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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 08:31 GMT
Falling City Stars

By Julian Knight
BBC News Online personal finance reporter

Falling stars and shares prices
Managers' reputations have gone the way of share prices
The City's top fund managers control billions of investors' money and their decisions can make or break Britain's biggest companies.

In return, they receive salaries that would make even some Premiership footballers go green at the gills with envy.

But many of these star fund managers are failing to flourish in the current bear market, particularly those with big reputations who have hopped from company to company for ever larger salaries.

As a result, many investors who followed big-name money managers have been left regretting that they ever wished upon a star.

Turbulent times

With markets heading south, unit and investment trusts - funds that pool investors' money to buy shares - have had a hard time marketing themselves.

By chopping and changing, clients have incurred excessive fund and dealing charges - once you have invested the best advice is normally to sit tight
Colin Jackson, independent financial adviser

To help boost their funds, many investment firms have snared celebrity fund managers with a track record of investment success.

"During the last two years there has been an investment fad based on the cult of the fund manager," Colin Jackson, managing director of independent financial advisers Baronworth, told BBC News Online.

"It was a canny marketing ploy to tempt independent financial advisers to switch their clients between fund management firms."

Top 5 unit trusts (UK equity growth only)
MLC High Income + 9.1%
L & G High Income +3.1%
Family Safety Net - 2.4%
MLC sheltered growth -2.9%
Liontrust AS Troy -3.1%
Source: trustnet year to 17/03/03 bid to bid price

Mr Jackson believes that clients have been ill-advised by their IFAs to follow fund managers around by transferring from fund to fund.

"By chopping and changing, clients have incurred excessive fund and dealing charges - once you have invested the best advice is normally to sit tight," said Mr Jackson.

Flagship floundering

More than half of the UK's 2,039 fund managers have been in their posts for less than two years, according to the latest edition of the UK Fund Industry Review and Directory.

One case - among many - is New Star Asset management, which under the direction of fund manager John Duffield has attracted a constellation of star fund managers from other companies.

Many fund managers have been left pointing at their prior performance like a fading actor desperately holding on to a 10-year old Oscar
Justin Urquhart Stewart, Seven Investment Management

Mr Duffield, who made his name at Jupiter Asset Management, set up New Star in 2001.

The flagship New Star UK growth fund was initially headed up by Alan Miller, who had also garnered rave reviews at Jupiter Asset Management.

From a marketing point of view New Star was a huge success after 800m flooded into six funds at a time when many fund management firms saw sales of tax-free share investment vehicles like Individual Savings Accounts (ISA) tumble.

But the performance of the flagship New Star's UK growth fund has failed to live up to its star billing.

Within a year of launch, Mr Miller was taken off the fund. He had invested heavily in Elan, Telewest, EMI and Royal & Sun Alliance, whose shares have all plummeted.

At the time of Mr Miller's departure, the fund was ranked 248 out of 290 in its sector by ratings firm Lipper*, and had lost nearly 20% of its value, compared to a 10.65% fall in the FTSE All share index.

Fresh woes

Unfortunately, the pain did not stop there for investors.

After Stephen Whittaker, an even more high-profile hire from Invesco Perpetual, took up the reins of the fund last July, performance slipped further.

It is now ranked 325 out of 326 in its sector by Lipper*.

Mr Whittaker told BBC News Online that he had made mistakes since taking charge.

"I called the market a little too early and repositioned the fund for a bounce in shares... investors are entitled to feel disappointed but periods of poor performance are part of active fund management."

A New Star spokesman added that its policy of hiring managers with big reputations was paying dividends as the firm's other five funds were out-performing their respective benchmarks.

Fund laggards

Likewise, other fund management groups which paid top dollar to secure star names have suffered disappointing performances.

Bottom 5 unit trusts (UK Equity income only)
Exeter Zero portfolio -37.2%
Aberdeen UK Mid Cap -40.3%
New Star UK growth -42.0%
Solus UK special -47.3%
LeggMason UK emerging growth -50.2%
Source: trustnet year to 17/03/03 bid to bid price

In 2000, manager John Johnston left Murray Johnstone for the Legg Mason UK emerging companies fund, taking with him a good reputation.

However, he ended up investing too heavily in technology shares and endured "an absolute shocker", according to one leading independent financial adviser.

The fund lost almost 80% of its value during Mr Johnston's two-and-a-half-year tenure.

Legg Mason told BBC News Online that during the last three months performance has picked up.

"It can be hard moving job at the best of times never mind during the toughest bear market for a generation," said Justin Urquhart-Stewart, who himself left Barclays Private Clients to set up Seven Investment Management.

"Many fund managers have been left pointing at their prior performance like a fading actor desperately holding on to a 10-year old Oscar."

Investor drought

Recent research from Virgin (a fund manager that simply tracks the FTSE index) suggests that 80% of active fund managers are under-performing.

As managed ISA investments plunge in value, fund management firms are now finding that the private investor well has run dry.

New Star attracted just 10m for its recently launched Distribution Bond fund - a low-risk product, heavily advertised and well suited to a bear market.

"The fad of the star fund manager exhausted the last vestiges of faith that many private investors had in the market," said Mr Jackson.

"Suggest buying a unit or investment trust now to a client and they are simply not interested."

*Fund performance figures source: Lipper, offer to bid, net income reinvested

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