Sunday 1st May 2016
NEWS TICKER: Central bank policy is still dominating the trading agenda, even though most analysts believe that the Fed will, if it does move, move only once this year and will raise rates by a quarter of a percent. The statement of the US FOMC was terse and most likely signals extreme caution on its part, though there is a belief that hawkish voices are rising in the committee. The reality is though that the US economic growth story is slowing. Many think the June meeting will spark the uplift. Let’s see. The US dollar is continuing to lose ground across the board after data showed the US economy expanded at its slowest pace since the second quarter of 2009, according to the BEA, which FTSE Global Markets reported on last Friday. GDP increased at a 0.5% annualised rate - versus an expected 0.7% - after rising 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2015 as personal consumption failed to boost growth in spite of low gasoline prices. Central bank caution makes sense in that context, however timing will be sensitive. If the central bank moves in the autumn it threatens to unbutton the presidential elections; but the reality is that mixed data will emanate from the US over this quarter which will make a June decision difficult. It’s tough being an FOMC member right now. The Bank of Japan meanwhile signalled its intention to stay the course this week with current policy, which discombobulated the markets. The Japanese markets were closed today for a public holiday, so it won’t be entirely clear if the market will suffer for the central bank’s decision. Certainly if fell 3.61% yesterday and is down 5% on the week. so the omens aren’t great. Of course, the pattern that is well established of late is that as the market falls, the yen appreciates. The yen was trading at 107.14 against the dollar last time we looked, compared with 108 earlier in the session, having at times touched 111/$1 yesterday (the lowest point for more than 18 months) The month to date has seen a rise in both the short term and long term volatility gauges. Coinciding with the rise, Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrant activity has also significantly picked up. Nikkei 225 Structured Warrants showed increased activity with daily averaged traded value up 33% month-on-month. The Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrants had significant increase in trading activity year-on-year with total turnover up by 6.8 times. – ASIAN TRADING SESSION - Australia's ASX 200 reversed early losses to close up 26.77 points, or 0.51%, at 5,252.20, adding 0.3% for the week. The uptick today was driven by gains in the heavily-weighted financials sub-index, as well as the energy and materials sub-indexes. In South Korea, the Kospi finished down 6.78 points, or 0.34%, at 1,994.15, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 1.37%. Chinese mainland markets were mixed, with the Shanghai composite dropping 7.13 points, or 0.24 percent, at 2,938.45, while the Shenzhen composite finished nearly flat. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 12.42 points or 0.43% lower to 2862.3, taking the year-to-date performance to -0.71%. The top active stocks today were SingTel, which gained 0.26%, DBS, which declined 1.03%, NOL, which gained closed unchanged, OCBC Bank, which declined 1.00% and CapitaLand, with a 0.63% fall. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index gained 0.60%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index rose 0.49%. Structured warrants on Asian Indices have continued to be active in April. YTD, the STI has generated a total return of 1.3%. This compares to a decline of 4.9% for the Nikkei 225 Index and a decline of 6.3% of the Hang Seng Index. Of the structured warrants available on Asian Indices, the Hang Seng Index Structured Warrants have remained the most active in the year to date with Structured Warrants on the Nikkei 225 Index and STI Index the next most active – FUND FLOWS – BAML reports that commodity fund flows went back to positive territory after taking a breather last week, supported again by inflows into gold funds. “The asset class is currently the best performer, with year to date % of AUM inflow at 15%, far ahead of all other asset classes. Global EM debt flows reflected the bullish turn of the market on EMs, recording the tenth consecutive week of positive flows. On the duration front, short-term funds recorded a marginal inflow, keeping a positive sign for the last four weeks. The mid-term IG funds continue to record strong inflows for a ninth week. But it looks like investors have started to embrace duration to reach for yield, as inflows into longer-term funds have recorded a cumulative 0.8% inflow in the past two weeks,” says the BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research team – GREEN BONDS - Banco Nacional de Costa Rica is the latest issuer with a $500m bond to finance wind, solar, hydro and wastewater projects. The bond has a coupon of 5.875% and matures on April 25th 2021. Banco Nacional will rely on Costa Rican environmental protection regulations to determine eligible projects. This is the fourth green bond issuance in Latin America, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI). Actually, Costa Rica is one of the global leaders in terms of renewable energy use. In the first quarter of 2016 it sourced 97.14% of its power from renewables. Hydro's share alone was 65.62%. – SOVEREIGN DEBT - After coming to market with a 100 year bond last week, the Kingdom of Belgium (rated Aa3/AA/AA) has opened books on a dual tranche bond; the first maturing in seven years; the second in 50 years, in a deal managed by Barclays, Credit Agricole, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Natixis and Société Générale. Managers have marketed the October 22nd 2023 tranche at 11 basis points (bps) through mid-swaps and the June 22nd 2066 tranche in the high teens over the mid of the 1.75% 2066 French OAT – LONGEVITY REINSURANCE - Prudential Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company (PRIAC) and U.K. insurer Legal & General say they have just completed their third longevity reinsurance transaction together, further evidence that longevity reinsurance continues to be a vehicle for UK insurers seeking relief from pension liabilities exposed to longevity risk. “This latest transaction builds on our relationship with Legal & General and solidifies the platform from which future business can be written,” explains Bill McCloskey, vice president, Longevity Risk Transfer at Prudential Retirement. “It's also a testament to our experience in the reinsurance space and our capacity to support the growth of the U.K. longevity risk transfer market.” Under the terms of the new agreement, PRIAC will issue reinsurance for a portion of Legal & General's bulk annuity business, providing benefit security for thousands of retirees in the UK. PRIAC has completed three reinsurance transactions with Legal & General since October 2014 – VIETNAM - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has affirmed its 'BB-' long-term and 'B' short-term sovereign credit ratings on Vietnam. The outlook is stable. At the same time, we affirmed our 'axBB+/axB' ASEAN regional scale rating on Vietnam. The ratings, says S&P, reflect the country's lower middle-income, rising debt burden, banking sector weakness, and the country's emerging institutional settings that hamper policy responsiveness. Even so, the ratings agency acknowledges these strengths are offset by Vietnam's sound external settings that feature adequate foreign exchange reserves and a modest external debt burden. The country has a lower middle income but comparatively diversified economy. S&P estimates GDP per capita at about US$2,200 in 2016. “Recent improvements in macroeconomic stability have supported strong performance in the sizable foreign-owned and export-focused manufacturing sector (electronics, telephones, and clothing). This strength will likely be offset by weaker domestic activity as the impetus to growth stemming from low household and company sector leverage is hampered by weak banks and government enterprises, and shortfalls in infrastructure. We expect real GDP per capita growth to rise by 5.3% in 2016 (2015: 5.6%) and average 5.2% over 2016-2019, reflecting modest outlooks for Vietnam's trading partners. Uncertain conditions in export markets and the slow pace in addressing government enterprise reforms, fiscal consolidation, and banking sector resolution add downside risks to this growth outlook – RUSSIA - Russia's central bank held interest rates steady at 11% today, in line with expectations, although it hinted that if inflation kept on falling it would cut soon. Last month, the bank held rates steady, warning that inflation risks remained "high" and that the then oil price rise could be "unsustainable." However, the decision came at a time of renewed hope for Russia's beleaguered economy and the country's oil industry with commodity prices showing tentative signs of recovery. The central bank noted that it "sees the positive processes of inflation slowdown and inflation expectations decline, as well as shifts in the economy which anticipate the beginning of its recovery growth. At the same time, inflation risks remain elevated." Yann Quelenn, market analyst at Swissquote explains: "The ruble has continued to appreciate ever since it reached its all-time low against the dollar in early January. At that time, more than 82 ruble could be exchanged for a single dollar note. Now, the USDRUB has weakened below 65 and even more upside pressures on the currency continue as the rebound in oil prices persists. The outlook for Russian oil revenues is more positive despite the global supply glut. Expectations for increased oil demand over the coming years and the fear of peak oil are driving the black commodity’s prices higher – MARKET DATA RELEASES TODAY - Other data that analysts will be looking out for today include Turkey’s trade balance; GDP from Spain; the unemployment rate from Norway; mortgage approvals from UK; CPI and GDP from the eurozone; CPI from Italy; and South Africa’s trade balance – FTSE GLOBAL MARKETS – Our offices will be closed on Monday, May 2ndt. We wish our readers and clients a happy and restful May bank holiday and we look forward to reconnecting on Tuesday May 3rd. Happy Holidays!

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Mark Wiedman, global head of BlackRock’s iShares brand. Mark Wiedman, global head of BlackRock’s iShares brand. Photograph kindly supplied by iShares, November 2011.

20-20: Turning BlackRock's ETF fortunes

Thursday, 15 December 2011
20-20: Turning BlackRock's ETF fortunes Mark Wiedman’s appointment as global head of BlackRock’s iShares brand is a concerted effort to sharpen the focus of the consortium of exchange-traded funds launched by BGI in May 2000 that combines index fund-style diversification with the liquidity of stock trading. To date, iShares accounts for roughly half of the estimated $1.1trn in US-based ETF assets. While AUM continues to grow at a steady clip, competitors have gradually whittled away at the company’s domestic market share (currently around 43%). Can Wiedman buck the trend? David Simons reports. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/media/k2/items/cache/bd3eebf32e04c907d6d9fc42f4213df5_XL.jpg

Mark Wiedman’s appointment as global head of BlackRock’s iShares brand is a concerted effort to sharpen the focus of the consortium of exchange-traded funds launched by BGI in May 2000 that combines index fund-style diversification with the liquidity of stock trading. To date, iShares accounts for roughly half of the estimated $1.1trn in US-based ETF assets. While AUM continues to grow at a steady clip, competitors have gradually whittled away at the company’s domestic market share (currently around 43%). Can Wiedman buck the trend? David Simons reports.

During a recent earnings conference call, Laurence Fink, BlackRock’s chairman and chief executive, likened the recent run-up in ETF product innovation to the pre-crisis market for mortgage-backed instruments. BlackRock, said Fink, “needs to be very assertive as a firm” in order to prevent “a lack of disclosure on these products”.

To help address issues such as transparency—while also enhancing its ETF product line—BlackRock in September 2011 announced it had tapped Mark Wiedman, managing director in charge of corporate strategy, to serve as the new global head of  iShares, the ETF provider acquired by BlackRock as part of the 2009 buyout of Barclays Global Investors (BGI). Wiedman succeeds Mike Latham, who will continue as iShares chairman. Having served as an adviser to global financial institutions on balance-sheet issues at the height of the crisis, as well as heading up corporate strategy for BlackRock, Wiedman got a “crash course” in understanding clients’ problems and mobilising BlackRock’s capabilities in order to solve them. “I worked closely with iShares throughout the BGI integration and on iShares strategy work, so I stepped into the role with some familiarity with the businesses and the terrific leadership team,” says Wiedman.



ETFs appear to be still in their infancy, and have benefited from factors that include greater use of fixed-income and commodity-based products, increased uptake among fee-based advisers, as well as new product launches within the major exchanges. These conditions will likely pave the way for larger ETF fund allocations over the near term. Wiedman claims: “ETFs are one of the top two or three socially productive financial innovations of the past 40 years, with a value proposition that speaks to a galaxy of clients, from sovereign wealth funds to retail investors. ETFs deliver efficient exposure to global markets using the most democratic, transparent, and liquid vehicle yet devised.”

From the perspective of iShares, key growth drivers over the near term include fixed-income ETFs (which currently represent only a fractional amount of total outstanding bonds within the US), as well as equity income. Meanwhile, the potential for across-the-board ETF uptake exists in nearly every market around the world, says Wiedman.

Unifying US and foreign ETF platforms was a priority for BlackRock following the acquisition of iShares, and the ability to offer both US and European product lines to investors around the globe has been one of iShares’ greatest strengths to date.  “Some 15% of the assets in domestic ETFs are currently held outside the US and in Europe in 2011, we’ve seen over 15% organic growth, in part driven by buyers from Asia. As we look forward, our UCITS-compliant European product line could possibly become the de facto global standard,” says Wiedman.

The rise in ETF fund flows has coincided with a marked increase in product complexity, and, in some instances, has sparked concerns over opacity. For its part, the SEC continues to take a dim view of derivatives-based ETF products, compelling many providers to back away from such offerings.  

Wiedman notes: “We would call products that trade on an exchange ‘exchange-traded products’ or ‘ETPs’ while reserving the label ‘ETF’ for a sub-category that meets certain agreed standards of simplicity and transparency, including backing by underlying securities, rather than derivatives. We understand that regulators around the world will have different views. However, we believe that a standardised classification system could help regulators develop appropriate rules in each jurisdiction.”

The proliferation of so-called “cheap beta” ETF products—or, in some instances, ETFs that are totally commission-free—has had a dramatic impact on the business as a whole. Rather than attempt to compete on price, however, iShares has instead turned its attention toward product development, including active ETFs, which mimic the performance of hedge funds at a fraction of the cost. In August 2011, the company sought the SEC’s permission to launch a set of actively-managed equity ETFs, each based on proprietary BlackRock benchmarks.

“If there is a one thing I learned from my past experience at BlackRock, it’s that iShares will succeed by doing what we do best—not by playing on others’ terms,” offers Wiedman. “We are the sole global player competing against regional players in every market. No one can match our global presence, scale, or brand. Capitalising on that unique position is where our future lies.”

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