Mercer Investment Consulting has released a summary of its global investment manager searches, shedding light on the reality of what many institutional investors want when it comes to picking asset classes.

Mercer is one of the industryÆs biggest players globally, and one of two serious investment consultancies in Asia and Japan.

The data covers the consultancyÆs entire business in 2006. In that period, the value of assets placed through its search activity totalled $92.3 billion across 741 searches, with the average placement at $125 million. Asia (including Australia and New Zealand) saw the most growth, where searches nearly doubled to 83 last year, accounting for over $11 billion (versus only $3.4 billion in 2005).

But Asian clients sought different asset classes than the global average. Worldwide, global equity attracted the most searches, accounting for 143 searches worth $29 billion, or 31% of total assets placed. US equity came in second with 76 searches for $4 billion.

The Asia-Pacific regionÆs searches were more balanced, with roughly equal portions dedicated to global equity, global fixed income, Japan equity and other Asia-Pacific equity (this latter especially popular with Malaysian institutions). Mercer attributes this to a growing desire among the regionÆs institutions for exposure to globally diversified portfolios. Mercer saw a decrease in searches for emerging-market equity, and zero for Hong Kong balanced mandates, from Asia-Pacific clients.

But the firm believes that overall, global fixed income was the most popular asset class for Asian institutions last year. The asset size of searches it placed, $3.4 billion, is misleading, because large government institutions were engaged in this area but only disclosed part of their allocations to Mercer.

And Japanese institutions led the way in demand for alternative investment classes, including hedge funds and real estate.