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Confidence 'on the way back' in emerging market shares

ABERDEEN Asset Management has said there are signs of returning confidence in emerging market equities as the announcement of a 3% fall in underlying profits for the first half of its financial year prompted a 2.4% drop in its share price.

optimistic FOR THE FUTURE: Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert.
optimistic FOR THE FUTURE: Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert.

Aberdeen posted underlying pre-tax earnings of £217 million for the six months to March 31, which was at the lower end of City expectations and compared to £222.8m for the same period last year. Revenue was down 2% at £503.5m.

The results came after a net outflow of £8.8 billion of assets for the six-month period, of which £8.1bn was from its lucrative equities business, as investors sought to escape rock markets in many emerging countries in recent months.

Emerging market equities are a key product line for Aberdeen, accounting for £32.8bn of assets even after recent withdrawals.

Aberdeen chief executive Martin Gilbert said: "There are signs of a pick-up in sentiment towards emerging economies as investors are again identifying opportunities and recognising the fundamental strengths of these markets."

However, the Scottish company anticipates that "some uncertainty could remain".

Aberdeen completed the acquisition of Edinburgh-based funds business Scottish Widows Investment Partnership from Lloyds Banking Group at the end of the period, having spent £15.3m of an expected £50m integration bill.

Of this, £2m was in redundancy and severance payments for some senior SWIP staffers who have already left the business.

The departure of SWIP chief executive Dean Buckley, Lynda Shillaw, director of real estate, Mark Connolly, director of fixed income, and Will Low, director of global equities, was announced at the end of last month.

Aberdeen's finance director Bill Rattray would not be drawn on the likely scale of further job cuts, saying these will be finalised later in this financial year.

"It is clearly a sensitive area," he said. "There are various processes we go through."

Mr Rattray said that in Edinburgh, where Aberdeen already has a base, it would most likely consolidate front office investment staff from both companies in one office and back office staff in another.

The purchase brings together 2000 Aberdeen employees and 400 from SWIP.

Aberdeen chairman Roger Cornick said: "We have an excellent track record of integrating businesses with a clear global operating model.

"The respective teams of Aberdeen and SWIP have worked together over the last few months to create and refine the detailed integration plans across all areas of the business, and the implementation process has begun,"

The £550m acquisition of SWIP boosted Aberdeen's assets under managements by more than half on the same period last year to £324.5bn as of March 31.

Aberdeen has suffered from a loss of confidence in emerging markets as investors fretted about the impact of a slowdown in the Chinese economy and the political crisis in Ukraine.

But outflows slowed in March to £200m.

Mr Rattray said the company had been seeing positive asset flows into the Aberdeen's property, emerging market debt and high-yield bond businesses.

The company reported strong performance from its fixed income team which has struggled to retain assets in recent years after a poor performance during the credit crunch.

It said that performance of equity products is running behind their benchmarks for the last year.

But the company said that it has seen "healthy outperformance" in March and April.

The company said: "It is inevitable that our style will lead to periods of shorter term underperformance, but we believe our longer term performance track record remains compelling and we do not plan to make any significant changes to our equity process."

A drive by Aberdeen to break into the North American market appears to paying off. The company said: "Our distribution is focused on multiple business and distribution channels with teams operating on the ground in 26 countries and covering a further 34 remotely.

"We continue to see strong growth in North America, continental Europe and selective markets in Asia."

Aberdeen will pay an interim dividend of 6.75p a share on June 19, up 12.6% on last year.

Aberdeen's shares closed down 10.5p at 435.4p. This compares to a 52-week high of 500p for the stock reached on December 31.

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