Global Investing

Banks lead the equity sector flows

Banks and financials stocks have had a pretty good year. The Thomson Reuters Global Financials index is up by more than 20% in the last 12 months, and although the detritus of the financial crisis still offers the occasional sting, investors are starting to see brighter spots for the industry.

That confidence is increasingly obvious in the fund flows.

Our corporate cousins at Lipper track more than 7,000 mutual funds and ETFs which are dedicated to specific industry sectors. Dig a little into the data in this subset of funds, and you start to get a pretty good picture of where the biggest bets have been placed.

Just shy of 500 of these funds are focused entirely on banks & financials. Together they hold more than $46 billion in assets.

Last month, they suffered a total net outflow of just about $1 billion, but on a one-year view, 10 months of net inflows have driven an injection of over $10 billion. It amounts to a concerted bet on the sector, particularly in the U.S. where the bulk of assets are held, with the inflows equating to 22% of the latest published assets under management. You can see the evolution over the year in the chart below; cumulative gains or losses over the 12 months are shown in the blue area; monthly flows are shown by the red bars.

The sector was by far the most popular, both in absolute terms and relative to the assets held.

Asia’s credit explosion

Whatever is happening to all those Asian savers? Apparently they are turning into big time borrowers.

RBS contends in a note today that in a swathe of Asian countries (they exclude China and South Korea) bank deposits are not keeping pace with credit which has expanded in the past three years by up to 40 percent.

Some of this clearly is down to slowing exports and a greater focus on the domestic consumer.  Credit levels are also rising overall in these economies because of borrowing for big infrastructure projects.  But there are signs too that credit conditions are too loose.

Where will the FDI flow?

For years the four mighty BRIC nations have grabbed increasing shares of world investment flows. But the coming years may not be so kind.  These countries bring up the bottom of the Economic Freedom Index (EFI) for 2012. Compiled by Washington D.C.-based think-tank The Heritage Foundation the EFI measures 10 freedoms —  from property rights to entrepreneurship – and according to a note out today from RBS economists, there is a strong positive link between a country’s EFI score and the amount of FDI (foreign direct investment) it can secure. So the more “free” a country, the more FDI inflows it can expect to receive — that’s what an RBS analysis of 2002-2008 investment flows shows.

So back to the BRICs. Or BRICS if you add in South Africa (part of the political grouping though not yet included in the BRIC investment concept used by fund managers). The following graphic shows Russia languishing at the bottom of the EFI, China just above Russia and India third from bottom.  Brazil is sixth from bottom while South Africa ranks two places higher.

At the other end of the spectrum is tiny Singapore. Its EFI score is double that of Russia and between 2002-2008 it attracted FDI equivalent to 50 percent of its economy. Russia in contrast saw negative net FDI (outflows exceeded inflows)

No hard landing for Chinese real estate

The desperate days when Chinese property developers offered free cars as an inducement to homebuyers look to be over.

Sales and earnings figures indicate some of the gloom is lifting as developers have enjoyed a second straight month of rising sales. Vanke, China’s biggest developer by sales, said last week that March sales had risen 24 percent year on year, while  2011 profits rose 30 percent. Another firm, China Overseas Land, posted a 21.5 percent profit rise last year.

The mood is reflected in stock prices. While the Shanghai shares index has risen less than 5  percent this year,  a sub-index of Chinese property companies has risen 13 percent. Shares in Vanke and COL are up 13 percent and 22 percent respectively. A Reuters poll of fund  managers showed that investors had upped their weighting for property stocks to 10.9 percent at the end of March, the highest level in two years.

Act now or forever hold your (b)-piece, Obama

It appears the penny has finally dropped in Washington. Bank bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, has unveiled a report that outlines the shocking state of the U.S. commercial mortgage sector, which left unaided could spark “economic damage that could touch the lives of nearly every American”. The Havard Law School Professor and her panel colleagues are talking the kind of apocalyptic language that may just shake the White House and its star policy advisers into facing problems we have now rather simply obsess about those we may or may not encounter in the future. The global banking system may well need some kind of Volcker-esque guidelines to curb the next generation of excessive risk-takers but Obama is putting the cart before the horse in his efforts to haul the economy back on track. Certainly, his and the previous administration has toiled long and hard to stabilise the U.S. housing market, propping up Fannie and Freddie and their dysfunctional offspring, but the subprime mess has distracted attentions from the toxic commercial market, where the clean-up task is no less important. Warren reckons there is about $1.4 trillion worth of outstanding commercial real estate loans in the U.S that will need to be refinanced before 2014, and about half of them are already “underwater,” an industry term that refers to loans larger than the property’s current value. But bank brains are wasting too much time figuring out how the so-called “Volcker rule” might affect their operations and future profitability, instead of getting their arms around underwater real estate loans that could break their institutions in two long before the anti-risk measures even take hold. Obama’s premature challenge to their investment autonomy, which he says cultivated the collapse of banks like Lehmans, is like suturing a papercut while your jugular gapes wide open. Maybe now, as Warren’s report hammers home the threat posed by unperforming commercial real estate debt, Obama will give Wall Street a chance to refocus on the “now” and worry about “tomorrow”, tomorrow.

It appears the penny has finally dropped in Washington.

Bank bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, has unveiled a report that outlines the perilous state of the U.S. commercial mortgage sector, which left unaided could spark “economic damage that could touch the lives of nearly every American”.

The Havard Law School Professor and her panel colleagues are talking the kind of apocalyptic language that may just shock the White House and its star policy advisers into facing problems banks have now rather simply obsess about those they may or may not encounter in the future.

from Raissa Kasolowsky:

Dubai is super enough, thanks

Dubai has sufficient superlatives – record-setting landmarks unique in their size, cost or concept -- to last it for the next decade – so enough already, says Deyaar CEO Markus Giebel.

“I endorse having the tallest building in the world, the first seven-star hotel in the world, the palm,” he says. “What I don’t endorse are attempts to now outdo these superlatives…they are going to last us the next 10 to 15 years.”

Dubai is home -- amongst other attractions -- to the world's largest indoor ski slope, the world's tallest tower, and the world's first, albeit self-rated, seven-star hotel that also sports its own Rolls Royce fleet and helicopter landing platform. The global financial crisis brought a real estate boom in the emirate to a screeching halt, leading to a raft of new, hugely ambitious projects  -- including a 1-km high tower and the world's largest mall -- to be shelved or delayed.

Dubai pride helps Nakheel to save face

    

By Jason Benham

 

It’s the property face of the Gulf’s business and tourist hub and the developer of palm-shaped islands visible from space – so Dubai will simply not allow property firm Nakheel to default on its huge $3.5 billion Islamic bonds which mature in December.

 

Just think of the bad publicity it would bring to the region, and there’s already been plenty of that. Another kick in the teeth is certainly not what Dubai needs. Plenty of critics have joined the ‘bash Dubai” bandwagon and several more are set to join the ranks at some stage. 

 

But any default would mark a failure for Dubai World, the state-owned conglomerate, and a castrophe for Dubai’s government, which has ploughed billions of dollars over recent years into making Dubai what it is today.

Swine flu shakes Spanish property bargain hunters

It must be tough to be a Spanish homeseller right now.

 

Just as investors pluck up the courage to once again dip a toe in the Mediterranean housing market, along comes a killer flu pandemic that keeps bargain-hunting foreigners thousands of miles from a purchase.

 

Earlier this week, Palma Property Auctions – one of Spain’s biggest holiday home auctioneers – said rising swine flu fears among clients had forced it to shelve its eagerly-awaited summer sale.

 

 “We had nine concrete cases of people who called us to say they wanted to have a look at a property and possibly take part in the auction, but they were not going to because of swine flu,” Daniel Westerlund, a spokesman for Palma Property Auctions, told Reuters.

from Funds Hub:

Western investors fear Dubai’s Wild East reputation

By Jason Benham

Glitzy Dubai's property market is in trouble, there's no doubt about that. Just take a look at the hundreds of motionless cranes, unfinished projects and the expats who are leaving in droves as they lose their jobs.

Dubai's future cloudedAnd prices and rents which soared during a six-year boom have crashed since late last year. According to one resident who recently moved in the City, it now costs 150,000 dirhams to rent a three-bedroom flat on the Palm, a man-made island off the coast of the emirate, around the same it would have cost to rent a one-bedroom appartment there a year ago.

It's not just the global downturn thats the concern for Dubai's once-booming property market, but also the lack of transparency and need for greater regulation. And that's what's going to keep the western investor from splashing the cash.

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.