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Singapore state investor GIC expects low returns over next decade, flags China risks

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Singapore's biggest sovereign investor GIC said its portfolio return slowed in its latest five-year period, and that growth would continue to be low over the course of a decade due to vanishing bond yields and weak global growth prospects.

GIC also cited risks including China's slowing growth and limited progress in reforming state-owned enterprises (SOEs), as well as anti-globalization rhetoric in the United States - a member, with Singapore, of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Such concerns add to an already challenging environment. Bond yields have turned negative in Europe and Japan as central banks struggle to lift inflation and revive debt-choked economies, while any interest rate hikes in the United States are widely expected to be gradual.

"These difficult investment conditions can stretch for the next 10 years," Chief Investment Officer Lim Chow Kiat said in GIC's latest annual report.

"GIC is prepared for this protracted period of all-time low interest rates, modest global growth prospects and high valuations of financial assets."

GIC said in its annual report on Thursday that its portfolio return was 3.7 percent per annum in U.S. dollar nominal terms over the five years through March 2016, compared with 6.5 percent in the five years to March 2015.

That was below the 4.6 percent return of a reference portfolio of 65 percent global stocks and 35 percent bonds.

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GIC has become more prudent over the past year, cutting the proportion of developed market stocks in its portfolio to 26 percent from 29 percent, and increasing nominal bonds and cash to 34 percent from 32 percent.

Lim said GIC would look for bargains during periodic spikes in market volatility, but also continued to see opportunities in private equity, real estate and infrastructure.

Change in China

GIC invested 20 percent of its portfolio in Asia ex-Japan in the year ended March 31, the fund said in its annual report.

It was invested in 42 mainland China-listed stocks valued at nearly $5.2 billion, versus 52 at about $7 billion a year prior, according to data analyst StreetSight based on a July 15 filing.

Lim said services and technology sectors in China were attractive and that it was increasingly cautious about sectors with over-capacity.

"China is going through a very critical phase," Lim said. "As long as they do not implement SOE reforms in a decisive way, risk will accumulate."

GIC is the 10th biggest sovereign investor, with about $343 billion worth of assets, according to Sovereign Wealth Centre.

It had a 20-year rolling rate of return of 4.0 percent above global inflation for the year ended March 31. In nominal U.S. dollar terms, the annualized return over was 5.7 percent, meaning $100 invested in 1996 would have grown to $303 today, GIC said in its report.

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