Last updated: 20:03 / Thursday, 4 April 2013
ING IM strategic allocation

Crafting the Crowd

Crafting the Crowd
  • ING IM has crafted an allocation stance that is less dependent on the risk-on/risk-off theme and concentrates on exposure at a different level in the allocation spectrum

Markets provided remarkably healthy returns to investors in the first quarter of the year despite ongoing headlines over political brinkmanship in both Europe and the US. With global equities up close to 10% and also real estate and most fixed income assets printing firmly positive returns, ING IM points out that most multi- asset portfolios are already close to year-end targets. According to the latest HouseView report published by the firm, on a risk-adjusted basis (correcting for the volatility of the asset class) equities have clearly taken over the lead from credits as the star performer of the year.

Still, Valentijn van Nieuwenhuijzen, Head of Strategy in ING IM, remarks that both returns and investor flow dynamics clearly show that investor appetite has broadened across asset classes that provide some form of income rather than that it rotated from fixed income into equities. The main change in investor behavior is that not only yields are being searched for, but that all asset classes that provide a claim on future cash flows, generated either coupons, rents or dividends, have become more popular destinations for cash that had been piled up in recent “crisis” years.

Another important change in the behavior of investors, he emphasizes, is that they have not only become willing to broaden their horizon, but also have started to discriminate much more between markets. This is partially reflected in the unusually large gap between the performance of commodities (that do not earn any income and often have a negative cost of carry!) and other risky assets. Also it is shown by the less “top-down”-driven nature of the market. Not only has dispersion in the performance between asset classes become more visible, but also at regional, sectorial and security level have performances started to deviate much more and have observed correlations come down sharply.

As the strategist continues, this type of market dynamics create a wider set of investment opportunities that are not only concentrated at the highest allocation or asset class level. More than in previous years, it seems that the investor crowd is being crafted to look for market opportunities at a lower level that is relatively uncorrelated to the overall risk appetite of the broader market.

Within ING IM’s own asset allocation stance it is certainly visible that opportunities have shifted from asset classes towards regions and sectors. At the beginning of the year the asset management firm had much more pronounced asset class tilts, with overweights in equities (strong), real estate (medium) and credit (small) and an underweight in treasuries (medium). Throughout the first quarter however asset class tilt have been reduced and ING IM is currently left with only small overweights in equities and real estate and neutral stances in the rest.

Within regions and sectors, however, the firm gradually accentuated their preferences in recent months as underweights in emerging markets and Europe were built-up in both equity and fixed income space. Also, Japan was moved to a firm overweight within equities and US sensitive High Yield was upgraded to our best pick in fixed income.

Moreover, their stance within equities on global sectors and emerging market countries does no longer have a clear “high beta”-tilt and is very much driven by idiosyncratic drivers. ING IM is, for example, long in both industrials and healthcare, while being underweight in both materials and telecom. Also, the asset manager is underweight in both Indonesia (high beta) and Malaysia (low beta) for country specific reasons.

In the search for the best opportunities in markets and the best balance between risk and return, ING IM currently sees different opportunities than at the start of the year. Therefore, they have crafted an allocation stance that is less dependent on the risk-on/risk-off theme and concentrates on exposure at a different level in the allocation spectrum. Depending on the state of the global cycle, visibility on political risks and observed shifts in investor behavior the firm will assess over time whether future adaptation in their allocation stance will move back up to the asset class level or intensify the regional and sectorial tilts.