'Flying high'

It was a quick leap from high-flying fund manager to 'Flying high' .

As the Milford Asset Management press release hit my inbox at 3:05 pm on Monday, I immediately pictured Lloyd Bridges in the control tower sniffing glue.

In what was terrible timing, the Milford announcement came just hours after I'd released the first issue of Investment News NZ (IN NZ), potentially obscuring my solid, if less sensational, range of stories.

I guess I picked the wrong week to launch an investment industry newsletter.
Or maybe not.

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The Milford news, at least, has generated all manner of coverage in the consumer press, some of it worthwhile, about the inner workings of the funds management industry: which has to be good for financial news providers.

But no one else has come out of this well.

Milford, of course, has had some of the shine taken off its previously untarnished brand.
In a business where reputation is just about everything, this could cause enormous damage.

Milford is lucky to have a loyal retail client base. A large portion of the firm's funds under management (FUM) is sourced direct from high net worth individuals, which is an unusual, but not unprecedented, story in New Zealand.

The manager's retail success has also flowed over to the KiwiSaver market, where it has rapidly accumulated about 10,000 members and close to $300 million in FUM.

Milford has as well been reasonably successful in attracting wholesale money, which is arguably more discerning than the 'mums and dads' crowd. Wholesale investors are also notoriously twitchy when a whiff of scandal (or any substantial change) affects their underlying money managers.

This is particularly true of Milford's largest wholesale client (a $250 million plus mandate), the New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZS), which has its own governance reputation at stake if the regulator does prove market manipulation.

In a statement, the NZS said it "will be watching the outcome of the investigation closely".

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The question, though, is how much longer will the NZS - and everyone else - be waiting for an outcome? Milford did the right thing in making its involvement public (many in the industry, of course, knew its identity well before and most, by now, have a view of which individual portfolio manager is under investigation).

And now it's the turn of the Financial Markets Authority, which is understood to have been investigating the case for months, to do the right thing and answer that question quickly.

In time for my next deadline.