Early 2019 represents a pivotal point in time for the alternative assets industry. Having enjoyed a period of steady growth over the past decade, with total assets under management (AUM) at a record $9.44tn as of June 2018 (the latest data available), it is quite clear that this environment has begun to change.
In November 2018, we conducted a survey of over 400 investors to understand their current views on each asset class, the challenges they are facing and their plans for the next 12 months.
With asset valuations currently at record levels, fund managers and investors we spoke to largely agree that we are at the peak of the equity market cycle and are due a correction. Towards the end of last year, however, public markets were beginning to show signs of weakening. Alternative assets weathered the storm of the last recession well, though, and it is important to remember that investors allocate capital to alternatives for distinct reasons, beyond just sheer returns.
In private equity, high absolute and risk-adjusted returns are the priorities for investors, whereas for infrastructure and real estate they are seeking an inflation hedge and a reliable income stream. Investors in private debt are prioritizing high risk-adjusted returns and an income stream, and for hedge funds and natural resources the primary motivations for investing are diversification and low correlation with other asset classes.
Since alternatives clearly serve different purposes within an institutional portfolio, it is unsurprising that investors have built larger and more complex portfolios over time – and there are few signs of this subsiding in the near and longer term. Where an asset class had outperformed their expectations in recent years, most investors told us they were looking to increase their allocations in 2019. Even for the asset classes that have demonstrated sub-par performance – namely natural resources and hedge funds – investors are still planning to increase their allocations in 2019. Hedge funds in particular have the ability to offer capital protection during a market downturn, and we expect to see investors rebalance their hedge fund portfolios in the coming year as they position more defensively.
Although we expect the alternative assets industry to continue to grow, this will not be without challenges. Assets are priced at record levels, competition for capital and deals is intense and fund managers are under exponential pressure from investors to deliver in the current environment. Each individual asset class also has its own unique set of challenges, which we explore in more detail throughout this report.
Encouragingly, the alternative assets industry as a whole has demonstrated the ability to adapt to, and overcome, these challenges. Fund managers are evolving their strategies and routes to market to continue to create value, investors are becoming increasingly sophisticated at evaluating the current opportunity set, and advisors are frequently offering value-add services for their customers.
A key ingredient in these selective strategies – for fund managers, investors and advisors alike – is good information. We are honoured to be a partner and supplier for so many leading firms and professionals in the industry, and we continue to invest heavily to expand and improve our data and services. Alternative assets are our sole focus. We are grateful for your support, and we hope that you will find this report to be a helpful resource and support for your work.
Ddownload your copy of Preqin Investor Outlook: Alternative Assets, H1 2019, to see how surveyed investors' expectations and plans for the year ahead across the alternative assets industry.