Bitcoin gains new ground

Despite initial controversy, more and more major companies and payments systems are starting to accept Bitcoin as a valid currency. The advantage of Bitcoin is that it is seen as being a currency that is finite in nature which cannot be manipulated by central bank policy politics. With Bitcoin you can’t just print money out of nowhere – it is tethered to a finite resource, as the ability to ‘mine’ it is designed to resemble a precious metal such as gold. In this regard it seeks to replicate the approach to currency typified by the gold standard.

Paul Markham – global equities manager. Newton, a BNY Mellon company

Despite initial controversy, more and more major companies and payments systems are starting to accept Bitcoin as a valid currency. The advantage of Bitcoin is that it is seen as being a currency that is finite in nature which cannot be manipulated by central bank policy politics. With Bitcoin you can’t just print money out of nowhere – it is … read more

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Can China maintain its role as an engine of global growth?

Since its accession to the WTO in December 2001 China has accounted for an increasing share of the global economy. Helped by fast export and investment growth it remains an engine of trade and is expected to generate some 35% of global growth over the next two years, according to the World Bank’s latest forecast.

The country is also plagued by structural challenges however, most notably the uncomfortable legacy of a massive state-inspired credit expansion in the wake of the global financial crisis. As such, it’s attempting a tricky transition from a credit-fuelled growth model that is overly reliant on investment to one more driven by private consumption and services. It remains unclear how the dynamic between cooling credit growth and supporting GDP growth will ultimately unfold.

The good news is that China’s economy has been gradually but demonstrably rebalancing towards a growth model that is less reliant on investment, with new industries coming to the fore. Our base case is therefore for China to continue to slow down structurally, with growth being supported as necessary by the authorities as they manoeuvre policy settings to bring this about gradually.

We believe this provides an opportunity for investors to gain exposure to companies benefitting from China’s rapidly expanding services industry and fast-growing middle class. We remain cautious on banks given the probability that asset quality becomes more problematic as the cycle continues.

Douglas Reed – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

Since its accession to the WTO in December 2001 China has accounted for an increasing share of the global economy. Helped by fast export and investment growth it remains an engine of trade and is expected to generate some 35% of global growth over the next two years, according to the World Bank’s latest forecast. The country is also plagued … read more

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Why we’re still living through extraordinary economic times

Despite all the recent discussion about rate rises and normalisation of monetary policy, the investment backdrop remains unprecedented. Through their quantitative easing programmes, for example, central banks are now the backstop for the world’s economy.

Added together, the balance sheets of the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve come to some US$14.4 trillion. To put this in some kind of context, the same four banks’ combined balance sheets stood at just US$2.2 trillion as of the 1 January 1999.  This means the balance sheets of central banks have ballooned by more than 650% in under two decades.

The unintended consequences of this kind of intervention by central banks in markets are legion. In fixed income, for example, a full US$8.8 trillion of the world’s bonds trade continue to trade with a negative yield. While this is below the 2016 peak where nearly 30% of the fixed income universe was on a negative yield, we still think it’s staggering to consider how many investors are willing to pay to take on risk.

The potential for rising interest rates, coupled with low and negative yields, makes it all the more important to embrace a new approach to investing.  We see the evolution of the multi-asset investment universe that looks beyond the traditional 60/40 equity/bond split as key. By broadening the investment horizon, we believe we are potentially much better placed to weather the economic vagaries of a still uncertain world.

Paul Flood – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

Despite all the recent discussion about rate rises and normalisation of monetary policy, the investment backdrop remains unprecedented. Through their quantitative easing programmes, for example, central banks are now the backstop for the world’s economy. Added together, the balance sheets of the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve come to … read more

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How many man hours to turn on a lightbulb and why should investors care?

Technological progress can have surprising consequences. Take the cost of producing light, for example.

The environmental economists Roger Fouquet and Peter Pearson have retraced this development in England. One hour of light (referred to as the quantity of light shed by a 100-watt bulb in one hour) cost 3,200 times as much in 1800 in England as it does today, amounting to just over 150 of today’s US dollars. In 1900, it still cost around 5 dollars. By 2000 the cost was 5 US cents.

This technological advance can also be thought of in terms of the amount of time an average worker needed to labour in order to earn enough for the 100-watt bulb to glow for an hour. In 1750 BC, the people of Babylon used sesame oil to light the lamps, and had to work for 400 hours to produce the said amount of light. In around 1800, using tallow  candles, 50 hours of work was required. Using a gas lamp in the late 19th century, three hours were necessary. Using an energy-saving bulb today, you will have to work for the blink of an eye – a second. This amounts to a phenomenal advance in productivity and thus prosperity.

Over recent decades, the combination of a larger pool of global labour, transformative technologies and the expansion of global value chains has led to a massive supply shock that has generated a wave of ‘good’ disinflation which advances prosperity for the world’s population as a whole.

Brendan Mulhern – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

Technological progress can have surprising consequences. Take the cost of producing light, for example. The environmental economists Roger Fouquet and Peter Pearson have retraced this development in England. One hour of light (referred to as the quantity of light shed by a 100-watt bulb in one hour) cost 3,200 times as much in 1800 in England as it does today, … read more

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Total Recall: the memory chip supply/demand sweet spot

Over the past 20 years, overcapacity has created wildly cyclical pricing for both DRAM and NAND devices[1], which in turn has led to fewer manufacturers. For DRAM devices, just three global players now account for 95% of supply[2]; for NAND devices there are just five companies producing 92% of global supply.[3]

In consequence, supply discipline has improved – even as demand has surged thanks to developments in artificial intelligence and ‘cloud’ computing. Pricing has soared as a result – with spot prices for NAND chips up 50% and DRAM spot prices up 115% over the past year.[4]

While we recognise that the industry is a cyclical one, we believe the current/supply dynamic is good news for companies involved in the sector, particularly those that have committed to shareholder rights.

Caroline Keen – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

[1] Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and NAND Flash memory chips are commonly used to store data in computers, smartphones and digital cameras.

[2] The Register: ‘Guess who’s getting fat off DRAM shortages? Yep, the DRAM makers’, 18 May 2017

[3] IHS Markit: ‘NAND Memory Market Tracker’, Q2 2017

[4] Dow Jones: ‘Samsung Topples Intel as World’s Biggest Chip Maker’, 30 July 2017. Data from DRAMeXchange, a publication that tracks memory chip sales and prices.

Over the past 20 years, overcapacity has created wildly cyclical pricing for both DRAM and NAND devices[1], which in turn has led to fewer manufacturers. For DRAM devices, just three global players now account for 95% of supply[2]; for NAND devices there are just five companies producing 92% of global supply.[3] In consequence, supply discipline has improved – even as … read more

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In Rude Health

“Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated”. So wrote an exasperated President Donald Trump in February 2017 as he struggled to get to grips with a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era law that expanded affordable medical cover to low-income Americans.

Perhaps without meaning to, Trump stumbled across one of the universal truths about healthcare investing: It can be really, really complex. There are hundreds of healthcare companies we could invest in. At most, we target between 10 and 12 of those. To get from that wider opportunity set to just a handful of investable ideas is where the real hard work comes in.

One strategy is to focus on innovation. Beyond the list of top-ten pharmaceutical companies. there’s a long tail of smaller, incredibly innovative businesses that are creating the drugs and therapies of the future. By focusing on them, we think we can uncover strong, investable ideas which are not only profitable but which could also help shape the future of medicine.

Stephen Rowntree – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

“Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated”. So wrote an exasperated President Donald Trump in February 2017 as he struggled to get to grips with a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era law that expanded affordable medical cover to low-income Americans. Perhaps without meaning to, Trump stumbled across one of the universal truths about healthcare investing: It … read more

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Asset allocation: Why less is sometimes more

The image above shows a grid of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines with 12 black dots at various intersections. Most people are only able to see one or two of the black dots at any one time. Named Ninio’s Extinction Illusion after Jacques Ninio, the French scientist who first published it in 2000 – it speaks to the weakness of peripheral vision in humans but also to the brain’s tendency to fabricate patterns when confronted with uncertainty.

In our view, this optical illusion serves to illustrate another point. It demonstrates a wider truth in investing: that the more expansive a portfolio is, the harder it is to maintain oversight of all the underlying holdings. Far better, we believe, to define your universe, allocate capital with conviction and zone in on what’s important to you as an investor.

Nick Clay – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

The image above shows a grid of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines with 12 black dots at various intersections. Most people are only able to see one or two of the black dots at any one time. Named Ninio’s Extinction Illusion after Jacques Ninio, the French scientist who first published it in 2000 – it speaks to the weakness of … read more

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On the road to an EV future

At Newton, we are predicting the end of the road for the internal combustion engine as electric vehicles gain traction.

First there is the environmental angle. The European Commission has laid out plans not only to tighten emissions testing for automakers but also to leverage far higher penalties on companies that fail to make the grade. As of 2019, this levy will take the form of a €95 fine per CO2 g/km above the limit for each vehicle produced if the average fleet emission breaches targets. For a company like Volkswagen with 3.65 million units sold in Europe in 2016, even just being three grams above the EC’s emissions target would translate into a €1bn fine.

We also think electric vehicles offer numerous benefits over petrol or diesel engine cars. For one thing, they have fewer moving parts which makes them far more reliable and cheaper to maintain. They are also potentially safer and, as anyone who has test driven a Tesla can testify, they can offer a fun driving experience with 100% of torque available at 0rpm.

In our view, it’s not a question of if but when EVs overtake their fossil fuel counterparts.

Mathieu Poitrat Rachmaninoff, Newton

At Newton, we are predicting the end of the road for the internal combustion engine as electric vehicles gain traction. First there is the environmental angle. The European Commission has laid out plans not only to tighten emissions testing for automakers but also to leverage far higher penalties on companies that fail to make the grade. As of 2019, this … read more

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Shielding from inflation

If you are looking to invest for the long term, we believe you should look to protect your assets against the potential ravages of inflation. Unlike cash and most conventional bonds, assets with inflation-linked contracts, such as renewables and infrastructure, are very attractive for long-term investors/savers because they offer a degree of in-built inflation protection. A large proportion of the revenue streams of these assets are backed by government subsidies making them a generally robust and stable proposition.

Renewables can provide stable long-term cash flows, with a good line of sight. Yet it is an asset class that tends to get overlooked despite being less affected by quantitative easing and zero interest-rate policies compared to other financial assets.

As long as the sun comes up every day, you’re going to sell power for something. In some senses, investing in renewables is like investing in bonds, except with some sensitivity to the price for generating power.

Paul Flood – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

If you are looking to invest for the long term, we believe you should look to protect your assets against the potential ravages of inflation. Unlike cash and most conventional bonds, assets with inflation-linked contracts, such as renewables and infrastructure, are very attractive for long-term investors/savers because they offer a degree of in-built inflation protection. A large proportion of the … read more

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Is this a sure sign of a Chinese slowdown?

Infrastructure investment has been a great source of interest for investors in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as US president, with his campaign pledge to spend US$1 trillion on US infrastructure projects clearly playing on their minds. Away from President Trump’s Twitter feed and speeches, China is a more pressing concern.

While the country is trying to rebalance to become a more consumption-driven economy, overcapacity in the construction industry remains a big issue. The country is considerably overbuilt in relation to GDP. Worryingly, if a slowdown in GDP growth occurs, we expect the Chinese government to try to plug the gap with further building. As such, with overcapacity remaining a problem and rebalancing of the economy continuing, we believe it is best to avoid businesses related to Chinese construction, including materials and building companies.

Nick Moss – Newton, a BNY Mellon company

Infrastructure investment has been a great source of interest for investors in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as US president, with his campaign pledge to spend US$1 trillion on US infrastructure projects clearly playing on their minds. Away from President Trump’s Twitter feed and speeches, China is a more pressing concern. While the country is trying to rebalance to … read more

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