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US rates surge and most portfolio managers don’t know what to do

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Interest rates are hitting multiyear highs at a time when most portfolio managers have never dealt with this phenomenon before.

The U.S. 10-year Treasury note yield rose to its highest level since 2011 on Tuesday, while the short-term two-year yield traded near levels not seen in about a decade, raising concern about how portfolio managers will navigate this changing investment landscape.

But most of them have never operated in a rising rates environment. Themedian tenure of an active equity manager is eight years, according to Fundstrat, citing figures gathered from Morningstar.

The last time rates were in a significant uptrend was from 2003 to 2006 before the financial crisis struck.

“There are a lot of people that haven’t been through many things in this youthful industry,” said Timothy Parton, a portfolio manager at J.P. Morgan. “The time when rates are rising coincides with a period in the cycle that is tough for any manager. You don’t want to be too cautious, but you don’t want to be too aggressive too early.”

The Fed slashed the overnight rate down to zero in 2008 during the aftermath of the financial crisis. The central bank’s goal at the time was to stimulate the economy. Now that the economy is out of its financial-crisis trough, the Fed has started to gradually hike rates closer to historical levels and market rates have responded.

Since late 2015, the Fed has raised rates a total of six times — including once this year —bringing the overnight rate to a range of 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent. Market participants are expecting the Fed to raise rates at least twice more in 2018 and many think they may even raise four times.

“We’re concerned about rising interest rates,” said Walter Price, senior portfolio manager at Allianz Global Investors. “Last year, we got a lot of multiple expansion. We think that’s unlikely in a rising rate environment.”

J.P. Morgan’s Parton and Allianz’s Price have seen their share of rising-rate cycles. Parton has worked in portfolio management since the late 1980s, while Price has 45 years of experience in the financial industry.



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Harvard professor Roland Fryer faces reports of sexual harassment

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Harvard University professor Roland Fryer speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Sept. 25, 2008.

Ramin Talaie | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

Harvard University professor Roland Fryer speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Sept. 25, 2008.

A prominent Harvard University economics professor is being investigated for sexual harassment, according to a new report.

Roland G. Fryer Jr., a 2011 MacArthur “Genius” fellowship recipient, is the one of the latest powerful men to get flagged amid the #MeToo movement, which took hold last year. More than 200 men have lost their jobs or major roles as a result, the New York Times said in October.

A Harvard investigator found that Fryer was involved in “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” with four women who worked at Fryer’s research lab, the New York Times reported on Friday. The investigator learned that one person who made an accusation about Fryer took disability leave in response to Fryer’s behavior, according to the report.

Allegations about Fryer came to light earlier this year but Friday’s New York Times article provides new details.

One woman who worked in the lab reportedly said that Fryer regularly made inappropriate comments about women, but that his reputation for being vindictive made it difficult for people to speak up. And two women told the investigator they disapproved of how Fryer had put his crotch in the face of a woman at the lab by placing his foot on her desk, the article said.

Read the full article here.



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Goldman says U.S.-China not likely to reach trade deal by March and more tariffs are coming

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President Donald Trump (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together at the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 7, 2017.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together at the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 7, 2017.

Goldman Sachs economists said it’s more likely than not that U.S.-China trade negotiators will not reach a deal in time to head off higher tariffs on March 1, and importers could rush to order their goods in January and February ahead of the deadline.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to hold off on further tariffs until March 1 so the two sides could negotiate a trade agreement. China also agreed to remove new auto tariffs on U.S. imports, and Washington reported that Beijing is fulfilling another promise to purchase American soybeans, with its first significant order in six months, amounting to 1.13 million tons.

But they have to show some progress by the March 1 deadline in order to delay further action. “While we think it is a close call, we believe it is slightly more likely that negotiations will fall short of what is necessary for a further delay,” wrote the Goldman economists.

Goldman said international trade data reflect the front-loading of goods ahead of the last round of tariffs, and also the fact that soybean purchases had fallen off dramatically.

The October trade data were the first look at what happened after tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods and on $60 billion of U.S. goods went into effect in September. Goldman said imports and exports were both pulled forward before the $200 billion tariff round went into effect Sept. 24, and they both fell after tariffs were implemented, just as they had done after the first round.

Over the summer months, the U.S. had also implemented 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports, and China responded in kind.

The effect was a widening in the U.S. trade deficit. “Declining exports along side modestly increasing imports pushed the trade deficit with China to an all-time high in October,” the economists wrote.

U.S. imports from China are about $5 billion lower on an annualized basis and exports are about $15 billion lower, due to seasonal factors surrounding soybean exports to China. The economists said there have been sizable shifts in a few large categories, which includes the impact from soybeans. About 60 percent of annual exports of soybeans to China are in the fourth quarter, about 25 percent in October alone.

“Excluding soybeans, exports to China are only modestly lower on a seasonably adjusted basis,” they wrote. As for imports, U.S. imports of electronic circuits and memory components rose ahead of the second round of tariffs and fell sharply after they were put in place

If there is no agreement by March 1, tariffs are scheduled to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

WATCH:How big Harley-Davidson is and why it’s a trade-war target



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‘We are tired of people asking us about target prices’  

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In November, Lee cut his price target from $25,000 to $15,000. A key driver for the revision was bitcoin’s “break-even” point, the level at which mining costs match the trading price.

Bitcoin is closing out a miserable trading year. The cryptocurrency is down 75 percent since January, trading near $3,324 on Thursday, according to data from CoinDesk. From its high near $20,000 in December, the cryptocurrency has lost more than 82 percent of its value.

For bitcoin to stage a price rebound, Lee said user adoption needs to increase, and it needs to be embraced as a real asset class.

But looking out longer term, if the amount of bitcoin users approached even 7 percent of Visa’s total 4.5 billion currently, Lee’s regression model would place fair value at $150,000 per bitcoin.

“Hence, the risk/reward is still strong,” Lee said. “Given the steep discounts of [bitcoin] to our fair value models, the excessive bearish sentiment about fundamentals does not seem warranted.”

Still, Lee said technicals remain important in cryptocurrency trading and as long as bitcoin remains below its 200-day moving average, investors will likely still stay bearish.



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