Some may like it, some may not, but there is no changing the fact that ESG, or the acronym used to describe various social, governance, and environmental considerations when investing, is now part of the mainstream. Asset managers large and small, recently led by BlackRock, are now using ESG as a key factor in their investing. One asset manager comments that “In general, companies with the strongest records on employee relations and environmental sustainability, for example, often have better financial performance over the long run than those with the weakest records … Do you really want to hold a carbon-intensive company that’s not thinking about [the risks?”.
FINSUM: The big news here is that ESG and other “responsible” funds have had better returns in recent years than conventional funds, so the old mode of thinking this area has poor returns needs to shift.
Despite the rise of ETFs over the last few years and the weak performance of hedge funds, on average, one of the astounding things in asset management has been the staying power of the latter. Hedge funds long had a “2% and 20%” fee structure as standard, and while most discount a bit from there nowadays, fees are still very high—hundreds of times low-priced ETFs and mutual funds. Bloomberg explains that a big part of that fee goes into paying the brokers that recommend the funds. The payments go by all sorts of names, such as placement fees, payment for shelf space, and retrocessions, but the fact is they boost costs to investors.
FINSUM: Bloomberg tries to make this look dirty, but the reality is that referral fees are standard in many industries. The big question in this area is where this type of arrangement falls when the SEC debuts its new fiduciary rule?
Many investors are constantly on the look out for the next bubble. Well there is a new one right before their eyes, but many are not seeing it. Leave stocks and bitcoin aside for a moment, and look at private equity. Many say the current market is just like the Dotcom bubble, with valuations way too high and way too much optimism on growth and business models. “It is quite amazing that there is no collective memory that goes beyond five years” say an Oxford professor. Part of the problem is that fundraising has been really strong, which has led to more money flowing into companies, pushing up multiples. The other is the broad availability of debt funding for buyouts, with one industry specialist saying “These are unashamedly incredibly attractive conditions to borrow money. Will that debt be available to buyers in five years’ time? Probably not. Buyout groups are bullish to take the risk in 2018. It’s a ’risk-on’ environment”.
FINSUM: Aside from the reasons cited, the valuation of the stock market is another factor that is pushing up valuations. The sector looks likely to have a reckoning.
Call it a “silent killer”, but there is a big threat coming to US malls that many don’t see coming. While the big bout of retail bankruptcies in 2017 hit the industry hard, a less headline-grabbing, but more widespread issue might cause bigger issues in 2018. That issue is that smaller mall tenants are likely to simply not renew their leases. Smaller operators between the big anchor stores actually generate more revenue for malls, and a decrease in tenancy would be a big blow to mall revenue. Smaller operators are actually better indicators of retail health because their lease terms keep them on the lookout for greener pastures.
FINSUM: Mall REITs could be in for a rough time here. While little companies won’t get much press, this pending increase in vacancy rates could hit malls hard.
The last couple of years have seen a huge surge in the legal pot industry. More and more major states have made marijuana legal, which in turn has sparked a flurry of business to create a legal pot industry. However, doom and gloom may be about to settle into the young area as Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General, has now rescinded the Obama era policy that limited legal enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where it was legal. The news hit the sector hard, with one of the main pot stock indexes down as much as 24% yesterday.
FINSUM: It is going to be hard for the federal government to enforce any national law when there is primarily only local law enforcement, but this could still cause some major disruptions to the young industry.
When people think of real estate investing, their most likely areas of focus is on homes, apartments, or various types of commercial buildings. But Barron’s has run a piece chronicling a very well-performing fund that takes an entirely different approach—investing in property where tenants cannot move, at all. To be clear, this means things like data centers, hydroelectric dams, cellphone towers, and lab space. Large casinos also have this immovable characteristic because of the investment it takes to create them. This type of investing approach has yielded very strong returns over the last few years.
FINSUM: Buying into properties where tenants can’t move creates a very strong defense against economic downturn. This is definitely a good hedge to use against many asset classes and can be achieved using REITs.