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

Excerpt:

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Exactly how the outdated XLS format came to be used is unclear.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