Sunday 14th February 2016
NEWS TICKER: FRIDAY, JANUARY 12TH: Morningstar has moved the Morningstar Analyst Rating™ for the Fidelity Global Inflation Linked Bond fund to Neutral. The fund previously held a Bronze rating. Ashis Dash, manager research analyst at Morningstar, says, “The fund’s rating was placed Under Review following the news that co-manager Jeremy Church was leaving Fidelity. Lead manager, Andrew Weir, who has managed the fund since launch in May 2008, remains in charge and is further supported by the new co-manager, Tim Foster. While we acknowledge Weir’s considerable experience in the inflation-linked space, some recent stumbles and below-benchmark returns over time have led us to lower our conviction in the fund. This is currently reflected by our Neutral rating.” - Italian GDP growth looks to have stalled to 0.1pc in the last quarter of 2015, falling below analyst expectations of 0.3% growth. The Italian economy grew by just 0.6% last year having come out of its worst slump since before the pyramids were built. The slowdown will put further pressure on reforming Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, who has been battling to save a banking system lumbering under €201bn (£156bn) of bad debt, equivalent to as much as 12% of GDP. It is a serious situation and one which threatens Italy’s traditionally benign relationship with the European Union. The EU’s bail in rules for bank defaults seeks to force creditors to take the brunt of any banking failures. Italy suffered four bank closures last year, which meant losses of something near €800m on junior bond holders (with much of the exposure held by Italian retail investors). No surprise perhaps, Italian bank stocks have taken a beating this year, Unicredit shares are currently €3.06, compared with a price of €6.41 in April last year. In aggregate Italian banking shares are down by more than 20% over the last twelve months. Italian economy minister Pier Carlo Padoan told Reuters at the beginning of February that there isn’t any connection between the sharp fall in European banking stocks, as he called on Brussels for a gradual introduction of the legislation. He stressed that he did not want legislation changed, just deferred - Is current market volatility encouraging issuers to table deals? Oman Telecommunications Co OTL.OM (Omantel) has reportedly scrapped plans to issue a $130m five-year dual-currency sukuk, reports the Muscat bourse. Last month, the state-run company priced the sukuk at a profit rate of 5.3%, having received commitments worth $82.16m in the dollar tranche and OMR18.4m ($47.86m) in the rial tranche. Meantime, Saudi Arabia's Bank Albilad says it plans to issue SAR1bn-SAR2bn ($267m-$533m) of sukuk by the end of the second quarter of 2016 to finance expansion, chief executive Khaled al-Jasser told CNBC Arabia - The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (Commission) announces that the Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee (EEMAC) will hold a public meeting at the Commission’s Washington, DC headquarters located at 1155 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20581. The meeting will take place on February 25th from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm – Local press reports say the UAE central bank will roll out new banking regulations covering board and management responsibilities and accountability – Following yesterday’s Eurogroup meeting, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, says that “Overall, the economic recovery in the eurozone continues and is expected to strengthen this year and next. At the same time, there are increasing downside risks and there is volatility in the markets all around the world. The euro area is structurally in a much better position now than some years ago. And this is true also for European banks. With Banking Union, we have developed mechanisms in the euro area to bring stability to the financial sector and to reduce the sovereign-banking nexus. Capital buffers have been raised, supervision has been strengthened, and we have clear and common rules for resolution. So overall, structurally we are now in a better position and we need to continue a gradual recovery”. Speaking at the press conference that followed the conclusion of the February 11th Eurogroup, Dijsselbloem also acknowledged that “good progress” has been made in official discussions between Greece and its officials creditors in the context of the 1st programme review. Yet, he noted that more work is needed for reaching a staff level agreement on the required conditionality, mostly on the social security pension reform, fiscal issues and the operation of the new privatization fund. On the data front, according to national account statistics for the fourth quarter of 2016 (flash estimate), Greece’s real GDP, in seasonally and calendar adjusted terms, decreased by 0.6%QoQ compared to -1.4%QoQ in Q3. The NBS Executive Board decided in its meeting today to cut the key policy rate by 0.25 pp, to 4.25%. - Today’s early European session saw an uptick in energy stocks, banking shares and US futures. Brent and WTI crude oil futures both jumped over 4% to $31.28 a barrel and $27.36 respectively before paring gains slightly; all this came on the back of promised output cuts by OPEC. That improving sentiment did not extend to Asia where the Nikkei fell to a one-year low. Japan's main index fell to its lowest level in more than a year after falling 4.8% in trading today, bringing losses for the week to over 11%. Yet again though the yen strengthened against the US dollar, which was down 0.1% ¥112.17. Swissquote analysts says, “We believe there is still some downside potential for the pair; however traders are still trying to understand what happened yesterday - when USD/JPY spiked two figures in less than 5 minutes - and will likely remain sidelined before the weekend break.” Japanese market turbulence is beginning to shake the government and may spur further easing measures if not this month, then next. Trevor Greetham, head of multi asset at Royal London Asset Management, says “When policy makers start to panic, markets can stop panicking. We are seeing the first signs of policy maker panic in Japan with Prime Minister Abe holding an emergency meeting with Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda. We are going to get a lot of new stimulus over the next few weeks and not just in Japan. I expect negative interest rates to be used more in Japan and in Europe and I expect this policy to increase bank lending and weaken currencies for the countries that pursue it”. Greetham agrees that both the yen and euro have strengthened despite negative rates. “Some of this is due to the pricing out of Fed rate hike expectations; some is temporary and to do with risk aversion. In a market sell off money tends to flow away from high yielding carry currencies to low yielding funding currencies and this effect is dominating in the short term”. Australia's S&P ASX 200 closed down 1.2%. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng settled down 1.01. in New Zealand the NZX was down 0.89%, while in South Korea the Kospi slid 1.41%. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 1.25 points or 0.05% higher to 2539.53, taking the year-to-date performance to -11.91%. The top active stocks today were DBS, which declined 0.91%, SingTel, which gained 1.13%, JMH USD, which declined 1.39%, OCBC Bank, which gained 0.13% and UOB, with a0.34% advance. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index declined 0.50%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index declined0.31%. Thai equities were down 0.38%, the Indian Sensex slip 0.71%, while Indonesian equities were down another 1.16%. The euro was down 0.3% against the dollar at $1.1285, even after data showed Germany's economy remained on a steady yet modest growth path at the end of last year. Gold fell 0.7% to $1238.80 an ounce, after gold gained 4.5% Thursday to its highest level in a year. Greetham summarises: “Like a lot of people, we went into this year's sell off moderately overweight equities and it has been painful. What we have seen has been a highly technical market with many forced sellers among oil-producing sovereign wealth funds and financial institutions protecting regulatory capital buffers. However, economic fundamentals in the large developed economies remain positive, unemployment rates are falling and consumers will benefit hugely from lower energy prices and loose monetary policy.”

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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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