Mar 28, 2019

Axios Markets

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Situational awareness:

  • Saudi Aramco plans to issue its first-ever bond, a $10 billion offering, as early as next week to help fund a majority stake in Saudi's petrochemicals firm. (WSJ)
  • JPMorgan will cut hundreds of jobs in its asset and wealth management division after staffing reviews. (Bloomberg)
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May offered to resign after a Brexit deal is passed and let another politician handle the final details. (NYT)
1 big thing: Keep an eye on Turkey

Photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey has essentially imposed currency controls ahead of upcoming local elections in which candidates supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are facing tough challenges.

What's happening: Foreign banks and investors looking to trade the Turkish lira are being turned away by local banks, reportedly at the government's behest, with the goal of preventing a fall in the lira's value.

One London-based analyst told FT that Turkish banks said they had been ordered "not to lend even a single lira to foreign counterparties."

  • Unable to find a counterparty for trades, bankers are finding available swap rates rising to 1,200%.
  • Rates were just 22.6% at the end of last week.

Turkey’s benchmark ISE National 100 index fell 5% Wednesday, its worst day since July 18, when it fell more than 7%.

The big picture: In addition to the currency controls, Erdogan is manipulating credit markets and the country is in recession. Further chaos could impact global financial markets because of Turkey's high level of dollar-denominated debt and the exposure some of Europe's largest banks have to Turkish bonds. 

  • The European Central Bank's monitor reported concern during last year's lira meltdown about the exposure of some of the eurozone's biggest lenders to Turkey, including BBVA, UniCredit and BNP Paribas.

Catch up quick: Turkey's currency sold off last summer, falling as much as 40% and touching its weakest level in history.

  • Investors initially sold the currency because Erdogan had won re-election and reconfigured the cabinet to make his son-in-law the finance and treasury minister, replacing 2 officials seen as competent and largely independent.
  • Turkey also was mired in a debt and banking crisis, and Erdogan was seen manipulating the central bank and fiscal policy to improve the economy.
  • Then President Trump's threatened to put additional tariffs on Turkish goods exported to the U.S. in a spat over a detained American pastor.

Why you'll hear about this again: "I've never seen a move like this in the 21 years I've been watching this market," Julian Rimmer, a trader at Investec Bank, told Bloomberg. "This amounts to sacrificing long-term pragmatism for a short-term political expedient. Such tactics will make many traders question the investability of the lira."

2. Women sue Salesforce for claims tied to trafficking

Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

A group of women sued Salesforce this week on the grounds that the company allegedly worked with, a classified ad site whose founders were indicted last year on charges of facilitating prostitution, Axios' David McCabe writes.

Why it matters: There's been lots of talk about what the liability is for platforms that facilitate trafficking and other crimes. This is a different kind of case because Salesforce isn't a platform itself, but a vendor.

Details: The plaintiffs in the case, filed in California state court, are making negligence, trafficking and conspiracy claims against the enterprise software giant, citing services Salesforce allegedly provided to Backpage.

  • "In public, including on Twitter, Salesforce boasted about fighting human trafficking using its data tools," the lawsuit says. "But behind close doors, Salesforce's data tools were actually providing the backbone of Backpage's exponential growth."
  • The suit was filed on behalf of 50 anonymous women who, the suit alleges, were "sexually exploited through the use of Backpage."

What they're saying: "We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously; however we don't comment on pending litigation," said Salesforce in a statement.

3. Investors needed bonds, not alternatives, in 2018
Screenshot from Natixis US Portfolio Trends, used with permission.

Asset managers have been moving away from fixed income and towards alternatives in recent years, looking to generate higher returns. But in 2018 the best performing portfolios were those that did just the opposite, a survey released today from investment bank Natixis found.

What it means: The top-performing quartile of portfolios had a much higher allocation to bonds than the bottom quartile and about half the alternative allocation.

  • Higher fixed income allocations contributed to better overall return, smaller drawdowns, lower expenses and lower risk, researchers said.

Details: The average portfolio in 2018 contained around 5.3% alternatives, below the recent average and even further below the all-time high in 2016 of about 7.5%. However, alternative allocation has been increasing and investors moved into alternatives heavily in the second half of the year, raising allocation from 4.2% in mid-2018 to 5.3% by the end of the year.

  • Alternatives are investments like commodities, real estate and derivatives.

Flashback: In February, a Natixis study showed stocks were the biggest driver of losses in portfolios globally, contributing around two-thirds of investors' losses.

Don't forget: A 12-month CD would have outperformed the S&P by a full 8 percentage points last year.

4. Trump looks to remove Fannie and Freddie from conservatorship

President Trump signed a memorandum on federal housing finance yesterday that starts the process of removing mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government oversight.

The 2 government-sponsored enterprises have been under conservatorship since 2008, when they faced collapse during the subprime mortgage crisis.

What they're saying: "The lack of comprehensive housing finance reform since the financial crisis of 2008 has left taxpayers potentially exposed to future bailouts, and has left the Federal housing finance programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development potentially overexposed to risk and with outdated operations," the White House said in a statement.

  • California-based asset management firm PIMCO has spoken out strongly against such action in the past, arguing as "one of the largest participants in the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) market," that the government should largely leave the current system in place.

But analysts at Goldman Sachs said in a note Thursday the memo "should have only a limited effect on the housing market."

  • "First, we are somewhat skeptical that sweeping changes will be implemented quickly, as the Treasury and FHFA face some constraints on their authority."
  • "Second, we expect the Trump Administration to proceed cautiously to avoid disrupting the mortgage and housing markets ahead of the 2020 presidential election."
5. Investors traded $4.9 trillion of EM debt in 2018

Investors pulled back slightly on emerging markets debt last year, with trading volumes falling just 0.4% to $4.88 trillion, according to a new report from trade association EMTA.

Why it matters: Despite the Fed raising rates 4 times and the U.S. dollar rising — both are seen as very negative for EM bonds — investors bought emerging market debt at roughly the same level as 2017 when the asset class significantly outperformed U.S. debt.

  • EM debt had a rough 2018, with the JPMorgan EM global bond index delivering -5% returns and a number of major EM currencies falling in value against the dollar, delivering a double whammy to local currency bondholders.
  • EM equities were hard hit, with the MSCI emerging market stock index down 15%.

Yes, but: Trading volumes fell to their lowest since 2015, which was the lowest they had been since 2009. EM debt had picked up significant momentum going into 2016, reaching nearly $5.2 trillion, but has pulled back since.

More but: Investors also dramatically increased the volume of insurance trading on emerging market debt, trading 40% more credit default swaps last year than they did in 2017, EMTA's data showed.

  • CDS trade volume rose to $1.8 trillion as worries increased over the health of Turkey and Argentina's economies, as well as elections in countries such as Brazil and Mexico.
6. Venezuela and Zimbabwe had a meeting
Screenshot from Reuters correspondent Luc Cohen's Twitter feed.

On Tuesday, Venezuelan Chancellor (of the Maduro regime) Jorge Arreaza met with Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Pretoria, South Africa, to review their agenda to strengthen cooperative relations in education, mining and health.

The topic of inflation was not mentioned in official coverage of the meeting.

Venezuela's expected inflation this year is 10,000,000%. Zimbabwe's inflation once rose so high that the government began printing 100 trillion dollar notes.