The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has published a Discussion Paper which seeks stakeholder views on the practice of investing in illiquid assets through open-ended funds and the challenges that can pose to managers and investors. Illiquid assets in the context of this Paper may include land and buildings, infrastructure and financial assets such as unlisted securities.
Investing in illiquid assets provides investors with a number of benefits such as the potential to earn strong investment returns in the medium to long term and diversification of portfolio risk.
One of the key issues the Paper raises is the balance of interests between investors who want to withdraw their money and those who want to remain. Open-ended funds that invest in illiquid assets can encounter difficulties if investors expect to be able to withdraw their money at short notice. For example, it can be difficult for a manager to calculate the price of a fund every day if that fund invests in illiquid assets whose prices are calculated less frequently than every day.
These difficulties can be exacerbated if an event in the market triggers an upsurge in redemption demand, or conditions change in the market for the underlying assets. This happened after the referendum vote on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU, when liquidity management issues arose in some UK open-ended property funds. So, if the market for the underlying assets is affected by sudden, severe changes in conditions, leading to price falls that are not fully reflected in fund valuations, some investors might be able to sell their holding for more than it is worth, disadvantaging the remaining investors in the fund.
The FCA is publishing today’s Paper to gather more evidence to decide whether changes to our regulatory approach are needed to enhance market stability and promote competition in the sector, while protecting consumers. The FCA sets out some examples of possible policy approaches to stimulate debate.
Megan Butler, Executive Director of Supervision – Investment, Wholesale and Specialist at the FCA, said:
This Discussion Paper is a great opportunity for all stakeholders to think carefully about the management of risk, particularly around redemptions, if investors are looking for a quick exit. We want to engage with fund managers and the investors whose money they manage to understand what problems they think exist. Specifically, in the context of open-ended funds we want people to consider how well the current rules address those problems, and what further regulatory intervention might be needed. We look forward to industry and consumers giving us their views and opinions.
The FCA will draw on the responses received, together with the further supervisory work it is currently undertaking, to decide whether or not it needs to propose any changes to Handbook rules and guidance.
The FCA is seeking feedback on this Discussion Paper by 8 May 2017.