Global Investing

Waking up to sustainability karma

By Dasha Afanasieva

Management consultants often urge their clients to view setbacks or difficulties as opportunities. The cost of reducing environmental impacts are often cited as one such “opportunity”.

But a global study from consultancy BCG and MIT Sloan Management Review has shown that companies are increasingly putting this advice into practice and succeeding in getting the returns.

The study is based on a survey of 2,600 executives and managers from companies around the world and found that the number of companies achieving a profit from introducing changes aimed at making their business more sustainable rose 23 percent last year, to 37 percent of the total.

Nearly half of the companies have changed their business models to try to make the most of sustainability opportunities—a 20 percent jump over last year.

Nor is a preoccupation with sustainability the reserve of the developed world.

Companies in emerging markets change their business models as a result of sustainability at a far higher rate than those based in North America, the study found.

Emerging corporate debt tips the scales

Time was when investing in emerging markets meant buying dollar bonds issued by developing countries’ governments.

How old fashioned. These days it’s more about emerging corporate bonds, if the emerging market gurus at JP Morgan are to be believed. According to them, the stock of debt from emerging market companies now exceeds that of dollar bonds issued by emerging governments for the first time ever.

JP Morgan, which runs the most widely used emerging debt indices, says its main EM corporate bond benchmark, the CEMBI Broad, now lists $469 billion in corporate bonds.  That compares to $463 billion benchmarked to its main sovereign dollar bond index, the EMBI Global. In fact, the entire corporate debt market (if one also considers debt that is not eligible for the CEMBI) is now worth $974 billion, very close to the magic $1 trillion mark. Back in 2006, the figure was at$340 billion.  JPM says:

Emerging debt default rates on the rise

Times are tough and unsurprisingly, default rates among emerging market companies are rising.

David Spegel, ING Bank’s head of emerging debt, has a note out, calculating that there have been $8.271 billion worth of defaults by 19 emerging market issuers so far this year — nearly double the total $4.28 billion witnessed during the whole of 2011.

And there is more to come — 208 bonds worth $75.7 billion are currently trading at yield levels classed as distressed (above 1000 basis points), Spegel says, while another 120 bonds worth $45 billion are at “stressed” levels (yields between 700 and 999 bps).   Over half of the “distressed” bonds are in Latin America (see graphic below).  His list suggests there could be $2.4 billion worth of additional defaults in 2012 which would bring the 2012 total to $10.7 billion. Spegel adds however that defaults would drop next year to $6.8 billion.

America Inc. share of GDP – 12 or 3 pct?

Wall Street has been doing pretty well in recent years. Just how well is illustrated by the steady rise in corporate profits as a share of the national economy. Look at the following graphic:

Of it, HSBC writes:

The profits share of GDP in the United States must rank as one of the most chilling charts in finance.

 
What this means is that around 12 percent of American gross domestic product is going to companies in the form of after-tax profits. A year ago that figure was just over 10 percent and in 2005 it was just 6 percent. In contrast, the share of wages and salaries in the U.S. GDP fell under 50 percent i n 2010 and continues to decline. Comparable figures for the UK or Europe are harder to come by but analysts reckon the profits’ share is within historical ranges.

How socially responsible is your investing?

Is your investment ethically sound and socially responsible?

A new survey by consulting firm Mercer finds that only 9% of more than 5,000 investment strategies achieve the highest environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) involves buying shares in companies that manage ESG risks. For example, firms that make clean technologies are favoured, while businesses which pollute the environment, are complicit in human rights abuses or nuclear arms production are shunned. All this sounds good, but the performance of such investments has been somewhat mixed — meaning being good doesn’t always mean doing well. But the SRI industry is hoping that greater involvement of funds, especially long-term ones such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds — may generate flows into the sector and lead to better performance.

Of the 5,175 strategies assigned ESG ratings, 57% are in listed equities, 20% fixed income and the remaining 23% across real estate, private equity, hedge funds and others.

Deutsche’s investment themes for 2012

We just finished our three-day Reuters 2012 Global Investment Outlook summit in London, New York and Hong Kong, where prominent money managers have discussed their outlook for next year. (For more click here)

Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management (whose official was also a guest at the summit) is telling its clients the following 10 investment themes for next year.

1. Safe may not be safe Don’t react to uncertainty by automatically taking refuge in traditional safe havens such as cash, sovereign bonds, real estate or precious metals as they may prove less safe than they appear.

Funding stress in the FX swap market

Signs of the wholesale funding stress are cropping up in the FX swaps market, with the premium for swapping euro LIBOR into dollar LIBOR over 3 months (so-called cross currency swap) rising to 141.5 basis points, which is the post-Lehman Brothers high.

The premium has skyrocketed in the past six months (back in May it was only 16.5bps) because European banks needing funds are forced to turn to the FX swap market, and other banks are reluctant to lend to European companies in the United States.

And it looks like the situation is going to get worse from here, because of weak dollar bond issuance by euro zone companies.

Bosses in the dark

Business bosses, it seems, are as much in the dark as the investors who buy stocks in their companies.

That is the worrying conclusion of a new survey from Booz & Co. 

After quizzing more than 800 senior managers, it found 40 percent doubted that their company’s leadership had a credible plan to address the economic crisis and an even higher number – 46 percent – were not sure that their top management could carry out the plan, credible or not.

Alarmingly, even at the CEO and board level, one third of those responding were sceptical of their own plans.