Value Partners has made another round of staff cuts amid pandemic-fuelled market volatility, capping a difficult few years for the Hong Kong-based fund house.

At least 10 employees are understood to have left in the past week, including Michael Mills, managing director of alternative products, and Julie Zhu of the China sales team. Meanwhile, Michael Greenall, Kuala Lumpur-based head of Southeast Asia, moved on a few weeks ago, sources said.  

This follows several other waves of departures from the firm since 2017 amid what has been a challenging period for asset managers globally, now made even tougher by markets tanking amid the spread of Covid 19.  

"It has been uphill for [Value Partners] all of 2019 and now it’s just getting from bad to worse,” one Singapore-based source familiar with the situation told AsianInvestor.

Michael Mills
 

“Some departures have been voluntary; others have been cost cuts and strategy realignment,” he said, adding that some of the moves had been in the works already, but the pandemic has likely brought them forward.

A spokeswoman at Value Partners declined to confirm or comment on the names or number of any departures or whether they would be replaced.  

“To stay competitive in the fast-changing landscape and cope with the highly uncertain market environment, we have been rationalising our operations to ensure our resources are allocated most efficiently for our long-term strategies, e.g. [the] developing China market,” she said.

“The rationalisation, aiming to ensure our human resources are rightly allocated, includes but [is] not limited to the reduction of non-strategic positions and normal turnover,” she said.

The firm, a specialist in managing Chinese and Asian securities, has in recent years sought to build up an alternative investment business and institutional client base. But it has had limited success in doing so, industry observers have noted.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The regulatory licences of Mills and Zhu with Value Partners all ended on March 27, Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) records show. Mills had been with the firm for about 18 months, while Greenall had joined in July 2018 and Zhu in May 2016

Moreover, fixed income analyst Goh Wee Liam, left in March and has joined DBS Bank in a similar role, according to his LinkedIn page.


Julie Zhu

Other licences to have ceased at Value Partners include those of investment analyst Bae Sang-Hoon (March 31), senior manager of quantitative solutions Kenneth Lee (February 4) and senior associate Manz Leung (March 27).

The head of human resources, Clara Kwan, and some employees from the middle and back office have also left, AsianInvestor understands.

There have, however, also been recent hires. Agnes Lam has joined the client services team from Hong Kong-based insurer AIA, according to her LinkedIn page, and Lai Chi-Kit came on board last month from BlackRock, according to SFC records.

Moreover, Value Partners has a substantial expansion programme under way in mainland China, including adding staff and other resources to its onshore business, said the company spokeswoman. The firm has also completed the purchase of an office property in Shanghai, she said, without giving a date for the acquisition.

However, Value Partners had $15 billion under management as of end-2019, roughly the same as in 2018 despite relatively strong market performance last year, a Hong Kong stock exchange filing shows.

POTENTIAL SALE?

Still, laying off staff will reduce costs and push down the company’s market valuation, making it potentially easier to sell, said a fund industry veteran familiar with Value Partners.

Cheah and co-founder Yeh V-Nee had tried to sell a stake to Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, but that deal fell through at the start of 2018, and there have been no signs of a serious suitor since. 

The Value Partners spokeswoman declined to comment on the potential sale of the fund house.

The recent departures continue the merry-go-round of senior executives that started with a shakeup after Au King-Lun arrived as chief executive in December 2016.

Senior fund manager Philip Li left the fund house in August last year. Sales head Eric Poon move on in January 2019 just a year after joining. He had replaced Wayne Shum, who had only spent some nine months at the firm after bering hired in May 2017.

Deputy chief executive Raymond Tam and head of exchange-traded funds William Chow also left the firm amid the radical management reshuffle in 2017.