Global Investing

Emerging debt vs equity: to rotate or not

Emerging bonds have got off to a flying start in 2013, with debt funds taking in over $2 billion this past week, the second highest weekly inflow ever, according to fund tracker EPFR Global. Issuance is strong -  Turkey for instance this week borrowed cash repayable in 10 years for just 3.47 percent, its lowest yield ever in the dollar market.

Yet not everyone is optimistic and most analysts see last year’s returns of 16-18 percent EM debt returns as out of reach. The consensus instead seems to be for 5-8 percent as  tight spreads and low yields leave little room for further ralliesaverage yields on the EMBI Global sovereign debt index is just 4.4 percent.    Domestic bonds meanwhile could suffer if inflation turns problematic. (see here for our story on emerging bond sales and returns).

Now take a look at U.S. Treasury yields which are near 8-month highs. and could pose a headwind for emerging debt. Higher U.S. yields are not necessarily a bad thing for emerging markets provided the rise is down to a healthier economic outlook.  But that scenario could induce investors to turn their attention to equities and  indeed this is already happening. EPFR data shows emerging equity funds outstripped their bond counterparts last week, taking in $7.45 billion, the highest ever weekly inflow.

Last year emerging stocks rose 15 percent, even though companies’ earnings were mostly flat.  Analysts at Citi reckon MSCI’s emerging equities could provide total returns of 12 percent in 2013, especially if growth in the developing world continues to look up and corporate earnings pick up.

Equities, unlike emerging bonds, also look fairly cheap, trading (according to Citi) at 18 times trend earnings on a cyclically adjusted basis — a quarter cheaper than the long-term average. Citi analysts calculate the trailing yield on MSCI’s emerging equity index at 7.9 percent, versus 3.3 percent on emerging bonds weighted to the MSCI index.  They write:

Weekly Radar: Q4 earnings, China GDP and German elections

The first wave of Q4 US earnings, Chinese Q4 GDP  and European inflation dominate next week, while regional polls in Germany’s Lower Saxony the following Sunday give everyone a early peek at ideas surrounding probably the biggest general election of 2013 later in the year.

With a bullish start to the year already confirmed by the so-called “5 day rule” on Wall St, we now come to the first real test – the Q4 earnings season. There was nothing to rock the boat from Alcoa but we will only start to get a glimpse of the overall picture next week after the big financials like JPM, Citi and Goldman report as well as real sector bellwethers Intel and GE. Yet again the questions centre on how the slow-growth macro world is sapping top lines, how this can continue to be offset by cost cutting to flatter profits and – perhaps most importantly for investors right now – what’s already in the price.

For the worriers, there’s already been plenty of gloom from lousy guidance  and memories of Q3 where less than half the 500 beat revenue forecasts. But the picture is not uniformly negative from a market perspective. For a start, both top and bottom line growth estimates have already been slashed to about a third of what they were three months ago but should still outstrip Q3 if they come in on target. Average S&P500 earnings growth for Q4 is expected to be almost 3 percent compared to near zero in Q3 and revenue growth is expected at about 2 percent after a near one percent drop the previous quarter. What’s more, the market has been well prepared for trouble already — negative-to-positive guidance by S&P 500 companies for Q4 was 3.6 to 1, the second worst since the third quarter of 2001. So, wait and see – but there will have to be some pretty scary headlines for a selloff at this juncture.  It may be just as tricky to build any bullish momentum ahead of renewed infighting in DC over the debt ceiling next month, but the latter issue has been treated to date this year as a frustration rather than a game-changer.

Asia’s ballooning debt

Could Asia be headed for a debt crisis?

The very thought may seem ludicrous given the region’s mighty current account surpluses and brimming central bank coffers.  But a note from RBS analysts Drew Brick and Rob Ryan raises some interesting concerns.

Historically speaking, most EM crises have been borne on the back of excessive capital inflows, Brick and Ryan write. And in many Asian countries, the consequence of these flows has been over-easy monetary policy that has left citizens and companies addicted to cheap money. Personal and corporate indebtedness levels have spiralled even higher in the past five years as governments across the continent responded to the 2008 credit crunch by unleashing billions of dollars in stimulus.

First, some numbers and graphics:

a) Asia’s current account surplus stands now around $250 billion, less than half its 2007 peak as exports have slumped.

Emerging Europe basks under Basel light touch

A lighter touch from the regulators in Basel is likely to be good news for eastern Europe, where policymakers have been concerned about the withdrawal of cash by western European banks to shore up their balance sheets at home.

Global regulators yesterday gave banks four more years and greater flexibility to develop cash buffers. Banks now have until 2019 to build up enough liquid assets to  keep them funded for 30 days in a squeeze.

That could slow the pace of bank deleveraging from eastern Europe, which was a worry for the region during the 2008/09 financial crisis, and has become so again during the euro zone crisis. The deleveraging was equivalent to 0.8 percent of the region’s GDP in the second quarter of 2012 and has reached 4 percent of GDP since mid-2011, according to the Vienna Initiative, which aims to prevent disorderly deleveraging from the region.

A yen for emerging markets

Global Investing has written several times about Japanese mom-and-pop investors’  adventures in emerging markets. Most recently, we discussed how the new government’s plan to prod the Bank of Japan into unlimited monetary easing could turn more Japanese into intrepid yield hunters.  Here’s an update.

JP Morgan analysts calculate that EM-dedicated Japanese investment trusts, known as toshin, have seen inflows of $7 billion ever since the U.S. Fed announced its plan to embark on open-ended $40-billion-a-month money printing.  That’s taken their assets under management to $67 billion. And in the week ended Jan 2, Japanese flows to emerging markets amounted to $234 million, they reckon. This should pick up once the yen debasement really gets going — many are expecting a 100 yen per dollar exchange rate by end-2013  (it’s currently at 88).

At present, the lion’s share of Japanese toshin holdings — over $40 billion of it — are in hard currency emerging debt, JP Morgan says (see graphic).

Record year for global bond markets in 2012

How good was 2012 for bond markets? Very good, by the look of the many records broken.

2012  was the strongest year for global high yield and investment grade debt on record, new issuance of corporate debt from emerging markets issuers was also the strongest since records began in 1980 and activity on global debt capital markets were overall up 10 percent from 2011, Thomson Reuters data shows.

Euro-denominated international corporate debt increased 69.5 percent, making 2012 issuance the second largest on record behind 2009.

$1trillion of euro zone bonds to snap up in 2013

Investors keen to wade deeper into the euro zone’s quieter waters  will have 765 billion euros,  or just over $1  trillion, worth of fresh government bonds offered to them this year, nearly 8 percent less than in 2012,  Deutsche Bank writes in a report.

With the debt crisis quieting down, euro zone assets are among the top 2013 picks for many leading investors, with the likes of Societe Generale and AXA Investment Managers advising to head for the periphery with Spanish and Italian sovereign debt.

Deutsche Bank writes in its Eurozone 2013 supply outlook report, based on the bloc’s ten biggest bond issuers:

Weekly Radar: From fiscal cliff to fiscal tiff…

The new year starts with a markets ‘whoosh’, thanks to some form of detente in DC — though this one was already motoring in 2012. The New Year’s Eve rally was the biggest final day gain in the S&P500 since 1974, for what it’s worth.  And for investment almanac obsessives, Wednesday’s 2%+ gains are a good start to so-called “five-day-rule”, where net gains in the S&P500 over the first five trading days of the year have led to a positive year for equity year overall on 87 percent of 62 years since 1950.

So do we have a fiscal green light stateside for global investors? Or does it just lead us all to another precipice in two months time? Well, markets seem to have voted loudly for the former so far. And to the extent that at least some bi-partisan progress reduces the risk of policy accident and renewed recession, then that’s justified. And Wall St’s relief went global and viral, with eurostocks up almost 3% and emerging markets up over 2% on Wednesday. Even the febrile bond markets sat up and took notice, with core US and German yields jumping higher while riskier Italian and Spanish yields skidded to their lowest in several months.

So is all that New Year euphoria premature given we will likely be back in  the political trenches again next month?  Maybe, but there’s good reason to retain last year’s optimism for a number of basic reasons. As seasoned euro crisis watchers know well, the world doesn’t end at self-imposed deadlines. The worst that tends to happen is they are extended and there is even a chance of – Shock! Horror! – a compromise. Never rule out a disastrous policy accident completely, but it’s wise not to make it a central scenario either. In short, markets seem to be getting a bit smarter at parsing politics. Tactical volatility or headline-based trading wasn’t terribly lucrative last year, where are fundamental and value based investing fared better.  And the big issue about the cliff is that the wrangling has sidelined a lot of corporate planning and investment due to the uncertainties about new tax codes as much as any specific measures. While there’s still some considerable fog around that, a little of the horizon can now be seen and political winds seem less daunting than they once did. If even a little of that pent up business spending does start to come through, it will arrive the slipstream of a decent cyclical upswing.  China is moving in tandem meantime. The euro zone remains stuck in a funk but will also likely be stabilised at least by U.S. and Chinese  over the coming months. Global factory activity expanded again in December for the first time since May.

Russian equity sales: disappointing

Investment banks have been dismayed this year by the slump in first-time share listings across emerging markets, the area they had hoped would yield the most growth (and fees). But as we pointed out in this story, emerging IPO volumes fell 40 percent this year. And equity bankers have seen lucrative IPO fees dry up – they almost halved this year from 2011  and are a third of 2007 levels.

One market that has possibly disappointed investors most is Russia.  Its plan a few years ago to privatise large swathes of state-run companies via share sales had bankers salivating — estimates for the proceeds ranged from $30-$50 billion. The pipeline is still alluring, with all manner of companies up for privatisation, including shipping company Sovcomflot and the Russian Railways monopoly.  The Kremlin did raise $5 billion this year by selling a 7.6 percent stake in Sberbank, the banking giant, but not much else has come to pass.  In fact, 2012 saw the state tighten its grip on the energy sector, as government-controlled Rosneft bought oil producer TNK off BP, forking out $12.3 billion and some equity.

Sberbank analyst Chris Weafer estimates Russian companies raised $2.5 billion this year via IPOs, including a $1.8 billion offering from mobile operator Megafon- that’s almost half last year’s levels. Actually, the picture is not that dismal. Weafer points out that total equity issuance to the market, including strategic stake sales by shareholders, came to  $12.8 billion (the total was bumped up by the $5 billion Sberbank deal) and that is up from last year’s total of $9.9 billion.

The Watanabes are coming

With Shinzo Abe’s new government intent on prodding the Bank of Japan into unlimited monetary easing, it is hardly surprising that the yen has slumped to two-year lows against the dollar. This could lead to even more flows into overseas markets from Japanese investors seeking higher-yield homes for their money.

Japanese mom-and-pop investors — known collectively as Mrs Watanabe -  have for years been canny players of currency and interest rate arbitrage. In recent years they have stepped away from old favourites, New Zealand and Australia, in favour of emerging markets such as Brazil, South Africa and Turkey. (See here  to read Global Investing’s take on Mrs Watanabe’s foray into Turkey). Flows from Japan stalled somewhat in the wake of the 2010 earthquake but EM-dedicated Japanese investment trusts, known as toshin, remain a mighty force, with estimated assets of over $64 billion.  Analysts at JP Morgan noted back in October that with the U.S. Fed’s QE3 in full swing, more Japanese cash had started to flow out.

That trickle shows signs of  becoming a flood. Nikko Asset Management, the country’s third  biggest money manager, said this week that retail investors had poured $2.3 billion into a mutual fund that invests in overseas shares — the biggest  subscription since October 2006. This fund’s model portfolio has a 64 percent weighting to U.S. shares, 14 percent to Mexico and 10 percent to Canada while the rest is split between Latin American countries.