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Strategists at the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock Inc told their financial adviser clients on Wednesday to look at cutting back on risk and lower expectations for high returns on stocks and bonds.

“We may get another leg-up from earnings but I would say the type of returns we experienced in the first quarter should not be extrapolated,” BlackRock’s chief equity strategist Kate Moore said during its quarterly U.S. wealth advisory event, which was attended over the web by about 1,300 of its financial adviser clients.

“We just want to be conscious of the fact that for both equities and bonds, the types of returns that you’ve experienced – not just in 2019 but over the course of the last decade and before – are going to be difficult to replicate,” said Moore.

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U.S. stocks have appreciated sharply in recent years, thanks in part to steps the U.S. Federal Reserve took to resuscitate the U.S. economy after the financial crises of 2007-09, but worries abound that investors may be in a late-cycle environment, BlackRock strategists said.

Indeed, the benchmark S&P 500 stock index has gained about 16 per cent in 2019 due to monetary and fiscal stimulus efforts in China and signs the U.S. Federal Reserve will delay further rate hikes for the time being.

In general, the recent market gyrations have not spurred financial advisers into action, Patrick Nolan, a senior strategist with BlackRock’s portfolio solutions team, said.

Faced with bouts of volatility, investors can pick from one of three options, Nolan said.

They could treat market gyrations as noise and largely ignore them, Nolan said. Alternatively they could react very strongly and dump risky assets, he said.

The third option is to add more protection in portfolios even as one remains positioned to take part in any gains if markets grind higher, he said.

“It looks to us like adviser models are still taking option one. We actually think option three might be a better path from here,” said Nolan.

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To do this, BlackRock’s head of factor investing, Andrew Ang, favours quality – an approach where the focus is on companies that have a track record of stable earnings, are productive and sport a relatively lower level of debt.

“When we take that sort of position we can still participate in the upside for markets but we do that with a more defensive posture,” said Ang.

On Tuesday, BlackRock Chief Executive Larry Fink said the U.S. economy is speeding up again after a slowdown in recent months and cash could soon start rushing into stocks as most investors are underinvested in the markets globally.

BlackRock’s Moore agrees. She said a continued dovish tone from the Fed and global central banks, coupled with stabilizing economic growth and an improvement in the outlook for corporate earnings, could still help drive stocks higher.

“The pain trade is higher,” she said.

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