For more than ten years, Sandra Crowl has been both Member of the Investment Committee and a Portfolio Advisor at Carmignac Gestion, the European leading asset management firm that was founded in 1989 by Édouard Carmignac and Eric Helderlé. Ms Crowl, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and French from the University of Melbourne and, since 2007, is also a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA). She started her career at Bankers Trust Australia in 1987, before transferring to Paris in 1991. Two years later, she became Managing Director and Head of European Foreign Exchange in London. In 2003, she returned to Paris and specialized in fund management seeding at New Alpha Advisers, a subsidiary of ADI. Four years later, she joined Carmignac Gestion.
Latin American investors be aware
Ms. Crowl believes that the tightening of Central Bank’s liquidity is going to create a great deal of volatility in fixed income markets, therefore, investors -particularly Latin American investors who traditionally have a fixed income bias-, should change their focus away from passive management towards active management. “We are seeing a great deal of interest in our unconstrained global bond strategy, a strategy that provides the flexibility necessary in a rising interest rate environment. It is a non-benchmark strategy able to invest across sovereign and corporate debt, both in developed and emerging markets. Considering our commitment to investors, we want to make sure that we provide an appropriate risk framework for them. We do contain some of the risks by having internal limits on some sub-classes of bonds, like the contingent convertible bonds or structured credit. We have four fixed income strategies and all them, at the aggregate part of their portfolio, must have an average credit rating of investment, they will not ever become high yield strategies,” she said.
On the bond side, Ms. Crowl suggests a very diversified bond portfolio that is still concentrated on sovereign issuers that are providing high real yields today. That would be the case of the sovereign debt in Greece, Mexico or Brazil. “Sovereign bonds with good real yields will act as a cushion for future volatility. Using our expertise for identifying value opportunities, we could also invest in cheap corporate bonds that are perhaps being sold off indiscriminately by the market. We also want to build up our portfolios in structured credit strategies based on floating rates, a suitable asset class in a rising interest rate environment,” she added.
Carmignac’s unconstrained global bond strategy aims to protect investors in a bond bear market. As is clear in the Funds prospectus, the strategy has the capacity to actively manage modified duration, ranging from -4% to 15% and it can take short and long positions in currencies. “If we are invested in a country where there is short term volatility, we may want to hedge the currency for short periods but stay invested in the local debt of the country. That is the case of Brazil today, while we are very confident about their macroeconomic recovery and improved current account , we are less sure of the political outcome of elections later this year. Whereas in Mexico, we have chosen not to hedge the currency, that is to stay invested in local currency debt.”
Uncertainty in Latin American
Ms. Crowl states that, despite the short-term risk that Argentina is currently experiencing, Carmignac Gestion is very positive about the fundamental improvements through economic reforms achieved since Mr. Macri became president. “Recently investors lost confidence in the independence of the central bank, inflation was accelerating, but Mr. Macri has always delivered on budget reform. He has recently promised even more constraint with will sooth credit agencies nerves. And we expect inflation to drop back in the second half of the year. Some large international money managers have already bought back into the asset class just one week after the Central Bank of the Republic of Argentina raised rates and Macri asked the IMF for a credit line. The announcement of the assurance by IMF to provide funding necessary for future months will be considered as a positive catalyst. Also, they could obtain support albeit smaller from the Bank of International Settlements.”
Regarding Mexico, this year elections have added uncertainty to the ongoing renegotiation process of the NAFTA agreement. “It appears that Mr. López Obrador will lead the incoming government. This provides a bit of challenge going forward should the NAFTA agreement be decided before US mid-term elections. We believe the new government may create some difficulties with what
is has been previously signed under Peña Nieto’s term. There is a small degree of risk premium built into Mexican assets today, the election risk is being correctly priced by markets. We believe Mexican assets will be positively revalued as soon as a relatively friendly NAFTA agreement can be discerned,” she added.
A not so positive view on the US or the dollar?
For 2018, the market consensus is expecting a 2.8% of GDP growth in the US, but Carmignac Gestion is expecting a slightly less, something around a 2.2% for the end of the year. “We do not anticipate the investment cycle to be as robust as it has been in last years. We do not think that corporate firms will be able to use the fiscal reform to create jobs or to implement strong capital expenditures programs, but rather to paid down debt or buy back stock. We are not seeing the strength in the order books of cyclically oriented companies that perhaps growth-oriented companies have. But we are invested in the US, in an overweight nature if we compared to the benchmark and are positive about the country’s economy. Particularly in equity, we are invested in some of the very strong secular growth themes: in the disruption created by e-commerce, the change in spending patterns, the digitalization of the economy, the increase of energy efficiency, the improvement of connectivity and cloud usage. All these themes provide strong secular earnings, generating very good returns on equities. We are investing on technological multinationals, but we are also focusing on companies that offer specific services to US corporations that need to improve their capacity. And we are bearish on the companies that are challenged by this new digitalized environment. In some strategies, we have the capacity to sell against a corporation that we have in effect a long-term position and that we have identified that would be challenged. This is part of how the portfolio is constructed to compose the winners and losers of this digital era”.
On the dollar, Carmignac Gestion believes a structural dollar depreciation tendency is about to start, despite the dollar has strengthen a little bit lately in the face of raising short-term interest rates. The new issuances made by the US administration to finance part of the tax fiscal stimulus created some pressure on the short end of the interest curve, but there are some medium-term influences that will determine the dollar value. “In the US, current account and budget deficits are deteriorating. The budget deficit would be hitting towards a 6% of GDP. Also, the implementation of tariffs and trade barriers can affect the current account. Initially, imported goods subjet to tariffs will be costlier for the US to import. And, historically, in the periods in which the US is maintaining a loan with the rest of the world, the US economy needs to be ahead in the economic cycle for the US dollar to remain strong. But, today we have a synchronized global recovery, and that usually reflects in a dollar bearish period that may last for 5 or 6 years. That is how cycles have behaved since World War II,” she explained.
A deceleration in Europe?
According to Ms. Crowl, Germany is signaling small a slowdown, but it will not probably be reflected on the economy for as long as the European Central Bank continues with its Quantitative Easing program. Since the global financial crisis, the world economy has experienced mini-cycles that have lasted around 18 months or 2 years, there have not been 5 or 6 years boom and bust cycles due to Central Banks’ intervention in the markets, which created a distortion in prices. Now, the liquidity retraction started by Central Banks could lead into another shallow dip recession.
“The interest rates in Germany are still around 60 basis points for the ten-year bond, when they have an over 2.5% GDP growth rate and a 2% inflation rate. It makes no sense; interest rates need to be normalized. For this year, the growth rate may still be above 2% because the ECB will continue to purchase 30 billion euros worth of European bonds on monthly basis to the end of the year. However, 2019 will be quite challenging year for European bonds. In the meantime, bond curve has started to price in Quantitative Easing tapering and we are positioned rather tactically to pick up performance. We intend to benefit from rising interest rates by having short positions in German bonds, actively managing duration, a feature that fixed income investors would need to consider”.