The expected flight from bond funds to equities has not lived up to its "Great Rotation" billing, according to the latest issue of The Cerulli Edge - Europe Edition.
Cerulli Associates, the global analytics firm, says that where there has been movement, the outflow has largely ended up in other income classes such as property and multi-asset funds. That low interest rates and quantitative easing would help create the conditions for an exodus to equities made sense, yet a definitive shift, which would have left asset managers scrambling to stem bond fund outflows, has failed to materialize.
"While bond inflows are lower than they were, outflows haven't happened to the extent that many expected," says Barbara Wall, Europe research director at Cerulli Associates. "In the current climate, fixed-income managers are looking for new ways to deliver yield. Several have adopted an unconstrained, benchmark-free investment approach, which provides the flexibility to respond with greater decisiveness to macro developments, and to invest more broadly across regions, structures, and products."
The marketing rationale behind unconstrained or strategic bond funds is that investors can access fixed income while enjoying some protection and also profiting from moving across asset classes. The advent of unconstrained emerging-market funds takes investors another step up the risk scale. Standard Life Investments launched one such vehicle in April, to sit alongside its emerging-market hard-currency and local-currency debt funds.
Also up the risk measure slightly from conventional bond funds is emerging-market debt, supporting the theory that rather than rotating away from fixed income entirely, investors are looking for yield in other areas of the market.
Angelos Gousios, an associate director at Cerulli, notes: "The macro environment is forcing managers to meet the needs of investors by providing both more alpha and greater protection. Product development, so long driven by supply, has become more demand led. The appetite for emerging-market debt has certainly grown, but to some extent investors have had little choice but to take more risk to get the yield they want from fixed income without leaving the asset class."
- Europe's alternatives managers may be on the cusp of some significant inflows, says Cerulli, as insurers look to non-mainstream strategies as a means of increasing yield. Insurers' in-house investment skills typically stop at high -yield, or emerging-markets debt. The global analytics firm expects alternatives mandates to start trickling in from 2016. Until then business imperatives, including preliminary Solvency II reporting, will take precedent, it says.
- Islamic funds are under pressure to ensure strict compliance with Shariah principles, which require investors to avoid interest and investments in businesses providing goods and services seen as contrary to the spirit of Islam. Cerulli believes the industry would benefit from a distinction being drawn between liquid and illiquid products. It expects that the challenge of raising assets will encourage asset managers to position funds as Shariah-compliant. However, these will need to be competitive relative to conventional products.
- Socially responsible investing (SRI) is once again popular with retail investors in Europe, but nowadays managers must be able to explain stock selection, the research backing it, their engagement and divestment policies, and how the fund communicates and interacts with its investors. Cerulli notes that across Europe, impact investing - whereby investors seek to affect social or environmental change while also making money - is the fastest-growing area within SRI.