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DFMs look to income fund for EM exposure; Quilter plays waiting game with Woodford holding

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Emerging opportunities?

A source of increased market chatter in recent weeks has been whether, amid the carnage of developed markets, emerging markets are becoming interesting again. 

The bear case is that many emerging economies and countries borrow in dollars, so rising US interest rates leave less cash for equity investors in emerging market assets. 

Additionally, if developed market economies are slowing, that would be expected to hurt demand for the exports of emerging market countries. 

The bull case is that in some of the largest emerging market economies, including Brazil and China, interest rates have already gone up, and are now likely to be cut to stimulate growth, which should benefit equities, while those countries are also capable of delivering fiscal stimulus. 

A peek at our database shows no particular uptick in interest in emerging market equity funds between March and May this year, with the average allocation in balanced portfolios actually dropping from 4.8 to 4.4 per cent.

As ever with looking at allocations, market movements as well as DFM actions are part of the reason for any changes.

The DFMs with the largest allocations to emerging market equities at the start of May were You Asset Management (formerly known as Beaufort) and Handelsbanken. 

Both have more than 9 per cent allocated there. In contrast, Brewin Dolphin has just 1 per cent in emerging market funds. 

Of course all firms have some exposure to emerging markets through global or Asia funds. 

The most popular emerging market fund among the allocators on our database is JP Morgan Emerging Markets Income, which is held in eight of the portfolios on our list. Two of those purchases have happened in the past few months.

The fund is £636mn in size and among the top performers in its sector over one, three and five years. In 2021, it returned 8.3 per cent, while the average emerging markets fund lost about half a per cent.

Surprisingly, the performance hasn't been driven by an overweight to commodities at a time when those prices have been rising - instead the largest allocations are to telecoms, media and technology stocks, and the largest geographical exposure is to Asia.

Emerging market equities are not often considered as an income play, which might explain the fund being "only" £636m in size, but if emerging markets do experience a revival of interest, it could be that this fund gets picked up by more than just income hunters.


Waiting game

The Neil Woodford debacle rumbles on past the three year anniversary of his equity income fund's suspension, which was marked earlier this month.

Most of the DFM community managed to untangle itself from any exposure it had to the former star fund manager fairly early on. But one exception to that is Quilter.

The firm's Wealthselect model portfolio range only ever had segregated exposure to Woodford, but removed the mandate from him in 2019 and gave it to the far more orthodox equity income team at Artemis. 

But in the Cirilium fund range, there remains a legacy holding in the stricken Woodford fund.

Indeed Quilter is the only DFM in our database to still have a holding (albeit a small one) in the Woodford Equity Income fund. 

The exposure is in the dynamic, moderate and balanced portfolios, but all of the holdings are less than 10 basis points in size.

One fact that helps clients of the portfolios understand their exposure is that, despite the Woodford fund being suspended and holding unquoted assets, it is still valued on a monthly basis. 

That enables Quilter to price the value of its holding monthly, the same as with any other fund holding. 

When we asked Quilter when it expected to be able to get rid of this holding, a spokesperson said they expected the liquidation of the fund to stretch into 2023, with the process potentially hampered by the current market volatility.

They added: "The fund is currently valued on a monthly basis and we monitor these valuations closely to ensure we maximise the return from the remaining proceeds as much as is possible. As such we have valued the funds as part of the Cirilium range accordingly."

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