European  

‘Because we are different it means the debate is robust’

Many people complain they spend longer with their work colleagues than with family and friends, and in the case of fund manager duos this is often the case.

BlackRock’s European equity managers Alice Gaskell and Andreas Zoellinger began working together a number of years ago after Ms Gaskell sought more help in running the eurozone funds.

She recalls: “There was a stock we were talking about and no one else agreed with me on the team, except for Andreas. And I thought, there’s a guy I could work with.

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“We started working together and it’s gone from strength to strength in that time. We built a really strong track record in the Euro Markets fund and then four or five years ago we were asked to think about how we would do the income product. And that’s gone very well.”

Their working relationship has stood the test of time, helped by the “clear process” they use for selecting stocks across all their funds, but also by their very different personalities.

“Every fund manager has a bias to what rings their bell and what kind of risk they want to take,” Ms Gaskell says. “Because we are quite different it means the debate is very robust and it also means that we’re probably seeing different things.

“I would say I’ve been somebody who likes change, looks for quite contrarian, value-oriented opportunities and really focuses on surprise – what’s surprising, why is it surprising and what does that tell us about what the risks are and how the world is changing?”

Mr Zoellinger admits he is “more steady, predictable”, in acknowledgment of his German heritage. “We are quite different but quite complementary,” he reveals. “That’s what we have found out from years of working together. It’s all about playing to the strengths and weaknesses of the other person, and realising what kind of market environment we’re in.”

He cites March 2009, when the market was “at a turning point”, as playing to Ms Gaskell’s strengths. “If it comes to keeping some stocks a little bit longer, not beyond fair value but upgrading numbers, I would maybe hold on to these stocks tentatively for a little bit longer. I like the predictability,” he says.

Ms Gaskell adds: “In the current environment, predictability has been driving markets, so stocks that are predictable are performing well, which is why the income fund has been doing so well.”

She compares it to the Italian equity market in 2011 when equities were extremely cheap as a result of the political risks at the time. “That was a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy Italian stocks when they were attractively valued and the risks were being mispriced,” she says.

“We’re not in that situation today because the market has recovered quite a long way and we need to think more about growth and predictable growth – what kind of growth we can count on and what kind of growth is more risky. In that environment, predictable stocks get along better as we saw last year.”