They looked to real estate. They looked to energy. They looked to longer duration bonds. They looked to companies that could withstand a weak global economy, and they looked to sidestep the credit nightmares of countries such as Greece.

Those managers who rose to the top of the heap in the separately managed accounts industry carefully researched and weighed their options before making their moves. And it wasn't easy. According to Morningstar, the SMA industry was up only slightly last year, rising a mere 0.68%. After strong asset flows in the first half of the year, the industry shed close to 9% in the third quarter, and then came back 5.34% in the fourth quarter.

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