LONDON (Reuters) – For many money managers their most recent investor letters were among the hardest they have had to pen, saying why their funds were so deeply in the red and what they planned to do about it.
While some apologised, others admitted they could not predict what came next and a few resorted to rallying cries.
But most stuck to their guns, telling investors to keep faith in their investment plans and reassuring clients of better times ahead after the coronavirus pandemic hit markets in March.
The multi-asset managers running Schroder Life Diversified Growth Fund turned to an example of cautious optimism, quoting Winston Churchill when Allied forces won The Battle of Egypt.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,” they wrote in a March 27 update, flagging a 8.5% loss month-to-date.
In a quarter where Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE index of leading shares fell 24.8%, its worst monthly fall since late 1987, and with the MSCI World index down 21.5%, it was no surprise that equity funds were the worst hit, particularly those exposed to the energy sector or emerging markets.
Out of 4,045 funds retail, institutional and offshore funds tracked by data provider FE fundinfo, one fell more than 40% during the month, 38 fell more than 30%, 275 more than 20% and whopping 1,887 more than 10%.
For an interactive version of the graphic, click here here
The biggest loss among the funds tracked was Schroders ISF Global Energy fund, down 44.6% as the oil sector was hit by the twin pressures of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and sliding demand due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Their message to clients? Hold on for a rebound.
“As broader market volatility settles down we strongly believe that the equity recovery in the oil and gas companies will be extremely swift,” they predicted.
“We retain confidence in our ability to deliver alpha for clients over the long term,” they added.
The scale of losses pushed some managers to address clients directly even before the month was over.
One such firm was London-based asset manager H2O, run by Chief Executive Bruno Crastes, which wrote: “We would first like to extend to you and to your clients our sincere apologies.”
“No [risk] model could forecast and manage such repetitive shocks, and our earlier qualitative assessment of the crisis did not anticipate such an outcome,” H2O said.
In a world where everything is falling and double-digit monthly losses are the norm, losing less than your neighbour can feel like victory.
British stockpicker Terry Smith, manager of the 16.7 billion pound Fundsmith Equity Fund, a favourite among retail investors, was one such, informing investors last week that performance had been as expected, with a fall of 7.9% for the year to end-March.
“I would even say it is satisfactory if you accept that some fall in valuation is inevitable in a bear market,” he wrote, confirming plans to stick with his investment process, although acknowledging that he was no fortune teller.
“What will emerge from the current apocalyptic state? How many of us will become sick or worse? When will we be allowed out again? Will we travel as much as we have in the past? Will the extreme measures taken by governments to maintain the economy lead to inflation? I haven’t a clue.”