James Mackintosh

As the market rally falters (perhaps), John Authers and I have a new home on FT Alphaville.

This blog will no longer be updated, but our occasional thoughts and more frequent output will appear at ftalphaville.ft.com. Bookmark it and check back! 

James Mackintosh

Appliances Online is now AO, and it’s a hit with the market. Shares leapt 40 per cent as it floated in London today. The facts:

AO had revenue in the year to March 2013 of £275.5m, on which it made net income of £6.8m: a 2.5 per cent net profit margin.

With a shiny new market cap of £1.68bn it is worth almost as much as Carphone Warehouse or Dixons, two major high street retailers. It is big enough to make the FTSE 250 (subject to other criteria).

Basic valuations look fanciful: It is priced at 247 times trailing earnings, or six times sales.

But no one cares about traditional valuation tools any more. AO is an online retailer, and they’re where it’s at. Its shares are not about earnings or dividends this year, next year or the year after; they are about first-mover advantage, an option on AO becoming the Amazon of the fridges-to-cookers world. 

James Mackintosh

Some interesting charts from Credit Suisse this morning are testing the idea that eurozone unemployment looks particularly awful.

Adjust for the rising number of people participating in the workforce in the eurozone, and the falling number willing to work in the US, and unemployment is just about the same in both. 

James Mackintosh

Are emerging markets a bargain or yet another proverbial falling knife?

More bargain-hunters are starting to appear. Today Barclays equity strategists Dennis Jose, Ian Scott and Joao Toniato went so far as to recommend buying Russia’s Gazprom and Sberbank (along with China Shipping Development Co) to gain EM exposure.

Could emerging markets be the most-disliked region currently? They have been punished by investors, underperforming developed market equities by nearly 35% since Nov 2010, considerably worse than what would be suggested by their earnings (Figure 2). Amongst sellside analysts, a Bloomberg poll seems to indicate that few research houses recommend an
overweight on EM equities. From our meetings as well, we find most investors have little sympathy for our recent call to overweight EM equities

A few rather nice Barclays valuation charts after the break, plus some caution.

 

John Authers

Quite a few people seem to dislike a column I wrote earlier this week on exchange-traded funds and their role in the emerging market sell-off. So let me offer a little extra data that was not in the earlier piece.

The following chart, compiled from Strategic Insight Simfund data, shows total inflows and outflows from US investors to emerging market equity funds of three types: active funds, indexed open-ended funds, and indexed ETFs. Figures are in billions of dollars. Starting in 2009, when emerging markets began their rebound, and going through to the final quarter of last year, I believe the story it tells could not be much clearer: ETF money is flighty.

Money in ETFs is far more volatile and far more prone to exit in a hurry than money invested in emerging markets through other vehicles. As EM investing is supposed to be a game for the long term, this is a problem. 

James Mackintosh

There’s a basic formula for trading Abenomics:

NKY ≈ SPX x JPY 

James Mackintosh

Falling prices are great if you’re a consumer. They’re no good if you’re an indebted government.

One measure of this is the interest rate the government pays, adjusted for inflation. If tax revenues rise roughly in line with inflation – and they should move br0adly with the GDP deflator as a measure of total economy prices – then higher prices equal higher tax revenues and so more ability to service debt.

Higher inflation means higher nominal GDP growth, no matter what is happening to real GDP. The result is smaller debt relative to the size of the economy – even if price rises have not left voters any better off (as measured by real GDP growth). Because bond coupons are fixed, inflation is good for borrowers and bad for lenders.

Here’s the good news on Spain: nominal 10-year bond yields and the extra interest it has to pay relative to Germany are both sharply down.

Spanish nominal bond yield

Here’s something less positive: Spanish bond yields adjusted for the GDP deflator – in other words, how much help the Spanish debt is getting from nominal GDP growth.

Spain real yield 

John Authers

How exactly should we benchmark hedge funds? It is obviously unfair to compare them directly to equity indices, as the whole point of hedge funds is to aim for an “absolute” return, not a return relative to gains in the equity market. They will naturally under-perform an S&P 500 tracker in years like 2013 when the stock market shoots straight up.

I drew attention last week to the way hedge fund returns have been left badly behind by long-only equity returns over the five years of the post-crisis relief rally, and this understandably provoked comments that this was an unfair comparison. There are also obviously many methodological problems with creating hedge fund indices. Hedge funds have many different strategies, and they may be particularly prone to “survivorship bias” – those that do not have a good story to tell tend to shut down quietly, and do not tell index compilers about their record.

However, hedge funds do have to accept that their offerings will be used by asset allocators trying to use them to balance against the main asset classes of equities and bonds. On that basis, the following chart, produced by Barclays’ capital solutions group using HFRI indices, is very interesting.

It confirms a basic intuition: hedge funds did very well during the bursting of the dotcom bubble, more than held their own during the subsequent 2002-2007 rally, and have had a far harder time of it in the last five years. Why might this be? 

John Authers

The Bank of England has hit the target at last. UK inflation is at 2 per cent, bang in line with the Bank’s target, for the first time since the end of 2009. This is good news for the UK, which had been buffeted by an incipient inflation problem. But it is part of a global trend that could be far more problematic: deflationary pressure.

As the chart shows, the BoE now completes a set of all the four major developed market banks – along with the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank – to have inflation at or below the target of 2 per cent.