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Equity Indices’ Consumer Consummation

2017 August 10 by

With both core and frontier stock markets up double-digits through mid-year index providers like S&P Dow Jones have rolled out fresh benchmarks with traditional ones “quite limited” for investment outperformance. Broad gauges are “highly correlated” as S&P’s BMI beat the MSCI by 30 percent over the past 15 years with a 435 percent gain. South Korea is excluded from the former as a developed market while its 15% weight with lagging results has been a drag on the latter. The two also differ since MSCI has no small-cap stocks, often consumer and health care-related, which have advanced 170 percent more than mid and large-cap peers concentrated in banks and exporters over the period. The gap has been particularly wide the past decade as personal discretionary and staples outpaced energy listings by 80 percent, with a lead across all regions. Among the main geographies Latin America and Europe have big natural resource exposure as in Brazil and Russia, while Asia features information technology. To better capture the consumer play Dow Jones has introduced a global Titans 30 index with top representation from South Africa, China, India and Mexico. Korean and Taiwanese firms are outside since their sales are predominantly to industrial economies. Its volatility-adjusted return exceeded overall industry measures back-tested to the early 2000s, and dozens of additional dedicated country, sector, and size indices are available for sophisticated managers, according to the report.

Private equity has also evolved as emerging market allocation increased nine times since 2005 to over $550 billion at end-2016, a Preqin industry survey reveals. Fundraising last year was below 2015, with buyout and venture capital deals moving in opposite directions. Despite major country economic and world geopolitical challenges long-term middle class and young working class growth remain drivers even if returns lag Europe and North America vehicles. Funds have begun to distribute more capital than called, with net cash flow at records. In the past five years activity has slowed from the peak when EM was half the PE total. In 2016 it was 12 percent with almost 200 fund closes for $45 billion. Through 2017 so far the numbers are 60 and $15 billion, respectively, for one-fifth of global raising. Asia has been 80 percent of the sum the last decade followed by Latin America, and diversified mandates are just 5 percent. By category growth and venture capital funds dominate in volume, but buyout types have attracted 40 percent of the action in recent years. Only 15 percent of general partners could reach completion within six months, and three-quarters are based in developing economies for easier analysis and marketing. Four out of the five largest launched since 2008 are from China with combined $50 billion in commitments. The investor base comprises almost 900 institutions, over one-quarter from Greater China, and banks, corporations and portfolio managers are the majority with venture capital preference. Funds of Funds apply more in developed markets, and according to a survey of 200 respondents China and India will be the favored near-term destinations, while Central Europe and the Middle East will stay sidelined. This April phone company Didi Chuxing set a venture mark with a $5.5 billion transaction, with mainland and foreign partners ringing the right tone.


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Rave Universal Returns’ Scarce Selectivity

2017 August 3 by

All emerging market debt and equity asset classes rallied in the first half, replicating advance economy minimum yield flight in 2016 despite marginal central bank benchmark rate increases and reflecting slight economic growth and earnings improvement over original forecasts. Stock markets outperformed after a multi-year funk with the MSCI core and frontier indices up 17% and 12%, respectively, while local government bond gains at 8% outstripped external sovereign and corporate ones around 5%. Resurgent fund flows at over $100 billion combined according to data trackers, a large portion from exchange-listed ETFs, have channeled momentum since the end of the first quarter when a brief global scare from the new US administration’s trade and immigration policies, which could hit China and Mexico in particular, faded into the background. The dollar retreated from previous highs and commodity prices stabilized in the aftermath, and retail and institutional investors then poured money in with scant geographic and asset class distinction. The second half will determine if markets can begin again to rise and fall on their own virtues in their own long-delayed “normalization” process, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Asia’s and a decade since the US and Europe-led world financial meltdown.

As in the mania that preceded the late 2000s crash, stock market gains in the big BRIC economies mirrored the MSCI result, with Russia the only loser, down 15%. China and India were each ahead 20%, while Brazil was essentially flat with a 2% uptick. Brazil and Russia are out of recession but still grapple with stagflation. China’s 6.5% growth and steady currency and reserves were on target before the upcoming Party Congress, but the well-telegraphed incremental inclusion of “A” shares in the gauge was also a catalyst. India’s GDP increase was the same as China’s, and its price-earnings ratio toward 20 is five points above the emerging market average, but it is considered a structural reform standout despite lagging a generation behind peers, and the mixed record so far with recent months’ large banknote elimination and just-launched national tax unification. Including South Africa in the group, as a charter member of the BRICS Bank now in operation, contributes another 5% plus bump but reinforces the broad narrative of ambivalent economic and political fundamentals and model change. The IMF and World Bank tweaked the developing world growth forecast to 4.5% this year but warned about fiscal deficits, monetary strain from bank deleveraging, and balance of payments pressure from voluntary and hidden capital outflows. They suggested another period of business and financial sector opening and deepening was overdue with reactivation of stalled concepts like state bank and enterprise privatization.

The BRIC rebound has likewise been instrumental in lifting external corporate and sovereign bonds. Issuance was a record $100 billion and $250 billion in the respective segments through end-June, at average spreads around 300 basis points. China’s giant state-run and real estate companies, with tighter onshore access, have been 40% of corporates and Brazil’s Petrobras, the biggest individual debtor, has bounced off last year’s bottom after ratings downgrades and defaults hit Brazilian names broadly. Despite lingering international sanctions, Russia has returned in force to both markets, and a spate of new and resumed entrants, including Argentina and Gulf countries lifted lackluster traditional sovereign activity. Local bond average yields over 6% sparked a renewed carry trade wave among fast-moving investment funds borrowing in low-volatility industrial world currencies, a phenomenon largely absent the past decade. For more exotic destinations in Africa and elsewhere, IMF program negotiation resurfaced as an allocation driver, with Ghana, Zambia, Cameroon and Mongolia among popular bets shunned in the absence of additional official support.

With a nascent global bond selloff already arriving in July, EM fixed-income in particular could correct across the board, and the pure valuation argument for equities is increasingly questionable with profits hurting in many sectors outside world value chain connected consumer goods and technology. Local currency debt, and smaller and frontier country shares, should be able to hold if investors reflect and differentiate in the space in a long-term successful strategy, rather than risk disappointment with an overriding narrative of modest growth pickup and taper tantrum sequel avoidance.



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US Development Policy’s Demolition Crew Din

2017 July 27 by

With the Trump Administration proposing 30 percent bilateral and multilateral development assistance cuts, and wide ranging yet undefined reorganization with management consultants first scouring the State Department, Washington researchers have scrambled to offer their own comprehensive reforms for executive and legislative consideration. The Center for Global Development unveiled a “practical vision” with over a dozen priority items to be coordinated across twenty agencies led by AID and more focused arms like OPIC and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, despite total spending at half the OECD average 0.3 percent of GDP. Four thematic areas—fragility, inclusion, health and humanitarian aid—would drive future interventions and strategy and offer a government-wide integrated approach. For fragile and transitional countries, AID’s traditional competitive bidding, typically a 2-year cycle, could be waived to allow quick program and personnel deployment. The surge would come under a new operation after previous attempts like State’s Conflict and Stabilization Bureau proved inadequate. The report recommends joint AID-MCC programs since the latter’s 5-year country compacts can frame broader economic policy change, and the former could deploy its credit authority to foster private financial flows.  It adds that agreements could be extended indefinitely on steady governance and inclusion improvement since few new eligible candidates appear annually. OPIC should be expanded into a full-service funding organization despite the initial Trump budget seeking abolition, with the existing range stretched to public equity investment and technical assistance, while enterprise ventures promoted elsewhere are transferred to its control. Disaster relief remains AID’s comparative advantage, although refugee humanitarian duties should be split with the State Department’s migration bureau. Food, which has to be shipped by US carriers under outdated law, should not be the Agriculture Department’s responsibility and reforms should focus on cheaper local supply and distribution not distorting traditional markets. Reporting and strategy should be streamlined and shared across a common platform, and a comprehensive review of UN and multilateral development bank contributions can weigh detailed costs and benefits for billions of dollars that may be better allocated under alternative arrangements.

The CSIS think tank convened another bipartisan task force on the subject, with the reminder that foreign aid is just 1 percent of the budget or around $40 billion, while the original enabling act is over 50 years old and over 20 government units are now involved with congress layering on hundreds of earmarks and information mandates. A main purpose is international economic partnership to create US jobs and sales, and the group warns about repeating the mid-1990s overhaul experience, with large layoffs “crippling” AID leadership and technical ranks. It notes that today’s complex challenges include forced migration, pandemics, terrorism, political dysfunction and transnational crime, as private capital flows to developing countries are five times official support. Canada will soon join the rest of the G-7 in launching its own full-fledged development finance arm, leaving the US alone with its lagging OPIC structure. Middle income recipients should graduate over time, and development bank burden sharing must be clearly defined after a 15-year period of “benign neglect.” The number of sectors should be narrowed following the base realignment parallel at the Pentagon, and short and long-term pools should stay separate with management from a dedicated career corps of specialists not cultivated under current work force planning, according to the blueprint.


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Forced Displacement’s Involuntary Toll Tally

2017 July 7 by

The UN Refugee agency released its annual report on global relocation due to war and persecution, with the total rising to 65 million, one-third refugees crossing borders and the majority internally displaced within their own countries. Last year 10 million were newly uprooted, and half of refugees are children and 85 percent are in the developing world. The Syria conflict is the biggest contributor with 5.5 million citizens fleeing, followed by Afghanistan and South Sudan respectively at 2.5 million and 1.5 million. Lebanon hosts the highest portion in per capita and Turkey in absolute terms, and 2 million asylum claims were filed and 190,000 refugees resettled in 2016, half in the US before the Trump administration’s proposed stricter limits. The number on the move has doubled in twenty years mainly due to Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa unrest. After Syria’s 12 million Columbia has the most displaced with over 7.5 million and Nigeria, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen also range from 2-3 million. South Sudan’s exodus was particularly pronounced last year with spillover into neighboring poor countries like Uganda. The 22 million refugees include 5 million Palestinians under the UNHCR’s longstanding mandate, and they increased 1 million globally. Africa had a 15 percent jump and Turkey now has received 500,000 more Syrians than all of Europe’s 2.3 million, and also has 15,000 exiles from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Pakistan has 1.5 million Afghanis; Lebanon 1 million Syrians and Uganda 650,000 South Sudanese. Jordan has taken in 650,000 from Syria, almost double the influx into Germany. Kenya has the tenth biggest refugee cohort of 450,000 chiefly from Somalia. In Asia almost 500,000 Rohingya left Myanmar as of last year, with half staying in Bangladesh and 100,000 each going to Malaysia and Thailand. Low and middle-income economies disproportionately accommodate inflows, with “least developed” Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia and Sudan among others with 5 percent of the world total. Two-thirds are in “protracted” stays of five years-plus and 4 million have been way for an average 20 years, according to the UN data.

Last September’s General Assembly summit emphasized durable solutions, including voluntary repatriation, third-country resettlement and local integration, but they have been “inadequate” and left large swathes in “precarious” position. Returnees with official assistance are less than 5 percent, and the US, Australia and the UK are now tightening entry programs while Canada continues its welcome. Legal status through naturalization extended to just 25,000 in 2016, with France, Belgium and Austria boosting designations. Labor and education are improving as “complementary pathways” but domestic competition and lack of capacity continue as long-term obstacles. Libya and the Philippines had 450,000 and 250,000 respective internal returnees despite strife, which has since worsened and is likely to reignite escape. Almost 3 million sought asylum, and while Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian applications comprised 70 percent in the US half came from Mexico and Central America including Venezuela. Italy received almost 50,000 claims from Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal and Eritrea.  France, Greece, Sweden and South Africa also processed large amounts and 900,000 were approved overall with Germany alone rendering 600,000 decisions. Another 3 million people are formally “stateless” and of the 17 million refugees outside the Palestinian saga half have private shelter, and 4.5 million are in managed or self-designed camps which may not displace anger and fear, the report suggests.


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Contingent Sovereign Debt’s Emergency Appeal

2017 June 3 by

After months of public and private sector consultations the IMF completed a policy paper at the request of the G-20 on promoting use of state contingent debt instruments (SCDIs) adjusted to continuous economic indicators like GDP or singular events such as natural disasters. They are recognized for countercyclical and risk-sharing features, and recent development institution focus has been on commodity hedging for low-income countries. Recently in Argentina’s and Ukraine’s restructurings growth-linked warrants were offered, but the concept has yet to gain widespread acceptance even in current global low-yield conditions inviting alternatives. As an automatic stabilizer they “preserve space” in bad times , but other tools are available to serve this purpose including foreign reserve accumulation, fiscal rules, commercial insurance, and central bank swap lines. However these backstops all have downsides and are not as accessible as well-designed long-term SCDIs in principle, which also increase securities diversification and the global financial system “safety net,” according to the Fund. Previous simulations show that introduction of GDP-tied bonds can raise the national debt limit before crisis by dozens of points as a fraction of output. The natural investor base would not be commercial banks or other mark-to-market buyers, but so called real money participants that can balance country welfare with asset returns. They nonetheless demand high novelty yields to compensate for liquidity and performance doubts, which would be magnified with data frequency and reporting gaps. For troubled countries the advance cost could spike, and until a track record develops moral hazard could argue that officials will not be as motivated to tackle macro and structural economic weakness. For issuers the operation must be the responsibility of independent debt managers to avoid political considerations and short-term time horizons, and to prepare in the context of asset class trends and sentiment swings. These combined factors argue for gradual testing within strictly-defined gain and loss boundaries, with ratings agencies brought in at an early stage, the study believes.

Official lenders like France’s development agency already provide counter-cyclical facilities to poor countries, and both advanced and emerging economies have adopted inflation-adjusted obligations and contingency features have entered sovereign debt rescheduling since the 1990s Brady Plan. Value recovery rights were in a dozen transactions, with half in detachable form, but the experience has often been indexation lags and undue complexity impeding further adaptation. Nonetheless investors surveyed were open to fresh pilots, on the assumption that pricing may be up to 50 basis points over conventional offerings at the outset. Legal and regulatory treatment should be equal to other instruments, and standard contracts and benchmark issues are preferred, with jurisdiction choices London and New York. Commodity exporters, small states, and emerging markets with shallow local bond activity are potential priority initial borrowers. Pension funds controlling $40 trillion are natural takers but may be confined to hard currency investment-grade exposure. The Islamic finance sector, currently with over $150 billion in sovereign and quasi-sovereign sukuks outstanding, would also be a likely target along with insurers and reinsurers. The document proposes three design versions, one with an automatic maturity extension trigger upon adverse statistics or events. It suggests that official creditors could add guarantees or otherwise work to galvanize multiple attempts through balance sheet and technical support, but concludes urgency is lacking.


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Institutional Investors’ Sweeping Sustainability Suspicions

2017 May 26 by

Ahead of consecutive UN conferences on Financing for Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) a blue-ribbon panel of investment managers and international lending agency officials released a long-term action plan to mobilize global banking and capital markets participants around environment, social and governance (ESG) returns. Infrastructure alone will need $2.5 trillion over the next dozen years for low-carbon energy and education-health purposes, and current financial assets at $300 trillion and increasing 5 percent annually are an untapped pool ready to look elsewhere with the large negative-yield industrial country sovereign debt category. However a wholesale commercial, regulatory, technology  and long-term “reorientation” is needed for outcomes that will only be clear over decades , according to the study under the auspices of the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. New international standards like Basel III do not incorporate SDG criteria, even if the UN Environment Program and related efforts try to transmit practices and principles. The report recommends that banks, rating agencies, stock exchange listed companies and institutional investors with $100 trillion under management apply yardsticks to be created by global accounting and rulemaking bodies. Central banks in Bangladesh, Brazil, China and Indonesia already impose requirements around “green” projects so that lenders duly disclose and monitor benefits and risks. On reporting, following a series of initiatives since the 1990s, over 90 percent of the word’s 250 leading corporations detail ESG performance. Almost 1500 fund houses have signed the UN responsible investment code, but the lack of common universal metrics remains and prevents company comparisons, with 80 percent of managers expressing discontent in a Price Waterhouse survey. Regardless of the gap thousands of empirical studies show a positive correlation between compliance and profitability. Small and midsize enterprises, which have not participated due to cost and information disadvantages, could be specifically targeted in future outreach and standard-setting.

Infrastructure has a $2-3 trillion yearly hole through the SDGs 2030 deadline, two-thirds in emerging and frontier economies, in sectors including energy, transport, telecoms, water and sanitation. The goal is to limit global warming to a two degree temperature rise, as the urban population will roughly double by midcentury to 6.5 billion. Public financing falls short even in the US and Europe, where it is under 2 percent of GDP, one-third the rate to meet developing world demand. The eight major development banks in turn provide just $40 billion annually and they could leverage up to $1 trillion without jeopardizing credit ratings. In seventy five low income countries, mainly in Africa private investment has been only $75 billion the past five years. Insurers are also missing as asset and risk managers for climate change, following a pattern of minimal natural disaster coverage that came to $100 billion in the latest estimate. Regional initiatives like China’s $1 trillion One Belt One Road are in a startup phase and the two big policy banks, each with over $300 billion in assets, charged with credit support are struggling with previous portfolio cleanup in that geographic nexus and elsewhere, particularly Latin America. Private pension fund expansion must go further and sovereign wealth pools should increase infrastructure project exposure with governments acting as the ultimate market maker for sustaining long-term trading products, the group suggests.


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Global Reserves’ Restocked Shelf Space

2017 May 21 by

Global foreign exchange reserves, after slumping $1 trillion from mid-2014 through the end of last year mainly due to dollar fluctuations, have stabilized in recent months with restored emerging market capital inflows, according to IMF and central bank figures. The global total is now almost $11 trillion and $8.5 trillion for developing economies after a double-digit annual fall from China and Gulf country drawdowns in particular. Fund tracking data shows $50 billion in foreign investor debt and equity allocation in the first quarter, with leaps in IIF monthly high-frequency numbers. Currency manipulation through deliberate depreciation is no longer the case, although many countries have excess reserves as defined by international yardsticks of four months import and short-term debt coverage, with Hungary and Turkey exceptions with shortfalls on the respective measures. The emerging market 15 percent savings rate now tops the developed nation one, and the spurt outstrips the reserve accumulation pace. The US and UK on the flip side run the highest current account deficits as a portion of world output, although the dollar accounts for two-thirds of foreign exchange holdings, with the euro a distant second at 20 percent, and the RMB only 1 percent. In fixed income both external sovereign and corporate issuance at $75 billion and $170 billion through April are at records. In the former half the supply has been from the Middle East, with Argentina also contributing $7.5 billion. These new entrants have spurred the asset class, along with a $100 billion annual refinancing hump toward end-decade. Big houses like JP Morgan predict $50 billion in retail and institutional inflows this year, and 5 percent cash positions built up during the initial Trump confrontation scare can help accommodate heavy hard currency-denominated pipelines.

The CEMBI spread at 250 basis points over US Treasuries is at an unprecedented low with a 4 percent index return so far, and projected high-yield defaults have halved to 2 percent with commodity price recovery. Final issuance in 2017 should approach $400 billion, with one-quarter from Asia, almost all China. One third of advanced economy bonds still carry negative yields, and Latin America has been the best performing region, as Brazil and Russia bounced off bottoms. The difference between speculative and investment-grade paper has narrowed to 300 basis points and scarcer euro-denominated have returned more than dollar bonds through April. Commodities remain mixed, and dollar strength has faded, but the main risk is with unhedged domestic-oriented consumer and utility names. Daily trading volume by the US TRACE system is $3.5 billion, half in quasi-sovereigns. Dedicated assets under management are $80 billion, and so-called crossover investor interest has increased although US high-yield exposure is still below 3 percent. Recovery values were dismal last year at 35 cents, and 20 instruments in Brazil and Venezuela currently trade at 50 percent of par or under in deep distress. Net debt and ratings downgrade ratios have improved with better earnings estimates. Of the $2 trillion tracked half is quasi-sovereign with Asia and the Gulf having majorities in the category, and leverage indicators have stabilized although state support is the credit bulwark increasingly offset by policy wobbles, analysts caution.


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Merger Fever’s Testy Temperature Reading

2017 May 5 by

The latest edition of auditing and consulting firm Ernst and Young’s global capital confidence barometer, surveying thousands of senior executives in forty countries across fifteen industries, was upbeat on global economy and M&A prospects despite geopolitical jitters. It found that digital and supply chain evolution, aided by private equity again on the hunt, continue to propel deals. The worldwide rise in purchasing manager indices has translated into “stretched” earnings expectations that drive buying interest beyond internal growth. Short-term credit and securities markets are stable and improving to support higher valuations, although currency and commodity volatility lingers, according to the poll. Policy uncertainty by geography—US, EU and China—and issues including cyber war, trade protectionism and immigration affect the business model but Eurozone breakup and Chinese debt crisis are low-risk probabilities. Technology disruption may be the leading factor in strategy and tactics, with traditional complications like tax rates and government intervention losing sway. It has resulted in global outsourcing of information and finance functions so companies focus on “core competence,” itself a moving target with increased automation and innovation. Acquisition pace may not return to 2015’s record and will spike this year but not overheat, with over half of respondents on the trail. They are following customers and trying to retain competitive edge, and also looking to simpler relationships like alliances and joint ventures. Methods range from full asset purchase to investment through corporate venture capital units, and high-profile bids will attract scrutiny from activist shareholders. In the US and Europe sentiment is split as the business-friendly Trump administration has triggered optimism, while UK-EU negotiations over Brexit prompt a wait and see stance. China is the number two M&A destination, and this year’s trend toward domestic combinations and inward allocation is opposite 2016’s. State enterprise consolidation in excess capacity sectors like aluminum and steel, along with consumer play shifts in the economic model, will be major themes, the study believes. Brazil and India are also in the top ten countries, and autos, energy, mining and telecoms are the main categories on the radar.

Brazil’s FDI is on solid course as portfolio inflows lift stocks and bonds and chase a raft of initial public offerings such as airline Azul after a long pause. Recession is over and inflation is heading toward 5 percent as the central bank may slide the benchmark rate to single digits. According to regulators banks are in decent shape to tackle corporate bad loan damage, while consumer borrowing appetite is frozen as reflected in flat to negative retail sales. The interim government has proposed aggressive pension reform to accompany long-term spending restraint, but Congress may dilute the package to modest changes phased in over time extending fiscal deficit positions. In the House 60 percent of lawmakers must approve before the bill goes to the Senate, and party discipline has fractured with President Temer’s popularity at a nadir under the weight of overlapping scandals. Top officials at the IMF-World Bank spring meetings assured investors that this social security overhaul attempt would not meet the fate of the previous two decades ago which failed by one vote, but political drama could again doom it if early presidential elections are called due to resignation or popular demand which in limited quarters has repositioned disgraced former President Lula on the stage.


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The Opportunity in Refugee Finance (Financial Times)

2017 March 13 by

As the World Bank and other official lenders promote financial inclusion strategies in development programs, specific payment and borrowing needs around refugee communities, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, have started to come into focus. The newly-formed Tent Partnership for Refugees, hosted by yogurt maker Chobani as the successor to President Obama’s private sector call to action last year on the global migrant crisis, organized a working group, together with government and international organization partners, on banking and capital market access that met in January to consider policy input and pilot projects. Big names like Citigroup, Mastercard and Soros Fund Management are members of the panel, along with smaller specialist firms interested in micro-credit and crowdsourcing as well as traditional commercial bank and bond and stock market linkages. The group explored a range of promising business and technology fixes where tens of millions of dollars could be initially deployed, such as a vehicle to invest in major locally-listed financial institutions in exchange for their commitments to grow and adapt refugee finance solutions. This emphasis could help alter the savings and investment landscape for host migrant populations along with doubts about ailing mainstream banks struggling with difficult economic conditions, which have soured fund managers on major frontline state exposure.

Turkey’s sophisticated state-owned, private, and Islamic lenders have been caught in a political and economic morass since 2016’s failed coup attempt. The lira extended its losing streak into January as emerging markets’ worst performer, with the central bank refraining from raising headline interest rates in part for fear of further damaging bank portfolios, which have not yet incorporated the fallout from widespread forced and involuntary company closures. However even with a 10 percent MSCI equity decline last year many analysts continue to recommend Akbank and other sector stalwarts as good value with their franchises. They could potentially deepen footprints among millions of Syrian refugees in border camps and surrounding cities, and

diversify consumer and business outreach to offset existing deterioration. With the sovereign’s ratings downgrade to the BB speculative category, and delays and possible unraveling n the EU’s multi-billion euro aid plan, these intermediaries could also devise and underwrite new influx-specific infrastructure and education bonds if charged with the task and offered regulatory leeway.


Jordan and Lebanon likewise have world-class financial heavyweights on the stock exchange already engaged with refugee products and services and able to expand the delivery and innovation range. Starting with the “Jordan Compact” reached at a Syrian aid conference a year ago, international allies have stressed expanded free trade preferences in exchange for Amman’s relaxation of labor restrictions. The EU recently struck a garment import deal and supported further technical work and special tax-free zone local relocation for European multinationals, while the US Commerce Department led a trade mission there in December with financial services firm representation. Arab Bank could be a channel for greater banking and securities market development there and in neighboring countries, including the West Bank and Gaza, with a refugee presence. Lebanese counterparts in turn, have an historic reputation for functioning in a high-debt extreme conflict environment, and many have continued operating in Syria during the civil war while also serving the fleeing millions at home and abroad. They have created private placement sovereign bonds when external capital markets were relatively closed, and despite fresh access to the World Bank’s concessional borrowing facility, the government announced at last September’s UN Refugee Summit a pressing need for alternative long-term refugee funding sources that its banks could explore under a broad inclusion rationale.


Kenya has hosted one of the oldest and biggest camps for Somalis escaping their decades-long state destruction, and it is considered Africa’s digital payments pioneer with the M-Pesa network which has penetrated a full range of rural and marginalized communities. Almost all listed banks like Equity and Kenya Commercial have joined this revolution, and they were heavily switching from corporate to consumer business, including small traders as omnipresent in the refugee space, before a regulatory crackdown and the introduction of interest rate caps in a pre-election move by the President’s party. The government has threatened to close the camp but many security and economic analysts warn of chaos without a transition period and advise stepped-up financial sector coverage.


Asia would be an additional overlooked region where banks could be further tapped to tackle the

crisis response in their own interest. The Rohingya in Myanmar have escaped to Malaysia by boat, where Maybank and CIMB are among regional giants in both conventional and Islamic lines. A dedicated global refugee finance fund could be originated with Tent Foundation or other sponsorship, and would appeal to both standard emerging market and impact investors recognizing refugee waves as both business and development imperatives.


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Islamic Finance’s Higher Calling Calibration

2017 March 5 by

The World Bank  and Islamic Development Bank (IDB) issued their first joint Islamic finance report underscoring its potential contributions to reducing global income disparity and achieving sustainability goals, while advocating specific policy and banking and capital market changes for “shared prosperity.” Mutual risk and asset-backed redistribution principles undergird the concept, with priority small business and infrastructure purposes. Industry assets are almost $2 trillion spread across 50 countries, as a dedicated Malaysia-based financial services board tries to promote best practice and common rules. The sukuk bond market has grown “considerably” the past decade, but equity is often hampered by “perverse” tax treatment, and corporate access has lagged sovereigns in the absence of a long-term yield curve. Non-bank institutions like takaful insurers are not as prominent, and adaptation for public social spending on education and housing has been slow. The IDB prepared a 10-year strategy and the G-20 presented recommendations for greater sharia-compliant application in government development plans, but major gaps remain, according to the study. Poverty rates in Islamic Conference countries in Asia and Africa exceed non-members, and financial inclusion indicators are also low with borrowing frequently confined to informal channels. No stock exchange yet operates in full observance, although index providers offer screens and performance data. Sukuk issuance peaked in 2012 and has leveled off recently, but  Gulf external sovereign entry could boost the hybrid asset class, and investors may turn more to share alternatives as tax-deductability becomes more even. Accounting and auditing standards are increasingly similar through the technical work of a specialist body, but liquidity is still constrained by the lack of secondary trading, price discovery and rapid settlement. Islamic fund managers controlled $60 billion as of 2014 on annual double-digit expansion and have attracted socially-responsible mandates. For smaller firms crowd funding techniques could be adapted, and ijarah houses could increase leasing coverage. In religious and practical guidance a divide lingers between the leading national authorities in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, and clarity is urgent on allowable participation in hedge funds and derivatives which should not automatically be considered “speculative.” Malaysia’s regime dates back decades, and has the most comprehensive and sophisticated regulation and products, while Pakistan has a strategic plan that extends to Islamic micro-finance.

The Banks’ vision was unveiled as S&P Ratings warned of “continued hurdles” for Middle East banks this year with political and economic risks. They have ample retail deposits, but with thin fixed income markets government securities and direct lending dominate balance sheets. Debt-GDP ratios range from 80-135 percent in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and Moroccan and Tunisian banks have less sovereign exposure but asset quality is in doubt. Foreign currency liabilities are a looming problem as longstanding exchange rate pegs are modified, and private sector creditworthiness is a “drag” with emphasis on “cyclical and vulnerable” tourism, real estate and commodities sectors. Construction and mortgages are 40 percent of the total for the region, but Egypt is “subdued” as an exception. Tunisia has low loan loss coverage generally as write-offs are rare, and residential property softness has spilled over to the commercial segment. Lebanon’s housing loans have surged under a central bank subsidy program, as Syrian refugees continue to seek shelter with scant conventional or Islamic finance recourse.


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