Friday 29th April 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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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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