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HAS CENTRAL BANK WIZARDRY RUN ITS COURSE?

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HAS CENTRAL BANK WIZARDRY RUN ITS COURSE?

By David Absolon, Investment Director at Heartwood Investment Management

Financial markets are increasingly focussed on the diminishing effects of the ongoing attempts by central banks to restore growth and inflation. The focus most recently has been on the Bank of Japan (BoJ), which was one of the first major central banks to enter into negative interest rates in January this year. Yet the impact of this policy to date has been limited, and some may argue in fact counter-productive, given the continuing negligible levels of growth and inflation in Japan.

However, it is not just in Japan where central bankers appear flummoxed. Despite nearly eight years of near-zero levels of interest rates, the US economy has not seen a meaningful acceleration in growth in the post-crisis years. Similarly, in Europe and the UK rates of growth are far below historic norms. Investors are now questioning whether ultra-accommodative central bank policies – emergency measures implemented after the Financial Crisis in 2008 – are now exacerbating the problem rather than offering a remedy, a scenario that previous Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called the ‘’benefit, cost and risk’. To highlight some of the challenges:

  • Abundant central bank liquidity seems to have had a marginal impact on the real economy. Critics will argue it has pumped up capital markets to unwarranted levels, thereby benefiting the rich who largely hold those assets and amplifying income inequality even further.
  • Actual inflation and inflation expectations remain low and are falling in some economies such as Japan. Ultra-low interest rates appear to discourage investment, leading to a ‘hoarding’ effect among consumers and companies. Cheap money is all well and good, but there has to be demand for it.
  • Aggressive quantitative easing (QE) – central bank asset purchase programmes – diminishes future returns across asset markets and leads to a likely long term misallocation of capital. ‘Zombie’ companies (those that might otherwise not survive were it not for ultra-low interest rates) were once talked about only in Japan but there are worries that this may be a more general phenomenon across developed economies, exacerbating oversupply and general lack of pricing power.
  • QE depresses longer term interest rates, presenting challenges for pension funds and insurers to meet future liabilities. This is a particular problem across developed economies grappling with ageing populations.
  • Negative interest rates have a damaging impact on commercial banks’ profitability, hindering their ability to raise short-term deposits. These funds would otherwise be used to seek profit by lending at a higher long-term rate. This constraint on bank lending effectively represents a tightening of financial conditions.
  • Currency volatility is being encouraged, but not always in a way reflecting a central bank’s specific objectives. This has most clearly been seen in Japan where negative interest rates have not had their desired effect. The yen has strengthened 15% on a trade-weighted basis since January and this has hurt large-cap exporters, contributing to weaker economic activity. In the eurozone too, the currency has been relatively stable on a trade-weighted basis, and now European Central Bank policymakers are more focussed on generating credit growth rather than boosting external demand.
  • Liquidity is likely becoming a bigger risk in bond markets. Bond prices have seen more price volatility over the past couple of years, albeit in isolated episodes. This has been particularly evident in Japan in the past few weeks, where longer-dated Japanese government bond (JGB) yields have seen sharp price swings relative to recent history. With the BoJ owning nearly 40% of the JGB market [Source: Japan Macro Advisors], there are worries that it is running out of bonds to buy due to the lack of sellers.

Monetary policy alone will not restore growth and inflation

Growing dissent among central bank policymakers attests to the stresses placed upon them in their efforts to move inflation rates nearer to target. The BoJ’s ‘yield curve control’ policy announced following the September meeting has been positioned as a more forceful approach to lifting inflation. However, this policy, which places a cap on 10-year JGB yields at or around zero to suppress yields at the short-end of the curve, did not met with unanimity. Some may view it as just another measure which prolongs and deepens the monetary policy experiment with unknowable consequences.

Moreover, the US Federal Reserve September policy meeting saw three dissenters who voted for an interest rate rise. The ‘hawks’ place more weight on the inflation outlook, believing that the transitory effects of lower energy prices and a stronger US dollar will diminish. However, others are more concerned about the strength of the overall economy, citing the levelling off of the US unemployment rate in recent months, due to a moderate increase in labour supply, as evidence that further employment gains are needed before the recovery is assured.

What is becoming clear from the various September central bank policy meetings is that central banks are struggling on their own to restore economic growth to a sustainable trend. Hopes were high ahead of the BoJ meeting that the resulting actions would potentially be a game changer. However, in our view, the decisions to place monetary controls on the yield curve and implement a more flexible approach to expand the amount of money in the economy are more evidence that policymakers are running out of productive ideas. Their ability to impact the real economy and to restore inflation is dwindling. Central bank commentary continues to strike a cautious tone. The BoJ has left the door open for additional easing. It is also significant that a data dependent Federal Reserve has revised lower its ‘neutral’ interest rate – the level of interest rates where the economy is at trend rate.

Ultimately, though, the burden has to fall to governments to administer policies and foster meaningful structural economic change. This will entail piling more debt on already highly indebted government balance sheets. Critics will say that history shows debt on debt rarely works and that governments have a very poor track record of allocating resources efficiently. However, even they would accept that direct government spending has a better chance of ending up in the real economy than current monetary tools. While the baton needs to be passed to governments, this seems only a long-term prospect.

How should investors position their portfolios?

In the meantime, investors are caught between an environment littered with macro uncertainties and one in which asset prices continue to benefit from the slosh of central-bank-induced liquidity. We believe the most prudent strategy is to stay close to neutral in equities, have a bias towards shorter-dated bonds, and to look to other asset classes for alternative sources of returns. At the same time, we are holding ample liquidity to take advantage of further periods of volatility as they inevitably occur.

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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