Investment: The Fund Manager: Trust benefits from the dental touch

FUND MANAGERS come in many shapes and sizes, with a wide variety of interests and academic backgrounds. But surely there are few whose academic achievements are quite as far removed from their subsequent career as Simon Peck, manager of Deutsche Asset Management's Managed Portfolio Fund.

"I took a PhD in tooth decay before I came into fund management," he says. "That finished in 1986 and I failed to get further post-doctoral funding. So I looked for a career outside science and rather landed on my feet at Morgan Grenfell."

The investment house acquired by Deutsche Bank in the late Eighties was re-named as Deutsche Asset Management at the beginning of October. Mr Peck's trust is a "fund of funds" because it invests in other unit trusts rather than individual shares and stems from his involvement in private client portfolio management.

He says: "I joined in September 1986 as a research analyst in the UK pension fund business for about six months. Then I moved to private client business where I was managing individual portfolios, and I headed the department.

"Around 1996, I became interested in a product we could develop as a managed vehicle for private clients and found the Morgan Grenfell Managed Portfolio Fund, which had been launched in 1989. At that time, the fund only had pounds 13m and it was being run in a fairly eclectic manner."

The trust was able to invest in any unit trust, including those outside the group. Mr Peck changed that policy when he took over. "I wanted to run a fund I would understand and where I would know the investment process of all its constituents. So now we only hold Deutsche unit trusts.

"That means I can have a good handle on what is happening in each of the underlying investments and be sure the house philosophy is being followed throughout the fund."

The fund of funds approach is relatively new to the unit trust market, but Mr Peck feels it has advantages for certain types of investor. "The trouble with funds invested directly in securities is that they tend to be run by one fund manager, which means you are putting your trust in one individual. With a fund of funds you have access to several managers.

"In my portfolio, we have 11 funds and 11 managers. My job is to make sure the fund is allocated across the markets correctly and have the right fund in the right market."

This last point is important since the trust has a wide choice of other funds, despite being restricted solely to those managed by Deutsche. "We can invest in our UK-domiciled funds and our SIB-recognised funds based in Dublin, which means every asset class is covered. But the fund tends to be invested in the unit trusts rather than the offshore funds."

Another key element is performance monitoring. Mr Peck says: "When I took on this fund, it didn't have a specific benchmark to anchor against. The one I use is a pension fund benchmark (Pooled Funds [ex Property]), which enables me to easily get data each quarter which gives me a neutral weighting from which to start the asset allocation process."

This involved Deutsche Asset Management's central asset allocation resource, its Investment Policy Committee (IPC). "I consult the IPC each quarter and they give a target, relative to the benchmark.

"Our most extreme position at present is in emerging markets, where we are double the benchmark allocation, but that still represents only 3.2 per cent of the portfolio."

The result is a fund with a steady performance. Mr Peck says: "We don't stick our necks out because we don't believe we have any particular ability to outperform by doing so. The fund is consistent in its approach and although there is some volatility, it has generally provided stable returns and it is categorised as a Balanced Managed Fund because it has substantial bond and cash holdings.

"If we have any theme it is that emerging markets will, over time, outperform. If inflation remains low, the emerging markets could have several years of outperformance. They tend to be cyclical, and get whacked on the head when interest rates go up in developed markets."

This highlights the dilemma of the fund of funds manager, whose job is primarily one of global asset allocation but who realises performance ultimately depends on the individual companies in which each of the underlying funds invests.

"Sometimes you are at the mercy of factors completely outside your control, political upheavals, natural disasters, economic crises and so on," says Mr Peck.

"That means most of the performance comes from stock selection rather than asset allocation. And since I am choosing funds rather than stocks, I cannot really claim to be the hero of this fund's performance. All I can say is that I add the discipline to it."

That discipline is, of course, the key element of the Deutsche Managed Portfolio Fund. In common with many private client portfolios, the largest exposure is generally to UK equities.

Mr Peck says: "We hold four funds covering the UK equity market, which between them account for 57 per cent of the fund. This proportion is split roughly equally across three actively managed funds with a small amount (just under 1 per cent) in our UK Index Tracker."

The remainder is split between international equities (23.3 per cent), UK Fixed Interest (9.5), Overseas Bonds (4.5) and Cash (5.7).

He adds: "We are great believers in active management, in the ability to outperform a benchmark.

"Most of our UK active funds hold around 70 underlying shares, so by spreading investments across several of them you are getting good diversity and good control of risk."

Fundamental Facts

Fund Manager: Simon Peck

Age: 39

Fund: Deutsche Managed Portfolio Fund

Size of Fund: pounds 127.51m

Fund Launched: March 1989

Manager of Fund: Since March 1996

Current Yield: 1.36%

Initial Charge: 5.25%

(Investors may be able to buy at significantly lower cost via a discount broker)

Annual Charge: 1.50%

Current Bid/Offer Spread: 5.45%

Minimum Investment: pounds 1,000 (subsequently pounds 500)

Minimum Monthly Savings: pounds 25

Standard & Poor's Micropal Rating (maximum KKKKK): KKKK

One Year 11.30%

Two Years 13.22%

Three Years 29.83%

Five Years 60.80%

Seven Years 144.98%

Ten Years 171.28%

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