Wednesday, October 24, 2012

300 Club: Asset managers must evolve beyond 'short-term salesmanship'

This article comment’s that asset management should move from short term salesmanship to long term stewardship a view that we fully subscribe to. Aivars Lode

EUROPE – The asset management industry as a whole fails in expertise, discipline and reliability, according to the latest paper from the influential 300 Club.
Furthermore, these failings are a result of financial conglomerates, a lack of focus and short-term career risk, according to Lars Dijkstra, CIO at Kempen Capital Management and the paper's author.

And he says asset management will have to reinvent itself to bridge the gap between what clients want and what asset managers offer.
Dijkstra points out that the 1980s and 1990s were a period of rapid growth, in which a growing number of asset managers became part of a listed financial conglomerate, leading to tremendous consolidation.
"But big does not always mean beautiful, and the larger the asset manager, the harder it proves to achieve outperformance," he says.
Furthermore, his paper argues, sales departments of large asset management firms are driven by a product focus and profit motive, marketing funds that appeal to the public, but which are most often yesterday's winner.
"The question of what the client really needs is insufficiently addressed," he says. "Before long, this approach will leave the client disillusioned with disappointing absolute returns.
"And as a result of an excessively short investment horizon, index-hugging and transaction fees, most investment funds fail to deliver added value after active fees."
Another problem, according to Dijkstra, is that business managers running asset management firms often focus on the short-term interests of their shareholders because they want to secure their bonus and their job.
"Therefore, they are disinclined to take risks that may, in the long run, add value for the client," he says.
"At the same time, portfolio managers are under pressure from benchmarks and have to achieve short-term success, or their career will be jeopardised.
"There is a fundamental mismatch in horizon between the interests of pension funds and the interests of asset managers, especially when these managers are part of a financial conglomerate."
He says client focus should be the cornerstone of the asset management industry, with a move away from distribution, marketing and product pushing.
"Superior asset management requires two things – creativity and decisiveness. Creativity is a matter of art and science, while decisiveness is determined by culture.
"To realise all this, three conditions have to be met – alignment of interests, focus and long-term commitment."
One step towards alignment of interests is to give employees co-ownership of the company and allow them to invest in their own products.
For asset managers to deliver added value net of fees requires the courage to take risks and to be a contrarian, says Dijkstra.
"Asset management companies where culture, philosophy and ownership are in the hands of the portfolio managers themselves have a significantly higher chance of creating value for the client," he adds.
He suggests that the emphasis should be on a limited number of high-quality activities, the idea being not to offer everything, but rather to make choices under the motto 'we do things well, or we don't do them'.
There should also be strong long-term commitment from both clients and asset managers.
In achieving all these goals, Dijkstra says the tools and options are readily available, but it will require a paradigm shift in the industry.
"We need to transition from short-term salesmanship to long-term stewardship," he concludes.
Author: Gail Moss

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Swedish retirees would work longer if conditions improved

In many other parts of the world the retirement age is much higher than in the USA we now see that changing. Aivars Lode

SWEDEN – Swedes tend to retire at the age of 65, but they would continue working for longer if employment and working conditions were improved, a study has found.
Research by the Swedish Pensions Agency (Pensionsmyndigheten) showed that, even though flexible retirement is possible from the age of 61, the norm is for workers to stop work at 65.

Ole Settergren, head of pensions development at the agency, said: "The most common reasons why people retire is the ability to have more time for leisure, family and friends, the opportunity to receive an occupational pension and the fact they have simply planned to retire at 65 for a long time."
The survey polled 2,000 people aged between 61 and 70 years, half of whom had already started drawing a public pension.
The agency, which runs all national pensions in the country, noted that politicians in Sweden were debating what could be done to make people work for longer.
According to the survey results, it said, the answer was to increase the economic advantages of working, offer the opportunity to work part-time and allow people to work flexible hours.
The report also found that senior officials and managers tend to retire late, while women with low education, tough jobs or health problems tend to retire early.
Author: Rachel Fixsen

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More and more, LBOs are becoming hot potatoes

For some time we have discussed that the world has changed and we have observed private equity firms selling amongst each other which is tantamount to flipping companies. Similar to what happened with the housing market. Therefore the returns that they have offered will not be sustainable. Aivars Lode

FORTUNE --  Increasingly, private equity is looking like a roach motel. Deals check in, but they never check out.
Take Simmons, one of the industry's most notorious hot potatoes. Over the past two decades the mattress company has been handed via leveraged buyouts from one private equity fund to another. In the early 1990s, it was owned by a unit of Merrill Lynch. Since then it has passed through the hands of Fenway Partners and famed private equity shop Thomas H. Lee. Earlier this month, Simmons was on the move again, this time from Ares Management and the Ontario Teachers' Pension fund to Advent as part of a $3 billion deal for AOT Bedding, which owns Simmons and rival Serta, itself no stranger to private equity firms.
The Simmons deal has plenty of company. Recently, it seems, the most active buyer of private equity's leveraged buyout deals have been other LBO funds. In the second quarter, 51% of all leveraged buyouts were bought with new debt by other private equity firms, according to Standard & Poor's Capital IQ.
So-called secondary buyouts have been around for a while, and have been rising as a portion of deals since the financial crisis. But the second quarter was the first time since Capital IQ began tracking the data a decade ago - and likely the first time in the history of private equity industry - that LBOs themselves have made up the majority of the buyers of other leveraged deals.
A leverage buyout usually entails a public company, or a division of a public company, being bought with debt by a private equity fund. After some time, private equity firms have traditionally sold those companies to other companies or back to the market in a public offering for a higher price than what they paid. But with corporate executives skittish about spending their cash and initial public offerings, especially in the wake of Facebook (FB), relatively rare, private equity firms are picking up deals that would normally go elsewhere.
That may make sense. Nonetheless, at a time when private equity is already under fire, the fact that increasingly the only buyers pe firms can find for their deals are other pe firms could be added fodder for those who claim that the private equity industry creates little value - other than for itself.
"Does it say something about private equity," says Stefano Bonini, a finance professor at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, who has followed secondary deals. "Probably yes in the sense that private equity funds have probably overgrown in the past and there is too much cash for too few really good deals."
In a recent study, Bonini looked at just over 2,900 private equity deals. While he found that private equity firms were able to improve performance and boost the value of companies they bought from the market or other companies, Bonini said that doesn't appear to be the case when the seller is another private equity firm. Once a private equity firm has bought and sold an investment, most private equity buyers struggle to add value the second time around. "Our findings show that follow-up deals create little, if any, differential value," says Bonini.
Others studies have showed that secondary deals make sense. Private equity veterans argue that firms have different expertise. So even after an initial buyout, a new private equity firm might make changes that the first private equity firm may not have thought of or tried.
At the very least, though, the growth of secondary buyouts could put pressure on fees. Christian Figge, a finance professor at Technische Universität München who has co-authored studies that found secondary deals add value, says private equity firms are paid, at least in part, for their ability to find attractive investments. If investors see that more and more of those investments come from private equity's own backyard, it will become harder and harder for managers to justify their fees.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Downturn forces private equity firms to hold companies longer than expected

The PE model is predicated on Exits and as we have noted during the past decade in numerous cases the PE firms have been trading companies amongst themselves akin to the flippers of the housing market pre crash therefore in numerous cases the PE firms have overpaid for assets and it will be difficult to realize the value they originally perceived. Aivars Lode
GLOBAL – Private equity fund managers involved in company buyouts have been forced to hold their portfolios for longer than initially planned in order to extract the desired value in the financial downturn, a report by Preqin has found.

According to Preqin, the fact that many transactions made in 2007 and earlier are still not sold suggests that many fund managers active during this period have been negatively impacted by the financial market turmoil, holding therefore their investments instead of exiting them.
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Preqin nonetheless noted in its research that the current low level of buyouts also needs to be put into perspective, as the unrealised portfolio value held by the industry comes as a result of the prevalence of large deals made during the buyout 'boom period'.

The report showed that in 2006-07, the industry saw an exceptionally high level of deals with around $1.3trn (€1trn) worth of private equity-backed buyout transactions. Such records have been unequalled since then.

However, the report revealed that buyout fund managers have made exits whenever favourable market opportunities have arisen since 2007.

Therefore, in the second quarter of last year, around $130bn worth of exits were recorded.

Manuel Carvalho, manager private equity deals, said: "Many buyout fund managers were extremely active deal-makers in the years preceding the financial crisis, with record levels of buyout activity registered during the 2006-07 'boom era'.

"For much of the period since, however, we have seen sustained periods of unfavourable exit conditions, and we have consequently witnessed some portfolio companies being retained for longer than originally intended to ensure that attractive returns can be provided to LPs [limited partners]."

Carvalho went on to say that investors in buyout funds can nonetheless be reassured by the fact that fund managers are making the most of any exit opportunities and investors will begin to see further distributions as soon as conditions are favourable enough for fund managers to sell at the right price.

Once those exists will have taken place, Preqin expects industry assets under management to decline in the short term as these companies are sold but as distributions filter back to investors, capital will be fed back into private equity funds through new commitments.

Preqin also noted that the primary concern for LPs is whether the asset class can still offer strong returns.

According to the report, while the onset of the financial downturn and the introduction of mark-to-market valuations in 2008 saw a steep fall in value in the short term, the asset class as a whole has been in a state of recovery since that time.

Author: Cécile Sourbes

Friday, August 17, 2012

Adapt to Low Volumes or Perish, Credit Suisse Tells Traders

The markets remain difficult and yield with acceptable risk elusive. Aivars Lode

Published: Friday, 17 Aug 2012 | 4:28 AM ET
By: Holly Ellyatt
Assistant News Editor
Declining volumes on global stock markets appear to show that real money trading activity is at decade lows, according to a new report from Credit Suisse, and investors believe volumes will stay low for two more years unless global resolutions to the risks of the economic crisis are found.
Credit Suisse’s report on trading activity shows that over the past four years, volumes in equity markets have been steadily falling and are now at half the level seen in the middle of the credit crisis — and traders fear they could get worse.
After surveying trade desks in the U.S., Europe and Asia, the report found that 76 percent of institutions are trading “a lot less”, with 35 and 40 percent of desks responding that they were trading “well below average - down 20 percent” and “below average - down 10 percent” respectively.
And there is no sign that there will be any change in a hurry, with 83 percent of respondents telling Credit Suisse that it would take 2-5 years (or possibly more) for volumes to recover. As long as global economic woes continue unabated and unresolved, or indeed approach in the months ahead, trading activity would stay subdued and risk averse, according to traders.
“Almost half of the responses said macro-risk needs to be resolved before trading activity is up…This is consistent with the popular view that macro risks are a key factor in decreasing investor risk-appetite — including European defaultsrecessions, the U.S. fiscal cliff and its own deficit,” the report said, adding, “It’s unlikely all will be resolved in less than a year.”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Norwegian oil fund sees investment losses of 2.2% in second quarter

Pension funds around the world are dealing with the new reality of reduced returns which translates to reduced pension’s and resetting expectations on retirement age. Aivars Lode

NORWAY – Equity losses of 4% have resulted in the Norwegian Pension Fund Global seeing investments return -2.2% over the second quarter, although actual declines in the oil fund's value were offset by a weakening kroner in the same period.
Financial stocks – comprising more than a fifth of the fund's equity portfolio – and holdings in oil and gas-related companies were particularly affected between April and June.
Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) noted that crude oil prices dropped by 20%, thereby leading to -7.8% returns across the sector.
Bank holdings fared marginally better, returning -6.1%, while basic materials lost nearly 10% in value over the three months.
However, when broken down by region, European banking stocks declined by 8.5% in value, with Norges citing Cyprus and Spain's request for financial assistance as a reason for the fall.
Yngve Slyngstad, chief executive at NBIM, said the weaker-than-expected global economy "weighed on stock markets" over the period.
"There was also increased uncertainty about the repercussions of the European sovereign debt crisis," it said.
The quarter saw the NOK3.6trn (€477bn) fund rebalance its fixed income exposure, further implementing a shift in asset allocation away from Europe first announced in February.
US Treasury bonds – at 21.1% of fixed income holdings, the fund's largest single investment – helped boost sovereign debt returns.
T-bills returned 3.3%, while UK gilts returned 5.1% and euro-denominated debt netted the fund 0.8%.
Following last quarter's decision to sell Irish and Portuguese debt, it also reduced exposure to French, Spanish and UK sovereign bonds, while increasing by 0.6% percentage points its fixed income holdings denominated in emerging market currencies.
"A lower exposure than the benchmark to Italian and Spanish government bonds contributed positively to the relative return," the quarterly report added.
However, it also highlighted that the emerging market holdings had contributed to a 0.17 percentage point benchmark underperformance for the overall portfolio.
NBIM also confirmed that it had bought an undisclosed amount of shares in Formula One, which has plans to list in Singapore in the near future.
However, despite investment losses of NOK77bn, the fund's total assets under management increased NOK65bn at the end of June.
"A weakening of the kroner against several major currencies boosted the market value by NOK70bn," NBIM said, adding that it received an additional NOK72bn in revenue from the government, of which 80% had been invested in equity.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pension Giant CalPERS Appears Ready to Abandon Most VCs

A topic that I have previously discussed extensively. The world has changed and the promise of exits through strategic sales and IPO’s for tech companies are only available in a limited way, therefore the returns that VC’s seek are no longer there. This will have a profound effect on software companies shareholders when thinking about exits.  Aivars Lode

By: Gregory Roth
The nation’s largest public pension fund, CalPERS, appears likely to slash its investments in venture capital in what could be a blow to this still recovering asset class.
Venture capital has wallowed through nearly a decade of difficult returns and sluggish fundraising. The decision by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to largely abandon new commitments to venture funds will likely prolong the agony.
The California money manager’s new strategy, which it has discussed before, appears tied to flagging returns from its existing investments and concerns that taking a large enough stake in future funds is nearly impossible. CalPERS, with $239 billion in assets, needs to hold significant positions in new securities for them to have an impact on the bottom line.
The pension fund this year has about $2.1 billion in venture capital assets, or 6% of a $34 billion private-equity portfolio that includes buyout, distressed debt and mezzanine funds. The new plan, which will be debated at an investment committee meeting on Aug. 13, would cut that allocation to less than 1%.
If adopted, the plan would make good on signs CalPERS has dropped over the past year that it wants to step away from venture. Whether that means secondary sales is not clear.
The pension fund cites several reasons for the proposed move, “One is that venture has been the most disappointing asset class over the past 10 years as far as returns,” says Joe Dear, CalPERS’s chief investment officer. “Second, it’s very difficult for a large fund like CalPERS to gain access to the best venture partners in the size that makes a difference to our performance.”
The fund’s venture capital portfolio in addition has “little upside remaining,” according to a report to be submitted to the investment board.
Over the past decade, venture capital has been the worst performing asset class in CalPERS’ private equity portfolio. It has delivered a net return of 0.0%, according to June 30, 2012 pension fund data. Part of the poor performance stems from the continuing fallout from the dot-com bust, which saddled many venture funds with negative returns. Performance was hurt again by the recent financial crisis, which had an impact on almost all asset classes.
In the past year or so, venture returns have improved as IPO activity has risen. Still, venture capital has fared poorly relative to other asset classes at CalPERS. Buyout funds, which represent 57% of CalPERS’s private-equity portfolio, have produced average annual returns of 15.4% over the past 10 years, while credit related investments, another big CalPERS investment focus, generated 14.1% annual returns.
Yet venture capital, on CalPERS’ home turf of California, is the stuff of fairytale riches, helping to finance fabled companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and eBay. Most venture-backed firms don’t blossom into multi-billion-dollar goliaths. But they still can produce astronomical returns for investors, and the competition to get in funds managed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Sequoia Capital, and Andreessen Horowitz is fierce.
It is hard to gauge the impact of CalPERS’s plan. Fundraising has been tough in venture with just $11.2 billion raised this year through June. If other large pensions were to follow CalPERS’s lead, it is likely that the pot of money VC funds can access would get smaller.
Reporter Mark Boslet contributed to this story.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Random Ramblings

The new reality as we have discussed many times. The promised returns from VC, PE are just not there to provide the returns previously promised. Aivars Lode

Most California public employees are facing a 5% pay cut. Now the state’s largest pension system, CalPERS, wants its contractors to accept a similar reduction.

Fortune has learned that CalPERS last week sent a letter to 112 service providers, asking them to voluntarily help “reduce the operating expenses of the system.” Recipients included many firms that work with CalPERS’ private markets group, including Capital Dynamics, Cogent Partners, Hamilton Lane Advisors, LP Capital Advisors and Wilshire Associates.

Actual private equity fund managers did not receive the letter, with a system spokesman citing investment staff’s well-publicized efforts to hold down fees as part of the new commitment process. Chances are that there also were most-favored nation considerations, since a cut for CalPERS could result in a cut for all other LPs (something few PE firms would voluntarily accept).

The letters do not specify a target reduction, although the 5% appears to be guidance. CalPERS last issued a similar request back in 2009. At the time, CalPERS sent letters to 600 contractors and received 99 affirmative replies (to differing extents) that the system estimates saved it a little over half a million dollars.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Swiss Banks Face Slow Death as Taxman Chases Assets

The more complex structures that attorneys and accountants have previous advised us upon seem to be unraveling. Aivars Lode
By Giles Broom 

Aug 5, 2012 6:01 PM ET 

Swiss banks must lure affluent clients from emerging markets or face a “slow death” as the pursuit of tax dodgers by U.S. and European authorities results in outflows of assets, industry officals and investors said.

Reyl Group CEO Francois Reyl
Reyl Group Chief Executive Officer Francois Reyl said, “Those banks which don’t adapt will die a slow death.” Photographer: Stephane Gros via Bloomberg
Swiss Banks Face Slow Death as Taxman Chases Undeclared Assets
Julius Baer, Sarasin and other Swiss banks are investing onshore branch networks to retain European clients repatriating money. Compliance and regulatory costs, plus competition from local banks, mean the profit margins on those customers are lower. Photographer: Gianluca Colla/Bloomberg

Western Europeans may pull as much as 135 billion francs ($139 billion), or 15 percent of their holdings, from Swiss banks, said Herbert Hensle of Cap Gemini SA. Bank Sarasin & Cie. AG reported last week that private clients withdrew 3 billion francs from Swiss locations in the year through June.

Switzerland built the world’s biggest offshore wealth center during an era of “black money” that ended when the U.S. sued UBS AG (UBSN) three years ago. Many of the highest fee-generating European and American customers are withdrawing funds as the hunt for tax evaders widens. As many as 100 Swiss banks will vanish, according to Vontobel Holding AG Chief Executive Officer Zeno Staub.

“It will not be a big bang, but an erosion as amnesty programs are put together and as clients declare themselves and come clean,” said Francois Reyl, chief executive officer of Geneva-based Reyl Group, which manages 5.5 billion francs of assets. “Those banks which don’t adapt will die a slow death.”

Some banks are already under pressure. EFG International AG, the Swiss bank controlled by billionaire Spiro Latsis, last month reported outflows from continental Europe in the first half, while net new money from private clients at Vontobel fell 86 percent to 100 million francs from a year earlier.

Secret History

Switzerland passed bank secrecy laws in 1934 after bankers of Basler Handelsbank were arrested in Paris two years earlier for aidingtax evasion by wealthy French clients. Swiss banks amassed one-third of the world’s offshore wealth over the next 75 years, before the U.S. government sued UBS on Feb. 19, 2009, to force the disclosure of 52,000 American customers who allegedly hid undeclared assets in Swiss accounts.

Five days after the U.S. filed the UBS lawsuit, Ivan Pictet, then managing partner of Geneva’s biggest wealth manager Pictet & Cie., told Le Temps newspaper that Switzerland’s banking industry may shrink by half if the country abandons secrecy.

Three years on, Raymond Baer, honorary chairman of Julius Baer Group Ltd., said “banking secrecy, as we know it, is history.”

“Swiss institutions are preparing to tackle an outflow of assets and are developing white-money strategies,” said Zurich-based Hensle of Cap Gemini, with Europeans repatriating funds to their home countries. “The number of banks will decrease.”

Fewer Banks

Almost one in three banks will disappear or merge with other firms over the next five years as fees fail to compensate for rising regulatory costs and difficult market conditions, Vontobel’s Staub told Handelszeitung this month.
The number of overseas banks in Switzerland fell to 145 from 154 last year, according to the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland. There were 312 banks in Switzerland at the end of 2011, according to the Swiss Bankers Association.

Onshore deposits by individuals in Europe are failing to compensate for Swiss outflows in the last 12 months, Sarasin said July 30, when the Basel-based bank reported a 27 percent decline in first-half profit. Sarasin, which has six offices inGermany, is implementing a strategy to ensure all clients are tax-compliant by the end of 2012.

“Sometime in 2013 or 2014 we will have a drop in assets under management of something like 25 percent of the undeclared money,” Bernard Droux, a managing partner at Lombard Odier & Cie., Geneva’s oldest bank, said June 29, adding that it’s difficult to give precise estimates of undeclared money.

Asset Risk

As much of one-third of the $3 trillion of private wealth managed in Switzerland may be undeclared and at risk from foreign tax collectors, said Benedict Hentsch, chairman of Geneva-based Banque Benedict Hentsch & Cie. SA.

That figure is probably too high, according to Droux, who said that a maximum 15 percent of client money at Lombard Odier and other private banks is undeclared.

UBS said in November that as much as 30 billion francs of assets may be at risk amid changes in tax rules for European clients living outside Switzerland.

Switzerland has ratified a withholding tax accord with the U.K. on Britons with bank accounts in the Alpine country, while Germany and Austria have also signed agreements.

Julius Baer, Sarasin and other Swiss banks are investing in onshore branch networks to retain European clients repatriating money. Compliance and regulatory costs, plus competition from local banks, mean the profit margins on those customers are lower.

Margin Squeeze

Margins on onshore assets in Germany may be less than half the 120 to 150 basis points earned on non-resident funds in Switzerland, according to Booz & Co., a consultancy. A basis point is one one-hundredth of a percentage point.

“Non-declared offshore assets were traditionally the most profitable assets,” said Andreas Lenzhofer, of Booz & Co. in Zurich. “There was very little client interaction, very little cost of compliance and the clients weren’t sensitive to prices. Now offshore clients are becoming the most expensive, challenging the profit model of the banks tremendously.”

UBS, Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN), Baer and Sarasin have in the past two weeks reported declines in their gross margin, or the revenue they generate on assets under management. The second-quarter margin at UBS’s wealth management unit for clients outside the U.S. fell to 89 basis points from 97 basis points a year earlier.

Smaller banks may struggle to adapt and some foreign-owned wealth managers are looking to leave, said Hensle. Julius Baer is in talks with Bank of America Corp. about buying its Merrill Lynch businesses outside the U.S.

U.S. Probe

An “avalanche of legislative and regulatory changes” from Europe and the U.S. and difficulties in accessing foreign markets could lead to the loss of 15 percent to 30 percent of Swiss wealth management jobs, said Nicolas Pictet, a managing partner at Pictet & Cie.

North American offshore assets in Switzerland have declined 70 percent to about 40 billion francs since 2009, according toBoston Consulting Group.

UBS avoided prosecution in February of that year by paying $780 million, admitting it fostered tax evasion and giving the IRS data on more than 250 accounts. It later turned over data on another 4,450 accounts.

Credit Suisse, Julius Baer and eight other banks being investigated by the Department of Justice may follow UBS in reaching a deferred prosecution agreement after Wegelin & Co. was indicted on Feb. 2 on charges of helping customers hide money from theInternal Revenue Service.

Liechtenstein Deal

One of the banks, Liechtensteinische Landesbank AG, said it’s already negotiating an agreement with the U.S. to prevent it being prosecuted. LLB’s American clients declared less than 4 percent of $795 million of assets, according to a DoJ information request dated May 11 to Liechtenstein’s tax authority.

“It takes time to sort out the U.S. offshore money,” said Peter Damisch of Boston Consulting in Zurich, adding that American clients will probably hold less than 10 billion francs in Swiss cross-border accounts by 2015.

Swiss banks’ hopes that they can counter outflows from traditional offshore markets by building networks across Asia, the Middle East and Latin America may be optimistic, said Beat Bernet, a professor of banking at the University of St. Gallen.

“It’s wishful thinking to assume the industry can compensate outflows by targeting emerging markets,” said Bernet. “Banks ought to face up to the situation that profitability will shrink and adapt their business models accordingly to cope with lower margins.” 


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Aer Lingus sees pension deficits increase as 'lenghly' lawsuits loom

Pension Plans continue to see diminishing returns. Aivars Lode

IRELAND – Aer Lingus has seen deficits in both of its domestic defined benefit funds increase over the last six months as it once again rejected calls to eradicate the shortfall through additional contributions.

In its half-yearly results, released today, the former state-owned Irish flag carrier noted the strike action threatened by unions over the situation, but said that it would continue its negotiations with the Labour Relations Commission.
Article continues below

The report said there had been no change in the "risks and uncertainties" of the pension arrangements since it released figures for the end of 2011, at which point the multi-employer Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme (IASS) reported a €700m deficit.

"The group’s position remains that it has no responsibility for the funding shortfall in the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme or the Irish Airline Pilot Pension Scheme," the company reiterated.

However, figures from the end of June showed that the IASS deficit had risen by €27m to €727m under the country's minimum funding standard, with the country saying around two-thirds of the shortfall stemmed from its own employees.

According to the report, the pilot's pension scheme had also seen its deficit increase, albeit less noticeably, by €2m from October last year to €172m.

The company warned that lack of deficit reduction payments on its part could be subject to a legal challenge "on various grounds from various potential claimants".

"Any such challenge would be strenuously defended," Aer Lingus said. "Lengthy litigation could ensue. If, contrary to the firm legal advice that the Group has received (that such a challenge is unlikely to succeed), a Court were to find against the Group in any such litigation, significant or very significant loss could arise."

The Irish government has previously ruled out state aid to support the IASS funding shortfall, while one of its largest shareholders, rival airline Ryanair, has threatened a lawsuit if it addresses the deficit, contradicting agreements that the airline should not increase contributions or make any attempts to help the scheme back to full funding.

Author: Jonathan Williams

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bigger Ticks for Smaller Stocks Get Warm Reception

From Ted. Aivars Lode

Industry players are encouraged by new legislation that authorizes the Securities and Exchange Commission to increase the minimum trading increment for stocks of certain small companies.

Under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, Congress directed the SEC to examine the impact of decimalization on liquidity in small and middle capitalization companies as well as any impact on the number of initial public offerings. Congress is worried that penny ticks have led to less liquidity in smaller companies. That, in turn, has led to a drop-off in new listings and, consequently, fewer jobs from startups.

Once the SEC has completed its study, the Act authorizes the regulator to designate a larger tick size-between 2 cents and 9 cents-for the stocks of so-called "emerging growth companies." As defined by the JOBS Act, these are companies with revenues of less than $1 billion that have been public for less than 5 years.
"Before decimalization you had wider spreads and more size," said Patrick Healy, a principal at the Issuer Advisory Group, and a former executive with New York Stock Exchange specialists Bear Wagner. "The concept of a nickel or dime minimum tick for less liquid stocks is a no-brainer."
Industry players like Healy believe that a larger tick size will encourage quoting in size by market makers. The firms will make more money, which will allow them to spend more on research. More published research will confer greater visibility on the stock. With more research and greater size in the quote the stocks will become more attractive to investors.
"If you set the tick wide enough and there is enough profit incentive for middlemen to come in to make markets, then those middlemen will have an economic incentive to write research," Jeffrey Solomon, chief executive officer at investment bank Cowen and Co., told members of the House Financial Services Committee at a hearing last month.
Actually, with a market capitalization of about $300 million, the stock of Cowen Group, parent company of Cowen and Co., fits the definition of a small-cap company. It is followed by only two analysts and trades about 300,000 shares per day.
Assuming a single dealer controlled all trading in the stock, its one-cent spread would only generate $3,000 a day in profits, Solomon told the committee. "Why write research when they don't have much incentive to do so?" he asked. "It's a big issue."
Tom Joyce, chief executive of Knight Capital Group, seconded Solomon. A former senior trading executive at Merrill Lynch, Joyce told the committee: "At Merrill, we only made markets in names in which we had research coverage. So there are many firms out there that will tie research coverage to market making."
The industry moved to decimalization in stages during 2000 and 2001. The one-cent tick gradually replaced the then minimum increment of 6 1/4 cents. Spreads quickly followed suit, collapsing from 6.25 cents to a penny. The relatively tiny spread slashed dealer profits. Since then, the number of Nasdaq-registered market making firms has dropped from over 500 to about 125.
Despite the sharp drop in spreads, evidence of a comparable drop in quoted size is lacking. Quoted size prior to decimalization for less active securities ranged from 4,600 shares to 6,600 shares, counting both bid and ask shares, according to studies done post-decimalization by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and various academics.
In recent years, comparable figures are actually greater, according to data supplied by Knight Capital Group for a 2010 study conducted by a trio of academics titled "Equity Trading in the 21st Century." The data shows quoted depth in October 2009 in the Russell 2000 index stocks lying within six cents of the market's best quotes is approximately 7,000 or 8,000 shares. Again, that is the average of all shares at both the bid and the offer.

"The paper shows posted liquidity has, in fact, risen," Larry Harris, one of the study's authors and a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California, told Traders Magazine. "There is no indication we have a big problem."
Even if tick sizes were increased for small-cap stocks, there is no guarantee the move would accrue to the benefit of investment banks or issuers, sources say. Harris notes that the business of market making has largely been taken over by extremely efficient high frequency and medium frequency trading houses.
"Those dealers don't even exist anymore," Harris, a former SEC economist, said. "And they won't exist with wider spreads either. They've been displaced by electronic traders who are orders of magnitude more efficient and disciplined."
Still others argue that while increasing spreads will likely lead to more posted size, it will not necessarily lead to more trading. That's because the cost of trading goes up. "The wider the spread, the more size up on the spread," noted Dan Mathisson, Credit Suisse's head of equity trading for the Americas. "But the flip side to that is the customer will spend more in crossing the spread. So, it's not that simple. What the regulators need to be concerned about is 'does the investor end up, on average, with a better or worse price?'"
One investor suggests the additional liquidity may be worth it. Kevin Cronin, global head of equity trading for Invesco, testified at last month's hearing on behalf of the Investment Company Institute. He told the committee: "One of the things we look at when we invest in companies is liquidity. So we are supportive of participating in a pilot program with traditional tick sizes being moved from a penny to five cents or more."