If Mitsubishi UFJ Financial’s lightning strike to pick up a 21 per cent stake in Morgan Stanley earlier this month was the exception, then its trust bank subsidiary’s slow-burn alliance with Aberdeen Asset Management, the British fund manager, looks more like the rule.
A year in gestation, the deal under which Mitsubishi UFJ Trust Bank (MUTB) has agreed to promote Aberdeen products to Japanese institutions was cemented on Thursday when MUTB acquired 9.9 per cent of the fund manager. Cue much rejoicing at Aberdeen, a 9 per cent intraday spike in the UK company’s share price, and column-inches of colourful background about the historic links between Aberdeen and Mitsubishi, the industrial giant that the “Scottish samurai”, Thomas Blake Glover, helped form in the 19th century.
Glover, born near Aberdeen, was, by most accounts, a fast-mover and a visionary, but he could probably have told Martin Gilbert, Aberdeen Asset Management’s hard-headed chief executive, a few things about the need for patience when breaking into the Japanese market.
It won’t take much to increase Aberdeen’s profile in the country – only 2 or 3 per cent of its funds are managed for Japanese clients, yet it is the world’s second largest pension market. Those funds are seeking to diversify beyond Japan, which is where Aberdeen’s global and emerging market equity and fixed income products will eventually come in. But with most western markets still trembling from the financial crisis and coming downturn, Japanese-fuelled growth may take time to feed through.
That’s not to underplay the value of the deal for Aberdeen. The fund manager has made no capital contribution to the alliance, yet it has won access, through MUTB, to a very solid platform for distribution in Japan. MUTB’s stake, which could be increased to nearly 20 per cent, adds another vote of confidence to Mr Gilbert’s growing tally and definitively buries memories of the UK’s split-capital investment trust affair, which nearly brought Aberdeen down six years ago. That scandal taught Mr Gilbert the dangers of aggressive, debt-fuelled expansion. If the steady organic growth of the group via bolt-on acquisitions and alliances takes time, few – least of all Aberdeen’s shareholders, old and new – will complain.
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