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Brain storming

Getting about on the conference circuit is good to test the attitudes and opinions of the adviser market. There is a lot going on in this regard at present. The Institute of Financial Planning is holding its conference this week, Transact has been busy with its Connect updates for a week or two and Cofunds held a quarterly Platform event close to London last week.

I did not attend all of those but made it to enough to gain the impression that, RDR aside, the adviser community is in good heart and confident about the future.

Would that I could say the same about markets. True, shares are maintaining a more upbeat stance but remember we are still way below the levels of 10 years ago.

My topic at one of the conferences at which I spoke was, is the cult of the equity dead? Anyone who reads this column will be aware that this is not a theory to which I subscribe, but it is not without some merit.

Shares in London are still comfortably below the all-time high reached at the end of 1999. Moreover, the FTSE 100 is at much the same level now as some 12 years ago, albeit that it has been both higher and lower in the interim.

The Cofunds conference followed the well established pattern of six quickfire presentations by leading fund management groups, plus contributions from other speakers, followed by a question and answer forum embracing all fund managers present at the lectern. The theme on this occasion was, can global investing help you stand out from the crowd?

The approach was varied and covered a whole range of asset classes and sub-classes. Old Broad Street Research’s Ruli Viljoen set the scene, followed by contributions from BlackRock, Henderson, Legal & General, Schroders, Martin Currie and Standish. Who, you might ask, is Standish? I certainly did, never having heard of them before, but I was fortunate to sit next to the firms’s Simon Surtees at dinner, who explained they are a fixed-income boutique within the BNY Mellon empire.

With a pace of delivery that started at supersonic speed from Technical Connection’s Tony Wickenden and continued in a similar vein throughout the morning, there was much for the audience to absorb.

While the concluding fund manager panel discussion made clear that concerns remain, on inflation and the path the dollar is likely to take, the overall mood was bullish and fiercely pro the global approach.

While this should be expected, given the nature of the funds run by the participants, a continuing theme of the transference of economic power to the developing world underscored how much life is changing and also the extent of the interdependence of the global powers. China owns a significant amount of US sovereign debt, so has no interest in destabilising what is also one of their best customers for manufactured goods, for example.

Indeed, Schroders’ Virginie Maisonneuve made the point that US discretionary consumer spending would more likely be directed at buying an iPad than a car made in Detroit, thus benefiting Far Eastern companies. It was both interesting and stimulating.

And not for the first time did I wonder why it was that accented English spoken by a French woman sounded so much nicer than accented French spoken by an Englishman. Or even English spoken by an Englishman, for that matter.

Brian Tora is a consultant to investment managers, JM Finn & Co

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