Tag Archives: emerging markets

Hedge Blues

For many years Warren Buffet has been highlighting the benefits of investing in a low cost index fund over paying return sapping fees to professional “helpers”. In Buffet’s 2016 letter, released over the weekend, he estimates approx $100 billion in fees have been wasted by investors in the past decade in “the search by the elite for superior investment advice”.

The selected returns by hedge funds, specifically fund of funds, since 2008 in the letter make Buffet’s point strongly (those funds were selected by Ted Seides in the wager with Buffet). Although I have no love for the overpaid superheros of the hedge fund world, Buffet’s wager has the tail wind of a particularly bad run of returns from the hedgies of late. The graph below shows the average 10 year returns from the S&P500 (including dividends less 15 basis points for fees) against hedge fund returns, net of fees, from the BarclayHedge website (I only selected those categories with more than 99 funds included).

click to enlarge10-year-average-hedge-fund-returns-2006-to-2016

Clearly, the 10 year averages for the past 5 years haven’t been kind to the masters of the universe. That may be reflective of a permanent change in markets, due to anything from more regulation to the era of low risk premia to less leverage to size. Buffet puts it down to success attracting too much capital and managers subsequent addiction to fees. I do like the explanation given by Bill Ruane from Buffet’s letter in the following quote – “In investment management, the progression is from the innovators to the imitators to the swarming incompetents.”

Path of profits

The increase in corporate profits has been one of the factors behind the market run-up (as per posts such as here and here from last year). McKinsey have a new report out called “Playing to win: The new global competition for corporate profits” that predicts a decrease of the current rate of 10% of global GDP back to the 1980 level of below 8% by 2025.

Factors that McKinsey cite for the decline are that the impact of global labour arbitrage and falling interest rates have reached their limits. McKinsey also predict that competitive forces from 2 sources will drive down profits, as per the following extract:

“On one side is an enormous wave of companies based in emerging markets. The most prominent have been operating as industrial giants for decades, but over the past ten to 15 years, they have reached massive scale in their home markets. Now they are expanding globally, just as their predecessors from Japan and South Korea did before them. On the other side, high-tech firms are introducing new business models and striking into new sectors. And the tech (and tech-enabled) firms giants themselves are not the only threat. Powerful digital platforms such as Alibaba and Amazon serve as launching pads for thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises, giving them the reach and resources to challenge larger companies.”

Interesting graphs from the report included those below. One shows the factors contributing to the rise in US corporate profits, as below.

click to enlargeMGI Historical US Corporate Profit Components 1980 to 2013

Another graph shows the variability and median return on invested capital (ROIC) from US firms from 1964 to 2013, as below.

click to enlargeMGI Historical ROIC US Corporates 1964 to 2013

Another shows the reduction in labour inputs by country, as below.

click to enlargeMGI Labor Share of Total Income 1980 to 2012

Another shows the growth in corporate sales by region from 1980 to 2013, as below.

click to enlargeMGI Global Corporate Sales By Region

Another shows the ownership and the ROIC profile of the new competitors, as below.

click to enlargeMGI The New Competitors ownership split & ROIC by region

And finally the graph below shows McKinseys’ projections for EBITDA, EBIT, operating profit, and net income to 2025.

click to enlargeMGI Global Corporate Profits 1980 2013 2025

Summer Blues

After the holidays, it’s time to pack the bucket and spades away and get back into the routine. It has been a volatile August.  A bear call in a post in early May is looking pertinent (as is the post on a suggested tie-up between Paddy Power and Betfair!) given the 7% drop in the S&P500 since then, although it is more likely dumb luck.

The market concern is centred on the prospects for China’s economy. Growth is widely believed to be a lot lower than the official 7% with exports down, concerns about zombie loans and the political ramifications of managing a lower growth economy. The Economist, in an article this week, highlighted the potential impact of a slow-down in China and other emerging markets on global growth, as per the graph below.

click to enlargeGlobal GDP Growth Breakdown 1980 to 2015

Amongst the usual holiday reading, I brought two books on economics for the beach. The first was the FT’s Martin Wolf’s “The shifts and the shocks” from late in 2014 and the second is the recently published “Postcapitalism” by Paul Mason. Although often a laboured read, I did manage to finish the former whilst I only got to start the latter (which is a much easier read).

Reading Wolf’s book as the China led volatility was unfolding only led to an enhanced feeling of negativity from the themes of the book, namely the lessons as yet unlearned from the crisis. Wolf competently covers much of the causes of the crisis and its aftermath – a global savings glut and associated global imbalances, an expansionary monetary policy that ignored asset prices and credit, an unstable liberalized financial system supervised by naïve regulation. The following graph from the IMF reminds of the global imbalances that proved so toxic when combined with a rampant financial sector.

click to enlargeGlobal Current Account Imbalances 1980 to 2013

Wolf questions the “belief that government borrowing is the illness for which private borrowing is the cure has survived all that has happened”. Some of the solutions that Wolf proposes include much higher capital requirements for banks than is currently being implemented under Basel III, deleveraging initiatives such as tax incentives towards equity and away from debt, corporate tax changes to encourage corporate investment, changes in debt contracts to convert to equity on macro-economic metrics, policies to address income inequality and to promote research and education.

A more radical reform of the financial system, along the lines of the Chicago Plan for 100% reserve banking whereby the ability to create money is taken away from profit seeking banks and given solely to central banks, is a step that Wolf favours but believes is unrealistic given the realpolitik of the developed world system. On the globalised financial system, Wolf believes that the “obvious truth that unless regulation and the supply of fiscal backstops is to be much more global, finance should be far less so” and suggests a greater segmentation of the world’s financial system.

There are many themes in Wolf’s book that got me thinking and I am hoping that Mason’s book will do the same, albeit from a totally different perspective. I think the market volatility has more time to play out and hopefully my summer reading, although yet to be completed, will assist in understanding what may come next.

MGI Global Flows In A Digital Age Report

McKinsey Global Institute has an interesting report out entitled “Global flows in a digital age: How trade, finance, people, and data connect the world economy”. The report goes into different aspects of flows across the globe with a central assertion as follows:

Two major forces are now accelerating the growth and evolution of global flows. The first is increasing global prosperity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people around the world will enter the consuming class, nearly all from emerging markets, and emerging-market consumers will spend $30 trillion annually, up from $12 trillion today. This will create enormous new hubs for consumer demand and global production. The second major force is the growing pervasiveness of Internet connectivity and the spread of digital technologies. More than two-thirds of us have mobile phones. In 2012, there were 2.7 billion people connected to the Internet. A torrent of data now travels around the world. Cross-border Internet traffic grew 18-fold between 2005 and 2012.

One graph in the report that caught my attention was the one below of the growth in foreign revenues from top US firms across different sectors. This is interesting and feeds directly into some of the contentions asserted by Jeremy Siegel in justifying a high CAPE ratio (as discussed in this post).

click to enlargeMGI Revenue % of US firms from foreign markets

What is interesting about the graph above is the fall in the manufacturing firms since the financial crisis and the relatively slow growth of revenues outside of the US from the “established” technology and consumer firms in the US. Given the growth in global flows, it suggests they need to be more focused on the opportunities outside the US, particularly if the graph below on future consumption in 2025 turns out to accurate.

click to enlargeMGI emerging economies per capita GDP

I was particularly taken with the pieces of the report in relation to the impact of the internet and e-commerce. The following extract highlighted the impact:

“The power of digitization comes especially from its marginal cost economics that reduce costs associated with access, discovery, and distribution of goods and services to nearly zero. As a result, the cost of participating in flows is lowered for individuals, small firms, and entrepreneurs. This is already leading not only to innovations in business models but also to the emergence of micromultinationals, microwork, and microsupply chains that are able to tap into global opportunities. This significantly removes barriers to participating in global flows, broadening opportunities. It also will put pressure on all companies to innovate their business models to capture the opportunities and respond to new sources of competition, and to counter the pressure on their existing business models from digitization’s marginal-cost economics.”

The graph below shows the changes in data and communication flows over the past 5 years. The growth in traffic between the US and China and between the US and Latin America is noteworthy.

click to enlargeMGI data & communication change 2008 to 2013

The report does highlight that emerging economies lag significantly behind developed economies in cross-border internet traffic with impediments to growth such as high bandwidth prices and IP transit costs. The graph below highlights the dominance of the developed economies in areas such as content and online sales.

click to enlargeMGI emerging economies Internet & Data

It does however also show how things may grow as emerging economies take advantage of the power of the wired world. As the report states: “the pace of change is likely to accelerate even more dramatically as more of the world goes online”.

There is some other interesting stuff in the MGI report and its worth a quick read.