(Bloomberg) -- Matthew Beesley has reached a conclusion about the UK government: it is too obsessed with finding the benefits of Brexit. 

In the year since Beesley, 47, took on the top job at Jupiter Fund Management, politicians have set out plans to tear up European Union rules governing financial services. Among them is the separating of research and trading services. Beesley thinks reversing the changes is a waste of time. “These are not things I believe that many of our peers want,” he says. 

“There’s been a concerted effort to search for what I describe as a Brexit dividend,” he adds, in an interview at Jupiter’s offices in Victoria, London. “It feels to me they’re trying too hard in places.” 

For Jupiter, a FTSE 250 fund manager heavily invested in UK equities, political stability is key. “The uncertainty of the post-Brexit period has naturally stopped a lot of new investment into UK Plc,” he says. “So if you weren’t invested, why would you invest?”

For Beesley, the health of London’s capital markets is personal. Jupiter’s shares are trading near record lows as the sector grapples with heavy outflows, rising costs and clients that are increasingly turning away from traditional mutual funds and toward cheaper trackers. However, some of the investor malaise is of Jupiter’s own making. 

It drew controversy after a £60 million ($74.4 million) performance fee was pocketed by two of its fund managers working on listed investment trust Chrysalis. It also lost assets when star fund manager Alexander Darwall left in 2019 to start his own firm, taking clients with him. 

In the past two years Jupiter’s assets under management have shrunk by about £10 billion, mostly via client redemptions.

“Our experience has been at times similar to that of the rest of those managers that are exposed to the UK, and at times it’s been a bit worse,” says Beesley.

Irrational Markets

Since taking over, Beesley has slashed Jupiter’s sprawling range of funds, cut 80 jobs and scaled back investment in private assets in liquid funds. He has also sought to expand internationally, growing across Europe, Asia and Latin America. Half-year results in July showed some early signs of improvement, with assets under management rising 2% from £50.2 billion to £51.4 billion. It also generated small positive net inflows. 

But with shares down more than 25% since the beginning of the year, Beesley is yet to convince the City his strategy is working. Of the 10 analysts that follow Jupiter, only two give it a buy recommendation. 

“There’s no doubt that the share price can be an unhelpful barometer of perceived success,” says Beesley. His argument is that Jupiter is an active manager because it believes that markets are imperfect — meaning at times share prices will be too low or too high.

Founded in 1985 by the City investor John Duffield, Jupiter was sold to Commerzbank in 1995. Edward Bonham Carter, then co-chief executive, bought it out in 2007. In 2010, Jupiter listed on the London Stock Exchange at 165 pence a share. Today, its shares are trading at just over 96 pence. 

Beesley’s predecessor, Andrew Formica, sought to grow Jupiter in the UK through the acquisition of asset manager Merian in 2020 for £370 million, in a deal which was unpopular with analysts and later criticized by former board director and investor Jon Little. He wrote in an open letter to former Jupiter chair Nichola Pease in 2021 that the deal was “just about as bad as it gets” and should not have happened.

For Jupiter, the acquisition brought with it the Chrysalis investment trust, which had placed early bets on private technology companies such as buy-now-pay-later fintech Klarna, digital bank Starling and the payments platform Wise. That attracted controversy when it paid out a £117 million performance fee — split between the fund managers and Jupiter — despite a plunge in Chrysalis’ shares when the value of some of its private assets crashed. Jupiter no longer receives awards from Chrysalis.

Jupiter has since sold its entire holding in Starling, although it is held by Chrysalis, and introduced a ban on open-ended funds buying unlisted assets — including in the Jupiter UK Mid Cap Fund, which came with the Merian deal.

Rae Maile, an equity research analyst at Panmure Gordon, said Beesley inherited a business that was over-costed, over-complicated and under-selling. “He has quite sensibly tried setting about getting costs out, simplifying the fund range and finding products which might sell,” said Maile. “That he has not been more successful to date is a reflection of how tough it is even for fund management companies which had previously been doing well, let alone those under pressure.”

Gender

Beesley, who studied politics and modern history at Manchester University, worked for Mercury Asset Management, and then JPMorgan Asset Management and Trinity Street Asset Management, before joining former Jupiter boss Formica at Henderson Global Investors. 

It is a notoriously male industry. Of the 63 investment managers Jupiter employs, just five are women — equivalent to 8%. Beesley says he wants to ensure Jupiter better reflects its client mix “because today it doesn’t do that.” 

“Our industry has done a bad job of attracting women, but also people of different ethnic backgrounds,” he says. 

Even with Beesley’s commitment to boost diversity, Jupiter’s roster of female money-managers compares poorly with the industry average. Citywire’s Alpha Female Report 2023 shows that the share of women managing funds is 12.1%. “Our industry is not diverse enough,” says Beesley.

Among his proposed solutions is to add co-managers to each fund, which Beesley believes will aid flexible working to ensure funds are managed during days when people are not working.

Politics

In his spare time, Beesley has been known to dabble in local politics. He was a parish councilor for four years where he lives, 40 miles west of London near Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire. He says it’s hard to judge how business-friendly a Labour government would be. “Certainly the message they’re trying to get across is, you know, don’t be afraid of us.”

His main ask is an end to the post-Brexit volatility — and he says that shifts in regulation since Brexit are making it more difficult to grow. “It’s increasingly hard to be scaled in this industry because you have regulatory divergence,” he says.

Take Mifid II, which forced financial firms to separate the cost of investment research from trading expenses. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt is planning to roll back this piece of EU legislation, which was designed to increase transparency and reduce conflicts of interest. Critics said it reduced the amount of investment research available. Jupiter has worked to take the cost of research on itself to avoid passing it on to clients. 

“I’m not excited by this,” he says, of the reform.

However, Beesley says there are reasons to be hopeful — with international investors such as private equity firms seeing value in cheaper UK assets, and anticipating a change in government next year. “That valuation discount is probably reflecting some of these uncertainties,” he says, adding that people are starting to expect a more stable period. “And if that happens, that’d be great for Jupiter.”

The valuation discount extends to Jupiter, which has been touted as a takeover target. The company, which has a market value of more than £500 million, hired advisers from Robey Warshaw in 2021 to strengthen its defense, according to Sky News. Beesley won’t be drawn on his advisers, adding only: “At some point somebody might find Jupiter an attractive business and choose to attempt to buy it. I don’t control for that.”

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