Brad Setser

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How much do the major Sovereign Wealth Funds manage?

by rziemba

This post is by Brad Setser and Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor

A score of recent reports have put the total assets managed by sovereign wealth funds at around $3 trillion. That seems high to us – at least if the estimate is limited to sovereign wealth funds external assets.

We don’t know the real total of course. Key institutions do not disclose their size – or enough information to allow definitive estimates of their size. But our latest tally would put the combined external assets of the major sovereign wealth funds roughly $1.5 trillion (as of June 2009) – rather less than many other estimates. This portfolio of $1.5 trillion does reflect an increase from the lows reached of late 2008. But it is well below the estimated $1.8 trillion in sovereign funds assets under management in mid 2008. Significant exposure to equities and alternative assets like property, hedge funds and private equity led to heavy losses by most funds in 2008 – a fact admitted by many of the managers.

$1.5 trillion is lot of money. But it is substantially less than $7 trillion or so held as traditional foreign exchange reserves.

There are three main reasons for our lower total.

First, we continue to believe that the foreign assets of Abu Dhabi’s two main sovereign funds – The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), and the smaller Abu Dhabi Investment Council (which was created out of ADIA and manages some of ADIA’s former assets) – are far smaller than many continue to claim.* Our latest estimate puts their total size at about $360 billion. That is roughly the same size as the $360 billion Norwegian government fund – and more than the estimated assets of the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) and the combined assets of Singapore’s GIC and Temasek. Our estimate for the GIC’s assets under management is also on the low side.

To be sure, Abu Dhabi’s total external assets exceed those managed by ADIA and the Abu Dhabi Investment Council. Abu Dhabi has another sovereign fund – Mubadala and a number of other government backed investors. Its mandate has long been to support Abu Dhabi’s internal development (“Mubadala [was] set up in 2002 with a mandate not only to seek a return on investment but also to attract businesses to Abu Dhabi and help diversify the emirate’s economy) but it now has a substantial external portfolio as well. Chalk up another $50 billion or so there. Sheik Mansour’s recent flurry of investments also has made it clear that not all of Abu Dhabi’s external wealth is managed by ADIA, the Council and Mubadala. The line between a sovereign wealth fund, a state company and the private investments of individual members of the ruling family isn’t always clear. Abu Dhabi as a whole likely has substantially more foreign assets than the $400 billion we estimate are held by ADIA, the Abu Dhabi Investment Council and Mubadala. And despite Dubai’s vulnerabilities, it still holds a good number of foreign assets, even if its highly leveraged portfolio has suffered greatly in the last year.

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May TIC Data: Still Buying US Assets But Just the Liquid Ones

by rziemba

This is Rachel Ziemba. Brad will I think be back soon but I figured I’d get in one last post going into some excessive details on the Treasury International Capital (TIC) data.

These days, the TIC data released monthly by the US Treasury and detailing the capital flows to and from the U.S. often seems anti-climactic given sharp moves in the fx and treasuries market. Despite the lag, data released yesterday and detailing May purchases tells a few interesting stories.

Most importantly, it illustrates the fact, that in the face of capital inflows to overheating emerging market economies in May, the central banks of these countries kept buying U.S. dollar assets. Q2 has been the first quarter of significant reserve accumulation of the last year. Preliminary estimates we’ve done at RGE Monitor suggest that reserve accumulation was around $180 billion in the quarter (adjusted for valuation), the first significant increase since mid 2008. As in 2008, China accounts for the bulk of the accumulation.

Despite supra-national reserve currency rhetoric given the reluctance for currency appreciation, there was little choice to buy dollars. China added $38 billion in U.S. short and long-term treasuries – a net increase of $26 billion in U.S. short and long-term assets. The discrepancy can be explained by China’s reduction in its USD deposits and continued reduction in agency bonds.

However, they shunned the long-term assets. The major foreign buyers of US assets went back to the short-end of the curve, buying T-bills and adding other short term claims. Total purchases of T-bills by foreign official investors were $53.1 billion.

This move could help explain why long-term treasury yields rose in May. With concerns about the U.S. fiscal position, worries expressed by major U.S. creditors about the dollar’s value, perhaps the move to the short-end of the curve is little surprise. It also suggests that the U.S. government is again becoming more reliant on bills financing as it was towards the end of 2008. This may not be sustainable in the longer-term.

While the decrease in the US current account deficit means that the U.S. may be less reliant on foreign finance in 2009, the U.S. has become even more reliant on China as a share of its foreign finance. China has been the largest reported holder of U.S. treasuries for some months now. But as of May China now accounts for 20% of total outstanding foreign holdings and almost equals the combined holdings of Russia and Japan.

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Chinese Reserves: Boiling Over Again?

by rziemba


This Rachel Ziemba, filling in for Brad Setser. I’m having technical upload issues so will add charts later but for now some thoughts on reserves

Chinese reserves data released today seem to be one more sign that the Chinese stimulus might be working a bit too well. China’s reserves stood at $2.13 trillion up from $1.95 trillion at the end of March 2009. Although reserve accumulation was likely lower than the headline $178 billion, it implies that hot money is back in China. Adjusting for valuation, Chinese reserve growth was likely about $140 billion, much higher $60-70 billion of China’s trade surplus, FDI and interest income in this period. This accumulation also suggests that China continues to have a hard time diversifying its holdings away from the U.S. dollar.

Adjusting for valuation – the changes in value of the non-dollar holdings in China’s reserves — would imply reserve growth of around $135-140 billion. This accumulation rivals that of Q2 and Q3 2008 for the highest quarterly level.

It is one indicator that suggests that parts of China’s economy may be overheating as China tries all measures to stoke growth. It seems well in line with almost 40% y/y urban fixed investment in May 2009, and loan growth equivalent to 25% of 2008 GDP. However, it just underscores some of the difficulties in both stoking growth and avoiding future distortions.

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Will the Chinese Keep Saving?

by rziemba

This is Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor where this post also appears.

In a recent post, Jeffrey Frankel asks will the U.S. Keep Saving? noting that despite the recent increase in the U.S. savings rate, the demographics of the U.S. (as well as those of Japan and Europe) will contribute to a reduction in savings. He argues that despite the fact that wealth losses will boost savings rates, the dis-saving of the retired population will keep the savings rate relatively low, if higher than the pitiful rates of recent years.

The companion question, whether the Chinese will keep saving is equally of importance. Whether the Chinese stimulus is able to boost private consumption ahead will be critical to global and Chinese demand. So far Chinese consumption has held up and even grown slightly from a weak base –as illustrated by retail and auto sales. Yet one reason that the Chinese economic reacceleration is fragile is because it is uncertain where the new production in China’s factories will be consumed. Chinese domestic demand still seems weak and overpowered by some structural incentives to save.

In the near term U.S. savings rates, which reached 6.9% in May, seem destined to keep climbing as U.S. consumers retrench. This could contribute to slower growth in the so-called export-led economies which had grown reliant on exporting demand.

One outcome of the financial crisis has been a narrowing of global economic imbalances, as illustrated by the reduction in the Chinese trade surplus and a reduction in the corresponding deficits of countries like the U.S.. The combination of a sharp fall in consumption across the globe and withdrawal of credit, partly accounted for swift reductions in some countries. I wrote last week about the narrowing of the surplus of oil-exporters. All in all, surpluses and deficits might be smaller given the reduction in credit available even as the increase in government borrowing leads to higher long-term interest rates. This narrowing is likely despite the fact that reserve accumulation seems to have restarted in Q2. Setting aside China which will report reserves data at some point over the next day or so and adjusting for valuation, reserve growth was about $40 billion in the quarter of 2009. While this is much smaller than in the heyday of 2007, it is the first quarter of positive reserve growth since Q3 2008. Yet, there are some signs that we will not return to the earlier pace.

The U.S. current account deficit has been narrowing for some time and has fallen from 6.6% of GDP at the end of 2005 to 3.7% at the end of 2008 and the IMF estimates that it will fall further to 2.8% of GDP over the course of 2009. With U.S. consumers buying less (the savings rate rose to 6.9% in May 2009), Chinese producers need to find new markets.

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GCC Sovereigns: A Little Better off

by rziemba

this post is by Rachel Ziemba

Thanks again to Brad for letting me fill in while he’s on vacation. Sorry I’m late catching up with you all but I’ll try to chime in on some of the key releases especially on China in the next week. But let me start out with something from the world of oil wealth.

Timothy Geithner, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, travels to the GCC (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) in a few days to commune with some of the more significant creditors of the U.S. and possibly urge these savings-rich countries to contribute to the IMF, as several emerging market economies have pledged. As a result it seems an apt time to re-estimate how much these governments and their neighbors in Qatar and Kuwait have accumulated.

While the Gulf’s holdings of U.S. assets pale in comparison to China’s, the GCC possesses the largest trove of US stocks among foreign governments. With most of its assets managed by the central bank, Saudi Arabia likely holds the most US treasury bonds. The other GCC countries, most of whom entrusted their oil windfall (and gas in Qatar’s case) to an array of investment funds, tend to have a more diversified portfolio. However, the U.S. dollar still dominates the Gulf’s foreign asset position.

With the rise in the price of oil in Q2, some analysts have again been talking again about the global role of sovereign funds. While some, such as the China Investment Corporation (CIC), for one, seem to have become more active investors again, armed with new advisers, the Gulf funds still seem to be homeward looking for now. The latest –and forthcoming – RGE Monitor Global Outlook suggests that growth in the GCC will be flat in real terms, with a slight contraction possible in 2009. The significant assets of the region have allowed GCC countries to steer their economies to a softer, if still, harsh landing. Much of the region’s output, investment and sentiment remain linked to oil despite various attempts to diversify its economy. Steffen Hertog has a nice new piece on the lessons learned from the 80s by Arab oil producers.

Many GCC sovereign funds have boosted their holdings in domestic banks, domestic equity markets other savings been drawn on to meet fiscal deficits. Meanwhile, some of the few identifiable foreign investments in H1 2009 were made by hybrid funds like the UAE’s Mubadala, which tend to invest in sectors that could help domestic economic development or in sectors they already dominate (such as oil and petrochemicals).

The foreign assets of GCC central banks and sovereign funds are estimated to have fallen to just over $1.1 trillion at the end of June 2009 from about $1.2 trillion at the end of 2008. This estimate draws on a methodology Brad and I created last year, which estimates the inflows to the funds, and assumes similar performance to benchmark indices for each asset class. This estimate though, is somewhat lower than some other prevailing estimates. Recently released analysis by McKinsey Global Institutes suggests that Sovereign investors of the GCC, one of their ‘new power brokers’ managed closer to $2 trillion at the end of 2008.

The national breakdown suggests that Saudi Arabia accounts for over $400 billion of the assets (including the non-reserve assets of the Saudi Arabian monetary Agency and the foreign assets it manages for other parts of the government). The UAE, accounts for the next largest amount, around $350 billion, not including Mubadala and some Dubai funds. Kuwait’s fund managed just under $240 billion and Qatar, over $60 billion. The remainder is managed by the central banks of the region.
The slightly more fiscally-conservative (and richer) countries with more oil reserves per capita, like Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, or gas reserves (Qatar) and their more risk-tolerant funds should have seen the value of their assets reflate along with risky assets. Despite the increase in the oil price, the correction at the end of June 2009, limited the paper gains.image003

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How Are GCC (and Other) Sovereign Funds Faring? An Update

by rziemba

This post is by Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor where this post first appeared. Thanks to Brad for letting me fill in.

Recently,  Reuters reported that the assets under management of Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund fell to 49b Kuwait Dinar ($177.6 billion) at the end of December from 58 billion Kuwait Dinar ($218 billion) in March 2008. – a face value decline of about $31 billion. Given that Kuwait had record oil revenues in 2008 (and a record fiscal surplus even if revenues tailed off in the second half) and KIA likely received record new capital, this implies that investment losses were even larger. It is significant for two reasons. One it shows that the estimates of fund performance (including those released in a recent paper by Brad Setser and myself) are on track and two, it could suggest that within limits there may be increasing amounts of transparency among sovereign investors. It also will provide an interesting test case of how the population and opposition react to the losses on the national wealth. Read more »

China’s Resource Buys

by rziemba

Note: This post is by Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor (where this first appeared) thanks again to Brad for letting me fill in while he’s on vacation.

note: I’ve made a slight update to the discussion on the price Russia will pay for its loan.

China development bank must be busy…. Over the last few weeks, loans worth over $50 billion have been confirmed with the oil companies of Russia, Brazil and the Australian mining company Rio Tinto, all of which have found themselves with financing issues in light of the collapse in commodity prices and credit crunch. While $50 billion is a relatively small in terms of China’s foreign exchange liquidity, this is a significant investment on China’s part in the resource sector, and shows that it is trying to get higher returns on its capital – while coming to the rescue of those who cannot tap the still relatively frozen international capital markets. And given some of the dire predictions for energy sector investment (including warnings from the IEA) might avoid a severe drop off in investment, allowing some of these countries and China to get more bang for the buck as global deflationary trends lower costs.  Most significantly, it increases the share of oil supplies that are pre-contracted, perhaps a desire from both China and its suppliers to have a somewhat more predictable price environment for at least some of its supplies. And given the financing needs, China may be able to push for lower prices. Read more »

On the December TIC data

by rziemba

Note: this post is by Rachel Ziemba, filling in for Brad Setser

I can’t hope to do as good a job as Brad in parsing the TIC data, but a couple of trends seem to emerge at a quick glance of December’s data. As usual my eyes always stray to the role that China and oil exporters play in financing the U.S. so its worth noting that Chinese reduction in short-term holdings meant that it had net sales of $8b in U.S. assets during the month, the first decline since February 2008.   While most of the trends that having been playing out since September persist (increasing role of private American investors, reduced role of several central banks given reserve accumulation slowing or reversal) there are some differences including a renewed appetite for U.S. corporate bonds and a slower pace in the demand for T-bills.

Foreign investors continue to be wary of U.S. long-term assets, especially agency bonds. They (especially foreign central banks) have been net sellers of agency bonds since Fannie and Freddie’s solvency was called into question last year and December marked no change with net sales of $37 billion. Foreign investors did buy more treasury bonds but continued to make only anemic purchases of U.S. stocks. Read more »

How Worried Should We Be About Dubai?

by rziemba

Note: This post is by Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor, filling in while Brad is off in the mountains.

Many thanks to Brad for letting me fill in again.  I pay attention to macro events in China and several  oil exporters and the whole portfolio of sovereign investors for RGE monitor where this post first appeared. I’ll chime in on a few things related to sovereign investors (including their role in financing the US) this week while Brad is out.

In recent weeks CDS spreads on the debt of Dubai’s largest State-linked vehicles like Dubai Holding etc shot up dramatically after Abu Dhabi announced a unilateral recapitalization of its banks. The cost to buy prrotection on the 1 year bond has doubled since late January and now stands at 1073bps. The jump in the 5 yr has been less sharp but stands at over 1400bps. Since Dubai has limited sovereign debt (about $10b and maybe climbing given the likely fiscal deficit) so these large state-linked companies provide a proxy for the perceived credit worthiness of Dubai’s government. Given Dubai’s debt stock ($80b or 148% of GDP), its vulnerability to global liquidity and the worsening outlook for its domestic property market despite the ability to control supply, it is perhaps not a surprise that the outlook for the emirate seems much more precarious, particularly in contrast to its cash rich neighbour, Abu Dhabi. Given the links of these debtors to the government, and the effect that their vulnerabilities could have on the UAE federation, it has widely been assumed that the UAE govt (or rather Abu Dhabi) would come to the aid of Dubai when the crunch came. However, there has been more uncertainty than some expected. Key tests are ahead in coming months as Dubai adjusts to a world where leverage remains scarce. Read more »

German Government and Business Responses to Sovereign Wealth

by rziemba

Note: This piece is by Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor, where this piece first appeared.

Last week, the German cabinet approved a new takeover new law which (primarily) would make it easier to block acquisitions of more than a 25 percent stake in German firms by foreign entities not based in the EU if such a purchase might be deemed to pose a threat to public security or order. Sovereign investors especially from Russia, China and possibly the Gulf are likely targets. This is the latest legislation introduced by Merkel’s government which has been trying to put in place an investment review process for some time since the EU overturned the so-called Volkswagen law that limited foreign investment in German companies.  Germany’s renewed process to implement a takeover law were partly triggered in part by a Russian bank’s stake in EADS (see here for a summary)  and past drafts, which could have blocked other EU member states, did not pass EU muster.

German businesses aren’t that happy about the bill even though its thresholds are not necessarily that onerous in comparison to other countries because they fear its sends a protectionist message. Many countries and most G10 nations have a threshold above which deals are assessed for security implications. And in many countries (the U.S. for one the barriers for scrutiny are much lower – 5-10%). Other entities assess for competition policy.

This move is reflective of a move towards greater scrutiny of foreign investment and trade, one prong of a three pronged response to sovereign wealth which also includes pressure on sovereign funds to be more transparent about holdings/risk management and some (very limited) attention to exchange rate management. While concerns of protectionism could of course deter investment, it is the regulatory framework including financial regulation, ease of doing business and profit expectations that influence investment decisions most. But with the economy slowing the politics of foreign investment are heating up.

Thomson notes that Temasek’s bid to take over Shipping company Hapag-Lloyd might be an example of a deal that would produce more scrutiny. The Singaporean government investor is one of several bidding for the company whose workers have called on the government to block the takeover.However others not that it is a container production company not one controlling ports. Given the interest in shipping globally (despite oil prices pushing up transport costs), its not surprising that there is a lot of interest. Ports in the Middle East and North Africa in particular are booming.

Despite the fact that Germany has had less investment from the petrostates (aside from growing trade with Russia and GCC investments in Daimler) – there are clearly some Germany companies seeking out capital or business from sovereign investors, including two that dominated press attention this week.

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