A short history of Italian government debt Italy’s titanic national debt, similarly to Rome, was not built in a day. In Italy, like much of Europe, the saga begins benignly in the ashes of World War II. The economic miracles experienced by states such as Greece, Germany and Japan in the 1950s-60s as the countries rebuilt their economies from the ground up (with aid from the US Marshall plan) resulted in two decades of breakneck economic growth. In Italy this period was known as ‘il miracolo economico’. GDP growth averaged just below 6% until 1963 and 5% thereafter until 1973. This boom eventually gave way to fiscal largesse in an attempt to continue the dramatic growth rates and associated quality of life improvements the domestic population had grown accustomed to. With the puncturing of ‘il miracolo’ during the 1973 global oil crisis, subsequent Italian governments borrowed their way to increased prosperity. From the Years of Lead in the 1970s to Rampartism in the 80s and the Second Republic of 1992, Italian debt steadily rose from 30% of GDP, along with real living standards. Italy Debt to GDP ratio 1900-2018. Source: Bloomberg By the early 90s where our overview begins, Italian [...]
Whilst the headline indices held up in 2015, the drivers behind the US equity market have been weakening for sometime. Index levels have been pendant on flows into a concentrated number large cap technology growth shares and, outside these, supported by extraordinary levels of share buy-back activity. Meanwhile the model-dependent Fed is hawkish as long as employment numbers hold up. Should they do so, higher rates crimp equities but should they weaken, other aspects of the US economy will presumably be weakening in tandem. These are an unattractive set of payoffs and our core thesis now calls for a bear market in US equities. We have been reducing risk within portfolios and have moved to a more defensive position.
For the unconstrained global investor, Australia is a prospective hunting ground for profit. Any comprehensive analysis of the main trade and capital trends at work in the world find their conflux in Australia’s capital markets. Predicated on China’s fixed asset investment boom over the past quarter century, Australia’s economy has been substantially driven by demand for its ores and minerals. It relates uneasily, it seems at times, on account of deep cultural differences, to the rest of Asia, in particular Indonesia. Australia is an affluent, urbanised society. It is, above all, a consumerised population that is, in economic jargon, fully financially included. It has an independent central bank and currency. On account of these features, backed by disciplined capital markets and secure laws, Australia’s equities, government bonds and currency have been a destination for macro investors of all stripes, including hedge funds. We measure recent opportunities by looking at 12 month rolling returns of its currency, benchmark bond and main equity index. Source: Morningstar/Bloomberg When the currency is weakening, returns from key asset classes are crimped, as can be seen in the below chart. Source: Morningstar/Bloomberg The tricky thing with macro investing, prosecuted via Australian instruments, is the various counter [...]
Those who have seen our opinions on Japan will know that our arguments on expanding equity returns in the country are predicated on the condition that Japanese corporates implement reforms, aimed at increasing shareholder value. We like to think of long term investment as being evidential, and are therefore seekers of proof for our beliefs. We have already seen a string of positive developments. Most recently, Fanuc, a large cap Japanese robotics manufacturing business, has announced the hiring of an investor relations team. The company was previously known for purposefully avoiding shareholder contact. This is a significant development, with a 1.2% weight in the TOPIX index, Fanuc is leading by example. Other noteworthy changes include the reduction in cross shareholdings between companies, announcement of dividend increases and share buybacks. With the prominent launch of the JPX Nikkei 400 Index, one particular measure of shareholder value creation has been pushed into Japanese CEO’s spotlight – return on equity (‘ROE’). The index gives it a 40% weight in its selection criteria, besides operating profits (40%) and market capitalisation (20%), in arriving at its 400 constituents. ROE can be decomposed into three measures, according to an analysis first introduced by the DuPont Corporation [...]
Last year, the Japanese Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) announced its intention to cut allocations to low yielding government bonds and to double its exposure to domestic equities. The logical pretext for this decision is the need to achieve higher returns to cover increasing pension payments to the country’s aging population. After decades of overweighting bonds - which benefitted from Japan’s deflationary environment - policy changes by Prime Minister Abe, set out to boost risk assets and to introduce inflation, gave this move further urgency. The new asset allocation came into effect on 31st October 2014. The table below outlines the extent of this change and alludes to the impact it had so far in monetary terms. Source: BCA Research, GPIF Data from BCA Research shows that the world’s largest pension fund, with total investable assets of Y138 trillion (US$1.14tr), has shifted close to US$90bn into domestic equities in the fourth quarter of 2014; still 5% (US$59bn) below its new target allocation of 25%. A further three Japanese public pension funds, managing assets in the region of US$250bn, are expected to follow suit this year. An estimated 13% increase to their allocation would add a further US$33bn in net new [...]
After decades of subdued growth, Japanese equity markets rallied in 2013 following Abe’s election and announcement of his triumvirate of measures. The three arrows, as his policy approach is called, consist of monetary measures, fiscal measures as well as growth oriented structural measures. The first two of these have been implemented early on and were well received by investors. Japan outperformed other developed markets returning +55% in 2013 compared to +34% for the US and +21% for Europe. However, Japanese equity returns this year have been held back by scepticism over the potential success of Abe’s third arrow. The TOPIX index is flat on the year at the time of writing, compared to +8.6% and +5.5% for the US and Europe indices respectively. Structural measures envisioned as part of the third arrow aim to improve companies’ capital efficiency to promote economic growth. The main provisions of this program are to encourage companies to allocate their cash more efficiently and to promote corporate governance. Japanese companies have been notorious for hoarding their cash over the last few decades, a habit which gained new life following the Global Financial Crisis. In the reflationary environment that the government wishes to create, cash becomes [...]
Japan has been the stand out equity market of 2013, rising 50% in Yen terms during 2013. We explain the reasons for our continued interest in this equity market despite these gains having already been recorded. • Valuations on the Japanese market remain attractive. Although the market is up approximately 50% YTD, earnings per share have increased by 36%, so in price earnings terms the market is not much more expensive than at the beginning of the year. The PE ratio has actually declined from 18.0x to 16.8x. When looking at asset values the price to book ratio in Japan is 1.27, which has risen from 0.9x a year ago. This compares very favourably to the US equity market that trades at 2.6x price to book. • As the world continues to heal after the stresses of 2008, we can expect a normalisation of US interest rates to equate to higher US bond yields. We expect this will drive the US dollar higher against the Japanese Yen over the medium term. A weaker Yen is likely to be bullish for the Japanese stock market, with its high degree of earnings from exports overseas. • Japan is one of the few [...]
When investors fail to secure sufficient compensation for bearing illiquidity, they almost always come to regret it. The summer reaction of certain asset classes to the Fed’s suggestion that it was considering reducing the pace of its bond purchases exposed vulnerabilities for the future. list of domains . The US-centred bond market sell-off in June caused notable stress in emerging markets. This stress was most visible in ETFs that invest in emerging market debt where some banks and intermediaries were unable to meet immediate redemptions from their clients. Emerging Market Local Currency debt is a good illustration of just how tight pricing has become. Local currency bonds typically offer a positive spread over developed markets and this spread is a function of a number of factors including credit risk and illiquidity premium. Market participants often underestimate the illiquidity premium component in earning their yields. The traditional appeal of Local Currency bonds is their traditionally higher yields, price increases with improved credit quality, diversification in a global portfolio and the potential for currency appreciation. The illiquidity of these instruments and return for this illiquidity that investors must demand has been all but forgotten. We expect to see more attractive levels for [...]