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AXA profits down under, Warning for fund managers

Tuesday, December 11th 2001, 7:03AM

The AXA Asia Pacific Holdings group’s net profit in the 12 months to the end of September this year has fallen to A$320 million, 14% below the level of the year before.

In the combined Australian and New Zealand markets (the company doesn't split the two out) the bottom-line profit was up 13% to A$212 million.

Funds management, health and risk all provided strong increases in profitability.

"The fact that we were able to achieve significant improvements in operating performance in each of the funds management, risk and health businesses in Australia and New Zealand signals that all the hard work we have done in strategically reshaping the operations is starting to pay off," group chief executive Les Owen says.

The stand-out area was health in Australia (AXA sold its health insurance business in New Zealand to Tower).

Owen says the company is "gathering momentum" in the savings and investment area. A key development was the purchase, in October, of Sterling Grace Portfolio Management, which operates as Spicers, Assure and Arcus in New Zealand and Monitor Money in Australia.

"In New Zealand, Spicers and AXA will, together, be the pre-eminent retail investment manager and provider of financial planning services with around 13 per cent market share in funds under administration."

"This acquisition was a very important step in our strategy of strengthening distribution of wealth management products and developing our position in financial planning."

Recurring management expenses were 13% lower than in the previous 12 months

Warning for fund managers


Merrill Lynch has settled a major court case in the UK where it was accused of mismanaging a Unilever staff pension scheme.

Although details remain secret Merrill Lynch is believed to have paid tens of millions of dollars to settle the case in London. Unilever was originally suing Merrill subsidiary Mercury Asset Management for more than $500 million.

Unilever was suing for negligence, alleging the manager had taken on too much risk in its $4 billion fund during the period January 1997 to March 1998.

At the time the manager had invested 45% of the fund's UK equity exposure into general industrials, 28% overweight the benchmark.

Actuary and investment analyst Gordon Bagot last week criticised the manager for taking on too much risk: "It is quite clear to me that there was something fundamentally wrong in the structure of the portfolio ... This should have been obvious to those managing and monitoring the portfolio."

The impact of the case is uncertain. Some people believe it could trigger a wave of action against fund managers, others say it won't set a precedent.

« NZ Funds burglar caughtSovereign takes regulation bull by the horns »

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