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Mona Patel: Where are investors putting their faith?

Mona Patel MM blog

There is still, not surprisingly, a lot of doom and gloom out there when it comes to all things financial.

The backdrop remains one of recession, economic uncertainty, markets going the wrong way and general malaise towards and mis-trust of the financial services industry.

Where people are engaging in financial transactions it is mainly those they have to engage in, whether it be trying to secure a mortgage, re-mortgaging or finding a credit agreement that will not keep them mired in debt for the foreseeable future. Arguably they do also have to save for their futures but for most people in the current climate that is not an immediate financial priority.

Given this background I can not imagine financial advisers have hoards of new clients desperate to invest newfound wealth or even start thinking about regular savings.

That leaves existing fund investors who have, over time, proved to be a resilient bunch and continue to put their money and faith in the markets to deliver for them over the long-term.

The question is where are they putting their faith amidst all the turmoil? It is well-known that it is never wise to read too much into short-term figures but they do provide an interesting snapshot of recent investor behaviour.

Until September fixed income funds had proved to be the most popular type of fund for 12 months, with investors perhaps looking for the relative certainty and stability associated with such funds compared with the volatility of equity funds given the ongoing uncertainty of markets.

In September, for the first time in a year, equities were the favoured asset class. And continuing a trend seen in the recent past, investors preferred equity funds with a non-UK outlook. Investors also showed a preference for income-oriented funds in September.

Is this maybe recognition of how much more equity funds are yielding against a fear that bonds might not be such a good bet if interest rates manage to get off the floor of their all-time low?

Looking a bit more closely at their choice of equity funds, global funds were the most popular in September, with net retail sales at their highest level since February, and net retail sales of European equity funds were positive for the first time in 16 months.

In stark contrast, UK equity funds saw net outflows. For those seeking income, strategic bond and global and UK equity income funds were the funds of choice.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether equity funds are actually turning a corner and whether the hunt for income will continue via funds.

And what of tracker funds? They have a fairly significant fan club of commentators who remain to be convinced of the benefits of active funds. Tracker sales are well down compared to a year ago but in terms of overall market share they now make up a record 7.6 per cent at £48 billion under management.

And there is a pretty diverse spread of funds within this with just over 40 per cent tracking UK indices and the rest tracking a wide range of both equity and bond indices.

As for ethical funds, they still represent a small share of the overall market, with just over 1 per cent, and this has remained fairly consistent over at least the last ten years.

This quarter did however see their largest ever outflow. It is difficult to see ethical funds picking up very significantly in years to come but they are likely to continue to serve the relatively small number of investors who want them.

So, it is perhaps not all doom and gloom. We all just need more people to find faith in the markets.

Mona Patel is head of communications at the Investment Management Association

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