Willem is the Joint Head of Investments and one of the founding members of Sygnia Asset Management. Prior to joining Sygnia in 2003 he was Head of Quantitative Management at Coronation Fund Managers for six years. At Coronation he developed a proprietary risk management framework for the internally managed hedge fund product, and designed and implemented the quantitative and qualitative analysis processes and software for their international fund of hedge funds operation.
Sygnia International Flexible FoF - Jun 19
Developed-market central-bank policy easing has contributed to the longest-ever economic expansion - over 10 years. Global monetary policy easing reached new highs as the universe of negative-yielding bonds jumped to a record $13tn, gold to six-year highs and the S&P500 to all-time highs. Both the US Fed and ECB vowed to cut rates if necessary. The Bank of Japan has continued to ease monetary policy, because, on the back of trade tensions, global-manufacturing confidence indices have fallen into contraction, Citi's Global Economic Surprise Index has experienced the longest period of disappointing economic data on record and the Brent crude oil price dropped 20%. Amid escalating disputes, the World Bank downgraded its global growth outlook to the weakest pace in three years, forecasting 2.6% this year. The largest threat to the economic outlook is U.S. President Donald Trump's trade and tech wars, the latter being of particular concern, as 27% of the S&P500 Tech sector's revenue is exposed to China. Trump has an incentive to keep the market buoyant with 2020 elections around the corner, but the risk of miscalculation is high when using untested tools. Trump said that his meeting with China's President Xi Jinping at the G20 leaders' summit in Osaka went far better than expected and that he would not increase tariffs. He added, however, that he was 'in no hurry' to cut a trade deal.
South Africa's Q1 GDP fell the most in a decade, down 3.2% on the back of loadshedding issues. Seven of nine areas of the economy are in decline: agriculture declined a massive 13%, with farmers still unsure of their property rights, and mining was down 10% on power concerns. The rand lost considerable ground, breaking above R15 to the USD, and the yield curve rose to its steepest levels on record in response to a statement by ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule that the organisation had decided to change the Reserve Bank mandate and begin 'quantity' easing. The ANC's economic transformation head, Enoch Godongwana, SARB governor Lesetja Kganyago, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that the party would not seek to nationalise the central bank nor expand its mandate. The South African Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that the government is 'at war with itself'. The debt market is concerned about continuing to fund state-owned enterprises, after Ramaphosa announced more front-end loaded support for Eskom in his State of the Nation address. Inflation rose to 4.5% in May, but the SARB's forecasting model suggests there is room for interest rate cuts. The IHS Markit US manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) declined to 50.1, its lowest level since September 2009, and consumer confidence is at two-year lows. The Fed cut its inflation forecast and suggested a rate cut could happen as early as July unless trade tensions and economic data improve. The 10-year Treasury note yield fell below 2% as US rates markets moved to price in roughly three rate cuts from the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) in 2019. This aggressive move is normally only associated with an economic recession, but the Fed is changing the reaction function that will encourage an inflation overshoot.
Eurozone inflation expectations plunged to a record low (1.1% on the five-year forward rate) as investors worry that the economy is slipping into 'Japanification', an inescapable period of stagnant growth and low interest rates. Unsatisfied with the market's view, Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, announced possible interest rates cuts and a fresh round of bond purchases. The TLTRO-III stimulus programme will start in September, and tax cuts have been announced in some of the major economies.
After three years of political deadlock over Brexit, the ruling Conservative Party is picking a new leader. Boris Johnson is the favourite to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May, and the new prime minister should be in place by the end of July. Johnson vowed to deliver Brexit with or without a deal. Brussels has underlined that it will not reopen Britain's EU withdrawal deal, stressing that the next prime minister should honour the deal that Theresa May brokered.
China's central bank added 500 billion yuan ($72 billion) to the financial system, the second-largest injection on record. The financial support was required after the government's first seizure of a bank in more than two decades drove up funding costs. The Chinese services sector is holding up well despite a slowing manufacturing sector (Chinese factory output slowed to its weakest pace on record), and infrastructure investment is being encouraged in order to ensure growth does not slow beyond the government's 'reasonable range'.
India's central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the third time this year, to 5.75%, the lowest level in nine years, and signalled the possibility of further easing in a bid to support growth. However, the central bank suffered a blow to its credibility after the resignation of deputy governor Viral Acharya.
Russia's central bank cut the key interest rate and hinted at future reductions. Australia's central bank cut interest rates to a record low of 1.25%.
Fitch and Moody downgraded Mexico's credit rating against the backdrop of rising trade tensions. Fortunately, President Trump 'indefinitely suspended' his plans for U.S. tariffs on Mexico, removing the threat of a 5% tariff on Mexican imports.
Turkey's opposition party, the Republican People's Party, secured 54.2% of the vote in a re-run Istanbul mayoral election, striking a blow to President Tayyip Erdogan.
The Sygnia International Flexible Fund of Funds returned 0.2% for the quarter, underperforming its benchmark, which returned 1.6%. The Fund was hurt by a position in global cash and an overweight exposure to technology stocks through the Sygnia FAANG Plus Equity Fund.
We started the second quarter of 2019 with an overweight exposure to emerging markets and an underweight to Europe. With the Fed announcing its intention to cut interest rates and the ECB similarly announcing the possibility of further negative rate cuts, the value of negative yielding bonds hit a new high of USD13tr. This is likely to drive investors into a more cyclical position and lead to a weaker dollar. As a result, we increased our exposure to emerging markets. We simultaneously cut our underweight to Europe in half, locking in the gains of 2018.
The Fund remains true to its mandate of delivering strong long-term real returns with a focus on longer-term capital preservation.
Investments to be included in the portfolio will apart from assets in liquid form, consist of participatory interests and other forms of participation in portfolios of collective investments schemes registered in South Africa and other similar schemes operated in territories with a regulatory environment which is to the satisfaction of the manager and trustee of a sufficient standard to provide investor protection at least equivalent to that in South Africa and which is consistent with the portfolio's primary objective. The underlying portfolio will invest in financially sound equity securities, property shares and property related securities listed on exchanges, fixed interest instruments and assets in liquid form. To the extent that assets in the portfolio are exposed to exchange rate risk, the Manager may include listed and unlisted financial instruments for the exclusive purpose of hedging exchange rate risk subject to the conditions and limits stipulated by the Act. The manager shall have the maximum flexibility to vary assets between the various market and asset classes to reflect changing economic and market conditions.
In selecting securities for this portfolio, where possible, the manager shall seek to deliver long-term capital growth at an acceptable level of volatility.
The effective offshore exposure of the portfolio invested outside of the Republic of South Africa (including participatory interests in collective investment schemes, whether listed on an exchange or not, and other forms of participation in portfolios of collective investment schemes, financial instruments, and assets in liquid form) will always be above 80%.
The portfolio will not follow a specific theme and the manager will have the flexibility to take advantage of short-term, as well as long-term events and themes within securities markets. Overall the portfolio seeks to provide investors with maximum capital growth over the medium to long term at a reasonable level of monthly volatility relative to the international equity and fixed interest markets. To that effect the portfolio places an emphasis on active manager selection, sector allocation and tactical asset allocation.
As the portfolio is managed on a fund of funds basis the assets are split between participatory interests in collective investment schemes of different types, including but not limited to collective investment schemes in securities and foreign collective investment schemes and managers with complementary, but diverse, investment styles and approaches.