Global Investing

Emerging Policy-More cuts and a change of governors in Hungary

All eyes on the Hungarian central bank this week.  Not so much on tomorrow’s policy meeting (a 25 bps rate cut is almost a foregone conclusion) but on Friday’s nomination of a new governor by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.  Expectations are for Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy to get the job, paving the way for an extended easing cycle. Swaps markets are currently pricing some 100 basis points of rate cuts over the coming six months in Hungary — the question is, could this go further? With tomorrow’s meeting to be the last by incumbent Andras Simor, clues over future policy are unlikely, but analysts canvassed by Reuters reckon interest rates could fall to 4.5 percent by the third quarter, compared to their prediction for a 5 percent trough in last month’s poll.

A rate cut is also possible in Israel later today, taking the interest rate to 1.5 percent. Recent data showed growth at a weaker-than-expected 2.5 percent in the last quarter of 2012 while inflation was 1.5 percent in January, at the bottom of the central bank’s target range.  But most importantly, according to Goldman Sachs, the shekel has been strengthening, having risen 7 percent against the dollar since November and 6.8 percent on a trade-weighted basis in this period. That could prompt a rate cut, though analysts polled by Reuters still think on balance that the BOI will keep rates unchanged while retaining a dovish bias. A possible reason could be that house prices — a sensitive issue in Israel — are still on the rise despite tougher regulations on mortgage lending.


Weekly Radar: Bernanke, Berlusconi and bumps on the road

Financial markets have had one of those weeks of frenetic activity when each asset class blames the other for driving direction, few agree on an overall driver and it’s hard to square relative moves.  What seems to be true is that idiosyncratic and locally-focussed factors are back in vogue – witness the lunge in sterling as the BoE nods at more QE and higher inflation, or the sudden dive in commodities even as global stock markets nudged 5-year highs. Micro or national issues are getting more play as the stress busting of recent months seems to have reduced cross-market correlations  that characterised every ebb and flow of the overarching ‘global crisis’ for years.

To be sure, the longer-range theme of global reflation, the return from “safe haven” bunkers, and a gradual rotation out of low-yielding bonds remains the big backdrop and has helped explain the buoyancy of stock markets to date, the relative weakness of sterling and the yen as persistent  money printers into the recovery, and the rise in core US/German/UK government borrowing rates alongside a sturdy bid for Italian and Spanish bonds.

But the week has thrown several curve balls into the mix. Fed minutes showed its policymakers musing yet again over when to wind down QE while euro area business surveys disappointed recovery hopes yet again in February. Commodities have retreated sharply on the perceived demand shock, with the dollar sharply higher on hopes the greenback presses will be turned off well before  sterling or yen equivalents at least. But it gets more difficult to square some of the rest – gold’s nosedive this week could be argued as a haven exit perhaps, but its inflation-hedge role seems at odds with Britain and Japan actively pumping up prices. A more hawish Fed and dollar rise might be a better guide. And the drop in oil, metals and world equities (latterly) seems to riff off that too, for all the coalface talk of fund liquidations, supply boosts and chart hoodoos etc. Yet if the Fed slows QE – which would slow its bond buying — then bonds should surely be falling too? Not so – 10-year Treasury yields have slipped back below 2 percent all of a sudden. So is the bond market getting a dollar boost or is it worried about demand slowdown from the risk of a March 1 sequestration? If it’s the latter and that’s justified, then you can expect Fed chairman Ben Bernanke to sound a very different tone at his congressional testimonies next week. But what then of the supposed demand shock from the FOMC minutes? hmmm. It all starts to get a bit circular.

Emerging Policy: Turkey bakes

Turkey took another step in the currency battle this week, cutting two of its three main interest rates to prevent speculative flows, yet also raising reserve requirements to cool domestic loan growth.

Policymakers in both the emerging and the developed worlds have been keeping monetary policy loose to stop their currencies rising to uncompetitive levels, even though G20 finance ministers last weekend said there would be no currency war, and made a commitment to refrain from competitive devaluations. The mood does appear to be softening, with the Fed’s minutes yesterday showing a number of officials think the central bank might have to slow or stop buying bonds.

The latest rate move by G20 member Turkey was largely expected, but it still took the lira to a low for 2013 on Thursday – aided by the Fed minutes – and took two-year Turkish bond yields close to record lows.

Deluxe growth as Chinese buy posh

By Stephen Eisenhammer

Luxury brands are set to grow further in 2013, as the sector continues to dodge the fallout from stalling European and U.S. economies by appealing to consumers in emerging markets such as Brazil, China and the Middle East.

The industry is set to grow 6-8 percent this year according to the Zurich-based asset management fund Swiss & Global, with 90 percent of that growth coming from consumers in emerging economies.

The global industry, which is estimated by luxury consultants Bain & Company to be worth more than $34 billion, has been a counter-intuitive success story of the past years of economic crisis and government austerity measures.

Bond investors’ pre-budget optimism in India

Ten-year Indian bond yields have fallen 30 basis points this year alone and many forecast the gains will extend further. It all depends on two things though — the Feb 28 budget of which great things are expected, and second, the March 19 central bank meeting. The latter potentially could see the RBI, arguably the world’s most hawkish central bank, finally turn dovish.

Barclays is advising clients to bid for quotas to buy Indian government and corporate bonds at this Wednesday’s foreigners’ quota auction (India’s securities exchange, SEBI, will auction around $12.3 billion in quotas for foreign investors to buy bonds). Analysts at the bank noted that this would be the last auction before the central bank meeting at which a quarter point rate cut is expected. Moreover the Reserve Bank of India will signal more to come, Barclays says, predicting 75 bps in total starting March.

That is likely to be driven first by recent data — inflation in January was at a three-year low while growth has slowed to a decade low.  Barclays notes:

Russian companies next stop for Euroclear

The excitement continues over Russian assets becoming Euroclearable.   Euroclear’s head confirmed last week to journalists in Moscow that corporate debt would be the next step, potentially becoming eligible for settlement within a month. Russian equities are set to follow from July 1, 2014.

What that means is foreign investors buying Russian domestic rouble bonds will be able to process them through the Belgium-based clearing house, which transfers securities from the seller’s securities account to the securities account of the buyer, while transferring cash from the account of the buyer to the account of the seller.

The Euroclear effect in terms of foreign inflows to Russian bonds could be as much $40 billion in the 2013-2014 period, analysts at Barclays estimated earlier this month.  Yields on Russian government OFZ bonds should compress a further 50-80 basis points this year, says Vladimir Pantyushin, the bank’s chief economist in Moscow, adding to the 130 bps rally in 2012. Foreigners’ share of the market should double to 25-30 percent Pantyushin says, putting Russia in line with the emerging markets average.

LIPPER: Aux armes, millionaires!

(This post has been corrected to reflect a change in the information supplied by Cantab Capital Partners in the fourth paragraph. The Core Macro Fund management fee does not cover back office fees, while the fund does carry a high water mark)

So far the impact of the financial crisis has not hit the wealthy as hard as many protesters would like. Even French millionaires have a found an escape from the modern-day guillotine that is a 75 percent tax rate, in the shape of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

But what about the level of charges that high net worth individuals have to pay for investing in hedge funds? Even though there has been some downward pressure on the annual management fees charged, the most common model remains “2 and 20” — 2 percent of the fund’s assets and 20 percent of its performance every year.

A (costly) balancing act in Hungary

A bond trader in London is still marvelling at the market’s willingness to snap up a Eurobond from Hungary, calling it a country with “a policy mix so unorthodox even Aunty Christine won’t lend to them”.  But Hungary’s probable glee at bypassing the IMF and “Aunty Christine”  with $3.25 billion in two bonds that were almost four times oversubscribed, is probably short-sighted.

Hungary needs to raise the equivalent of $23.4 billion this year to repay maturing debt. The bond placement will enable Hungary to easily meet the hard currency component of this, and it has been enormously successful in luring buyers to domestic debt markets.  Such has been the demand for Hungarian bonds in recent months that foreigners’ holdings of forint-denominated government debt are at a record high of over 45 percent.

The success does not necessarily represent a thumbs-up for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies but is more likely due to the yield Hungary paid — well over 5 percent for five and 10-year cash. In dollar terms that is not to be sneezed at, especially at a time when liquidity is abundant and the yield on mainstream dollar assets is low. The same reason is behind the demand for forint bonds, where Hungary pays over 5 percent on one-year paper. An IMF loan would have been far cheaper. (The rate for a standby loan of the kind Hungary had is tied to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) interest rate. Very large loans carry a surcharge of 200 basis points)

Of snakes, dragons and fund managers

The Year of the Snake is considered one of the less auspicious in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. And 2013 is the year of the Black Water Snake, which comes around once every 60 years and is seen as the least fortuitous. How China’s stock markets turn out after years of poor performance remains to be seen but the snake is providing banks and asset managers with plenty of food for thought. Many of them have been gazing into the crystal ball to see what 2013 may hold for Chinese markets.

Fidelity Worldwide investments highlights the ‘Snakes and Ladders’ that could influence Chinese equities this year. (They have a great accompanying illustration)

Fidelity’s Raymond Ma reckons  there are six ‘R’s’ that could act as ‘ladders’ to buoy Chinese equity markets this year: recovery, reverse, reform, reflation, re-rating and rally. Under snakes he names inflation, a continued depreciation of the Japanese yen, excessive corporate debt/equity issuance,  a prolonged euro zone crisis and an earlier-than-expected end to quantitative easing in the United States.

Russia’s consumers — a promise for the stock market

As we wrote here last week, Russian bond markets are bracing for a flood of foreign capital. But there appears to be a surprising lack of interest in Russian equities.

Russia’s stock market trades on average at 5 times forward earnings, less than half the valuation for broader emerging markets. That’s cheaper than unstable countries such as Pakistan or those in dire economic straits such as Greece. But here’s the rub. Look within the market and here are some of the most expensive companies in emerging markets — mostly consumer-facing names. Retailers such as Dixy and Magnit and internet provider Yandex trade at up to 25 times forward earnings. These compare to some of the turbo-charged valuations in typically expensive markets such as India.

A recent note from Russia’s Sberbank has some interesting numbers on Russia’s consumer potential. Sberbank tracks a hypothetical Russian middle class family, the Ivanovs, to see how consumer confidence is shaping up (According to SB their data are broader in scope than the government’s official consumer confidence survey).