Global Investing

Japan’s big-money investors still sitting tight

More on the subject of Japanese overseas investment.

As we said here and here, Japanese cash outflows to world markets have so far been limited to a trickle, almost all from retail mom-and-pop investors who like higher yields and are estimated to have 1500 trillion yen ($15.40 trillion) in savings. As for Japan’s huge institutional investors — the $730 billion mutual fund industry and $3.4 trillion life insurance sectors — they are sitting tight.

If some are to be believed, the hype over outflows is misguided. Morgan Stanley for one reckons Japanese insurers’ foreign bond buying may rise by just 2-3 percent in the next two years, amounting to $60-100 billion. Pension funds are even less likely to re-balance their portfolios given large cash flow needs, the bank said.

But a Reuters survey last week revealed several insurance companies are indeed considering boosting unhedged foreign bond holdings.  Insurers currently hold almost half their assets in Japanese government bonds and risk being crowded out of the JGB market as the central bank ramps up purchases.  A recent survey by Barclays also showed Japanese investors keen on overseas debt.

Barclays analyst Bill Diviney offers the following explanation as to why institutional investors haven’t ventured out so far:

From the life insurer investment plans released last week the basic takeaway was that in terms of current levels in currency and given the rally in emerging and developed bonds of late they seem to be uncomfortable with the current price levels and the sense I get is that they are waiting fro a dip in the market. So the markets have risen in anticipation of Japanese flows but the investors themselves want to wait until there is more value and better buying levels.

Deutsche’s emerging markets bear sticking to his guns

Emerging markets bear John-Paul Smith first made his call to underweight emerging equities at the end of 2010. In a note released late on Monday he points out that such a position would have paid off handsomely — since end-2010 emerging equities have underperformed MSCI’s World index by 27.5 percent and U.S. MSCI by 37.6 percent.

 

Smith, who is head of emerging equity strategy at Deutsche Bank, sees no reason to change his call. Reckoning that the cyclical heyday of emerging markets is past, he is advising clients to hold on to developed and U.S. equities at the expense of emerging markets. The reason? China, pivotal for the rest of the EM world for commodities, trade.

Smith writes:

We are maintaining our existing underweight recommendations for GEM versus DM/US and current country weightings within GEM because the ongoing structural deterioration in the sustainable growth rate of the Chinese economy will continue to be the dominant narrative for the GEM equity asset class, in our view. Since the start of the year it has been increasingly evident at the micro level that the massive increase in total corporate financing has not as yet fed through into anything resembling a commensurate pickup in final demand.

Show us the (Japanese) money

Where is the Japanese money? Mostly it has been heading back to home shores as we wrote here yesterday.

The assumption was that the Bank of Japan’s huge money-printing campaign would push Japanese retail and institutional investors out in search of yield.  Emerging markets were expected to capture at least part of a potentially huge outflow from Japan and also benefit from rising allocations from other international funds as a result.  But almost a month after the BOJ announced its plans, the cash has not yet arrived.

EM investors, who seem to have been banking the most on the arrival of Japanese cash, may be forgiven for feeling a tad nervous. Data from EPFR Global shows no notable pick-up in flows to EM bond funds while cash continues to flee EM equities ($2 billion left last week).

Tokyo Sonata calls the tune for investors

The jury may be out on whether Messrs. Abe and Kuroda will succeed in cajoling the Japanese economy from its decades-long funk but the cash is betting they will. Domestic and foreign investors have stampeded for Tokyo equities, and Morgan Stanley has been crunching the numbers.

Since 2005, Japanese investors built up a 14 trillion yen (over $140 billion) portfolio of foreign equities. But between January-March 2013, they offloaded a third of this — about $39 billion.  Going back to July 2012 when they first started bringing cash home, the Japanese have sold $53 billion in foreign equities, or 36 percent of equity holdings.

If one were to include all foreign portfolio investments, they sold a net $74 billion worth of assets in the first three months of 2013. Morgan Stanley says this is the the most since 2005. You can see their graphic below (click on it for a bigger version).

BRIC banks reap ratings reward from government support

The ability of Brazil, Russia, India and China to support their leading banks is tightly correlated to the credit rating on the banks, according to ratings agency Moody’s. The agency compares the ratings of four of the biggest BRIC banks which it says are likely to enjoy sovereign support if they run into trouble.

China’s Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) tops the list of BRIC lenders with a rating of (A1 stable)  thanks to the central bank’s $3 trillion plus reserve stash.

Brazil’s Banco do Brazil  (Baa2 positive) is in investment grade territory but it still fares better than the State Bank of India (SBI) (Baa3 stable) and Russia’s Sberbank (Baa3 stable) at one notch above junk status.

Weekly Radar: Question mark for the ‘austerians’

One of the more startling moves of the week was the fresh rally in euro government debt – with 10-year Italian and Spanish borrowing rates falling to their lowest since late 2010 when the euro crisis was just erupting and 2-year Italian yields even falling to 1999 euro launch levels. The trigger? There’s been a slow build up for weeks on the prospect of new Japanese investor flows  seeking liquid overseas government bonds  – but it was signs of a sharp slowdown in Germany’s economy that seems to have had a perversely positive effect on the region’s asset markets as a whole. The logic is that German objections to another ECB rate cut will ebb, as will its refusal to ease up on front-loaded fiscal austerity across Europe. If its own economic engine is now suffering along with the rest, significantly just five months ahead of German Federal elections, then a tilt toward growth in the regional policy mix may not seem so bad for Berlin after all. And if euro economies are more in synch, albeit in recession rather than growth, then perhaps it will lead to a more effective regional policy response.

All that plays into the intensifying “growth vs austerity” debate, which had already shifted at the Washington IMF meetings last week and was sharpened this week by by EU Commission chief Barroso’s claim that the high watermark of EU’s austerity push had passed. On top of the Reinhart/Rogoff research farrago, it’s been a bad couple of weeks for the “austerians”, with only a UK Q1 GDP bounceback of any support for case of ever deeper fiscal cuts,  and investors smell a change of tack. Their reaction? Not only have euro government borrowing costs fallen  further, but euro equities too rallied for 4 straight days through Wednesday. Those arguing that investors would run screaming at the sight of a more growth-tilted policy mix in Europe may have some explaining to do.

Next week is back on monetary policy watch however. The ECB takes centre stage amid rate cut talks hopes for help for credit-starved SMEs. The FOMC meets stateside aswell just ahead of the critical US April employment report.

Mini rotation

Well, I think we’ve successfully put to bed the idea that there’s any structural shift from bonds to equities going on (see here, here and here). Maybe time to look a little more closely at the numbers to pull out some more discrete swings in allocations.

We’ve just published the latest data on mutual fund and ETF flows from Lipper and there are, as ever, some clues. The snapshot of our interactive graphic below shows flows into and out of bond funds during March. You can click on the image to access the full graphic, or just click here.

One notable trend, and it represents a continuation from last month too, is the move away from corporate debt funds.

Rwanda plays into African debt demand

Rwanda is planning to launch its debut $400 million 10-year Eurobond today, less than two decades (corrects time period) after it was torn apart by genocide. It is the latest chapter in the story of African bond issuance which has stepped up in recent years, exploiting investors’ hunger for yield.

The bond may yield well above 7 percent — attractive at a time when Italian 10-year yields, one of the riskier punts within the euro zone,  have fallen below 4 percent.  Frontier markets broker Exotix has the Rwandan deal as one of its five fixed income trades to watch. Their analysts say:

Rwanda’s economic fundamentals are not that bad, but potential bond investors will be concerned about aid dependence.

Why Abenomics is leading to a squid shortage in Japan

“Abenomics” — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s aggressive reflationary fiscal and monetary policy — is widely praised for injecting optimism into the world’s third largest economy and making Tokyo stocks the best performing equity market in the world this year.

However, in Japan, something odd is happening as a result of Abenomics — a big shortage of squid.

Japan Squid Fisheries Association (JAFRA) decided to halt all fishing operations this Friday and Saturday because a weaker yen is pushing petrol prices higher, to the extent that going out to the sea will bring a guaranteed loss. The yen has lost more than 13 percent against the dollar since the start of the year.

Will gold’s glitter dim in India?

Indians have reacted to the latest gold prices falls by — buying more gold. And why not? Aside from Indians’ well known passion for the yellow metal (yours truly not excluded) gold has by and large served well as an investment: annual returns over the past five years have been around 17 percent, Morgan Stanley notes.

Now, gold’s near 20 percent plunge this year has wiped some $300 billion off Indians’ gold holdings, Morgan Stanley estimates in a note (households are believed to own about 15,000 metric tonnes of gold). So is the gold rush in India over?

Possibly. Indian gold imports have doubled to around 3 percent of GDP in the past five years. That rise is partly down to greater wealth which translates into more wedding jewellery purchases. But the more unpleasant side of the equation is India’s inflation problem. Look at the following charts from MS that shows how negative real interest rates have encouraged savings in gold rather than financial instruments: