Global Investing

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:

Russia has a slightly disappointing reputation.. We all ended up paying a tighter spread than we expected. Everyone is concerned they will get pulled in too tight again.

James Croft, head of emerging debt trading at Mitsubishi-UFJ agrees:

The demand for Russian risk is such that getting this bond away should be no problem. The only impediment that could make the transaction harder is investors’ wariness, based on the negative experience of the last deal back in 2010.

Japan… tide finally turning?

Until recently, when you mentioned  ”Japan” in the investment context, you could almost hear a collective sigh of disappointment — it was all about recession, deflation and poor investment returns.

However, sentiment does seem to be finally changing, not least because Tokyo stocks have rallied almost 20 percent since the start of the year, outperforming benchmark world and emerging indexes.

The yen has also been on a (rare) declining trend since the start of February, with the selling momentum accelerating since the Bank of Japan set an inflation goal of 1 percent in a surprise move and boosted its asset buying programme by $130 billion on Feb 14.

Investing in active funds: what’s the point?

Active vs passive investment is a long-lasting debate: active funds will tell you they deliver alpha (extra returns), but for a fee. Passive investment simply tracks the index so it’s cheaper. The risk is you may underperform your peers.

New research from Thomson Reuters Lipper throws up an interesting twist in the debate: It found that less than half of the actively managed mutual funds in Europe outperformed their benchmarks over the past 20 years.

The proportion of funds that outperformed varied from 26.7% in 2011, 40% over 3 years and 34.9% over the past 10 years. While bond funds fare better over 3 years with 45.4% outperforming, the proportion tailed off dramatically over the 10-year period, falling to 16.2%.

State vs entrepreneurial capitalism

The post-crisis world has been in part shaped by the growing presence of sovereign wealth funds, which have become an important source of funding with their $4 trillion assets, replacing private equity and hedge funds. But some people are wondering whether state capitalism really is the way forward, to boost the potential growth rate of the post-crisis world.

Robert Litan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, believes that in fact it’s entrepreneurs who would play a key role, and it’s important for policymakers to come up with a mechanism to help them.

Litan estimates that the United States needs 30-60 new “home-run” firms a year with annual sales of $1 billion to boost U.S. growth rate by one percentage point beyond its post-war average of 3 percent. This is double the past 150-year average of 15 firms a year.

Three snapshots for Wednesday

Most U.S. banks passed their annual stress test driving shares higher. Where does this leave their valuation? Looking at price-to-book value in aggregate (1st chart) they are only just trading above a ratio of one, looking cheap compared to a 15-year average ratio of two.  However a premium is opening up over European banks which are still trading below book value, and analyst forecasts for return on equity suggest banks are in a very different environment to the last 15-years (2nd chart)

The UK could start issuing 100-year bonds as it seeks to lock in current low interest rates. Recent sales of long-dated UK gilts have met with strong demand, and  as the chart below shows yields on 50-year gilts hit a record low of around 3 percent in January.

Three snapshots for Tuesday

The German ZEW economic sentiment index for March smashed expectations, coming in at 22.3 against the Reuters poll of 10.0.  Over the last couple of years the German 10 year Bund yield has tended to track the ZEW, however this has broken down with yields staying below 2% despite the rebound in economic sentiment.


Improving earnings momentum has been backing up the rally in equities with fewer analysts taking the hatchet to earnings forecasts. The chart below shows that the 3-month average revisions ratio (the number of earnings  upgrades minus downgrades as a percent of the total) looks to have turned back towards positive – especially in Europe.


Are emerging markets joining the dividend race?.   As this chart of Datastream equity indices shows, the payout ratio for emerging market equities is now above that of the US. Traditionally seen as a growth-based investment, is this another sign of emerging market equities moving closer into line with developed?

Two months rally + long markets = correction?

The debate in global financial markets is whether the new year’s rally is either just pausing or coming to an end.

Many say the rally so far has been driven by only thin volumes (for more on volumes read this story) and thin volume rallies tend to outlive high volume stampedes.

The market certainly seems to be getting very long — which itself suggests that the market was due for a correction one way or another.

Becoming less negative on Europe

Markets are unimpressed today by Europe finally agreeing to bail out Greece for the second time, with European stocks down -0.6% on the day.

But here’s some encouraging news: Credit Suisse has become less negative on Continental European stocks for the first time in almost two years.

The bank has moved to benchmark weighting from 5% underweight for a currency hedged portfolio.

Central banks and the next bubble

Central bank balance sheets are expanding at what some say is an alarming pace. Can this cause the next bubble to form and burst?

JP Morgan estimates G4 (U.S., Japan, euro zone and Britain) balance sheets are now around 24% of GDP combined, with around 11% of GDP comprising bonds held for monetary purposes.

“The recent pace of balance sheet expansion is the fastest since the immediate aftermath of Lehman, largely down to the ECB. The increased BOJ purchases, more QE in the UK, and 200 bln euros upwards of increased ECB lending from this month’s LTRO together point to a further $600bln+ rise in G4 central bank balance sheets this year, to around 26% of GDP.”

Hedge funds still lagging behind

How are hedgies performing this year?

The latest performance data from Nice-based business school EDHEC-Risk Institute shows various hedge funds strategies returned on average 1.46% in January, far behind the S&P 500 index which gained almost 4.5%. Hedge Fund Strategies Jan 2012 YTD* Annual Average Return since January 2001 Annual Std Dev since January 2001 Sharpe Ratio Convertible Arbitrage 2.22% 2.2% 6.5% 7.3% 0.34 CTA Global 0.49% 0.5% 6.6% 8.6% 0.30 Distressed Securities 3.28% 3.3% 10.3% 6.3% 1.00 Emerging Markets 4.55% 4.5% 10.5% 10.7% 0.61 Equity Market Neutral 1.01% 1.0% 4.5% 3.0% 0.16 Event Driven 2.95% 2.9% 7.8% 6.1% 0.62 Fixed Income Arbitrage 1.33% 1.3% 6.0% 4.4% 0.46 Global Macro 2.05% 2.1% 7.0% 4.5% 0.68 Long/Short Equity 3.36% 3.4% 5.3% 7.3% 0.17 Merger Arbitrage 1.03% 1.0% 5.4% 3.3% 0.43 Relative Value 1.95% 1.9% 6.4% 4.8% 0.51 Short Selling -6.85% -6.9% 0.3% 14.1% -0.26 Funds of Funds 1.65% 1.7% 3.6% 5.1% -0.07

 

Emerging markets strategy was the best performing, with gains of 4.55%. Interestingly, this is less than half of how the benchmark MSCI EM index performed (up more than 11 percent in the same period).