e-fundresearch: Mr Pierre Luc Charron, you are the fund manager of Amundi Funds Convertible Europe (ISIN: LU0568615057). Since when are your responsible for the fund management?
Charron: I have been responsible for the fund management since inception of the fund in December 14, 2007.
e-fundresearch: Which benchmark do you adhere to?
Charron: The benchmark of the fund is the UBS Convertible Bond Europe Focus, a benchmark which is focused on European convertible bonds with a mixed profile.
e-fundresearch: Are you also responsible for other funds at the moment?
Charron: I am also responsible for 4 other open ended funds and 9 segregated mandates. The universe of these funds and mandates include Euro, Europe and Global Convertible Bonds.
e-fundresearch: What is the total volume that you manage in all your funds?
Charron: The total volume my team manages is EUR 2.2 billion (as of end October 2011). As the Head of Convertible Bonds at Amundi Asset Management, I have a team of two other portfolio mangers who work with me to run these assets.
e-fundresearch: Regarding the performance: which performance did you achieve since the beginning of the year and in the years 2006-2010? Absolutely and relatively to the relevant benchmark?
* Amundi Funds Convertible Europe IE (C ), the institutional capitalization share class, net of all fees.
* Year to date 2011, through November 30th
** From December 14, 2007 inception date through November 30, 2011
e-fundresearch: How content are you with your own performance in the last years and this year?
Charron: We are content with our performance over the last years as we have beaten the benchmark by 19.95% net of fees since inception of the fund in December 2007. In 2008, the fund had a particularly strong resistance to the downside thanks to our focus on convexity – the ability to participate in the upside, while having a parachute effect on the downside. In 2009 we had a respectable participation on the upside, though not as much as the benchmark because we were already out of the lesser rated credits in 2008 which strongly rebounded in 2009. In 2010 the fund outperformed again thanks to the focus on high yield and non-rated convertibles where the credit tightened significantly, and an overweight on the cyclical sector. This year we have performed slightly above the benchmark, in a year where convertible bonds as an asset class have demonstrated a strong resistance relative to equities, falling about half that of equity markets.
e-fundresearch: How are you able to deliver added value for your investors with your performance?
Charron: We are able to deliver added value to our investors thanks to the active management of the portfolio, which has generated positive returns since inception, and positive outperformance relative to the benchmark in 4 out of 5 years since inception. This has been achieved thanks to our investment philosophy which seeks to optimize convexity in every market configuration through bottom up selection and top down decisions. Furthermore, the positioning of our team is a key value-added for our performance. At Amundi, our convertible bond team is positioned within Equities and Fixed Income, instead of being in one department or the other. Thanks to the positioning of the team, we are able to benefit from the resources of the equity volatility expertise, a flagship capability at Amundi; and credit and high yield, which is particularly indispensable for information flows in fragile markets like 2008 or 2011. We have access to over 20 portfolio managers and 18 equity analysts in the Equity Department, as well as 8 portfolio managers and 20 credit analysts in the Fixed Income Department.
e-fundresearch: How long have you been a fund manager already?
Charron: I have been a fund manager since 2006. Prior to that, I have been working with convertible bonds and derivatives sales for over 20 years.
e-fundresearch: What were your biggest successes and your biggest disappointments in your career as fund manager?
Charron: My biggest successes have been the long term outperformance of my key flagship funds, including the one mentioned in this interview. While it can be easy to have one or two good years, to have a consistent track record which outperforms over the long term is a true challenge. Therefore my biggest success is the long term performance of my Euro and Europe Convertible Bonds portfolios which I have been managing since 2006. Another success is the ability to extract positive value from our Convertible Bonds Platform, which as described before is positioned within Equities and Fixed Income. This positioning sets us apart from other competitors, which typically house converts within one of the two departments. My strong desire to be physically located not only within equity volatility, but also next to the high yield and credit portfolio managers has been one of the key elements of success in terms of research and news flow.
In terms of disappointments, it is always difficult when the asset class performs poorly, even if we beat the benchmark. 2008 was one of those times. While we navigated the crisis relatively well by selling out of less liquid converts with a high credit component, were underweight cyclicals including real estate, and outperformed the benchmark by 14.32% that year, it was not an easy time. It is always difficult when we lose money for our investors. 2011 has also been an extremely challenging year.
e-fundresearch: What kind of capital market situation do we have at the moment? How do you act in this environment?
Charron: Today’s capital market situation is one which is driven by macro uncertainty and extremely high correlations between sectors and companies. This is due to the political nature of the current debt crisis, where markets are moving based on idiosyncratic events and speculation on political decisions. This is an environment where bottom up fundamentals analysis is less relevant. Therefore, we are focusing on top-down decisions in our portfolio as bottom-up analysis does not add much alpha. These top down decisions generally involve the use of options and futures on indices to enhance the convexity of the portfolio. For example in September and October, when markets were extremely fragile, we had bought several put spreads on the Eurostoxx50 which were rolled to new strikes depending on the market evolution. In addition we added futures on the Eurostoxx50 after each market decline in order to better participate in any nascent recovery.
That being said, we are closely monitoring the specific risks which are appearing in the current environment of slowing growth and likelihood of a mild recession in Europe.
e-fundresearch: What are the special challenges in this environment?
Charron: As alluded to in the former question, some specific risks are appearing in the impending economic slow down which can present a special challenge in this environment. In an environment of economic fragility, the approach on credit will become increasingly more important. Given the rapid market deterioration since August, the universe of convertible bonds with a high yield and/or non-rated profile has increased significantly. Approximately half of the universe is non-rated, which means that a thorough analysis of the credit component is essential to avoid names which will suffer in the weakening economy.
e-fundresearch: What objectives do you have till the end of the year and in the mid term for the upcoming 3 to 5 years?
Charron: Through the end of this year, the visibility remains poor and we expect political decisions to be the main drivers of market moves. Therefore we remain vigilant on the special challenges mentioned above, and particularly focused on convexity through top-down overlays which can protect the portfolio on the downside while allowing it to participate in any rebound.
For the next 3-5 years our objectives are to continue to focus on convexity to outperform the benchmark and to deliver attractive returns for investors. We want to be positioned to participate strongly in any market rebound in 2012-2013, and also intend to participate in primary market activity. Primary market activity was one of the main stimuli for inflows into the convertibles asset class in 2009, and also is essential to increase the equity sensitivity of the asset class (convertibles are generally issued at 50% delta). Given that banks are deleveraging and offering fewer loans to companies, we believe that companies will increasingly need to tap the capital markets in order to obtain financing in the next 1-2 years. We therefore expect the asset class to benefit from a period of increasing primary market activity.
e-fundresearch: Do you model yourself on someone? Any ideals?
Charron: This was a difficult question for me to answer, but after giving it some thought, I would say that I admire and respect very much my father, who was a good role model for me. Although he was working in the automotives industry (he was a manager at Peugeot), which is very different from finance, he gave me many values which I apply to my work as a portfolio manager today. These values include honesty, above all, as well as a strong work ethic and a natural curiosity to enjoy the challenges every day.
e-fundresearch: What motivates you in your job?
Charron: As perhaps alluded to above, I am motivated by the constant challenges in the financial markets. One thing which can definitely be said about the markets is that no day is the same. For some people this may be a stressful reality, especially in a year like 2011; however I personally see it as an interesting challenge, to make decisions to improve the portfolio while constantly adapting to new realities facing the markets each day.
e-fundresearch: What else do you want to achieve or do you have any further aims as a fund manager?
Charron: One key aim that I want to achieve is to convince more people that convertible bonds are a real asset class which should interest a multitude of investors, be they equity or fixed income orientated. Given the relatively niche profile of convertible bonds, and because they are often little understood outside of certain countries like France who are strong issuers of convertible bonds, many investors do not at present consider convertible bonds as an essential asset class. However, convertible bonds have actually outperformed equities, bonds and money markets over the long term thanks to their natural convexity (from 1996-2011YTD, Euro CBs have returned 162% with Euro Equities returning 133% and Euro Government Bond returning 108%).
Another aim for our team at Amundi is to leverage the strength of our Euro & Europe Convertible Bond expertise to build upon our Global expertise. While we have 1 open ended fund in the Global universe and several segregated mandates with varying Global requirements, my aim is to further pursue this universe in order to meet increasing investor demands for a global approach to convertible bonds.
e-fundresearch: What other profession would you have taken interest in, apart from becoming a fund manager?
Charron: Apart from becoming a fund manager, I would have taken interest in the area of Marketing and Communications. As mentioned above, prior to becoming a portfolio manager, I was the Head of Sales for the convertibles and derivatives desk at an investment bank. I have always found the commercial aspect to be very challenging, and therefore extremely interesting. I still very much enjoy each opportunity to meet up with my clients, and find the client contact to be very stimulating.
e-fundresearch: Thank you for the interview!