Investor sentiment worsens to levels not seen since financial crisis: report

TORONTO -- One of Canada's biggest insurance and financial services companies says nervousness among Canadian investors has risen to levels not seen since the financial crisis.

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Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC) says that Canadian investors have lost confidence in mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and balanced mutual funds over the past six months.

It also suggests that housing is seen as a less attractive investment, while confidence in fixed income investments has stayed about the same.

The report is based on Manulife's semi-annual index of investor sentiment index, which dropped to 16 in December from 19 last May.

The index is based on investor views on a range of asset classes as well as their confidence in these areas.

Regionally, investors in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces were the most optimistic with a score of 20, while Quebec ranked lowest at nine. Alberta was second lowest at 14.

The skittishness among investors comes as stock markets have taken a beating and Canadians head toward the RRSP contribution deadline on Feb. 29.

The Toronto Stock Exchange has been under pressure in recent months and sits about five per cent lower compared with where it began the year and nearly 20 per cent lower than its highs of last year.

At the same time, the Canadian dollar has managed to hit lows not seen in more than a decade in recent weeks.

"Canadian investors are facing a long list of uncertainties, including tremendous volatility in both oil prices and the value of the Canadian dollar," said Frances Donald, senior economist for Manulife Asset Management.

The poll also suggested that many Canadians are concerned about the future direction of interest rates.

"The Bank of Canada has been suggesting that interest rates are on hold or may even fall further over the coming year," Donald said.

"Yet, interestingly, 40 per cent of Canadian investors still expect interest rates to rise, highlighting the ongoing uncertainty around the interest rate outlook."

The semiannual Manulife index was based on an online survey done in December 2015 by Environics Research.

The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.



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