Assets managed by the world’s largest 500 fund managers fell by over 23 per cent in 2008 to USD53.4trn, down from USD69.4trn the year before, according to the Pensions & Investments/Watson Wyatt World 500 ranking.

The fall in assets is the first since 2002 and the largest since the research began in 1996.
 
Carl Hess, global head of investment consulting at Watson Wyatt, says: “2008 was a dreadful year for fund managers with the majority posting record losses. Even after the strong market recoveries since March this year, our expectation is that values will remain below 2007 levels, meaning the outlook for this year’s revenues and earnings in the sector remain poor.”
 
The research reveals that the top 20 managers accounted for a third of all losses (USD5.6trn) in 2008, but their share of total assets in the research remained high at 38 per cent.
 
Hess says: “The larger firms, historically the main beneficiaries of growth, weren’t immune in 2008, mainly because of the ad valorem fee basis on which the industry is centred. This meant that profitability was under pressure as market returns and new inflows remained low, performance fees suffered and there was little scope for higher fees. Overheads though have come down as many managers have undertaken significant severance programmes.”
 
According to the survey, there are ten US-based investment managers in the top 20, managing 51 per cent of these assets, while the other ten managers are all European-based. 

Of the top 500, North American managers’ assets decreased by 24 per cent to USD23.9trn in 2008, remaining just ahead of European-based managers’ assets, which fell by 25 per cent to USD22.7trn.

The research also shows that Japanese fund managers preserved most of their assets during 2008, ending the year only slightly down with USD4.3trn. This mirrors a trend for fund managers from developing countries which have continued to grow and have more than doubled their share of the assets to around four per cent during the past ten years.

During the same period, French, German and UK managers have grown their share the most by 3.3 per cent, 2.8 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively while Swiss, Japanese and US managers’ share has diminished by 5.9 per cent, 5.7 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively.
 
Hess says: “While currency movements have played a role in these trends, generally those managers that had higher exposure to bonds are now better off. Another trend of the past few years is a growing quality gap, with lower performing managers struggling, particularly in alternatives. In addition, large, well-diversified managers with global offerings and established brands have continued to grow.”
 
According to the research, passive assets also fell dramatically in 2008, shrinking by over 25 per cent to USD4.5trn from USD6.0trn the year before. However, in the past ten years passive assets have grown by over ten per cent, compared to six per cent growth of other assets. In 2008, State Street Global overtook Barclays Global Investors as the largest passive manager.
 
Some of the main gainers by rank in the top 20 during the past five years include Blackrock (39 to six), JP Morgan (15 to nine), BGI (five to one), Deutsche Bank (11 to seven), BNP Paribas (34 to13), Goldman Sachs Group (33 to14) and Vanguard Group (ten to eight).

There have also been some significant changes to the overall ranking during the past five years, the biggest gainers by rank being Caixa Catalunya (424 to 171), Mesirow Financial (450 to 214) and Co-operators Group (422 to 200) and the biggest falls by rank being Lend Lease (144 to 442), Glenmede Investment (296 to 481) and Svenska Handelsbanken (199 to 341).
 
Hess adds: “The asset management industry is undergoing significant change as a result of the extreme market conditions we have witnessed in the past few years. We expect this will drive increased consolidation as managers look to add assets, while maintaining their existing cost base, to relieve pressure on profits. An additional challenge for managers is increased regulation, and the likelihood of higher compliance costs. The third worry is the fall in trust that managers have suffered from their clients. Overall it’s a tough battle-ground.”


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