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Turning the tables

Do you think there even-tually did come a time when you got fired for recommending IBM? Cliches become cliches for a reason but maybe, in the second quarter of 2000, a young stockbroker was called into his boss’s office to be told: “This bulk order of IBM shares you placed in the first week of January, Marr what on earth were you thinking? I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.”

I should stress that was a purely hypothetical example I am a failed lawyer, not a failed solicitor, which means that, either way, I have no idea whether young Marr would have been successful at the employment tribunal with his clinching argument: “But they told me you never get fired for recommending IBM.”

Come to think of it, if young Marr had been fired for his IBM deal in early 2000, he would not have been alone in the dole queue plenty of investment professionals would have been offering similar advice as the new millennium’s taste for tech stocks grew ever stronger. Maybe it is more likely that he would have been fired for recommending IBM in the weeks after the bubble burst. That would have been a far lonelier although arguably more correct call.

I mention this, not because I am lining up another history lesson but because I cannot work out how worried I should be about the composition of the various top 10 tables recently published by Fidelity FundsNetwork to illustrate the sales trends of 2009.

Take, for example, last year’s best-selling sector through advised clients. Granted, it is not the hugest surprise that it was the UK corporate bond grouping or that, with roughly a 16 per cent market share, it sold a third more than the next big seller, cautious managed, which itself was way ahead of to complete the top five the UK all companies, strategic bond and UK equity income & growth sectors.

As I say, not surprising but, in a year when you had to work pretty hard not to make money in equities, is it not a little, well, disappointing? This is not a hindsight thing either well, not much.

According to Morningstar, the global emerging markets, Far East excluding Japan, UK smaller companies and technology & telecoms sectors all made 50 per cent-plus over 2009 and, of course, I am not suggesting that any of these should have been the biggest-selling sector.

It is just that it might have been reassuring to see a degree of overlap between the bestselling and best-performing sectors that extended beyond UK all companies, respectively third and ninth, and specialist, respectively 10th and eighth.

Fidelity FundsNetwork’s two tables for best-selling funds through Isas and all wrappers in 2009 also made me feel slightly uneasy, with appearances in each top 10 for Invesco Perpetual’s corporate bond and high-income funds, the Jupiter Merlin income portfolio and the M&G trio of corporate bond, recovery and strategic corporate bond.

Let me stress, I am definitely not denigrating these funds in any way. Ruthlessly objective journalist that I am, I am acutely aware how good all those management teams are just as I am acutely aware that two of the three groups I mentioned are sponsors of Marketing-hub.co.uk.

But, again, wouldn’t it have been reassuring to see, say, a First State Asia Pacific Leaders among the fixed interest and cautious funds rather than in second place for Isas and eighth for all wrappers over the year Fidel-ity FundsNetwork Isa cash park, which just seems a bit of a waste of a bull market.

I am guessing that these were unadvised investors parking their cash because that fund was a big seller each month through the autumn. But what about those advised clients, almost 30 per cent of whom ended up in UK corporate bond and cautious managed funds over the course of 2009?

Lusha the circus chimp has gained publicity recently after her eight random stock picks beat 94 per cent of Russia’s investment funds.

Journalists love these sort of professional investor-bashing stories but, of course, if Lusha had picked the same bank and mining-heavy portfolio a year early then all together now oh, she’d have no bananas today. But then Lusha has not learned the new investment wisdom you don’t get fired for recommen-ding Neil Woodford.

Julian Marr is editorial director of marketing-hub.co.uk

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