Alternatives

(New York)

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.

(New York)

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?

(New York)

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.

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