December 09, 2020

How Should Affected FT Investors Vote?

This has reference to the forthcoming vote by investors in the six schemes that Franklin Templeton (FT) has proposed to wind up.

There is a lot of publicly voiced advice on this, and almost all of what I have seen, is encouraging or urging a ‘Yes’ vote.  On its part, FT seems to also endorse that choice.   Presumably to make sure that the message is not lost, FT has framed the vote as being about an “orderly winding up”. 

In my limited understanding of the law, the vote is supposed to be for approving the winding up.  Period.  Adding the prefix “orderly” adds an element of bias to the process.  Is it legal?  I don’t know.  And what exactly does “orderly” mean?  It is certainly not an absolute term that can be defined unambiguously. 

Regardless, how “orderly” will the winding up be, is something that time will tell us.  There is certainly a fear amongst many of us, that a ‘No’ verdict may end up being not as “orderly” as a ‘Yes’ verdict.  Yet it is possible that a ‘No’ verdict could end up being very “orderly”.  If that sounds hard to believe, consider this comment made by someone on an online forum (lightly edited for clarity):

FT may say that a 'No' majority will lead to chaotic redemptions but that may not necessarily happen. Firstly, some of the funds have gained enough cash to ward off reasonable redemption pressure. And while this may sound bizarre, the schemes that are cash positive, also have the ability to borrow and pay off- and who knows, SEBI might become more generous about those limits. Secondly, FT has options to control redemptions. It can somewhat limit the amount redeemed per folio. It can also ward off redemptions by applying an illiquidity discount like they did in the case of the FoFs- which, by the way, seems to have worked. The one big problem with a 'No' majority is that there are too many ifs and buts.

Doubtless, the circumstances today are quite different from those in April, and which led to FT’s decision.  Is the change significant enough to merit re-opening one or more schemes?  As I said previously, only time can tell us.  Irrespective, the point about the Fund-of-Funds is especially interesting. 

For those who may not know or have forgotten, this is a reference to those schemes that are further invested in one or more of the affected six schemes.  Take for example, Franklin India Dynamic Asset Allocation Fund of Funds (FT DAAF).  This has exposure to Franklin India Short Term Income Plan (FT STIP), which is one of the six schemes. 

Right after the winding up was announced, the fund house applied, what I consider to be a high-handed, arbitrary “illiquidity discount” on that holding.  As on the date that happened, the AUM of FT DAAF was 768 crore.  As on 8 December, the AUM was 784 crore.  It would seem that there has been no rush for redemptions in the fund.  I am not saying that this is evidence that the discount was effective, but it is certainly worth thinking about.  I must confess, though, that the devil in me is tempted to hope for a ‘No’ verdict in any one scheme, just to see if the argument of extreme redemptions holds. 

So, what does this mean for investors, and should it affect the way they vote?

Permit me to go back to the person I quoted earlier, and offer something that he had to say on this.

As with any decision involving voting, we have to make our own individual choices and hope that the eventual outcome, even if different, doesn't impact us too badly. We can endlessly speculate about the best choice- but unfortunately, there is no single choice that will appeal to everybody. It depends on a person's circumstances and even which of the 6 schemes he/she is stuck with. For example, I personally know a few people who would genuinely benefit more from a 'No' majority.

Then there is the final result, and what happens after that. A 'Yes' majority will definitely bring far more certainty to what will happen after that than a 'No' majority. But that doesn't mean that a 'No' majority is necessarily a bad outcome. Equally so, it is not necessarily a good outcome. It all depends.

I concur with this view.  We ought to vote in a way that reflects the best possible balance between our conscience and our needs, and then find the strength to live with the outcome.

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