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DATACENTERS AS AN ASSET

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Capitalization-weighted-index

Philip Low, BroadGroup

Capitalization-weighted-index

Capitalization-weighted index of large, quoted companies that are directly involved in the datacentre sector – Source: AHV Associates LLP

Private equity appetite appears set to increase its focus on opportunities in datacenter and cloud.
The third party datacenter sector is still a relatively immature one – in market structure, productization, marketing and globalization. There are still relatively few quoted players and many highly fragmented markets. But private equity investors see great scope for moving to IPO, and scaling up regional players. CoreSite and Telx managed floats in 2010, as well as Malaysian player CSF in London, but a better market outlook would have seen several others. We expect further flotations to occur in 2013.

There are two key drivers for investors; growth and financial engineering:

1. Property/real estate

Investors like the REIT model in the industry, and particularly companies like US company Digital Realty (DLR) with a current market capitalization of around US$7.94 billion. They also very much like the model – blue chip clients, average lease period of around 13 years, annual rent escalators, sticky clients and formidable lease clauses. From a broader property angle, they also see data centres as an ‘alternative asset’ and even an opportunity to convert unsold commercial properties into datacenters.

2. Stock performance

Other investors look more at M&A activity and stock performance in the sector. Until around 2005, investors were particularly deterred by fears of a repeat of a dot com bust and industry over-supply, the sheer cost of new build datacenters and the perceived risks in the industry. But market valuations of publicly quoted players in the sector have consistently outperformed both Nasdaq and FTSE over the past few years (see chart above). So even through the darkest of recessions, the industry has proven resilient and the market performance of players such as TelecityGroup (TCY.L), Rackspace (RAX) or DuPont Fabros (DFT) has been exceptional. Investors want to gain access to these ‘growing tech stocks’.

Businesses rely completely on Internet speed and the increasingly complex management of data. Such “cloud” data must be stored offsite at colossal data and colocation centers – facilities housing computers, servers, telecommunications and storage equipment, and systems to backup and protect data with resilient power and cooling systems. Huge datacenter developments are underway by the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple in the United States.

Europe is now in its third stage of evolution with datacenters targeting vertical segments such as cloud, media, and other financials presenting a more challenging marketing proposition. At the same time the third party datacenter industry is still relatively immature in internationalization which has particularly attracted private equity investors who see scope for scaling up regional players and potentially moving to IPO.

China is catching up too, with current research by BroadGroup revealing the development of 30 very large scale “cloud” datacenter builds underway across 17 provinces with a total investment value of US$44 billion.

Investors are rightly concerned about markets that ‘seem too good to be true’ and the datacenter market presents a number of challenges, of which the two most pressing are the risks of over-supply and the lack of experience and expertise of many new entrants. Supply hot spots, such as New Jersey, Santa Clara and the outskirts of London did emerge in recent years. Datacenter start-ups often have fewer than 10 employees, with very limited background and understanding of the market. The first question for every investor is to see the elusive anchor tenant – not just the first tangible revenues for the site but some validation of the offering and provider.

The other key investor concern – that we may see a ‘return’ to post dot com days – is not valid. The market has totally changed over this period, and demand is now much broader, deeper and more varied.

The market structure will look a lot different in 2-3 years’ time, and there are a lot of opportunities for investors to benefit from this consolidation. However, many ill-conceived start-ups in the sector will also fail, and great care needs to be taken in the backing the ‘right horse’.

A common enterprise approach is to use a combination of leasing and ownership. This allows companies to control a primary datacenter and outsource less strategic ones. This can also provide an emergency back-up. Some of the world’s largest companies, including banks, outsource certain functions such as email and order processing, while keeping their core financial applications in-house.

The outsourcing of datacenters is part of a trend to remove the fixed costs of IT, or to keep them low, while accessing the flexibility to add programmes and products. But the greatest driver is power, its availability, quality and price.

BroadGroup believes that power will become more important than space as a differentiator for datacenters over the next few years*. While the “Big 4” markets of London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris remain dominant, location continues as an issue. For location agnostic enterprises, the increasing opportunities of a new European “power hinterland” – Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, Iceland and Finland and other countries present the ability to tap vast renewable energy resources with long term fixed price contracts.

This outcome fits with the wider scheme of globalisation – to a point. An assessment of countries which have proferred themselves as outsourcing destinations over the past few years offers some indications of what will happen next.Bg1

*Datacentres Europe IV published June 2012 – www.broad-group.com

 

 

 

 

Investing

Northern Trust: Outsourcing Accelerates Through Pandemic as Investment Managers Seek to Improve Margins, Enhance Business Resilience, and Future-Proof Operations

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Northern Trust: Outsourcing Accelerates Through Pandemic as Investment Managers Seek to Improve Margins, Enhance Business Resilience, and Future-Proof Operations 1

White Paper Sees Increase in Managers Outsourcing Middle and Front Office Functions to Achieve Optimal Business Structures

According to a white paper published today by Northern Trust (Nasdaq: NTRS), investment managers of all sizes and strategies have been prompted to undertake a comprehensive review of their operating models as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which has accelerated existing trends that are compounding cost pressures. This has led increasing numbers of managers to outsource in-house dealing and other functions, such as foreign exchange and transition management, hitherto seen as core.

While cost savings remain a core driver, and indeed are one outcome of outsourcing, costs are no longer the only focus. Far from being solely a defensive reaction to increased pressure on margins, the white paper (‘From Niche to Norm’) describes outsourcing as part of the target operating model, or moving toward the ‘Optimal State’ for many investment managers, and  explains how the focus “has expanded to the variety of other potential benefits offered – enhanced capabilities, improved governance and operational resilience.”

Gary Paulin, global head of Integrated Trading Solutions at Northern Trust Capital Markets said: “The pandemic has challenged a range of operational assumptions. Working from home has, for example, questioned the need for a portfolio manager to be in close proximity with the dealing desk. Previously considered essential, the pandemic has effectively forced firms to ‘outsource‘ their trading desks to remote working setups and the effectiveness of this process has disproved the requirement for proximity, in turn, easing the path to third-party outsourcing. Many investment managers are actively considering outsourcing to a hyper-scale, expert provider as a potential, cost efficient solution – one that maintains service quality and, hopefully, improves it whilst adding resiliency.”

Northern Trust’s white paper compares outsourced trading to software-as-a-service stating: “instead of carrying the cost and complexity of running an in-house solution, firms move to an outsourced one, free up capital to invest in strategic growth and move costs from a fixed to a variable basis in line with the direction of travel for revenues.” 

Guy Gibson, global head of Institutional Brokerage at Northern Trust Capital Markets said: “The opportunity to deploy capital to build new fund structures, develop new offerings, focus on distribution and enhance in-house research has been taken up by several of our clients to the benefit of their investment approach, and to the benefit of their investors.  Additionally, in the last two months alone, many firms have recognized that outsourcing to a well-capitalized, global platform has enabled them to take advantage of cost-contained growth opportunities in new markets.”

A further development, which has echoes of the journey the technology industry has already undertaken, is the move towards ‘whole office’ solutions, which represent the next potential wave in outsourcing.

According to Paulin; “recently we have observed a growing number of managers wanting to outsource to a single, hyper-scale professional service provider who can do everything, everywhere. This aligns with Northern Trust’s strategy to deliver platform solutions for the whole office, serving our clients’ needs across the entire investment lifecycle.”

The white paper can be downloaded here.

Integrated Trading Solutions is Northern Trust’s outsourced trading capability that combines worldwide locations and trading expertise in equities and fixed income and derivatives with access to global markets, high-quality liquidity and an integrated middle and back office service as well as other services, such as FX. It helps asset owners and asset managers to meaningfully lower costs, reduce risk, manage regulatory compliance and enhance transparency and operational efficiency.

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How are investors traversing the UK’s transition out of lockdown?

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How are investors traversing the UK’s transition out of lockdown? 2

By Giles Coghlan, Chief Currency Analyst, HYCM

Just when we thought we had overcome the initial health challenges posed by COVID-19, the UK Government has once again introduced lockdown measures in certain regions to curb a rise in new cases. This is happening at a time when the government is trying to bring about the country’s post-pandemic recovery and prevent a prolonged economic downturn.

This is the reality of the “new normal” – a constant battle to both contain the spread of the virus but also avoid extended economic stagnation.

Of course, no matter how many policies are introduced to spur on investment, traders and investors are likely to act with caution for the foreseeable future. There are simply too many unknowns to content with at the moment.

To try and measure investor sentiment towards different asset classes at present, HYCM recently commissioned research to uncover which assets investors are planning to invest in over the coming 12 months. After surveying over 900 UK-based investors, our figures show just how COVID-19 has affected different investor portfolios. I have analysed the key findings below.

Cash retreat

At present, it seems that by far the most common asset class for investors is cash savings, with 78% of investors identifying as having some form of savings in a bank account. Other popular assets were stocks and shares (48%) and property (38%). While not surprising, when viewed in the context of investor’s future plans for investment, it becomes evident that security, above all else, is what investors are currently seeking.

A third of those surveyed (32%) said that they intended to put more of their wealth into their savings account, the most common strategy by far among those surveyed. This was followed by stocks and shares (21%), property (17%), and fixed interest securities (17%).

When asked about what impact COVID-19 has had on their portfolios throughout 2020, 43% stated that their portfolio had decreased in value as a consequence of the pandemic. This has evidently had an effect on investors’ mindsets, with 73% stating that they were not planning on making any major investment decisions for the rest of the year.

Looking at the road ahead

So, it seems that many investors are adopting a wait-and-see approach; hoping that the promise of a V-shaped recovery comes to fruition. The issue, however, is that this exact type of hesitancy when it comes to investing may well slow the pace of economic recovery. Financial markets need stimulus in order to help facilitate a post-pandemic economic resurgence, but if said financial stimulation only arrives once the recovery has already begun, the economy risks extended stagnation.

It seems, then, that there are two possible set outcomes on the path ahead. The first is a steady decline in COVID-19 cases, then an economic downturn as the markets correct themselves, followed by a return to relative economic stability. The second potential outcome is a second spike of COVID-19 cases which incurs a second nationwide lockdown – delaying an economic revival for the foreseeable future. At present, the former of these two scenarios is seemingly playing out with economic growth and GDP steadily increasing; but recent COVID-19 case upticks show that it’s still too soon to be certain of either scenario.

A cautious approach, therefore, will evidently remain the most common investment strategy looking ahead. But investors must remember that, even in the most uncertain times, there are always opportunities for returns on investment. Merely transforming a varied portfolio into cash savings risks a long-term decline in value.

High Risk Investment Warning: CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 73% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money. For more information please refer to HYCM’s Risk Disclosure.

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Hatton Gardens 5 top tips for investing in Diamonds

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Hatton Gardens 5 top tips for investing in Diamonds 3

By Ben Stinson, Head of eCommerce at Diamonds Factory

Investing in diamonds can be extremely rewarding, but only if you know what to look for. For investors who lack experience, finding your diamond in the rough can be quite daunting.

For even the most beginner of diamond investors, the essentials are fairly obvious. For instance, you need to ask yourself will the diamond hold its value over time? What’s the overall condition of the stone and the jewellery? Is there history behind the item in question?

Although common sense plays a big part in investing, people often need insider tips and tricks to go from beginner to expert. Tony French, the in-house Diamond Consultant, at Diamonds Factory shares his professional knowledge on the 5 most important things to look for when investing in diamonds.

1: Using cut, weight and colour to determine value

Firstly, consider the shape, colour, and weight of your diamond, as this can play a pivotal role in guaranteeing growth in the value of your item. Granted, investing trends change with time, but a round cut of your diamond will almost always be the most sought after. The cut of your diamond is incredibly important, as it can influence the sparkle and therefore, the overall value. It’s a similar story for the intensity of some colours, such as Pink, Red, Blue, Green etc. Concerning weight, the heavier (bigger) stones will generally increase in value by a bigger percentage. Collectively these factors also contribute to the supply and demand aspect, which will determine their high price, and will ensure your item is re-sellable.

2: Provenance

Looking for significant value? Well, aim to own jewellery or diamonds that come from an important public figure. If you’re lucky enough to own a piece that has significant history, or was owned by a celebrity or person of interest, it’s an absolute must to have concrete evidence of this. Immediately, this proof will increase an item’s overall value, and there’s a good chance the stardom of your item might drum up interest amongst diehard fans, increasing the value even further…

Equally, it’s possible to proactively bring provenance to unique diamonds of yours. For instance, you can offer to loan bespoke, or unusual pieces for film, theatre, or TV performances – then it can be advertised as worn by xyz.

3: Find the source

Ben Stinson

Ben Stinson

Establishing your diamond’s source is one of the most important things you can do when investing in diamonds. If you’re starting out, try to purchase diamonds that have NOT been owned by too many people, as the overall value of the diamond will reflect multiple ownership. Alternatively, I’d always recommend buying from suppliers like ourselves or other suppliers and retailers, who buy directly from the people who have had them certified.

Primarily, this will allow you to have a greater degree of transparency, which is crucial when buying such a valuable item. Next, you should immediately see an increase in value of your diamonds, as identifying a source will allow traceability and therefore, market context.

4: Certification

Linked closely with my previous point, is the requirement to ensure that your diamonds are certified by a credible lab, and you have the evidence to prove so (a written document with specific grading details about your diamonds) – this will remove any doubts of impropriety.

It’s essential to remember that not all labs are the same, and many labs are better than others. Both the AGS (American Gem Society) and GIA (Gemological Institute of America) have great reputations and are world renowned. I’d recommend doing your own research into the labs, and when you’ve found the pieces that you’d like to invest in, then make an informed decision based upon your findings. Ultimately, proving certification will make your stones easier to insure, and deep down, you can have peace of mind knowing you have got what you have paid for.

Don’t forget to keep this paperwork in a safe location as well – you’d be surprised how many people we’ve met who have lost, or forget where they’ve placed it.

5:  Patience is a virtue…

If the market is strong, it might be tempting to look for an immediate sale once you’ve purchased a high value item. However, I suggest holding onto your diamonds for some time before even thinking about selling. More often than not, an item is more likely to increase in value over a few years than a few days – try and wait a little longer!

Equally, I would encourage having your diamonds, or jewellery professionally valued regularly. If you don’t have the knowledge to make a rough judgement on how much your pieces are worth, a consultant or expert can provide both a valuation, and contextualise that amount in the wider market. From there, you should be empowered with the knowledge to decide whether to keep or sell.

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