While all other geographic regions posted growth in asset-manager search activity last year, Asia actually saw fewer searches, but recorded an increase in assets placed, according to Mercer.

The consultant carried out 40 searches last year in Asia (ex-Australia), one-third down from the 60 of 2008. But it placed $19.2 billion in assets, an increase from $17.6 billion the year before and a near-fivefold rise from $4.2 billion in 2007.

Across the region, interest in higher-return areas such as private equity and funds of hedge funds dropped from previous years, according to Mercer's 2009 Global Manager Search Trends report.

"Search activity across Asia remained muted last year as investors waited for the financial storm to clear," says Marianne Feeley, a principal in Mercer's Asia-Pacific manager research team. "Searches were mainly limited to switching, with no new net injection of funds into the capital markets."

The most popular searches in Asia in terms of numbers were on global/international equity (10 searches, $2.9 billion placed), followed by Japan equity (eight searches, $121 million placed). But by far the largest amount of assets placed by strategy was in global fixed income, with $14.3 billion placed.

This was against a backdrop of a substantial increase in search activity globally, with assets placed reaching their highest levels yet. During 2009, Mercer advised on 826 manager searches across the world (not including US defined-contribution searches), up by 22% from 676 in 2008. The searches represented $97.2 billion in assets placed by 406 institutional investors.

The most notable increase in activity was in Australia, where the number of searches doubled to 120 last year from 61 in 2008. However, the amount of assets placed almost halved from $15.2 billion to $7.7 billion, reflecting a trend for smaller placements -- in stark contrast to the trend in Asia.

Equity searches dominated, with Australian equity increasing from 18 to 24 and global equity from 12 to 23. Fixed income (including cash) increased from seven to 36 searches and real-estate searches doubled to eight. "The equity search activity in Australia can be attributed to manager underperformance, a change of ratings and investors seeking products with lower fees," says Feeley.

In both the UK and Europe, search activity also rose considerably, whereas in North America the increases were relatively small in comparison.

Worldwide, global equity remained the dominant search category, with 191 searches accounting for $25.8 billion in assets placed, up by 23% from 155 searches and $23.3 billion placed in 2008. Searches in global fixed income almost quadrupled to 92 searches from 25 in 2008, as clients made allocations to short-dated credit and convertibles. The number of real-estate searches (67) regained pre-credit crunch levels from 32 in 2008 and 62 in 2007. Most regions observed a decline in searches in domestic equity.

An institutional investor might seek to hire an investment manager to manage a portfolio for various reasons: as a result of growth in assets under management, a change in investment strategy, a change in investment-manager structure, or a decision to replace an incumbent investment manager.

The report's results follow moves by Mercer to strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific region with new hires in investment consulting and investment management.