Remaining true to label a challenge in volatile times: ECP Asset Management

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Regardless of underlying market movements, it is important for fund managers to remain true to label to ensure investors’ portfolio construction strategies continue to meet their long term needs, says Dr Manny Pohl, CEO of ECP Asset Management. 

“There will always be times when the going gets tough for asset managers and the temptation is to change their approach in order to deliver better performance for investors. 

“For example, a growth manager sees that growth assets are getting hammered, so they try to buy some value stocks to recoup that loss.  While this style drift may create a short-term benefit, the long-term consequences can be significant, and it is a time when investors should be concerned.

“It is a short-term fix that could become problematic over the longer term.

“Likewise, investors shouldn’t ditch a particular strategy or investment style based only on the previous year’s performance. The decision – both to invest in the first place, and to subsequently exit the investments – should be more considered and rational than that.”

Dr Pohl says that this may be easier said than done, but rigorous discipline and research are key.

“For many investors, the most recent performance figures are the primary source of information about their investments, and it can be difficult to remember the long term investment strategy when a fund manager’s performance is lagging its peers. 

“But it is important to look at the reasons behind this, and fully understand the basis for any underperformance.

“Take 2016 for example. It was a very unusual year for growth style managers, with all the usual sources of risk in many portfolios experiencing negative payoff. Stock selection, sector allocation, style and market beta all contributed negatively to active return. This type of positive correlation in any calendar year is highly unusual.

“But this kind of outcome is unlikely to be repeated, so making investment decisions today based on last year’s performance is not going to produce the expected – or desired – result.”

On average, the market undervalues extremely high quality, capital efficient organic growth businesses, and the market tends to over-emphasise temporary themes and short-term factors, Dr Pohl says.

“In this environment, investors – whether institutions, superannuation funds or retail – mustn’t let short-term performance distract from their original long term goals.  And money managers must resist the urge to change their strategy, and stay true to label. 

“Managers have to be clear about their investment parameters and what they have promised investors, and they have to stick to them, in the best interests of their investors.

“After all, timing markets is difficult and market upticks can happen suddenly.

“Ditching growth stocks based on a previous year’s performance means that investors may miss out of the benefits of the eventual upturn in this sector.

“There will be times when the best money managers in the world – as judged by various market metrics – nevertheless get absolutely battered in markets.  So investors need to consider more than just past performance when choosing a manager.

“Equally, they need to consider more than past performance when making the decision to ditch a manager. Someone who invests in a fund manager because they are outperforming the market, but then ditches the manager when they underperform, will miss out on the upturn when the market conditions change and the manager is in a position to outperform again.

“Staying the course, of course, means ensuring you are with the right manager in the first place.

“If you are invested in a fund manager and the fund is putting in poor performance, it is important to consider the underlying reasons for the poor short term performance. If it is economic impacts outside of the managers’ control – such as the United Kingdom deciding the leave the European Union, or the people of the United States voting for President Trump – further evaluation is necessary.

“If the manager is still investing in the way that was promised, and is still on track for the long term returns expected – investors should think carefully about exiting,” Dr Pohl says.

ECP Asset Management was established to invest its own funds together with those of its institutional and sophisticated clients in profitable, high quality, Australian listed (or dual listed) growth companies.

It is a long term, long only, high conviction growth equities manager that looks to achieve above benchmark returns over a three year investment horizon.