BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Professional fund buyers globally anticipated increased market volatility in 2020, taking a more defensive approach to portfolio positioning, according to a survey by Natixis Investment Managers. The survey of more than 400 fund buyers – responsible for selecting funds included on private bank, insurance, fund-of-funds and other retail platforms – which was conducted in Q4 2019 found that four-fifths (79%) expected greater equity volatility and 72% expected higher volatility in the bond markets.
While the historic levels of volatility experienced in markets across the globe since February 2020 were unpredictable, fund buyers had already signaled they would be taking a risk-averse approach to fund selection during 2020. Almost half (44%) expected to diversify away from US equities, while 73% said they would be willing to underperform their peers in exchange for greater downside protection. Whether it was concern about stratospheric stock valuations, questions about the viability of a sustained low interest rate environment, or the lingering effects of geopolitical uncertainty, professional fund buyers expected the rally was unlikely to continue in 2020.
“Professional fund buyers are enduring unprecedented market conditions as geopolitical risk continues to remains on the horizon,” said David Giunta, CEO for the US at Natixis Investment Managers. “Despite these circumstances, professional fund buyers are working to protect their clients – both from market losses and from individuals’ reactions to them – by crafting portfolios that are durable and diversified enough to withstand extreme market volatility.”
As a result, fund buyers are looking to active managers to help navigate the greater sector dispersion in markets, with three-quarters of fund buyers (75%) willing to pay higher fees for potential outperformance. Fund buyers also noted the popularity of passive investments as a source of systemic risk and volatility as better-performing securities receive larger weights. Buyers flagged concerns around the potential for large losses in the event of a downturn.
Private Assets Serve as Diversifier
Fund buyers generally think the benefits are worth the tradeoffs, particularly in the case of private investments. Almost half (49%) say private assets will play a more prominent role in their portfolio strategy going forward.
The survey also found that eight in ten buyers (82%) felt that the ongoing environment of low yielding bonds will trigger a shift toward alternatives. That hunt for yield likely explains the interest in income-related alternative assets such as infrastructure, real estate and private debt, with half (49%) saying that private assets will play a more prominent role in their portfolio. Clearly, after the volatility experienced in the past few weeks, buyers will have found a new appreciation for strategies that will help produce un-correlated returns and offer greater potential for risk management.
ESG on the Rise
In turbulent markets ESG is also increasingly being recognized as an important risk factor which active managers can account for. When asked the primary reason for incorporating ESG factors into their investment decision making, 22% of fund buyers said to minimize headline risk, 21% said to generate high risk-adjusted returns and 19% said to improve diversification. The survey revealed that 62% of fund buyers are feeling increasing demand from clients to align their strategies with investor values.
Europe has pioneered the implementation of ESG and continues to take the lead, with higher rates of implementation and active ownership, in which investment firms enter into a dialogue with companies around ESG issues, exercising both ownership rights and voice to effect change.
Positioning for Risk and Return
Despite the heightened volatility and short-term disruptions, fund buyers’ long-term return assumptions remain fairly stable, having already built into account the ebbs and flows of market cycles. This year is no exception, and the vast majority of buyers (85%) reported their organization’s return assumptions as realistically achievable. However, many buyers had anticipated some reversion to the mean after a strong 2019, with 38% more respondents expecting to lower return assumptions than to raise them.
The survey also revealed that buyers’ sector preferences were already reflecting expectations for weak economic growth. Few expected the pro-cyclical materials and industrials sectors to outperform. Instead, buyers were most sanguine about sectors with strong secular growth drivers, expecting outperformance in information technology (44%), healthcare (42%) and financials (32%).
“Professional fund buyers entered 2020 anticipating further market volatility and risk. What event would trigger a fall and when exactly it would occur was entirely unknown,” said Ed Farrington, Executive Vice President of Institutional and Retirement Sales at Natixis Investment Managers. “We are starting to see professional fund buyers return to risk with a continued focus on ESG strategies, well-valued equities and alternative fixed income.”
To read the full report, “The Age of Anxiety: Professional fund buyers are waiting for the other shoe to drop,” visit im.natixis.com/us/research/2019-professional-fund-buyer-survey.
The Natixis Investment Managers Global Survey of Professional Fund Buyers was conducted by CoreData Research in October and November 2019. The survey included 400 respondents in 23 countries throughout North America, Asia, Latin America, the United Kingdom, Continental Europe and the Middle East.
About the Natixis Investment Institute
The Natixis Investment Institute applies Active Thinking® to critical issues shaping the investment landscape. A global effort, the Institute combines expertise in the areas of investor sentiment, macroeconomics, and portfolio construction within Natixis Investment Managers, along with the unique perspectives of our affiliated investment managers and experts outside the greater Natixis organization. Our goal is to fuel a more substantive discussion of issues with a 360° view of markets and insightful analysis of investment trends.
About Natixis Investment Managers
Natixis Investment Managers serves financial professionals with more insightful ways to construct portfolios. Powered by the expertise of more than 20 specialized investment managers globally, we apply Active Thinking® to deliver proactive solutions that help clients pursue better outcomes in all markets. Natixis Investment Managers ranks among the world’s largest asset management firms1 with more than $1 trillion assets under management2 (€934.1 billion).
Headquartered in Paris and Boston, Natixis Investment Managers is a subsidiary of Natixis. Listed on the Paris Stock Exchange, Natixis is a subsidiary of BPCE, the second-largest banking group in France. Natixis Investment Managers’ affiliated investment management firms include AEW; Alliance Entreprendre; AlphaSimplex Group; DNCA Investments;3 Dorval Asset Management; Flexstone Partners; Gateway Investment Advisers; H2O Asset Management; Harris Associates; Investors Mutual Limited; Loomis, Sayles & Company; Mirova; MV Credit; Naxicap Partners; Ossiam; Ostrum Asset Management; Seeyond; Seventure Partners; Thematics Asset Management; Vauban Infrastructure Partners; Vaughan Nelson Investment Management; Vega Investment Managers;4 and WCM Investment Management. Additionally, investment solutions are offered through Natixis Investment Managers Solutions, and Natixis Advisors offers other investment services through its AIA and MPA division. Not all offerings available in all jurisdictions. For additional information, please visit Natixis Investment Managers’ website at im.natixis.com | LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/natixis-investment-managers.
Natixis Investment Managers’ distribution and service groups include Natixis Distribution, L.P., a limited purpose broker-dealer and the distributor of various US registered investment companies for which advisory services are provided by affiliated firms of Natixis Investment Managers, Natixis Investment Managers S.A. (Luxembourg), Natixis Investment Managers International (France), and their affiliated distribution and service entities in Europe and Asia.
1 Cerulli Quantitative Update: Global Markets 2019 ranked Natixis Investment Managers as the 17th largest asset manager in the world based on assets under management as of December 31, 2018.
2 Assets under management (“AUM”) as of December 31, 2019 is $1,048.4 billion. AUM, as reported, may include notional assets, assets serviced, gross assets, assets of minority-owned affiliated entities and other types of non-regulatory AUM managed or serviced by firms affiliated with Natixis Investment Managers.
3 A brand of DNCA Finance.
4 A wholly-owned subsidiary of Natixis Wealth Management.
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