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Investors refuse to accept higher rates are here to stay – and that's a problem for financial markets – The Globe and Mail

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Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, on Aug. 10.Seth Wenig/The Associated Press

With interest rates rising, and rapidly so, the driving force that dictated decision making in financial markets for the past fifteen years is dying out. In a flash, disoriented investors have been exposed to a new world, one that demands dramatically different expectations for what constitutes a decent return.

Yet for all that’s changed, it can be tough to accept the era of ever-lower rates is truly over. Deep down there may be a tacit acknowledgment of changing winds, but it is often coupled with denial about what this all means.

The hope, it seems, is that the damage has already been done. Technology stocks have been clobbered, and house prices have finally started falling in Canada. But the undertow generated by rising rates is hard to contain, and for that reason it will likely ripple through financial markets, hitting everything from private equity to blue-chip stocks.

Such a sea change can be hard to grasp. Since the 2008-09 global financial crisis, investors of all stripes have grown accustomed to ever-falling interest rates. By July, 2020, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond, a benchmark for financial markets, had dropped to a paltry 0.52 per cent.

The trend was so absurd, such a deviation from historical norms, that it even spawned a new mantra: “lower for longer.” Investors learned to accept that rates would stay low for longer than once thought imaginable – and it lasted for so long that it became the norm.

And now, in just seven months, it’s all changed, after scorching inflation and geopolitical earthquakes forced a paradigm shift. In July, the Bank of Canada raised its benchmark rate by a full percentage point, something not seen since 1998. The Federal Reserve hiked its own by 0.75 percentage points a few weeks later.

The reaction since has been quite bizarre. The Nasdaq Composite index for one, a barometer for growth stocks, is up 23 per cent from its June low. Investors seem to think the worst is behind us, and they’re happy to return to the way things were.

The reality: It is highly likely that there is no going back, at least not for quite some time.

“Many economists, strategists and investors are thinking the world hasn’t changed – that we’re in a normal cycle,” said Tom Galvin, chief investment officer at City National Rochdale, a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada with roughly US$50-billion in assets under management. He disagrees. “We are in a new era.”

This summer, Mr. Galvin put out a paper that spelled this all out, explaining why the new mantra must be ‘higher for longer.’

“Inflation will be higher for longer than we anticipated, interest rates will be higher for longer, geopolitical tensions and uncertainty will be higher for longer and high volatility in the economy and financial markets will be higher for longer,” he wrote.

Of course, Mr. Galvin is only one voice, and everything in economics and finance is so chaotic right now that it’s near impossible to call anything with 100 per cent certainty. In Canada, inflation is at its highest level in nearly 40 years, yet unemployment is at a record low. That isn’t supposed to happen.

But in the past two weeks a spate of Federal Reserve officials have given public interviews saying much the same.

The day after stock markets rallied this week on the back of news that month-over-month U.S. inflation was flat in July, Mary Daly, president of the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve, told the Financial Times that investors shouldn’t be so giddy. While the data was encouraging, core prices, a basket that strips out volatile items such as energy costs, still rose. “This is why we don’t want to declare victory on inflation coming down,” she said. “We’re not near done yet.”

Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG, can’t quite understand why investors are forgetting what scares the Fed the most: inflation. One of the central bank’s biggest failures in the past 50 years was allowing U.S. inflation to grow out of control – or ‘entrenched,’ in economics parlance – in the 1970s, forcing the Fed to eventually take drastic action to bring it back in line.

“This is a Fed that remembers the seventies,” Ms. Swonk said. “Most people operating in financial markets don’t.” Especially not the twenty- and thirty-something retail traders who sent stock markets soaring in 2021.

Fed officials can’t say outright they’ll tolerate a recession as a trade off for squashing inflation, but the eighties is proof they have and they will. “They’re going to raise rates and hold it for a while to grind inflation down,” Ms. Swonk predicts.

Despite the history, there is still speculation in certain corners of the financial markets that the Fed will change course. And there are some recent precedents of doing so. Twice over the past decade, the Fed and the Bank of Canada signalled they were ready to take action to cool the economy, but both times the central banks ultimately backed off. They did so first in 2013, after bond investors freaked out, and then again in 2019.

The big difference between now and then is inflation. Even Mike Novogratz, one of the most popular investors in cryptocurrencies, the mother of all speculative assets, warned in the spring that rates won’t be falling any time soon. “There is no cavalry coming to drive a V-shaped recovery,” he wrote in a letter to investors after the crypto market crashed, referencing the quick stock market rebound after the pandemic first hit. “The Fed can’t ‘save’ the market until inflation falls.”

Predicting precisely how financial markets will be impacted by higher rates is hard, but just like unprofitable technology stocks, the asset classes that benefitted the most from the low rate world are those most susceptible to tremors. Private equity and private credit, to name two, are near the top of the list.

When debt was ultra cheap, private equity funds could fund their buyouts for next to nothing. At the same time, passive investing was gathering steam, taking the shine off hedge funds and mutual funds. Private equity, then, became a vehicle for outsized returns.

Earlier this year, Harvard Business School professor Victoria Ivashina wrote a paper predicting a shake out in the sector, arguing that these tailwinds aren’t there anymore. “As the flow of funds into private equity stabilizes and as the industry growth slows down, the fee structure will compress and compensation will shift to be more contingent on performance,” she wrote.

Already there are signs that major investors are moving away from private equity. Earlier this month, John Graham, chief executive of Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, one of the world’s largest institutional investors, disclosed that CPPIB saw more value in public markets than private ones for now. And in a July report, Jefferies, an investment bank, wrote that major money managers, including pension and sovereign wealth funds, had sold US$33-billion worth of stakes in buyout and venture capital funds in the first half of the year, the most on record.

Private debt funds, which lend money to higher risk borrowers, are also vulnerable in the current environment. Money poured into the sector over the past five years because these investment vehicles tend to pay 8-per-cent yields, but that return looks much less rosy now that one-year guaranteed investment certificates pay nearly 4.5 per cent.

By no means are these asset classes dead in the water. The same goes with stocks and so many others. Rates have jumped, and quickly, but they are still low by historical standards.

However, there are many reasons why investors of all stripes should not be expecting a quick return to lower for longer. The latest inflation data is encouraging, but it’s a single data point. Who knows what type of energy crisis Europe and the United Kingdom will face this winter, and what that will do to oil and gas prices.

Inflation also isn’t known to disappear quickly. “It’s easy to get from 6-per-cent core inflation to 4 per cent,” Ms. Swonk, the economist, said. “It’s really hard to get from 4 per cent to 2 per cent.”

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Porsche Is Going Public At €82.50 A Share, Valuing Company At €75 Billion – CarScoops

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Porsche is going public this week and shares will each be available for €82.50 ($79.89), priced at the top of the company’s targeted price range.

The initial public offering (IPO) will see the Volkswagen Group sell 12.5 per cent of the company’s non-voting shares in a move that will raise approximately €9.4 billion ($9.1 billion) and value the automaker at €75.2 billion ($72.8 billion). This will make it Germany’s second-largest listing ever.

No less than 911 million shares will be sold in Porsche and approximately half of the proceeds generated by the listing on Frankfurt’s stock exchange will be distributed to shareholders. The rest of the funds will be used to help fund VW’s transition to all-electric vehicles.

Read More: VW Banking On Porsche IPO To Fund Future Electrification Plans

“In the event of a successful IPO, Volkswagen AG will convene an extraordinary general meeting in December 2022, at which it will propose to its shareholders to distribute in the beginning of 2023 a special dividend of 49 % of the total gross proceeds from the placement of the preferred shares and the sale of the ordinary shares,” the Volkswagen Group described in a statement.

The IPO is going ahead despite the current volatile state of the stock market and widespread economic concerns.

“This [IPO] is a key element for the group, especially because the possible proceeds would give us more flexibility to further accelerate the transformation,” Porsche CFO Arno Antlitz added in a statement earlier this month.

Speaking with the media last week, the head of VW’s works council, Daniela Cavallo, noted that the carmaker could sell more Porsche shares in the future in order to raise additional funds.

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Canada's economy grew by 0.1% in July, bucking expectations it would shrink – CBC News

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Canada’s gross domestic product expanded by 0.1 per cent in July, besting expectations of an imminent decline, as growth in mining, agriculture and the oil and gas sector offset shrinkage in manufacturing.

Statistics Canada reported Thursday that economic output from the oilsands sector increased sharply, by 5.1 per cent during the month. That was a change in direction after two straight months of decline, which brought second-quarter growth to 4.2 per cent thus far. 

The agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector led growth with 3.2 per cent. Unlike the United States and Europe, both of which are facing drought conditions, Canada has had a good year for crop production said Scotiabank economist Derek Holt. 

On the downside, the manufacturing sector shrank by 0.5 per cent, its third decline in four months. Canada’s export market with the United States has softened and global supply chain issues linger, said Holt. The latter are gradually easing, which could create a better picture for the sector in the second half of the quarter. 

Wholesale trade shrank by 0.7 per cent, and the retail sector declined by 1.9 per cent. That’s the smallest output for retail since December. 

“What happened this summer was a big rotation away from goods spending towards services spending,” Holt said. Activities like haircuts, travel or outings to the theatre, made popular with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, leave out retail.

While the economy eked out slight growth in July, the data agency’s early look at August’s numbers shows no growth.

“The economy fared better than anticipated this summer, but the showing still wasn’t much to write home about,” said economist Royce Mendes with Desjardins. “While the data did beat expectations today, the numbers didn’t move the needle enough to see a material market reaction.”

The performance of Canada’s economy throughout the fiscal year — 3.6 per cent growth in Q1 and 4.2 per cent thus far in Q2 — remains one of the best in the world, Holt said. 

Mendes said he expects growth will stay under one per cent this year: half of the Bank of Canada’s two per cent prediction and a third of the growth seen in the first two quarters. 

“We’re definitely slowing, and more of that is coming in a lagged response to higher interest rates and all the challenges of the world economy,” Holt said. “But relative to the rest of the world, for the year as a whole, Canada has been in a sweet spot.”

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Employers and Your Ego Are Constantly at Odds Over Your Value

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When considering the value of an item from a holistic perspective and through the philosophical lenses of existentialism, you realize an item has no value until someone is willing to pay for it, whether it’s a Porsche 911 GT3, a 26th-floor condo in Vancouver, a cup of Starbucks coffee or pair of Levi’s jeans.

Have you ever bought an item, a leather jacket, for example, for $400 and then a month later, it was on sale for $250? The retailer reduced the price of the leather jacket because the number of customers willing to pay $400 had dwindled to the point where it wasn’t selling. Taking this analogy further, the jackets that ended up not selling had no value.

Value doesn’t simply exist. Value is assigned by supply and demand—demand being the keyword. The value of your skills and experience on the job market is determined by how much employers are willing to pay for them, which constantly fluctuates.

It’s no secret most employees feel underpaid. The perception is mostly personal, based on:

  • Your assessment of your worth, which is highly subjective, and
  • The amount of money you need for the lifestyle you created.

 

Neither is relevant.

In general, compensation isn’t arbitrary. A job’s value is determined by:

  • Job-specific educational requirements
  • Skillset required
  • Experience level
  • Responsibilities
  • Location

 

Additionally, those who criticize what employers are offering them never think about the scenario that the employer may have ten employees currently earning $65,000, whereas you want $75,000. It would cause turmoil to hire you at your asking salary.

“Getting paid what you’re worth!” has become a popular sentiment. In reality, though, the value you place on yourself and the value employers in your region are willing to pay you are two entirely different perspectives.

Recently, someone asked me if I felt underpaid. “Nope,” I replied, “I’m getting paid the amount I agreed to when I joined my employer.” I have never understood nor empathized with people who accept jobs and then complain about the pay.

Your ego and sense of entitlement may have convinced you that you deserve $75,000, but you may find that employers disagree with your value assessment. Anyone with a slight sense of business acumen understands an employee’s compensation needs to correlate with the value they bring to their employer.

Hiring involves taking a candidate’s words at face value, especially regarding their work ethic, past results, and ability to work well with others. Gut feel plays a significant role during interviews. Skills and aptitude can be tested, but only to a certain extent.

A hiring manager can only do so much due diligence (multiple interviews, testing, reference checks). Work ethic, ability to achieve results, having the skills they claimed, and being a team player are only proven or disproven after a new hire starts. Most of the tension between job seekers and employers results from job seekers expecting employers to pay them “their value” for abilities that they haven’t actually proven. In contrast, an employer’s best interest is to mitigate hiring risks by starting new hires at the low end of their budgeted salary range.

There’re 2 types of candidates:

  1. Unemployed
  2. Employed

 

Those employed should not accept a starting salary less than 20% higher than their current salary. Unless your motivation is other than money, it’s not worth the stress of starting a new job and reproving yourself for your current salary.

On the other hand, if you’re jobless, your income is $0. Unless the compensation offered is insultingly low, I don’t suggest you try and negotiate for the starting salary (WARNING: Brutal truth ahead.) you made up based on what you think of yourself. Financially and emotionally, having no job and, therefore, no income is a worst-case scenario for many.

I know you’re now asking, “But Nick, how will I get the compensation I feel I deserve if I accept what I’m offered?” Whether employed or not, you need to prove your worth, which requires the following:

 

  1. Getting the job (Proving your worth is impossible without a job.), and
  2. Negotiate and get in writing that upon achieving specific metrics, milestones, revenue targets, or whatever else you can think of, within your first six months, you’ll get a 15% salary increase or whatever percentage you feel appropriate.

 

IMPORTANT: I can’t stress enough to be sure your employment offer letter includes everything you and the hiring manager discussed and agreed to.

 

Number two makes it much easier for an employer to say “Yes” to you since they aren’t taking all the risks of hiring you at a salary you want and then finding out you can’t deliver. Offering this option demonstrates you’re confident in your skills and abilities and aren’t afraid to prove them.

 

Who would you choose if you had two more-or-less equally qualified candidates to choose from and one of the candidates offered you the option of proving their worth before getting the salary they feel they deserve?

______________________________________________________________

 

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job. You can send Nick your questions at artoffindingwork@gmail.com.

 

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