|By Fisher Investments Research Staff, 11/26/2013|
With interest rates on everything from savings accounts to junk bonds at or near generational lows, many income-seeking investors are looking for creative or, to some, exotic means of generating cash flow. Some are turning to a relatively little-known type of security—master limited partnerships (MLPs). MLPs may attract investors for a number of reasons: their high dividend yields and tax incentives, to name a couple. But, like all investments, MLPs have pros and cons, which are crucial to understand if you’re considering investing in them.
MLPs were created in the 1980s by a Congress hoping to generate more interest in energy infrastructure investment. The aim was to create a security with limited partnership-like tax benefits, but publicly traded—bringing more liquidity and fewer restrictions and thus, ideally, more investors. Currently, only select types of companies are allowed to form MLPs—primarily in energy transportation (e.g., oil pipelines and similar energy infrastructure).
To mitigate their tax liability, MLPs distribute 90% of their profits to their investors—or unit holders—through periodic income distributions, much like dividend payments. And, because there is no initial loss of capital to taxes, MLPs can offer relatively high yields, usually around 6-7%. Unit holders receive a tax benefit, too: Much of the dividend payment is treated as a return of capital—how much is determined by the distributable cash flow (DCF) from the MLP’s underlying venture (e.g., the oil pipeline).
When the Fed kept quantitative easing (QE) in place last week, US investors weren’t the only ones (wrongly) breathing a sigh of relief. Taper terror is fully global! In Emerging Markets (EM), many believe QE tapering will cause foreign capital to retreat. Some EM currencies took it on the chin as taper talk swirled over the summer, and many believe this is evidence of their vulnerability—with India the prime example as its rupee fell over 20% against the dollar at one point. Yet while taper jitters perhaps contributed to the volatility, evidence suggests India’s troubles are tied more to long-running structural issues and seemingly erratic monetary policy—and suggests EM taper fears are as false as their US counterparts.
The claim QE is propping up asset prices implies there is some sort of overinflated disconnect between Emerging Markets assets and fundamentals—a mini-bubble. Yet this is far removed from reality—not what you’d expect if QE were a significant positive driver. Additionally, the thesis assumes money from rounds two, three and infinity of QE has flooded into the developing world—and flows more with each round of monthly Fed bond purchases. As Exhibit 1 shows, however, foreign EM equity inflows were strongest in 2009 as investors reversed their 2008 panic-driven retreat. Flows eased off during 2010 and have been rather weak—and often negative—since 2011.
Exhibit 1: Emerging Markets Foreign Equity Inflows
With investors expecting the Fed to end quantitative easing soon, the yield spread is widening—fuel for stocks! Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Since 1932, the average S&P 500 bull market has lasted roughly four and a half years. With the present bull market a hair older than the average—and with domestic and global indexes setting new highs—some fret this bull market is long in the tooth. However, while bull markets die of many things, age and gravity aren’t among them. History argues the fundamentals underpinning this bull market are powerful enough to lift stocks higher from here, with economic growth likely to continue—and potentially even accelerate moving forward as bank lending increases.
|By Christo Barker, 10/10/2013|
While the rest of the country fretted over taper terror, government shutdown and debt ceiling limits, the Federal Reserve tested its Fixed Rate Full-Allotment Reverse-Repo Facility (a mouthful—let’s call it FARRP) for the first time September 24. FARRP allows banks and non-banks, like money market funds and asset managers, to access Fed-held assets—i.e., the long-term securities bought under the Fed’s quantitative easing—via securities dealers’ tri-party repo (and reverse-repo) market for short-term funding. (More on repos to follow.) FARRP aims to address what many feel is a collateral shortage in the non-bank financial system caused by too much QE bond buying concentrating eligible collateral on the Fed’s balance sheet, where it doesn’t circulate freely. As a result, many private sector repo rates turned negative. But, should FARRP be fully implemented, the facility could actually hinder some assets (in this case, high-quality, long-term collateral like bonds) from circulating through the financial system—much like quantitative easing (QE) locked up excess bank reserves. A more effective means of freeing collateral in the repo market is tapering the Fed’s QE.
Repurchase agreements, or repos, are used to generate short-term liquidity to fund other banking or investment activity—a means to move liquidity (cash) from one institution to another. In a repo, one party sells an asset—usually long-term debt—agreeing to repurchase it at a different price later on. A reverse repo is, well, the opposite: One party buys an asset from another, agreeing to sell it back at a different price later. In both cases, the asset acts as collateral for what is effectively the buyer’s loan to the seller, and the repo rate is the difference between the initial and future sales prices, usually expressed as a per annum interest rate. The exchange only lasts a short while—FARRP’s reverse repos are overnight affairs to ensure markets are sufficiently funded. In the test last Tuesday, the private sector tapped the facility for $11.81 billion of collateral—a small, but not insignificant, amount.
FARRP’s first round is scheduled to end January 29, and during that time, non-bank institutions can invest between $500 million and $1 billion each at FARRP’s fixed overnight reverse-repo rates ranging from one to five basis points. A first for repo markets: Normally, repo and reverse-repo rates are free-floating, determined by market forces. Another of FARRP’s differentiating factors is private-sector need will facilitate reverse-repo bids instead of the Fed. Ideally, FARRP’s structure will encourage unproductive collateral to be released back into the system when it’s most needed—and new sources of collateral demand may help ensure this. Swaps, for example, are shifting to collateral-backed exchanges due to Dodd-Frank regulation—meaning more collateral will be needed to back the same amount of trading activity. Collateral requirements for loans will likely also rise.
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|By Chris Isidore, CNN Money, 12/19/2014|
MarketMinder's View: When the government launched the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or $700 billion bailout, at the height of the financial crisis in October 2008, many folks thought this was money being flushed down the drain; free cash for Wall Street, no strings attached. But the reality is very different, as shown now that the books on TARP are closed. The bank bailout part of TARP turned a nice profit. The automaker part was in the red along with the so-called “homeowner bailout” programs. Now, whatever the gain or loss, we’d suggest that this program didn’t successfully achieve its aim: Stabilizing the financial system. It was a key part of the government’s haphazard response that roiled markets after FAS 157 had spent a year wrecking bank balance sheets unnecessarily. Oh and hey, forget all that rhetoric about “profits for taxpayers” or what have you. We’d suggest holding your breath while waiting for your share of the US government’s $15.3 billion profit from TARP isn’t good for your health.
|By Jason Zweig, The Wall Street Journal, 12/19/2014|
MarketMinder's View: A mish-mosh of misperceptions here. It starts with the suggestion stocks are extremely expensive and bound to fall sooner than later because the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE) is high and stocks bounced back off of recent volatility too fast to become “cheap,” which presumes a) P/Es are predictive b) cheap stocks do better and c) the CAPE shows you stocks are cheap. None of these are accurate. But the advice to avoid the temptation to “do something” because of energy-driven volatility is highly sensible: “The sharp and swift recovery shows the importance of not reacting to every blip in the market.” However, the tail end of the article eschews this advice anew. For more, see our 12/18/2014 commentary, “Vexing Volatility.”
|By Staff, Reuters, 12/19/2014|
MarketMinder's View: This highlights an excellent point often overlooked amid consternation surrounding China’s recent slowdown: Even at lower growth rates, China still contributes tremendously to global economic activity. What’s arguably more important than a high rate of growth is that China continues growing and gradually shifting its economic focus from an infrastructure-driven economy to one that is more consumer- and services-oriented, as most developed-world economies are. Particularly when the growth rates in question are in the 7% range on the low end—an enviable figure relative to much of the rest of the world.
|By Floyd Norris, The New York Times, 12/19/2014|
MarketMinder's View: This piece confuses correlation with causation, in our view—simply because two events seemingly corresponded in time doesn’t necessarily mean one caused the other absent a logical, causal link. Do markets require sensible regulation? Absolutely. Absent well-reasoned rules of the game, no free market can efficiently operate. However, the key word is “sensible”—and to presume politicians of any stripe are capable of effectively regulating every possible risk out of markets is to give them far too much credit. Rather than blame insufficient regulation for every past downturn, we’d suggest market cycles are far more tied to behavioral psychology and the way our brains have been wired for millennia. As humans, we often allow emotion to drive decisions—which sentences us to periodic irrational exuberance and irrational pessimism, regardless of whether Washington has forbidden it. Finally, we’d note there is more evidence a regulatory change—FAS 157—was at the heart of 2008 than deregulation.
Market Wrap-Up, Friday Dec 19 2014
Below is a market summary (as of market close Friday, 12/19/2014):
Global Equities: MSCI World (+0.6%)
US Equities: S&P 500 (+0.5%)
UK Equities: MSCI UK (+1.2%)
Best Country: Australia (+2.4%)
Worst Country: Portugal (-1.3%)
Best Sector: Energy (+2.8%)
Worst Sector: Utilities (0.0%)
Bond Yields: 10-year US Treasurys rose .05 to 2.16%.
Editors' Note: Tracking Stock and Bond Indexes
Source: Factset. Unless otherwise specified, all country returns are based on the MSCI index in US dollars for the country or region and include net dividends. Sector returns are the MSCI World constituent sectors in USD including net dividends.