Wires

Pension adviser Mercer cautions on Fisher Investments

Ross Kerber

NEW YORK, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Pension adviser Mercer has cautioned clients about Fisher Investments in the wake of off-color comments by firm founder Ken Fisher, citing concerns of a potential loss of assets and staff turnover, according to an Oct. 16 memo seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

It is the latest fallout for Fisher which has faced client outflows of $3 billion following Fisher's remarks that critics have said were sexist.

Mercer did not suggest clients terminate the firm as rival pension adviser NEPC has done, however. This stance which could help Fisher as it campaigns to keep assets.

A Fisher representative did not comment.

Mercer and NEPC are among an influential group that counsels pension plans and other institutions on which investment managers they should hire to handle assets.

In the memo Mercer, part of Marsh & McLennan Cos, said it has added the term "provisional" to its ratings of Fisher products. A Mercer spokesman said it does not comment on individual ratings.

A Florida State Board of Administration spokesman said via email that "provisional" means "there is uncertainty about a rating that Mercer expects to resolve quickly."

The board, for which Fisher manages $168 million, on Tuesday provided the Mercer research memo dated Oct. 16 in response to a public records request, and an Oct. 14 memo in which Mercer first added the provisional qualifier.

The board had previously said it was reviewing Fisher's firm in the wake of his comments at an Oct. 8 investment conference, for which he has apologized.

Mercer wrote that after a conference call with Fisher Investments' top executives, though not with Fisher himself, it would keep monitoring factors including the stability of the firm's investment teams and assets under management, or AUM, and that it could further change ratings.

"We remain mindful that concerns regarding potential AUM loss and staff turnover may take time to play out," Mercer wrote.

So far withdrawals at Mercer have been just a fraction of its $114 billion under management.

According to an attendee of the Oct. 8 conference, Fisher made derogatory remarks about genitalia and picking up girls, among other topics. Fisher has apologized in several forums, although he initially pushed back on some criticism.

In an Oct. 10 note to clients that Mercer's Oct. 14 memo included, Fisher apologized but rejected the idea his remarks were sexist. Fisher wrote that attention his comments received on social media "deliberately mischaracterizes them."

(Reporting by Ross Kerber; editing by Megan Davies and Richard Chang)