Sunday 7th February 2016
NEWS TICKER: Friday, February 5th: According to Reuters, Venezuela's central bank has begun negotiations with Deutsche Bank AG to carry out gold swaps to improve the liquidity of its foreign reserves as it faces debt payments of some $9.5bn this year. Around 64% of Venezuela's $15.4bn reserves are held in gold bars, which in this fluid market impedes the central bank's ability to mobilise hard currency for imports or debt service. We called the central bank to confirm the story, but press spokesmen would not comment - The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) says official foreign currency reserves stood at $357bn (equivalent to seven times the currency in circulation or 48% of Hong Kong M3) as at the end of January, down compared with reserve assets of $358.8bn in December. There were no unsettled foreign exchange contracts at month end (end-December: $0.1bn) - BNP Paribas today set out plans to cut investment banking costs by 12% by 2019 to bolster profitability and reassure investors about the quality of its capital buffers. The bank is the latest in a line of leading financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, Barclays and Deutsche Bank which look to be moving away from capital intensive activities. BNP Paribas has been selling non-core assets and cutting back on operations including oil and gas financing for the last few years as it looks to achieve a target of 10% return on equity. Last year the bank announced a €900m write-down on its BNL unit in Italy, which pushed down Q4 net income down 51.7% to €665m - Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)-listed tech company, Huge Group, will move its listing from the Alternative Exchange (AltX) to the JSE main board on March 1st - Moody's says it has assigned Aaa backed senior unsecured local-currency ratings to a drawdown under export credit provider Oesterreichische Kontrollbank's (OKB) (P)Aaa-rated backed senior unsecured MTN program. The outlook is negative in line with the negative outlook assigned to the Aaa ratings of the Republic of Austria, which guarantees OKB’s liabilities under the Austrian Export Financing Guarantees Act – As the first phase of talks between Greece and its creditors draws to an end, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde stressed to journalists in Greece that debt relief is as important as the reforms that creditors are demanding, notably of the pension system. "I have always said that the Greek program has to walk on two legs: one is significant reforms and one is debt relief. If the pension [system] cannot be as significantly and substantially reformed as needed, we could need more debt relief on the other side." Greece's pension system must become sustainable irrespective of any debt relief that creditors may decide to provide, Lagarde said, adding that 10% of gross domestic product into financing the pension system, compared to an average of 2.5% in the EU, is not sustainable. She called for "short-term measures that will make it sustainable in the long term,” but did not outline what those measures might be. According to Eurobank in Athens, IMF mission heads reportedly met this morning with the Minister of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity, Georgios Katrougalos, before the team is scheduled to leave Athens today. According to the local press, it appears that differences exist between the Greek government and official creditors on the planned overhaul of the social security pension system. Provided that things go as planned, the heads are reportedly expected to return by mid-February with a view to completing the review by month end, or at worst early March. In its Winter 2016 Economic Forecast published yesterday, the European Commission revised higher Greece’s GDP growth forecast for 2015 and 2016 to 0.0% and -0.7%, respectively, from -1.4% and 1.-3% previously - Fitch says that The Bank of Italy's (BoI) recent designation of three banks as 'other systemically important institutions' (O-SIIs) has no impact on its ratings of the relevant mortgage covered bond (Obbligazioni Bancarie Garantite or OBG) programmes. Last month, BoI identified UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo. and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena as Italian O-SIIs. Banco Popolare and Mediobanca have not been designated O-SIIs. This status is the equivalent of domestic systemically important bank status under EU legislation. Fitch rates two OBG programmes issued by UC and one issued by BMPS, which incorporates a one-notch Issuer Default Rating (IDR) uplift above the banks' IDRs. The uplift can be assigned if covered bonds are exempt from bail-in, as is the case with OBG programmes under Italy's resolution regime and in this instance takes account of the issuers' importance in the Italian banking sector – Meantime, according to local press reports, Italian hotel group Bauer and special opportunity fund Blue Skye Investment Group report they have completed the rescheduling and refinancing of Bauer’s €110m debt through the issue of new bonds and the sale of non-core assets, such as the farming business Aziende Agricole Bennati, whose sale has already been agreed, the Palladio Hotel & Spa and a luxury residence Villa F in Venice’s Giudecca island – Meantime, Russian coal and steel producer Mechel has also agreed a restructuring of its debt with credits after two intense years of talks. The mining company, is controlled by businessman Igor Zyuzin - Asian markets had a mixed day, coming under pressure. Dollar strengthening worries investors in Asia; from today’s trading it looks like dollar weakening does as well. Actually, that’s not the issue, the dollar has appreciated steadily over the last year as buyers anticipated Fed tightening; but it has hurt US exports and that has contributed to investor nervousness over the past few weeks, which is why everyone is hanging on today’s The nonfarm payrolls report, a bellwether of change – good or bad in the American economic outlook. Back to Asia. The Nikkei 225 ended the day at 16819.15, down 225.40 points, or 1.32%; and as the stock market fell the yen continued to strengthen. The Nikkei has shed 5.85% this week. The dollar-yen pair fell to the 116-handle, at 116.82 in afternoon trade; earlier this week, the pair was trading above 120. It is a hard lesson for the central bank, whose efforts to take the heat out of the yen by introducing negative interest rates has done nothing of the sort. Australia's ASX 200 closed down 4.15 points, or 0.08% after something of a mixed week. The index closed at 4976.20, with the financial sector taking most of the heat today, with the sector down 0.7%. In contrast, energy and materials sectors finished in positive territory, buoyed by gains in commodities. The Hang Seng Index closed at 19288.17, up 105.08 points (or 0.55%) while the Shanghai Composite was down 0.61%. down 17.07 points to 2763.95. The Shenzhen composite dropped 20.36 points (1.15%) to 1750.70, while the Kospi rose marginally by 0.08% to 1917.79. Today is the last day of trading on the Chinese exchanges for a week.

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Sovereign wealth funds investing locally

Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Sovereign wealth funds investing locally Sovereign governments and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) are investing less internationally than they have done at any point in the last three years, according to the third annual Invesco Middle East Asset Management Study. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) sovereign states have deployed wealth into local economies throughout the Arab Spring and SWFs show signs of diverting away from international trophy assets and other global investments. The findings come as something of a surprise given the current penchant for some of the GCC’s most high profile SWFs to continue to invest in strategic companies abroad. However, says the study, sovereign wealth fund surpluses may reduce despite oil price rises as local investment continues. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

Sovereign governments and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) are investing less internationally than they have done at any point in the last three years, according to the third annual Invesco Middle East Asset Management Study. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) sovereign states have deployed wealth into local economies throughout the Arab Spring and SWFs show signs of diverting away from international trophy assets and other global investments. The findings come as something of a surprise given the current penchant for some of the GCC’s most high profile SWFs to continue to invest in strategic companies abroad. However, says the study, sovereign wealth fund surpluses may reduce despite oil price rises as local investment continues.

Invesco’s study has analysed sovereign revenues and defined the investment behaviours of major SWFs in the GCC region. These SWFs account for 35% of global SWF flows, representing $1.6 trn, a huge market which major global economies, including the UK, rely on for investment. This is Invesco’s third asset management study of the GCC region (comprising the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman). 

Invesco worked with independent strategy consultants NMG to conduct an in-depth market study based on over 100 face-to-face interviews on retail and institutional investor preferences across the GCC. The study shows the international flow of money directly from GCC sovereign governments and from SWFs has changed considerably in light of the current unrest, with large commodity-linked surpluses in these regions increasingly being put to use locally. (Please refer to Figure 1)



Even so, and despite stable and high oil prices, the available surplus, or investable assets, of governments in the GCC region is forecast to reduce by 9% in 2012 (compared to 2011) and surplus forecasts have been revised downwards since the Arab Spring, says the study. This is illustrated by the fact that forecast funding rates for the recipient SWFs have declined this year.

The findings of the survey look to undermine some of the latest news to emerge from the mega SWFs of the GCC. The Qatar Investment Authority, one of the largest and most diversified sovereign wealth funds in the GCC for example continues to veer from the norm. The latest news from the Gulf is that the SWF is about to increase its allocation to Shell, which will add to a growing roster of western investments by the fund. The Anglo-Dutch company declined to say what the size of the QIA holding is, but stock exchange rules in the United Kingdom meant that any stake over 3% will automatically trigger a public statement. Other reports suggest that the Qataris are in the middle of negotiations to buy a stake in Italian oil major ENI. It already holds a minority stake in Total, the French energy group. The QIA has also recently bought into Xstrata, as well as Barclays Bank.         

Moreover, Abu Dhabi’s normally secretive SWF opened up last October with the release of an official report which showed that the sovereign wealth fund remains diversified across all major global markets. Although over a year old, according to the report, ADIA’s assets are largely allocated to developed equity investments. With an estimated $350bn in assets, the fund allocates 60% of its total portfolio to externally-managed indexed funds. Overall, roughly 80% of the fund’s assets are invested by external fund managers. Allocations to developed equity markets constitute 35% to 45% of the fund’s portfolio. Emerging market equities make up 10% to 20%. Government bonds make up 10% to 20% of the portfolio.

In terms of geographic prevalence, ADIA allocates 35% to 50% in North America, 25% to 35% in Europe, 10% to 20% in developed Asia, and 15% to 25% in emerging markets, according to the report. However, Invesco’s latest study may point to a sea change. The Invesco study did not elucidate the detailed investment strategies of individual funds.        

There are other deals in train. Most recently new banking venture NBNK has  reportedly held talks with Middle Eastern SWFs to bolster its bid for 632 Lloyds branches that are up for sale, according to a recent Reuters news item; NBNK refused to com­ment. The venture was set up in 2010 by former Lloyd’s of London insurance head Peter Levene, aiming to bring com­petition to a market dominated by four lenders. It is run by former Barclays and Northern Rock executive Gary Hoffman. Separately, the UK’s Sunday Telegraph reported that NBNK had held discussions with Qatar Holdings and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala fund.

One of the fund’s subsidiaries, Mubadala Healthcare (a business unit of Mubadala Development Company) and Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have signed a memorandum of under­standing to discuss several key collab­or­ation areas that will facilitate knowledge-sharing, partnership initi­atives and improved access to care for patients in Dubai. The initial areas for collaboration outlined in the MOU relate specifically to three of Mubadala Healthcare’s facilities—Wooridul Spine Centre, Tawam Molecular Imaging Centre and National Reference Laboratory—and focus on the facili­tation of patient and laboratory test referrals, knowledge exchange and the inclusion of these facilities in the Gov­ernment of Dubai’s Enaya network.

While the investment approaches of the GCC SWFs remain mixed, one thing looks certain. According to Invesco’s study, in 2011 funding rates grew at 13% compared to an increase in GCC government revenue of 25%, this year funding rates rose just 8%, despite GCC government revenue increasing by 31%. Funding for sovereign pension funds on the other hand rose from 8% growth in 2011 to 13% growth in 2012. There is an expectation that spending will continue to increase over time potentially outstripping commodity prices and shrinking surpluses further.

Of the sovereign surplus that is available for SWFs, those with local objectives are expected to benefit. Invesco forecasts SWF assets invested in benchmark driven SWFs who prioritise international asset manager products or ETFs have fallen by 1% since the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011. At the same time sovereign wealth fund assets allocated to SWFs investing locally, in infrastructure for example, have risen by 10%7, which illustrates a major shift (see Figure 2).

Nick Tolchard, head of Invesco Middle East commented: “It’s clear that sovereign states are redirecting revenues and SWF assets from international investments back into the Middle East. The most common change across the region is money into local wage inflation, with healthcare and education a real focus for Saudi Arabia and Oman. Major infrastructure is a focus for Qatar due to the World Cup, and there are significant developments taking place in Abu Dhabi as it seeks to grow and set up as a major financial centre.”

Tolchard continues: “Western governments, including the UK, have approached SWFs from the Middle East to help with economic recovery, but many will fight a losing battle. There is certainly less money to invest internationally so the stakes are higher. Those courting GCC money from outside the region will only win with a deep understanding of what is driving the thinking of SWFs, and a long term commitment to building ­bi-lateral relationships which add value to their investment policy.”

Last year, Invesco created the first ever framework that categorises the core objectives of SWFs and revealed the drivers behind the investment strategy and preferences of these huge investment funds.

Last year, the study revealed that traditional investment SWFs (diversification vehicles and asset managers) appeared to be favouring developed markets, with around 54% of GCC SWF assets held in this region with the highest exposure to North America (29%) and to Western Europe (19%). Investment in North America is now down this year at 14% and Western Europe down at 6%, as a result of the Eurozone crisis. The clear shift in terms of geographic allocation of investment money has been towards the local region. Investment in assets related to the GCC moved up from 33% to 56%, with local bonds seeing a rise from 6% of SWF investable assets to 14%. Property and infrastructure have also take a large proportion of the investable assets from these SWFs, 13% and 14% respectively.

 “The story this year is that it is no longer a given that large sovereign governments are going to direct their oil revenue surpluses around the globe, pumping cash into other global economies. There will be high profile, strategic investments like the proposed RBS deal, or indeed other large trophy assets, but it’s a changed market. There will be contestable assets for fund managers in core relevant markets but with more money being deployed into the local economies it is likely to be a much more competitive landscape as long as the unrest continues,” says Tolchard.

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