River FOURcast: An introduction








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Welcome to the River FOURcast. This is our version of a weather forecast which provides a guide to what we think may be coming for investment markets and therefore how we should be positioning portfolios for that climate. It is, and has been, the foundation of our successful 15 years track record of adapting client portfolios to prevailing market conditions for both our fiduciary and investment consulting clients.

The River FOURcast is a framework that needs to be considered with judgement. It is not a black box model that tells us exactly what to do. This note aims to explain the input factors, the four different phases and how these should be interpreted in your portfolio. Ultimately, the FOURcast is a communication tool, to help our clients understand why we’re providing the advice we are at this particular time, and to allow them to plan ahead.

The inputs



Credit conditions: Credit makes the world go round – well, the economic world anyway. If individuals and companies can borrow money easily and cheaply, it improves economic growth. For individuals, it’s usually economic activity brought forward i.e. I buy the car today and pay it off over the next three years, rather than saving for 3 years and then buying the car. For companies, it can be more value added , as a well-run company invests the capital they borrow into something that generates a higher return than the borrowing cost. When we monitor credit conditions, we are tracking the change in them by considering a blend of corporate bond yields relative to their recent history, rather than the absolute cost of borrowing. If it is getting cheaper to borrow, companies may feel more positive and will potentially borrow more, leading to further investment in more projects which is beneficial for jobs and economic activity generally. Conversely, if it is getting more expensive to borrow, this can be a drag on the economy. Although this takes time to feed into the wider economy, it has been our experience that investment markets move quite quickly after credit conditions change as they anticipate its impact on the real economy. Therefore, this is one of our shorter-term signals on the health of the economy.



Economic expectations: A healthy economy indicates healthy corporates generating return for their investors, which feeds into positive equity and debt performance. The PMI, or Purchasing Managers Index, has been shown to be a good predictor of the future direction of an economy. The PMI is a survey of businesses that asks about current business conditions; new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and employment. It identifies whether each is improving, deteriorating, or if there is no change. On a scale of 0-100, an overall score of above 50 indicates an economy will be expanding, usually with a six-month lag to feed into actual printed GDP figures. Great news! The problem is that equity markets also tend to move about six months before GDP figures – so equity and PMI levels generally move “concurrently” – at the same time. So, to give us an indication of the future direction of equity, we need to predict where the PMI levels are going to go, rather than just observing where they are now. Although the relationship is not perfect, we do have some indicators that help us to do this. And, again, it’s not the absolute level of PMIs we are concerned about, it’s the direction of travel. This indicator seems to be most useful over the medium term – for example, if we start to identify a weakening in economic conditions, it might be 3-6 months before we see markets respond strongly. And we can see a little further ahead with this metric i.e. we can already see whether we think economic expectations will be positive or negative in three months’ time and so gives us time to plan for the changing backdrop.



Valuations: Of the three main inputs to the River FOURcast, this is probably the one that seems the most obvious. When things are expensive, there is less potential for them to keep going up than if they are cheap. Easy. Well actually, we don’t think so. Expensive assets can continue to get more expensive, sometimes for a long time before they revert. And traditional valuation metrics miss a lot of important information. For example, many market participants use the Price to Earnings ratio as a way of determining whether a stock is cheap or expensive – as if the price you pay per unit of earnings is higher than average, then this is expensive. But that might be for a good reason – investors may be prepared to pay more per unit of earnings if those earnings are stable and predictable at a time when the economic backdrop is positive and earnings are less vulnerable to a shock. Therefore, we adjust valuations for the prevailing economic backdrop and see they have much more of a predictive power. However, they still tend to have the longest lead time to impact markets. Therefore, expensive valuations, even adjusted, can continue to get expensive for a long time, sometimes for a year or more as investors are buoyed by enthusiasm. Therefore, whilst it’s generally good to buy cheap, it’s not always good to sell expensive if the rest of the backdrop is still positive, as you can lose two or three years of positive returns.

As you can see, there are nuances and interpretations in each of the input factors and we are constantly stressing the relationships and considering ways to improve our analysis of each of the influences. But, we do think the three pillars will stay fairly stable as the inputs driving the River FOURcast.

The FOUR phases explained

The output from the River FOURcast produces one of four market phases, as we define them: Upward re-rating, Apprehension, Downturn and Stable.

Upward re-rating: The most obvious phase to name perhaps is when valuations look cheap and credit conditions and economic conditions are improving. This is then the time to be fully invested. This usually occurs after a large drawdown in markets, where investors were fearful and hence caused valuations to fall “too far”. The River FOURcast will wait to see a trend before transitioning into this phase, so we may miss the very start of the rally, but these opportunities usually stay around for a while. Generally, this is a once in a decade opportunity with anywhere from 50-70% of the market cycle’s returns being delivered during this phase. Here, we don’t need to be too clever about what we invest in, just make sure your portfolio is exposed to capture the market rally.

Downturn: Contrary to an Upward re-rating, the River FOURcast usually transitions to Downturn before a significant market fall – sometimes six months early. This works well for us, as it gives us, and our clients, time to plan. A Downturn doesn’t mean markets will fall immediately, it means that conditions are susceptible to fall, with valuations expensive and economic and credit conditions deteriorating. At this point, we’d advise clients to de-risk, invest in more defensive assets and alternatives whose returns don’t rely on traditional market drivers – this may be the time to pay for the more expensive hedge funds to bring additional alpha to portfolios.

Apprehension: Slightly more nuanced than a Downturn, this is where valuations look expensive but credit conditions are still supportive and economics may be more mixed. Directly recognising that expensive valuations can get more expensive, apprehension can be the second best time in a market cycle to make money – usually from equities becoming more expensive as investor confidence is buoyed. Typically, in this phase, we’d be looking at more active management – perhaps with a quality tilt in your active equity, or some structured equity with protection and building into an alternatives position, but staying invested for a little longer.

Stable: And our final phase is Stable, which is where everything generally looks ok – valuations are fair, economic conditions are broadly positive and credit conditions are improving. Usually, we move through Stable between the other phases – particularly when moving out of Downturn. Stable is a time to be invested – there is nothing meaningfully positive or negative being signalled and therefore portfolios should be seeking to capture return. You might be looking at particular areas with cheaper valuations or greater potential, such as emerging markets or smaller cap stocks if these opportunities exist.

Despite the attractive simplicity, the phases rarely follow in a specific order as traditional economic textbooks might like us to believe and it’s possible to skip a phase or even move backwards. We always need to be looking ahead to see what’s coming next, and how our indicators would change to make that happen.

History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”, as Mark Twain is often reputed to have said.

The River FOURcast doesn’t tell you where to invest as each phase will be different, and we are constantly learning and adapting to markets as they continue to develop. Therefore learning from history can give us a very good guide on what may be on the horizon and how to prepare for it.

A Spectrum of Delegation

Note 1: “River and Mercantile Solutions returns” represents the aggregated returns of the return seeking assets, including liability hedging solutions, of the set of our fiduciary management clients that have comparable investment strategies.

Note 2: Some figures are affected by rounding.

Note 3: For the avoidance of doubt, 22% is the amount which annualised River and Mercantile Solutions returns have outperformed annualised equity returns between January 2004 and March 2009, and 24% is the amount by which annualised River and Mercantile Solutions returns have outperformed annualised equity returns between October 2007 and November 2016.

Source: River and Mercantile Solutions, Bloomberg

Best DB Consultancy 2016

20 May 2015

P-Solve, part of River and Mercantile Group, is pleased to announce that it won two awards at the Pensions Expert Pension and Investment Provider Awards (PIPA) held on 20 May. The PIPAs recognise excellence among providers of products and services to UK workplace pension schemes and the three key criteria used to adjudicate the awards are performance, innovation and service standards.

P-Solve was named Best DC Investment Provider of the year for its innovative use of segregated custody accounts.

The business also won an award for Best Fiduciary Manager of the year for its expansion into DC and success widening the DC investment opportunity set through ETFs and the ability to use less liquid investments.

Commenting on the awards Britt Hoffmann-Jones, Managing Director, DC Solutions at P-Solve said: “We are very proud to receive recognition for our hard work on the DC side. These awards are a result of listening and responding to our clients’ changing needs. We first developed our fiduciary management service for DB schemes in 2003, to help clients manage our clients growing governance burden. Following a wave of new regulation and best practice, clients identified similar governance constraints for DC. So, we extended fiduciary management to DC schemes in 2011. Delegating dayto- day investment can help our trustee clients manage their time better – for example, by freeing them up to spend more time on governance and member communication. It is worth remembering that the suitability of a fiduciary approach depends on the trustee board.”

How the EDOS looked on 6 February 2013

Strategy

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Risk management is key

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Integrity is critical to everything we do. Any perception of us operating without this quality will destroy our business. Clients need to trust the professionals on which they rely.
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We should be stretching ourselves - and each other - to be the best we can be. The starting point is to challenge, develop and achieve excellence in all we do. We set high standards and are intolerant of mediocrity. To this end, we are restless in creating the conditions in which we and our clients thrive.
Creativity is critical to our value proposition. We need to keep re-inventing ourselves to achieve our growth objective and to avoid uniformity. We seek to reward people who are creative, who involve others, who encourage higher quality input and are comfortable in challenging. We understand that, if the business is to reach out to more great people, they won't always be told what to do but will be intellectually receptive to being persuaded by superior argument. For us, it's the quality of the debating stance taken, not the title of the person making it.
While this is important, it means more to us. It is critical that, in our day-to-day dealings, both we and our clients benefit. To this end, we should not take risks in relationships where only one side is rewarded and we will be forthright in guarding against this eventuality. In day-to-day terms, it’s also how we organise our time, prioritise our work and assess new projects and development. The value of being commercial equates to creating value for all. It’s about balancing risk and cost against the potential of reward.
Ajeet Manjrekar

Co-Head of River and Mercantile Solutions

Ajeet focusses on working with trustees to understand their specific investment and governance needs in order to design innovative solutions to achieve their funding objectives.

As a qualified actuary with extensive experience in both investment consulting and asset management, Ajeet is part of the senior management team with responsibility for the quality and evolution of our client-driven services.

He has extensive experience bringing together teams from different backgrounds to address unanticipated but emerging client needs. Examples have ranged from designing capital protection solutions for Defined Contribution schemes, to helping foster US pension schemes’ usage of liability-driven investment. Recognising that ideas can travel – that solutions arising in one region or part of the market can frequently be applicable elsewhere – he harnesses the expertise and insights of team members from across our business to solve the client problem, whatever it might be.

He re-joined us in 2016 having spent the last few years in Deutsche Bank’s asset management businesses. Prior to that he was a lead investment consultant advising several of our defined benefit and defined contribution clients.

Ajeet has a degree in Mathematics from Warwick University.

Barbara Saunders

Head of Client Engagement

Barbara has overall responsibility for client engagement with River and Mercantile Solutions, focusing on maintaining and improving our clients’ experience of the business. In this capacity she is involved with all our clients, but in addition she leads the teams advising eight defined benefit pension schemes, ranging in size from £70m to £2bn.

These include clients for which we act as an investment consultant, and clients that have appointed us as fiduciary manager. Over her career to date she has in-depth experience of working with many more clients, including larger DB schemes, DC schemes, sovereign wealth funds and charities.

Barbara has significant experience of providing advice across the full range of investment considerations. This demands a grasp of detail, and the ability to understand that detail in its proper context, and the decisiveness to make definite recommendations on the basis of that understanding . But it also requires an aptitude for conveying that understanding to others, and for persuasion. This can prove crucial when significant investment decisions are required within a fairly short timeframe, but it relies on her ability to develop trust with her clients over the long-term.

Barbara’s investment expertise is reflected also in her role as a leading member of the Investment Strategy Committee, which sets the house view on investment and strategic considerations for our DB clients. She has a particular depth of understanding of liability hedging, having spent the early part of her career modelling and trading LDI strategies for DB pension schemes.

Barbara is a qualified actuary.

She graduated in 2004 with first class degree in Mathematics from Royal Holloway, University of London, and obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Actuarial Science from Cass Business School.

Barbara joined River and Mercantile Solutions in 2007.

Jack Berry

Global Head of Solutions

Jack is responsible for providing River and Mercantile Solutions with strategic direction across all of its advisory businesses, ranging from defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) pension schemes to insurance companies , in the UK and US.

He is also the lead adviser on several DB scheme clients. These include clients that retain River and Mercantile Solutions as an investment consultant, and those that employ it as a fiduciary manager. He has experience as adviser to numerous DB schemes with assets of between £25m and more than £5bn.

His clients appreciate his strong understanding of the interplay between, on the one hand, a sponsor’s need to contain its pension-related risk and, on the other, a trustee board’s need to develop an investment strategy. Likewise, they value his ability to communicate to trustee boards and other advisors on the design and implementation of complex solutions, including equity derivative strategies and liability-driven investment (LDI). He is also able to draw on his international experience in prior roles and with River and Mercantile Solutions’s advisory business in the US, when advising his clients.

Within River and Mercantile Solutions, he has led work on the use of derivatives in LDI and structured equity, playing a leading role establishing River and Mercantile Solutions’s bespoke solutions business. He has also been actively involved in the development of River and Mercantile Solutions’s US advisory business since 2007. He joined River and Mercantile Solutions in 2004.

Jack is a chartered accountant. After working as an audit manager at Ernst & Young Zimbabwe and then in the corporate finance team at Standard Chartered Merchant Bank, in 1995 Jack co-founded a corporate finance and structured finance advisory business, Real Africa Durolink Zimbabwe, as a subsidiary of Real Africa Durolink, a listed South African Bank. Jack was one of the founding executive directors of Real Africa Durolink London when this subsidiary was started in 1999.

Jack graduated as a Bachelor of Accounting Sciences from the University of South Africa and holds a Masters in Finance from London Business School. He is a member of the Zimbabwe Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Matt Way

Chief Operating Officer

Matt is a chartered accountant who began his career at Ernst & Young in 1989 before moving to Lehman Brothers, where he worked for nine years, until 2007. From there he moved to Bear Stearns and then to Man Group, where he worked for five years with Kevin Hayes, who is now River and Mercantile Group's chief financial officer. Matt joined River and Mercantile Solutions in 2015 following roles at RBS and London Clearing House.

Matt has gathered substantial experience in business partnering, applying financial, commercial and practical judgement to all operational issues including product viability, forecasting, operational infrastructure, risk controls and compliance. At River and Mercantile Solutions he takes lead responsibility for efficient operation and effective risk management of the advisory and fiduciary management divisions.

He has senior management experience managing large teams and engagements across multiple businesses and support functions. He has a focus on change management and project management, which he has used to deliver simple, practical and innovative solutions and to enhance efficiency. He coordinates diverse teams and functions to solve problems as they arise.

Patrick O’Brien

Investment Director

Patrick leads the investment team, which is responsible for delivering River and Mercantile Solutions’s fiduciary management services to clients. His team conducts on-going investment research, performance monitoring and risk tolerance management, implements asset allocation decisions, and conducts execution trading and transition management.

Patrick is responsible for supervising all of this. Above this, he is a member of the Investment Committee and he chairs the Multi-Asset Committee, which between them determine River and Mercantile Solutions’s views on which asset classes to under/overweight and which investment managers to invest with. He therefore plays an important role in the formation of investment decisions, both from month-to-month and, when financial market conditions dictate, intra-month.

Patrick also has lead responsibility on two defined benefit pension scheme clients, both with assets in the range £100m to £250m. One of these retains River and Mercantile Solutions as its investment consultant while the other is a fiduciary management client. In this capacity, Patrick plays a pivotal role advising trustees on investment strategy, introducing investment ideas and risk management ameliorations to the trustees, and giving them appropriate training to enhance their governance capabilities.

Patrick began his financial services career as an operations associate at Legal & General, following two years in manufacturing industry. He graduated from University College Cork with a BSc in Finance.

Patrick joined River and Mercantile Solutions in 2008.

Ross Leach

Co-Head of River and Mercantile Solutions

Ross is Co-Head of River and Mercantile Solutions, where since 2004 he has acted as a lead investment consultant to the trustees of defined benefit pension schemes and to corporate sponsors.

He has experience of clients with assets ranging from £50m to more than £5bn, and across River and Mercantile Solutions and his former employer he has client relationships that have lasted more than 15 years. This calls on his skills to understand the needs of clients, to understand investment strategies and products, and to match the latter to the former in the simplest but most effective way possible.

Some of his clients retain River and Mercantile Solutions as their investment consultant while others have adopted a fiduciary management approach. He has supplied advice that has taken schemes to buy-out, and is currently working with a number of schemes that are focused on reaching a self-sufficiency target over the next 10 to 15 years.

Ross is a member of River and Mercantile Solutions’s Investment Strategy Committee. This committee is instrumental in developing client advice, and has the final word on whether a particular investment product is fit for recommendation to clients.

Ross, who joined River and Mercantile Solutions after four years at Punter Southall, the company’s former parent, has a degree in Mathematics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries. He has worked on a number of actuarial working groups.

Pensions Insight DC Awards 2016 – Best Default Fund Strategy

26 October 2016

P-Solve, part of River and Mercantile Group, is pleased to announce that it won an award at the Pensions Insight DC Awards 2016 held on 26 October. The Pensions Insight DC Awards 2016 and are designed to celebrate the excellent work done by defined contribution providers and schemes up and down the country.

P-Solve was named Best Default Fund Strategy as the judges stated they were impressed with how P-Solve adapts the strategy at retirement to allow for Pension Freedoms in a flexible way to meet the needs of different schemes’ members, and also the intelligent life-styling approach using blended funds.

Commenting on the award Niall Alexander, Director, P-Solve, said: “This month P-Solve celebrates its five year anniversary in DC fiduciary management. The award win reflects the hard work and results we have achieved on behalf of our DC clients (and specifically their scheme members) in that time, as we have sought to offer flexible solutions to the challenges facing trustees. Wanting to improve financial security for as many people as possible by thinking more deeply about investment than anyone else is central to our business.”

Engaged Investor Trustee Awards – Best DB Consultancy 2016

7 July 2016

P-Solve, part of River and Mercantile Group, is pleased to announce that it won an award at the Engaged Investor Trustee Awards held on 7 July, celebrating excellence among pension scheme trustees and their providers and advisers.

P-Solve was named Best DB Consultancy 2016 as the judges said they were impressed by P-Solve’s innovation and service. The firm’s submission emphasised the work P-Solve has done developing tailored investment solutions for small and medium-sized pension schemes, as well as large ones.

Commenting on this year’s award Ross Leach, Managing Director, P-Solve, said: “We are very proud to receive this award and the recognition of the hard work on behalf of our DB clients it represents. We strive to understand the challenges facing trustees and offer a range of services to provide real insight and support for our clients.

Pensions Age Awards – Multi-Asset Manager of the Year 2016

25 February 2016

P-Solve, part of River and Mercantile Group, is pleased to announce that it won the award of Multi-Asset Manager of the Year at the Pension Age Awards held on 25 February. The Pensions Age Awards were launched to reward both the pension schemes and the pension providers across the UK that have proved themselves by demonstrating excellence, sophistication and innovation in all aspects of what they do.

According to the judges, this firm has demonstrated its understanding of the multi-asset space by combining experience with skill in order to produce an investment offering well suited to the needs of today’s DB and DC markets – plus it has the performance to show its approach works.

Engaged Investor Trustee Awards 2015 – Best DB Consultancy 2015

2 July 2015

P-Solve, part of River and Mercantile Group, has been named Best DB Consultancy at the 2015 Engaged Investor Trustee Awards. The judges said they had been impressed by P-Solve's involvement in dynamic investment opportunities.

In addition to firm’s success, P-Solve client The Cheviot Trust won the Best scheme report and accounts category at the ceremony held on 2 July 2015, impressing the judges with its excellent design and well-executed graphics.

The award win is the latest in a number of recent successes for P-Solve having been named Best fiduciary manager and Best DC investment provider at the Pensions and Investment Provider Awards.

Commenting on the award, Jack Berry, global head of solutions at P-Solve, said: “We are very proud to receive this award and the recognition of the hard work on behalf of our DB clients it represents. We strive to understand the challenges facing trustees and offer a range of services to provide real insight and support for our clients.

"Wanting to improve financial security for as many people as possible, by thinking more deeply about investment than anyone else, is central to our business. We are proud that our work with pension schemes gives us us the opportunity to help more than 400,000 individuals.”

Pension Investment Provider Awards (PIPA) – DC Investment Provider 2015

20 May 2015

P-Solve, part of River and Mercantile Group, is pleased to announce that it won two awards, DC Investment provider and Best Fiduciary Manager 2015 at the Pensions Expert, Pension and Investment Provider Awards (PIPA) held on 20 May. The PIPAs recognise excellence among providers of products and services to UK workplace pension schemes and the three key criteria used to adjudicate the awards are performance, innovation and service standards.

P-Solve was named Best DC Investment Provider of the year for its innovative use of segregated custody accounts.

Commenting on the awards Britt Hoffmann-Jones, Managing Director, DC Solutions at P-Solve said: “We are very proud to receive recognition for our hard work on the DC side. These awards are a result of listening and responding to our clients’ changing needs. We first developed our fiduciary management service for DB schemes in 2003, to help clients manage our clients growing governance burden. Following a wave of new regulation and best practice, clients identified similar governance constraints for DC. So, we extended fiduciary management to DC schemes in 2011. Delegating day-to-day investment can help our trustee clients manage their time better – for example, by freeing them up to spend more time on governance and member communication. It is worth remembering that the suitability of a fiduciary approach depends on the trustee board.”

Pension Investment Provider Awards (PIPA) – Best Fiduciary Manager 2015

20 May 2015

P-Solve, part of River and Mercantile Group, is pleased to announce that it won two awards, DC Investment provider and Best Fiduciary Manager 2015 at the Pensions Expert, Pension and Investment Provider Awards (PIPA) held on 20 May. The PIPAs recognise excellence among providers of products and services to UK workplace pension schemes and the three key criteria used to adjudicate the awards are performance, innovation and service standards.

P-Solve was named Best Fiduciary Manager of the year for its expansion into DC and success widening the DC investment opportunity set through ETFs and the ability to use less liquid investments.

Commenting on the awards Britt Hoffmann-Jones, Managing Director, DC Solutions at P-Solve said: “We are very proud to receive recognition for our hard work on the DC side. These awards are a result of listening and responding to our clients’ changing needs. We first developed our fiduciary management service for DB schemes in 2003, to help clients manage our clients growing governance burden. Following a wave of new regulation and best practice, clients identified similar governance constraints for DC. So, we extended fiduciary management to DC schemes in 2011. Delegating day-to-day investment can help our trustee clients manage their time better – for example, by freeing them up to spend more time on governance and member communication. It is worth remembering that the suitability of a fiduciary approach depends on the trustee board.”

Pensions Consultancy of the Year 2017

24 February 2017

P-Solve is pleased to announce that it was awarded Pensions Consultancy of the Year at the Pension Age Awards 2017. The awards, now in their fourth year, aims to reward both the pension schemes and providers across the UK that have proved themselves worthy of recognition during increasingly challenging times.

The award recognises P-Solve’s bold approach to investment consulting since the business’s launch in 2001. This included, last year, the introduction of swaptions strategies for clients, allowing them to “get paid” for making strategic risk management decisions.

The panel of judges stated: “This firm stood out for its proactive approach and its use of innovation in a challenging marketplace. Its clear understanding of the investment hurdles facing its clients and its ability to help these clients, whatever their size, through the investment maze set it apart from the rest.”

Commenting on the award Barbara Saunders, Head of Client Engagement at P-Solve, said: “We are very pleased to have received recognition for the innovative investment solutions we can deliver. We are perhaps better known for being one of the pioneers of fiduciary management, but the investment intel that this gives us is applied equally to clients we advise. Ultimately, we look for the best solutions to our clients’ needs, and with clear explanations, our clients are able to act quickly when required. In turbulent times, opportunities arise, and you need to be fleet of foot to take them. We all know pension schemes need return, and we constantly search for ways to help them earn it.”

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Kevin Hayes

Global Head of Solutions

Kevin is Global Head of Solutions and Group CFO at River and Mercantile. He is an international CFO with 25 years' experience in financial services. Kevin began his career at Ernst & Young and was a Partner in the New York office covering financial services audit and consulting clients.

He moved to Lehman Brothers where he held various roles including: Global Capital Markets Controller, International CFO for Europe and Asia, and Head of Productivity and Process Improvement.

In 2007 Kevin joined Man Group PLC in London as Group CFO and Executive Director on the Group Board. He was also a trustee of the Man Group PLC Pension Plan.

Kevin has degrees in accountancy and law from Victoria University in New Zealand and is a Certified Public Accountant in the US.