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Alt Ucits bond funds: a fixed income safe haven?

Alt Ucits bond funds: a fixed income safe haven?

Alternative Ucits bond funds have been a major beneficiary of investors’ search for ways to handle the transition into a possible fixed income bear market.

Over the past two years, assets in Citywire’s Alternative Ucits Bond Strategies sector have almost doubled from £15.4 billion to £29 billion.

For comparison, assets in the other popular destination for rate hawks – Sterling Strategic Bond – have increased by a more sedate 78% from a slightly higher base through the same period. The Global Bonds category has grown by 27% since the summer of 2012, while the Sterling Corporate Bond sector has dwindled by 2%.

Typically, the flows into the Alternative Ucits bond funds haven’t been evenly distributed. Two years ago, two juggernauts dominated the sector: Bill Eigen’s (pictured) JPM Income Opportunity with a 20.9% market share, and Timothy Haywood’s Julius Baer Multibond Absolute Return suite with 20%. Their next largest rival, Guillermo Osses’s global emerging markets bond range at HSBC, claimed just a 5.1% market share.

Today Eigen still controls the same 20.9% of the sector, but Haywood has slipped down to a 12.8% share. Osses’s proportion of the market has been decimated to 0.5%.

Four insurgents have gained at their expense: Pimco Credit Absolute Return has jumped from a 0.06% share to a third-placed 4.1%, Threadneedle Credit Opportunities from 1.9% to 3.5%, Ignis Absolute Return Government Bond from 0.7% to 3.3%, and Legg Mason Western Asset Macro Opportunities Bond from nothing – it launched last November – to 3.2%. That’s equivalent to £935 million in less than a year.

No other fund in this 41-strong sector commands more than a 3% market share.

And has that coterie of asset grabbers served investors well? Broadly, yes. Pimco manager Mark Kiesel, AA rated by Citywire, boasts an impressive personal information ratio of 0.9 over the past three years. Barrie Whitman at Threadneedle has delivered 0.91, and the A-rated Ignis team headed by Russ Oxley 0.7.

The average over the past three years has been positive at 0.3 – commendable for an entire sector – with BlackRock’s AA-rated Michael Phelps emerging top on 1.11. He has a 2.5% market share, with BlackRock managing the fund’s capacity.

Legg Mason’s Kenneth Leech doesn’t have a three-year record in this sector yet, but over the past six months his personal information ratio has been a spectacular 3.46.

The sector’s pair of giants, Eigen and Haywood, have fared less well than their peers with personal information ratios of zero and minus 0.01 respectively on a three-year view. However, that still indicates that their funds performed better than an index tracker would have done after costs.

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