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Standard Life Investments saw an awful lot of hard work come to fruition in 2006, with many of its UK funds showing blistering returns. It is not only in the UK where you can see the improvement. Its overseas funds have also made a strong showing.

It is great to see a major group putting resources into fund management and the company has been beavering away quietly for quite some time. Much of this is due to chief executive Keith Skeoch and head of UK equities David Cumming but there is no doubt that it has been a team effort. Each time that I have been into SLI’s office, I have been struck by the enthusiasm and teamwork that I see. Frankly, I do not feel that at many other places.

What impresses me is that while it has launched a number of new funds, it has not forgotten about the old ones and has looked to reinvigorate these funds. For example, global unconstrained started life as its global selector fund.

Global unconstrained is not a new concept at Standard Life. In fact, it is taking an institutional product and making it higher octane for the retail market. I have often said that many groups do not take their international funds seriously enough, perhaps because fund of funds managers like to do their own asset allocation, while many IFAs have been turned off by lack lustre performance. Yet if you are trying to make your name (and keep it) in investments, a global fund should be a shop window illustrating your investment process across a range of markets.

The investment trust industry has long claimed this sector for itself, yet with the increased popularity of self-invested personal pensions and Isas nowadays, you would have thought this sector would be far more important to groups. The truth is that the man in the street does not want to make assetallocation calls and would prefer to pick a good manager and leave it to them.

Global unconstrained is effectively a bottom-up stockpicking fund looking for only the best of the best investment ideas. It leverages on the expertise of the retail teams at SLI, with 60 experienced regional investment managers. This figure is not bulked out by graduates and trainees. All are fund managers and analysts. Together, they analyse over 1,000 companies with a consistent approach across global markets.

The bedrock of the fund is the global winners’ list, which is essentially SLI’s best 20 ideas. If that sounds to you like some kind of punt list, then think again. It is not just full of highbeta stocks, rather they are the ideas the team believe in regardless of the market.

The fund is headed by Lance Phillips, head of overseas equities, and this is very much his fund. He is not merely a kind of asset allocator but is involved in company meetings and the day-to-day running of the fund.

Diversification is achieved by having 20 or more themes running through the portfolio, usually represented by the two most promising stocks through bottom-up analysis. The fund will have 40 to 60 holdings with a 1 to 3 per cent stock size depending on conviction. Current exposure is 40.7 per cent in Europe (ex UK), 36.5 per cent in North America, 8.6 per cent in Japan, 6.9 per cent in the UK and 5.5 per cent in emerging markets. This is very much an international offering, dovetailing nicely with the UK unconstrained fund, one of the top performers over the last year.

The fund size is only 20m so clearly there are no capacity problems. This is very early days but I believe this revamped fund is likely to be yet another winner in the SLI stable.

Mark Dampier is head of research at Hargreaves Lansdown.


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