Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Who'd want to be a Europe-focused fund manager these days? European stocks have performed worse this year than all developed markets save Japan.

Of course, this isn't just about the ever-closer prospect of a British exit from the EU, though that doesn't help. Mario Draghi's QE medicine has failed so far to cure the Eurozone patient, and growth remains anaemic.

And while asset managers grapple with the continent's fundamental problems, their fees are coming under intense pressure from increasingly popular passive funds. Investors are, somewhat belatedly, waking up to this worrying new reality.

Take Switzerland's GAM Holding, whose shares slumped to a near five-year low on Tuesday. It warned that a fall in performance fees had crushed underlying profit by about 50 percent in the first six months of the year.

What a difference a year makes. In the first six months of 2015, GAM reported a 26 percent leap in performance fees, with European equity funds singled out for praise. Back then, emerging markets were on the asset management industry's naughty step, but so far this year it's MSCI's Europe index that's down almost 12 percent, while MSCI's emerging-markets index is up 1.2 percent.

Tuesday's announcement was skinny on detail but GAM's website shows how it has suffered from the European sell-off: its three regional Europe funds are down between 3 to 9 percent so far this year, depending on currency. The company reckons first-half performance fees may evaporate from 44.1 million to 1 million Swiss francs in the space of a year. 

This isn't just a GAM problem. WisdomTree's Europe Hedged Equities ETF is down almost 5 percent year to date.

Investors are understandably pulling money out of European stocks -- with emerging markets benefiting. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch says emerging markets just enjoyed their biggest weekly inflow in 11 weeks, of about $900 million, while Europe was on its 18th straight week of outflows with a drop of $2.2 billion.

For those asset managers that enjoyed a European bounce in 2015, this year will be a much harder slog. Fund manager Henderson has high exposure to European equities, according to Exane analysts, who note that funds that served as magnets for inflows last year have seen those flows drop off sharply. The analysts expect Henderson to report a drop in performance fees this year to 41 million pounds ($58 million) -- the lowest since 2012. 

All of which begs the question: Is anyone in Europe doing well in this environment?

Well, one safe haven might be money managers who keep investor cash locked up longer and charge fees that can't be competed away easily. Shares of Switzerland's Partners Group, an investor in private equity, real estate and infrastructure assets, are up 14.6 percent year-to-date -- a better performance than Facebook.

Those markets have their own pressures, sure, but at a time of stock-market volatility, Brexit uncertainty and competition from low-cost funds, they probably give less cause for sleepless nights.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story: Lionel Laurent in London at llaurent2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at jboxell@bloomberg.net.

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

bloomberg

 Bloomberg