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Wealth Management

FOR PE TO SNAP UP “GOOD” COMPANIES, THEY MAY NEED TO WADE INTO “BAD” ECONOMIES

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FINANCIAL MARKET

By  Martin Soderberg, Partner at SPEAR Capital

 

There’s no shortage of global challenges for investors currently, especially for those concerned with private equity (PE). PE and risk managers with their fingers on the pulse are turning to often overlooked opportunities in emerging markets. As Martin Soderberg discusses, while there are arguably higher levels of risk associated with such investments, the key is being able to identify good companies – and some of these may be found in bad economies.

While the current state of global markets and the enduring pandemic are anything but favourable for fundraising, some estimates indicate that up to $2.5 trillion in unutilised capital was sitting in PE houses globally earlier this year, simply waiting for the tide to turn. The McKinsey Private Markets Review 2020 reveals that $1.47 trillion of investor capital was deployed through the PE asset class globally in 2019. This represents impressive growth of private market assets under management by 10% for the year, on the back of total growth of 170% for the past decade. While, as any risk or asset manager will tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future results, the existing levels of available capital (if prudently allocated) have the potential to extend this decade of growth through the COVID-19 storm.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already announced that it expects global growth to contract by 3% for 2020, representing a revised downgrade of 6.3 percentage points from January 2020. The IMF concluded that a revision of such magnitude over such a short period is an indication that the world is in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression and in a far worse position than during the Global Financial Crisis of 2009. While some would argue that investment in any country is potentially unstable in the current recession – evidenced by prices in investor safe havens such as gold skyrocketing to all-time highs, almost testing the $2,000 level this week – stability exists within key sectors such as healthcare and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs). This was exemplified late last year through Nigerian edtech learning platform uLesson’s closing of a $3.1 million seed-level round led by TLcom Capital, to address infrastructure and learning gaps in Africa’s education sector.

Martin Soderberg

Population growth and urbanisation typically drive consumption in these and other sectors. Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced growing numbers of first-time migrants into cities and leading economic nodes, with pre-COVID estimates that 50% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population will be living in cities by 2030. In addition, burgeoning middle classes and the younger populations of developing nations is resulting in increasing levels of disposable income. At a media briefing in June, however, the IMF projected that Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy will contract 3.2% in 2020 – double the contraction forecast earlier in April. FMCGs will have taken a knock across all markets and varying recovery periods, which also ought to be borne in mind. So PE firms need to revise their approaches to investor engagement, strategy and transparency to convince, secure and guide investor capital into emerging markets presently.

 

Finding the right quality asset

There is of course a definite need for macro analysis of the country your investment or acquisition target is stationed in. Along with the six different forces macro environments typically consist of – namely Demographic, Economic, Political, Ecological, Socio-Cultural, and Technological – under the current coronavirus circumstances additional consideration by investors and risk managers also needs to be given to the COVID-19 policies and responses being implemented by the countries these companies operate within, as well as the fiscal measures being implemented. Although these are particularly complicated and extraordinary variables to attempt to measure, their impact on GDP contraction as well as debt-to-GDP ratios within the countries concerned can potentially be forecast in the short- to medium term.

With this in mind, it’s worth identifying scalable entities with realistic potential for regional expansion where instilling a balanced measure of operational and strategic influence is possible at management and board levels. A recent example is PE firm Mediterrania Capital Partners, which focuses on growth investments in SMEs and mid-cap companies in North and sub-Saharan Africa, acquiring a stake in Akdital Holding, which operates five clinics in Morocco.

It’s important that liquidity management takes precedence over solvency, which often serves as an indication of top line growth. At the same time, one must also take into account worst-case scenarios within the markets one is investing in and plan accordingly for crisis scenarios, such as debt, liquidity options and operational costs that can be scaled back.

In addition, micro and macro risk management should be thorough, particularly in light of escalating trade wars between developed nations and instances of seemingly nationalistic legislation being passed that may be unfavourable to specific emerging markets and spur further GDP contraction. Furthermore, evaluation of local political risk and the potential for obstruction or intrusion at investment and operational levels should be borne in mind.

The lockdown conditions associated with COVID-19 have also significantly impacted logistics planning and provision, across borders to neighbouring states as well as overseas. Furthermore, we’re in a period of increased currency volatility which has a knock-on effect on export and import potential. However, such limitations create broader opportunities for PE firms to generate further value by concentrating greater focus on ESG in the markets in which they already operate. Such focus is typically undervalued, yet has the potential to generate greater revenue while ultimately attracting further investment – providing firms are willing to transparently evidence tangible progress..

 

PE and foreign direct investment scepticism

When entering and engaging with companies that have scalable investment potential in emerging markets, one should expect varying degrees of caution by companies in emerging markets, which is sometimes misinterpreted as protectionism. Historical injustices in many Sub-Saharan nations have understandably dented local confidence in foreign direct investment. Furthermore, companies will be wary of recurring instances where opportunistic investments by PE entities rendered relatively worthwhile returns for investors but created debt rather than any genuine value for the company concerned.

Therefore transparency and the ability to wear your PE credentials on your sleeve is paramount, such as evidence of accelerated revenue growth, increased capital expenditures and expanded profit margins in the financial reporting of your existing portfolio. If your portfolio is little more than smoke and mirrors designed to conceal debt as well, slowing revenue growth or capital expenditure as a percentage of sales declined and little evidence of revamped strategies and additional management perspective, then you’re setting yourself up to fail.

There will be continuing debate for some time to come as to whether reluctance to invest in emerging markets will be a PE stumbling block, given the hunt for yield. Thoroughly investigated company investment opportunities have to be afforded genuine investment value in terms of expansion and enrichment, not only for yields to materialise but also for the yields to be worthy of the investment itself. While now is the time for PE firms to begin putting in the groundwork, as much as an additional year, by conservative estimates, may need to be factored in before capital can realistically be deployed. But for those who carefully identify unwavering trends in emerging markets over the next six to 12 months and articulate genuine opportunities to investors, there is scope for the PE asset class to exhibit substantial growth over the course of the coming decade, while capitalising on the “good” companies blooming in “bad” economies.

 

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Top 10

DOGECOIN MADNESS

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by Nathalie Janson, Associate Professor at NEOMA Business School

 

After the unstoppable increase of Bitcoin (BTC) since January – it added 10 000$ to its price every month since January reaching 60 000$ in April 2021  – it is now the turn of the Dogecoin to be the next cryptofrenzy.

This crypto created in three hours by Billy Markus as a joke to make fun of the Bitcoin community back in 2013 had no specific use except federating crypto geeks sharing the same sense of humor. Its capitalization quickly reached 60 million USD back then. This is why until Tuesday, April 13th 2021, its price was closed to 0 since cryptos value derives from their usefulness.

The Dogecoin belongs to the family of Altcoins using proof of stake to validate transactions – more flexible and fast compare to Bitcoin and Ether based on proof of work – but essentially not as decentralized and secured.  So far Dogecoin has mainly been used for  tipping creators of content or more interestingly to noble causes. These include raising funds for the bobsleigh Jamaïcan team to send them to the Winter Olympic Games in 2014, paying back victims of Dogecoin hack in the early days after its creation,  and raising funds to provide access to drinkable water in Africa.

 

Dogecoin… a billionaire maker joke

How comes the DogeCoin price surged in such irrational manner? Is this move another proof of market madness? A sign that we might be close to the next burst of the crypto bubble? Who knows? … Why is it so difficult to understand the pricing dynamic of cryptocurrencies?  You might think that what we experienced is the paroxysm of futility. In a week, some Dogecoin holders become billionaires, the price of the Dodge coin increasing from almost 0 to 43 cents at its highest. How mad that sounds? Similar to what happened to Gamestop, we are dealing with a community with a strong identity – the Dogecoin joined by new members like Snickers – the sweet bar and more importantly by Elon Musk – who wants to set a record and claiming April 20th being DogeDay with the clear goal to push Dogecoin up to $1. They are encouraging each other to buy more of the coins. Given the limited size of the market dominated by “whales” – five “whales” are said to control 40% of the market – the increase in purchases of Dogecoin leads to significant rise in price given the low liquidity.

The Dogecoin case is an emblematic case showing how subjective value is in economics. Indeed, like Bitcoin, the price of Dogecoin only depends on its acceptance that in itself depends on the size of its network that suddenly increased.

Why now? First, Elon Musk started to show his interest in the Dogecoins by tweeting about it. Why does Elon Musk opinion matter? Because he symbolizes the success story of a man who is a visionary. After all, if Elon Musk invests in Bitcoin and supports Dogecoin it must be for a reason, and he may be right like he has been right about the industrialization of electric cars as the success of the Tesla demonstrates. He performs a role similar to leading investors in traditional financial markets like Warren Buffet.

Secondly, the Coinbase initial public offering contributed to a rally in the cryptocurrencies market, with no exception for the Dogecoin. Over the week-end, the major cryptocurrencies – BTC and Ethereum dropped for technical reasons due to a sharp decrease in the hash rate after an electricity shortage in the Xinjang province in China. When that happens, it usually benefits altcoins.

More broadly speaking, the crypto market is frenetic since the beginning of the year. This frenzy is a symptom of a global economy that is still suffering from severe restrictions in some activities but at the same time is also experimenting acceleration in others. Combined with overgenerous monetary policy feeding liquidity in search of profitability away from traditional markets because of low interest rates and over rated stock markets, this is a perfect combination for investors to try anything new to boost their portfolio return if you add on the top of that, growing concerns about the return of inflation in the US.

In this context how long will the Dogecoin rally last? This essentially relies on the determination of its fans to support it but after a while, it will need to be more than a symbol!

 

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Wealth Management

WHY COMPLICATED INCOME STRUCTURES SHOULDN’T PREVENT HIGH NET WORTH INDIVIDUALS FROM INVESTING IN PROPERTY

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Mike Coates, Founder and CEO of Commercial Expert

 

An investor’s preference is usually to split their investment across different funds, in a varied and balanced way.  Research has shown that the most popular investments made by high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) vary between stocks, shares, hedge funds, private equity, and real estates (residential and commercial properties).  The allocation of funds is predominantly governed by taxes, goals and individual preferences.

However, in the past decade, HNWIs have encountered barriers to accessing finance because of the way lenders approve loans.

 

The barriers facing HNWIs

In the aftermath of the GFC of 2008, a notable trend to emerge was lenders seeking to minimise the level of risk to which they were prepared to expose themselves. This was achieved through adopting a more stringent selection criteria when it came to assessing an individual’s financial situation before approving a loan.

As a result of this change in lending behaviour, securing finance has ultimately become more difficult across the board, including, ironically, HNWIs, whom you might expect would be unaffected. The reason HNWIs might struggle is because the new lending culture favours those with straightforward finances, and a regular income.

However, for HNWIs, this is not usually the case.  For example, a HNWI’s portfolio could be split across various asset classes and jurisdictions; their income may be irregular or derived abroad (including off-shore tax-havens); many HNWIs are expats and may be receiving income in different currencies.  When these factors are considered, it’s easy to see why HNWIs might be classed as ‘high-risk’ in the eyes of some lenders.  As a result, many HNWIs have struggled to secure funding or even a credit card.

Consequently, for HNWIs looking to take advantage of the current low borrowing rates, as well as the tax relief by securing finance, they will be better off finding a reputable financial adviser or broker who will take a more holistic view when it comes to assessing their financial situation.

Financial advisers have established relationships with a wide portfolio of lenders who aren’t just the regular high street banks and building societies. There are certain lenders who are used to dealing with clients that have huge property portfolios and are experienced in calculating the stress levels on existing portfolios. They are able to use different assessment criteria in order to approve loans, even where applicants have a low debt service coverage ratio (DSCR).  They may also request to see your SA302 (self-assessment tax returns for the last 4 years), tax overviews and accounts in order to gain a deeper understanding of your income structure. Where people have deferred tax, this also gets taken into consideration.  At the end of the day, it’s about having your foot in the door with the right lenders, that helps to determine your ability to secure a mortgage as an HNWI.

 

Reasons to invest in property

Compared to private equity and hedge funds, real estate investment is by far the least risky option. Real estate is safe and is set to lead us to recovery following the aftermath of Covid-19.

What we witnessed during the global pandemic was that contrary to early predictions, rental prices remained relatively stable and property prices rocketed. The UK house price index, published in January 2021, revealed that the average house price increased by 7.5% year-on-year. i   Initially, the stamp duty tax relief may have been attributed to the increase, however, as the tax relief deadline approaches, there doesn’t appear to be any sign of a slow-down.  This indicates that other factors are underpinning the rise. Many believe that lockdown has forced people to reassess their priorities, with an increasing number of people desiring more generous living and outdoor space in areas away from cities.

 

What properties to invest in

As it currently stands, almost 60% of HNWIs have revealed that they invest in real estate. ii The properties are usually where they themselves reside, or in “offshore” areas where they enjoy going on holiday.  If properties are situated in tourist hotspots with nearby beaches or mountains, they are often rented out to tourists during peak holiday seasons and available for their own holiday use during off-peak times.

 

Final thoughts

If you want to invest in properties either in the UK or abroad, don’t be deterred by previous failed attempts at securing finance. It is a good move to appoint a specialist commercial finance broker with access to the whole of market, who can undertake all the research required, and recommend a suitable lender and product.

There are only a handful of lenders who are equipped to deal with HNWIs, with complex income structures, therefore it’s crucial to make sure you’re speaking with the right people.

 

References:

i https://moneytothemasses.com/owning-a-home/house-prices-2/what-is-going-to-happen-to-uk-house-prices

ii https://www.fool.com/millionacres/real-estate-investing/articles/what-are-high-net-worth-individuals-investing-in-now/

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