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Minutes Describe Fed Expecting to End Balance Sheet Reduction by Year-End

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The U.S. Federal Reserve board released minutes from its January 2019 meeting. There was a split among board members whether any interest rate increases would be necessary for this year. In addition, these officials chatted about ceasing the reduction of bonds on the central bank’s balance sheet before the end of 2019. Board members are keeping an eye on the stock market and current credit spreads. The Federal Reserve started reducing its bond portfolio in October 2017, a measure of quantitative tightening (QT). The US$ 3.8 trillion pool of bonds held by the central bank’s balance sheet is a topic of concern for U.S. fixed income investors.

Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee
January 29-30, 2019

An excerpt from the minutes details that “Participants commented that, in light of the Committee’s longstanding plan to hold primarily Treasury securities in the long run, it would be appropriate once asset redemptions end to reinvest most, if not all, principal payments received from agency MBS in Treasury securities. Some thought that continuing to reinvest agency MBS principal payments in excess of $20 billion per month in agency MBS, as under the current balance sheet normalization plan, would simplify communications or provide a helpful backstop against scenarios in which large declines in long-term interest rates caused agency MBS prepayment speeds to increase sharply. However, some others judged that retaining the cap on agency MBS redemptions was unnecessary at this stage in the normalization process. These participants noted considerations in support of this view, including that principal payments were unlikely to reach the $20 billion level after 2019, that the cap could slightly slow the return to a portfolio of primarily Treasury securities, or that the Committee would have the flexibility to adjust the details of its balance sheet normalization plans in light of economic and financial developments. Participants commented that it would be important over time to develop and communicate plans for reinvesting agency MBS principal payments, and they expected to continue their discussion of balance sheet normalization and related issues at upcoming meetings.

Following the discussion, the Chairman proposed that the Committee communicate its intentions regarding monetary policy implementation and its willingness to adjust the details of its balance sheet normalization program by publishing a statement at the conclusion of the meeting. All participants agreed with the proposed statement.

STATEMENT REGARDING MONETARY POLICY IMPLEMENTATION AND BALANCE SHEET NORMALIZATION
(Adopted January 30, 2019)

After extensive deliberations and thorough review of experience to date, the Committee judges that it is appropriate at this time to provide additional information regarding its plans to implement monetary policy over the longer run. Additionally, the Committee is revising its earlier guidance regarding the conditions under which it could adjust the details of its balance sheet normalization program.5 Accordingly, all participants agreed to the following:

The Committee intends to continue to implement monetary policy in a regime in which an ample supply of reserves ensures that control over the level of the federal funds rate and other short-term interest rates is exercised primarily through the setting of the Federal Reserve’s administered rates, and in which active management of the supply of reserves is not required.
The Committee continues to view changes in the target range for the federal funds rate as its primary means of adjusting the stance of monetary policy. The Committee is prepared to adjust any of the details for completing balance sheet normalization in light of economic and financial developments. Moreover, the Committee would be prepared to use its full range of tools, including altering the size and composition of its balance sheet, if future economic conditions were to warrant a more accommodative monetary policy than can be achieved solely by reducing the federal funds rate.”

Yale’s Love Affair with Venture Capital Overshadows Other Asset Classes

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Yale’s US$ 29.4 endowment has earned staggering returns of 7.4% per year over the past 10 years, racing past its benchmark and adding US$ 6.5 billion to the fund. In the year ending June 30 2018, Yale earned 12.3%. Yale’s success is due to active management, and an unconventional approach to investing, at least from the perspective of a university endowment. Yale is overweight venture capital and real estate, which has paid off handsomely over the last 10 years. Many properties throughout the country have returned to, or surpassed, their pre bubble-era prices. Yale has also actively participated in leveraged buyouts. Yale is underweight U.S. equities and its fixed income holdings are low, as is cash on hand.

Yale’s annual report notes, “The heavy allocation to nontraditional asset classes stems from their return potential and diversifying power.” Perhaps earning their Princeton Review # 3 ranking in 2018, Yale’s commitment to thinking outside the box is responsible for their recent investment philosophy: “Alternative assets, by their very nature, tend to be less efficiently priced than traditional marketable securities, providing an opportunity to exploit market inefficiencies through active management.” Alternative investments have been gaining steam among major players in the global markets, including US$ 6.5 trillion investment manager Blackrock Inc. Blackrock plans to open a new European alternative asset headquarters in Paris.

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eFront Finds a Home at BlackRock

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BlackRock Inc. entered into an exclusive agreement to acquire eFront, a French software provider of risk management products for the alternative investments industry. Asset management firms are worried about margins and have increasingly acquired service provider firms to buffer revenues. BlackRock sells the Aladdin (Asset, Liability, Debt and Derivative Investment Network) platform, which is one of the largest portfolio operating systems in the investor community. BlackRock’s offer is to pay US$ 1.3 billion in cash for 100% of the equity of eFront. The seller of eFront is private equity firm Bridgepoint.

Bridgepoint acquired eFront in January 2015 in a transaction totalling approximately €300 million. In 2006 eFront listed on the Alternext Paris market of NYSE Euronext (ALEFT) and was taken private in 2011 by Francisco Partners. eFront was founded in 1999 by Olivier Dellenbach.

According to the press release, “The combination of eFront with Aladdin, BlackRock’s investment operating platform used by more than 225 institutions around the world, will set a new standard in investment and risk management technology.”

BlackRock is funding the eFront acquisition through a combination of existing corporate liquidity and debt.

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CDPQ Supports Domestic AI Fund

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Institutional investor Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), which works primarily on behalf of pension funds and insurance plans, is opening a new fund dedicated to Québec businesses that specialize in AI, or artificial intelligence. Available funds are slated at US$ 250 million for the enterprise. The commercialization of AI seems to be a natural fit for CDPQ, “Since Montréal is emerging as a global beacon of excellence in artificial intelligence, we need to enhance our offering and ramp up the financial and development support we provide AI businesses through the various stages of their growth,” according to Executive Vice President of Quebec and Global Strategy, Charles Émond. Émond aspires to see AI spread throughout “all sectors of our economy.” The AI fund will be run by CDPQ’s Venture Capital and Technology team. They will look for companies that are already doing well in the sector.

Another program is targeting early stage organizations. Mila Quebec AI Institute, a research and development organization founded by three universities, is building a new complex to help facilitate CDPQ’s goals. The new complex will house early-stage AI companies. CDPQ is especially interested in companies that can accelerate their growth and enter markets quickly, providing speedy returns. There is a social component, whereby companies will be required to contribute to Mila. Michael Sabia, President and Chief Executive Officer of CDPQ, noted, “With this partnership, la Caisse is pursuing its commitment to helping Québec businesses in this new economy thrive and expand.”

Keywords: Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec

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