Saturday 25th April 2015
NEWS TICKER: FRIDAY, APRIL 24th 2015:Luc Luyet, CIIA – Senior Market Analyst AT Swissquote says that yesterday, “the SNB surprised the market by announcing that the number of sight deposit account holders that are exempt from negative interest has been reduced. This decision doesn’t change much the domestic banks’ situation as the “20 times the minimum reserve requirement” rule is still running. On the other side, the institutions associated with the Confederation, such as the pension fund of the Confederation or the pension fund of the SNB, are no longer exempt of negative interest. Consequently, only the account holders of the national social security system are still fully exempt.” - High yield debt issuance remains buoyant. Issuance volume for the week ending April 17, 2015, slowed down a bit from the previous week, but remained strong. Junk bond, or high-yield debt, issuers continued to issue bonds as yields remained favourable. High-yield debt is tracked by the SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond ETF and the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond Fund. According to data from S&P Capital IQ/LCD, dollar-denominated bonds amounting to $10.75bn were issued across 16 transactions in the week ending April 17th. The issuance volume fell by 3.2% from the week ending April 10. Pricing was evenly spread across the week. The number of transactions fell from 18 to 16 week-over-week. Last week brought the total US dollar issuance of high-yield debt to $115.8bn in 2015 YTD, up some 15% from the same period in 2014, the bulk of which is refinancing of older debt - Moody's says EMEA auto ABS performance remained stable during the three-month period ending February 2015. The sector's average performance trend was positive in terms of delinquency ratios and cumulative losses. The 60+ day delinquencies decreased to 0.66% in February 2015 from 0.77% in February 2014, while cumulative defaults decreased to 1.06% from 1.20% over the same period. This decrease was due mainly to the good performance of the German and Dutch markets. The prepayment rate increased slightly to 13.49% in February 2015 from 13.30% a year earlier. As of February 2015, the pool balance of all outstanding rated auto ABS transactions was €27.55bn - According to Sino specialists Red Pulse, China’s State Council is considering allowing daily repatriation for QFII. Currently, RQFII enjoys T+1 repatriation while QFII is restricted to T+5. QFII is the largest channel for foreign investment into China with quota of USD150bn, however, only half of the quota is in use, like at least partly due to the five-day repatriation stipulation - Malaysia’s state pension fund will offer a Shari’a-compliant investment option for its members by 2017, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today. Najib says it will create the largest Shari’a fund of its kind in the world. Malaysia has one of the world’s largest Islamic finance sectors and the authorities are keen to develop it further. They envision the industry accounting for 40% of the country’s total banking assets by 2020 compared with latest figures of around 23% released last year. The $160bn (MYR577.4bn) Employees Provident Fund (EPF) already invests about a third of its portfolio in stocks and bonds that comply with Islamic principles, which ban interest payments and pure monetary speculation. The fund reportedly hired consultants last year to study the feasibility of a state-backed pension fund focusing entirely on Shari’a-compliant investments. Additionally, local press reports says that Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional has received regulatory approval to issue a MYR1billion (around $275m) socially responsible Islamic bond - The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc has declared a regular quarterly dividend of $0.25 per share on the company's outstanding common stock, an increase of 67% from the prior $0.15 per share quarterly dividend. The dividend is payable on June 26TH 2015, to shareowners of record at the close of business on June 12TH 2015 - Lazard Ltd today reported operating revenue1 of $581m for the quarter ended March 31st. Adjusted net income was $103m, or $0.77 (diluted) per share for the quarter. These results exclude a pre-tax charge of $63m relating to a debt refinancing2. Q1 2015 net income on a U.S. GAAP basis, including the pre-tax charge, was $56m, or $0.42 (diluted) per share. "Our Financial Advisory and Asset Management businesses continue their strong performance," says Kenneth M. Jacobs, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lazard. "In the first quarter, we refinanced and repaid a portion of Lazard's long-term debt, significantly reducing our interest costs," adds Matthieu Bucaille, chief financial officer of Lazard. "Consistent with our capital management objectives, we have increased the quarterly dividend by 17%, the fifth increase in as many years." -

Is asset allocation undergoing a paradigm shift?

Monday, 05 March 2012
Is asset allocation undergoing a paradigm shift? Portfolios continue to maintain historically high levels of cash, as managers seek extra protection in the face of ongoing global economic uncertainty. That has not stopped profit-hungry investors from considering plausible alternatives to equities, and to date many continue to mine potential opportunities in the vast commodities arena. From Boston, Dave Simons reports. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

Portfolios continue to maintain historically high levels of cash, as managers seek extra protection in the face of ongoing global economic uncertainty. That has not stopped profit-hungry investors from considering plausible alternatives to equities, and to date many continue to mine potential opportunities in the vast commodities arena. From Boston, Dave Simons reports.

It has been over three years since the onset of the credit crisis, yet the combination of market volatility and economic weakness continues to keep global investors guessing. Will there be a soft landing or another freefall? Can the global economy find workable solutions, or is sovereign-debt default just around the corner? These and other macro questions have done little to reassure participants; it no surprise, then, that many investors and corporate managers remain historically under-exposed to equities.

What are the alternatives though? Cash, typically little more than a short-term respite during bouts of extreme volatility, remains a zero-sum game (or even less than zero, once inflation is factored in). Similarly, paltry yields continue to offer income seekers little in the way of comfort, while a sudden economic rebound could spark a jump in interest rates and, in turn, a reduction in bond prices.



Given the circumstances, a realloc-ation into certain commodities assets appears to be a viable route. However, questions remain. How hazardous is the downside risk for commodities prices at this stage of the game? Will the un-certainty that has informed the markets fuel the trend toward commodities and other plausible alternatives, or, as recent movements within the US markets seem to suggest, will investors make a much stronger commitment to equities? Is there a case to be made for maintaining a much more balanced mix of assets within a portfolio at any given time?

A year-end poll by Reuters appeared to substantiate the notion that cash is still king. The survey of more than 50 global asset-management facilities found that portfolios were comprised of 6.6% cash on average—the highest such level in at least a year, according to the poll—as managers sought extra protection in the face of economic uncertainty stemming from the EU debt crisis and other macro concerns.
Meanwhile, corporations continued to raise cash largely for the purpose of funding M&A activity as well as buying back shares. Barring an unexpected economic tailwind, Christopher J Wolfe, managing director and chief investment officer for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Private Banking and Investment Group, sees a continuation of this scenario, with businesses keeping costs in check while (at the same time) “accumulating cash and waiting for better days.”

Colin O SheaColin O'Shea, head of commodities for London-based Hermes Fund Managers. The mountain of cash that’s been sitting on the sidelines has been growing for the better part of a decade, remarks Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist for New York-based ConvergEx Group. “CFOs and boards of directors are well aware of the fragility of the financial system, and particularly since the start of the crisis there is this notion that as a large company you have to do everything you can to be your own bank. Unlike investors who can diversify portfolio risk and aren’t really concerned about the welfare of any single company, CFOs have their reputations at stake—and in an effort to protect the franchise during times of uncertainty, they tend to hold higher levels of cash.”

In the US, the situation has been exacerbated by years of low productivity and feeble economic growth. Accord-ingly, the ability for companies to invest capital has itself declined, says Colas. “Compared to the 1970s, 1980s and even the tech-boom1990s, we just haven’t seen the kind of incremental wealth creation that paves the way for bigger markets.” US-based chief financial off-icers have tended to look overseas for growth explains Colas, “or just haven’t made any moves at all.”

Andreas Utermann, global chief investment officer for global asset-management firm RCM, agrees that the precariousness of the European debt situation and the possible impact on the global financial system calls for a more defensive posture. Accordingly, RCM continues to underweight financials, but will be prepared to make adjustments, says Utermann, “should conditions improve and/or bond spreads in the EMU periphery decrease.”

Commodities alternative
Continuing market uncertainty hasn’t stopped profit-hungry investors from seeking plausible alternatives to equities, and to date many continue to look for opportunities within the vast reaches of the commodities sector. With good reason: relative to equities, commodities have generally offered historically competitive returns, while serving as an inflationary hedge as well.

Federal Reserve Bank chairman Ben Bernanke’s pledge to leave interest rates alone for the better part of two years was music to the ears of gold mavens, who have watched gold prices recently rebound as real rates remained in negative territory. Gold has been the commodity of choice for the likes of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, while UBS analyst Edel Tully called for a price target of $2,500/oz before year’s end.
“Commodities continue to be attractive proposition for those seeking a properly diversified portfolio mix,” offers Colin O'Shea, head of commodities for London-based Hermes Fund Managers. “Another consideration is the historically low correlation between commodities and bonds as well as other fixed-income assets.” Particularly over the last several years, commodities have yielded a positive risk premium over equities, and have also exceeded the risk premiums of many pension-plan liabilities during the same period, says O’Shea.

Though it maintains reduced materials exposures, RCM is currently overweight energy commodities. “Longer-term, we remain positively orientated on commodities, given the significant pent-up demand in developing nations, supply constraints and the negative real interest environment created by many central banks globally,” says Utermann.

Perhaps more importantly, com-modities serve as a safeguard against event risk, proving invaluable to investors particularly in the perpetually volatile energy sector. At present, conditions in the Middle East and other regions are such that, even in the face of relatively soft demand, a significant spike in the price of oil remains a very real possibility.  “A major oil-price shock resulting from these geopolitical elements would not bode well for equities,” concurs O’Shea. “Given this scenario, it certainly makes a lot of sense for investors to look for viable opportunities to achieve ade-quate portfolio protection.”

The downside is that the perceived supply risk is overblown, prices begin to fall and, with risk premia lowered, investors suddenly go on an extended equities shopping spree.

“The floor is likely no lower than $90,” says O’Shea, “which is largely due to these regions having to re-set their minimum pricing requirements based on the political events of the past year.”

Nicholas ColasNicholas Colas, chief market strategist for New York-based ConvergEx Group. Even if the current cash stash winds up being re-directed into equities, commodities will likely be none the worse for wear, says O’Shea. “There may be some short-term impact in response to equity investment flows, should that occur,” he says. “However, the underlying supply-demand drivers are what ultimately dictate price, and they remain solid. So yes, I think volume would fluctuate and we could see some price movement as well, but a correction would likely be limited to re-adjusted market fundamentals.”

Because of their historically low correlation to financials, commodities have been attractive to asset owners. However, within the last year or so non-correlative strategies have been harder to come by, notes Colas, com-modities included.

“Over a three, five, and ten year perspective, those low correlations are still intact,” says Colas, “but as more people use commodities as an asset class that has begun to change.” Even gold, which typically moves at opp-osing angles from any financial asset, has recently shown monthly cor-relations in the 50% to 60% range versus US stock. So while commodities will likely continue to gain traction, some of their inherent appeal has been diminished as correlations increase.  “Lack of correlation really has been the raison d'etre for keeping commodities in one’s portfolio,” says Colas. “I mean, why else would you want to own a warehouse full of copper?”

Having said that, there are less-obvious reasons for maintaining one’s commodities connection.  “While it is somewhat more nuanced, the fact that commodities cannot be manufactured by a central bank is in and of itself a compelling enough argument for some investors,” explains Colas.

In a complex world where most other investments are inexorably linked to central bank policymaking, theo-retically a warehouse full of copper should appreciate at or beyond the going inflation rate. “For all the things the Fed can control, the fact is they can’t produce an ounce of copper. It’s like an old master painting—it doesn’t matter how much money the Fed pumps into the financial system, there are still a fixed number of old masters. In reality, there is an increasingly vocal branch of the investment world that thinks you should just be long anything the central banks can’t make.”

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