Monday 8th 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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Investors come back to the markets in search of returns Photograph © Xy/ Dreamstime.com, supplied March 2013.

Investors come back to the markets in search of returns

Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Investors come back to the markets in search of returns The markets this year have started with a bullet. The current bull market hints that investor confidence might be rising as the debt crisis in Europe looks to be under control and the US is managing its fiscal cliff. What are the implications of this sea-change? Carey Olsen, which advises on the largest total number of funds and assets under management in Guernsey, believes there will be slow and steady growth in both fund creation and the breadth of investments they adopt. Corporate partner, Graham Hall, examines where this growth will come from and what innovations investors and private equity houses are employing to realise returns. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/media/k2/items/cache/e37cb185c8f2dc5dd52ce2fc045570ec_XL.jpg

The markets this year have started with a bullet. The current bull market hints that investor confidence might be rising as the debt crisis in Europe looks to be under control and the US is managing its fiscal cliff. What are the implications of this sea-change? Carey Olsen, which advises on the largest total number of funds and assets under management in Guernsey, believes there will be slow and steady growth in both fund creation and the breadth of investments they adopt. Corporate partner, Graham Hall, examines where this growth will come from and what innovations investors and private equity houses are employing to realise returns.

Equities have started to move this year. Having locked up money for four years, keeping their money in ‘safe’ investments, investors now look to be interested again in assets which they think offer potential for higher yields. There is, of course, some residual skittishness but recent movement in the markets indicates there is a lot more confidence and enthusiasm.


There have been rallies in the past which have not stuck and there is still a question mark as to whether (or how long) this one will hold. However, the market does seem to think there is a way to go before there will be any sort of correction.




If the past four years has taught anything it is that it often pays to be innovative and funds are seeking unusual opportunities where the risk is seen as manageable. With interest rates remaining at historic lows, investors are chasing yield and the focus is firmly on emerging, or high growth markets, particularly those with a history of under-investment. Eastern Europe is a particular case in point. Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia joined the European Union club in the past eight years while Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia and Turkey remain in the wings, with EU membership only a function of time.


In spite of some structural economic problems, growth figures across the region remain attractive. The Polish economy, for instance, grew by 3.8% in 2011; Austria grew by 3.3%, while Moldova, Estonia and Lithuania all grew between 6% and 7% in real gross domestic product (GDP) terms.


These figures compare to Germany’s 2.7% growth and the Eurozone’s blended growth rate of around 1.6%, over the same year. The growth rates in the eastern European zone points to opportunities in the development of infrastructure and commercial property (where property values remain low, but high returns are predicted); it is an attractive combination for investors recently starved of promising investments in Western Europe and the United States.


Graham HallGraham Hall, corporate partner, Carey Olsen, Guernsey.Debt is also attractive as banks get rid of their loan books and finance houses adjust their loan-to-asset ratios. Much of this debt is now being sold off, sometimes their whole debt portfolios.  Debt books can be picked up relatively cheaply by smaller operators at significantly reduced rates. Of particular interest, but not openly discussed, are lease car debt books. These books are sold at significant discounts and it is an area of significant potential returns as the economy improves and the risk of holding this debt reduces.


Hedge funds also have appeal right now. They are performing better than they have in a long while and investors are beginning to recoup, or certainly looking to, the losses of the past. Whether it means more money being invested in hedge funds remains to be seen. It is difficult to give a time frame on when we might see a return to more halcyon days because, while there are individuals and select funds rallying, it is the big institutional pension funds that are needed to ensure a true return to performance. This sector is traditionally cautious and, having been severely hit in the crisis, their return will be slow and steady. It is really only 10% of the market that is prepared to take a risk and they appear to be a lot more open to the idea this year.


There was a flight to Luxembourg by many hedge funds during the economic crisis thinking they needed to be seen to be onshore. Many are now realising this was a false perception as Luxembourg is an expensive and bureaucratic place to do business which has an impact in the efficiency of the funds and the returns that can be made. These funds are starting to look at other jurisdictions that offer ­stability and pragmatic regulation without the expense or bureaucracy. As ever, Guernsey is ideally placed to reap these opportunities. According to the Guernsey Financial Services Commission, the net asset value of total funds under management and administration increased in the third quarter (Q3) in 2012 by £3.6bn (1.3%) to reach £274.4bn.


For the year since 30th September 2011, total net asset values increased by £3.3bn (1.2%). Guernsey is indicative of the worldwide trend where the interest in open-ended funds has decreased by £1.6bn (-3.2%) over the quarter to £51.5bn. The closed-ended sector increased over the quarter, by £4.2bn (3.3%) to reach £130.3bn. This represents an increase of £4.6bn (3.7%) over the year since 30th September 2011.


The market recognises Guernsey’s proven operating model with highly skilled professionals across the board. It is up to Guernsey to ensure it does not become too expensive but this is a secondary consideration to investors with the level of expertise and experience being far more important. Investors and funds, now more than ever, want to know that a jurisdiction has breadth and depth.


It would be overstating the case to suggest the fund markets are entirely out of the woods; but there are definitely strong ‘green shoots’. Guernsey certainly remains the most popular jurisdiction for private equity albeit with fewer funds being created. There is activity from global private equity houses investing in infrastructure (Terra Firma, Permira, and Apex). They continue to invest but at lower levels. For example, the focus has been on global farmland as a sound investment for some of these closed-ended funds with investments being made in cattle stations in Australia and New Zealand (beef and dairy) and in China.


It is tighter market and funds are looking much harder at efficiencies and costs. It is harder to raise the money and it takes longer and funds are launching with lower expectations which, arguably, is no bad thing.


Closed-ended funds are the majority of the market now and will continue to grow. 2013 has started as a bull market. The driving sentiment is one of optimism. There is a movement away from bonds and corporate gilts but there will not be a return the pre-2008 activity for a long time—slow and steady seems to be this year’s watchwords.

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