Super rich still making money in crisis

LONDON Fri Aug 19, 2011 5:13am EDT

LONDON Aug 19 (Reuters) - Financial advisers to the world's richest people report some of their top clients have continued to make money throughout recent market turmoil by harnessing sophisticated investments out of reach to mainstream punters.

With equity markets plunging, most investors have suffered losses to their pension funds and portfolios, but those able to meet the multi-million dollar investment thresholds of private equity and some hedge funds are coming out ahead.

"You've got so many investment opportunities that are open only to very rich people," said one London-based financial adviser specialising in ultra rich investors.

"The super rich are doing very well. They're getting good advice, they're getting access to stuff that other people don't have access to," he said.

Certain investment vehicles, such as hedge funds, can thrive at times of market stress because they are able to use risk management tools such as derivatives and make short-selling sales that make money when an asset price falls.

Some big name hedge funds such as Brevan Howard, Man Group's AHL and Winton have continued to make gains for their investors during recent market volatility.

However, because some of the trades made by the funds can involve higher risks, and in the case of short selling theoretically infinite potential losses, regulators often place them off limits to small investors.

"There seems to be a moral argument against shorting, but from a purely practical point of view it leaves (hedge funds) in a better position to manage volatility," said portfolio strategist Johannes Jooste of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, part of Bank of America Corp .

"It still remains the domain of the kind of client that can write a million dollar ticket or more ... From a regulatory point of view, the industry is not allowed to put the intermediate or the novice client into a hedge fund."

The fact that the super rich can write cheques for millions of dollars also means they have exclusive access to the few real estate assets where prices are still rising, such as the central London residential property market.

While property prices around the world drop or stagnate, according to upmarket property consultant Savills , house prices in the smartest areas of central London are set to be up 8 percent this year.

"London is driven by the international buyer. They are after the trophy assets. Once you get out of the top end, it's a little more tricky, because people are dependent on mortgages and borrowing," said Philip Selway, head of the global property wealth team at broker Knight Frank.

Selway added that a couple buying a London property earlier this year were the first British clients he had seen for three years.

London commercial property is also proving a popular investment with the ultra wealthy. British private bank Coutts, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland , plans to launch a commercial property fund in October open only to clients worth 10 million pounds or more.

"A lot of clients like the idea of being invested in high quality West End assets," said Julian Lamden, a client partner in Coutts's private office division, which caters to the bank's richest clients.

Earlier this year Citigroup raised 330 million pounds via its private bank for a commercial property fund managed by Threadneedle, mainly from tycoons and rich families in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. (Editing by Sinead Cruise and Will Waterman)

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