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Money managers under the microscope

from Global Investing:

GUEST BLOG: Is Your Global Bond Fund Riskier than You Thought?

This is a guest post from Douglas J. Peebles, Head of Fixed Income at AllianceBernstein. The piece reflects his own opinion and is not endorsed by Reuters. The views expressed  do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AllianceBernstein portfolio-management teams.


Global bond funds continue to attract strong inflows as near-zero interest rates lead many investors to look abroad for assets with attractive yields. As we’ve argued before, global bonds provide many important benefits, but it’s crucial that investors select the right type of fund.

Not all global bond funds are cut from the same cloth. One key consideration that investors often overlook is the extent to which the fund elects to hedge its currency exposure. When a domestic currency depreciates - as it did for US-dollar–based investors during most of the period between 2002 and 2008 - foreign currency exposure can help boost returns from holding global bonds.

This is fine while the good times last. But it’s important to understand that currencies are extremely volatile - much more so than bonds - and adverse movements in currencies can quickly swamp the income and price gains generated from holding global bonds. As such, for investors looking at their global bond allocations as a hedge for their equity risk, choosing not to hedge against currency swings could have disastrous results.

from Global Investing:

Certain danger: Extreme investing in Africa

The Arab Spring, for all its democratic and political virtues,  put a big economic dent in the side of participating North African countries, particularly when it came to attracting foreign investment in 2011.

According to a recent UNCTAD report:

Sub-Saharan Africa drew FDI not only to its natural resources, but also to its emerging consumer markets as the growth outlook remained positive. Political uncertainty in North Africa deterred investment in that region.

from Global Investing:

SocGen poll unearths more EM bulls in July

These are not the best of times for emerging markets but some investors don't seem too perturbed. According to Societe Generale,  almost half the clients it surveys in its monthly snap poll of investors have turned bullish on emerging markets' near-term prospects. That is a big shift from June, when only 33 percent were optimistic on the sector. And less than a third of folk are bearish for the near-term outlook over the next couple of weeks, a drop of 20 percentage points over the past month.

These findings are perhaps not so surprising, given most risky assets have rallied off the lows of May.  And a bailout of Spain's banks seems to have averted, at least temporarily, an immediate debt and banking crunch in the euro zone. What is more interesting is that despite a cloudy growth picture in the developing world, especially in the four big BRIC economies,  almost two-thirds of the investors polled declared themselves bullish on emerging markets in the medium-term (the next 3 months) . That rose to almost 70 percent for real money investors. (the poll includes 46 real money accounts and 45 hedge funds from across the world).

from Global Investing:

Investors hungover after wine binge

During this depression, it would appear that investors are no longer finding solace in turning to the bottle.

Fine wines are being hit hard by the global downturn, with the Liv-ex Fine Wine 100 index down 7.4 percent on the year, according to July’s Cellar Watch Market Report.

from Global Investing:

Lipper: Getting serious about giving

"Wouldn't you rather your donations achieve a lot rather than a little? Then you'll need to get serious and proactive. If you do it wrong, you can easily waste your entire donation."

Caroline Fiennes is not one to pull her punches when talking about charitable giving, but the more I talk to her, or read her new book - 'It Ain't What You Give It's The Way That You Give It' - the more it becomes apparent that her philosophy is not all that different from that of a professional fund manager.

from Global Investing:

Emerging stocks: when will there be gain after pain?

Emerging equities' amazing  first quarter rally now seems a distant memory. In fact MSCI's main emerging markets index recently spent 11 straight weeks in the red, the longest lossmaking stretch in the history of the index.  The reasons are clear -- the euro zone is in danger of breakup, growth is dire in the West and stuttering in the East. Weaker oil and metals prices are hitting commodity exporting countries.

But there may be grounds for optimism. According to this graphic from HSBC analyst John Lomax, sharp falls in emerging equity valuations have always in the past been followed by a robust market bounce.

from Global Investing:

The ETF ‘Death List’

Our colleagues at Lipper have put together some eye-catching data on developments in the ETF industry. You can read the slides here.

Most intriguing is the idea of a slumbering cohort of 241 exchange-traded funds forming what Lipper calls a 'Death List'; ETFs which are more than three years old, but which have failed to drive assets up to the 100 million euro-mark.

10 years of fund industry evolution: Lipper

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“A game of two halves” is a footballing cliché in the UK, but was particularly apt for the European funds industry in 2011. The stock market falls that began in July not only ended the healthy sales activity that had started the year, but triggered a wave of redemptions that rolled through the industry. While these outflows ebbed slightly in the final quarter of the year, there were few who did not feel the cold chill of investors withdrawing from mutual funds by the year-end.

Net sales of long-term funds (i.e. excluding money market funds) in 2010 (305.8 billion euros) exceeded not just those of 2009 (257.7 billion), but also the level achieved in pre-crisis 2006 (265.9 billion). Expectations were therefore high when the first half of 2011 saw inflows of 96.1 billion euros, but this was followed by outflows of 155.9 billion, so that the year as a whole ended in the red (-59.8 billion) for only the second time in a decade (the 2008 total was -391.4 billion euros).

How much do UK investors care about costs?

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- As the debate on fund charges heats up, the appeal of having a barometer to gauge investors’ attitudes to fund costs has risen. Ideally this would go beyond opinion polls and show not just what investors think, but what they actually do.

One way of measuring this is to look at the assets invested in index tracking funds (where minimising costs is a core part of the product) and compare this to funds of funds (where the importance of professional fund manager selection entails an additional cost).

With 30.5 billion pounds invested in the former and 56.6 billion pounds in the latter as of November 30 2011, it would seem that retail investors in the UK are almost twice as likely to pay more for active management and fund selection than to minimise costs and seek to mimic the returns of an index. A similar picture is revealed for sales activity in 2011.

from Global Investing:

Emerging markets facing current account pain

Emerging markets may yet pay dearly for the sins of their richer cousins. While recent financial crises have been rooted in the United States and euro zone, analysts at Credit Agricole are questioning whether a full-fledged emerging markets crisis could be on the horizon, the first since the series of crashes from Argentina to Turkey over a decade ago. The concern stems from the worsening balance of payments picture across the developing world and the need to plug big  funding shortfalls.

The above chart from Credit Agricole shows that as recently as 2006, the 34 big emerging economies ran a cumulative current account surplus of 5.2 percent of GDP. By end-2011 that had dwindled to 1.7 percent of GDP. More worrying yet is the position of "deficit" economies. The current account gap here has widened to 4 percent of GDP, more than double 2006 levels and the biggest since the 1980s. The difficulties are unlikely to disappear this year, Credit Agricole says,  predicting India, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Vietnam, Poland and Romania to run current account deficits of over 4 percent this year.

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