Multi-asset funds failed to protect investors from the impact of volatile equity markets in 2018, according to the Natixis IM Global Portfolio Barometer.
Adviser portfolios delivered negative returns across all regions, driven by falls in equity markets. But the analysis of investor portfolios in seven markets, conducted by the Natixis Portfolio Research & Consulting Group, found that multi-asset funds did not provide diversification as expected, and instead had very high correlations to adviser portfolios. This suggests multi-asset funds largely replicated what advisers were doing themselves.
Equities were the largest contributor to negative returns in all regions, costing around 3-5% on average – except in Italy, where advisers had much lower equity allocations. However, multi-asset funds were the second largest detractor, costing 0.5-2% on average, and particularly affecting France, where these funds have traditionally been very popular.
Alternative investments, like real estate and managed futures, were more resilient to volatility than traditional asset classes, but still contributed marginally to portfolio performance at best, due to lacklustre performance and low allocations. Real assets contributed little except in the UK, where property funds were a positive contributor to portfolios.
Matthew Riley, Head of Research in the Portfolio Research and Consulting Group at Natixis IM, commented: “It’s natural for investors to seek shelter from volatile markets by diversifying portfolios, but it is clear from our analysis that, in 2018, the majority of multi-asset funds fell short and largely failed to diversify, which only added to portfolio losses”.
“Our findings show that investors really need to look more closely when selecting a multi-asset fund, ensuring that the fund is aligned with their investment objective. This due diligence should include checking the fund’s correlation to their existing portfolios, as well as to bonds and equities, to make sure it will improve the risk-return profile of the portfolio.”
Italy showing most resilience to volatile markets
In stark contrast to 2017, advisers in all regions suffered negative portfolio performance in 2018 with the impact of falling equity markets and muted fixed income returns taking their toll. Italy was the most resilient market, with estimated losses of 3.2% for the average adviser portfolio, due to a much lower allocation to equities. Advisers in Italy had an average equity exposure of just 20%, while the UK and the US had a more bullish stance, with equity weightings of over 50% in moderate risk portfolios.
Currency risk continues to weigh on portfolios
In 2017, the Global Portfolio Barometer revealed the impact of currency risk on performance. And, while slightly reduced, it remained an important factor in 2018, benefitting European investors compared to their US counterparts. Currency moves remain an often overlooked area of risk, but when considering a more internationally exposed portfolio, not paying attention to it can have a significant impact on overall returns. For instance, in 2018 a European investor allocating to US equities would have experienced a small positive return of 0.3% in euro terms – a US investor would have lost 5%.
The quest for true diversification continues…
In short, the findings of the Global Portfolio Barometer highlight the impact that the return of volatility had on markets and investor portfolios, with portfolio risks potentially rising from the extraordinarily low levels seen in 2017. Multi-asset funds simply failed to provide diversification, which should be food for thought when considering the relationship between diversification, risk and returns in adviser portfolios.