Global Investing

Euro emigration – safety valve or worker drain?

Four years of relentless austerity in many of the euro zone’s most debt-hobbled countries have forced many of their youngest and sometimes brightest workers to grab the plane, train or boat and emigrate in search of work. For countries with a long history of emigration, such as Ireland, this is depressingly familar — coming just 20 years after the country’s last debt crisis and national belt-tightening in the 1980s crescendoed, with the exit of some 40,ooo a year in 1989/90 from a population of just 3-1/2 million people.

The intervening boom years surrounding the creation and infancy of the Europe’s single currency and expansion of the European Union eastwards saw huge net migration inflows back into the then-thriving euro zone periphery  — Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy — and created a virtuous circle of rising workforces, higher demand for housing/goods and rising exchequer tax receipts.

But all that has gone into reverse again since the credit, property and banking crash of 2008.

While the exodus takes short-term pressure off dole queues and national welfare bills, there is growing concern that the timing of this latest wave of young worker emigration comes as underlying societies are ageing, dependency ratios are rising and longer-term pressure on government finances from pension commitments is set to grow.

In a note to clients on Tuesday, Citi economist Michael Saunders details the extent of the renewed migration from the periphery and reckons prolonged austerity is exaggerating the shift and damage to the long-term financial sustainability of these countries’ already battered finances. With Europe’s impending pension shortfalls, he argues, they need higher working populations, not smaller ones.

Russia’s babushka time-bomb

The babushka, that embodiment of Russian grandmotherly goodness that has spawned iconic dolls and inspired a Kate Bush song, poses one of the gravest threat to the Russian economy.

Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital also expects this segment of the demography to spur politically risky pension reforms.

Russia’s pension system is coming under increasing strain thanks to growing life expectancy — particularly among women — and a shrinking labour force due to the collapse in birth rates in the 1990s.

When is a speculator not a speculator?

A lot of fuss is made about the dangers of speculators in commodity markets. But who is a speculator and who isn’t is based on a definition drawn up in the early part of the last century in the United States. The definition is no longer valid and anybody looking at those reports should be wary of drawing any firm conclusions.

For a start the word “speculator” with negative connotations is applied to pension funds, which invest over the long term to provide retirement income for many people around the world. Hedge funds are normally speculators but if they have hold the physical commodity then they can say they are commercial hedgers. Taking this theme a little further many natural resource companies run their Treasuries as profit making centres, which encourages them to trade the commodities they produce.

The London Metal Exchange has said it won’t go down the route the CFTC has and publish a weekly report detailing speculative long and short positions because there is no clear definition.

Real-estate investors go back to schools

The old adage – there is no better time to go back to school than during a recession – seems to ring true for real estate investments as well.******With recession-wary workers and rising international interest driving up university applications, student home operators in the UK are enjoying near 100 percent occupancies, with rents predicted to go up 10 percent this year.******In contrast, other property classes in the UK such as offices, shopping malls and factories have seen values plunge a startling 45 percent since mid-2007. And the recession means rents are forecast to fall as much as 15 percent this year as landlords face the rising threat of tenant defaults.******As I wrote earlier, investors such as pension funds that were burnt by traditional commercial assets are now turning to the student accommodation market for the projected growth and steady returns other parts of the market aren’t delivering.******

Students pack up their dorm room after graduating from university in the city of Xian, Shaanxi Province July 3, 2004. REUTERS/China Photos WC/FA******Student homes specialists King Sturge estimates that average rents jumped 7 to 10 percent annually in the last five years and can go up 10 percent this year, although it sees the yearly increase moderating to 5-7 percent for the next few years with new entrants to the market.******Branded student housing can be very pricey and the best stuff are a far cry from crowded, slum-like dorms that some of the world’s students have to put up with: high-end versions in London that offer en-suite bathrooms, flat-screen TVs and laundry services cost up to 300 pounds a week.******With the belt-tightening that comes with a recession, parents may groan about the higher costs of student housing for their university-bound offspring.******But operators expect there will be those who are still willing stump up the cash, if only to ensure their children make it for classes.******”First year students usually can’t find housemates to rent with, and there is no guarantee the flat will be near to school,” says Gabriel Behr of the University Partnerships Programme, a student homes operator owned by funds under Barclays Private Equity, which is developing over 700 new rooms for King’s College London.******”Are parents willing to stick their kids somewhere five miles away from class?” he asked me.

from Commentaries:

Are pension funds ignoring climate risk?

And are conservation groups moving into the business of giving investment advice?

It seems an unlikely path for environmentalists to take, but this WWF commissioned report warning that failure to take carbon risk into account could knock pension fund returns raises some interesting points.

"Carbon Risks in UK Equity Funds" by Mercer and Trucost "outlines how fund manager complacency on corporate carbon performance could put pension fund assets at risk as carbon-intensive companies face rising carbon costs and their company valuations fall in the short-term in anticipation of future carbon risk".