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Investment View

“Another day – another dollar. Another year and – well, who can say.” The finance director of the curiously named Betelgeuse Investment Funds pondered the usefulness of the forward strategy committee as it scoped out its plans for 2001. “This is Dullsville, big time!” he reflected, fortunately silently.

“So, in conclusion, 2000 worked well for sales despite the pre-Christmas tech implosion and the departure of the European team.” The sales director concluded his overlong presentation. The head of marketing waited for the inevitable conflagration. She knew that look in the chairman&#39s eye and reckoned he had raised his eyes to the ceiling once too often.

“I couldn&#39t give a jobber&#39s turn for 2000.” Well, at least it was a kiloton rather than a megaton explosion, she thought. “I need to know your plans for this year?” The sales director stole a glance around the table, failing to find either comfort or support from the group of executives who, he knew, would as soon plunge a knife between his shoulder blades as take lunch from him at the Coq d&#39Or. “Er, well, we rather fancied promoting the US smaller companies fund on the back of Bush&#39s accession to the White House.”

“You mean the fund that S&P have just downrated and which is shedding unitholders faster than Equitable Life loses policyholders.” There was no doubt from his demeanour that the compliance director was thoroughly enjoying the discomfiture of his colleague in sales.

“I can hardly be blamed for the wave of profit warnings emanating from corporate America.” whined the sales director. “Anyway, with luck, Greenspan will be cutting interest rates later this month while at least we have some discipline on the US desk now.” The barbed comment, fired with unerring accuracy at the head of the investment division, did not go unnoticed by the chairman. He smiled inwardly.

Before the investment director could rise to the bait, the chairman stepped in. “Recruiting that US team from Stella Asset Management was a stroke of genius, Barry.” The senior investment man swallowed the retort he had been preparing for the head of sales. It was hardly his fault that his star US fund manager had been seduced by the splendour and outrageous extravagance of last summer&#39s sales-led roadshow.

The extent to which his considerable – and unusual – sexual appetites unleashed had caused HR a problem or two. Still, the two sales promotion girls were due to come out of counselling soon and he could at least take comfort from the photo-copied bill in his possession detailing the vodka and Champagne consumption, not to mention the “extras”. He wondered who had sent it to him? Then, as the chairman continued, a broad grin on his face, the penny dropped.

“What interests me more is whether themes or investment styles will pull the punters this year.” A funny thought hit the marketing director. Whenever the chairman moved on to the subject of separating investors from their cash, you could almost see the pound signs in his eyes. “What do you think, Heather?” the chairman continued. The Betelgeuse marketing guru mentally straightened her skirt. At last, an opening to bring up the subject of market research. Those moments spent on the boardroom table after last year&#39s Christmas lunch had clearly not been wasted.

“Well, chairman, Schroders has evidently stolen a march on us with last year&#39s launch but its offering was somewhat thin. A poll we conducted in the aftermath of the introduction of its style funds suggests that investors are becoming evermore sophisticated and will buy into the concept of a mechanistic, quant-driven investment approaching using pseudo-mechanistic screening and mathematical formulae.”

The chairman sighed. It would be a long meeting.

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