Global Investing

SWFs climbing the German wall

The Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment’s latest report on foreign direct investment looks at inward flows to Germany.  Things look like they were a bit better last year than the year before, apparently.

But buried in the report from Aschaffenburg University economist Thomas Jost is some interesting data regarding  sovereign wealth funds.

In April last year, Germany responded to concerns about the influence of sovereign wealth funds by introducing rules allowing for a review of planned acquisitions by non-EU/EFTA foreign companies and SWFs of existing German companies.

According to the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, pace Jost, between the introduction of the rules and May this year, 34 companies applied for so-called certificated of non-objection. All got their approval within an average of two weeks and none were referred for a special  review.

So on the face of it, the law has not stopped inward FDI into Germany, but there are questions that need to be answered. How many of the 34 applicants were sovereign wealth funds? How much have the rules put SWFs and other companies off?  As Jost puts it:

There’s oil in them thar wealth funds

Some interesting new data on sovereign wealth funds from State Street Global Advisors, a huge fund firm that does a lot of business with them. Most interesting, perhaps, is that the vast majority of sovereign wealth fund money comes from oil and gas revenues rather than from countries building up large foreign reserves from other trade, eg China.

    – The U.S. firm identified 37 major sovereign wealth funds worth a total of $3 trillion. – More than two-thirds, or 70 percent, of that money came from oil and gas interests. – Of the 37, all had at least $3 billion in assets. – Eight of them had more than $100 billion. – Only 13 of the 37 funds were not based on commodity wealth. – Asia had the largest number of SWFs at 13. – The 10 funds based in the Middle East had nearly half the wealth, or 46 percent, between them.

These funds, incidentally, are becoming more like mainstream investment companies by the day. State Street says they are eventually going to turn into the equivalent of large public sector pension funds and could well start becoming more active as shareholders in companies in which they invest.

A black swan in the desert

Just when investors were settling down to lock in a few of the year’s profits and put their feet up for the end of the year holidays, a black swan has come waddling out of the desert to put everything on edge.

The unwelcome cygnus atratus came in the form of Gulf emirate Dubai telling creditors of Dubai World and property group Nakheel that debt repayments would be delayed.  Fears of contagion spread widely, hitting world stocks, lifting the dollar out of its basement and driving demand for European debt so much that a roughly 6-month trading range for futures was breached.

It all may settle down soon. Dubai says the problem does not apply to its big international ports group.  Meanwhile, the emirate is a pretty leveraged place, but fellow emirates and neighbouring countries such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pretty flush with cash. They could even step in to help as a matter of solidarity.

from MacroScope:

Chile, Singapore among most transparent SWFs

Chile, UAE, Singapore, Azerbaijan, Ireland and Norway claim top rankings on the latest transparency index, published by SWF Institute. At the bottom of the ranking is Venezuela, Oman, Nigeria, Mauritania, Kiribati, Iran, Brunei and Algeria.

The Linaburg-Maduell index is calculated with 10 principles -- such as whether the fund provides up-to-date, independently audited annual reports, or whether it provides clear strategies and objectives. It also gives points on whether the fund gives ownership percentage of company hodlings, total market value, returns and management compensation.

Enhancing transparency is a key task for sovereign wealth funds, whose often opaque operations have come under heavy criticism by some Western politicians who suspect them of investing with political, rather than commercial, motives.

from MacroScope:

Australia’s SWF lags in returns

Australia's Future Fund reveals that the fund's mixed asset portfolio (excluding Telstra holding) returned 5.6 percent in the third quarter.

The fund has just over 10 percent in Australian equities, 22.8 percent in global equities. Safer instruments dominate, with debt holdings at 24 percent and cash at 31 percent.

The mixed-asset fund significantly underperforms an equity-only portfolio. For example, the MSCI world equity index has risen more than 17 percent in the Q3 alone.

from DealZone:

Sovereign Funds sextuple down

They may be placing smaller bets, but sovereign wealth funds were back with a vengeance in the third quarter.

Global corporate mergers and acquisitions activity involving sovereign wealth funds jumped sixfold to nearly $22 billion in the quarter, with 37 deals completed. Global announced M&A volumes involving state investment vehicles stood at $21.8 billion, up from $3.6 billion in the second quarter, according to our data.

The number of deals more than doubled from 17 in the April-June period. Only two weeks into the fourth quarter, there were five pending or completed deals with a combined value of $164.7 million. At the height of the boom in the first quarter of 2006, sovereign wealth funds sealed 35 deals worth $45.7 billion.

from MacroScope:

SWFs by the Caspian

The world's leading sovereign wealth funds are gathering in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, for a two-day inaugural meeting which ends on Friday.

A year after adopting the Santiago Principles of best practice guidelines, they are meeting next to the Caspian sea to review investment activities and assess how regulation and efforts to open up are helping them gain wider acceptance in a still-sceptical world.

The participants include SWFs from China, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Australia, Libya, Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand. The meeting is hosted by the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan - which made a record (and rare for SWFs) profit last year thanks to a conservative investment strategy.  The $11-billion fund, which made a record profit of around $300 million, or 3.7-3.8 percent in 2008, has said it wants to add riskier assets back onto the portfolio gradually.

from MacroScope:

SWFs and ethical investing: serving multitude of objectives

Sovereign wealth funds, eager to be accepted in the West, are increasingly interested in showing the world that they care about environment and governance by investing in socially responsible firms.

It all sounds good, but the biggest shortfall of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is that it lacks convincing performance details. Therefore, SRI or ethical investing for SWFs is not just about returns: It allows them to combine a multitude of objectives, such as portfolio diversification, enhancing transparency, meeting social goals and gaining acceptance even among critics who suspect they operate politically.

SRI, already a $2.71 trillion industry in the US, involves buying shares in companies that manage environmental, social and governance risks. For example, firms which make clean technologies are in, while businesses that pollute the environment, abuse human rights or produce nuclear arms are out.

Sustainable investing and SWFs

Government-owned institutions are becoming big drivers of sustainable investing — or buying firms which are socially and environmentally responsible, or sectors which tackle climate change or resource scarcity.

Norway’s $400-billion-plus sovereign wealth fund, which is the world’s second largest, is a big advocate of “green” investing, naming and shaming companies which do not fit the investment guidelines set by the government.

The guidelines rule out holding investments in certain firms,  for instance those that produce nuclear arms or cluster munitions, or that damage the environment or abuse human rights.

from MacroScope:

Tale of two SWFs

As the world moves closer to the end of the credit crisis, sovereign wealth funds around the world are experiencing mixed fortunes.

Good news comes from Singapore's SWF Temasek, which springs back into gains with its portfolio climbing 32 percent between April to end-July after a 30 percent loss in the year to end-March.

Announcing its annual performance report (which should please the country's taxidrivers), Temasek said it is open to investing in financials and resources in the long term and it has bought stakes in South Korea's ENK, cylinder suppliers, and Brazil's oilfield services firm San Antonio.