aberdeen and first state

Aberdeen has now soft closed its £2.7bn EM Fund, and given First State’s previous track record of doing the same with large funds, a genuine dilemma has confronted fund pickers looking for exposure to this sector.

aberdeen and first state


The general attitude is to get into First State’s Global Emerging Markets Leaders Fund (£2bn in size) while you still can and the reason for this is once it’s closed to new money (almost a foregone conclusion) there is a distinct lack of alternatives.

So why have other fund houses failed to compete in this sector, allowing these two behemoths to gain a monopoly, and will any of them now take the opportunity to up their game and become the next default fund provider for access to GEM?

The short answer is it’s too early to tell. Given the conviction many people have in the growth story of emerging over developed markets, I hope some more top managers step up to the plate. But based on what is currently available, there is a somewhat limited talent pool.

The new guard

Early suggestions for a replacement are the £1bn JPM Emerging Markets Fund (an Oeic) or in the investment trust space Mark Mobius’ Templeton Emerging Markets Investment Trust. Bryan Collings’ IM Hexam GEM Fund (£57.8m) has also been touted as an up-and-coming contender.

But the way Collings manages money is vastly different to the way either First State or Aberdeen’s teams in the region do. Their proposition is as a core holding and in a bull market their returns can look comparatively sluggish. Equally though, in a bear market these teams truly show their worth.

Meanwhile, Collings might add alpha and beta to a portfolio, and has had a great start to 2012,but he had a terrible year last year – down 31.2% compared to a loss of 19.1% from the sector – and suffers more from the volatility associated with EM.

In addition, many fund pickers will have holdings in either Aberdeen or First State’s offering and Hexam’s and they will not see Collings, whose fund launched in 2009, as a natural replacement for these old hands, nor should they.

One of the problems cited with EM investing is a lack of liquidity, which is why Aberdeen and First State worry about their funds getting too big.

Gentle giants

How big is too big? This depends a lot on investment style and approach. Something that should be remembered though is the crossover different funds from the same provider might have.

While they clearly have different mandates and investable universes, GEM funds and Asia Pacific funds might hold some of the same stocks.

Aberdeen and First State both have substantial amounts of money in Asia, Latin America and wider emerging markets – through institutional mandates, unit trusts and investment trusts – so it is not hard to envisage a situation where they have a high stake in a single company, never mind a single market.

For that reason they should be applauded for saying no to further inflows. It’s just a shame there’s no natural successor on hand to pick up the mantle.

Where would you put clients’ money for EM exposure with Aberdeen and First State out of the equation? Let us know below.




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