performing region next year by 10% of the poll.

Smaller companies are the hot tip among 38% of managers, followed by blue chips (24%) and commercial property and financials, each with 10%. Blue chips only attracted 4% support a year ago, and property 0%.

Asked about risks and anxieties, managers cited potential rises in interest rates and the higher valuations of shares. Some 15% of managers think that tapering of US quantitative easing (QE) could be a potential cloud on the horizon, 10% fear geopolitical instability, and 10% cite high inflation.

But some 25% of managers were buoyed by better UK economic growth than expected, 15% were encouraged by an improving US economy, 15% said equities were still good value, and a further 15% cited positive company earnings.

This year has seen rises of 17% in the all-share index, 22% in the world index, and almost 30% for the S&P in the US, says adviser Bestinvest. Managing director Jason Hollands observes: "Massive stimulus from the US has been a key factor in supercharging stock-market returns during 2013. With yields artificially squeezed on traditionally lower-risk investments, that is bonds, investors have been forced further up the risk curve to achieve real returns ahead of inflation."

Guy Foster, head of portfolio strategy at broker Brewin Dolphin, believes that will accelerate - he is shooting for a 7400 finish for the FTSE 100 at the end of 2014, explaining: "Policymakers and investors will come to recognise that extreme measures are required to combat deflation, and that in such circumstances the prospects for equities are extremely robust."

But Andrew Bell, chief executive of Witan Investment Trust and chairman of the AIC, warns: "2014 may be the first year for some time when economic growth is better than expected but it may prove harder going than 2013 for equity markets. This is partly because rallies in 2013 have raised hopes and partly that better news on economic growth will lead to possibly exaggerated fears that monetary policy will be tightened.

"Rather as the antelope on the Serengeti can sense coming rainfall long before it falls on their heads, financial markets tend to look ahead and may already have factored in the good news."

TOM Walker, manager in Edinburgh of Martin Currie Global Portfolio, said: "With deflation a more immediate worry than inflation in the real economy, central banks are unlikely to kick the QE habit in the year ahead. While money remains abundant and the global economy sluggish, equities are the likely beneficiary."

Dominic Rossi, chief investment officer at Fidelity International, says: "There is no reason for major interest rates to move up in 2014 and the value of an equity-income approach will remain highly relevant to investors. A further re-rating of equities is possible from current reasonable valuation levels - but the strength of such a move risks equities becoming expensive."

Analysis from Barclays Stockbrokers reveals its fund investors continued to favour the UK last month, with 11 of the top 20 funds bought by clients having a UK focus. There was a 47% year-on-year increase in client investment, compared to November 2012.

A notable return to the top 20 funds list was Aberdeen Property Share. Alastair Thaw at Barclays said that appears to indicate client confidence in the recent growth in UK property prices.

Katherine Garrett-Cox, chief executive at Alliance Trust in Dundee, said: "We continue to see a range of investment opportunities as we focus on what a company does and where it operates, rather than simply where it is listed. We also are confident that the longer the recovery is sustained, the better its chances of weathering any such challenges."

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