SCAM

The chairman is furious that his little secret is out – he has an investment project up his sleeve that he is sure will be a goer. But in a market of conflicting views, which line should he follow?

“So how’s the impending launch of your new absolute return fund coming along?” I asked the chairman of the improvisedly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we enjoyed a couple of pints of Chateau Hendrik Cosijn von Ripperda in The Chunyong Rhie – and, no, yet another birthday has been consigned to oblivion and I’m still not bored of these pubs.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” the chairman exploded. “Is there nobody at my company who can keep a secret?” There seemed little to be gained from pointing out that, to my knowledge, there was only one person at Second Coming who had trouble keeping secrets, so instead I said: “Don’t panic – you haven’t got a mole at Scam – or, at least, not another one.”

“Then how could you possibly …?” the chairman spluttered. “Look,” I replied. “There aren’t a whole lot of sure things in the wonderful world of investment at the moment. Actually, aside from the fact that I’ll receive my first Christmas-orientated press release any day now, I’d say the only nailed-on certainty at the moment is that investment groups are desperately looking for anything that will sell.

“And if they don’t have whatever that may currently be on their books they will, with an equal measure of desperation, be examining how they can launch one – and the sooner the better. Now, have you seen the latest stats from the good, good people at the Investment Management Association?”

“I may have glanced in their direction,” the chairman conceded.

“Mmmm,” I mmmmed. “Well, during your glance you may have noticed that, for the past two months, the best-selling sector – at least in Retail World – has been Absolute Return. And when I say ‘best-selling’, I don’t mean a Coke first, Pepsi a respectable second scenario but in a Harry Potteresque massacre of who cares what’s in second kind of a way.

“As it happens, Global Growth was second in July – shifting a net £72m compared with the £232m of Absolute Return – all of which raises two questions. The first was the one I kicked off with because, as I say, any fund group that does not offer an absolute return fund is looking at how they can launch one now – even if, in doing so, they only retain a whiff of credibility.”

“And no doubt the second question is – how on earth can we get Mark Lyttleton?” added the chairman. “Believe me, it’s something I’ve pondered a hundred times but BlackRock’s paramilitary arm are watching him like a hawk. We managed to sneak one of our work experience types on to his floor a couple of weeks back but we haven’t heard a peep from him since.”

“If I might interrupt – and I think it’s probably best that I do,” I intervened. “My second question was going to be more along the lines of who knows better, the retail or institutional wing of the IMA’s extended family? You see, in July the institutional boys only went for some £30m of Absolute Return funds, compared with the aforementioned £232m on the retail side.

“Instead they were far more partial to a bit of UK Corporate Bond action – to the tune of a net £252m, compared with a negative £100m from the retail fraternity. So as I say, my question is: who knows better?

“Can it really all be down to the institutional mob matching liabilities? I mean, check out the other side – the worst-selling retail sector for July is Europe ex UK at minus £332m while institutional is minus £110m. Yet while, at minus £42m, retail is comparatively ambivalent about UK Gilts, at negative £1.7 billion, the institutions are treating that sector like a phone call from the FSA’s enforcement arm.

“So who knows? Is it Peter Hargreaves, who I notice is calling five quarters of negative growth? Where does his firm stand on absolute returns versus corporate bonds? And why does his prediction remind me of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat and seven lean cows?”

“As you say, who knows?” shrugged the chairman. “Now, do excuse me. Funds don’t launch themselves, you know.”