Why too much cash is bad for a mutual funds scheme’s health

With the stock market going through volatile times, many fund managers seem to be moving to cash. According to data from Ace Mutual Fund database, more than 20 diversified equity funds currently have a cash allocation of above 10 percent in their portfolios. While it may seem like a safe call, Many fund manager say that it should depend on the fund’s mandate. Many fund houses have in-house rules that forbid their fund managers from going into cash above five-six percent.

To reduce the mid-cap pain

The ongoing correction in mid- and small-cap stocks has forced many fund managers to seek refuge in cash. “Many funds with a mid- and small-cap mandate and even others that had taken large exposure to these stocks during the rally have been hit in a big way. These funds have moved into cash to reduce the pain from the correction.” Funds that have booked timely profits in mid- and small-cap stocks too have been left holding high levels of cash.

Many funds are still adjusting their portfolios to comply with Sebi’s new categorisation norms. If, for instance, large-cap funds had taken high exposure to mid-caps to boost their returns, they are now selling those stocks to turn compliant with the new norms.

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Another reason is that political uncertainty is affecting sentiment. “Several state elections are due this year, and then we have the general elections next year. Many fund managers are sitting on cash because of the current volatility in the markets, and to see how things shape up politically. Some funds, such as value funds and dynamic asset allocation funds, allocate to equities based on market valuations. When valuations move high, they move into cash.

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Steady inflows, but few opportunities

Many fund managers are also facing the problem of plenty. While the industry is receiving monthly inflows of Rs 75 billion through systematic investment plans, there aren’t many opportunities due to the high valuations in the midcap and smallcap segments. Even many large-cap stocks seem overvalued.

1530117850-1841There are risks too

During the financial crisis of 2008, many fund managers had gone heavily into cash to prevent their funds from correcting deeply. However, when the markets rebounded in 2009, these funds were left on the sidelines. Their performance took a knock, and it took them several quarters to catch up with peers who were fully invested. After this, many fund houses introduced internal rules stipulating that fund managers should not gain more than five percent exposure to cash. When fund managers take high cash allocation calls, it implies that they are trying to time the market, a tricky thing for any fund manager to pull off consistently.”

When funds take large cash calls, it also skews the investor’s asset allocation. A simple example will help illustrate this point. Suppose that an investor wants 50 percent equity and 50 percent fixed income exposure in his portfolio. He invests the 50 percent in an equity fund. But the fund manager invests only 70 percent of his fund portfolio in equities. As a result, the investor’s equity allocation falls to 35 percent. This is a more conservative allocation than he desires and could affect his long-term returns. Asset allocation is best left to investors themselves.

Exceptions to this rule

While most equity funds should stay almost fully invested, dynamic asset allocation funds and value funds are exceptions. Dynamic asset allocation funds, as their name implies, take asset allocation calls, often based on a formula. When markets become expensive, as indicated by price to earnings (P/E) or price to book value (P/BV) ratio, they reduce allocation to equities, and vice-versa.

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Value-oriented funds are the other exception. Quantum Long Term Equity Value Fund, for instance, doesn’t shy of parking a considerable portion of its portfolio in cash if the situation warrants. Says Atul Kumar, head-equity funds, Quantum Asset Management: “If we find value in stocks, we stay invested. But many of the stocks that we held reached the sell limit we had set for them, so we were forced to sell them. We are also finding fewer new opportunities. That is why our cash level has gone up. It is not a tactical call. It comes out of our bottom-up, process-driven approach.”

PPFAS Long Term Equity Fund currently has a cash allocation of 23.28 percent. Explaining the fund’s approach, Rajeev Thakkar, chief investment officer and director, PPFAS Mutual Fund says: “We don’t start off with any target cash position. Our objective is to deploy everything in equities. But if we find stocks worth investing in only up to 77 percent of our corpus, then 23 percent will be the residual cash that will lie around till we find suitable opportunities.”

Going into cash can prove advantageous in certain situations. Says Thakkar: “If there is a significant correction, the cash position could become a significant factor responsible for outperformance.” He adds that being in cash also gives the fund manager opportunities to buy stocks at attractive valuations when the markets or select stocks correct.

According to Radhika Gupta, CEO edelweissamc taking large cash calls in long only funds … something to avoid because it distorts the asset allocation of an investor, given they are investing in a relative return fund.

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