GLOBAL - Real estate investments still make up over half of the alternative assets managed by external managers on behalf of pension funds, and despite the economic downturn, suggests a study conducted by Watson Wyatt.

The consultancy firm's annual Global Alternative investments Survey found real estate asset managers dominate the top 100 alternatives managers assessed within the study, accounting for 58% of the assets held in alternatives by pension funds.

The study reviewed the activity of 206 alternatives managers acting in the real estate, private equity fund of funds (PEFoFs), fund of hedge funds (FoHFs), infrastructure and commodities - excluding single strategy hedge funds - and found the value of as sets managed fell by 1% last year but real estate is still the popular alternative investment class.

Private equity fund of funds were said to have amounted to 20% of assets while FoHFs made up 13% of allocations, infrastructure rose in interest to make up 9% of alternatives while commodities are still a small holding of 0.4%.

Within the top 10 ranking, eight of the fund managers operate in real estate though the largest asset manager within the review is Macquarie Group Limited, as it has been making headway within the last year to increase its position in the infrastructure market. And 17 of the top 25 assets managers are in real estate.

Within this analysis, the top 50 real estate manager funds - headed by ING Real Estate IM at the top of the chain - had assets of $485bn (€563bn) and invested at least 58% of their assets in North America - a jump from the 48% invested in North America in 2007. At least 28% of funds are now invested in European property while 10% is invested in Asia and 3% is placed elsewhere across the globe.

In contrast, over half (53%) of infrastructure assets were invested in Europe and just 31% were in North America, while approximately 43% of PEFoFs were invested in Europe against 47% placed in North American offerings.

The value of real estate funds is down just 5% or $27.25bn - not quite as high as the figure could have been considering the global property downturn - as the average fund lost $545m, however the smaller funds appear to have fared better the smallest fund with assets under management had increased in value by $321m compared with a $6.64bn loss for the largest manager within the sector.

And at least eight of the real estate managers who participated in last year's survey doubled their AuM.

The top 10 alternatives asset managers are:
 Parent organisation                  AuM ($bn)    Asset class

Macquarie Group Ltd                      44.4           Infrastructure ING Real Estate IM                         40.9           Real Estate Morgan Stanley                              39              Real Estate RREEF Alternative Investments     33.3           Real Estate JP Morgan AM                                 32.2           Real Estate CB Richard Ellis Investors              26.5           Real Estate AEW Capital Management LP         26.1           Real Estate LaSalle Investment Management  25.14          Real Estate The Principal Financial Group        23.07          Real Estate HarbourVest Partners LLC             22.4            PEFoF