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Brave new world

You could not fault the credentials of the investment panel for Money Marketing Live in Manchester last week, with stalwarts such as Newton’s Harry Morgan and Justin Urqhuart-Stewart of 7IM sharing their views on how markets might behave.

Of most interest was whether the property market might have peaked. Just to show how the range of options in this sector has multiplied, our panel chairman disclosed he had been approached to sit on the board of a new trust investing in South-east Asian real estate. It demonstrated how many options are now available to private investors. The launch of of so-called Investment Notes – tradeable structured products if you want to understand exactly what they are – seems likely to extend the range still further.

Reading a report published by Barclays Wealth last month, I was struck by the new asset classes be coming on stream. Infrastructure investment has become popular among institutional investors recently.

With questions still on the long-term viability of with-profits funds a staple at these panel sessions, I cannot help but wonder if the bulk of the adviser community are ready for the range of new products that seem set to assail them in the months and years ahead. Among those that seem likely to emerge is carbon-emission trading which is already traded on a regular basis. The limited number of indices that track their progress suggest they have risen significantly in value but they are very much at the riskier end.

We are seeing what are termed stochastic modelling tools being developed for the assembly of assets to deliver performance to expectations. Mr Urqhuart-Stewart light-heartedly referred to these as “sarcastic modelling tools”, I would be surprised if somewhere in his organisation work had not been conducted to determine how the likely performance and correlation between various assets might influence portfolio returns.

Reading research in the past week, I find a more cautious tone creeping into the narrative. The third-quarter US reporting season has generally delivered results above expectations but there appears a growing trend for firms to warn of tougher times ahead. This ratcheting down of investor expectations is also present at home, with companies in the retail sector highlighting difficult trading conditions in the high street and banks and housebuilders saying house prices will moderate.

If equities are entering a period of more subdued returns and greater uncertainty, who can blame managers for seeking performance from some of the new asset classes now available. Understanding how they work under different conditions is another matter. I have my fair share of property, both domestic and overseas, in my portfolio, along with private equity and even a share in a TV programme but I will only venture further into the world of new assets with considerable research.

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