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Investment Management

Separately Managed Accounts Still Gaining Fans

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April 03, 2018

Continued low interest rates make SMAs a popular tool in corporate cash strategy toolkit

financial system softwareSince 2016 money market fund reform and its gates and fees made prime MMFs unpalatable to corporates, cash managers have been searching for alternatives. One of those alternative is separately managed accounts or SMAs. According to Fitch, SMAs have been growing as low interest rates have persisted. And now they are even more attractive as rates have been inching up.

“The prolonged low interest rate environment has pushed some investors to search for higher yields by optimizing cash strategies, with SMAs sometimes part of the strategy,” Fitch said in a recent report on SMAs. “As money fund reform changed the nature of prime money funds to be less attractive to some investors via the fees and gates features, fund managers have increased their emphasis on SMAs as alternatives.”

SMAs have long been viewed as a solution that can enhance yield, provide control, and add diversification and flexibility to a corporate liquidity portfolio–and as a decent alternative to money market funds. In its basic form, an SMA is a portfolio of securities that can be managed to a set of unique investment guidelines tailored to meet an organization’s needs. So with an SMA, the manager has the ability to customize the strategy by identifying the appropriate maturity profile, sector, currency, and credit risk that are aligned with an organization’s investment policy and liquidity needs.

By setting up an SMA, treasurers can develop a highly customized investment strategy consistent with the overriding objectives of principal preservation and liquidity.

From a corporate viewpoint, SMAs are very attractive nowadays, said Jerry Klein, managing director at Treasury Partners in New York. What makes them attractive is that they can earn over 2% due to recent Federal Reserve tightening and the view that there will be more in rate rises in the future. “So this gives treasurers the opportunity to earn something on their cash after years of near-zero rates,” Mr. Klein said. At the same time, the fact that more rate hikes are in the offing has prompted Treasury Partners to suggest to clients that they continue to keep shorter maturities in their portfolios.

Mr. Klein added that since rates have been creeping up, companies are turning their focus back to investments. “Back when rates were closer to zero treasurers were focused on stock buybacks,” Mr. Klein said.

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