UK - Merrill Lynch Investment Managers (MLIM) continued to accuse Unilever Superannuation Fund of contributory negligence by launching a stinging assault on the pension fund's CIO, Wendy Mayall, in the High Court yesterday.
Unilever alleges Mercury Asset Management (MAM), which MLIM bought for £3.1bn in 1997, acted negligently by failing to operate adequate risk controls in the running of £1bn of its assets in 1997 and 1998. It is claiming £130m. MAM’s return in the 15 month period under review was absolute growth of 20.65%, worth £200m. In the same period the FTSE All Share gained 31%.
Mayall, dressed in black trousers, grey jacket and gold necklace, said she could not “recall” receiving a January 1996 report from consultants Frank Russell which contained analyses of the UK equity portion of the fund.
MLIM’s QC, Ian Glick, said: “It is incredible, is it not, that you did not read this report given the job you were given to do?”
Mayall worked in a senior position at consultants Stamford Associates before moving to Unilever in 1995.
Mayall said she could not be sure she had read the WM Company’s 1996 performance commentary on the fund. Questioned on whether she had attended MAM’s presentation to Unilever in February 1996, Mayall said: “I have a recollection of a series of meetings with Mercury but I don’t recall each one.” Asked about a presentation by Towers Perrin at the same time concerning strategic asset allocation, she said: “I don’t recollect that I attended that presentation but can’t guarantee that I didn’t.”
MLIM is asserting that Mayall should have been fully aware of MAM’s performance and that she failed to act on information in time. MLIM also maintains that in order to achieve diversification MAM’s portfolio was necessarily “riskier” than Unilever’s other managers, Gartmore and Schroders.
Glick produced Mayall’s first report on external investment managers which described MAM’s portfolio as “concentrated” and “based on in-depth research.”
He also revealed a second report from March 1996, marked ‘not for circulation’, in which Mayall assessed external managers and recommended dumping Gartmore and reducing Schroders’ and MAM’s mandates. Gartmore and Schroders had upper quartile targets while MAM’s agreement, set in in 1991, simply said it had to maximise returns within an acceptable level of risk.
Mayall replied: “It’s a long time ago ... this document was not a document that a great deal of time was spent on. It was more of a ‘what if’ exercise.”
The case is expected to last a further six weeks.
By Luke Clancy
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