Friday 12th February 2016
NEWS TICKER: February 11th 2016: Gaming machine operators will be hit the hardest by the Italian government's plans to reform the gaming sector in 2016, says Moody's in a report published today. "Under the 2016 draft budget law the Italian government plans to overhaul the gaming and sports betting industries. We expect a moderate increase in taxes for gaming machine operators, which is credit negative," says Donatella Maso, a VP-Senior Analyst at Moody's. "In addition, licence renewals for betting shops and corners will result in high one-off costs, although it is unclear whether these will occur in 2016 or the following year." However, the measures under the draft budget law are not as severe as some companies and investors had expected based on the first draft of the law proposed last October - Fixed income manager BlueBay Asset Management has hired Jean-Yves Guibert and Marc Kemp into their Global Leveraged Finance team. Based in London, Guibert has joined as a senior credit analyst in High Yield from BNP Paribas, where he was head of European High Yield Sector Specialists and Marc Kemp has joined as institutional portfolio manager. Kemp was previously at JPMorgan, where he was most latterly a managing director and head of European High Yield Sales. Justin Jewell, co-head of Global Leveraged Finance Long Only says, “In normal credit cycles, the period of market stress is usually sharp but short lived and corresponds with worsening economic conditions. This cycle could be very different, as the distortions created by zero interest rate policies and quantitative easing (and their reversal) will likely result in economic and credit cycles that are less closely aligned. We would further argue that this cycle will likely show a lengthier period of spread widening, as defaults are likely to occur over a longer period.” - Marsh, a global leader in insurance broking and risk management, has appointed Sir Iain Lobban KCMG CB, former Director of the UK security and intelligence organisation GCHQ, as senior adviser on Cyber Risk. In the newly-created role, Sir Iain will provide strategic advice as Marsh works with governments, regulators and clients on how best to address the growing threat of cyber risk. He will report to Mark Weil, CEO, Marsh UK & Ireland and join Marsh’s global Cyber Centre of Excellence. Sir Iain was Director of GCHQ – the UK government’s communications headquarters– between 2008 and 2014 having previously served as director general of operations from 2004 - BNP Paribas Securities Services has won a mandate to provide Nationwide Building Society with clearing and custody services for the UK market. Nationwide Building Society is the world’s largest building society with assets of £200b, and 15 million customers across the UK. BNP Paribas Securities Services has been appointed as the settlement and gilt custody provider, safekeeping Nationwide Building Society’s £12.7bn worth of gilt assets in the UK. - The UK Debt Management Office says an additional £149.975m nominal of 3½% Treasury Gilt 2045 will be created for settlement on 12 February 2016 inrespect of the amount purchased by the Gilt-edged Market Makers and investors during the Post-Auction Option Facility, which closed at 2pm today. This additional stock will be sold at the average accepted price of £127.524 and will take the total amount outstanding of3½% Treasury Gilt 2045 to £25,315,238,000.00 nominal - The Lyxor Hedge Fund Index was down -0.9% in January. 5 out of 11 Lyxor Indices ended the month in positive territory. The Lyxor CTA Long Term Index (+2.2%), the Lyxor Global Macro Index (+0.7%), and the Lyxor Fixed Income Arbitrage Index (+0.7%) were the best performers, says the ETF major. Hedge Funds displayed esilience in January. Both markets and analysts started the year with reasonable growth expectations. These were aggressively revised down, triggered by the release of the disappointing Chinese PMI and the CNY depreciation. Strikingly, investors started to price in more serious odds for a Chinese hard landing, the growing central banks’ impotence, the risk of a US recession, and the return of global deflation. Lyxor says, in that context, CTAs thrived on their short commodities and long bond exposures. FI Arbitrage and Global Macro funds exploited monetary relative and tactical opportunities. To the exception of the L/S Equity Long Bias and Special Situations funds – hit on their beta - the other strategies managed to deliver flat to modestly negative returns - Why did investors think that the US Fed would raise rates in this jittery global market? Investors shed stocks in Asia today, on the back of what was a reasonable statement to the House of Representatives Finance Committee, that the US central bank would remain cautious on future rate hikes. According to Swissquote analysts, “Recent market turmoil and uncertainties surrounding China’s growth prospect could weigh on US growth if proven persistent. A few days ago, Stanley Fisher, Fed Vice Chairman, also delivered a cautious speech reminding us that Fed policy will remain data dependent and that it was too soon to tell whether the current market conditions will prevent the Fed from moving on with its rate cycle”. The global mood among central banks is towards an accommodative rather than tightening monetary policy: this was a theme that investors applauded last year and only last month as the ECB signalled a continuation of its policy, but it wasn’t what Wall Street wanted to hear and early gains lost out to negative sentiment and the US markets ended lower for four days in a row. The real worry of course is that ultra-loose monetary policy signals the fears of central bankers that the global economy continues to wind downwards and that consideration is fueling investor fears. Asia’s trading story has been writ in stone for the last few weeks with havens such as gold, the yen and government bonds the main beneficiaries of continued investor jitters. In commodities, Brent crude oil was down 1.3% at $30.43, while WTI crude futures fell 2.7% to $26.70, despite a drawdown in US stockpiles. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 3.9%, catching up with the week's selloff as the market reopened from a holiday. South Korea’s Kospi ended the day down 2.93%, while in Singapore the STI fell 0.77%. Japan's market and China's Shanghai Composite Index were both closed. The dollar was down 1.8% against the yen at ¥ 111.28, a sixteen-month low for the dollar against the Japanese currency. In other currencies, the euro was up 0.4% against the dollar at $1.1325, its highest since October. Spot gold in London gained 1.1% to $1218.18 a troy ounce, its highest level since May. In focus today, will likely be the Swedish Riskbank policy decision, with expectations for already negative rates to go even lower. “Markets may like cheap money for longer but they definitely don’t like the idea of a major market turn-down and another recession, hence discussion about need for US negative rates sapping risk appetite overnight. Note Janet Yellen testifying again today, although yesterday likely saw the most important information already discussed,” says Accendo Markets analysts.

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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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