Market Overview: Asia

This week we are focusing on activity in Asian markets. We will be highlighting changes in Singapore, and China, as well as looking at the impact of the recent missile strike in Syria on Asian markets, and stock prices further afield. The attack had some immediate effects on markets, however, most stocks seem to have re-stabilized.

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Singapore

It has been announced that the Singaporean government will increase spending on public infrastructure from SGD18.3 million to SGD30 million by 2020. This comes as they fell in the rankings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report from number 2 (2012-2013) to number 5 (2014-2015). Projects will be carried out in the areas of land transport, air and sea transport, utilities, and healthcare with planned building of four new state hospitals between 2020 and 2030.

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China

In the week ending April 2nd property prices rose 27% from the same time last year in 26 major Chinese cities. Leading this increase were Shanghai, with a rise of 72%, and Guangzhou with a rise of 77%. Moreover, 17 major property developers saw sales growth of 82% in March, similar to that of 91% in the January-February period (Source: Barrons).

The Effect of Air Strikes on the Markets

Last week saw the US fire dozens of missiles at a Syrian airfield, damaging infrastructure including the runway. The strike was carried out in retaliation to a chemical attack that occurred in a rebel-held area of Syria earlier. Several stocks have experienced increases and decreases as a result of the strike. US futures fell, with S&P 500 futures off 5 points and Dow Jones futures down by 44 points. Asian shares also experienced an initial drop before re-stabilizing.

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However, not all markets saw drops. The Yen saw an increase against the Dollar, and commodities such as gold and oil saw a rise in prices. London spot gold prices were 1.3% higher recently while Brent crude futures rose more than 2% before levelling to a gain of 1.42% at $55.67 per barrel. US crude increased by 1.61% taking it to $52.53. The reason for increases in the prices of these goods is because investors switched over to them, moving out of riskier investments. In the case of oil the price rose due to investors’ concerns that supply might be disrupted by the military in the region. However, despite these fears, CNBC says that it is unlikely that oil supplies will be restricted by Syrian military forces as it would be equally disadvantageous for them.

The Rise of the ESG Fund.

In recent years, the popularity of, and demand for, ESG funds has increased due to a combination of ethical concerns and the additional risk mitigating benefits attached to taking ESG factors into consideration.

In fact, many have said that failing to consider the risk posed by poor environmental, social, and governance practices could lead to losses, both for clients and for financial advisors. Multi-asset portfolios with integrated ESG stocks are an easy way to make sure client portfolios are as diverse as possible with manageable investment risk and reduced portfolio volatility.

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Not only are ESG factors an excellent way to assess risk, ESG funds have been shown to perform just as well as conventional ETFs for the same risk. Last month, ESG funds had risen to $3.4bn – nearly 45% over the previous 18 months, with assets in ESG funds linked to MSCI indexes growing by 50% over 2015. The trend shows no sign of slowing down, with the majority of institutional investors taking ESG risk factors into account when making investment decisions.

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Last month, Morgan Stanley announced that they would be introducing two new ESG multi-asset funds, mirroring the strategy of their current Global Balanced Risk Control fund, which they believe is the best way to participate in rising markets while still providing strong downside protection. These new funds – the Global Balanced Fund and the Global Balanced Defensive Fund – are the first at Morgan Stanley to incorporate ESG factors into the process and promise to both improve returns and enhance risk management at the same time, an important consideration particularly amidst the post-Brexit uncertainty which still reigns.

money-1017463_1920In response to this growing popularity, MSCI has introduced a new suite of fund metrics, scores and rankings on FactSet to help institutional investors and wealth managers better judge the ESG characteristics of their portfolios. FactSet, which provides integrated financial information and analytical applications, will now offer a new level of transparency on the ESG quality of over 23,000 mutual and exchange-traded funds. These will be ranked or screened based on their sustainable impact, their values alignment and any other ESG risk, such as their carbon footprint, making it even easier for managers and financial advisors to respond to a client’s interest in sustainability.

To learn more about ESG funds and how Henry James International Management could help you, please get in touch via email at info@hj-intl.com or by telephone on (646) 722-2739

What IS an ESG fund?

ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance and, when discussing investment, is primarily used to describe companies for whom these factors are a priority. ESG funds are investment portfolios which comprise companies who conduct business with sustainability and ESG factors in mind. Although initially a fairly rare entity in the investment world, there is increasing evidence to suggest that integrating ESG factors into investment analysis and the construction of portfolios can actually help boost long-term performance.

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ESGs first came onto the investment scene in the 1950s and 60s and were largely the creation of various Trade Unions. Two of the first were the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Mine Workers who invested their considerable capital in affordable housing and health facilities respectively. The power of thoughtfully-invested capital for social change was not truly felt, however, until 1971, when a board member of General Motors drew up a Code of Conduct for practising business with apartheid-era South Africa. So many companies failed to comply with this code of conduct, that it resulted in a mass disinvestment from South African companies, a movement which greatly contributed to the end of apartheid.

 

In spite of this, the generally-held idea until the late-80s was that social responsibility was wont to have an adverse effect on a firm’s financial performance. Nowadays, however, many believe that ESG factors can actually be used to help identify businesses with superior business models, offering portfolio managers additional insight into the quality of a company’s management, risk profile, and culture.

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ESG takes into account a range of environmental concerns – such as climate change, nuclear energy, and sustainability – social concerns – such as consumer protection, human rights, diversity, and animal welfare – and corporate governance concerns, including management structure, employee relations, and executive compensation. These three factors are inextricably linked to the concept of responsible investment, which uses various methods to control the placing of investments. These include positive selection, integration, and activism.

To learn more about ESG funds – or to find out about the ESG international equity investment products that are available through Henry James International Management – get in touch via telephone on (646) 722-2739 or email at info@hj-intl.com and tune in to next week’s blog.

Brexit – The Aftermath

Thursday, June 23, 2016, at the market close everyone felt safe.  The Brexit vote had been completed and everyone was looking forward to the weekend after one more piece of the wall of worry was removed.  As we all know, people generally vote for what is in their own self-interest.  For a citizen of the United Kingdom it was obvious with 40 years of peaceful growth, a rise in the standard of living, and the ability for freedom of movement amongst countries for work and living (it is better to retire in the sun of Spain than experience a cold, rainy summer in the UK).

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Contentment from people that either never experienced or had forgotten the hardships in the United Kingdom in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s resulted in a group of people voting against their self-interest.

What was to be a great summer weekend instead became a volatile financial mess.  The pound fell over 10%, European markets by over 10%, and a general gloom fell over the globe.

Then people realized that it is not binding; Parliament has to approve the vote.  While European leaders showed their anger at Great Britain, cooler heads surfaced.  The Spanish who went to the polls over the weekend went with the status quo.  They have seen the consequences of a severe recession; their unemployment rate, while at a 4-year low, is still over 20%.

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Analysts sat back and asked, “If there is a recession in Great Britain how will it affect China, Japan, India, the United States, and Latin America?”  And the answer is: very little. 

How many fewer cups of coffee will Starbucks sell in the United Kingdom over the next year?  Maybe 5% or less.  And if it is 5% less, what impact would that have on Starbucks total sales?  It is not very much, probably less than five-tenths of one percent.  Growth in China, India, and Brazil could make up for that very quickly.  In fact, emerging markets were down less than half of what the European markets were down.  MSCI Europe two-day return for June 24 and June 27 was –13.41% and MSCI Emerging Market two-day return for June 24 and June 27 was –4.75%.

The event will cause global volatility over the summer, and then over the next few years our estimate is that eventually both the United Kingdom and Europe will do what is best for their own long-term self-interests, which are generally tied to one’s own long-term economic interests.