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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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FOMO, FOLO, AND THE VOLATILITY CONUNDRUM

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Katharine Wooller, Managing Director, UK, Dacxi

 

‘There is a lot of surface noise in the cryptocurrency space and most of it is the psychobabble of investor sentiment. One week it is the sound of everybody rushing towards a feeding frenzy. The next the wailing and gnashing of teeth as those near the surface (the ones most exposed) get spooked and rush the other way, falling over each other in the race to escape.’

I wrote the above paragraph on June 11th as the introduction to an article I was asked to contribute to a national newspaper.

The piece was essentially about what drives the roller-coaster of cryptocurrency prices – a pattern I have often referred to as ‘exquisite volatility’.

 

IT’S EASY TO OVERTHINK IT

Day to day volatility is something that market analysts and crypto critics alike are obsessed with on a day-by-day basis. In my view they overthink it. The main thrust of my argument in June, with crypto prices tanking, was that ‘buying the dip’ is a tried and tested strategy. At that time Bitcoin was priced around £25,000. Over the next few weeks, it then ticked down even further to £21,762 on July 20th.

At time of writing, about a month later, it’s around £32,680 or US$44,700. If you follow certain online forecasts, pundits are now suggesting Bitcoin could push the $100,000 barrier before the year is out. But, as I said above, it’s easy to overthink things, and sensational predictions make headlines.

 

IT’S INVESTOR SENTIMENT THAT REALLY DRIVES PRICES

Cryptocurrency in general is currently trying to find its identity. Is it a currency or is it a commodity? Is it something you ‘trade in’ or is it something you use to ‘trade with’ – i.e., use to buy other goods? Currently short-term prices are being driven by traders not users – nothing wrong with that, the function of any market is to allow people to buy and sell and make a profit through matched bargains.

The value of any commodity is only what somebody is prepared to pay for it, or what they can sell it for. On a speculative basis, rising values are driven by fear of missing out (FOMO) when the price is on the way up, which ramps the price up.  Downward values are driven by fear of losing out (FOLO) when the price starts dropping and the feeding frenzy turns into a selling frenzy.

Interestingly, traders measure their success not by what they can afford to buy with their crypto wallet, they measure success in terms of converting gains back to their local fiat currency – which rather misses the point of why Satoshi wanted to create a DeFi world in the first place.

 

THE RISK OF GAMING THE MARKET

The fact is that most traders are gaming the market. The risk is that there are some really big swinging crypto traders out there who can influence the market. Playing ‘coin’ like a computer game has inherent risks – rather like trying to predict when a murmuration of starlings over Brighton pier will change direction. I believe that as the market continues to mature and cryptocurrencies follow their destiny to become the enabler of decentralised finance on a global basis, the margins for traders will inexorably tighten.

At Dacxi we take the long-term view. We are firmly ‘buy-and-hold’ investors who, having looked at crypto’s growth curve and analysed the true sense of purpose of DeFi, don’t over-react to the short-term metrics. Dacxi is a wealth building platform and experience has taught us that very few people get rich quick – and more than a few of those that do, get poor again just as quickly.

For most of us building wealth takes a measured view and a measured time frame. From my point of view there’s nothing at all wrong with that!

 

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HOW CHANGES TO PROVIDENT FUND ANNUITISATION AFFECT APPROVED LUMP-SUM DISABILITY BENEFITS

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By Dolana Conco – Regional Executive – Alexander Forbes Retirement Consulting

 

New tax rules on the annuitisation of provident funds and lump-sum payouts made at retirement took effect on 1 March 2021. Fund members should be aware of additional implications for approved lump-sum disability benefits.

On retirement, members of these funds who were under age 55 on this date (known as T-day) may still take amounts which accrued prior to 1 March 2021, plus the fund return, in cash. Members over age 55 on T-day will have access to all amounts in the fund in cash when retiring from that fund. This is referred to as “vested benefits” as opposed to “non-vested benefits” where annuitisation rules apply to amounts above R247 500.

 

Approved lump-sum disability benefits paid by a pension fund

The approved (provided by the fund) lump-sum disability benefit in a pension fund was previously included as part of the fund benefit. It was normally treated in its totality as an ill-health early retirement benefit from the fund. The cash amount was limited to a maximum of one-third of the benefit, while the balance was used to buy a pension.

 

Dolana Conco

Approved Lump-sum disability benefits from provident funds

Those under the age of 55 will have the same limitations on their lump-sum disability benefit and how this is treated in terms of annuitisation as applies to pension funds.

  • Members over age 55 on 1 March 2021

The lump-sum disability benefit will be part of the vested benefits in the provident fund of which the member had membership on T-day. This means that the member can receive this payment in cash, after tax.

But if the member transfers to a new fund after T-day, and is then disabled, any lump-sum disability benefit paid out of the new fund will be a non-vested benefit. This means that annuitisation rules will now apply.

  • Lump-sum disability benefits under 55

Only amounts which have accrued before T-day fall into vested benefits. If a member is disabled after T-day, the lump-sum disability benefit payable will not fall into the vested benefits. The payment will be treated as a non-vested benefit. This means that the annuitisation rules, where the total benefit exceeds R247 500, will now apply to the lump-sum disability benefit.

 

Reform

While the above may be an unintended consequence of the annuitisation rules, we should take a step back and reconsider the real intention of reform.

Various stakeholders in the industry introduced and agreed upon reform as it became evident that current regulations were failing the member. Almost 50% of members retire on less than one-third of their final average salary, which renders a large part of people poor and dependent on the state. This is unsustainable and needs to change.

Reform has brought in different forms of laws to increase the savings culture and provide certain incentives – like a tax deduction if a member saves more, up to a certain limit.

With the lump-sum disability benefit now subject to annuitisation, funds need to consider this question: Would an income structured benefit still meet the intention and expectations by members, the fund and the employer in terms of their incapacity procedure?

The trustees and employer will have to revisit why the approved lump-sum disability benefit was selected in the first place. Was this to ensure that there would be a lump sum to:

  • meet the cost of additional care or adjustments to the home to assist the disabled employee, or
  • provide cash support ultimately to members who are found to be totally and permanently disabled?

If the above intent of providing a lump-sum benefit still stands, the trustees and the employer may need to consider changing the tax status of this benefit from approved to unapproved. This will ensure that the initial intention and expectations are still met.

Caution is made that changing to an unapproved benefit would mean that the employee would need to pay fringe benefit tax on the monthly premium. However, the benefit would be paid as a tax-free lump sum separate from the retirement fund for total and permanent disablement.

These discussions must therefore include decision makers on the employer side to:

  • help facilitate the messaging to the employees
  • manage any payroll impacts
  • align with their incapacity procedures

Any benefit structure implemented must be well considered to best suit the needs of the members. This could enhance the financial well-being of employees and lead to the best retirement outcomes.

 

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