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Hermes: Italy and Europe – the integration dilemma

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Hermes: Italy and Europe – the integration dilemma

While Italy’s short-term economic outlook includes some positive elements, material downside risks loom amid high policy uncertainty. In her latest Ahead of the Curve, Silvia Dall’Angelo, Senior Economist at Hermes Investment Management, argues the Italian situation is a symptom of deep-rooted malaise and requires a credible and concerted response.

 Italy’s recent political imbroglio reignited the debate over the European Union’s (EU) future and the viability of the European single currency within its current institutional framework.

While the situation has normalised, the landscape in Italy remains fragile. It is emblematic of the challenges the Eurozone is facing in a new political era. This new political backdrop emphasises national sovereignty, has an inward-looking approach and favours centrifugal forces, posing hurdles to European integration.

Effects of the crisis

Italy’s double-dip recession – the global financial crisis in 2008, followed by the European Sovereign Debt Crisis in 2012/13 – was particularly severe, as the country was ill-equipped to deal with it in the first place. The typically short-lived political cycle – with 65 administrations at the helm since World War II – has favoured wasteful public spending and quick fixes, rather than long-sighted structural reforms. In this context, public debt grew quickly, thereby reducing the fiscal space available at times of crisis.

Today, Italy is still feeling the effects of the double-dip: Italian real GDP is 5% below the levels that prevailed before the 2008 crisis (see chart). The unemployment rate has declined, but at 11%, it is still high. Additionally, youth unemployment is elevated at about 30%.

Since the double-dip recession, real GDP has recovered in major Eurozone countries, with the exception of Italy 

Short-term positives and challenges

The short-term economic outlook includes some positive elements, but material downside risks loom amid high policy uncertainty, both domestically and externally.

In the last couple of years, the recovery has accelerated somewhat: annual GDP growth came in at 1.5% in 2017, which, by recent Italian standards, is a decent number. However, this is still below the growth rates that are currently prevailing in the rest of the Eurozone.

The sustainability of Italy’s recovery seems limited should support from external demand falter. Indeed, the fundamentals for domestic demand are mixed. Real disposable income has improved slightly, reflecting improvements in the labour market and contained consumer inflation. Yet, the labour market is still weak. Employment has improved in recent years, but the quality of jobs has deteriorated.

While the European Central Bank’s accommodative monetary policy has also contributed to Italy’s recovery in recent years, the main hurdle to credit expansion in Italy is the condition of the banking system, which is still burdened by a high amount of non-performing loans. The situation has improved in the last couple of years: net non-performing loans have declined to 3% of GDP from a peak of more than 5% of GDP in 2015-16.

 Domestic politics and policies

The main risks for the Italian situation stem from domestic politics and policies. The new coalition populist government is inherently fragile. Its main political components are rooted in two parties that have different approaches, different goals and a different electoral base. This could lead to inconsistent and ineffective government action and, more importantly, tensions within the coalition that could compromise the tenure of the government. In this respect, the risk of new elections sometime next year leading to renewed political instability is significant.

Importantly, initial rumblings about Italy’s euro membership have quickly dissipated and high-level government officials have stressed the country’s commitment to the single currency. Public debt amounts to about €2.3tn and 70% of it is held domestically. In general, Italy has a solid net external international position – with net international liabilities amounting to only around 7% of GDP in Q4 2017. Therefore, it makes little sense for the country to exit the euro and renege on its external debt.

While it is unlikely that all of the fiscal measures promised by the coalition will come to pass in the upcoming budget, even a partial inclusion would lead to fiscal slippage. Financial markets have already demanded greater compensation for holding Italian debt since the bumpy government formation a month ago, as they now perceive it as riskier. Indeed, Italy is running a high public debt of more than 130% of GDP and the path to sustainability is a very narrow one.

 Advancing European integration

The Italian situation is a symptom of deep-rooted malaise: it requires serious consideration and a credible and concerted response from both domestic and European politicians.

Domestically, a combination of limited and targeted fiscal stimulus and structural reforms would be helpful. There are quite a few low-hanging fruit: the new government could make the judiciary system more efficient, simplify the tax system and favour business creation and competitiveness in several sectors, services notably. Fiscal space should be used to lower taxes on labour and to spur investment in innovation, education and infrastructure. However, it is unclear whether the current Italian government has the political capital and the vision needed to pursue structural reform and targeted fiscal stimulus by implementing reforms that are unlikely to pay off in the short term.

In general, despite making some progress since 2009, the gap between core and periphery countries within the Eurozone has persisted – and significant convergence is still far away. This implies that the next crisis is likely to have a disparate impact across different member countries, thereby acting as an asymmetric shock. At present, there is no mechanism in place that can respond effectively to shocks hitting different countries unevenly.

This requires a concerted response: the European integration process needs to advance. European leaders will have to work to fix the shortcomings of the European project, providing a stronger political and fiscal underpinning to the single currency.

Historically, the European integration process has leaped forward at times of crisis. Therefore, the materialisation of the populist threat may act as the catalyst this time. The presence of anti-establishment forces in the Italian government should be a reminder that the general malaise and disillusion should be taken seriously.

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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