Global Investing

South African bond rush

It’s been a great year so far for South African bonds. But can it get better?

Ever since Citi announced on April 16 that South African government bonds would join its World Government Bond Index (WGBI),  almost 20 billion rand (over $2.5 billion ) in foreign cash has flooded to the local debt markets in Johannesburg, bringing year-to-date inflows to over 37 billion rand. Last year’s total was 48 billion. Michael Grobler, bond analyst at Johannesburg-based brokerage Afrifocus Securities predicts total 2012 inflows at over 60 billion rand, surpassing the previous 56 billion rand record set in 2o1o:

The assumption..is based on the fact that South Africa will have a much larger and diversified investor base following inclusion in the WGBI expanding beyond the EM debt asset class

Currently South African bonds are restricted to emerging local bond indices. The most-widely used, JPMorgan’s GBI-EM, has less than $200 billion benchmarked to it and South Africa’s weighting is 10 percent. But the WGBI is a different matter altogether — around $2 trillion is estimated to track this index which currently includes just 22 countries, only three of them emerging markets.  An expected 0.44 percent weighting for South Africa implies inflows of  $5-$9 billion, analysts estimate.

Some of that cash has already come. How much more could roll in this year? Optimists point to Mexico – foreign ownership of the local debt market there rose to 31 percent from 24 percent over 2010, the year the country joined the WGBI, with $11 billion flowing in. But the picture in South Africa is in fact not that rosy. Inflows will undoubtedly pick up, benefiting both bonds and the rand but many reckon positioning in South African bonds is already pretty crowded –  about a third of the market is in foreign hands already, analysts at Morgan Stanley reckon. Worse, the country faces a possible credit ratings downgrade this year (all three rating agencies have cut its ratings outlook to negative in recent months).

Pay vote wrinkles

We don’t know the full story around Andrew Moss’ departure from Aviva on the back of a hefty protest vote from investors over his pay deal. It may well be that major shareholders made it very clear behind closed doors that they expected to see him go, with the vote acting as a public demonstration that they were serious about private demands. Perhaps the board found the advisory vote to be useful lever to remove an underperformer who had brought some troublesome baggage to the role.

But whatever the truth of the matter, the story exposes a wrinkle in the debate over executive pay.

Investors have been cast in the role of white knights as politicians and boardrooms joust over remuneration. There is a hope that this disparate posse will save us all from sky-high pay deals and the burgeoning gap between corporate leaders and their workers. But the Moss case raises questions over how effective they can be.

Russia’s new Eurobond: what’s the fair price?

Russia’s upcoming dollar bond, the first in two years, should fly off the shelves. It’s good timing — elections are past, the world economy seems to be recovering and crucially for Russia, oil prices are over $125 a barrel.  And the rise in core yields has massively tightened emerging markets’ yield premium to  U.S. Treasuries, offering an attractive window to raise cash.  Russia’s spread premium over Treasuries hit the narrowest levels in 7 months recently and despite some widening this week it is still some 75 basis points below end-2011 levels.

Initial indications from the ongoing roadshow are for a two-tranche bond with 10- and 20-year maturities, possibly raising a total of $3.5 billion.

But market bullishness notwithstanding, investors say Moscow should resist temptation to price the bond too high, a mistake it made during its last foray into global capital markets in April 2010. Fund managers have unpleasant memories of that deal, recalling that Russia unexpectedly tightened the yield offered by 25-28 bps, making the bond an expensive one for investors who had already placed bids. The bond price fell sharply once trading kicked off and yields across the Russian curve rose around 25-30 basis points. Jeremy Brewin, a fund manager at Aviva said:

from Funds Hub:

Got those zombie company covenant lite blues

Zombies 2One of the big drivers of the debt balloon that imploded so spectacularly was the trend for covenant "lite", which has allowed zombie companies to stumble on long past the point at which it would have been useful for creditors to intervene. This has sharpened the appetite for stronger corporate governance around covenants and persuaded investors that they need to take more of an active interest in what companies are actually doing with their money.

Enter the engaged bond investor - for a long time the domain of equity investors with a social conscience, socially responsible investing (SRI) is now being applied to bond portfolios by asset managers Aviva Investors and F&C.

Paul Abberley, CEO of Aviva Investors UK, told Reuters that Aviva is adding a specialist bond fund manager in its SRI group, with scope to increase the headcount depending on how client interest develops. "Historically SRI has been viewed as an equity activity but we think there is a strong case for fixed income to be considered as well," he said. Initially any offering would be mandate based, he said, with a fund launch dependent on client interest.