Saturday 6th 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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Eastern European funds face reality Photograph ©Soldeandalusia/ Dreamstime.com, supplied March 2013.

Eastern European funds face reality

Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Eastern European funds face reality The range of investment options available to local and foreign institutional investors across central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is matched by the disparity in performance and development of individual markets. Writing in UniCredit’s CEE report for Q1 2013, the bank’s chief Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa economist Gillian Edgeworth says the predominant theme across CEE last year was the influx of foreign liquidity via portfolio flows. Part of this inflow was structural in nature, reflecting a shift in asset allocation from developed to developing markets, but the remainder was cyclical as investors searched for yield in the face of record amounts of G7 central bank liquidity. Paul Golden reports. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/media/k2/items/cache/2a9ceb674dd25489978c3ffc90b75279_XL.jpg

The range of investment options available to local and foreign institutional investors across central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is matched by the disparity in performance and development of individual markets. Writing in UniCredit’s CEE report for Q1 2013, the bank’s chief Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa economist Gillian Edgeworth says the predominant theme across CEE last year was the influx of foreign liquidity via portfolio flows. Part of this inflow was structural in nature, reflecting a shift in asset allocation from developed to developing markets, but the remainder was cyclical as investors searched for yield in the face of record amounts of G7 central bank liquidity. Paul Golden reports.

The danger of viewing central and eastern Europe (CEE) as a homogenous market was highlighted in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when Poland emerged as the only country in the region whose economy expanded during 2009 while its Baltic neighbours experienced significant falls in GDP. Professor Krzysztof Rybinski of Warsaw’s Vistula University refers to the degree of fiscal easing, the scope of public investment and the degree of cross-border financial leverage available to individual countries to explain this disparity. However, with EU guidelines on public debt levels limiting the scope for fiscal stimulus and investment moving away from large scale construction projects, he warns that no part of region will be immune from the effects of economic turmoil in the European Union in 2013.


Various funds are more than aware of the continuing impact of macro trends on the performance of local funds. Even so, the growing diversity of fund investment strategies is a clear indication of the deepening of the asset management industry across the sub-region.




Schroders manages the ISF Emerging Europe fund, which is mainly invested in Russia, Poland and Turkey but also in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The fund has been in existence since 2000, is in the first quartile for its peer group and is one of the five largest funds in the region at around €500m. Lydia Malakis, the firm’s director for central and Eastern Europe says there are no local restrictions around investment in liquid securities. Many CEE asset managers still tend to focus on their local market, mainly because they can generate strong performance for their clients by staying purely domestic, particularly in the larger markets of Poland, Russia and Turkey.


“They don’t see the need to look outside their own markets for capital growth because these markets are still growing and there is a pool of IPOs and corporate bond issuance yet to come to the market,” she explains.


The sophistication of the CEE institutional investor base varies significantly. For example, Poland has a well-developed pension fund system, whereas Russia pension funds are virtually non-existent. Institutional investors generally identify investment opportunities in the region by doing their own research, analysing economic and company specific data and meeting with finance ministers, central bankers and prominent local businessmen to gain an understanding of local regulations and political dynamics, says Andrey Popel, director Greylock Capital Management.


“CEE offers opportunities for index trackers, pension funds, insurance companies, corporate bonds managers and hedge funds. In the Russian bonds market, for instance, there is a wide selection of liquid investable assets in the sovereign, quasi-sovereign and corporate space, although in some jurisdictions—most notably Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Georgia and even Ukraine—corporate bond supply is quite limited.”


Despite these limitations, Popel says his firm continues to identify interesting distressed and high yielding opportunities in Kazakhstan, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine. These opportunities are often company or country specific event-driven investments (a hedge fund investment strategy that seeks to exploit pricing inefficiencies that may occur before or after a specific corporate event) and have lower correlation with the broader market.


Dainius Bloze, fund manager at Bank Finasta observes that some international investors choose to rely on publicly available company information and make investments from outside via bourses, while other are brought into the market by investment bankers. “Value investing and strategies that combine tenets of both growth investing and value investing (known as ‘growth at a reasonable price’ or GARP) are employed, but in general there is little discrepancy between strategies in this region compared to developed markets,” he observes. “CEE markets are smaller and less liquid than developed markets so strategies have to be adjusted and generally require more involvement from investment managers, since publicly available information is scarce and imperfect. Russia stands out as a market that is very much event driven and dependent on commodities.”


Stefano PregnolatoStefano Pregnolato, head of portfolio management EMEA at Pioneer Investments.While having local expertise is important, it is also possible to tap into investment opportunities through global asset managers. That is the view of Stefano Pregnolato, head of portfolio management EMEA at Pioneer Investments, whose equity and fixed income products are managed in London and Vienna while its emerging markets analysts leverage portfolio managers and analysts based in the region.


“Foreign investors usually prefer internationally available funds when they invest in CEE, whereas investors from within the region tend to prefer local domiciled products,” he states. “Fixed income strategies are much more popular than equities, but that is not unique to this region. Different interest rate environments and risk levels in each country affect the structure of institutional investor mandates.”


Albin RosengrenAlbin Rosengren, partner East Capital. There are fewer specialised managers focusing on Russia or CEE than on other emerging markets such as China according to Albin Rosengren, partner East Capital, who describes a broad eastern European or in some cases a Russia fund as the most common ways of accessing the market.


“There are around 100 funds that focus on Eastern Europe, very few of which are run by independent specialist asset managers and most of which are based outside the region. In addition there are perhaps 20-30 focusing purely on Russia. Many of these funds belong to banks and are run by smaller and often non-specialised teams.”


There are a few investment houses in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, but most assets come from outside the region, he continues, “These assets come mainly from western Europe, although some US endowments have invested and pension funds in Latin America and Middle East sovereign funds are increasingly looking at opportunities in central and Eastern Europe.”


Rosengren points out that some institutional investors have opted for passive alternatives and that ETF exposure to the region has increased. He believes this can be explained at least in part by two years of ‘risk-on-risk-off’ where political decisions and macroeconomic events have almost been more important than the performance of individual companies.


Rosengren reckons that most investors are not overly concerned about falling commodity prices but still want exposure to CEE that is not driven by commodities, which is why his firm launched a Russia domestic fund last year that excludes investments in commodities or companies reliant on exports.


“Central and Eastern Europe is still mostly a general broad strategy equity play, but we are seeing the emergence of some plays on different parts of the economy (such as consumer funds) and there are also a few fixed income funds emerging. However, regionally specialised bond funds have not yet generated a large volume of transactions.”


Rosengren suggests that very narrow country funds have struggled to raise assets compared to wider regional funds. “Turkey was a major theme in 2012 on the back of its credit rating upgrade and better than expected economic development. Growth this year is again looking strong and the market is not expensive.”


Paul SeverinPaul Severin, managing director at Erste Asset Management.Erste Asset Management managing director Paul Severin estimates foreign participation in the Polish bond market has risen above 40% compared to approximately 30% this time last year. “Assets managed by local investors (pension funds, insurance, investment funds) have also grown and local market participants have become much more sophisticated, although local fund managers usually cover only one country. There are also some large domestic players in the shape of real money accounts, banks and hedge funds.”


In general, foreign investors are comparing different countries from a fundamental perspective, analysing structural and cyclical issues and trying to find under- and over-valued markets/securities, he explains. Severin refers to increased interest in local FX bonds (both sovereign and corporate) with the Russian local fixed income market being opened to foreign investors, but adds that private equity is still a very small part of the market.


“Global emerging market funds dominated investments last year and emerging Europe accounts for 10-15% of these portfolios. ETF funds captured flow in 2012. Investors use a wide range of investment strategies, from relative country comparison to single name relative value trades, depending on the asset class and assets under management.”


Miroslav KubenkaMiroslav Kub˘enka, head of equity research at Generali PPF Asset Management.Miroslav Kub˘enka, Generali PPF Asset Management head of equity research says foreign investors account for roughly half of total equities turnover on each of the CE3 (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary) stock markets but that this includes institutional investors from other CE3 countries who view these three nations as almost a single ‘domestic’ market. “Over the last couple of years, the attractiveness of the CE3 equity market region has been decreasing for outside investors. These countries do not enjoy superior growth compared to Western Europe anymore.”


Generali PPF Asset Management considers low liquidity to be a major drag on foreign institutional investment, adds Kub˘enka. “The Prague stock market is a great example. Its equities turnover last year fell to the lowest level since 2003 and several international banks have already closed their equity trading departments in the city.”


Radomir Jac Radomír Já˘c chief analyst at Generali PPF Asset Management.His colleague and chief analyst Radomír Já˘c says that in contrast, participation of foreign investors in the government bond market has risen over the last three years although they still account for less than 50% of outstanding bonds in the CE3 countries with the majority held by domestic banks and pension funds.


“In Q4 2012 non-residents held just over 46% of all Hungarian government bonds, with domestic banks holding around 30% and pension funds the remainder. In Poland, foreign investors control between one third and half of government bonds, compared to 23% by domestic pension funds, 17% by banks and just over 10% by domestic insurance funds.”


According to Kub˘enka it is relatively easy to identify investment opportunities in central and eastern Europe without going through local fund managers. “Foreign institutional investors can choose from a wide range of local brokers and banks, whose support includes research conducted by local analysts. Also, many international banks cover blue chip firms in the CE3 countries and are able to arrange calls with analysts, investor visits, etc.”


He sees little variance in the investment strategies and objectives of institutional investors located outside CEE and those based within the region. The biggest difference between the two is that CE3 equities represent a significant part of the total equity exposure for domestic institutions.


CEE sovereigns have taken advantage of the liquidity window created by low government bond yields in many developed economies to raise cheap funding to finance post-crisis budget deficits and improve maturity profiles. Ukraine, Hungary and Serbia in particular have significantly increased their reliance on international bond funding and have been able to postpone fiscal and structural adjustments.


Lydia MalakisLydia Malakis, Schroders’ director for central and Eastern Europe.Malakis reckons there are about 60 emerging Europe equity funds and agrees that emerging market debt has received a lot of attention from fixed income funds in recent years. “One notable difference from the rest of Europe is that you have a lot of smaller companies that cannot raise finance through the capital markets, which encourages private equity structures.” Property structures are another non-listed option, although she acknowledges that real estate investment performance in CEE is a “mixed bag”.


According to Malakis, local investors in Turkey have been favouring hedge fund-type absolute return strategies investing in local fixed income, equities and money markets. Closed ended, tax optimised strategies were well received in Poland last year, whereas in Russia there is much interest in FX-type strategies and commodities.


“Local deposit rates are also a factor in terms of what you recommend to clients because they may need to hedge their currency risk,” she adds. “Many of our CEE clients are asking for hedged strategies back into their local currency.”


It is clear that CEE is not a ‘one size fits all’ market when it comes to investor preferences. However, for all the region-specific recommendations and warnings, Rosengren concludes that CEE allocation decisions are based on the same factors as for any other region—growth prospects, risk and valuations.

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