Towers Watson reported Monday that total global alternative assets under management in 2014 stood at $6.3 trillion, up from $5.7 trillion the year before, based on data from 623 managers.
The world’s 100 largest alternative investment managers had $3.5 trillion in assets under management in 2014, up from $3.3 trillion in 2013, the survey showed.
Real estate managers in this elite group had the biggest share of assets — 33%, or some $1 trillion.
The top 100 managers in other asset classes covered by the research showed the following asset levels:
- Hedge funds—23% and $791 billion
- Private equity funds—22% and $767 billion
- Private equity funds of funds—10% and $342 billion
- Funds of hedge funds—5% and $214 billion
- Infrastructure—4% and $149 billion
- Illiquid credit—3% and $98 billion
The asset classes among the overall group were split in roughly similar proportions to the top 100 alternative investment managers, except for real estate, which fell to 23% of the total, and hedge funds, which increased to 27%.
“Institutional investors continue to plow billions of dollars annually into investment opportunities other than bonds and equities, which are now increasingly seen as ‘bread and butter’ assets, rather than alternative assets,” Towers Watson’s global head of investment manager research Luba Nikulina said in a statement.
“At the same time, lines are blurring between individual ‘asset classes’ within this group, as investors focus more on underlying return drivers rather than ‘asset classes.’ While we believe that many asset managers in this area will continue to attract capital, those that acknowledge this increasing sophistication of institutional buyers’ approach, and change accordingly, will truly flourish.”
The research included data on a diverse range of institutional investors.
Pension fund assets represented 33% of the top 100 alternative managers’ assets, followed by wealth managers with 19%, insurance companies 8%, sovereign wealth funds 5%, banks 4%, funds of funds 3% and endowments and foundations 2%.
Nikulina said highly skilled alternative investment teams provided a compelling proposition when combined with properly aligned interests and fair fees.
“However, investors across the board — from insurers to sovereign wealth funds — should first check they have sufficient governance levels that would enable them to identify genuine and sustainable skill, particularly for very complex alternatives.”
The research showed that for the top 100 managers, 47% of alternative capital went to North America, with the exception of infrastructure and illiquid credit, where more capital was invested in Europe.
Overall, 36% of alternative assets were invested in Europe and 9% in Asia/Pacific, with 8% being invested in the rest of the world.
Further, among the 100 top managers, illiquid credit assets grew the most in 2014, adding 28%, while hedge funds and infrastructure funds increased by 9% and 8%.
Pension fund assets allocated to the top 100 managers increased in 2014 from the year before to some $1.4 trillion, with the largest portion, 36%, going to real estate managers.
Private equity funds of funds followed with 20%, private equity with15%, hedge funds 12%, infrastructure 8%, funds of hedge funds 6%, illiquid credit 4%, versus 2% in 2013 and commodities 1%.
Nikulina noted a growing trend of investors differentiating between alternatives—for example, seeking diversity via real estate, infrastructure and some diversifying hedge fund strategies, or pure alpha through other hedge fund strategies and sometimes private equity.
“This more granular return-driver perspective is fast becoming investors’ main focus when building their asset allocations instead of using the traditional ‘asset class’ approach,” she said.
Following are the 25 largest alternative asset managers, according to Towers Watson:
1. Macquarie Group, Australia, infrastructure: $92.3 billion
2. Bridgewater Associates, U.S., hedge funds: $89.6 billion
3. CBRE Global Investors, U.S., real estate: $82.1 billion
4. Blackstone, U.S., real estate: $80.9 billion