The EBRD’s Insitutional Investor Instigations

The EBRD with market research firm IHS Markit updated its member country equity investor survey, with data and findings through mid-2019 after the previous 2017 tabulation. It looked at infrastructure, trading, capitalization and liquidity; corporate governance and transparency; and general political and economic background to assess individual market and regional “attractiveness.” Respondents preferred higher free-float and turnover ratios, and cited weightings in benchmark indices as passive and active managers. The biggest global houses like Black Rock, JP Morgan and Schroders are in all geographies, while others were country and investment-style specialists. Net exposure rose $25 billion over the period to $250 billion through 2200 surveyed firms, with Russia and Turkey at the most inflows while Central Asia had outflows. Central Europe and the Baltic states were the most popular allocation from two-thirds of the sample, and diversification was an overriding theme with exporter listings favored. Low valuations in the Mediterranean exchanges and good dividends in Russia were drivers, and small company “value” players targeted frontier locations. Commodity price swings and sanctions faded as concerns, replaced by worries over labor and anti-corruption backsliding. Over a three-year horizon sentiment was mostly bullish, but Central Asian and Middle East markets were viewed as too remittance dependent and politically charged. Participants predicted solid but not fast GDP growth, and worried about capital flight from Turkey and elsewhere. To boost liquidity they call for more privatization of state-owned enterprises and cross-border bourse ties. Custody, settlement, tax, and regulatory barriers persist, and portfolio balancing to bonds is limited with thin secondary trading. Consumer, financial and telecoms stocks were broadly embraced, among standout local stories like tourism in Croatia. ESG factors were a priority with an emphasis on business reputation and sustainability, with notable leaders in unlikely markets Egypt, Georgia and Slovenia. Internal practice such as board independence was considered equally with outside avoidance of child labor and energy waste.

In the EBRD universe strategic investors dominate with almost 60% ownership, followed by institutions (25%) and insiders (15%). Of the institutional share, Europe domicile is over half, with North America at 7.5% and the Middle East 2%. Vanguard from the US and the Qatar Investment Authority lead, both with allocations of almost $15 billion. “Aggressive growth” was the top approach for 40% of assets and almost $200 billion was actively managed. Over two-thirds of respondents were “buy and hold,” and the most diversified included Eaton Vance, Aberdeen Standard, and East Capital. Asian and Moroccan banks also featured, and private equity dual portfolios were headed by Russia’s Prosperity Capital. The update was completed long before the coronavirus arrival, with global commodity, value chain, remittance and tourism shares at greatest risk. Fiscal and monetary support is aimed at retail and strategic business, and the EBRD launched its own trade finance facility as member countries separately inundated the IMF and World Bank with emergency health and debt rescheduling requests. Reflecting the new program emphasis, economic research has expanded to measure such overlooked investor considerations as medical spending and physician availability. According to an April table about half the near 40 nations have low or moderate scores in these categories that may further sap strength against the disease.

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