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MERCER’S EUROPEAN ASSET ALLOCATION SURVEY: PENSION FUNDS FOCUS ON BOND EXPOSURES AND ALTERNATIVES AS NEGATIVE YIELDS BITE

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MERCER’S EUROPEAN ASSET ALLOCATION SURVEY: PENSION FUNDS FOCUS ON BOND EXPOSURES AND ALTERNATIVES AS NEGATIVE YIELDS BITE
  • Institutional investors keep the faith with emerging markets
  • Increasing focus on cashflow-driven financing as 42% of schemes are cashflow-negative
  • Report shows that smaller UK pension schemes most exposed to Brexit related volatility

New data from Mercer shows that institutional investors across Europe are reviewing their bond portfolios as negative yields reduce income and have an impact on their ability to meet and hedge their liabilities.  According to Mercer’s 2016 Asset Allocation Survey pension schemes are also seeking to manage volatility (especially in the more mature markets): average equity allocations across the region have reduced since the 2015 survey, with a corresponding increase in allocations to alternative assets.

Mercer’s European Asset Allocation Survey gathers investment information from nearly 1,100 institutional investors across 14 European countries, reflecting total assets of around €930 billion. The report also highlights that institutional investors have, in the main, retained allocations to emerging markets, despite a sustained period of disappointing performance since 2013.

“It is encouraging to see institutional investors taking a long-term view in relation to emerging markets, in marked contrast to the behavior of retail investors since the taper tantrum in 2013. We continue to advocate exposure to emerging markets as part of a well-diversified growth portfolio,” said Phil Edwards, European Director of Strategic Research in Mercer’s Investments business.

In the UK, an increasing number of plans are adopting or considering a cashflow-driven approach to their funding and investment strategy. This trend corresponds with a rise in the proportion of plans that are now cashflow-negative and increasingly focused on what their ‘end-game’ looks like. In addition the report notes that, on average, smaller UK pension plans are more exposed to any market volatility associated with the EU referendum.

According to Nathan Baker, Principal in Mercer’s Investments business, “Although it’s not possible to know now with any certainty how the referendum will impact portfolios, a typical small UK plan is more UK-centric, more exposed to movements in sterling versus other currencies, and is managed in a less dynamic fashion. On balance, they would appear more exposed to any associated volatility, and less well positioned to take advantage of it.”

The report highlights four main trends, two of which are specific to the UK:

Negative Bond Yields
Although bond allocations across Europe in aggregate remained broadly flat over the year, schemes in regions experiencing some of the lowest yields, such as Sweden and Germany, saw bond exposures fall.

In general, within bond portfolios there has been a shift away from low- or negative-yielding domestic government bonds towards higher-yielding non-domestic and/or corporate bonds. The varied responses of plans across Europe to the challenge of negative yields reflect the complex interplay of regulatory constraints, the availability of acceptable alternatives, and investor risk tolerance.

Emerging Markets
Although retail investor flows into/out of emerging markets remain volatile, institutional allocations have, on the whole, held steady. In spite of disappointing performance over a number of years, emerging markets continued to account for around 6% of overall assets (unchanged from last year) and both emerging market equity and debt remain common components of institutional portfolios across Europe.

The rise of cashflow-driven financing
The proportion of plans that are now cash flow negative (that is, when monthly outgoings to meet pension payments are higher than monthly contributions into the plan, leading to a cash demand on the asset portfolio) has risen from 37% to 42% since last year’s survey. This has fuelled interest in income-generative assets and cash-flow-driven financing strategies. Such approaches involve the asset portfolio being tailored to more closely meet the projected liability cash flows while ensuring funding-level stability. Of those UK plans that are cash-flow positive, 44% thought that they would become cash-flow negative in under five years, 34% between 5-10 years, 12% between 10-15 years and 11% in over 15 years’ time.

UK Plans and the EU Referendum
Specific to UK schemes, smaller pension plans tend to have a higher exposure to UK assets (domestic markets occupy 30% of smaller plan equity portfolios versus 16% for larger plans), lower levels of currency hedging (the average hedge ratio is 39% for smaller plans versus 45% for larger plans), and a less dynamic investment strategy (trigger-based hedging strategies are less commonly used). Although the impact of the referendum on capital markets remains unclear, the combination of these factors suggests that the “average” smaller plan may be more exposed to volatility associated with the referendum.

“Many markets are suffering from reduced liquidity which creates volatility; investors should be alert to and set up to capitalise on opportunities that market volatility may create,” said Nathan Baker. “It’s also worth noting that some of the most recent developments in credit markets – increased leverage, weaker credit standards and an increase in M&A activity – broadly mirror those that tend to be seen in the later phase of the credit cycle. These conditions argue for robust risk management (including consideration of tail risk protection where appropriate) as well as being alive to the opportunities that may arise in distressed debt.”

Mercer also believes there is a scarcity of “easy beta” (returns to be harvested from traditional market exposures), given the current level of valuations across most major markets. The consultancy says that one way to address the challenge posed by a lower return world is to seek a greater contribution to portfolio returns from manager skill, also known as alpha.

“We continue to encourage investors with long-term liabilities to think long-term on the asset side too,” concluded Mr. Baker. “Many institutional investors retain a long time horizon but fail to exploit all the benefits that may be available to them. In particular, long-term investors should be able to capture relatively attractive returns in private markets, partly from illiquidity premia, and should be able to behave in a contrarian manner when market dislocations arise”.

Investing

What should I invest and How do I invest

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What should I invest and How do I invest 1

By Imogen Clarke

With all the uncertainty that has arisen from 2020, with lockdown threatening businesses and the warning of a second wave, the topic of investments has taken on new meaning. Nowadays, more people are concerned with what makes for a good investment, or, if you’re a novice, how to best invest.

For instance, you might be unsure about the reliability of the company you’re looking to invest in, as well as the long-term prospects of your investment.

If you are unsure of your investments, then it is best to seek advice from financial experts like The Fry Group, who deal with tax, wealth and estate planning. They will see that you have a strong financial plan in place to help meet your objectives. They will develop a strategy that is built around your needs and asses any risks that could hinder your plans.

There are some things you’ll need to consider for your strategy; for instance, are you looking to make investments that are more of a risk and will take longer to come to fruition? Or, alternatively, are you wanting a faster approach that will result in a steady income? Whether or not you decide to play it safe all depends on your current financial situation and whether you have the means to take more of a risk. Do you have any other debts that take precedence over your future plans? Is your investment strategy realistic?

With the aid of a specialist – or investment manager – you can design an investment concept that works for you and your goals, and start to build a regular income from your investments. There are four main areas when it comes to assets (groups of investments) that you can consider:

  • Equities
  • Bonds
  • Alternatives
  • Cash

Your investment manager will test the risks associated with your investment, and if it proves to be a positive investment choice, then you will be able to invest more over time.

So, how do you decide where to invest?

According to The Fry Group, ESG investing (Environmental, Social and Governance) is a good option for investors looking to support businesses that meet their similar ethics.

The main areas of ESG investing include:

  • Environmental challenges (climate change, pollution, etc)
  • Social issues (human rights, labour standards, child labour, etc)
  • Governance considerations relating to company management

According to The Fry Group, “Many investors choose to consider ESG investing in order to ensure any investment decisions reflect personal beliefs and values. As a result, they choose to support companies who are making informed, responsible decisions which take into account their wider societal and global impact. In this way investors can achieve peace of mind that their investments are creating a positive effect.”

ESG investing is also more relevant now than ever, as more businesses are looking to present themselves as an environmentally conscious corporation that recognises the values of their consumers.

As The Fry Group puts it, “In the past, ESG investing has been seen as a niche investment approach, for a relatively small number of people with specific requirements. This has changed significantly in recent years, with a growing awareness of environmental issues such as climate change and an increasing understanding of social issues and human rights. As a result, many people are increasingly interested in reflecting their opinions and lifestyle choices through the way they invest.”

So, if you want your investments to pave the way for your personal values and reflect your own morals, then this is the route to go down. But how does it all work?

There are four areas of ESG investing:

  • Responsible ownership and engagement: when companies are encouraged to make necessary improvements.
  • Avoidance or negative screening: whereby businesses are ‘graded’ based on how ethical their business practices are and are avoided altogether if their methods are not approved.
  • Positive screening strategies:when companies meet the ESG goals and are approved for investments.
  • Impact investment strategies: the purpose of this is to use investment capital for positive social results such as renewable energy.

You will need to take into account your own personal objectives as well as the objectives that meet the ESG investment criteria. And, in terms of financial performance, ESG investing can be hugely beneficial. Those who opt for ESG investing perform a more in-depth analysis into long-term and future trends that affect industries, meaning that they are better prepared for changes in consumer values when they arise. And, with all the unpredictability that this year has offered us so far, isn’t it better to do the research and have all angles covered?

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Investing

Investment Roundtable: Live with Jim Bianco

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With Q4’s macro picture still looking grim amid the return of exponential coronavirus waves in Europe and the U.S. and Europe, we speak with veteran macroanalysis strategist Jim Bianco, CMT for a data-driven deep-dive into the global economy and financial markets on Sept. 7th at 12pm EDT.

Sign up for this exclusive webinar now

Key themes:

  • Learn from Jim’s unique combination of quantitative and qualitative analytics which provide an objective view on Rates, Currencies and Commodities to make smart investment decisions
  • Identify important intermarket relationships he is watching with respect to Global Equities
  • Roadmap a global outlook for 2021 in view of socio-political backdrop giving viewers key takeaways and intermarket perspectives on global investing.

Sign up for this exclusive webinar now

Jim’s robust technical analysis includes a broad look at trends and themes in the markets, market internals, positioning such as the Commitment of Traders (COT), sentiment, and fund flows. Don’t miss out on this exclusive session from one of the investment world’s most insightful thought leaders.

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Equity markets react to a rise in Covid-19 cases, uncertain Brexit talks and the upcoming US election

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Equity markets react to a rise in Covid-19 cases, uncertain Brexit talks and the upcoming US election 2

By Rupert Thompson, Chief Investment Officer at Kingswood

Equity markets had another choppy week, falling for most of it before recovering some of their losses on Friday and posting further gains this morning.

At their low point last week, global equities were down some 7% from their high in early September. US equities were down close to 10%, hurt by the large weighting to the tech giants which at least initially led the market decline.

The market correction is nothing out of the ordinary with 5-10% declines surprisingly common. Indeed, a set-back was arguably overdue given the size and speed of the market rebound from the low in March.  As to the cause for the latest weakness, it is all too obvious – namely the second wave of infections being seen across the UK and much of Europe and the local lockdowns being imposed as a result.

These will inevitably take their toll on the economic recovery which was always set to slow significantly following an initial strong bounce. Indeed, business confidence fell back in September both here and in Europe with the declines led by the consumer-facing service sector. A further drop looks inevitable in October – fuelled no doubt in the UK by the prospect that the latest restrictions could be in place for as long as six months.

The job support package announced by Rishi Sunak did little to boost confidence. Its aim is to limit the surge in unemployment triggered by the end of the furlough scheme in October. However, the scheme is much less generous than the one it replaces as the government doesn’t want to continue subsidising jobs which are no longer viable longer term.  A rise in the unemployment rate to 8% or so later this year still looks quite likely.

Aside from Covid, for the UK at least, there is of course another major source of uncertainty – namely Brexit. Another round of trade talks start this week and we are rapidly reaching crunch time with a deal needing to be largely finalised by the end of October.

Whether we end up with one or not is still far from clear. That said, the prospects for a deal maybe look rather better than they did a couple of weeks ago when the Government was busy tearing up parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. With significant Covid restrictions quite probably still in place in the new year and the Government already under attack for incompetence, it may not wish to take the flack for inflicting yet more chaos onto the economy.

Markets remain unimpressed. UK equities underperformed their global counterparts by a further 2.7% last week, bringing the cumulative underperformance to an impressive 24% so far this year. The UK weighting in the global equity index has now shrunk to all of 4.0%.

It is not only the UK which faces a few weeks of uncertainty. The US elections are on 3 November. We also have the first of three Presidential debates this Tuesday. Joe Biden’s lead looks far from unassailable, a close result could be contentious and control of Congress is also up for grabs.

All said and done, equity markets look set for a choppy few weeks. Further out, however, we remain more positive – not least because the focus should hopefully switch from the roll-out of new lockdowns to the roll-out of a vaccine.

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