The heat has been on with central banks around the world trying to keep inflation under control. We have seen three consecutive rate rises by the RBA, the most numerous since 2010. We have observed similar monetary policy tightening action in other jurisdictions, notably the US where the last inflation read was 8.6%. Central banks are walking a tightrope as they try to manage inflation while at the same time trying to avoid a material economic slowdown.

One of the challenges is that many of the inflationary pressures we have observed have been driven by supply side issues caused by the pandemic and the subsequent pressure on supply chains. This has been coupled with the war in Ukraine which together have driven up the price of everything from building materials, food and energy costs.

There are some initial signs however that the heat may be coming off some of the areas that have been driving inflation. Globally, there is evidence weaker demand is coming through reflected in weaker PMI figures, opening up some spare capacity and allowing supply conditions to improve. Notably, indicators such as Global Manufacturing PMI supplier delivery times are showing signs of improvement, suggesting goods are beginning to move again and the S&P Global Supply Side Shortages Indicator is easing.

Other signs of the heat coming out of the economy are evident. The most visible and arguably high-profile, given many of us have exposure, is the housing sector. The Australian housing market is showing signs of softening with auction clearance rates at two-year lows according to CoreLogic data. Sydney has recorded the sharpest fall in house prices, falling by 1.6% in June. We have also seen a string of construction companies go into liquidation, the most recent being Langford Jones Homes in Victoria.

It is too early to assess whether rate rises are having their intended effect and whether central banks have the balance right between managing demand and keeping the economy growing. However, there are signs that demand is weakening and that supply chains are slowly working through the ‘covid’ backlog. If we see sustained evidence that inflation has peaked, and bond yields show signs of stability it is plausible that central banks will pause their tightening cycle and we may even see rates come back down next year. Until that time expect more bouts of market volatility as the market attempts to price in expectations on interest rates.

Considering this environment, we have sought to moderate any material asset allocation tilts and well as factor exposures within our suite of portfolios. We are likely to hold this position until we see sustained signs of inflation peaking and rate hiking cycle approach its climax. At that point we will reassess our portfolios positioning.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2022 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

Years of accommodative monetary policy combined with ample liquidity from central banks, remnants of the global financial crisis of 2008, may be coming to a gradual end. We are arguably entering a transition period in the economic environment from one of low inflation, low interest rates backed by unconventional monetary policy (quantitative easing), to one of higher inflation and the potential of higher interest rates. Adding fuel to inflationary pressures has been a global pandemic where supply chains have been disrupted like never before, heightened geopolitical risks with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of Europe, putting price pressures on everything from crude oil, wheat to sunflower oil, and globalisation, the accepted mantra for economic growth for decades, which is now under increased scrutiny with talk of a deglobalised world.

Periods of transition from a market perspective are always challenging. They are characterised by increased uncertainty and subsequently increased market volatility. In such environments it is a balancing act between defense and offence. In recent years, an offensive game has been a clear winner, however defense has become increasingly important. While we do not have a crystal ball on how high inflation will be and by how much interest rates may rise, the likely trend is up. With this in mind, considering assets that can assist in navigating a higher inflation environment is important. While there is no perfect hedge for inflation there are assets that can benefit from a higher inflation environment. Some of these include real assets such as infrastructure and property, commodities including gold, floating rate notes and inflation linked bonds.

Within Lonsec’s portfolio suite, we have built up our exposure to real assets for a number of years and have included assets such as gold as inflation risk was growing. Within fixed interest we diversified sovereign bond exposures with short-dated bonds and credit exposures. Given the nature of the Australian equity market, domestic investors will also have a structural exposure to commodities via the market. In such environments it is important not to swing the pendulum too far in terms of focusing solely on defense. In uncertain times and periods of market volatility, opportunities do arise. With this in mind we have retained a bias to growth assets and we think that the ability to generate positive active returns has increased and greater price dispersion in markets will provide more attractive entry points for quality assets that may have previously been out of reach due to excessive valuations.

The winds of change may be coming but markets are always evolving and reviewing your game plan is prudent.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2022 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) have been available on the ASX for over 2 decades, but in recent years, this category’s variety and representation within Australian portfolios have grown rapidly.

By offering exposure to different global markets, industry sectors and strategic themes, as well as non-equities asset classes like bonds and commodities, ETFs can provide relatively low-cost “building blocks” for a diversified portfolio.

However, as with any investment, it’s very important to understand what you are putting your money into, and to ensure that it suits your specific needs.  Here are five questions to ask yourself, or your financial adviser, before you purchase an ETF.

Question 1: Does it accurately capture the market exposure that I want?

You wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so make sure to look beyond the ETF’s name to properly assess the underlying exposure of the product. Common misunderstandings include:

  • Mistaking a “picks and shovels” exposure, through owning suppliers and supporters of a sector, for that sector’s output. For example, a portfolio of cryptocurrency miners and exchange operators is not the same as a direct investment into cryptocurrency;
  • Confusion between ETFs linked to a commodity’s spot price, which is the price for immediate delivery, and those representing a futures curve, which will move with expectations for longer-term pricing; and
  • Overlooking exchange rate movements, which can influence your returns from anything not priced in Australian dollars. This impact can be neutralised with a currency-hedged ETF.

Question 2: Is the exposure active, passive, or somewhere in between?

Early ETFs were purely passive, usually linked to an equities index like the S&P/ASX 200, but now, there are also actively managed portfolios within an ETF structure. “Smart beta” portfolios which apply rules-based investment strategies are becoming more common too, for example, one might invest in a basket of stocks which screen well on quality factors. The exposure type affects fee levels and return potential, with passive ETFs tending to be the cheapest, but lacking the potential to outperform an index benchmark.

Question 3: How liquid is this product?

It is possible for the price of an ETF to diverge from that of its underlying exposure, particularly in volatile market conditions such as the COVID-19 panic in early 2020. To ensure that investors can get in and out of a product when they want to, ETF providers often employ a Market Maker, an institution which quotes separate prices to buy and sell units. Generally, ETFs with a smaller pool of units on issue are more likely to have poor liquidity, and this can show up in a wide spread between the buy and sell prices. Using “at-limit” orders when trading ETFs can help ensure that you receive the price you expect.

Question 4: How does the fee compare to alternatives, and what are the trade-offs?

Low cost is a major benefit of ETFs, but when you have several to choose from, it’s worth understanding why one’s management fee is cheaper. Active management usually costs more, and ETFs linked to a major market benchmark are sometimes priced higher because the index provider takes a cut of the total fee. Unusual products may carry a scarcity premium, while new or smaller-scale offerings may have lower fees, both to compensate for their initially poor liquidity, and also to entice more patronage over time.

Question 5: How does it fit with the rest of my portfolio?

Any new investment should be considered in the context of your existing portfolio. ETFs can provide valuable diversification, but they can also be a source of inadvertent overlap or concentrated exposure to certain sectors or factors. For example, ETFs linked to the S&P 500 index, the NASDAQ 100 and an actively-managed global growth strategy might overlap in high exposure to the Big Tech stocks, so this combination might not provide adequate diversification.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2022 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

Given the impact the Russian-Ukraine conflict has had on financial markets, Lonsec has surveyed relevant Global Emerging Market Equity managers to ascertain their exposure to Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian securities through the months of December 2021 to February 2022. Where such exposures are identified, Lonsec has also ascertained the underlying holdings and what steps managers have taken given the equity market fall-out from the conflict.

In terms of products with exposures, Lonsec notes that throughout the month of February 2022 the situation was fluid and highly volatile. Key market events included the closure of the Moscow Stock Exchange for all trading alongside major foreign exchanges suspending trading of all Russian Global and American Depository Receipts (GDRs/ADRs). These actions severely limited the optionality of asset managers to respond and transact as desired.

In light of this, asset managers who held Russian equity holdings in mid-to-late February 2022 have been forced to write these off entirely following a period of these being severely impaired. These actions have already been taken and are reflected in unit prices. Additionally, such managers have typically placed hard limits on not acquiring Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian securities for the foreseeable future.

This report aims to outline exposure levels and commonly held Russian stocks from those relevant asset managers within the Global Equities – Global Emerging Market sub-sector, an overview of the Russian equity market alongside a more detailed sequence of events.

Lonsec rated universe: Global Equities – Global Emerging Markets Funds Russian Exposure Weights
APIR Funds 31-Dec-21 31-Jan-21 28-Feb-21
ETL4207AU GQG Partners Emerging Markets Equity Fund – A/Z Class 15.1% 8.3% 1.3%
ETL3590AU Ashmore Emerging Markets Equity Fund 7.8% 6.4% 0.6%
ETL4930AU NB EME Select Trust – I Class 7.3% 6.1% 0.8%
ETL1713AU NB EME Select Trust – W Class 7.3% 6.1% 0.8%
LAZ0003AU Lazard Emerging Markets Equity Fund 7.2% 6.5% 2.4%
ETL0032AU Aberdeen Standard Emerging Opportunities Fund 6.3% 6.0% 1.5%
UBS8018AU UBS Emerging Markets Equity Fund 5.6% 3.3% 1.2%
VAN0221AU Vanguard Active Emerging Markets Equity Fund 5.4% 5.0% 1.2%
CHN8850AU Redwheel Global Emerging Markets Fund 4.1% 4.0% 0.2%
ETL7377AU GQG Partners Global Equity Fund – A Class 3.1% 1.8% 0.2%
PER0736AU BMO LGM Global Emerging Market Fund 2.6% 2.5% 1.4%
BTA0419AU Pendal Global Emerging Markets Opportunities Fund – WS 2.4% 4.9% 0.9%
ETL0201AU Legg Mason Martin Currie Emerging Markets Fund 2.3% 2.1% 0.2%
EMMG BetaShares Legg Mason Emerging Markets Fund (Managed Fund) 2.2% 2.1% 0.2%
FID0031AU Fidelity Global Emerging Markets Fund 1.9% 2.5% 0.4%
FEMX Fidelity Global Emerging Markets Fund (Managed Fund) 1.9% 2.5% 0.4%
FID0010AU Fidelity Asia Fund 0.0% 0.0% 0.8%

 

MSCI EM Benchmark 3.6% 3.2% 1.6%*

(*On March 4th, 2022, MSCI announced Russia would be removed from the Index effective March 9th, 2022)

 

MSCI Russia 25 / 50 Index constituents, index weights, performance and Lonsec Global Emerging Markets sub-sector portfolio representation as of 28 February 2022

 

Stock name Sector Index Weight (%) Performance (31 Dec 21 – 28 Feb 22) No. of funds holding
GAZPROM Energy 21.1% -51.5% 5
NK LUKOIL Energy 16.0% -45.1% 9
SBERBANK ROSSII Financials 8.9% -68.8% 7
GMK NORILSKIY NIKEL Materials 7.0% -38.7% 2
TATNEFT Energy 4.8% -47.5%
POLYUS Materials 3.6% -40.5% 2
TCS GROUP HOLDING REPR CLASS A RE Financials 3.6% -61.0% 5
SEVERSTAL Materials 3.1% -38.6% 2
NOVOLIPETSK STEEL Materials 3.0% -39.7%
MOBILE TELESYSTEMS PUBLIC JOINT AD Communication 3.0% -30.8% 2
NK ROSNEFT Energy 2.9% -64.1% 2
POLYMETAL INTERNATIONAL PLC Materials 2.7% -52.3%
YANDEX NV CLASS A Communication 2.5% -70.1% 5
SURGUTNEFTEGAZ PREF Energy 2.5% -41.2%
AK ALROSA Materials 2.3% -51.2%
PAO NOVATEK GDR Energy 1.9% -83.6% 3
SURGUTNEFTEGAZ Energy 1.8% -60.4%
X5 RETAIL GROUP GDR NV Consumer Staples 1.7% -54.7% 1
MOSCOW EXCHANGE Financials 1.7% -54.4% 1
INTER RAO EES Utilities 1.4% -50.0%
UNITED COMPANY RUSAL Materials 1.3% -41.4% 1
PJSC PHOSAGRO GDR Materials 1.1% -71.7%
MAGNIT PJSC SPONSORED RUSSIA RU DR Consumer Staples 0.6% -89.3%
OZON HOLDINGS ADR PLC Consumer Discretionary 0.4% -66.7%
MAIL RU GROUP GDR LTD Communication 0.4% -75.9%
HeadHunter Group PLC Communication 0%* -70.6% 1
Fix Price Group Ltd – GDR Consumer Staples 0%* -87.5% 1
Globaltrans Investment Plc Industrials 0%* -89.7% 1

* Not included with the MSCI Russia 25 / 50 Index

Timeline of events

January 2022

  • The build-up of Russian troops along the border of Ukraine and heightened tensions compelled some Managers to reappraise the geopolitical risks and pair back their associated Russian exposures throughout the month.

February 2022

  • Sanctions against Russia escalate throughout the month from the US, UK and EU. Asset managers faced increasing liquidity issues trading their Russian equities. On February 22, the US announced full blocking sanctions on several Russian banks and cancelled Russian sales of sovereign bonds on US money markets.
  • February 24, Russian troops invade Ukraine which brings further international condemnation. As a result, Russia’s local bourse fell 40%.
  • February 25, Russia’s Central Bank closed the Moscow exchange, suspending all stock and foreign currency trading.
  • February 25, asset managers begin to severely impair their Russian assets and introduce fair value pricing to calculate unit prices due to the inability to trade and accurately price Russian assets.
  • February 26, the European Union announces sanctions to limit Russia’s ability to access an estimated US$630bn in reserves to finance war and avoid the impact of sanctions being applied.
  • 27 February, the US and EU announce a ban on Russian banks from the SWIFT interbank transaction system which is the backbone of the international financial transfer system. The sanction cuts Russia off from the international banking system crippling their ability to trade with the rest of the world.
  • 28 February, major stock exchanges progressively introduced suspensions on trading Russian equity American Depository Receipts/Global Depository Receipts (ADRs and GDRs).
  • 28 February, the Russian Ruble succumbs to heavy exchange pressure, weakening by over 20% against the greenback. In an effort to stabilise the currency, Russia’s Central Bank called an emergency meeting and increased interest rates from 11% to 20%.
  • 28 February, asset managers begin to write down their Russian asset entirely.

March 2022

  • 1 March, S&P Global Ratings downgrades several Russian banks and placed the ratings of another 19 on CreditWatch negative.
  • 2 March, Russia’s Central bank desperately attempts to prevent a run on Russian bank reserves by announcing lower reserve requirements. The Central bank announced that the liquidity gap in the Russian banking system was US$68 billion dollars, a 27% increase in the gap in just one day.
  • 3 March, the International Energy Agency unveils a 10-point plan to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. Europe currently is immensely reliant on Russian oil with roughly 40% of its gas supplied by Russia.
  • 4 March, Major index providers, such as MSCI, FTSE and S&P begin to announce that the Russian market is “uninvestable” with indices recalculated by 9 March. All Russian assets were marked down to effectively zero.
  • 4 March, the Australian Federal government called on Australian superannuation funds to divest Russian assets. Australian superannuation funds confirm that they are set to encounter losses of up to A$2bn on Russian assets when trading resumes on the Moscow Stock Exchange.
  • 6 March, Visa, Mastercard and American Express announce that they will be suspending all foreign transactions associated with Russia.
  • 8 March, countless top brands and industry leaders such as Disney, Exxon, Shell, Apple and McDonalds either suspend operations in Russia or make plans to wind them down. Further, the US announced a ban on all imports of Russian Energy in addition to banning exports of oil refining technology making it substantially more difficult for Russia to continue the modernisation of their oil refineries.
  • 10 March, Russian companies begin looking into the possibility of relocating employees from Russia.

Conclusion

While share price movements have been severe in isolation, Lonsec notes that losses at an overall fund level have tended to be relatively contained given Russia makes up only a small proportion of emerging markets universe. There were however a small number of managers which had a material allocation to Russia through the early parts of 2022. While these exposures were progressively paired back in most instances, the write-off of the remaining holdings will however meaningfully impact Fund performance in the short-to-medium term.

Regardless of direct exposure, Lonsec highlights that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will continue to meaningfully influence financial markets for the foreseeable future given the long-lasting repercussions on global trade. The idea of a single and open global economy is now a distant dream given the geopolitical tensions between superpowers Russia, China, the US and NATO nations. This comes off the back of already fractured relations following the onset of the pandemic in 2020. The onset of war and related sanctions add fuel to an inflation bonfire initially lit by a resurgence in demand as the world emerged from the pandemic. Higher interest rates could well be imposed at an even quicker rate than expected, potentially stifling economic growth and asset prices in the process.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561, AFSL No. 421445 (Lonsec). Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.
Disclosure as at the date of publication: Lonsec receives fees from fund managers or product issuers for researching their financial product(s) using comprehensive and objective criteria. Lonsec receives subscriptions for providing research content to subscribers including fund managers and product issuers. Lonsec receives fees for providing investment consulting advice to clients, which includes model portfolios, approved product lists and other advice. Lonsec’s fees are not linked to the product rating outcome or the inclusion of products in model portfolios, or in approved product lists. Lonsec and its representatives, Authorised Representatives and their respective associates may have positions in the financial product(s) mentioned in this document, which may change during the life of this document, but Lonsec considers such holdings not to be sufficiently material to compromise any recommendation or advice.
Warnings: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The information contained in this document is obtained from various sources deemed to be reliable. It is not guaranteed as accurate or complete and should not be relied upon as such. Opinions expressed are subject to change. This document is but one tool to help make investment decisions. The changing character of markets requires constant analysis and may result in changes. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to “General Advice” (as defined in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)) and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (‘financial circumstances’) of any particular person. It does not constitute a recommendation to purchase, redeem or sell the relevant financial product(s).
Before making an investment decision based on the rating(s) or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances, or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness. If our advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of particular financial product(s), the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire a financial product. Where Lonsec’s research process relies upon the participation of the fund manager(s) or product issuer(s) and they are no longer an active participant in Lonsec’s research process, Lonsec reserves the right to withdraw the document at any time and discontinue future coverage of the financial product(s).
Disclaimer: This document is for the exclusive use of the person to whom it is provided by Lonsec and must not be used or relied upon by any other person. No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by Lonsec. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of completion but subject to change without notice. Lonsec assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, Lonsec, its directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.
Copyright © 2022 Lonsec Research Pty Ltd (ABN 11 151 658 561, AFSL No. 421445) (Lonsec). This document is subject to copyright of Lonsec. Except for the temporary copy held in a computer’s cache and a single permanent copy for your personal reference or other than as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), no part of this document may, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, micro-copying, photocopying, recording or otherwise), be reproduced, stored or transmitted without the prior written permission of Lonsec.
This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright. Any such material is the intellectual property of that third party or its content providers. The same restrictions applying above to Lonsec copyrighted material, applies to such third party content.

After several weeks of diplomatic tensions, over the last few days the word has watched in shock as Russia invades Ukraine. By way of background, the Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union and gained independence from the USSR in 1991 following the gradual collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe in 1989. The recent tensions can be traced back to 1994 when the Budapest Memorandum was signed by the US, UK, Russia and the Ukraine when the Ukraine essentially agreed to give up their nuclear weapons and in return recognition of their sovereignty and ‘assurances’ of assistance should they face aggression. The west also opened the door for former Soviet states such as the Ukraine and Georgia to become members of NATO which was deemed to be unpalatable to the Russian government. Roll forward and we have seen Russian annex the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014 as well as making incursions into the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The situation is complex and the coming days and weeks will provide us greater clarity on the direction tensions may take.

From a market perspective, we have seen markets price in the risk of a conflict with five-year credit default swaps blowing out for Russia and the Ukraine debt reflecting the additional risk for swapping out sovereign default risk. Equity markets are likely to be volatile until there is more clarity on the situation.

Russia & Ukraine 5yr Credit Default Swaps (bp)

Source: Capital Economics

Geopolitical risks are difficult to predict and even more difficult to manage for within a portfolio context. In recent years we have seen growing tensions between China and the US, North Korea agitate, and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, such as the Syrian conflict. Typically, markets tend to react sharply and quickly to geopolitical events. If we look at how markets reacted during the Gulf War in the early 90s when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the S&P 500 feel sharply but also recovered quickly. The chart below shows the drawdown from previous peak in the market. While every conflict is different, markets like certainty and a clear direction. Until that time, expect markets to be volatile.

 S&P 500, Drawdown from previous peak (%)

Source: Capital Economics

As we see the Russia/Ukraine conflict escalate our expectation is that energy prices will increase given Russia is a large oil and gas producer and Europe relies heavily on Russian energy. A significant development has been the move to block Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments system and freeze the Bank of Russia’s reserves which are expected to severely restrict movement of capital from Russia. We also saw the decision by Germany to suspend the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, a gas pipe connecting Russian gas to Germany. This is significant because Germany essentially shut down its nuclear power stations opting for gas via the new pipeline. It will be interesting to observe whether this will be a catalyst for Europe to rethink their energy sources to reduce their reliance on Russian gas.

We are monitoring the developments in the conflict and are assessing what our potential exposure is to Russia and Ukraine within the portfolios. Our portfolios remain diversified, and we hold assets such as gold and alternative assets within the portfolios which have been included to assist in managing risk. Coupled with this, we continue to assess the impact growing inflation may have on our portfolios having recently held interim investment committee meetings as new information comes to hand.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2022 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

Volatility and market uncertainty is increasing as markets react to news about interest rate rises. We asked Chief Investment Officer, Lukasz de Pourbaix, to give us an update on whether the current market situation has impacted Lonsec’s dynamic asset allocation views and whether any changes will be made to the Lonsec portfolios’ positions.

Lukasz explains that as part of Lonsec’s Investment Committee oversight process the team will continue to analyse and closely monitor the evolving situation. Rebalancing portfolios will become increasingly important over the next 12 months however the portfolios have a good built-in diversification across investment strategies and styles and Lonsec is comfortable with the portfolios’ current positions.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2022 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

Welcome to the first in a new Lonsec Insights series called Manager in Focus. Manager in Focus aims to demystify the investment process and give access to the brightest minds in Australia’s investment community.

In this first Manager in Focus video, Peter Green, Head of Equities Research at Lonsec Research brings together Dushko Bajic, Head of Australian Equities, Growth at First Sentier Investors, Jared Pohl, Cofounder of ECP Asset Management and Stephen Wood, Principal and Portfolio Manager at Eiger Capital to discuss their qualitative research and investment processes, what they look for in target investments, how they have built and maintain their team and what they do when things don’t go as planned. Each of these managers run funds that have been rated as Highly Recommended by Lonsec Research in the recent Australian Equities review.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This video is published by Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561, AFSL No. 421445 (Lonsec). Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this video.
Disclosure as at the date of publication: Lonsec receives fees from fund managers or product issuers for researching their financial product(s) using comprehensive and objective criteria. Lonsec receives subscriptions for providing research content to subscribers including fund managers and product issuers. Lonsec receives fees for providing investment consulting advice to clients, which includes model portfolios, approved product lists and other advice. Lonsec’s fees are not linked to the product rating outcome or the inclusion of products in model portfolios, or in approved product lists. Lonsec and its representatives, Authorised Representatives and their respective associates may have positions in the financial product(s) mentioned in this video, which may change during the life of this video, but Lonsec considers such holdings not to be sufficiently material to compromise any recommendation or advice.
Warnings: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The information contained in this video is obtained from various sources deemed to be reliable. It is not guaranteed as accurate or complete and should not be relied upon as such. Opinions expressed are subject to change. This video is but one tool to help make investment decisions. The changing character of markets requires constant analysis and may result in changes. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this video is limited to “General Advice” (as defined in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)) and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (‘financial circumstances’) of any particular person. It does not constitute a recommendation to purchase, redeem or sell the relevant financial product(s).
Before making an investment decision based on the rating(s) or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances, or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness. If our advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of particular financial product(s), the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire a financial product. Where Lonsec’s research process relies upon the participation of the fund manager(s) or product issuer(s) and they are no longer an active participant in Lonsec’s research process, Lonsec reserves the right to withdraw the video at any time and discontinue future coverage of the financial product(s).
Disclaimer: This video is for the exclusive use of the person to whom it is provided by Lonsec and must not be used or relied upon by any other person. No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this video, which is drawn from third party information or opinion not verified by Lonsec. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of completion but subject to change without notice. Lonsec assumes no obligation to update this video following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, Lonsec, its directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this video or any loss or damage suffered by the viewer or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Research Pty Ltd (ABN 11 151 658 561, AFSL No. 421445) (Lonsec). This video is subject to copyright of Lonsec. Except for the temporary copy held in a computer’s cache and a single permanent copy for your personal reference or other than as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), no part of this video may, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, micro-copying, photocopying, recording or otherwise), be reproduced, stored or transmitted without the prior written permission of Lonsec.

This video may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright. Any such material is the intellectual property of that third party or its content providers. The same restrictions applying above to Lonsec copyrighted material, applies to such third party content.

Important information: Any express or implied rating or advice is limited to general advice, it doesn’t consider any personal needs, goals or objectives.  Before making any decision about financial products, consider whether it is personally appropriate for you in light of your personal circumstances. Obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product and seek professional personal advice before making any decisions regarding a financial product.

The upward trajectory in equity markets has continued unabated. Markets continue to be supported by low interest rates and central bank liquidity support. The US Federal Reserve’s recent comments that that they would continue their asset purchase program and that interest rates are not expected to rise anytime soon has added fuel to markets. This is despite growing concerns of rising inflation, which has been a major focal point for central banks and investors alike. One of our observations is that markets are disregarding any negative news which is of concern as this is typical behavior in the late stages of a bull market. Uncertainty also remains as to the playbook the pandemic will follow. The spike in the Delta strain of Covid-19 has highlighted the evolving nature of the virus and, as we have seen domestically, it has had a material impact on Australia’s ability to ‘open up’, which has had a detrimental impact on many households and small businesses. Furthermore, geopolitical risk continues to flare up with the recent retreat of the US from Afghanistan creating a power vacuum in that region.

Our asset allocation positioning has been positive for investors as we have maintained an overweight exposure to risk assets such as equities. We are seeing that asset valuations in some sectors are looking stretched as the market has extended its rally. We are looking at ways to further diversify our portfolios as well as looking at opportunities to take profits via portfolio rebalancing where appropriate. The main challenge from a portfolio construction perspective at the moment is that bonds and cash do not look particularly attractive, so the hunt for other diversifying assets is a focus for us. Within our multi-asset portfolios, we have incorporated a range of assets such as gold and alternative strategies to provide diversification from equities and bonds.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report made for sobering reading. Based on the most up to date, science-based understanding of the climate system and climate change, the report found that it “is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. “ According to the report, human influence has ‘very likely’ to ‘almost certainly’ contributed to global land and ocean warming, the retreat of glaciers, the decrease in Artic sea ice, rising sea levels and the increase severity and number of extreme weather and climate events that are occurring across every region across the globe.

The Lonsec Sustainable Managed Portfolios have a dual objective of delivering strong risk-adjusted returns while also making a positive contribution to the key environmental and social challenges facing society as measured by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Climate change impacts a number, if not all, of the SDGs.

For example, changing weather patterns, more severe droughts, floods and tropical cyclones can significantly impact SDG 2 Zero hunger (and consequently SDG 3 Good health and well-being) due to increased food insecurity. SDG 1 No poverty will also be affected, as livelihoods, particularly in the agricultural sector, are lost. Climate change is also clearly impacting SDG 14 Life below water with coral bleaching events and ocean acidification on the rise and 15 Life on Land as decreased biodiversity, changing climate zones, and heatwaves threaten the extinction of many species.

The Lonsec Sustainable Managed Portfolios seek to address climate change in several ways;

  • We invest in strategies that are actively looking to solve the challenges of climate change. Impact strategies such as the Impax Sustainable Leaders Fund which invests globally in companies that are active in resource efficiency and environmental markets and the Pengana WHEB Sustainable Impact Fund which invests in sustainable investment themes including environmental themes such as cleaner energy, sustainable transport and water management. The Lonsec Sustainable Portfolios also have exposure to green and sustainable bonds through our fixed income strategies, where the proceeds of the bonds go directly towards funding climate solutions such as wind and solar farms.
  • We limit our exposure to fossil fuels, and in particular, thermal coal. As the highest emitting fossil fuel, coal is simply an exposure we want to avoid. Most of our underlying managers go further and exclude fossil fuels altogether which we strongly encourage as alternative technologies including renewables become more accessible. We monitor the portfolio’s exposure to each of the major fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) using a third-party data provider to ensure that our exposures are low or zero and aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement, and we track the overall carbon footprint of the portfolio.
  • We invest in strategies such as the BetaShares Global Sustainability Leaders ETF (ETHI) that targets ‘climate leaders’. These are global large cap companies that have passed screens to exclude companies with direct or significant exposure to fossil fuels. 100% of the power generated by the companies in ETHI come from renewable sources.
  • We invest with managers that have strong Environment Social and Governance (ESG) integration, that is, they understand and incorporate the physical and transition risks of climate change into their financial analysis. They are managers that engage directly with companies around their climate disclosures and on their transition plans to net zero emissions. While targeting climate leaders and excluding fossil fuels can assist in keeping the carbon footprint of the portfolio low, it does little to reduce carbon emissions in the real-world – it simply passes the problem and emissions onto other investors. All companies, not just those focused on climate solutions, need to be part of the transition if we are to have a real-world impact. We want fund managers to work with all companies to reduce their emissions across the board and improve the carbon footprint of the entire market. In this regard, we see ESG integration as playing a critical role in delivering to the SDGs.

We believe the Lonsec Sustainable Portfolios are well positioned from a climate change perspective, however, more needs to be done. We will continue to work with fund managers and encourage more ambitious goal setting. At present we have 35% of FUM in the portfolio committed to net zero emissions by 2050 either through the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative or independent commitments. We want to see that number increase. It is important to Lonsec and important to our clients that we seek to urgently address climate change. We believe that addressing the impacts of climate change can help build more resilient portfolios and deliver more stable and higher long-term returns for our clients.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

With the growing dominance and potentially anticompetitive nature and conduct of big tech multinational players of the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Alphabet, there is bipartisan support behind the need for antitrust reform. US President Joe Biden’s appointment of staunch antitrust reform advocate Lina Khan as Chair of the Federal Trade Commission in June this year, reinforces the Biden administration’s firm intent to seek to address the broad range of antitrust concerns. In her role as Chair, Lina Khan will work with Congress on bills to limit the power of big tech companies, collaborate with European regulators on antitrust issues, and will be involved in deciding whether to launch antitrust investigations and court cases.1 Amazon is currently being investigated by the FTC for past acquisitions, treatment of third party sellers and its cloud services business. As evidenced by recent flurry of capital outflows in response to significant regulatory change targeting the technology and education sectors in China, regulatory and ESG risks can have a material impact on stock markets. This article discusses the rationale behind the need for antitrust reform which has been articulated by Khan and other advocates in the area, using the example of Amazon, to capture the reality of the anticompetitive risks that big tech companies present to society.

Amazon has an undeniably impressive long-term track record as a growth company. It has a substantial and growing addressable market, with promising businesses in AWS and Alexa, as well as value-add opportunities in Amazon Prime, grocery delivery and healthcare. As a result, it is often a ubiquitous and prominent holding in the portfolios of growth investment managers, which has proven to be a multi-bagger stock, and then some. AWS is a “scale as a service” platform, which delivers IT infrastructure services online. It has been transformational in making cloud computing more accessible and affordable to smaller companies, and its scale has enabled Amazon to invest more in the development and management of services than what would have otherwise been possible.2 Following Congressional hearings last year, the US House of Representatives’ Antitrust Subcommittee established that Amazon has “significant and durable market power in the US online retail market”, with monopoly power over third party sellers on its platform and suppliers.3 Amazon have developed a valuable service for vendors and consumers, built a strong market position and are entitled to a return on their substantial investment and innovation over the years. They have acted on a strategy of heavy reinvestment and research and development to produce a more competitive offering for consumers. However, there is growing recognition of the need for sufficient checks and balances to ensure that anticompetitive hazards are mitigated.

Theoretical Underpinnings of Antitrust Law

There has been a shift in approaching antitrust from economic structuralism toward consumer welfare. The current approach was introduced by Judge Robert Bork and supported by the University of Chicago Law school through the Chicago School of Antitrust framework. This approach narrows the scope and application of the law to focus solely on consumer welfare, specifically consumer prices, rather than the entire spectrum of market participants and implications to market power dynamics in the economy. Antitrust laws are centred on the objective of maximising consumer welfare, measured primarily through prices. Furthermore, the view is that consumer welfare is best achieved through market efficiency, in which firm size, structure and concentration are a result of market forces.4 Consistent with this theory, Amazon as a profit maximising actor, has a large market share and integrated supply chains. Its concentrated structure enables it to achieve lower prices and thereby maximise consumer welfare. This approach overlooks risks Amazon poses to competition and other market participants, and the multitude of other ways it can exploit market power. Market efficiency lies on the premise that rational economic actors will maximise profits by combining inputs in the most efficient manner. However, economic actors do not always act rationally and unchecked and without proper oversight have opportunities to act unfairly for the ultimate detriment of consumers. Monopolies and oligopolies increase barriers to entry, risks of collusion and price fixing, and lowers the pricing power of consumers, suppliers and even employees.5 Amazon has barriers to entry that assist the durability of its market power, including high switching costs for consumers to shop outside Amazon’s ecosystem and its fulfilment and delivery advantage through a large logistics network.6 In addition, network effects and data collection that cannot be easily replicated by new entrants, further increase these barriers.7 As Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal stated when questioning Jeff Bezos in the antitrust Congressional hearings in 2020, Amazon can monitor third party vendors on their platform so there is a risk competitors don’t get big enough so that they can never essentially compete.

Antitrust ideology in the 1960s centred on the theory of concentrated economic structuralism, which takes the view that concentrated market structures promote anticompetitive conduct. Markets with several small and medium sized companies are more competitive in structure than where it is concentrated among a few large players. Thus, the application of antitrust law was broader and took into consideration the interests of these stakeholders, including suppliers, employees, and competitors. Even if current interpretation of antitrust is correct in its focus solely on consumer welfare, consumer prices are only one measure of consumer welfare. This approach ignores the totality of consumer welfare including product quality, variety and innovation.8 These are best fostered through open markets and competition, rather than concentrated market structures with a few, large powerful companies.9 The aim of antitrust law should be to promote market competition and ensuring market power is appropriately distributed to achieve this, rather than consumer welfare.10 Practically, however, it is difficult to envisage that the application of this approach should result in the break-up of big tech companies. In the case of Amazon, the economies of scale arguments hold true, the vertical integration of business provide cost advantages to consumers that could not otherwise be achieved. However, closer regulatory oversight of big tech companies to prevent infringement upon interests of other stakeholders may be warranted.

There is broad support for the view that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of legislative intent behind the Sherman Act as a consumer welfare prescription is inaccurate. The genesis of antitrust was based on several aims, including to control and distribute the power of large industrial trusts and ensure that they did not impinge upon the opportunities for newer entrants in the market.11 In fact in the 1960s the Supreme Court specifically highlighted that the legislative intent of antitrust was to prevent concentrations of economic power,12 which reduced economic competition and gave rise to the potential for significant political control.13 Congressional debates by Senator Sherman himself highlighted one of the purposes of Congress during the 1890s was to protect an industry structure of small units which effectively compete with each other.14 Whilst this was the legislative intent of the 19th and 20th centuries, intent of Congress is an important basis for courts in interpreting and applying legislation.

Predatory Pricing

Whilst companies are entitled to competitively price and discount goods and services, predatory pricing to eliminate competition is illegal. However, the distinction between the two can be difficult to determine. In 2009, Quidsi, a growing e-Commerce business declined Amazon’s acquisition offer. Amazon subsequently aggressively reduced prices on product categories sold by Quidsi including diapers and baby products. Amazon used its data advantage, with pricing bots monitoring and following any price cuts made by Quidsi. Amazon’s product manager admitted to a strategy to match prices no matter what the cost.15 Ultimately, this resulted in the sale of the business to Amazon, after which Amazon raised the prices on products that were previously discounted. Arguably Amazon used its market power to undermine competition. Advocates may argue that this is the type of conduct which the Clayton Act was designed to prevent, as articulated in Congressional debates ‘by the use of this organized force of wealth and money the small men engaged in competition with them are crushed out; and that is the great evil at which all this legislation ought to be aimed.’16 On the other hand, it may be argued that this is an example of competitive pricing. Companies often compete on prices to attract and gain customers. Amazon thus could at best be said to have engaged in a pricing war with Quidsi on similar products, which ultimately resulted in Quidsi’s sale. In a general sense mergers and acquisitions can aid platforms in achieving scale, gain functionality to provide to its large user base as well as obtaining talent and resources for innovation.17 However, even if we are to look at antitrust through the lens of the consumer welfare standard, Amazon’s conduct significantly reduced the degree of competition and choices in the market when in Amazon’s own view it believed that Quidsi was its largest short term competitor.18 This seems to meet the FTC’s guidance on predatory pricing in that it harmed consumers by allowing a ‘dominant competitor to knock its rivals out of the market and then raise prices to above-market levels for a substantial time.’19

Amazon’s significant size and influence enables losses from aggressive pricing strategies to be offset and recouped through other avenues, including charging publishers higher fees for services.20 In an incident termed the “Gazelle Project”, small book publishers, dependant on Amazon for sales, were subjected to unfavourable treatment if they did not agree to more favourable terms during contract negotiations.21 Similar instances were highlighted by the US House of Representatives’ Antitrust Subcommittee, such as Amazon threatening retaliation if publishers would not accept contractual terms that limited their ability to work with Amazon’s rival e-book retailers.22 Publishers are at a structural disadvantage in negotiations not only because they rely on Amazon for distribution and marketing, but also because Amazon is vertically integrated into publishing and may promote its own content over external publishers.23

Advocates argue that predatory pricing laws should be more strongly enforced to reflect the uncertainty surrounding predatory pricing. Predatory pricing cases are rarely brought in the US. The Clayton Act of 1914 prohibited large companies from reducing prices below the cost of production to eliminate competitors and make their business unprofitable, and with the aim of becoming a monopoly.24 Similarly, the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936 aimed to prevent conglomerates and large companies from using their buying power to obtain discounts from smaller companies to destroy competition.25 However, the Supreme Court has adopted the view that rather than predation, there is a greater risk of price competition being misclassified as predation (Matsushita Electric Industrial Co v. Zenith Radio Corp). This is because the success of predation schemes of predatorily low prices is uncertain in the long-term. The Chicago School’s critique of predatory pricing was that below cost pricing is irrational, unsustainable and rarely occurs.26 Economics is not an exact science and the Chicago School’s argument is not an unbreakable principle of law.27 The Chicago School undermined the idea that price discrimination could be used to create monopolies, which they argued was the premise of the Robinson-Patman Act. Indeed, Amazon uses below cost pricing as a systematic and highly effective strategy, and whilst prima facie irrational, below cost pricing can nonetheless prove to be sustainable in the long term and enabler of gaining market share. This is not necessarily conclusive that Amazon engages in predatory pricing but evidences the outdated thinking behind predatory pricing and the need for this to be revisited.

Amazon have developed a valuable service to consumers, third-party vendors and publishers on its eCommerce platform. As a result of significant and continuous reinvestment into the company it has earned its strong market position and are entitled to a return on investment. However, the dominant business structure and power imbalances of third-party vendors elevates risks of anticompetitive harm. Closer regulatory oversight may be needed to protect the interests of these broader groups of stakeholders albeit the market will be very wary of the impact such regulations may have on the earnings power of Amazon and other big tech companies.

Author: Asha Rahman, Associate Analyst
Approved by: James Kirk, Manager – Global Equities & Alternatives


1. The Economist, ‘Joe Biden appoints Lina Khan to head the Federal Trade Commission’, 19 June 2021 < https://www.economist.com/united-states/2021/06/19/joe-biden-appoints-lina-khan-to-head-the-federal-trade-commission>.
2. Baillie Gifford, Portfolio Construction Forum 2021.
3. Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the Committee of the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets, Majority Staff Report and Recommendations (2020) 254.
4. Lina M Khan, ‘Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox’ (2017) 126 Yale Law Journal 710, 720.
5. Ibid.
6. Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the Committee of the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, above n 3, 260.
7. Khan, above n 4, 772.
8. Ibid 737.
9. Ibid 739.
10. Ibid 737.
11. Ibid 740.
12. Greenfield B Leon, Lange A Perry and Nicole Callan, ‘Antitrust Populism and the Consumer Welfare Standard: What are we Actually Debating?’ (2019) 83(2) Antitrust Law Journal, 2.
13. Darren Bush, ‘Consumer Welfare Theory as an Ethical Consideration: An Essay on Hipsters, Invisible Feet, and the “Science” of Economics’ (2018) 63 The Antitrust Bulletin 509, 511-12.
14. Ibid 513.
15. Sarah Oh, ‘Is there evidence of antitrust harm in the house of judiciary committee’s hot docs?’ (2021) 37 Santa Clara High Tech Law Journal 193, 199.
16. Sandeep Vaheesan, ‘The Profound Nonsense of Consumer Welfare Antitrust’ (2019) 64 The Antitrust Bulletin 479, 481.
17. D Daniel Sokol and Marshall Van Alstyne, ‘The Rising Risk of Platform Regulation’ (2020) 62(2) MIT Sloan Management Review, 3.
18. Ibid.
19. The Federal Trade Commission, ‘Predatory or Below-Cost Pricing’ <https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-antitrust-laws/single-firm-conduct/predatory-or-below-cost>.
20. Khan, above n 4, 765.
21. Business Insider Australia, ‘Sadistic Amazon Treated Book Sellers “The Way a Cheater would Pursue a Sickly Gazelle”’, 23 October 2013, <https://www.businessinsider.com.au/sadistic-amazon-treated-book-sellers-the-way-a-cheetah-would-pursue-a-sickly-gazelle-2013-10?r=US&IR=T>.
22. Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the Committee of the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, above n 3, 269.
23. Khan, above n 4, 766.
24. Ibid 723.
25. Ibid 724.
26. Ibid 727.
27. Bush, above n 13, 511.

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