Wednesday 28th January 2015
NEWS TICKER, JANUARY 28TH: BNP Paribas’ 4th Quarter 2014 Results will be available on Thursday February 5th from 6:00 am (London time) on the bank’s website. A live webcast in English with synchronised slides of the analysts presentation hosted by Jean-Laurent Bonnafé (CEO) will be available on the website starting at 1:30 pm (GMT). - Kurdish forces say they have expelled the Islamic State fighters from the Syrian town of Kobani, near the Turkish border. However, this is the now the fourth time in as many months that this news has been disseminated - - Deutsche Börse will announce its preliminary results for the 2014 operating year on February 19th - S&P has lowered the Russian credit rating to junk with negative outlook as the sliding oil prices and tensions in Ukraine now look to be a serious threat to the country’s financial and political stability, says SwissQuote. The FX analytics firm notes that the USD/RUB is testing 70 offers. “Should the sell-off gains momentum above 70, we expect the CBR to intervene to temper the ruble depreciation. The CBR meets on January 30th and is expected to keep the bank rate unchanged at 17%. Given the selling pressures on the ruble, we do not expect any cut yet. Russia’s forex reserves eases toward 2009 lows, $379.4bn as of January 16th. With the free-floating RUB, the FX reserves will certainly keep fading, therefore should bring the CBR to find alternative ways to intervene to slowdown the debasing”. - Latvia’s prime minister’s office, has issued a statement about events in the Ukraine. "We express our concern about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. We condemn the killing of civilians during the indiscriminate shelling of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on 24 January 2015. We note evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia's responsibility. We urge Russia to condemn the separatists' actions and to implement the Minsk agreements. We recall the European Council conclusions of 18 December 2014, where we said that "the EU will stay the course" and that we are "ready to take further steps if necessary." In view of the worsening situation the office asks “the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council to assess the situation and to consider any appropriate action, in particular on further restrictive measures, aiming at a swift and comprehensive implementation of Minsk agreements,” says the statement. Latvia has assumed the presidency of the EU for the six months to June. - Data from the IMF suggests that The Netherlands has raised its gold holdings, having bought 9.61 tonnes in December last year. Russia too continues to build its gold reserves and has increased stock for the ninth consecutive month, buying 20.73 tonnes last month. The purchases by the Dutch central bank follows its move in November to repatriate more than 120 tonnes of gold from vaults in the United States - UK GDP looks to be weaker than expected but remains good news for investors. “The first estimates of the Q4 GDP numbers came in slightly below expectations at 0.5% and markedly slower than the previous three quarters of 2014. The primary driver of the reduced growth rate was the construction sector, which saw output fall by 1.8%. However, the slowdown was not enough to prevent the fastest full year growth rate of 2.7% since the financial crisis,” says Helal Miah, investment research analyst at The Share Centre. “Despite numbers being slightly weaker than expected, we believe the UK economy remains relatively robust. After a fantastic few years in the construction sector it is quite natural to see a return to normal markets conditions. The services element of the UK economy remains healthy and the full benefits of the plunge in the price of oil are still to come. Low inflation will hold back interest rate rises and we therefore believe that for investors the equity market remains the asset class of choice.” - Societe Generale Securities Services (SGSS) has launched a new website, Sharinbox, for corporations and their registered shareholders and employees who benefit from free share plans, stock options plans and other incentive schemes. Operational since December 13th last year, the website, www.sharinbox.societegenerale.com, provides users with direct, multilingual access to an online resource with information regarding their share and employee ownership plans in order to manage their personal data and transactions – According to Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, “Given the headwinds being felt by major oil companies around the world, the share price performance since the beginning of last year, while uninspiring, has still out performed the oil price which given the macro economic back drop is all the more surprising … We’ve already seen the effects that the slump in the oil price is having on the oilfield service providers in the US, with both Baker Hughes and Halliburton announcing job losses as the companies see rig counts drop, and margins decline. We’ve also seen WBH Energy, a Texas based shale producer file for bankruptcy. Despite all these concerns the shares have outperformed, though that probably has more to do with the buyback program the company has been doing than anything to do with outperformance relative to its peers. The company has been buying back shares on a fairly steady basis over the past 12 months and this undoubtedly will have accounted for the relative outperformance”.The FSCS has started paying compensation in respect of 13 firms, including seven investment advice firms and three life and pension advice firms that have gone into default. The financial advice firms which have entered default, according to the scheme are: Barry Norris & Associates, Premier Financial Advice, The Financial Consultancy (UK), True Financial Management (formerly HNL Financial Services), Unleash Advice Partnership, and AJ Buckley Financial Management formerly AJ Buckley Overseas, City Insurance Consultants. Last week, the FSCS published its plan and budget for the coming year, which revealed investment advisers would be paying £125m towards the FSCS annual levy for 2015/16. Life and pension intermediaries are paying a £57m levy, an increase of £24m compared to the £33m the FSCS levied against the funding sub-class for 2014/15. Since it was set up in 2001, the FSCS has paid out more than£975 million in compensation to customers of defaulted advice firms. In November 2014, the FSCS said it had dealt with the default of 2,391 independent advice firms since it was set up. - Retail Sales in the United Kingdom unexpectedly increased in December, as the drop in oil prices boosted the country’s spending power. The increase came from a 5.2% gain in computers, telecoms, toys, and sporting goods sales, while food sales alone contributed 1.3%. There was a decline in sales of some items, such as clothing and household goods, reflecting a boost from Black Friday discounts the previous month - The Source Goldman Sachs Equity Factor Index Europe UCITS ETF has been launched, the second Source ETF to be launched that provides access to Goldman Sachs’ multi-factor indices. “Smart beta funds have proven successful in certain markets, providing investors with the potential to generate better returns than the more common market-cap weighted benchmarks, particularly on a risk-adjusted basis,” says Michael John Lytle, chief development officer at Source. “The Goldman Sachs series of factor-based indices offer exposure to multiple factors, rather than just the one or two that are applied to many other funds on the market.” – Mixed news from the US over the weekend. Housing starts in the US surged, as builders broke ground in December on the most houses in almost seven years. Work began on 728,000 houses at an annual rate, a 7.2% increase from November and the most since March 2008. On the other hand, building permits, a representation for future construction declined 1.9% in December to a 1.03m pace, however more Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, signaling that the holiday employment turnover is taking its toll on the jobs market. Jobless claims dropped by 10,000 to 307,000 in the week ending January 17th down from a revised rate of 317,000 in the prior week, a Labor department report shows. Applications for jobless benefits were expected to decline to 300,000, according to market surveys by economists - German ZEW Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim said its index of investor and analyst expectations, which aims to predict economic developments six months in advance, climbed for a third consecutive month in January to 48.4 from 34.9 in December. Economists forecast an increase to 40, according to the median of 37 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The sentiment index jumped to the highest level in 11 months - Singapore Exchange is partnering Clearbridge Accelerator to address financing gaps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs face by providing the investing community with greater transparency. SGX said on Monday (Jan 26) it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with CBA, a Singapore venture capital and incubation firm specialising in early-stage investments. Under the agreement, both parties will form a joint-venture (JV) company to develop the fund-raising platform, which aims to address financing gaps SMEs and entrepreneurs face by providing the investing community with greater transparency. The JV will identify and form a strategic equity partnership with an experienced platform operator and industry stakeholders such as financial institutions to operate the new capital-raising platform. It will also identify other partners and collaborators to create demand among investors for the offerings on the platform, according to the press release. The move to help smaller firms raise funding marks the entry of SGX into a new business area. Besides operating the stock market, which caters to the equity needs of more to established firms, SGX also offers a platform for bonds as well as derivatives and commodities. Enterprise development agency SPRING Singapore will play a supporting role in the formation of the JV, as part of its ongoing efforts to make the financing environment more conducive to SMEs and entrepreneurs, the statement added. - Hedge funds swung to betting on price falls in cotton, soybeans and wheat, amid ideas of easier supplies, as they cut bullish positioning in agricultural commodities to the weakest in three months Managed money, a proxy for speculators, cut its net long position in futures and options in the top 13 US-traded agricultural commodities, from coffee to cattle, by more than 43,000 contracts in the week to last Tuesday, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulator - Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, today announced that the Viagogo Group, which operates www.viagogo.com, the ticket marketplace, intends to double its workforce in Ireland over the next three years, taking it from 100 to over 200 employees. The jobs are supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through IDA Ireland -
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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