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Savvy Brexit strategy helps Oxford endowment's 2016 return

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The Oxford Endowment Fund (OEF) reported a 16.4% investment return for the 2016 calendar year due in part to a flexible currency strategy.

The £2.34bn pooled fund run on behalf of Oxford University and a number of individual colleges more than doubled its 2015 investment return of 7.6%. Over five years the endowment returned 11.8% a year on average.

OEF said that the most significant risk for UK investors last year was the country’s referendum on its EU membership, so it planned clear practical outcomes for either result.

OEF said: “We came to the conclusion that in the event of an ‘out’ vote, sterling would be the release valve and hence moved our currency exposure
 to the lower end of its permitted sterling range of 40-70%.

“Following the result, we moved quickly to add capital to public markets which fell significantly, using our position as long-term investors to take advantage of a market overwhelmed by short-term fear.”

As of the end of December 2016, 44.1% of the portfolio was held in public equities, with 24.5% in private equity, 10.4% in credit and 6.5% in property. 

While property, bonds and cash holdings (20% in total) were all held within the UK, 33% of assets were in North America, a further 13% in the UK, 15% in emerging markets, 11% in Europe (excluding the UK), and 8% in Japan and Asia-Pacific.

There was significant exposure to investments related to innovation across a range of sectors such as technology, consumer products and pharmaceutical research in both public and private equity.

OEF said it was also pursuing the theme of domestic growth drivers in emerging markets via publicly quoted companies, and in “exciting” niche private strategies.

In credit strategies, a significant amount of capital was being used to fund growth and structural change in markets such as India and China.

OEF has also started building a portfolio of UK commercial and residential properties to complement its holdings in strategic land and rural estates. At end-2016, it realised some value in its rural holdings through the sale of the Nuneham Courtenay Estate, publicly marketed at £22m – although the end sale value was not disclosed.

Together with the £460m Oxford Capital Fund, which provides expendable capital over the medium term (typically for building projects), OEF is run by Oxford University Endowment Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of the university.  

OEF’s investment objective is to grow its capital by an average of 5% a year in real terms, at a lower volatility than would be experienced by investing solely in the public equity markets.

This means a focus on equity investments, using property and credit as diversified sources of return.

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