BAML has put out a report chronicling a new outlook for stocks, and it isn’t pretty. The report shows that investors have the worst views on the markets in a decade. Investors are pessimistic about global growth and corporate profits, the combination of which makes them expect a weak equity market. Here is a summary of Bank of America’s report: “A poll of asset managers showed a net 60 per cent of those questioned think growth in gross domestic product will weaken over the next 12 months, the worst outlook on the global economy since July 2008 and below the trough in January 2001”.
FINSUM: So it is important to note that these are asset manager opinions, not individual investors. Accordingly, it may not be as much of a contrarian indicator as usual.
One of the big themes in the asset management industry right now is the possibility of consolidation. A big plunge in asset manager share prices and falling fees has added motivation for managers to tie up to increase scale and efficiency. Invesco’s recent deal to acquire OppenheimerFunds is a great example. However, regulators are reporting discussing such deals and are apparently concluding that the passive management business has grown uncompetitive, with just three firms dominating the space. Interestingly, the worries over competitiveness are not centered on the asset management industry itself, but rather how having a few large managers, each of whom own each other and other companies’ shares, makes the whole economy less competitive. The big three asset managers—BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street, are not the largest shareholders in 88% of S&P 500 companies. This whole situation, and the worries attached to it are referred to as “common ownership”.
FINSUM: One can see how this would make the economy less competitive, but more specifically, it may mean that it is harder for asset managers to push deals through.
If you think the market has been bad overall, take a look at the asset management sector, which has been brutalized in the last few weeks. The S&P index of asset managers has fallen 14% this month, compared with a 9.3% drop for the market overall. That adds to a lot of pain already this year—the index has lost almost 25% of its value in 2018 and is headed for the biggest loss since 2008. Some, like leader BlackRock, have been hit very hard just this month with shares down 17%.
FINSUM: Weak fees and poor fund flows are the immediate problem, but they are a major issue because they support investors’ fears of disruption in the industry.
Rising rates are good for financials, right? Well, not always, especially for asset managers. The sector is not as directly impacted by rate rises as banks, and investors need to be on the look out for losses. The whole sector is experiencing a grave fee war, with fund pricing recently hitting zero. All managers are now in an effective race to the bottom on fees and only a handful of winners will emerge, all reliant on increasing scale massively to make the low fees viable.
FINSUM: Asset managers are in a nasty and long-term fight. The damage to shares would have been much worse, but the rise in stocks and other assets has boosted AUM, which has offset a lot of the lost revenue from lower fees, helping to insulate the sector.
One of the weakest sectors over the last year has been asset management. If you take a close look at some top asset managers, including Invesco, BlackRock, etc, you will see that many are down 20% or more. The growth of passives, pressure on fees, and weak inflows have all combined to bring down the managers. According to Barron’s they look like big bargains. BlackRock, T.Rowe, Franklin Resources, and Legg Mason look like the good bets. There are some great payers in the group too, with Invesco and BlackRock both sporting yields over 4% and AllianceBernstein paying a whopping 8.6%.
FINSUM: Yes, the industry’s traditional model is under fire, but those with very good scale will win out. Therefore, we do think the very top managers are a good buy, especially at these valuations/yields.