“We want to really try and get bigger," Prathit Bhobe, the firm’s chief executive officer and managing director, said earlier this month. “In order to do that, you need to look at how you can capitalize on every opportunity the market presents."
For Tata Asset, that meant seeking new ways to benefit from the shift in local savings from gold and property to financial products, a trend that has sent India’s $2.2 trillion stock market to records earlier this month. The S&P BSE Sensex was little changed after falling more than 1% Monday as concerns over the spread of the coronavirus triggered a selloff in risk assets.
Fund houses are preparing for a future where passive investing, which has decimated fees for U.S. managers, takes hold in the country. DSP Mutual Fund started a quant fund in June, with assets that have since grown to about ₹150 crore ($21 million), according to data from Abchlor Investment Advisors.
“In the next three years, when the rest of the industry starts to launch quant products, the funds that are in place will be the only ones with a track record," said Arun Kumar, head of research at FundsIndia.com, an online platform for investing in mutual funds.
Quant strategies, which fall somewhere in between active and passive trading, seek to reduce the role of human bias. They follow a data-driven approach to pick stocks, using pre-defined parameters such as momentum or valuation. Still, their performance globally has been mixed, and greater volatility has made it hard for them to compete with cheaper index funds.
In India, too, their success has been limited. The Nippon India Quant Fund, the nation’s oldest, has often struggled to beat its benchmark over both short- and longer-term horizons. It is now adjusting the methodology of its stock selection to bolster returns.
Corporate governance failures, which machines can’t factor in, have also been responsible for the poor performance. Conflicts within founders’ families have had a more significant impact than in developed markets, FundsIndia’s Kumar said.
Both DSP Mutual and Tata Asset - India’s 11th and 13th largest money managers by assets - say they use multiple strategies to optimize stock selection, and that back-testing shows their models would have beaten their benchmarks in the past.
But a quant fund can still unravel if it isn’t explained well to investors, Kumar said.
“Globally, where it has worked, the fund strategy has been communicated well," he said. “If you don’t do that, people will just move out when the fund underperforms."