“We got momentum, baby! We got the big mo!”
Josh Lyman in the TV series ‘The West Wing’ may have wanted it in a presidential election race, but what of fund management companies? Do asset managers want investors to buy and sell their products as the momentum of fund returns ebbs and flows?
I began wondering about this when faced with comments from two well-respected figures in the funds industry. First, Marcus Brookes, Head of Multi-Manager at Cazenove Capital, so no slouch when it comes to picking funds:
The tumult caused by Richard Buxton’s move from Schroders to Old Mutual in March highlighted the veneration of “star” fund managers, those select few who apparently rise above the crowd to shine their light upon adoring investors.
We don’t need to dwell on Buxton’s track record (annualised return on his UK Alpha Plus fund of 13.7 percent over 10 years), but combined with Mark Lyttleton’s departure from BlackRock – his own star rather faded of late – I am drawn to ponder the funds industry’s views of, and hunger for, stellar talent.
(This post has been corrected to reflect a change in the information supplied by Cantab Capital Partners in the fourth paragraph. The Core Macro Fund management fee does not cover back office fees, while the fund does carry a high water mark)
So far the impact of the financial crisis has not hit the wealthy as hard as many protesters would like. Even French millionaires have a found an escape from the modern-day guillotine that is a 75 percent tax rate, in the shape of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“Asset managers are emerging from their comfortable burrow to face a battery of lights.”
Sheila Nicoll, Director of Conduct Policy at Britain’s Financial Services Authority (FSA), had perhaps been reading Kenneth Grahame before her recent speech, and her words are likely to have sent a chilly wind through the willows of the UK funds industry.
As Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister is finding, apologising when you have let people down is no simple matter. The worry for some absolute return funds must be that they are heading for a similar fate to Nick Clegg (even if they’re unlikely to suffer the same level of autotuned mockery).
One of the reasons for the rise of absolute return funds – those seeking to deliver positive returns in all market conditions – is that the industry has been trying to deal directly with client expectations left shattered by the financial crisis.
“Wouldn’t you rather your donations achieve a lot rather than a little? Then you’ll need to get serious and proactive. If you do it wrong, you can easily waste your entire donation.”
Caroline Fiennes is not one to pull her punches when talking about charitable giving, but the more I talk to her, or read her new book – ‘It Ain’t What You Give It’s The Way That You Give It’ – the more it becomes apparent that her philosophy is not all that different from that of a professional fund manager.
Our team at Lipper spent much of the first quarter handing out awards to fund managers round the world who have delivered exceptional performance to their investors. Since then, I’ve had time to take a step back and assess just how good the wider European industry has been at outperforming over the longer term.
Active fund managers’ ability to out-perform their benchmarks sits near the heart of any discussion on the relative merits of active versus passive. In broad terms the argument against investing in an actively-managed fund is that one takes on the additional risk that the fund will significantly under-perform the index, a risk that is exacerbated over time by the additional costs associated with such a fund.