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How Did South African Active Managers Perform in 2015?

What Is Driving the Mexican Peso?

Who Fuelled the Oil Bonds Bubble?

Active Versus Passive Funds in Latin America

Growth and Surging Popularity of Unconstrained Bond Funds

How Did South African Active Managers Perform in 2015?

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Daniel Ung

Director

Global Research & Design

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In 2015, equity markets in South Africa were turbulent amid falling commodity prices and the depreciation of the South African rand.  Political uncertainty surrounding the appointment of the country’s finance minister and the lowering of the country’s debt rating by leading rating agencies also contributed to the lackluster performance of equities.  This may partly explain why the S&P South Africa Domestic Shareholder Weighted (DSW) Index underperformed the S&P Global 1200 by 29% in rand terms.

Volatility in the markets would normally be favorable for active managers, who could make use of their stock-picking skills to benefit from the perceived discrepancies in the market.  However, the SPIVA South Africa Year-End 2015 Scorecard shows that over 50% of active funds underperformed the domestic benchmark over a one-year period.  The level of underperformance continued to deteriorate over the three- and five-year periods (see Exhibit 1).  As for global equity funds, the performance of active funds against their benchmark was even more underwhelming, as 75% of active funds underperformed the benchmark over a one-year period.  This rose to over 96% over the five-year period.

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The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

What Is Driving the Mexican Peso?

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Jaime Merino

Director, Asset Owners Channel

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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A few weeks ago, Dennis Badlyans wrote about Mexico’s Fixed Income Markets and made a performance comparison of the different currencies of emerging markets, which illustrated how the Mexican peso has been the worst performer among its peers in 2016.  The question is, what is driving the depreciation of the currency?

The answer in the short term, or on a daily basis, could vary from announcements of monetary policy in the U.S. and in Mexico, announcements of relevant economic data in the U.S., such as non-farm payroll, GDP estimates, or any emerging market news that could make the U.S. dollar stronger against other currencies.

We could list a lot of examples trying to explain why the currency has fallen 14.1% over the past 12-month period ending March 31, 2016, or 32.1% in the previous two-year period, but Exhibit 1 shows how the price of oil has been one reason for this depreciation.  The graph shows the price of the next oil future to mature, WTI May 2016, and on the left axis shows the inverse of the U.S. dollar to Mexican peso currency (pesos per dollar).

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Doing a linear regression analysis of the log value using 252 of these two variables, where the variable “y” is the currency, we can see how dependent the currency is on movements in oil prices, with a correlation of 0.939 and an equation of y=0.284x – 1.698 (see Exhibit 2).

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Given that the currency is a component of the performance of the S&P/Valmer Mexico Government International 1+ Year UMS index, Exhibit 3 shows the monthly returns of the index, with the performance of the Mexican peso making a considerable contribution to its performance.

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The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Who Fuelled the Oil Bonds Bubble?

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Tim Edwards

Managing Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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It has become popular to blame passive investors and index funds for the recent rise (and fall) in prices for U.S. high yield bonds.  The thesis – placing passive investors as the culprit – goes as follows:

  • There have been material, positive flows into passive bond funds, at the expense of active funds.
  • Passive bond funds typically track indices that are market-cap weighted, that is, with a higher weight in issuers that have a greater value of outstanding debt.
  • Such trends have rewarded the most-indebted companies with an “irrational” demand for their bonds.
  • Energy companies in particular have been able to ramp-up a debt-fuelled binge, the eventual popping of which we experienced earlier this year.

We cannot fault anyone for nodding in agreement; the reasoning is certainly seductive. And its variants have found support.  Certainly, large flows of capital into (and out of) an asset class have the ability to create, and pop, bubbles within that market segment.  But the argument – assigning importance to the relative popularity of passive funds – is fatally flawed.

Imagine, for a moment, that we could split the U.S. high yield bond market into two categories: those securities owned by the passive investors, and everything else, which is owned by the active investors.  Each passive investor – new or existing – is required to hold bonds issued by energy companies in proportion to their overall market capitalization, while we suppose that each active investor may individually choose their preferred allocation.

Now, here’s the logical trick: since the sum-total of active and passive investments matches the market, the proportion allocated to any market segment by active managers must, in aggregate, equal the allocation made by passive investors.  This is just arithmetic, based on the fact of both passive investors and the overall market having the same weights in each segment. To emphasize: 

The proportion of capital allocated by active investors, in aggregate, to high yield energy bonds was, is and forever shall be precisely in proportion to market capitalization.

At the point when a new passive investor entered the market (or an existing passive investor increased their allocation), he or she bought high yield energy bonds in the same proportion as the active investors, and maintained their allocations similarly.

Given this fact, one might be wondering, at this point: what it is that active investors in aggregate do exactly? Here’s the rub:

Active investors set prices.

The weighting of each security in a market-cap bond index depends on both the issuance amount and the price of the security.  If an energy company is viewed as a poor prospect to repay their debt, active investors – if they are paying attention – will only buy their bonds at a lower price, and will sell them if the price is unduly high.  In this way, active investors determine the market capitalization of any individual company’s bonds.

This applies to the primary (issuance) market, just as much as the secondary market.  It also applies to investors deciding whether or how much to invest in the U.S. high yield market in the first place, which similarly occupies a proportion of the overall U.S. bond market that is determined by the activities of active investors.

Thus understood, the “bubble” in high yield energy debt was not created by the simple issuing of debt by oil companies.  Nor was it created by passive investors, or a shift from active to passive bond funds.  Instead, as was the case with every bubble before and since, it arose through ACTIVE decisions to purchase securities – or market segments – whose price in hindsight seems unjustified.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Active Versus Passive Funds in Latin America

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Phillip Brzenk

Senior Director, Strategy Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The S&P Indices Versus Active (SPIVA®) Latin America Scorecard is a semi-annual report that compares the performance of active mutual funds in Latin America against passive benchmarks.  The SPIVA Latin America Year-End 2015 Scorecard covers the equity and fixed income markets in Brazil, as well as the equity markets in Chile and Mexico.

In 2015, outperformance by active managers was only seen in Brazil.  Over the long-term (five years), which gives a clearer picture of fund managers’ abilities to provide above-average returns on a consistent basis, all fund categories in the scorecard underperformed their respective category benchmarks.  As seen in our SPIVA: A Cross-Country Comparison report, the average expense ratios of active funds are significantly higher than those of passive products in both Chile and Mexico.[1]  Given the long-term underperformance, it calls into question why active funds charge such high fees relative to their passive fund counterparts.

Brazil
The Brazilian equity market declined sharply in the second half of 2015, leading to a -13.87% total return for the S&P Brazil BMI for the year.  Fixed income investors fared better in 2015, as the corporate bond market[2] returned 13.53%, and the government bond market[3] returned 9.32%.  The majority of managers outperformed their benchmarks in Brazil Equity, Brazil Large-Cap Equity, Brazil Corporate Bond, and Brazil Government Bond fund categories during 2015.  Brazil Mid-/Small-Cap was the only category where managers underperformed for the year, with 79% underperforming.

Chile

In Chile, the equity market struggled to show positive gains in both the short and long term, as the one-year total return was -3.04% for the S&P Chile BMI (CLP), as its five-year total return was off 4.43%.  Equity fund managers in Chile have consistently underperformed their benchmark in both the short and long term.  Over 90% of active equity fund managers underperformed the category benchmark in 2015, and over a five-year time horizon, all managers (44 funds) underperformed.

Mexico
Mexico is the only country to have positive equity market gains in the short- and long-term, with a one-year total return of 1.53% and five-year annualized total return of 4.68% in the S&P Mexico BMI (MXN).  Equity fund managers were unsuccessful in beating the benchmark in 2015, with close to 61% underperforming.  An even higher portion of managers failed to beat the benchmark over the long term.

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[1]   Expense ratio data unavailable for Brazil.

[2]   Represented by the Anbima Debentures Index.

[3]   Represented by the Anbima Market Index.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Growth and Surging Popularity of Unconstrained Bond Funds

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Hong Xie

Senior Director, Global Research & Design

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, one noticeable trend in fixed income investment is the growth and popularity of unconstrained bond funds.  They have generated strong interest in the investment industry due to the flexibility they offer in duration management and the broader investment universe.  Because they are not managed against a specific benchmark, unconstrained bond funds may also pose challenges for investors in understanding and measuring their performance.

The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the economic recession that followed prompted unprecedented quantitative easing monetary policies across many countries.  Not only were short-term interest rates lowered to either zero or close to zero, but quantitative easing was also adopted in places such as the U.S., the U.K., the eurozone, and Japan to flatten the yield curve and keep long-term interest rates low.  As the U.S. economy continues to recover and the Fed starts to increase interest rates, many investors have concerns about holding core fixed income products with high interest-rate risk in a rising-rate environment.  It is this widespread market sentiment that has driven the surging popularity of unconstrained bond funds, which offer wide latitude to fund managers on duration management and investment selection.

We use fund data from Morningstar to gauge the size and growth of unconstrained bond funds.  In particular, we screen for funds categorized as “U.S. OE Nontraditional Bonds” by Morningstar, while excluding those with mandates in specific sectors or with duration constraints.

As of November 2015, there were 122 open-ended mutual funds with total assets under management (AUM) of USD 140 billion in our data set, in comparison with 19 funds with AUM of USD 9 billion at the end of 2008 (see Exhibit 1).  Even though the first fund started in 1969, it wasn’t until after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 that unconstrained bond funds started gaining traction among investors.  Exhibits 1 and 2 show the rapid growth of unconstrained bond funds since 2008 in terms of both AUM and number of funds.

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The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.