By Michael Stanes, Investment Director at Heartwood Investment Management
Japan’s equity market has suffered more than other developed equity markets in 2016. The overriding factor driving the downturn has been the significant appreciation of the Japanese yen this year, a consequence of its perceived ‘safe-haven’ status. The Japanese yen has followed a remarkably close path to the Nikkei 225, albeit inversely, appreciating by 9% this year against the Nikkei’s 8% fall. This period of yen strength has been in spite of the Bank of Japan’s efforts to depreciate the currency through adopting a negative interest rate policy.
Japanese equities: volatile and cyclical
History shows that Japan’s equity markets are notoriously volatile and cyclical, often characterised by episodes of hope and euphoria only to be replaced by periods of disillusionment and frustration. We have certainly witnessed this episodic rise and fall over the past eighteen months. The Nikkei 225 returned 18.7% between October 2014 and August 2015 in local currency terms, spurred on by aggressive Bank of Japan easing and hopes of overdue reform through so-called ‘Abenomics’, a programme designed to stimulate growth and deflate the economy.
However, when China’s central bank allowed a depreciation of the renminbi in August 2015, global risk aversion took hold on concerns that the Chinese authorities were losing control of China’s economic slowdown. Capital started to flow back into the yen in response to further steep falls in oil prices, on disappointing global economic data and uncertainty surrounding the future path of US interest rates.
It is easy for investors in Japan to become despondent. The macro environment is a source of perennial disappointment. Most recently, manufacturing output and exports have been constrained by slower global growth. Private consumption has not absorbed this slack, remaining subdued irrespective of tight labour market conditions and little price pressure. Furthermore, without the political capital to effect change, the longer-term structural challenges of ageing demographics and a shrinking working age population seem insurmountable.
Micro changes tell a different story of a ‘new’ Japan
Nonetheless, despite all of these macro shortcomings, none of the above has precluded change from being effected at the micro level. There has been a strong focus on improving shareholder value within corporate Japan, particularly through strengthening corporate governance. Though the share price performance of large-cap export-orientated companies has been pressured in the last few months by yen strength, other sectors and stocks exposed to a ‘new’ Japan have told a very different story, particularly among smaller companies.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange Mothers’ Index has returned 38.2% this year in local currency terms and 57.5% in sterling; all of this upside occurring since mid-February. What is telling is the sectoral make-up of this index: more than 50% is in health care, 30% in information technology and 8% in consumer discretionary (Source: Bloomberg, as of 21st April 2016). Investors are tapping those companies that are able to exploit and benefit from structural societal shifts occurring in Japan – an ageing population and changing consumer lifestyles — and which can potentially create long-term value. Examples of such industries include medical diagnostics, robotics and consumer digital.
The narrative of Japanese equity markets in the last few months is therefore rather more nuanced than the headlines suggest. When we took the decision to overweight Japanese equities across our portfolios in the fourth quarter of 2014, part of the rationale was to capture changes at the micro level; we still maintain this view.
The currency implications of investing in Japanese equities
However, as sterling-based investors, we have also been cognisant of the currency implications. We initially invested partly on a hedged basis, taking the view that the yen would depreciate in response to Bank of Japan stimulus. We then successfully removed the hedge in July 2015 and this has proved to be the right decision, since which time the yen has strengthened against sterling by more than 15%.
Nevertheless, we now believe that the yen could be approaching a turning point. The balance of views on the Bank of Japan’s Board appears to be moving in favour of further stimulus, and perhaps not simply through more aggressive use of a negative interest rate policy, following Governor Kuroda’s nomination of two new board members this year. Furthermore, with the Upper House election in the summer and negative rates being very unpopular with locals, arguably it is time for more a creative approach from the Government. Expectations are therefore building that the Bank of Japan will ease policy further to counter the deflationary impact of recent yen strength.
At such times, it is important for investors in Japanese equities to consider both equity and currency implications if they are to gain the most from their investment. On this basis, we now consider it prudent to partially re-hedge some of our Japanese equity exposure.
Using payments to streamline everyday transport
By Venceslas Cartier, Global Head of Transportation & Smart Mobility at Ingenico Enterprise Retail
Once upon a time the only way to get from A to B on public transport was with cash – and likely a pre-paid ticket bought from a physical office. Nowadays, thanks to technological developments, options range from contactless and mobile payments, to in-app tickets and more. As payment methods advance, consumers and merchants are naturally moving towards Mobility as a Service (MaaS) systems, integrating various forms of transport services into a single mobility service, accessible on demand.
This move towards MaaS does not only streamline the consumer experience, it has other positive impacts too. Incentivising public transport use reduces environmental pollution, improves mental wellbeing by reducing travel-related stress, and aids productivity by freeing up time otherwise spent driving. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the current trends affecting the transport sector, as well as how payments can optimise transportation for both operators and consumers alike.
Optimising transport with payments
The payment process is integral to any service. A payment service provider (PSP) can provide a range of key benefits to operators by proving a gateway to the transportation open payment ecosystem, and ensuring they meet objectives in 3 key areas.
- Environmentally, by reducing the use of personal cars and alleviating pollution and congestion.
- Societally, making urban mobility more inclusive in terms of improving access to all areas and for all socioeconomic classes.
- Economically, by optimising investment in eco-structure and fostering financial transactions, therefore improving the wealth of the city.
Payments professionals’ expertise and technological solutions can make payments easy again for transport operators. They can provide a range of options so that the customer can choose which one is right for them, leveraging the capabilities of the mobility services’ infrastructure (contactless, mobile wallets, P2P, closed-loop, QR code, and blockchain).
Furthermore, they can help promote inclusion and sustainable urban development. For example, methods such as prepaid virtual cards, or mobility accounts linked to a prepaid account can reduce the risks of excluding the unbanked. The environmental impact per kilometre can also be reduced, along with the use of vehicles with lower emissions per person per kilometre.
Finally, PSPs can put merchants’ minds at ease, providing payment liability, allowing aggregation of all due amounts from all mobility service providers, and collecting payments in one single transaction from users while dispatching revenue between mobility service providers.
COVID-19’s disruption to the travel industry cannot be overlooked. In fact, research suggests that public transit ridership is down 70% across the globe since the onset of the virus, longer distance travel has seen reductions of up to 90%, and payment by cash has seen a 60% drop.
Being realistic, these behavioural shifts are unlikely to revert anytime soon, so it’s important for merchants to keep this in mind when thinking about payment methods. More than 70% of consumers and travellers say they are likely to avoid the use of cash over the next six months. As a result, more than 40 countries have already raised their contactless payment threshold, further helping consumers to avoid contact with frequently touched pin pads.
However, the pandemic has only accelerated the way things were heading already and highlighted the benefits. Within the context of the pandemic, transportation needs to reinvent itself and adapt its processes to suit the shift in commuter habits that we’ve already seen and will continue to see in the future.
Other trends to keep an eye on
Contactless has been steadily growing on the transport scene, as have mobile payments and in-app purchases. In fact, the recent move to mobile and online ticketing is the most promising method so far, having seen significant growth in the last few years and having been accelerated by COVID-19 as discussed above. Once consumers move to these easy, convenient, and seamless methods, it’s rare that they revert – so it’s a good idea for operators to think how they can cater to these preferences.
Speed and convenience are a must for busy travellers – but not at the expense of data security. Finding the right payments partner is therefore crucial so operators can safeguard their customers’ personal data, while also keeping on top of other security regulations/features such as P2P encryption, PCI certification, and tokenisation.
Next steps for operators
Public transport is essential for many peoples’ everyday lives – COVID-19 or no COVID-19. As such, mobility service providers can make a great difference to their service and operations by implementing the right solutions.
Grey skies ahead – Malta prepares for a gloomy 2021 if they can’t tackle financial crime
By Dhanum Nursigadoo, ComplyAdvantage
With the summer drawing to a close, many countries who rely significantly on warm weather tourism will be assessing the impact of Covid-19. Being a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean you would expect Malta to be taking a significant economical hit – just like we are seeing in other popular European holiday destinations – but this doesn’t take into account the strength of the Maltese economy.
Emerging from the eurozone crisis with one of the most dynamic economies strategically positioned between three continents, Malta has had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU and has recently seen its GDP growth expand year-on-year. But perhaps the most important aspect of the Maltese economy has been its attraction for foreign businesses with only a 5% tax on profits. It is no secret that Malta is a tax haven, probably one of the most effective tax havens in the world.
But you can’t pick and choose who takes shelter, and it’s no secret that money launderers have been taking advantage of the regulatory landscape in this archipelago.
The conditions of a tax haven suit criminal enterprises, who can take advantage of the opaque environment and blend their illegal activities with the same operations enjoyed by high net worth individuals and corporations who are looking to reduce their tax bill. And last year Malta’s keenness for secrecy and avoidance resulted in a damning report by Moneyval – the Council of Europe’s Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) body – which found that while the nation had made some efforts to curb money laundering there was still much to be desired in order to bring the tax haven up to standard. Overall, they were of the opinion that Malta viewed combating money laundering as a non-priority and this resulted in branding Malta with low to partial ratings for 30 out of the 40 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.
The findings of the report were stated to have the potential to “create within the wider public the perception that there may exist a culture of inactivity or impunity”. This follows on from a series of international high-profile stories regarding Malta and financial crime. Most shocking was the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – who investigated corruption and money laundering in her native country – and was killed by a car-bomb three years ago leading to international outrage and condemnation.
Now Malta is in a race against time to turn their reputation around or they will suffer genuine consequences. The FATF have threatened to place Malta on a “greylist” of high-risk jurisdictions unless they have shown a genuine commitment to combatting financial crime and implemented the recommendations of the Moneyval report. If they fail, this would make Malta the first EU country to make the list and join others such as Panama, Syria and Zimbabwe.
The pandemic has actually given Malta more time to meet these obligations, and it has been widely reported that an initial summer deadline has now been moved to October due to the widespread disruption.
As we head into the autumn, there are signs that Malta has begun to take action. The Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) has created and established an empowered AML now headed up by Anthony Eddington, formerly of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and who has previous experience of tackling anti-financial crime at Deutsche Bank. This team has already begun working closely with international experts, specifically partners in the US through the US embassy in Malta and the United States Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). In May this collaboration led to 25 new cases focused on money laundering in particular, and with plans to increase standard inspections and on-site investigations into businesses in Malta, it appears there is a change to the country’s priorities.
Importantly, the report highlighted a problem for countries that choose to become tax havens. In some cases it was not that the Maltese authorities deliberately turned a blind-eye, but simply that they did not have the necessary knowledge to effectively tackle financial crime in the first place. Law enforcement appeared unable to even recognise when crime was occurring.
But this blurring of financial compliance will not help businesses if Malta does indeed become “greylisted” this year. While not as devastating as being blacklisted (the two occupants of this list are Iran and North Korea) there are significant detrimental effects to being put on the FATF greylist. Although this signals that the country is committed to developing AML/CFT plans (unlike the blacklist) it still sends out a warning signal to the world that this is a high-risk area, with the country in question subject to increased monitoring and potential sanctions from the IMF and the World Bank. Make no mistake, being put on the greylist will be catastrophic for Malta’s economy.
It remains to be seen how the work to avoid such a calamity will affect Malta’s tax haven status. Perhaps with an increased fight against financial crime there will be less ability to defend one of Europe’s most competitive tax regimes. But if Malta does not show they are genuinely committed to tackling this problem, then the pandemic disruption to the island’s tourism may be minor in comparison to the grey clouds that now approach their shores.
How will the UK prepare a supply chain for the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines?
By Don Marshall, Marketing role at Exporta.
The challenge of mobilising a supply chain for the introduction of a global and nationwide vaccine will be enormously complex. The process will be costly, and it’s likely the figures will stretch to the hundreds of millions for both the production of the vaccine itself and its distribution across the UK. We must prepare and plan a supply chain strategy to ensure it reaches those most in need in a timely and safe manner.
The task of immunising a whole population is something that has never been planned or likely imagined by anyone within a standard supply chain. A supply chain that goes directly from the manufacturer to the end consumer, or user/ patient in this case, is complex and goes beyond the scope of any single logistics company. It would have to be conceived and delivered via a large joint effort and collaboration between multiple organisations. Effectively distributing the vaccine will depend on the source of manufacture, its storage requirements, and protection of the vaccines from manufacture through to patient administration.
The majority of vaccines require storage within a specific temperature range and need to be handled safely and in hygienic conditions. Depending on where the vaccines are manufactured, the transport legs will vary; if they are coming from overseas, air freight will increase cost and complexity. In addition to supplying the vaccine, syringes, needles and containers also need to be taken into account when preparing the supply chain.
Securing the specific types of boxes or containers i.e. the lidded containers normally used for transporting pharmaceutical products will mean acquiring them from all available stockists and manufacturers. Delivery vehicles would then need to be considered, with temperature-control factored in. The medical supply chain can inform their approach to distribution by assessing data from previous supply chains, and how large quantities of vaccines have been sent out in the past. Collating successful vaccine delivery examples from other parts of the world would be advantageous here, the more we can do to prepare for a logistical challenge of this magnitude, the better.
The distribution of this COVID vaccine will be unique in its scale and for that reason, additional supply chains will need to be mobilised. Apart from medical supply chains, those best suited for this type of transportation are the fresh/frozen food industries and supermarkets. I would mobilise these businesses to assist with the vaccine’s distribution wherever possible and use their car parks and facilities for the temporary medical centres needed to administer the vaccine to the public.
Using the food industry and supermarket networks would leave the current pharmaceutical supply chains intact for health services, pharmacies and the NHS. It would protect those vital services and continue to serve communities across the UK. Inevitably, it would place a short term strain on food supply chains, but these are supply chains that are well-equipped and versed in coping with excess demand i.e. the spike endured from the brief spell of public panic buying at the start of the crisis. With adequate resourcing and planning, I believe the UK supply chain can and will handle this challenge.
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