Monday 2nd May 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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A better slew of commodity ETPs? Photograph © Paul Fleet/Dreamstime.com, supplied September 2013.

A better slew of commodity ETPs?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013
A better slew of commodity ETPs? There is still a good investment case for commodity ETFs but in the current environment of declining prices careful selection of the right ETF is imperative, rather than opting for the simplest basket-only approach. Older generation ETFs have lost their shine of late; no wonder then that a new slew of sleeker, more sophisticated ETPs have been launched that claim to be an improvement on previous ETP structures. Are they right for the times? Vanya Dragomanovich reports. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/media/k2/items/cache/34a8b2917baf842126ae02b0152a473f_XL.jpg

There is still a good investment case for commodity ETFs but in the current environment of declining prices careful selection of the right ETF is imperative, rather than opting for the simplest basket-only approach. Older generation ETFs have lost their shine of late; no wonder then that a new slew of sleeker, more sophisticated ETPs have been launched that claim to be an improvement on previous ETP structures. Are they right for the times? Vanya Dragomanovich reports.

Commodity ETFs became very popular with investors during the commodities price boom, attracting everybody from retail buyers to large scale asset allocators. They appeal to investors because of the straightforward route they offer to an asset class which until recently has been dominated by futures trading. Commodity ETFs also offer the benefit of diversification away from equities and bonds and can act as an inflation hedge.


In a strong economic environment, commodity prices are as good as guaranteed to rally. However, as global growth has slowed commodity ETFs gradually began to lose significant ground this year. China, the key driver of demand for a whole host of commodities including gold, metals, oil and iron ore, started showing early signs of slowing growth, with commodities prices sinking into a downward spiral in response. Gold also lost its allure as a safe haven investment for institutional buyers.




In August alone investors pulled $1.08bn from precious metals ETFs and ETPs, and the total net outflow from all commodity ETFs was $911m, according to specialist ETF research firm ETFGI.


“Investors' concern and uncertainty over the impact on markets of a potential military conflict in Syria and when and how the Federal Reserve will begin QE tapering caused investors to net withdraw from (all) ETFs and ETPs in August,” says Deborah Fuhr, managing partner at ETFGI.


August though was a poor month for ETFs full stop, with the largest outflows on record for the segment, though overall ETFs came in with a net $53bn inflow through Q3. The seemingly quixotic flows were down to US equities drawing in investor interest, though bond ETFs fared indifferently. Europe had the fastest growth of any equity category, bringing in $8bn for the quarter, with both Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF and iShares MSCI EMU Index each receiving more than $3bn over the three month period. In particular selling within the precious-metals category pressured the commodities category group, having experienced net redemptions.


When it comes to acting as an ­inflation hedge, “commodities usually underperform in periods of low inflation and outperform when inflation is high, allowing investors to maintain their purchasing power,” explains Abby Woodham, Morningstar analyst. “Generally, commodities shine at the begin­ning of a recession and at the end  of an economic expansion. As for risk, commodities are a high-volatility asset class.”


In the post financial crisis world the high-volatility element of commodities has worked against them as large institutional investors started shunning the assets. In addition many investors have been disappointed by the lower-than-expected returns from commodity ETFs caused by the cost of rolling forward the underlying futures contracts—a practice by which a commodities future close to expiry is sold and a new contract, typically for the next month, is bought. If the forward future is more expensive, which is the case more frequently than not, the performance of the ETF is impaired.  


Both ETF providers and commodity index developers have met with disillusionment among investors and, not surprisingly, have begun to counter with a response involving a host of new generation products designed to address both the volatility and the roll loss issue. In August, for instance, iShares, the world’s largest provider of ETFs launched the iShares Dow Jones-UBS Roll Select Commodity Index Trust (CMDT) on the NYSE Arca, the first ETF based on the Dow Jones-UBS Roll Select Commodity Index.


The main appeal is that the ETF is designed to minimise the costs of closing expiring futures contracts and replace them with new ones. Typically, when the futures contracts come close to their expiry date the index replaces them with the next available contract—either the next month ahead or three months ahead. This works well when forward contracts are cheaper than existing contracts but frequently this is not the case.


Even so, the new generation of indexes allows a more sophisticated way of choosing the forward contract to roll into (as it will not opt necessarily for the immediate next contract but will potentially chose a contract further away in the future); key criteria being that the forward contract is not only cheaper but it also has sufficient liquidity.


Other similar ETFs listed on the London Stock Exchange are the db Commodity Booster ETC based on the S&P GCSI Index but roll-optimised by a proprietary Deutsche Bank process and the Lyxor ETF Broad Commodities Optimix TR which tracks the SGI Commodities Optimix TR Index.


Another new ETF which has addressed both the roll-yield and the volatility issue is the Ossiam Risk Weighted Enhanced Commodity Ex Grains TR UCITS ETF. This is the first risk-weighted commodity ETF and it is based on Risk Weighted Enhanced Commodity Ex Grains index created by Société Générale and published by S&P. The ETF is also UCITS4 compliant. “The feedback from investors has been that they are less keen on volatility so we are using an index in which weigh-allocation in not based on production levels, as was the case in the past, but is inversely proportional to the volatility of a commodity,” says Isabelle Bourcier, Head of Business Development at Ossiam.


This means that while in the traditional commodity indexes such as the S&P GCSI Commodity Index or the DJ-UBS Commodity Index oil is the most prominent component with an allocation of about 65%, in Ossiam’s case the allocation to oil—a volatile commodity—is only 25%. Instead, there is a larger allocation to base metals and some other commodities other than grains.


“The index is looking at the one-year volatility for every commodity and adjusts the weighting accordingly,” Bourcier said. Also, when it comes to rolling contracts forward the index looks 24 months ahead and selects a contract that is a combination of the most liquid and cheapest according to a proprietary process.


The new generations of ETFs and the indexes they are based on have to a large extent only been launched this year so have little track record, making it difficult to assess their performance.


In Ossiam’s case, the SG index the ETF is based on was developed in February this year. However, Bourcier said that Ossiam ran the model with existing commodity prices going back ten years and found that had the ETF been operational that long it would have generated returns of 11.7% while the S&P GSCI Index would have generated returns of 9.6%. Also, the volatility of Ossiam’s ETF would have been 13.9% versus the S&P’s commodity index 23%.


In the meantime in June S&P launched its own roll-adjusted version of its main commodity index, the S&P GSCI Roll Weight Select, which operates in a similar way to the SG index.


In terms of strategies there is some variety among ETFs including long, short and leveraged, but the vast majority of ETFs are positioned long only, a strategy that backfires in a declining market. Some investors may opt for this strategy nevertheless simply to replicate the move of the underlying commodities.


Investors turned to commodities for portfolio diversification and to protect themselves against risk such as inflation and rapidly changing supply and demand dynamics but so far, “long-only commodity indices have not provided a good solution since they have become highly correlated with equities and have experienced sharp drawdowns,” says John Mulvey, chairman of DPT Capital Management.

Mulvey has worked with the FTSE group on creating the FTSE Target Exposure Commodity Index series; a set of rules-based long-short indices which allocates commodities based on quantitative tactics and avoids large concentration in certain commodity sectors.


Unsurprisingly, single commodity ETFs have performed much better than broad-basket ETFs because the baskets follow anywhere between 15 and 24 commodities and those commodities will frequently trade completely irrespective of each other. For instance price moves in coffee or pork belly futures are almost completely unrelated to oil and gold prices, meaning that the average price move across a basket of commodities will be much smaller than its best performing components.


According to Morningstar data all of the top US-based broad basket commodities ETFs have had negative returns so far this year. In contrast, the iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index ETN is up 12.4% year-to-date and the United States Oil ETF returned 11.5% since January. Gold and silver ETFs have dropped between 20% and 30% with only palladium ETFs holding up.


Although typically ETFs perform less well than the underlying futures, this has not been the case this year for natural gas and corn. ETF UNG has done almost 7% better than futures and corn ETFs had 2% higher returns. Oil was almost on a par, while wheat and coffee ETFs performed worse than their futures equivalents.


Looking ahead, analysts are tipping platinum ETFs as the next big thing. Platinum is used not only in jewellery but is a key component in catalytic converters which reduce car emissions.


Investments in platinum are being driven by the anticipation of a gradual recovery in the global economy, but in particular in the European Union, where there is a large market for diesel-powered cars which use a significant amount of platinum in their converters, says Robin Bhar, analyst at Société Générale.


“The other element working in favour of this precious metal is the shift away from investment in platinum mining companies in South Africa because of their high costs and the undercurrent of difficult labour relations, and the associated migration into platinum ETFs,” adds Bhar. The New Plat fund launched only in April this year is now the largest in the ­platinum ETF space, accounting for nearly a third of all the platinum ETF holdings globally.

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