How an insurer in Iowa became the most coveted asset on Wall Street

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/b4261b75-f0cd-4d23-9253-8c392a5e0ba9

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American Equity Investment Life last week rebuffed an unsolicited $4bn offer from a rival controlled by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, capping a tumultuous year during which Bhalla also antagonised his company’s largest shareholder, Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management.

Underpinning the boardroom drama is Bhalla’s determination to keep AEL, one of the few independent annuities operators left, out of the wave of consolidation sweeping through the industry as private equity groups hoover up insurance assets.

The bad blood between Bhalla and Brookfield is a product of a deal that AEL entered into in November with start-up fund manager 26North, founded by the former longtime Apollo Global executive Josh Harris.

Bhalla had first turned to Brookfield in 2020 as it sought a white knight to fend off an earlier hostile bid from Apollo, where Harris worked at the time. Now with the Elliott bid out in the open, AEL and its $70bn of assets are in the crosshairs as a clutch of Wall Street investment titans circle the company.

Apollo, Brookfield, KKR, Carlyle Group, Ares and Sixth Street are among the many groups that could be bidders in a potentially frenzied auction next year.

Author(s): Sujeet Indap and Mark Vandevelde

Publication Date: 29 Dec 2022

Publication Site: Financial Times

Macron buckles on raising France’s retirement age in budget bill

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/cf3eff53-2dfb-4530-a756-1e1361990d7d

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French president Emmanuel Macron has decided against pushing through a rise in the retirement age to 65 in a budget bill, backing off an idea that had angered labour unions and divided his centrist alliance.

The move signals how Macron has been forced to contend with a stronger opposition in his second term after his party lost its majority in parliament in June.

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Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that the government would start negotiations with labour unions, employers and other political parties with a view to passing a law over the coming months.

The government still wants to raise the retirement age from 62 at present to 65, one of Macron’s campaign promises that he sees as key to fixing France’s public finances.

Author(s): Leila Abboud

Publication Date: 29 Sept 2022

Publication Site: Financial Times

Baby bust: economic stimulus helps births rebound from coronavirus pandemic

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/32436917-00b8-447d-8d6c-41f4be72b03f?accessToken=zwAAAYA7wc2Wkc8yQ2kXALhEfdONbEH0vnKwPw.MEYCIQCFBH5WrakQgRbrgONBrhQRQnrxaYYTg1X8IXTM2IkKsgIhAP6ebnRh2QH5MftGwbJQho_8W3OrJhT_fi3J_mwJO02F&sharetype=gift?token=1738330e-13c3-4b99-8852-a179ac664411

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The number of births in advanced economies has largely rebounded to levels before the coronavirus pandemic, a Financial Times analysis shows, a recovery that experts say was partly because of stimulus policies deployed to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis.

Births began to fall sharply in late 2020 after Covid-19 took hold and people were confined to their homes in lockdown, worsening an already perilous demographic trend of population decline in wealthy nations.

The trend mirrored drops during the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression and the global financial crisis in 2008. But an analysis of national data shows a rapid rebound in most developed countries.

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The global fertility rate peaked at five in 1960 and has since been in freefall. As a result, demographers believe that, after centuries of booming population growth, the world is on the brink of a natural population decline.

According to a Lancet paper published in 2020, the world’s population will peak at 9.7bn in about 2064, dropping to 8.7bn around the end of the century. About 23 nations can expect their populations to halve by 2100: Japan’s population will fall from a peak of 128mn in 2017 to less than 53mn; Italy’s from 61mn to 28mn.

Low fertility rates set off a chain of economic events. Fewer young people leads to a smaller workforce, hitting tax receipts, pensions and healthcare contributions.

Author(s): Federica Cocco, Lyman Stone

Publication Date: 18 Apr 2022

Publication Site: Financial Times

Joe Biden’s multiemployer pension plan rescue is turning into a political disaster

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/2af3b859-3791-4c2e-bbdc-93d23dc4c6a3

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Union-friendly members of Congress and senators, in particular Sherrod Brown of Ohio, pushed the team of President Joe Biden to incorporate a relief plan for federally guaranteed pension plans that would provide (forgivable) 30-year federal loan along with other support.

The cost of the bailout was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be about $86bn, of which $82bn would be spent in 2022. If everything worked out, that would have been a good talking point for Democratic candidates during the midterm elections next year, especially in the hotly contested rust-belt states.

But rather than specify the actuarial details of how the rescue would work, the congressional sponsors and the administration left this job to the experts at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a US government agency. They may regret that decision.

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Even before then, the unions and employers who act as trustees for the multiemployer funds are probably facing legal troubles if they accept bailout money. As the committee went on to point out: “Trustees of such [troubled] plans who decide to take SFA face the risk of litigation from active employees, while those trustees who elect not to seek SFA risk being sued by retirees.”

Author(s): John Dizard

Publication Date: 20 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Financial Times

October 17-23, 1921

Link:https://roaring20s.substack.com/p/october-17-1921

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The prominent German industrialist Hugo Stinnes suggests a fringe dictatorship might seize power because the poorly drawn up armistice extracts too great a toll on the Teutonic nation. He reckons that one of the infant right wing parties could take power some day. Whatever the case, trouble is brewing.

Author(s): Tate

Publication Date: 17 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Roaring 20s

US bond funds rake in more cash despite inflation fears

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/787d1be6-e7d9-43a2-b77c-07916fe19f3e

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Analysts attributed the popularity of bond funds — which do not include money-market holdings — to concerns about lofty stock valuations and an ageing population’s need for steady income during retirement.

“Financial advisers follow asset allocation models and portfolio rebalancing and demographics are strong trends,” said Shelly Antoniewicz, ICI senior director of financial and industry research. “The cumulative flow to bond funds lines up nicely with the percentage of the population over 65 years.”

Author(s): Michael Mackenzie

Publication Date: 6 July 2021

Publication Site: Financial Times

The tyranny of spreadsheets

Link: https://financialpost.com/fp-work/the-tyranny-of-spreadsheets-we-take-numbers-for-granted-until-we-run-out-of-them

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Somewhere in PHE’s data pipeline, someone had used the wrong Excel file format, XLS rather than the more recent XLSX. And XLS spreadsheets simply don’t have that many rows: 2 to the power of 16, about 64,000. This meant that during some automated process, cases had vanished off the bottom of the spreadsheet, and nobody had noticed.

The idea of simply running out of space to put the numbers was darkly amusing. A few weeks after the data-loss scandal, I found myself able to ask Bill Gates himself about what had happened. Gates no longer runs Microsoft, and I was interviewing him about vaccines for a BBC program called How to Vaccinate The World. But the opportunity to have a bit of fun quizzing him about XLS and XLSX was too good to pass up.

I expressed the question in the nerdiest way possible, and Gates’s response was so strait-laced I had to smile: “I guess… they overran the 64,000 limit, which is not there in the new format, so…” Well, indeed. Gates then added, “It’s good to have people double-check things, and I’m sorry that happened.”

Exactly how the outdated XLS format came to be used is unclear. PHE sent me an explanation, but it was rather vague. I didn’t understand it, so I showed it to some members of Eusprig, the European Spreadsheet Risks Group. They spend their lives analyzing what happens when spreadsheets go rogue. They’re my kind of people. But they didn’t understand what PHE had told me, either. It was all a little light on detail.

Author(s): Tim Harford

Publication Date: 29 June 2021

Publication Site: Financial Post

Who Really Pays for ESG Investing?

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/who-really-pays-for-esg-investing-11620858462

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A recent analysis by Scientific Beta disputes “claims that ESG funds have tended to outperform the wider market.” Sony Kapoor, managing director of the Nordic Institute for Finance, Technology and Sustainability, a think tank, told the Financial Times that the research “puts in black and white what is only whispered in the corridors of finance — most ESG investing is a ruse to launder reputations, maximize fees and assuage guilt.”

BlackRock’s former chief investment officer for sustainable investing, Tariq Fancy, appears to understand this. He recently wrote in USA Today that he was concerned about portfolio managers exploiting the “E” of ESG investing because “claiming to be environmentally responsible is profitable” but advancing “real change in the environment simply doesn’t yield the same return.” Mr. Fancy criticized “stalling and greenwashing” in “the name of profits.”

This is a tacit admission that ESG investing upends the fiduciary duties portfolio managers owe their clients. As Mr. Fancy acknowledged, “no matter what they tout as green investing, portfolio managers are legally bound” to “do nothing that compromises profits.” As former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia wrote on these pages last year, under the federal law that protects retirement assets, known as Erisa, “one ‘social’ goal trumps all others — retirement security for American workers.”

Author(s): Andy Puzder, Diane Black

Publication Date: 12 May 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Israel provides first signs of mass vaccination driving down virus cases

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/0cdc8563-1e6d-4089-bedb-b0f675c0d683

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Cases and hospital admissions in Israel are falling steeply among vaccinated age groups in the first clear sign worldwide that Covid-19 jabs are preventing illness following a mass inoculation campaign.

Daily case rates among people aged 60 and above have fallen by 46 per cent relative to their mid-January peak, compared with a much smaller decline of 18 per cent among under-60s, according to analysis by a team from the Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv.

Author(s): John Burn-Murdoch in London and Mehul Srivastava

Publication Date: 5 February 2021

Publication Site: Financial Times

Melvin Capital, GameStop and the road to disaster

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/3f6b47f9-70c7-4839-8bb4-6a62f1bd39e0

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It was a routine regulatory filing, the kind hedge funds must make every three months, where Melvin Capital first showed its hand.

The “Form 13F” filing that landed on August 14 last year listed 91 positions it held at the end of the second quarter, including shareholdings in household names from Microsoft and Amazon to Crocs and Domino’s Pizza. Halfway down the list: an apparently innocuous bet against GameStop, a struggling video game retailer.

That the New York hedge fund should think GameStop’s shares were going lower was hardly remarkable — many others were betting the same way. Wall Street analysts had sell ratings on the stock and the retailer’s prospects looked grim as gamers switched to downloads. But by using the options market for the bet, which forced it to disclose the position, Melvin had put a target on itself.

Author(s): Ortenca Aliaj and Michael Mackenzie in New York and Laurence Fletcher in London

Publication Date: 6 February 2021

Publication Site: Financial Times