SWFs embrace Asian equities, listed infrastructure

Niche mandates offset otherwise dismal outflows as sovereign wealth funds pull back from portfolios in broad financial markets.

Global sovereign wealth funds are outsourcing more to managers of Asian equities and listed infrastructure, making these the rare asset classes to enjoy net inflows from these state-linked investors.

Asset managers have suffered eight straight quarters of net outflows totaling $87 billion from sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) since the third quarter of 2014, according to eVestment, a data provider based in New York. The first half of 2016 was particularly brutal, accounting for $26 billion of that flight, according to eVestment’s surveys of asset management companies’ flows.

Although SWFs are paring back mandates to third-party managers, particularly from broad US-market exposures, they are putting money into niche areas.

Asian equities and global liquid infrastructure have enjoyed fresh inflows during the first two quarters of 2016, said eVestment. This enabled asset managers to record a net inflow of $846 million in those two asset areas from SWFs in the first half. That is a welcome development for fund managers after they saw SWF clients pull a net $95 million from Asian equities and liquid infrastructure in the second half of 2015.

SWFs are increasingly comfortable with granular allocations in desirable asset classes. For example, they are awarding mandates for Malaysia equities, China A-shares (for mainland investors, via the scheme for qualified domestic institutional investors; for foreigners, as renminbi-denominated qualified foreign institutional investors); and greater China equities.

US equities, on the other hand, have seen SWFs take profit. Passive exposures to the S&P500 index have diminished by $13 billion over the past year end June, eVestment data said.

Of course, overall SWF exposures to the US remain vast, and these allocations to Asian equities are relatively small, noted Michael Maduell, president of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

Liquid infrastructure products have also benefited from SWF mandates, receiving net inflows of $212 million in the first half of 2016.

“Flows into niche sectors reflect the demands for specific expertise in outsourced managers by SWFs which may be too costly or time consuming to develop internally,” said Peter Laurelli, eVestment’s global head of research.

As many SWFs are funded by oil revenues, the fall in oil prices over the past two years have forced these groups to pull back investment mandates. Big Asian state investment groups have done the same, however, as China and other emerging economies slow down.

In a report released by Preqin in April, the research house noted that many oil-based sovereign funds are disposing their liquid securities such as public equities and government bonds, but heading in alternative space.

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