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On Track Research - 2019
February 2019: MDB Bonds – a sustainable alternative to sovereign debt
With the sustainable and impact investing movement gathering pace, we examine Multilateral Development Bank bonds as a potential component within investor bond portfolios. They make a compelling case for inclusion as a top-rated and well diversified investment that has a real impact on people's lives.
On Track Research - 2018
July 2018: The merits of multi-factor investing
Multi-factor exposures tend to deliver return enhancement, whilst limiting the drawdowns and inherent cyclicality associated with single factors. Indexed multi-factor portfolios have successfully delivered excess returns vis-à-vis market cap-weighted portfolios over the long term (historical back-tests), as well as the more recent live track period.
Precedenti edizioni di ETF Market Matters – 2017
Data la crescente popolarità degli investimenti smart beta, i potenziali acquirenti valutano vari modi per aggiungere ai loro portafogli le innumerevoli nuove soluzioni disponibili sul mercato. Un approccio è quello di investire in fattori singoli come ad es. value, quality, yield, low volatility ecc. ciascuno dei quali è disponibile tramite strumenti passivi, compresi gli ETF.
La scelta per un investitore in ambito passivo è bidimensionale. In primo luogo, l’investitore deve selezionare il benchmark giusto tra un’ampia gamma di opportunità, comprendenti indici ponderati per la capitalizzazione di mercato, settoriali, smart beta, SRI, tematici e di altro tipo, senza trascurare quelli con overlay di copertura valutaria incorporati. Questi indici offrono notevole flessibilità come building block per la gestione passiva e attiva di portafoglio.
L’investimento passivo è diventato una modalità comoda, liquida e conveniente per investire in indici di punta che coprono mercati ampi (ad es. l’S&P 500) e titoli blue chip (ad es. Dow Jones 30). Tali indici rappresentano la componente essenziale dei portafogli passivi e forniscono agli investitori l’equity risk premium che remunera il rischio sistematico (non diversificabile). Gli investitori hanno ampio accesso a queste esposizioni tramite ETF, fondi indicizzati, mandati e altri veicoli passivi.
I Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS) sono titoli del Tesoro statunitense il cui valore nozionale è indicizzato all'inflazione realizzata. Rappresentano quindi una valida soluzione per gli investitori che cercano di proteggere il loro potere d'acquisto reale. Attualmente le quotazioni dei TIPS decennali sono a un livello tale che, affinché questi titoli sovraperformino i Treasury nominali, l'inflazione realizzata nei prossimi 10 anni dovrà superare in media il 2,0% annuo.
Negli ultimi anni, diversi eventi economici, tra cui la Crisi finanziaria del 2007–2008, la Crisi europea del debito sovrano del 2011–2012, fino al recente crollo dei prezzi del petrolio del 2015, hanno provocato una revisione delle aspettative d’inflazione a livelli bassi. Nonostante i massicci stimoli monetari, i dati sull’inflazione sono generalmente rimasti bassi, con scarse indicazioni di possibili aumenti.
Precedenti edizioni di ETF Market Matters – 2016
Il contesto attuale è difficile per il reddito fisso. I rendimenti dei benchmark obbligazionari core sono prossimi ai minimi storici, mentre il rischio d’interesse è aumentato. Ad esempio, il portafoglio obbligazionario Barclays Global Aggregate ha registrato un calo dei rendimenti da circa il 9% degli inizi degli anni ’90 a poco più dell’1% attualmente.
La premessa del factor investing, noto anche comme ETF smart beta o alternative beta, è che le azioni con determinate caratteristiche, note come fattori, sovraperformano il mercato nel lungo periodo. Tra i fattori più comuni vi sono Value, Size, Momentum, Dividend Yield, Quality e Low Volatility. I factor ETF hanno destato di recente crescente interesse tra gli investitori, registrando un tasso di crescita annuale dei patrimoni investiti cumulato a cinque anni di oltre il 30%.
Per decenni, gran parte degli investitori ha fatto riferimento a un modello incentrato su portafogli core costituiti da azioni e obbligazioni per raggiungere i propri obiettivi di performance. In passato, la componente azionaria generalmente forniva rendimenti sostanziosi (spesso a due cifre), mentre lo scopo delle obbligazioni era quello di offrire vantaggi in termini di diversificazione, riducendo così i rischi di perdite in fasi di mercato ribassiste. Dato il limitato potenziale (ammesso che ve ne sia) di un ulteriore ribasso dei tassi d’interesse, la situazione nel comparto del reddito fisso si presenta particolarmente difficile. Gli investitori sono pertanto costretti a cercare rendimenti al di fuori delle economie avanzate e dei titoli di elevata qualità.
Negli ultimi due decenni si è osservato uno straordinario calo dei tassi d’interesse in tutte le principali economie avanzate. Più recentemente, la crisi finanziaria e la crisi europea del debito sovrano hanno indotto le banche centrali ad avviare politiche di allentamento monetario (QE) di vasta portata, che hanno spinto i rendimenti a nuovi minimi storici. In uno scenario di tassi «Lower for Longer» gli investitori dovrebbero poter trarre vantaggio da un approccio di allocazione multi-asset abbinato alla ricerca di rendimenti in investimenti che vadano oltre i tradizionali benchmark. Dimostriamo come le strategie alternative e smart beta possano aggiungere valore.
Gold has experienced its second best half-year rally in more than 25 years, outperforming major stock and bond indices in a challenging market environment. Against the backdrop of increased uncertainty, gold is considered a good option to diversify risk in portfolios.
Previous ETF Market Matters publications – 2015
The Swiss Confederation has substantially reduced the issuance of new debt in recent months with volumes turning net negative, for the first time since 2012. It will be also conservative when issuing in the second half of 2015. For investors seeking CHF-denominated fixed income investments this move implies they should consider bonds from other issuers (domestic or foreign), or papers listed in the secondary market. While volumes of domestic non-government issuers have soared, foreign issuers have repaid more than they have issued, reducing their total outstanding CHF-denominated debt.
In light of this scenario, two options based on indexed- investments are discussed: Mortgage Bond Institutions (performance captured by the SBI® Domestic Swiss Pfandbrief Index) and Investment Grade Foreign Issuers (SBI® Foreign AAA-BBB Index). Both investments offer a modest yield pick-up over government bonds and both have outperformed the risk free benchmark (SBI® Domestic Government) in recent years.
During 1H-2015, global equity markets experienced mixed performance due to a variety of factors. Local markets responded differently to monetary policies and economic growth prospects. This review looks into the equity benchmarks as of 30 June 2015 (excluding the China turmoil of the few last days). The focus is on one family of indices. The analysis is carried out for one currency, the US dollar, and covers developed as well as emerging markets. In addition, particular attention is placed on Eurozone equities.
- The year-to-date performance is related to long-term return, which allows one to spot some outliers and inliers. Similarly, the study looks into basic valuation ratios.
- Overall, developed equities have performed better than emerging equities (with some exceptions like China or Russia).
- Within Eurozone equities, we look into several indices covering style investing, sector exposure and small-caps.
Should the Greek government fail to reach an agreement with its creditors and international partners during the meetings scheduled for the coming days, a further intensification in the crisis seems likely. The economic exposure to Greece amongst Eurozone corporates appears very modest. This suggests limited impact (in the long-run) for the ongoing Eurozone recovery, should a Grexit turn as the outcome. This, however, does not rule out potential of a short-term shock.
- We study behaviour of key equity, government and currency benchmarks in view of past stress events. A cross-asset study looks into what one may expect under different stress scenarios.
- Europe-concentrated equity exposure implies a weak hedge for Grexit-associated tail risk. Gold (and CHF), as well as short-duration risk free fixed income appear to perform well shortly following stress events, and de-correlate from equity
EUR and USD Credit Spreads: Aggregate vs. Investible Exposures
The divergence in EUR and USD credit spreads has been one of the key topics in bond markets over recent weeks. Figure 1 shows the credit spreads (incremental yields over the benchmark risk free government issues) for EUR- and USD-denominated investment grade (IG) aggregate corporate exposures, highlighting indeed a recent period of divergence. In this study:
- We compare investment grade corporate aggregates and see that USD spreads have been widening since July '14 and drifting away from EUR spreads, which levelled off. We point out common arguments behind divergence.
- We attribute spreads to sectors and maturities. Furthermore, we investigate two investible corporate exposures, rather than the aggregates, and demonstrate that liquidity clearly matters.
- As default risk only accounts for part of the credit spread, the non-default component is strongly related to bond liquidity. Investors looking for credit risk premium only should focus on liquid indices that 'remove' the liquidity premium. We discuss two options based on Barclays Liquid Corporate Indices.
Eurozone Small Caps
This study follows on from previous Market Matters, looking into Eurozone equities. Particular attention is given to small caps:
- Global small cap investors were historically compensated excess risk-adjusted return of 0.22% p.a., the so-called "small-cap premium".
- Eurozone small caps historically delivered the highest risk-adjusted return, in relation to standard exposure.
- Within Eurozone equity indices, the MSCI EMU Small Cap Index currently features the highest earnings growth.
- The more cyclical nature of small caps benefits from an ongoing improvement in the economic environment in the Eurozone.
Eurozone Equities: Index Strategies Revisited
Equities with the European exposure have attracted most of the inflows into the European-domiciled Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) in January 2015 (Source: ETFGI monthly report), making up nearly USD 7bn out of 9bn in overall inflows. Following on from these flows, this study looks into Eurozone equities from a exposure perspective representing a suite of investible strategies. Specifically, we compare standard Eurozone exposure (EMU Index which captures large- and mid-caps weighted according to market capitalisation and which reflects the market portfolio) against alternative exposures:
- large cap and small cap
- value stocks and growth stocks
- cyclical sectors and defensive sectors
The major findings can be summarized as follows:
- Empirical findings indicate a consistent size premium, fading value premium (with a sign of rebound) and a need for sector rotation.
- For foreign investors with non-EUR funding currency, currency hedging proves critical in periods of high volatility in exchanges rates.
ECB's QE- any yield left?
On January 22nd, the Governing Council of the European Central Bank's (ECB) presented the details of the expanded asset purchase programme (Quantitative Easing, QE). The ECB will buy government bonds (on the yield curve, up to 30 years) in the secondary market, and the purchases of securities will be based on the National Central Banks’ shares in the ECB’s capital key. The prospective implication is that investors will likely get "crowded out" from the sovereign market, leading to a continued appetite for corporate credit.
This market matters presents the current yield landscape based on EUR-denominated fixed income benchmarks, and focuses on the investment-grade credit segments:
- The only "yielding papers" of the Eurozone sovereign issuers are long-term (10+ or so).
- The incremental yield can be 'sourced from' EUR corporate bonds, in particular if an issuer is a non-Eurozone corporate.
Previous ETF Market Matters publications – 2014
Dividend-focused strategies attempt to buy high-quality dividend-paying companies at competitive prices. Such a strategy can be also indexed, i.e. placed into rules-based framework which creates an investible index holding the best stocks in view of pre-defined, dividend-focused eligibility criteria.
Such a dividend strategy weights selected stocks according to their dividend yields, i.e. higher yielders receive a higher allocation, with the intention of harvesting dividends. For example, the Dow Jones Global Select Dividend index measures price and yield performance of 100 leading dividend-paying companies worldwide. This strategy delivers a two-fold higher yield than the aggregate as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Dow Jones Global Select Dividend: dividend yield vs. aggregate (in %)
Eurozone economic growth and the recovery in earnings remain modest. Given that investors have formulated different views and forecasts on this recovery, it is worth considering a sector allocation approach, in view of its sensitivity to the economic cycles.
This study discusses the features of the MSCI Cyclical and Defensive Sectors Indices, covering Eurozone exposure. A key focus are capped indices with an equal allocation to sectors - within cyclical or defensive exposure – ruling out over-concentration. The historical performance shown on Figure 1, highlights mean-reversion feature of the 'spread' between cyclical and defensive sectors, providing investors with an option to rotate between exposures.
Figure 1: Relative performance: MSCI EMU Defensive vs. MSCI EMU Cyclical
While standard market capitalisation-weighted indices represent the market return, some of you may seek exposure to global equities at lower risk (or volatility) compared to the standard benchmark. This newsletter discusses the features of a few risk-adapted strategies offered through MSCI investible indices, ranging from tilting towards low volatility stocks (Risk Weighted), minimizing total risk (Minimum Volatility) and targeting total risk (Risk Control). These strategies provide access to broad equity with a lower long-term risk than the standard cap-weighted benchmark. The Risk Weighted index-based strategy performed best over analysed period, whilst the Minimum Volatility index-based strategy featured the lowest realized risk.
On Thursday September 4th, the ECB surprised global investors by announcing another set of monetary policy easing measures aimed at staving off EMU deflationary trends and at stimulating economic recovery. Global investors also await the results of the Scottish independence vote of September 18th, the outcome of which may have financial implications on international markets. These two events have ignited currency volatility as seen in the chart below.
For investors interested in pure international equity exposure, increased currency volatility implies (undesired) volatility noise, as it provides no explicit return, such as dividend, earnings growth or capital appreciation. Currency movements can be dynamic and investors need to develop their own currency risk management policy and tools to suit their investment objectives. This report presents a possible solution to constructing a global equity exposure achievable by aggregating regional currency hedged ETF building blocks.
In addition to conventional financial criteria, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) takes into account social aspects of an investment. Given that corporate and social responsibility can potentially impact profitability and the cost structure of companies, it is worth comparing fundamental data and the risk-adjusted performance of SRI portfolios vs. their respective benchmarks. This brief study focuses on the investible SRI indices within the MSCI family, and concludes:
- MSCI's major SRI indices have outperformed their conventional parent indices in risk-adjusted terms
- MSCI SRI portfolios generally have higher price-to-book value ratios, similar dividend yields, and lower trailing earnings, when compared to their respective parent indices.
- Additional investment returns, on top of that delivered by conventional portfolios, shows investors are willing to pay a premium for a positive social tilt achieved with the SRI approach.
For some investors, growth stocks appeal to their desire for high earnings potential, while value stocks featuring above-average dividend yields and low price-to-book ratios typically attract those hunting for a bargain. This report examines these two equity styles from an investible index viewpoint, and concludes:
- As a result of above-average dividend income, value stocks have delivered superior total return over standard portfolio and growth stocks (both in USA and EMU) in recent years.
- Given similar earnings levels, the dividend yield differential proves to be a key factor for a superior total return of the USA Value index over its USA Growth counterpart.
- Assuming a Eurozone recovery, current low earning levels may give a base effect for earnings growth that will favour the EMU Growth index over the EMU Value index.
On the 5th of June, the ECB announced a monetary policy action to provide further stimulus for the Eurozone economy and to mitigate the material risk of deflation. The key measures include a negative deposit rate and a package of up to €400bn of cheap funding for Eurozone banks in an attempt to boost lending on the condition that it will be lent non-financial sector companies (and not for mortgages). This report looks into the EMU equities and fixed income performance, as compared to other benchmarks and in the context of the announced policy action. EMU equities appear to be catching up with global benchmarks after the underperformance experienced in 2011-2012. Sovereign bond yields show substantial differentiation across EMU members, but the premium demanded by investors to compensate them for the credit risk of investing in Spanish or Italian debt is reverting back to the levels of the German or French issues.