Louis Zanolin, Alix Capital

Alternative UCITS enjoy strongest level of growth since 2009

Download the special report Alternative UCITS 2014

“Over the first six months of this year there’s been an acceleration of AuM growth. According to our database, assets in alternative UCITS have grown by 24 per cent. This is the largest growth, in percentage terms, since we started tracking the universe at the end of 2009,” says Louis Zanolin (pictured), CEO of Alix Capital which runs the UCITS Alternative Index series.

At the end of 2013, assets were roughly EUR190bn. That figure has since climbed to EUR235bn. When one considers that the average fund is only up 0.94 per cent year-to-date, and returned 4.12 per cent in 2013, the vast majority of this asset growth is down to investor net inflows.
 
“The growth in alternative UCITS has been phenomenal. In 2011, the AuM was approximately EUR100bn,” says Cyrus Amaria, deputy head of Alternative Investments at Lyxor Asset Management. “Whilst offshore hedge funds are growing at 10 to 15 per cent per annum, alternative UCITS, at least in 2014, are enjoying a higher growth rate.
 
“We are seeing huge demand from clients, both in terms of allocating assets and asking us questions on what we offer in the UCITS space, what’s out there, and can we help educate them. As for who it is allocating to these funds, we see a rough split between institutional investors (some FoHFs that suffered in 2008, insurance companies who are looking for liquid alternatives) and private banks whose HNW clients want the comfort of regulated products.”
 
Zanolin thinks that there are two main explanations for this growth trajectory. First, equity-focused funds did particularly well last year. The average equity long/short fund returned an impressive +11.07 per cent and this pushed investors to allocate more money. To hedge against this, investors also favoured equity market neutral funds.
 
“So far this year, both strategies have grown by 46 per cent and 47 per cent respectively, with respect to AuM. Second, it seems that as soon as funds reach a certain level of assets they start to naturally attract more capital.
 
“Institutional investors will only invest when a fund has reached, say, EUR500m. So aside from performance, once a fund has reached a good level of assets it experiences an acceleration in AuM and then closes. This year, 18 funds closed to new investors, which is considerably higher than last year,” comments Zanolin.
 
Schroder GAIA Sirios US Equity and MLIS Marshall Wace TOPS UCITS are two examples of funds that have closed this year.
 
This is encouraging because it should hopefully push investors to look at a wider range of smaller funds, many of whom are not sat at the top table and feasting on the glut of new inflows coming into the market. Like the offshore hedge fund market, it is a highly asymmetric growth profile. Only the biggest seem to benefit.
 
“There are still a large number of small funds that are struggling to get on investors’ radar screens. They face the problem of how to get from EUR30m to EUR300m and attract the attention of larger investors. For offshore funds, it’s okay to have one marketing person for Europe. But that doesn’t work for alternative UCITS. Funds that are raising a lot of money tend to be part of larger organisations – give or take a few exceptions – and can leverage large distribution networks,” explains Zanolin.
 
The HSBC Ucits AdvantEdge Fund, a FoHF vehicle, was launched by HSBC Alternative Investments Ltd to give both institutional and retail investors the opportunity to build their exposure in the best alternative UCITS funds available.
 
The fund launched in December ’09 and since that time Peter Rigg, CEO of HSBC Alternative Investments Ltd, says the market has changed considerably.
 
“The number of funds available has levelled off. That’s not to say there aren’t new funds coming out but the industry is certainly maturing and the average fund AuM is increasing. That means the quality of funds is consolidating. There have been some excellent launches lately,” observes Rigg.
 
One notable trend according to Rigg is the increasing number of US fund managers coming to market to attract European investors.
 
“We’ve been investing more into US funds through our AdvantEdge fund. Importantly, there is now a much more diversified mix of strategies compared to when we launched the fund in December 2009. For example, early on in the fund only 5 per cent of the portfolio was dedicated to event-driven strategies and there was 0 per cent in credit. Now, we have 15 per cent allocated to each.
 
“That’s a reflection of how the industry has developed over the last five years. We try to respond to new opportunities and this has helped us build a much more diversified portfolio,” says Rigg.
 
Michael Sanders, Managing Director and Chairman of the Board at Alceda Fund Management, which operates the Alceda UCITS platform (AUP), notes that the firm is getting a lot more approaches this year from loan and credit managers and is currently looking to potentially bring a US-based MBS manager onto the platform.
 
“Investors are looking for credit strategies as well as Asian long/short equities but it depends which market you talk to. In the German-speaking market they are looking for alternative bond strategies such as our risk parity strategies whereas a Swiss family office might be more interested in long/short equities. We have Superannuation pension funds in Australia that are looking for everything within the alternative space!” confirms Sanders.
 
Paul Holmes, Head of Hedge Fund Distribution at Bank of America Merrill Lynch says that event-driven strategies are popular right now. “For those who have experience in this space and the specialist skills to analyse these situations, the opportunities they provide to an investor can be very interesting on an absolute and risk-adjusted basis,” comments Holmes.
 
Positive performance, please
 
When one looks at performance within the alternative UCITS space, there have been some impressive funds. At Man Group, the best performing fund in 2013 was its UK Equity Long/Short strategy, returning +13 per cent. Through 22nd July 2014, the best performer has been its well-known trend following strategy, Man AHL Trend. The fund has so far locked in gains of +17.3 per cent (in its USD institutional share class).
 
Over at Lyxor Asset Management, despite only having three alternative UCITS funds it’s fair to say that they have proven their worth. The following table shows the performance of these funds through 24th June 2014, each being based on institutional share classes.
 
 Lyxor has been running a managed account of the Tiedemann offshore fund since 2001. As the strategy exhibits low volatility, Amaria says that it was immediately identified as “the ideal choice for one of our first alternative UCITS funds. Investors are looking for strong drawdown control, a long successful track record and an established manager.”
 
Amaria says that there have been no style drift issues in any of the three funds.
 
“We monitor this closely. There may be differences in performance due to variations in liquidity, concentration and instruments traded depending on the manager. However, take Canyon Capital, for example. What we will say to them is ‘Where you have themes – e.g. in corporate credit or restructuring coming from stressed and distressed companies – look for the most liquid trades and build those trades into the UCITS portfolio’. They’ve achieved that and as such performance and volatility have been closely in line with the more illiquid offshore hedge fund.
 
“Both fund structures achieved double-digit returns in 2013. That for us is a sign of quality.”
 
Jan Viebig is CEO/Head of Alternative Investments at Harcourt Investment Consulting and the lead portfolio manager of the Vontobel Fund – Pure Momentum Strategy. This is just one of a suite of three funds launched towards the end of 2013 by Harcourt under the name of “Research-Driven Strategies”. The other two funds run a pure dividend and a pure premium strategy respectively.
 
Right now, the momentum strategy is up +7.10 per cent YTD and ranks in the top decile of its peer group says Viebig.
 
“In July, when volatilities increased in global financial markets due to geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and Palestine, the strategy delivered positive returns. The fund aims to deliver diversification when investors need diversification most: in periods of financial market stress, when investors suffer losses with traditional investments in stocks and bonds.
 
“An equally weighted portfolio that consists of all three RDS strategies has outperformed the HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index both YTD and since inception of the funds. One reason for the outperformance is that we concentrate on risk premia that are statistically significant. Another reason for the outperformance is simply that the fees of our RDS strategies are lower than those of hedge funds and we do not charge double fee layers,” says Viebig.
 
The momentum fund’s cross-sectional strategy has worked well in both the Korean and German markets, adds Viebig.
 
On the Alceda UCITS Platform, the best performing fund through June 2014 is the AC Risk Parity 17 fund, up +16.25 per cent. But whilst the range and performance of funds is improving, there are still gaps.
 
“The constraints of UCITS don’t fit well with certain strategies. Distressed and global macro strategies, due to liquidity constraints and the use of derivatives and/or leverage, are the two main strategy gaps that we currently see,” says Rigg.
 
The growth of regulated hedge funds is not only confined to Europe. In the US, there is an increasing prevalence of ’40 Act funds being launched by hedge fund and private equity managers to tap into the retail space, according to Joe Holman, CEO of Orangefield Columbus, a global fund administrator with approximately USD30bn in AuA.
 
That clients are now launching ’40 Act funds and alternative UCITS is certainly helping administrators build their roster.
 
“We have five or six of these ‘liquid alternative’ funds in the pipeline and expect to see a few successful launches before year-end. There’s USD15trn in the mutual fund space versus USD3trn in the alternative fund space; if managers can get a small percentage of that mutual fund money it could grow the alternative fund market by a significant amount. That’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for managers who launch these regulated funds,” says Holman.
 
One potential sticking point for US managers is the proposed remuneration rules that are set to be introduced under UCITS V. This will require 50 per cent of any variable remuneration (i.e. bonuses) to consist of units of the UCITS fund concerned.
 
The problem is, US managers running UCITS funds are not allowed to invest in them and cannot therefore acquire shares.
 
“This is something that concerns a lot of US managers. With all this regulatory uncertainty in the EU, I think it’s causing some US managers to step back and wait on the sidelines. Why would an analyst work for a European fund when they could move to the US and earn twice as much?” says Holman.
 
It’s certainly something to be aware of. Hopefully, a resolution will be forthcoming. If not, US managers could shy away and focus their efforts instead on the ’40 Act fund domestic market.
 
Nevertheless, Amaria thinks that one of the biggest developments in the alternative UCITS space moving forward will be more higher quality managers coming to market.
 
“For non-EU managers, they are looking at the UCITS market closely for two reasons. First, long term they do not want to rely on reverse solicitation under AIFMD and they will not become registered AIFMs. Second, they see what’s happening with the growth of ’40 Act funds. However, the best managers are not going to take quick decisions on whether to launch a UCITS fund. They will take their time and may even do it themselves, or they may come to us and partner up. 
 
“The biggest success factor for our three managers has not necessarily been performance. It’s that each manager grew AuM across their offshore funds, their managed accounts with us and our UCITS funds. That tells you the overall quality of each manager has grown,” concludes Amaria. 

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