The Financial Times reports that mutual funds got off to a very bad start this year, with 24 of the 25 biggest managers seeing a decline in funds. Note first that the article is not discussing individual funds (e.g. Magellean) but fund families (e.g. Fidelity).
Note second that the fall isn’t simply the result of declines in market values, but actual withdrawal of funds, but this apperas to be largely the result of investors moving heavily into cash. The article suggests that this is due to a loss of investor confidence. Another factor that may have contributed around the margin is a rise in withdrawals from 401 (k) plans (and presumably also IRA rollovers), a sign of rising consumer stress. But it does not yet appear that raiding capital to support consumption is a significant component of this decline.
From the Financial Times:
All but one of the 25 largest US mutual fund managers saw their long-term assets fall in the first quarter, as returns dived and investors pulled out of funds.
In the worst start to a year for more than a decade, most money managers had retail outflows, and even stalwarts such as American Funds and Vanguard suffered a drop in assets, of 6.6 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively.
Pimco, the bond manager, was the only one to show a rise in retail assets, according to Financial Research Corporation and industry estimates. Pimco’s Total Return fund had an inflow of $9bn in the three months to March.
The trend is likely to worry economists, because it suggests the credit turmoil is hurting the confidence of mainstream investors. That, in turn, could dampen activity among consumers in the months ahead, since falling investment sentiment is often associated with muted household spending levels.
However, the fall also marks a fresh blow for the financial industry, because mutual fund managers typically make money by charging a percentage of assets – meaning that profits in the industry fall when assets decline.
Last week, a group of publicly traded asset managers announced bleak quarterly results. Affiliated Managers Group, which holds stakes in 26 mutual and hedge fund companies, reported a quarterly profit fall for the first time in five years, with outflows of $8.4bn in the quarter.
Big institutional fund groups – such as AllianceBernstein, a unit of French insurance group Axa – likewise showed asset falls.
One senior industry executive said: “This is the worst I have seen for a long time, the industry-wide outflows, and unfortunately I don’t think it is a short-term situation. The days of domestic [US] equity funds driving profits for us, that could be gone.”
Retail and institutional investors pulled $100bn from US, European and Japanese equity funds during the quarter, according to Strategic Insight.
The trend is accelerating a shift in the money management industry, as investors move away from equity funds, which have been the industry’s profit mainstay, towards either low-margin options such as short-term cash and indexed funds, or high- margin alternative investments such as hedge funds, private equity and hard assets.
Long-term assets do not include money market funds, which have seen big inflows. Several money managers, such as Fidelity, have large money market funds which are offsetting their outflows, although money market funds are low-margin products and do not provide long-term investor loyalty. Fidelity had a drop of long-term assets of close to 10 per cent for the quarter, as investors continued to pull funds from the former market leader despite a lift in performance in its funds.