Global Investing

I blame the fund managers

I’ve been building up a couple of dummy funds on Reuters’ new Portfolio tool. Not only is it a welcome diversion from actual work, but it allows me to test the mettle of the fund managers we speak to, and check out the guidance offered by the Lipper Leader fund rankings.

One of my portfolios uses the stock picks and short ideas offered up by the managers we interview for the many FUND VIEW stories which dot the Reuters wire. The other simply picks some of the funds which score highest across the Lipper fund sectors.

In theory, it gives me ample room to lay blame elsewhere when the dummy funds inevitably go belly up and I’m forced into a fire sale of assets to repay my dummy investors with dummy money. In truth though, I’m going to set the asset weightings and decide when to buy and sell so any abject failures will be more fairly laid at my door.

The early results, in fact, are pretty encouraging.

The Fund Viewer stock picking portfolio has delivered me a comforting 8 percent return since I put it up on Sept 25 (my wedding anniversary — must be a good omen) and that’s with a ridiculously cautious 36-percent weighting in cash, as well as some equally ridiculous single-stock exposures caused by misreading the denominations. (That little ‘p’ is pence folks, big ‘P’ is pounds)

My Fund Leaders fund of funds has even less of a track record, but has still managed close to 2 percent returns since Oct 6.

from Summit Notebook:

Time private bankers got professional

It's hard to imagine that a banker who represents multimillionaires would be anything but professional - but a top executive at a leading global bank thinks that's precisely the wealth management industry's problem.

"There is so much mediocrity in the industry we have to raise the bar here," said Gerard Aquilina, vice chairman of Barclays Wealth, at the Reuters Global Wealth Management Summit in Geneva.

    To Aquilina's way of thinking, private bankers need the same "institutional rigor" as investment bankers in the way they operate. To this end the bank is looking to pursue only top-quality hires.

from Summit Notebook:

Tax evaders on the run

  By Neil Chatterjee
    The U.S. has promised it will hunt down tax evaders.
    And it seems tax evaders are on the run.
    DBS bank, based in the growing offshore financial centre of
Singapore, told Reuters it had been approached by U.S. citizens
asking for its private banking services. But when told they would
have to sign U.S. tax declaration forms, the potential clients
disappeared.  
    Swiss banks also approached DBS on the hope they could
offload troublesome U.S. clients to a location that so far has
not been reached by the strong arms of Washington or Brussels.
    DBS said no thanks. In fact many private banks and boutique
advisors now seem to be avoiding U.S. clients.
    Will this spread to other nationalities, as governments
invest in tax spies and tax havens invest in white paint?
    Is this the end of offshore private private banking?

from Summit Notebook:

Private bankers chanting new mantra

Private bankers still getting their ears bashed from clients enraged about massive portfolio losses now are chanting a new mantra.

    Murmur along with me, those seeking inner peace and appeased clients: the word is “holistic".

Three years ago, before Lehman and Madoff shattered clients’ confidence, the soothing formula might have been "absolute returns" or "structured products". No longer. 

from Summit Notebook:

Private banking: you may be worth it

Those who tend to avoid posh restaurants in Geneva’s expensive Rue du Rhone district and famed private banks because they believe they are not rich enough may be given a second chance at century-old wealth manager Julius Baer.

The Swiss private bank, which has made its name thanks to the services it offers to the ultra-rich, believe its powerful high-end brand may be keeping potential clients away.

“It’s a bit like the nice chic restaurant on Rue du Rhone you walk by 10 times and think: “I am not so sure I can go in there, it might be a bit sophisticated,” Boris Collardi, Chief Executive of Bank Julius Baer, told the Reuters Wealth Management Summit in Geneva.

Market pressure will build diamonds

The financial deluge will bare real gems for investors flush with cash, but watch out for the rubbish, the super-rich have been told at a Geneva conference. The first round of quarterly results has brought some pleasant surprises, but investors should be cautious and cherry pick if they want to hit the jackpot, was the mantra.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But you have to pick the winners. You have to separate the diamonds from the tatt,” said Giles Worthington, head of European equities at investment fund M&G Investments.
This is more easily said than done, as many companies looking rock-bottom cheap may appear so just because they are on the verge of bankruptcy. And the bottom of the current downward cycle is not yet in sight.

 ”It’s not just because we had a year of correction that the next year will be positive,” said Ariel Sergio Goekmen, an economist and a director at Credit Suisse’s head office who looks after wealthy families’ investments. “The recession could be deeper than one expects. We have not yet seen the darkest side of the night.”
One tip is to keep an eye on companies with a solid balance sheet and wait for just a few more companies to go bust.
“We need more blood on the carpet. Once we see more bankruptcies, then we know we are close to the bottom.”

(Reuters photo: Sukree Sukplan)

One Minute Manager

One minute, one manager. An occasional word about what to expect from the economy and financial markets. Today is Giles Keating, global head of research at Credit Suisse Private Bank.

It is time, Keating says, to prepare for a bottoming out of the global economic downturn.

For better or worse?

Wealth managers at Citi Private Bank are telling their clients to stay neutral in their exposure to hedge funds at the moment, whether the strategy be event driven, equity long/short or macro. The main reason is that capital markets are still stressed and many hedge funds still need to deleverage.

The firm points out, however, that hedge funds had a good news-bad news kind of year in 2008. Based on the HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index, it was the worst performance on record. The index lost 23.3 percent. Its next worst performance was 2002 — and that was only a 1.5 percent decline.

Losses were widespread across all kinds of strategies. Only merger arbitrage and systematic macro gained anything. 

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?”

UBS: no longer in one piece?

ubs.jpgIt is now official — Swiss bank UBS has ditched its much-cherished “One Bank” strategy.

The bank said it would split its business in three autonomous units, after taking yet another credit hit and posting a worse-than-expected second-quarter loss.

The news will spark further talk the bank may hive off business units such as its embattled investment bank. UBS in a conference call would not rule out divestments further down the line, though it said it was not now working on such plans.