Institutional investors continue to diversify their investment portfolios into alternative assets, increasingly via direct funds rather than funds of funds, according to global data from global professional services company Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW). The data show that, in 2012, its clients — which include pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and insurance companies — allocated 70% more assets to hedge fund and private market strategies than in 2010, reaching $12 billion for the year. Zainul Ali, head of manager research, Americas, at Towers Watson, said, “Throughout the past five years, the alternative fund managers that we have placed in client portfolios have shown their ability to adapt to the changing environment to generate good net-of-fees performances. Larger institutional funds are likely to continue to invest in funds directly for most alternative asset classes, rather than via funds of funds, as investors continue to focus on better fee structures and greater transparency.” In 2012, the number of hedge fund mandates awarded to direct funds continued to increase, especially in the macroeconomic, fixed income and reinsurance areas. Similarly, in private markets, real estate, private equity and infrastructure, direct funds received the vast majority of assets. During the year, there was particular interest in infrastructure globally, with three times more assets being awarded to investment managers by Towers Watson’s clients than in 2011. The data also show that Smart Beta strategies, which capture a premium over time or improve portfolio efficiency through diversification, continued to attract a significant amount of assets ($5 billion) in 2012. These new Smart Beta mandates were mainly allocated in the bonds, commodities and equities, and to a lesser extent in reinsurance, hedge fund and infrastructure. Towers Watson’s institutional investment clients have now allocated over $20 billion to Smart Beta strategies to date. “These Smart Beta strategies range from relatively simple ideas — such as real estate securities and specialist infrastructure strategies to create liquid diversity — to doing existing betas better, such as non-market cap-weighted equities. They also include more specialist solutions with niche asset managers, such as reinsurance, currency carry and volatility premiums. Smart Beta solutions have particularly wide applications for most of our clients — regardless of whether they are large or small, or currently investing actively or passively — and our proprietary knowledge and industry relationships have allowed us to help investment managers design much better net-of-fees products for them,” said Ali.
According to Towers Watson, institutional demand for global equity and bond mandates has remained high during the past five years, while demand for U.K.-focused equity and bond funds has fallen substantially during the same period.U.S. and emerging-market bond mandates continued to be popular in 2012, but global bonds were the most popular bond mandate among clients, almost doubling compared to the previous year. In total, bond mandate selections accounted for $24 billion in assets invested last year. In equities, global mandates continued to be the most popular with Towers Watson’s clients, closely followed in popularity by U.S. equity and global ex-U.S. equity mandates. In total, equity mandate selections accounted for $22 billion in assets invested last year. “These figures confirm an established trend of investors investing away from local markets as they seek to diversify their portfolios more globally,” said Ali. Manager selection activity globally at Towers Watson exceeded 900 selections in 2012, reflecting around $76 billion of assets moved. Towers Watson Investment Towers Watson Investment is focused on creating financial value for the world’s leading institutional investors through its expertise in risk assessment, strategic asset allocation and investment manager selection. It is a division of Towers Watson’s Risk and Financial Services business, has over 750 associates worldwide and assets under advisory of over US$2 trillion. About Towers Watson Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. The company offers solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Towers Watson has 14,000 associates around the world and is located on the web at towerswatson.com.