MULTI-ASSET STRATEGIES REDEFINING THE UNIVERSE APRIL 2014

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1 MULTI-ASSET STRATEGIES REDEFINING THE UNIVERSE APRIL 2014

2 INTRODUCTION Loved by many, reviled by others, multi-asset strategies are undeniably a key feature of the investment landscape. In the US they are typically known as balanced strategies; in Europe and other parts of the world investors have been enticed by a category of investments known as diversified growth funds. Whatever the label, however, the variety of strategies is broadening across the globe. We believe that this represents an opportune time to revisit the way we categorise the various strategies within the multi-asset universe. We currently track over 300 strategies within the two major sub-categories of multi-asset investment (global balanced and diversified growth funds). We are redefining these product groups to better reflect the characteristics of the underlying strategies and the role that we believe that they could play in an investor s portfolio. In future, we will categorise these strategies in one of two ways: Core / Global Balanced Idiosyncratic We believe that these categories will better able us to identify the most suitable products for our clients, as well as capture the broadening opportunity set we see emerging, particularly at the idiosyncratic end of the spectrum. FOCUSING ON THE KEY CHARACTERISTICS Multi-asset strategies have seen a surge in popularity over recent years. Indeed, in the UK, for example, multi-asset strategies have been the most searched for new mandate in our search trends analysis for each of the last three years. Liquidity, simplicity and relatively low fees have made them attractive components of defined contribution pension schemes as well as appealing to smaller institutional investors where governance issues are a key consideration. These products have also found favour from larger institutional investors, particularly where they can demonstrate a diversification benefit within the broader asset mix 1. While investors appear to have rekindled their desire for multi-asset strategies, product providers have also been looking to both innovate and to also move into new markets. The old labelling of balanced in the US and diversified growth in the UK is becoming redundant. Moreover, the range of strategies available to investors is increasing - and, in particular, pushing the boundary between traditional and hedge fund investments in the liquid alternatives space. This offers investors access to strategies with greater potential to diversify traditional beta portfolios, although these strategies also come with greater manager risk with which investors need to be comfortable. As we stand back and look at our universe of managers in these categories, we believe that it is important for both the sources of risk and return in these products to be made clear, as well as the potential role that they could play in an investment portfolio. As such, we are restructuring our manager universe to include two key categories: Core Diversified Growth / Global Balanced and Idiosyncratic 2. The table on the following page summarises how we visualise the types of strategy within each grouping (please see Appendix A for more comments on the various sources of growth and defence). 1 They have also been used, for example, as liquidity buffers within a broader alternative or growth portfolio, helping investors meet short-term cash-flow requirements while providing exposure to a broad mix of more traditional growth assets. 2 We will also retain smaller universes of diversified inflation and diversified beta the latter of which we will rename Risk Parity. 1

3 In a nutshell Key sources of absolute growth Key sources of defence Possible portfolio role Core Diversified Growth / Global Balanced The key drivers of returns will be those achieved by investment markets (beta) Will generally be more correlated with equity market movements than idiosyncratic funds Will typically hold a core of direct stock and bond exposures (including via in-house and/or third party funds) rather than derivatives-based exposures Traditional beta (equity and credit) Exotic beta (such as emerging market debt and high yield bonds) Some dynamic asset allocation, although this will be a smaller component of total returns than idiosyncratic funds Underpinned by a long-term / strategic asset allocation Diversification across assets Some dynamic asset allocation, although this will be a smaller component of total returns than idiosyncratic funds Core defined contribution fund holding Low governance all-in-one growth portfolio Idiosyncratic Diversified Growth Although the funds will have some beta exposures, more active and non-directional exposures will also be significant components and returns are expected to be more absolute return in nature Will generally be less correlated with equity market movements than core funds Derivatives will often be used to implement ideas. Tactical or dynamic allocation across broad markets Idiosyncratic trade ideas (single stock trade ideas, relative value opportunities) Tactical or dynamic allocation across broad markets Indirect hedges to balance out the portfolio Satellite to a core / Global Balanced Liquid diversifier within broader investment portfolios Because they are focused on earning returns from beta, Core / Global Balanced strategies are likely to be suitable investment options for defined contribution clients (or where the end investor is an individual). These strategies may experience periods of loss as a result of a long term underlying asset allocation mix (either as a result of a formal benchmark, or driven by long-term strategic asset assumptions). They will seek to add value through, for example, exotic credit exposures and allocations to alternative investment funds (e.g. listed private market investments or hedge funds etc.) Idiosyncratic funds include multi-asset strategies that have a predominant longbias, but limited recourse to a long-term asset allocation mix and a greater emphasis on downside protection via tactical/dynamic asset allocation and idiosyncratic trade ideas. While they will seek to provide more downside protection when equity markets fall, they also risk lagging strong bull markets during which their more alpha-driven trade ideas are unlikely to deliver as much return as a beta-heavy funds or indeed a 60/40 portfolio. Ultimately the sources of return should be differentiated from traditional beta, such that they can add diversification to a traditional asset mix. Individual manager risk will, however, be higher than for a Core strategy. 3 We note that, although multi-asset, these strategies do not provide full access to the broad range of diversifying growth strategies that can be accessed by institutional investors; while we believe that they can fulfil a valuable role, they should not be seen as a complete solution, particularly by larger investors. 2

4 While any form of categorisation has its challenges (and we stress that even across these buckets there is a continuum of styles), this refocusing of our multi-asset universe will provide a greater sense of direction. We also believe that it will enable us to better capture the range of new strategies emerging at the more exotic end of the multi-asset spectrum. MANAGER EXAMPLES We can illustrate the differences between managers that we would consider core, from those that are more idiosyncratic (more exotic), by plotting the strength of bias towards different factors. In the table above, we reference the key sources of growth and defence used by managers in each product group. The radar charts below provide more granular examples of two of our highly rated managers one in the core universe; the other more idiosyncratic. The further a marker is towards the outside of the chart, the more significant the bias 4. Core / Global Balanced Exotic credit Alternatives funds/ Risk Premia Growth Seeking Idiosyncratic Exotic credit Alternatives funds/ Risk Premia Growth Seeking Traditional beta Idiosyncratic trades Traditional beta Idiosyncratic trades SAA underpin Indirect Hedges Defensive SAA underpin Indirect Hedges Defensive Diversification Derivatives Hedges Diversification Derivatives Hedges Strategies with a map that bulges to the left hand side (such as the manager represented in the lefthand chart) can be regarded as Core / Global Balanced ; those that tilt to the right hand side (such as that shown in the right-hand chart) we are classifying as Idiosyncratic. The strength of bias is qualitatively assessed by Mercer as part of our manager research activities (further details are provided in the Appendix). As can be seen, some characteristics (such as the use of alternative risk premia or listed alternative funds) are, we believe, common to both styles of management. CONCLUSION Multi asset strategies continue to gain popularity and we believe that this will continue - both with respect to core strategies, that can help add balance to small investment plans or defined contribution plans, as well as more idiosyncratic investments, that can provide greater diversification (albeit with greater use of non-traditional return sources). The changes we are making to our manager universe reflect the globalisation of the product offerings available and the innovation we have seen, particularly at the idiosyncratic end of the spectrum. Through our specialist manager research we believe that we can identify the most compelling opportunities across this range of approaches - we will continue to work closely with clients to identify the most suitable strategies to meet their specific investment needs. 4 The strength of bias is qualitatively assessed by Mercer as part of our manager research activities. The instruments and drivers of return will vary over time these charts are no more than an illustration of Mercer s own view of these strategies, all else equal. 3

5 APPENDIX FACTORS SHOWN IN THE RADAR CHARTS The radar chart below shows the biases (qualitatively assessed by Mercer) for one of our highly rated Core / Global Balanced strategies when it comes to (1) seeking growth and (2) introducing more defensive characteristics. The further a marker is towards the outside of the chart, the more significant the bias. Core / Global Balanced Exotic credit Alternatives funds/ Risk Premia Growth Seeking Traditional beta Idiosyncratic trades SAA underpin Diversification Derivatives Hedges Indirect Hedges Defensive Growth seeking approaches can be defined as: Traditional Beta (to what extent is the long-term exposure to equity, for example, seen as a core component of long-term returns); similarly for Exotic Credit, including the use of EMD, High Yield and Convertibles for example. Alternative Funds / Risk Premia include fund investments (or similar) to hedge funds, real assets (commodities, property, infrastructure etc) and other alternative asset classes. Idiosyncratic Trades include, for example, specific active currency positions, bottom up security selection or specific macro trades. Tactical/ Dynamic Asset refers to the use of tactical/dynamic changes in the broad asset allocation to drive the portfolio performance. Defensive approaches reflect the manager s bias to different techniques to help manage the risk in the strategy what do they fall back on in periods of challenge. For many, the underpin to their investments (and what they might seek solace in during shorter-term periods of absolute loss) is a strategic asset allocation (an SAA underpin) either an explicit beta benchmark or a long-term strategic asset mix (formal or informal). In addition, the charts highlight the manager s focus on Diversification across asset classes or specific trades and the use of Derivative Hedges (for example option overlays to protect the portfolio). The use of Indirect Hedges in portfolio construction includes (typically) long positions to balance the portfolio (for example the use of gold in portfolios post 2008). Finally Tactical/Dynamic Asset is considered for its potential to protect the portfolio, as well as to seek out growth opportunities. 4

6 IMPORTANT NOTICES References to Mercer shall be construed to include Mercer LLC and/or its associated companies Mercer LLC. All rights reserved. This contains confidential and proprietary information of Mercer and is intended for the exclusive use of the parties to whom it was provided by Mercer. Its content may not be modified, sold or otherwise provided, in whole or in part, to any other person or entity, without Mercer s prior written permission. The findings, ratings and/or opinions expressed herein are the intellectual property of Mercer and are subject to change without notice. They are not intended to convey any guarantees as to the future performance of the investment products, asset classes or capital markets discussed. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Mercer s ratings do not constitute individualised investment advice. Information contained herein has been obtained from a range of third party sources. While the information is believed to be reliable, Mercer has not sought to verify it independently. As such, Mercer makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy of the information presented and takes no responsibility or liability (including for indirect, consequential or incidental damages), for any error, omission or inaccuracy in the data supplied by any third party. This does not contain regulated investment advice in respect of actions you should take. No investment decision should be made based on this information without obtaining prior specific, professional advice relating to your own circumstances. This does not constitute an offer or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell securities, commodities and/or any other financial instruments or products or constitute a solicitation on behalf of any of the investment managers, their affiliates, products or strategies that Mercer may evaluate or recommend. For the most recent approved ratings of an investment strategy, and a fuller explanation of their meanings, contact your Mercer representative. For Mercer s conflict of interest disclosures, contact your Mercer representative or see conflictsofinterest. Mercer s universes are intended to provide collective samples of strategies that best allow for robust peer group comparisons over a chosen timeframe. Mercer does not assert that the peer groups are wholly representative of and applicable to all strategies available to investors. This document has been prepared by Mercer Investments (Australia) Limited ABN (MIAL), Australian Financial Services Licence # MERCER is a registered trademark of Mercer (Australia) Pty Ltd ABN

7 For further information, please contact your local Mercer office or visit our website at: Argentina Australia Austria Belgium Brazil Canada Chile Colombia Denmark Finland France Germany Hong Kong India Indonesia Ireland Italy Japan Mainland China Malaysia Mexico Netherlands New Zealand Norway Peru Philippines Poland Portugal Saudi Arabia Singapore South Africa South Korea Spain Sweden Switzerland Taiwan Thailand Turkey United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Venezuela Copyright 2014 Mercer LLC. All rights reserved.

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