Why Institutional Money is often Dumb Money

Published on Zero Hedge, submitted by James Gruber, posted by williambanzai7, Oct 12, 2013.

… It’s clear that large Hong Kong insiders are madly bailing out as they see elevated valuations combined with dimming prospects for growth in the territory. And guess who the likely buyers are? Institutions/institutional investors, of course. These guys obviously know something about Hong Kong and the assets up for sale which Li Ka-Shing and his ilk don’t!  

Today, Asia Confidential is going to look at the M&A deals in more detail, why institutions feel compelled to participate and the key takeaways for individual investors.

Hong Kong insiders madly selling: … //

… Reasons behind it:

  • The obvious question is: why are a who’s who of Hong Kong’s wealthiest selling out now? Well, Li Ka-Shing has alluded to some of the likely reasons behind the sales. This year, he’s warned residential property investors in Hong Kong not to expect too much of future returns given the government’s determination to stabilise prices. This followed a half a dozen measures from the Hong Kong government to slow the pace of property price growth.
  • Li’s also been remarkably candid about the potential threat from the Shanghai free trade zone to Hong Kong. The zone may allow freer yuan convertibility, liberalisation of interest rates and relaxation of restrictions on foreign investment.
  • Li says the development will “impact Hong Kong heavily” and the territory needs to raise its competitiveness to ensure that it doesn’t lose out.
  • You can probably add a few other reasons for Hong Kong insiders selling out. The potential for U.S. tapering of stimulus is an obvious threat to Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been the one of the biggest beneficiaries from U.S. quantitative easing and low interest rates. Yield hungry investors in the West have flooded into growth markets such as Hong Kong, and catapulted property and other asset markets. For instance, residential property in Hong Kong is now the world’s most expensive per square foot and yields barely above 3%. All of this could sharply reverse if tapering occurs.
  • Also, there’s the threat from a further slowdown in China and the impact that it would have on Hong Kong. Hong Kong has not only been the beneficiary of U.S. stimulus but Chinese stimulus too. As the credit bubble in China unwinds, the resultant impact on the territory may be serious. And not to mention that the Chinese have been key buyers of Hong Kong property, retail, tourism-related ventures, healthcare and so on.
  • Finally, rising asset valuations are likely playing a part in the decisions to sell. For instance, the sale of Wing Hang Bank may fetch up to 3x book value (net asset value). That’s despite the bank only achieving a 2012 return of equity (ROE) of 9.9%. In simple terms, that gives a prospective buyer a theoretical potential return of about 3.3% p.a. (9.9% ROE divided by 3x book). Given this, I’d be a seller too.

Why institutions are buying:

The question then becomes: which institutions may be buying these assets and why would they be purchasing them? Three companies are reportedly in contention to buy ParknShop: China Resources Enterprise, Japan’s Aeon and Australia’s Woolworths. For Wing Hang Bank, Australia’s ANZ is thought to be a frontrunner. And for Chong Hing Bank, Chinese conglomerate Yue Xiu Group is in line to buy it.

The potential buyers have several things in common:

  • All of them are not run by owner-operators. That is, they’re not run by people with substantial proportions of their own wealth invested in the companies. This means the CEOs are likely to take risks that owner-operators wouldn’t because they have less to lose.
  • Almost all of them are publicly-listed. Yue Xiu isn’t listed but subsidiaries are. It means most of these companies are under shareholder pressure to perform in the short-term. M&A is often perceived as an easy way to boost earnings (not returns) and improve share prices.
  • A number of the companies are growth-starved and are desperately looking for a growth angle to excite investors. And let’s face it, Hong Kong and China are still some of the sexiest growth stories going around, at least in the eyes of many institutions.
  • As for the spin-offs of A.S. Watson and Hongkong Electric, institutional investors will be the backbone of coming IPOs. Many of these investors are also not run by owner-operators. They’re also subject to the same short-term performance pressures as listed companies, if not more so. The vast majority of institutional investors are judged on performance month to month and they know they’re jobs are on the line if they underperform.
  • As you can imagine, that doesn’t make for sensible, long-term decision-making. But it goes a long way to explaining why institutional investors are likely participants in the Hong Kong IPOs. They’ll be looking for a short-term spike in share prices post-IPO before they cut their holdings or exit altogether. Anything to boost near-term performance…

Key takeaways for individual investors: … //

… (full text).

Links about Monsanto protests:

Video – Stop Monsanto: Hundreds of protests held worldwide against GM food, 2.20 min, uploaded by Russia Today RT, Oct 13, 2013;

Global Protest Against Monsanto, 4.59 min,  uploaded by TheRealNews, May 26, 2013;

on YouTube;

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(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

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