Global Investing

Braving emerging stocks again

It’s a brave investor who will venture into emerging markets these days, let alone start a new fund. Data from Thomson Reuters company Lipper shows declining appetite for new emerging market funds – while almost 200 emerging debt and equity funds were launched in Europe back in 2011, the tally so far  this year is just 10.

But Shaw Wagener, a portfolio manager at U.S. investor American Funds has gone against the trend, launching an emerging growth and income fund earlier this month.

It’s a great time to launch a fund if you have a long-term focus in mind. Emerging markets trailed DM in terms of performance for a while, peaking at end of 2010 so we are 3-plus years into a down market and period of significant underperformance.

He may be onto something. Some analysts have tentatively started advising clients to start dipping their toes back into water, given how cheap emerging market valuations are. Societe Generale for instance which has been negative on emerging equities for 3 years, said in a note that the sector had gone from being “priced for perfection to deep value”.

Emerging equities trade around 10 times forward earnings, compared to 14 for their developed counterparts and down from 13 times back in 2010.  Check out this graphic by @ReutersFlasseur: http://link.reuters.com/rut87v

Banks lead the equity sector flows

Banks and financials stocks have had a pretty good year. The Thomson Reuters Global Financials index is up by more than 20% in the last 12 months, and although the detritus of the financial crisis still offers the occasional sting, investors are starting to see brighter spots for the industry.

That confidence is increasingly obvious in the fund flows.

Our corporate cousins at Lipper track more than 7,000 mutual funds and ETFs which are dedicated to specific industry sectors. Dig a little into the data in this subset of funds, and you start to get a pretty good picture of where the biggest bets have been placed.

Just shy of 500 of these funds are focused entirely on banks & financials. Together they hold more than $46 billion in assets.

US investors prop up emerging equity flows

U.S. mutual fund investors are ploughing on with bets on emerging market equities, according to the latest net flows numbers from our corporate cousins at fund research firm Lipper. Has no one told them there’s supposed to be a massive sell-off?

August was the 30th straight month the sector has seen net inflows, and the 9th straight month of net inflows above $1 billion. Sure, there’s a downward trend from the February peak, but the resilience of demand is notable given doom-laden headlines about how EM markets will fare once the Fed feels its generosity is no longer required.

Of course, the popular image of mutual fund investors is as a perennial lagging indicator for allocations trends, and the stage may be being set for a sharp turnaround this month. However, U.S. investors have already been offloading their bets on emerging debt, with funds in the sector seeing net outflows of $2.6 billion, or 7.5% of total assets, in the three months to end-August.

Signs of growth bets in the fund flows

Just as Germany helps to embolden hopes for a robust recovery in Europe, a look at detailed fund flows data offers more cheer to the optimists.

I’ve been seeing which equity fund sectors saw the greatest net inflows during July, and then filtering the top 20 by flows relative to the sector’s total assets. There’s a clear winner.

According to estimates from Lipper, funds and ETFs in the cyclical consumer goods and services category notched up net inflows of about $1.5 billion, the equivalent of 7.8% of overall assets under management and the largest monthly net inflow for at least ten years. Over the 3 months to end-July, net inflows were at close to $3.4 billion.

Emerging markets funds shun Brazil, South Africa

Global emerging markets equity funds have cut average weightings to Brazil and South Africa for the fourth straight quarter, according to the latest allocations data from fund research firm Lipper.

You can see a full interactive graphic of the allocations data here or by clicking on the snapshot below.

The average allocation to Brazil has fallen by 1.75 percentage points over the past year to stand at 11.6 percent of portfolios by the end of the April-June 2013 quarter. South Africa’s average weighting has fallen to 6.0 percent from 7.3 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

Josh Lyman and fund managers’ Gordian knot

“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:

“Some fund managers’ and IFAs’ approach to picking funds is usually quantitative to begin with and it is obvious most guys begin with the stuff that has just done well. It also means you are discounting three-quarters of the sector.”

Fighting the flows

Sanjeev Shah, the Fidelity fund manager who took over the UK portion of Anthony Bolton’s storied Special Situations fund, must wonder what it will take to get clients back on side.

Shah, a 17-year Fidelity veteran, can claim to have turned round a soft patch in performance, and is now consistently outdoing fellow UK equity funds. But the money keeps heading out.

The fund has suffered net outflows in 34 out of the last 35 months, according to estimates from Lipper. Total net outflows over the last three years are put at 1.1 billion pounds. The chart below makes the trend pretty clear.

The only game in town

The extent of the surge to Japan by equity investors is written in sparkly 50-foot-high neon letters by the latest flows data out from Lipper.

We all know that Abenomics has, thus far, cast a spell over markets; the Nikkei is up about 80 percent since the middle of November, when Shinzo Abe first started looking like a bona fide challenger to win power. But it is still startling to see how flows into Japan have dominated investment behaviour.

In April alone, Japan equity funds and ETFs accounted for $9.1 billion of net inflows in a month when total net inflows across all sectors was just $9.9 billion. The money pouring into the Tokyo markets was also more than three times greater than the net inflows at the next best sector. Add the Japan Small and Midcaps sector as well as Asia Pacific funds (heavily weighted to Japan) and April net inflows inspired by the BOJs aggressive monetary policy easing reach $11.2 billion.

LIPPER-Toil triumphs over talent for ‘star’ fund managers

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.

It is attractive, and reassuring even, to believe that the people running our money are blessed with some innate skill for playing the markets, but I recently had to re-consider my own views on natural talent when talking to Matthew Syed, now a journalist and author, but previously England’s number 1 table tennis player for a decade. A competitor at two Olympic Games and winner of three Commonwealth Gold medals, Syed has some experience of being praised for his apparent natural ability.

Mini rotation

Well, I think we’ve successfully put to bed the idea that there’s any structural shift from bonds to equities going on (see here, here and here). Maybe time to look a little more closely at the numbers to pull out some more discrete swings in allocations.

We’ve just published the latest data on mutual fund and ETF flows from Lipper and there are, as ever, some clues. The snapshot of our interactive graphic below shows flows into and out of bond funds during March. You can click on the image to access the full graphic, or just click here.

One notable trend, and it represents a continuation from last month too, is the move away from corporate debt funds.