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Why Australia’s Top Fund Manager Just Had a Dip in Profits

August 18, 2016, 8:22 AM UTC
AMP Profits Rise As Wealth Management Company Post First-Half Results
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 20: The AMP logo is seen on the AMP building on August 20, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. AMP has posted a 33 per cent increase in its first-half profit, while the wealth management company's underlying profit is up 12 percent to 570 million. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/ Getty Images

Australia’s top fund manager AMP (AMLYY) posted a 10% drop in underlying profits on Thursday as it faces regulatory pressures, stiffer competition, and heightened market volatility that threatens to hurt earnings growth.

An industry-wide crackdown on poor financial advice and high fees, recent proposed changes to mandatory retirement – or superannuation – regulations and the emergence of digital players and those offering international products are hurting AMP, analysts said.

AMP Chief Executive Craig Miller partly blamed a lack of clarity on pension regulations for higher-than-expected cash outflows. The government announced tougher tax rules on superannuation in this year’s budget proposals.

“All of the noise around super, the continued tampering with the system, the concern people have, does inhibit people’s desire to put more of their savings into super,” Miller told reporters in a post-earnings call.

“It is just too hard to predict at the moment whether the second half of the year will see confidence recover. Driving cash-flows is a key component of our business. It’s an important and significant issue for the group.”

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Underlying profit came in at A$513 million ($393 million) for the six months to June 30, compared with A$570 million a year ago and an average of analyst forecast of A$535 million.

Net cash flows at its Australian wealth management business nearly halved to A$582 million, sending its shares tumbling.

AMP shares were the biggest loser on the S&P/ASX200 index . They skidded more than 6% to a one-month low of A$5.46 in a broader market that was down 0.4%.

“It is not a good result. And it’s surprising,” said Romano Sala Tenna, fund manager at Katana Asset Management.

“A lot of much nimbler dynamic groups are attacking the wealth management space.”

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Earnings from the income protection business fell 53% versus the same period a year ago, mainly because of higher-than-expected life insurance claims.

Australian wealth managers have benefited from heavy cash inflows into superannuation funds – stacked mainly with local shares – with the pool expected to double to $3 trillion in 10 years, according to several estimates.

But Morningstar analyst David Ellis said fund managers specializing in international equities, like Platinum Asset Management and Magellan Financial Group, were winning greater portions of inflows.

“They have got no trouble attracting large amounts of retail money on relatively high fees. Offering international equities with a strong brand and strong investment track record is what you need,” he said.

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Australia’s giant superannuation industry is also reeling under high costs and financial planning scams that have put off retirees.

As a result, total assets under regulated retail pension funds slipped to A$531.7 million in March from A$546 million a year ago, according to regulatory filings.

AMP‘s wealth unit also faced weaker revenue growth and forecast average annual margin compression of 5% to December 2017.