Global Investing

Crisis? What crisis? Global funds grow stronger

Global funds are having a good year.

According to a report by financial services lobby TheCityUK, pension funds,  insurance funds and  mutual funds are on track to finish the year with $21 trillion more of assets under management than when they hit rock bottom in 2008 with the Lehmann collapse.

They are growing for the fourth year in a row, and much more so than last year, thanks to the recovery in equity markets.

All together, the London lobby forecasts these funds will end the year with about $85.2 trillion of assets under managements globally, $5.4 trillion more than last year, while 2011 ended “only” $1 trillion higher than 2010.

 The 1.2% increase in assets under management in 2011 represents a slowdown from the strong rate of growth seen in the two previous years, and was largely due to the decline in equity markets in the latter part of the year and sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

The recovery in equity markets since then has contributed to the increase in assets under management in
2012 … On the whole, the fund management industry has recovered quickly from the sharp fall in assets under management at the outset of the credit crisis, with most of the recovery coming from market performance rather than new inflows.

Quarter-end rebalancing: A myth?

With world stocks up more than 10  percent since the start of the year, it must be tempting for investors to cash in their gains before the quarter-end/fiscal year-end. Or is it really?

JP Morgan, which analysed equity buying of institutional investors including pension funds, insurance companies and investment funds in the United States, euro zone, Japan and the UK, finds that there is no empirical evidence of quarterly rebalancing by pension funds or insurance companies.

Below are the charts showing their findings on the amount of equity buying as a share of equity holdings in each quarter against the difference between equity return and the return on total assets. If pension funds and insurance companies do not rebalance at all, the amount of equity buying should be unaffected by the relative return of equities against total assets. And this is the result they found in Chart 1.

Currency hedging — should we bother?

Currency hedging — should we bother?

Maybe not as much as you think, if we are talking purely from a equity return point of view — according to the new research that analysed 112 years of the financial assets history released by Credit Suisse and London Business School this week.

Exchange rates are volatile and can significantly impact portfolios — but one can never predict if currency moves erode or enhance returns. Moreover, hedging costs (think about FX overlay managers, transaction costs, etcetc).

For example, the average annualised return for investors in 19 countries between 1972 (post-Bretton Woods) to 2011 is 5.5%, hedged or unhedged. For a U.S. investor, the figures were 6.1% unhedged or 4.7% hedged (this may be largely because only two currencies — Swiss franc and Dutch guilder/euro — were stronger than the U.S. dollar since 1900).

Are investors building for a fall?

Reuters has taken its monthly snapshot of the investment choices of leading fund management houses across the world. At the end of July, the picture painted was one of investors embracing risk and shutting down their safest holdings.

Equity holdings as a percentage of a typical balanced portfolio were at their highest since the end of August last year, just a couple of weeks before Lehman Brothers collapsed. Here is what has been happening to equity holdings this year: 

At the same time, cash holdings have been cut back drastically. They are now at a level last seen in May 2007.  Here’s what that looks like:

Star Coffey decides not to go it alone

So star hedge fund manager Greg Coffey has opted to join established firm Moore Capital.

In April, when high-performing, high-earning Coffey resigned from GLG, the market was awash with rumours that he wanted to start up his own firm, pulling in billions from investors.

However, times have changed in the hedge fund industry.

The average fund is down nearly 20 percent so far this year, according to Hedge Fund Research’s HFRX index, while emerging markets funds have taken a particular battering as markets such as Russia and China have fallen.

Some shock, horror numbers from global stocks

Some mind-boggling numbers from the MSCI all-country world stock index, which is one of the broadest measures of how equity markets are doing and is a benchmark for many institutional investors. The index has some 2,500 companies in it from 48 developed and emerging economies.

First off, it has lost around $15 trillion in value since the end of October last year (graph below). That is more than 21 times the $700 billion U.S. bank rescue plan. It also more than graph.jpgthe annual gross domestic product of the United States. It is more than three time Japan’s annual output and more than four times that of Germany.

Secondly, the speed with which this fall has taken place has been breathtaking by investment standards. It took companies that make up the index about four years to gain the $15 trillion in share value before hitting an all-time peak last November. About a third of the losses since hitting that peak came in a free fall from mid-September to mid-October this year.

Going back to Quakers?

InvestorIn these troubled times, go back to basics.

Theo Zemek, AXA Investment Managers‘ global head of fixed income, says investors should adopt “Quaker investment policies” – sober and safe investment strategies that can be explained to their grandmothers.

“Anyone who utters the word ‘hedge’, after all these CDS (failures), ought to be taken out and be shot,” the 25-year markets veteran told a media briefing.

“This is the scariest market I’ve ever seen in 25 years. The world of complex instruments, credit guarantees… That world is very much an ancient history… It’s a darn tough market. Who is left standing among our counterparties?”

Fund manager Insight’s parental problems

rtr220n7.jpgLloyds TSB’s acquisition of HBOS will give it a supersized asset management arm with over 200 billion pounds in assets, but this new funds powerhouse will nevertheless be born somewhat inadvertently.

The combination of Lloyds’ SWIP and HBOS’s Insight will be the biggest active manager – i.e. funds that try to beat markets rather than just match them – in the UK.

Its access to Lloyds and HBOS’s huge branch network will give the funds unit a commanding position in distribution and a big slice of sales to ordinary investors.