|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 Neil Irwin, The New York Times, 01/30/2015|
MarketMinder's View: We’ve long said falling oil and the strong dollar create winners and losers, and this shows some of each. That said, beware of reading too much—good or bad—into anecdotal evidence. Nothing here indicates a broad long-term trend, whether we’re talking investment in oil-related machinery or the strong dollar hampering exporters’ earnings. Reality is more nuanced. Take earnings. The strong dollar might hurt export revenues, but few US exporters manufacture goods with 100% domestic components. Most import parts and raw materials, and the stronger dollar makes those cheaper. A lot of this just cancels. Company reps might not say this on earnings calls, because currency swings are an easy way to rationalize a slowdown without panicking investors, but most of that is just marketing spin. As for oil equipment, just consider Q4’s GDP breakdown. Business investment in equipment indeed fell -1.9%, but investment in structures and intellectual property (e.g., software and R&D) rose 2.6% and 7.1%, respectively, and total business investment rose 1.9%. Looks like the winners more than offset the losers.
|By Mitch Tuchman, MarketWatch, 01/30/2015|
MarketMinder's View: Buried in this sports analogy that we are incapable of following is a brief argument that most folks are better off with passive investing. We aren’t sure how that’s meant to “protect” your portfolio from the investing equivalent of a bizarre episode of deflated footballs, but never mind. Analogies aren’t our forte. Investing is, however, and we think this misses a key point on that front. Yes, research overwhelmingly shows broad indexes beat active strategies a lot of the time. But precious few investors are innately passive enough to get these long-term returns. They flip in and out, and the lack of discipline can be costly. We aren’t anti-passive in theory—we just aren’t convinced true passive investing has ever been done in the real world.
|By Morgan Housel, The Wall Street Journal, 01/30/2015|
MarketMinder's View: This is great. Read it, and you’ll find a pithy, clever indictment of some of the most annoying industry gobbledygook—a user’s guide for investors who are tired of spin and doublespeak. Hear, hear for the crusade against oxymoronic industry jargon, meaningless platitudes and the spread of baseless mythology!
|By Kenneth Corbin, Financial Planning, 01/30/2015|
MarketMinder's View: Look, we’re all for transparency and encouraging advisers to put clients’ interests first, always and everywhere. Some of these “best practices” are a fine way to improve disclosure and limit conflicts of interest (and some seem more like ways for the practitioner to limit their own liability, and some are just plain unhelpful, like encouraging more professional designations). But no rule, certification or checklist can ensure any adviser puts investors first. Especially if the adviser or broker receives compensation from investment sales, which creates conflicting incentives. That is one reason we encourage all investors to look beyond regulations and certifications and do thorough due diligence to discover an adviser’s values—and how they use their values, resources and knowledge to put investors first. For more, see Todd Bliman’s column, “The Compass.”
Market Wrap-Up, Thursday Jan 29 2015
Below is a market summary as of market close Thursday, 1/29/2015:
Global Equities: MSCI World (+0.3%)
US Equities: S&P 500 (+1.0%)
UK Equities: MSCI UK (-1.0%)
Best Country: USA (+1.0%)
Worst Country: New Zealand (-3.8%)
Best Sector: Information Technology (+0.8%)
Worst Sector: Energy (-1.0%)
Bond Yields: 10-year US Treasury yields rose 0.03 percentage point to 1.75%.
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.