Keeping it in the family

César Pérez Ruiz, Head of Investments & CIO, Pictet Wealth Management

Keeping it in the family

Investment beliefs that reflect the concerns of multi-generational families.

According to recent analysis by a US consultancy firm, the median tenure of chief executive officers at large-cap companies in the US has fallen from 7.5 years to five in the space of just four years. The increasing turnover can be seen as both a cause and an ef­fect of short-termism: CEOs of firms with outside shareholders are often under pressure to deliver results every quarter, which can lead to excessive risk-taking, including taking on too much leverage.

With less pressure from external shareholders, the heads of private family firms are able to think more long term. Such companies are often self-funded. And while we might look sometimes with a jaundiced eye at buy-outs, we certainly like buy-ins, where the owners of family companies ex­press confidence by upping their stake in a business just as bigger corporate investors withdraw. And over the gen­erations, well-established family busi­nesses will have built up a wealth of knowledge, experience and values that each generation absorbs and passes on to the next.

With 215 years of existence, and with an average partner tenure of 21 years, Pictet itself has a lot in com­mon with such multi-generational firms. Consistent with this longevity, the Pictet group has drawn up a series of long-term, multi-asset investment beliefs, which act as guidelines for the investment services we deliver to our family clients.

Among these is the belief that stra­tegic asset allocation is the most im­portant driver of returns over the long run. This, we believe, means standing ready to take a range of diverse and uncorrelated investment decisions rather than concentrating on a small number—in other words, managing portfolios actively. In turn, success in active management means trying to eliminate the noise that comes with in­formation overload and looking at the real thematic drivers of long-term re­turns. Family owned businesses fit well into many of these themes, whether it be innovation, stability and sustaina­ble finances. Active management also involves ensuring prices reflect long-term fundamentals—something the owners of family wealth should value as it is often a hallmark of their own business success.

One of our core investment beliefs is that active management best serves the interests of our clients, including our family clients. Today, active man­agement also means exploiting the dislocation that has resulted from the coronavirus crisis. Since the financial crisis in 2008, aggressive central bank stimulus has led to tighter correla­tion within and between asset classes, meaning passive investing has had the wind in its sails. We do not think this will last, given the price distor­tions and misallocation of capital of­ten associated with enduringly tight correlations. We believe proper price disclosure will come in the wake of the economic uncertainty engendered by the coronavirus. Who pays the bill for the huge debts incurred by covid-19? Will it be bond holders or equity hold­ers? Taxpayers in poor countries or in rich ones? In the huge monetary and fiscal stimulus we are currently seeing lies the roots of widening correlations that active managers will exploit, sep­arating the winners from the losers as volatility and dislocation come to the fore again.

Finally, as stewards of client sav­ings, we want to act responsibly, inter­acting positively with the investments we select. The families who count among our clients well understand our intent to invest with purpose, which is not the least important of the invest­ment guidelines we follow.

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