Unstructured Finance

10 years of fund industry evolution: Lipper

“A game of two halves” is a footballing cliché in the UK, but was particularly apt for the European funds industry in 2011. The stock market falls that began in July not only ended the healthy sales activity that had started the year, but triggered a wave of redemptions that rolled through the industry. While these outflows ebbed slightly in the final quarter of the year, there were few who did not feel the cold chill of investors withdrawing from mutual funds by the year-end.

Net sales of long-term funds (i.e. excluding money market funds) in 2010 (305.8 billion euros) exceeded not just those of 2009 (257.7 billion), but also the level achieved in pre-crisis 2006 (265.9 billion). Expectations were therefore high when the first half of 2011 saw inflows of 96.1 billion euros, but this was followed by outflows of 155.9 billion, so that the year as a whole ended in the red (-59.8 billion) for only the second time in a decade (the 2008 total was -391.4 billion euros).

Giving investors the motivation and confidence to move money out of deposits and into funds amid the ongoing political and economic maelstrom remains a crucial challenge for asset managers.

But a longer term view is also useful in fully understanding the current status of the industry and the dynamics that have been at work to shape its current structure.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

2011 saw a slight contraction in the number of funds for only the second time in the past decade. The last time this happened (in 2009) the net reduction was 801, while the latest figure was a mere 43. In recent years there have been about the same number of fund launches in both halves of the year, but in the latest year there was an unsurprising tail-off (1,687 over the first half; 1,291 in the second) partly the result of some planned launches being shelved. Just as 2009 did not herald a new dawn of product rationalisation across the industry (there was a net increase of 871 funds in 2010), so it seems very unlikely that 2011 will either. Instead market conditions will largely dictate where product development priorities lie.

How much do UK investors care about costs?

As the debate on fund charges heats up, the appeal of having a barometer to gauge investors’ attitudes to fund costs has risen. Ideally this would go beyond opinion polls and show not just what investors think, but what they actually do.

One way of measuring this is to look at the assets invested in index tracking funds (where minimising costs is a core part of the product) and compare this to funds of funds (where the importance of professional fund manager selection entails an additional cost).

With 30.5 billion pounds invested in the former and 56.6 billion pounds in the latter as of November 30 2011, it would seem that retail investors in the UK are almost twice as likely to pay more for active management and fund selection than to minimise costs and seek to mimic the returns of an index. A similar picture is revealed for sales activity in 2011.

 

Having been researching this subject since 1999, I continue to believe that transparency and awareness of the ‘drag’ of charges on returns are crucial for long-term investors. Of course cost awareness cannot guarantee investors’ happiness and neither will greater transparency inevitably lead to greater competition. But both are powerful selling points for the mutual funds industry.

LIPPER: Equine vs equity investing

Is betting on horses very different from picking stocks? Can understanding a gambler’s approach and mentality give a better understanding of fund managers?

In searching for answers to these questions, I spoke to Paul Moulton, a professional gambler who originally worked in the fund management industry. He then set up a fund research company (Fitzrovia International, which he eventually sold to Reuters), although his working life began with an attempt to become a professional chess player.

Most of the fraternity of professional gamblers who make a living from horse racing are what Moulton describes as ‘traders’ or ‘chisellers’.

LIPPER: Are ETFs in trouble?

By Detlef Glow,  Head of EMEA Research at Thomson Reuters fund research firm Lipper. The views expressed are his own.

Exchange traded funds (ETFs) have found themselves under ever more scrutiny from regulators and market participants this year and expectations are that new rules for the sector are just a matter of time.

It’s tempting to think of ETFs as unwilling victims of new regulation, but to my mind, ETFs have much to gain.

GCC fund firms face structural flaws: Lipper

By Dunny P. Moonesawmy, Head of Fund Research for Lipper in Western Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The views expressed are his own.

Spare a thought for the fund managers trying to make their business work in the Middle East and north Africa (MENA) this year.

Those investing in home markets have faced the uncertainty and drama of the Arab Spring and the wear and tear on affected markets. The Egyptian Stock Exchange was closed for several months while in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, all markets ended the first half in the red (even if the Abu Dhabi index and the Saudi Tadawul All Shares resisted well, down 0.57 percent and 0.67 percent respectively.)

Absolutely Fabulous?

Among the side-effects of the financial crisis, the importance for European wealth managers and other intermediaries of both managing investors’ expectations and understanding fully what those expectations are, has been underlined.

This is not entirely new. The rise of absolute return products largely reflects intermediaries’ efforts to deal directly with client expectations that, for many, have taken a severe blow. It is worth looking back at the level of inflows to funds seeking absolute returns before and after 2008 (the nadir for the industry in terms of sales activity) to see how this has evolved.

To view the chart, click here.

The data not only show the relative level of in- and out-flows for absolute return funds in Europe since 2005, but serves as a means to illustrate how activity has shifted in Europe.

Envy, desire and basis points

I would like to tell you a story. It’s one about the tempestuous relationship between fund managers and their investors, a tale of envy, desire and basis point negotiations. You may have spotted by now that this is not the plot for this season’s latest blockbuster.

My story has recently gained a little extra spice with two old-fashioned heroes riding into view. One from the West – Omaha - and the other from the East - well, his father hailed from Russia – with both willing to make a little less money in order to help their fellow citizens. Warren Buffett and Stuart Rose are not alone; others in France and Germany are also saddling up. These horsemen seem to be heading in the opposite direction from those in the European funds industry.

There is one aspect that I’d like to look at to explore this: the fees generated by funds in relation to their assets. And in this case Europe and the US look pretty different.

Rude health, and a changing of the guard?

By Detlef Glow, Head of EMEA Research at Lipper. The views expressed are his own.

The European exchange-traded-fund (ETF) industry has shown some resilience in the face of questions about management practices raised by market observers like the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and regulatory bodies like the FSA in the UK.

The segment grew by 7.74 percent over the first seven month of 2011, with assets under management up by 17.20 billion euros to reach 239.37 billion.

Risk Management: Did fund managers learn their lesson?

By Detlef Glow, Head of EMEA Research at Lipper. The views expressed are his own.

In the last decade investors and fund managers faced two major crises in the stock markets, the popping of the technology bubble in 2001 and financial crisis starting in 2006.

Portfolio managers suffered average losses of about 50 percent in the wake of both crises, leading investors to question what their fund managers learned.

A choice between risk and return?

By Dunny P. Moonesawmy. Head of Fund Research for Lipper in Western Europe/Middle East and Africa. The views expressed are his own.

Hedge funds have delivered decent risk-return results over the past ten years. And as transparency and liquidity increased post-credit crisis, they have regained their appeal as providers of absolute return opportunities for investors. In addition, an increasing lack of market visibility globally has played to hedge funds’ supposed strengths, with total industry assets under management now exceeding the $2 trillion, according to Hedge Fund Research.

There is a divide, however, with the industry split between single hedge funds — totaling more than 11,000 in the Lipper database — and some 867 funds of hedge funds (FoHFs). The general perception is that single-manager hedge funds are the more risky investment and to cushion that risk, some investors prefer to diversify their portfolio by investing in FoHFs instead. But is it worth it?

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