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Editor's comment: Advisers cling to ‘buffer funds’ despite flaws

Despite all the bad news Woodford is still an IFA favourite, just. But the true test of his and other ‘buffer funds’ will only come when the tide inevitably turns

Editor's comment: Advisers cling to ‘buffer funds’ despite flaws

At our annual conference earlier this month, several IFAs said they felt a downturn was due, or even overdue.

Regardless of what they are basing their market predictions on, there is evidently a deep-seated concern among advisers that it is not enough to ride the wave on the way up. Clients highly value an adviser who softens the way down too.

Hence the enduring appeal of Neil Woodford.

In the words of one adviser we spoke to: ‘Why sell the guy that does well in underperforming markets if that is where you think we might be heading?’

Despite the torrid year Woodford’s equity income fund has endured, advisers are sticking with him. After all, he avoided the tech bubble’s burst and shunned banks ahead of the financial crisis.

Even today as Woodford's fund was dealt more pain, with shares in Capita falling 40%, advisers spoke up for him (Woodford holds 0.9% of his £8.3 billion Equity Income fund in Capita, and 1.4% of his smaller Income Focus fund).

In an admittedly qualified show of support, website commenter 'Angry IFA' said: 'I've been here with Woodford before and he has always turned it around. I have to say though, that his short term stats look truly awful. It's always been the right thing to stick with him but confidence from this adviser is badly shaken.'

Advisers are keeping faith with other funds in the equity income sector too, especially for clients in drawdown, because they are seen as providing a buffer in a downturn. Take a look at our analysis of the situation here.

This attitude is also supporting the likes of Aberdeen Standard Investment’s MyFolio range, which has attracted £13.4 billion. Another adviser said ‘in a volatile market or downturn, alternative strategies are required in addition to equities and bonds’.

Read our deep dive into MyFolio and its performance.

There may be an emotional element too. One expert questioned whether MyFolio’s performance in a market downturn could be strong enough to make up for underperformance in good market conditions. But what if clients are disproportionately worried about market falls?

Earlier this month we looked into the PruFunds range, which has attracted £32.6 billion. Although its head of business development conceded it ‘would not magically go in the opposite direction’ in a market downturn, its smoothing mechanism ‘puts the brakes on when the market goes into extreme free fall’.

If there is an unexpected correction (is there any other kind?) it will be interesting to see these buffer funds put to the test.

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