City & Corporate: ABI defends investment managers on openness

The Association of British Insurers has hit back at Cadbury Schweppes chairman John Sunderland's call for greater transparency in the way fund managers handle their corporate investments.

Alan Leaman, ABI head of media and political affairs for the institutional investment body, said members had already made 'a vast effort' to improve relations with the companies they invested in.

Leaman was responding to Sunderland's blistering attack on the investment community at last week's Investor Relations Society conference. He also criticised the use of 'sensational' research.

While they were prepared to discuss any issues with the Financial Services Authority, Leaman said, the points Sunderland raised were less 'a matter of whether there are problems than whether there are perceived to be problems'.

Sunderland, who is also president of the CBI, spoke of 'an imbalance between the obligations of openness on the corporate sector and those laid on the banks'.

Some of his more stinging criticisms were reserved for the hedge fund sector, whose aggressive trading in and out of company stock and derivatives had, Sunderland said, encouraged analysts to write company research which was too short-sighted to provide a meaningful insight into company accounts.

Of particular concern, he said, was the potential conflict of interest at investment banks with hedge fund arms, which also have sell-side analysts. He was 'not convinced' of the effectiveness of so-called Chinese Walls, designed to stop information flowing between the two.

'Two thirds of investment bank trading revenue is generated by hedge funds,' said Sunderland.

'There is constant pressure on analysts to generate positive or negative stories that will move share prices. Those who propagate the stories have little concern for their destabilising effect on business,' he added.

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