Fund Flows’ Record Reset Rumblings
EPFR-tracked fund bond and equity inflows were at record-setting pace through August, at $70 billion and $50 billion respectively, with numbers due to match 2012, before the Fed Reserve’s taper tantrum blow. Including so-called strategic allocation through separately managed accounts, the former category should exceed the $105 billion total five years ago, as non-dedicated investors have jumped in to join retail appetite reflected in unprecedented ETF preference. Local currency still lags hard currency interest, continuing recent annual trends, but could catch up by end-year as dollar correction persists after its initial lift on Trump reflation and protectionist policy agendas. By the same token external corporate and sovereign exposure is increasingly converging as gross issuance reaches estimated $400 billion and $150 billion sums in 2017, at spreads over US Treasuries in the 250-300 basis point range. Fixed-income index returns average high single-digits, but lag stocks with the benchmark MSCI soaring 25 percent with the P/E ratio at 14 times. In the detailed EPFR breakdown one-quarter of participation is through ETFs and global as opposed to regional or country funds dominate. North American and European investors eagerly subscribe the offerings, while Japanese ones shy away. The data show a heavy tilt toward consumer goods and technology in contrast with financial and commodity listings, and dividend as well as capital gain strategies. Company profits will increase over 10 percent on a forward basis due to better management and margins and the growth uptick to 5 percent in Q2 on China stabilization and positive trade volume after restriction threats. Brazil, Russia and South Africa are back from recession, and inflation is subdued across the universe with food and fuel costs relatively constant as exchange rates strengthen. Against this background, few central banks will raise interest rates with the vast majority staying on hold or easing marginally.
However the BRICS and other core markets have not shaken off political risks that combine to act as a potential future drag. Brazil has avoided a second impeachment for now with a vote not to remove President Temer despite bribery accusations, as his predecessor Lula was found guilty of these charges and sentenced to a long prison stretch he will appeal. Finance Minister Mereilles promised to press on with social security reform after the decision, but the constituency for fiscal discipline is thin and wavering heading into another election cycle. Russia was subject to additional US energy and individual sanctions, after Congress almost unanimously passed legislation over President Trump’s objections that it interfered with executive foreign policy determination. Moscow retaliated by ejecting half of Embassy employees, as Russian shares continue to be an exception with a 15 percent decline through July. Poland has led the regional pack with a 40 percent jump, but the EU is considering penalties under Article 7 for anti-democratic action as the government assumes sweeping power over the nominally independent judiciary. The Brussels backlash follows similar signals against Hungary, another stock market high-flyer, for the Orban administration’s anti-migrant steps, including alleged abuses in detention and residential facilities. The “nuclear option” in both cases would be cohesion fund cutoff, equivalent to 20 percent of GDP, at the same time the world is facing the actual prospect in North Korea with the specter of literal Asian fallout.