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Funds Focus: oil's plunge lifts worst fund of the year

Funds Focus: oil's plunge lifts worst fund of the year

The oil price has fallen below $70 a barrel today, as a month-long sell-off shows no sign of slowing.

As our exclusive Accumulator data table shows, Brent crude is down 19.5% over the month to yesterday in pound terms, a fall amplified only slightly by the dollar's slight dip over the period.

Prices for US light crude have meanwhile dropped below $60 a barrel and are now down more than 20% from their early October high, officially entering a 'bear market'.

Brent crude, it seems, is not far behind. A climb to $86 early last month was driven by the prospect of US sanctions on Iran curtailing supply, but their enforcement this week has so far had the opposite effect.

Other producers have been steadily increasing output, while the cuts to Iranian supply have been softened by the US decision to grant exemptions to the sanctions to a number of the Middle Eastern states' biggest buyers.

Citywire A-rated John Dodd, who just a month ago was talking up the prospects of energy stocks catching up with the rally in the oil price from 2016's $27 low, has seen his Artemis Global Energy fund fall 9.7% over the month to yesterday.

But the manager remains bullish, saying in his latest update to investors that he viewed the month's slide as a 'short-term correction', dismissing arguments that a feared Chinese slowdown could knock demand.

'We draw a distinction between "investment" commodities (iron ore, copper, aluminium), for which the China-driven super-cycle is over, and "consumption" commodities (oil and gas), for which the China driven-super cycle is just beginning,' he said.

'The Chinese tax cuts announced in October are targeted at the middle classes, who will consume and drive more. Ultimately, we believe the supply of oil will struggle to keep up with high demand.'

One country - and stock market - for which oil's heavy fall is unambiguously good news is India. The country is the world's third largest importer of oil, and the rally in the price of crude has weighed heavily.

Oil's dramatic fall over the last four weeks has helped India's Nifty 50 index buck an otherwise grim month for global stock markets, rallying 2.8%, as our Accumulator table shows.

India's upturn in fortunes has brought some much-needed respite for the worst performing fund of 2018, the £802 million Jupiter India fund.

Avinash Vazirnai's fund has jumped 10.4% over the month to yesterday, although that still leaves investors sitting on a loss of 27% this year.

The fund's slide accelerated dramatically early last month when its heavy holdings in state-run oil marketers were hit by the Indian government's intervention in the domestic fuel market.

Responding to rising oil prices, the government cut the excise tax on gasoline and diesel by 1.5 rupees and asked the oil marketers to absorb one rupee on the sale of the fuels.

That piled further woes onto companies which, as importers of oil, had been struggling with the double whammy of a rising oil price and a falling rupee.

Vazirani's big holdings in companies like Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL.NS) and Bharat Petroleum (BPCL.NS), which made up a respective 6.2% and 3.1% of the portfolio at the end of September, left his fund vulnerable to the rally in the oil price.

But the dramatic reversal of fortunes for oil has led to a strong rally in these companies, with his second largest holding Hindustan up by more than 33% over the month.

Jupiter India leads a grouping of a number of India-focused funds that have been among the top performers this month, in a grim few weeks for global stock markets.

The First State Global Emerging Markets Focus and F&C Emerging Markets funds, which both have a strong overweight to the country, are up by 5.7% and 3.7% respectively over the month to yesterday.

First State Indian Subcontinent and Neptune India meanwhile jumped 3.8% and 3.1%.

It's a glimmer of light in an otherwise difficult year for emerging markets more broadly, and India in particular.

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