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  • <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Oscar Pulido: American consumers often seen as a bellwether for the global economy have been largely resilient and healthy, despite sticky inflation and higher interest rates. But can this resilience continue as difficult market conditions persist. Welcome to the Bid. We break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm Oscar Pulido.

    In this episode, Lisa yang, portfolio manager and co-head of the Consumer Industry Super group within BlackRock Fundamental equities, joins me to give a pulse check on consumer resilience and the implications to the equities market. Lisa, welcome to the bid. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us on The. Bid.

    Lisa Yang: Thank you so much for having me today.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Lisa, we actually spend a lot of time on The Bid talking about saving and investing. But today we're going to talk about spending and consumption, and we're going to look at it through the lens of the U.S. consumer primarily. So maybe tell us a little bit about the sentiment that the U.S. consumer has right now, and is that the same in other parts of the world for consumers in other regions?

    Lisa Yang: Yeah, Oscar consumption is vastly important to the U.S. economy. It makes about two thirds of GDP, and at a high level, the U.S. consumer is healthy, but there are some signs of weakening.

    On the positive side, retail sales and consumer spending are still healthy, the labor market remains really strong, unemployment rates are below 4%, and wage growth is really robust at 5%. On the negative side, interest rates have remained stubbornly high, and savings rates are at decade lows.

    Consumer confidence has also been declining, and that's across income groups and across age groups. Consumer confidence actually recently hit a two-year low, and it's driven by a few factors. So firstly, on the margin, people are a bit more negative about the job market. We've seen a lot of public layoffs from industries fromtech to autos, and while the rate of inflation has come down, price levels themselves are still really high. Take food as an example. Food prices are 30% above where they were in 2019. That puts a lot of pressure on U.S. households, especially lower income, U.S. households who spend more of their income on food.

    We're seeing and hearing from a variety of different consumer companies, that consumers are more focused on value. We recently had a fast-food chain report and on their earnings call they mentioned the word value 60 times. That's quadruple the number of times from the prior quarter. So broadly the U.S. consumer is still spending, but they're spending more on promotions and they're down trading to cheaper options.

    Now if we move outside of the U.S., there are two countries that are really important for global consumption, and that's China and India. And these two countries are seeing very divergent trends. China consumption is still sluggish, and that's driven by a weak property market and limited government stimulus.

    Consumer confidence is low and that's driving people to save rather than to spend. And when they do spend, they're being more discerning, they're being more price sensitive. Now this does pose a challenge for many multinational consumer companies because they've really benefited from this decade plus of prosperous growth from China pre pandemic.

    And now these companies are looking to other places for growth, and one of those places is India. India consumption has been really strong, and India is also the beneficiary of structural growth drivers. Their population is increasing India's population, eclipse China's for the first-time last year. It's also a really young country, half of the population is below the age of 30, and there's also a lot of room for per capita consumption to catch up to other countries. So, we feel that spending in India has a robust runway.

    Oscar Pulido: So, India seems like, the most constructive consumer market of the three you mentioned, the U.S. perhaps a bit more mixed, it's been strong, but some signs of weakening.

    You touched on inflation and consumer confidence that has been declining and then, and then China perhaps seemed like of the three, the one that has the most headwinds. But, when you look at spending patterns, whether this is in the U.S. or globally, are there differences between what generations, different generations spend their money on?

    Lisa Yang: I think the different generations are much more alike in the way they spend than they are different, but there are some macro and micro level differences that are certainly notable. I do want to caveat this by saying that these are really broad generalizations. Gen Z alone is comprised of 70 million people in the U.S. so there's a lot of variance even within that cohort.

    But at a high level, the younger generation has less spending power than older generations did when they were in their twenties and early thirties. That's driven by the fact that the cost-of-living inflation has far outpaced wage growth, and also by the fact that younger people have more student debt.

    This is a more educated population and they've taken on more student loans. This makes big ticket items such as cars and homes, really less attainable for the younger generation than it did for the, for the older generation. It's also led to more value seeking behavior, and that's helped to fuel the growth of off-price retailers and discount platforms.

    The younger generation also spends more on experiences. They tend to value experiences over physical goods. Now I think some of that goes back to the affordability issue. If you can't buy a home, if you can't buy a car, you want to spend your money on other things that bring you joy, such as traveling or going out to eat.

    I think another driver of this preference for experiences is social media. Seeing friends and family take exotic vacations certainly fuels a sense of FOMO or fear of missing out.

    The last macro level difference is that the younger generation is more tech savvy. Gen Z are digital natives. They're very comfortable shopping online, getting food delivered, ordering car services. And so, in that sense, it's really important for consumer companies to have digital distribution and really excel at digital marketing so that they can reach that end consumer.

    So, it's really important from a consumer company's point of view to have these forms of digital distribution and to really excel at digital marketing so that they can reach that end consumer. Yeah, there are also some micro level differences. I'll name two as an example. So, the younger generation prefers their coffee cold. They like ice coffees and cold brews over hot coffees. They don't smoke cigarettes, but they vape. So, bringing it back to what we do as investors, it's really our job to contemplate all of these macro and micro level differences and determine which companies are best positioned to benefit from these themes.

    Oscar Pulido: Right. And Lisa, you, you are an investor who looks at the consumer sector, which is a pretty broad ecosystem of, on the one hand essentials that you have to buy. I am just thinking about food and beverage. you need to eat, and you need to drink. And I'm just thinking of staples that you need in your life. And on the other hand, you mentioned experiences, travel and leisure, which is kind of at the other end of the, of the spectrum. So do consumers equally weight the purchases they make in these categories, or do you see them skewing in one direction or the other?

    Lisa Yang: Yeah. Essentials by their very nature have been resilient in the context of very high inflation. So, for consumer staples companies, it's been a really favorable environment where growth has been bolstered by pricing, although that is now fading. Even within the essentials category, volumes are slightly negative, and that's because prices have just reached such high levels, consumers are increasingly shopping in these value channels such as discounters and club warehouses, and they're down trading to private label.

    Now on the discretionary side, we really have to distinguish between goods and services. Services have been really strong, and by services I'm referring to experiences such as traveling and going to a theme park and going out to eat. There's been a structural shift away from goods to experiences, and that certainly took a pause during the pandemic, but it's rebounded back really strongly and helped to fuel the growth of the services sector.

    Take travel. U.S. airlines reported air traffic up 30% in 2023. The live music industry is also booming. The top 100 global concerts saw sales increased 50% in 2023, and 24 is expected to be another stellar year. Discretionary goods, on the other hand, are still challenged. Apparel is back to normal, but consumer electronics, home goods, furniture are all still negative.

    Now, remember, consumers loaded up on these products during the pandemic and we haven't yet hit the replacement cycle for some of these products. The replacement cycles can be anywhere from three years to 10 plus years. On top of that, housing-related categories are also facing some structural headwinds.

    Mortgage rates are the highest they've been since the year 2000, and that's depressed housing turnover and housing affordability, and certainly negatively impacted home improvement stores and certain housing categories.

    Now bringing this back to investing, we always want to balance the fundamentals with valuation. And as investors, we're increasingly looking at opportunities within that discretionary goods basket because we think the market may have gotten too pessimistic on some of these stocks.

    Oscar Pulido: And even in that discretionary goods basket, it seems like there's a lot of different types of companies and, and sub industries. So as, as somebody who's a portfolio manager and a research analyst looking at these types of companies, what, what are some of the characteristics that you and your team look for in these consumer-based businesses?

    Lisa Yang: Yeah, that's the beauty of the consumer sector is there's a large variety and there's really something for everyone.

    So, if you're looking for income, you can buy tobacco stocks that have dividend yields as high as 10%. If you're looking for growth, you can buy a restaurant company or a luxury company. If you're looking for defense or downside protection, you can invest in staples, you can get U.S. exposure, EM exposure, global exposure.

    There's really a large variety. And in a similar vein, there's a variety of different investors here at BlackRock, ones who are focused on the U.S. market, the EM market, growth teams, value teams, and everyone brings their own view to the table. And it's not uncommon for different investors on different teams to come to totally opposing views on the same stock.

    And that's okay. But at a high level, we're looking to invest in businesses that traded a discount to their ability to grow and generate strong returns on capital. Ideally, we want to invest in a business that's in a growing category that's gaining market share. We like businesses with a wide moat and a unique competitive advantage, and we want to invest with good management teams that have a history of strong capital allocation, and we want to buy those businesses at a discounted valuation multiple.

    Increasingly in today's environment where we are seeing some signs of weakening in the consumer, we're looking for more resilient businesses. So, some businesses have really strong competitive advantages that allow them to grow regardless of the macro environment.

    Take the beauty category as an example. There is a global beauty company that's been able to grow in the China market, even though beauty category in China is currently flat. And that's because they have really strong brands. They've invested a lot behind those brands and they're gaining market share. Other businesses are countercyclical. They outperform in weaker economic times. That's because they offer a really strong value proposition, think fast food restaurants and club warehouse stores.

    Lastly, we're more focused on businesses with strong balance sheets. These businesses are a lot more resilient in downturns, and they often come out the other end in a stronger position because they're able to buy weaker competitors or weaker competitors exit the market completely.

    Oscar Pulido: You touched on a number of characteristics that you look for in, in these companies, and ultimately you said resilient businesses, ones that have a wide moat, a competitive advantage that are growing market share. But the consumer sector also has a lot of fast-changing trends and tastes can change pretty quickly. How do you keep up with that fast-changing environment and still try and invest for the long term?

    Lisa Yang: Yeah, we've seen disruption in the consumer sector really ramp up in the last decade, and that's driven by lower barriers to entry. So, if you can remember a time before social media, the primary way in which a brand reached a consumer was through television ads.

    So back in 2010, a 30-second TV spot might set a brand back a few hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, you can buy an ad on a leading social media platform for just 50 cents to a dollar per click. Alternatively, if you're a celebrity or if you're an influencer, you can launch a brand on social media at no cost and instantly reach millions of people.

    And so social media has really made it much easier to reach consumers. Distribution has also changed a lot. Back in the day, you have to go into a store to buy a product. Retailers offered at most 200,000 different products. Then e-Commerce came along and now the leading e-commerce company offers hundreds of millions of different products, and so they've really democratized distribution and made it so much easier for smaller brands to be sold.

    Now while the barriers to entry have come down, the barriers to scale are still high. Take spirits. As an example, in the U.S. we've seen a lot of new smaller spirits brands be launched in the last decade, but only a handful of them have been able to scale, and that's because it still requires a lot of resources to get to a certain size.

    Bigger consumer companies have increasingly taken to buying these smaller brands as a source of external R&D and using their variety of resources to help those small brands scale. On the topic of changing trends, there's certainly been a spectrum of durability of trends. I think that the best consumer companies have a really great pulse on the consumer, and they're either driving trends or they're quickly adapting to changing trends.

    We tend to be more cautious on fad driven areas such as fashion apparel. Ideally, we want to be levered to longer-term structural themes. An example is the increasing popularity of Mexican food and beverage in the U.S. That's driven by an increasing his, Hispanic population and changing consumer taste.

    That structural theme really gives U.S. confidence in the longer-term outlook for some of our investments in Mexican concept food and beverage companies. Stepping back, one of the most important aspects of fundamental analysis is really to determine the durability of a company's growth rate. And being hyper aware of disruption and changing trends is really important in doing that.

    Oscar Pulido: It was interesting, as you were saying, back in the day before social media, I was thinking back in the day, I used to go to a shopping mall, and you haven't said that term at all in this conversation, but I, I think I know why obviously times are changing the way people consume and where they consume and where they consume their advertising. The other thing that is changing is technology. You, you touched on that a bit. We've talked a lot about artificial intelligence on the podcast and its impact across industries. So how is it impacting either the consumer itself or maybe how the companies in the consumer sector are doing business?

    Lisa Yang: Unsurprisingly, digital native e-commerce companies have been very quick to deploy GenAI. We have a leading U.S. e-commerce company which recently launched something called Gift mode, and that's a different way of searching for the right product. You input a few attributes of the person you're shopping for, and they use their algorithm to surface the best gift ideas for that person.

    Another leading e-commerce platform has used GenAI to summarize product reviews. Instead of scrolling through pages and pages of product reviews, you can very quickly see the key positive and negative attributes of a product. This is a win-win for the consumer and the e-commerce platform. It makes it much easier for the consumer to find what they're looking for, and it makes it much more likely that they shop with that e-commerce platform.

    So, in that sense, I do think that Gen AI will further advantage e-commerce over their brick-and-mortar peers. Another area where GenAI is having a notable impact is marketing. Marketing is vitally important to consumer companies, and GenAI gets us closer to this concept of personalization at scale.

    That's really tailoring each advertisement to the individual. So, say for example, we have a chocolate company, and this is purely hypothetical, but, for example, they know Oscar, that you're into health and wellness. They will advertise the fact that their chocolates are organic. They'll look at me and say, Lisa, we know you love a great deal, so we'll advertise the fact that our chocolates are competitively priced.

    We're also seeing GenAI attack the more traditional parts of marketing, such as market research, idea generation, ad creation. There's a large U.S. beverage company that was an early partner of OpenAI, and last year they released an ad that they had created in collaboration with GenAI. And it's a really stunning ad. Highly encourage you to take a look at it. It's called Masterpiece and it brings to life some of the most famous works of art around the world, including an Andy Warhol painting of one of their products. So, I think that's a great illustration of combining human insights and capability with GenAI.

    Consumer companies are still at the very early stages of harnessing the powers of GenAI, and it's really our job as investors to determine which companies can use these capabilities to further differentiate themselves and elevate their competitive advantage.

    Oscar Pulido: And Lisa, you're a consumer yourself, so you're shopping and thinking about things to buy and how does that influence the investment decisions you make in your portfolios? Do you tend to, in invest in brands that you like and, and avoid, investing in those that you don't? Just how do you sort of wear those two hats of being both a consumer and an investor? How do those two worlds collide?

    Lisa Yang: I think that's what makes consumer investing so fun and dynamic. I can't tell you the number of times I've looked up who owns X, Y, Z brand based on an interesting brand that I've seen read about or heard about.

    I do think it's really important as a consumer investor to be a consumer, and it's certainly a great excuse to go shopping and try new products. But at the same time, I don't want to over-extrapolate my preferences and my biases. As an example, I'm personally not a fan of the way energy drinks taste. I'm a coffee person through and through, but that certainly hasn't stopped us from investing in energy drink companies.

    Oscar Pulido: Right. Consumer preferences can, can vary widely. So, your consumer tastes are just one subset of that and you're trying to sort of understand broader consumer preferences as well.

    Lisa Yang: Exactly.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, Lisa, thank you for spending your time with us here on the podcast. A little bit of a pun there, I suppose, given the topic that we just discussed. And the U.S. consumer as you mentioned, is two-thirds of the economy and the U.S. economy being the largest in the world. So, what the U.S. consumer does is important to follow. Thank you for joining us on the podcast and we look forward to having you on again in the future.

    Lisa Yang: Thank you so much for having me, Oscar

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out our last episode with Carrie King, where she discusses equity opportunities beyond AI.

    Disclosure

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  • <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Oscar Pulido: AI is all the rage, and its unparalleled potential has powered stock market returns over the past year. So, what are investors missing beyond AI? And as the economy moves further away from the covid pandemic, how are changes in the business cycle unearthing opportunities in other sectors of the stock market?

    Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm Oscar Pulido. On this episode of The Bid, we'll speak with Carrie King, U.S. and Developed Markets CIO for BlackRock's Fundamental Equities Group. We'll shine a light into forgotten corners of the US equity market to uncover what may be some underappreciated sources of return.

    Carrie, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Carrie King: Thank you for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: Carrie, in your role as a Chief Investment Officer within BlackRock's Fundamental Equities Group, you look at the equity markets every day, and so I'd like to start with what have you seen over the past year in equity markets? It seems like technology, stocks, and particularly those associated with artificial intelligence have been leading the way. Do you see a change on the horizon in that respect?

    Carrie King: So, over the past year, I'd say a handful of mega cap tech companies and internet stocks, have driven about half of the return of the market during that period. Some of those companies doubled and tripled over the past 12 months.

    But what I want to do is share some context with you. Remember, and I think a lot of market observers don't remember this, that same cohort of companies, the mega cap tech companies, had a big fundamental setback in 2022, and some of those companies saw their values halved in that year. And so going forward, we think that fundamentals for these companies will normalize, and that this normalization of their growth rate will leave room for other parts of the market to catch up, and therefore we'll see more market breadth.

    Oscar Pulido: You mentioned 2022. And perhaps a good reminder that these stocks can be volatile and while perhaps recent memory is that they've only been going up, there are some, periods here in to not too recent past where they've also gone down. So, volatility is something that is very prevalent with this group of stocks.

    Carrie King: So, this handoff, what it reflects is the internet or tech specific business cycle that had been out of sync or has been out of sync with the rest of the market. So really what's been underpinning the market that you don't see at the headline level is two very different business cycles going on at the same time. And as this normalizes, again, we think this will lead to a broadening out of the market.

    Oscar Pulido: Talk a little bit more, if you could, about this concept of two different business cycles. I always think of there's just one going on, but what do you mean by that? And how does that impact market returns?

    Carrie King: So, what's behind this dual business cycle is COVID, really. On the one hand, the revenues of technology companies really accelerated during the pandemic as life as we all knew it pivoted online. In response to this Covid-induced increase in revenues, these mega cap tech companies were benefiting, had an aggressive investment in their infrastructure and in their people to keep up with this accelerated Covid-driven demand. And then what happened is once the pandemic started to ease and revenue started to moderate, they were met with a bloated cost structure.

    So, in 2022, you had revenue growth starting to moderate, coming down from the covid kind of hyper level growth levels. Right at the same time, the cost structures were bloated. And oh, by the way, let's remember the interest rate environment, the Fed funds rate went from zero to four and a quarter, so you had a trifecta of events that led to a very difficult period during 2022. And as I said earlier, many of those stocks, those mega cap tech stocks, were cut in half in that environment.

    And so, the strong performance that you alluded to over the past year or so really marked a return to normalization coming out of that sort of, covid-induced business cycle. And so right when they started to then rein in costs, these mega cap companies, you saw the growth rates start to moderate. So that is what helped drive increased profitability over the past year. And then, oh, by the way, let's not forget AI entered the scene.

    So, you had that big cycle driving mega cap tech. Now let's talk about the rest of the market. Outside of these mega cap tech stocks across that same timeframe, many sectors were having the exact opposite effect. Think about it, their revenues suffered, amid covid-related shutdowns, right? So, we saw this in brick-and-mortar retail, we saw this in travel, and we saw this in parts of healthcare, like elective procedures. For example, you weren't going to the hospital to have something done that wasn't an absolute necessity during covid. So, these companies all suffered a covid-induced falloff in demand, the exact opposite of what the internet companies experienced.

    And now what we're seeing is many of these companies are still recovering today from that dropoff in demand. So, for example, hip and knee replacements, which were delayed during the pandemic are back on, consumers are still playing catch up on missed travel and experiences. So that's where we're seeing spending. So net, as these two different business cycles are starting to normalize to, we're putting COVID in the rear-view mirror. This I think is what will allow the market to broaden out.

    And let me punctuate that with some numbers. Our analysis shows that earnings growth for these mega cap tech companies could decline from near 30% levels this year to the mid-teens in 2025. We're not bearish, but we think that's a normalization of earnings growth at the same time. The earnings growth rate for the remaining 400 plus companies in the S&P 500 should advance from single digit growth to double digits in 2025.

    What you're seeing is a more head-to-head race in terms of earnings growth. And we think that broadening will lead to some stock picking opportunities for fundamental investors.

    Oscar Pulido: So, it's fascinating. COVID was obviously an important inflection point, is what you're saying. And it created these two different business cycles. It impacted the market, benefiting some companies more than others. But now as we look back on COVID now a few years behind the opportunities are broadening out?

    Carrie King: Exactly right.

    Oscar Pulido: And so, when you think about the stock market. not the tech companies, everything else. I suppose there's a better term for that, but if I just think about everything that you've described, not in the tech sector, where are those best opportunities right now?

    Carrie King: So, where we're seeing a lot of value for investors is two specific areas: in healthcare and in industrials.

    In healthcare, what we're seeing in terms of earnings growth, the sector had declining earnings in 2023. We see that accelerating to positive in 2024, and even higher growth in 2025. So, there's earnings momentum there. But there are a lot of other things we like in addition to healthcare besides the earnings momentum. One is the demographic tailwind, populations are aging in the US and elsewhere, and we all know that as you age, you consume more healthcare- demographic tailwind. These companies largely have very high-quality characteristics. They have strong balance sheets, they have strong cash flow, so we love the quality part of the equation. And the earning streams tend to be more stable. If you look at the 11 sectors in the S&P 500, this is a sector with the most resilient earnings in times of economic stress. And the icing on the cake is this sector also has a lot of innovation. Just think about the GLP-1 drugs that you've heard a lot about. GLP-1s are the drugs that are addressing the pandemic of diabetes and obesity in the US and elsewhere. So, on top of all that, the sector's trading below the S&P 500 average, and it's trading below its own long-term average. So, we see a tremendous amount of value in healthcare.

    So another area we see a lot of interesting tailwinds is industrials. So, we see several tailwinds that should underpin increased CapEx spending, in this sector. And some of the trends that are underpinning our favorable view include catch-up from years of underspending on infrastructure.

    One source, the American Society of Civil Engineers, calculates that there's an infrastructure spending gap of about $2.5 trillion. And we've seen bipartisan action from the federal government to help fund upgrades. Deglobalization trend is another great tailwind that we're excited about. This is happening as companies are relocating manufacturing operations closer to home.

    We're seeing this in the semiconductor space is one example, and we think that should continue in the future. Global decarbonization is another tailwind. There are efforts underway to build out new eco-friendly energy systems, and again, we're seeing government funding support these efforts.

    And finally, there's increased interest in automation, so we think. The prospects of a shrinking workforce, given aging demographics, will propel spending for industrial and technological efficiencies as companies continue to seek productivity gains against that demographic headwind.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you mentioned healthcare and industrials, and it's interesting as you were talking about healthcare, it felt like I was listening to Tony DeSpirito, who I know you work with closely within the Fundamental Equities business. And when we've had him on as a guest, he's talked about the long-term opportunities in healthcare.

    When you talked about industrials, you mentioned infrastructure, that's one of the topics that Larry Fink talks about in his annual letter to investors. And I think you mentioned a few of the mega forces as well that we've been talking about in the podcast. Demographics and decarbonization. So, now those sectors then, therefore, sound like there's a lot going for them, but are there any risks that you're monitoring, with respect to either those two sectors or perhaps other sectors outside of the tech arena?

    Carrie King: It's a great question. And so, one area that we're closely monitoring is the consumer. So, on the one hand, the consumer looks fantastic. The job markets very healthy, wage growth now exceeds inflation. It's a great position to be in as a consumer. And spending's been very resilient, but we are starting to see signs of stress that raise the red flag, shall I say. So excess pandemic savings are largely spent away in the U.S. Credit card debt in the US is at all-time highs and we can see from recent earnings reports from banks not only this quarter, the past couple of quarters as well, that credit card delinquencies are starting to tick up.

    And this is particularly apparent I think for the low-end consumer. And then, tack on high interest rates -- that's definitely having an impact on some purchasing decisions across the economy. So again, this is most acute among the lower-income group, but even high-end consumers, we can see are starting to get more discerning with big ticket purchases. So, we're looking for companies that can maintain and grow market share against this backdrop, and we generally prefer providers of, or I'm sorry, prefer providers of experiences over goods, because this is where consumers are continuing to prioritize their spending. So, for example, in the fourth quarter, if you look at their earnings results from hotels, restaurants, leisure, these companies enjoyed nearly 90% year over year earnings growth, and profit margins that are still just returning to pr- covid levels. In fact, just this morning, a large hotel chain reported earnings and surprised investors to the upside with the strength and its room growth. So, this is continuing.

    Oscar Pulido: So, the consumer is an area that you're monitoring, and it sounds just some headwinds that are starting to present themselves. You also mentioned interest rates going up a few minutes ago, and presumably that has a lagged impact on the economy and the consumer, and maybe that's part of the reason that you're flagging it. Carrie, so far, we've focused our discussion a lot on opportunities within the US and perhaps you can take us outside the borders of the US and talk a little bit about some of the opportunities that you're seeing internationally.

    Carrie King: So really three main areas I can talk about. One is our platform in Fundamental Equities is very excited about Japan. So, we see a strong case for Japanese equities right now after decades of economic stagnation and deflation. Why is that? We're finally seeing strong government support, we're seeing corporate reforms, and we're seeing unprecedented steps by the Tokyo Stock Exchange. And these forces are all working in tandem to underpin Japanese equities. So, we're very bullish there.

    Oscar Pulido: That's consistent with what Belinda Boa, who is another colleague of yours and who's also been on the podcast, has said about some of the things that are changing in Japan and, making that stock market more of an interesting opportunity. So, Carrie, go back to some of the other international opportunities that you mentioned. I think you said there was a couple.

    Carrie King: Yeah, so, let’s shift and look through a sector lens. So, when we're evaluating large integrated oil companies, we definitely see better value in the European large integrated oil companies versus the US peers. So, if you look at the European oil companies, they're of similar quality, but they trade at much more attractive and generous free cash flow yields than their US counterparts. And then the other area where we're seeing value outside the US is in pharmaceuticals. So similar to integrated oil, we favor the European, large pharmaceutical companies versus the US peers.

    This is interesting. The major US drug makers have anywhere from 30 to 70% of their revenues facing patent expiration in the next three to five years. So that's the highest, level of exposure that we've seen in 15 years. Obviously, this presents some steep revenue risk for some of these companies. And it highlights the importance for active stock selection. So, consider this: roughly one-third of the US healthcare sector if you're measuring it using Russell Healthcare indices, is made up of large cap pharma companies. So, the indexes are heavily exposed to this patent expiration wall that's coming in the next three to five years.

    So, our teams and our active process have steered clear from patent expiry exposure through stock picking. So instead, we focused on areas innovation like as I mentioned earlier, the GLP-1 platform companies, and we focused again on the European competitors who have a much more attractive patent expiry profile.

    And then within that backdrop, the drug distributors are another area of interest and attractiveness. So, these companies actually benefit when large-cap pharma companies lose patent protection. So, what they do is they'll distribute an increasing volume of generics which have a more attractive margin profile.

    So, index trackers can't see these patent cliffs coming and the large impact that they'll have on the index level. So, we've been very attuned to this as active investors and able to manage around these patent waves.

    Oscar Pulido: Carrie, we've deliberately tried to focus a bit more on the sectors outside of technology and outside of the more artificial intelligence-oriented companies that have really been characterizing the market over the last couple years. But presumably your team also has a view on that particular area of the market and there must be opportunities maybe they look a little bit different than the past year or two. So, tell us about what does get you excited in that space?

    Carrie King: So, in terms of technology and what's been leading the market, absolutely. We have a ton of excitement and interest there as well. So, our platform has been largely overweight semiconductors, and that's been the way we've seen those as the picks and shovels to rolling out this new exciting generative AI technology. But we've been evolving our thinking as this market's moving so quickly and we've developed a greater appreciation for the data. So, it's the data that feeds these generative AI models and so we expect investors will continue to start to ascribe more value to companies that own data, that sell data and that store data.

    Examples are market data and intelligence providers and companies, other companies involved in financial information and analytics. The technology's being deployed so rapidly that we're watching it evolve, and we're looking to capitalize on any change. And active investing is a really great tool to capitalize on this change because the technology indexes are very concentrated in few companies, so we can be very nimble and deploy our expert insights across other companies.

    Oscar Pulido: So artificial intelligence as a theme is one that you think will persist, but perhaps the individual companies that benefit is going to change as time goes on, and that's where your kind of insights can come in and identify those.

    And Carrie, your insights, you've been an investor for over 30 years, and so with that perspective, what would you say to somebody who is a newer investor, in the markets and they're entering the markets at a time when AI and all this innovation is taking place. What are some words of wisdom that you would share?

    Carrie King: So, I think every enduring investment process needs to be grounded in a valuation framework. Just buying the best company on the block isn't always the best investment. So, I think being rooted in a disciplined valuation framework will help you discern if the price you're paying for a company today reflects the long-term value.

    Oscar Pulido: You're right, we live in an environment where news is coming at us fast, we see headlines, we hear about a popular company, and that might be a great investment. But what you're saying is also pay attention to the price, the valuation, sometimes the hype might be reflected in the price and there might be a better entry point and that's a little bit of what your 30 years of perspective gives is knowing to look into those details.

    Carrie King: Exactly. And I will leave you with a final note on what I've learned over 30 years and it's sad that it took me so long to realize how important this is, and it's your people. People are your most important and your most precious commodity. So, nourish their souls, nourish their hearts, nourish their brains so that they're at their very best. And that's great for everybody.

    Oscar Pulido: Carrie, thanks for bringing your 30-year investment perspective and helping us dig a little bit beneath the layers of the stock market to understand more of the nuances. And thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Carrie King: My pleasure. Thank you.

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out a stock picker's guide to 2024 where Tony DeSpirito highlights his views on the stock market for the coming year. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0524U/M-3538768

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm Oscar Pulido. Joining us today is our CEO and Chairman Larry Fink. For more than a decade, Larry has written an annual letter, not only to focus on critical long-term issues, but also to start a conversation about finding solutions.

    This year, Larry is considering the challenge of retirement, why it has become an increasingly difficult proposition for too many, and what opportunities exist and will be developed to help people achieve their financial freedom. Larry, welcome to The Bid. Larry, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Larry Fink: It's wonderful to be here and be a participant in The Bid.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Larry, it's, it's that time of year again. It's the time of year where you release your annual chairman's letter, and this is a letter that you write to raise attention to the issues that you think. Deserve more attention over the longer term. The letter goes to investors, to company leaders, to governments, really to a wide array of stakeholders.

    And the letter this year focuses on retirement and specifically rethinking retirement. So curious to hear your views over the last few years. How has the retirement landscape changed and why is this an important issue right now?

    Larry Fink: Well, let me just comment on the context of letters. they're getting much harder to write. but over the course of 2023. The conversations I was having worldwide was an elevation of conversation related to retirement. And how, not just in the US but other countries have to think about retirement and a whole different way. It has been evolving, and the raw reality is as we moved more and more to a defined contribution framework, we did not elevate financial literacy at the same time. A defined contribution puts a responsibility on the individual. A defined benefit plan puts the responsibility on a corporation of government.

    And so, as we have evolved the retirement system, I think the inadequacies of financial literacy now is really having a demonstrable impact, on how people live. And part of my letter, I talked about hope and fear as we see in so many of the developed economies, the aging of populations which I've mentioned, people are getting closer or nearer to retirement. In so many instances, they just don't have the adequacy of savings to live in retirement in dignity, specifically in the United States. Social Security, which is a foundation of retirement, but it is only one part of having a retirement where you could live in dignity. In actuality, if all you are is dependent on your social security, by definition, if that's the only source of your income, you're living in poverty, if you had no other savings.

    And so, when we designed our system, we had these three pillars, four pillars, to really try to ensure that there's adequacy when we are focusing on retirement and adequacy, that we could live in retirement with dignity. That is being lost by many people. And in fact, in the United States, as my letter suggested, we're talking about a substantial level of the US and my letter doesn't have good answers for those people it's a very large, policy issue that we have to address as a country. And I try to stay away from policy issues in the country and in every country. The letter was suggesting conversations, and I think that's the most important thing.

    In building BlackRock over these years and throughout my entire career, I remain to be an incredible optimist I'm actually more optimistic about the future than ever before, despite all the pessimism we're seeing and more importantly as we read our news sources, the preponderance of information that we're reading today is just full of awful negative things. A lot of people get frightened about reading how terrible things are. actually, I get a little more optimistic about it. Because they're in front of us, and generally we solve problems. We build a better future by addressing our problems. When we address them, we fix them, we improve from them. Sometimes it takes way longer than we ever wanted it to be, but let's be clear, we do improve.

    If you look over the course of my career, how the US has improved and other countries have improved, being an optimist, especially in financial markets, have proved to be a good outcome. Being a pessimist out of any one periodic time you may have good success, but over the long run.

    I believe in capitalism, that in the long run it's the best, economic model in the world. But what disturbed me as I wrote this letter, we never talk about retirement. It is not a conversation we're having, and that is why it's becoming a bigger and bigger problem. If individuals had better information on how to navigate it over their 30- or 40-year journey of work, they then can build the adequacy.

    And then importantly, in my letter and we talked about Life Path Paycheck and to me that is the biggest transformation for defined contribution plans where we transformed what typically is in a defined contribution plan when you retire you get a lump sum, most people have no idea what to do with that. And importantly, people really are concerned about, what is my monthly paycheck?

    By the annuitizing of the backend, you are receiving a monthly payment. And that's why we call it Life Path Paycheck. And so that gives you a lot more understanding of, okay, here's my cashflow, here's what I can afford, also we have created, a digital experience in which we could show you if you add $10 more a month to your retirement, what can that do to the ultimate outcome? In addition, we could show you should you retire at 60 or 62 or 65 or 67 or 70, what that other outcome will be, how much money would you have on a monthly basis? So, all of it in my mind, helps the journey of accumulation for retirement.

    It informs the participants in a whole new way. It provides more certainty, and through more certainty, it creates more hope and less fear. And I believe this is going to be the key characteristic of retirement.

    So, all of this is about education informing with a real purpose of providing more hope for more people in the world so they could have more dignity in their life. and with more dignity, you know, what happens? People actually consume more, it's good for the economy.

    Oscar Pulido: And Larry, as you said, you're trying to start a conversation on retirement and you're certainly doing that. And part of the reason you, I think, feel some urgency is you mentioned aging populations, which we've actually spent some time with colleagues from the BlackRock Investment Institute talking about this exact topic. There's a fear that on the part of companies and governments, that as the population ages, particularly in the developed world, it drags on economic growth, it drags on productivity. In your letter though, you've used the word hope. You say that you have more hope for the future, and that, in particular, the capital markets have a role to play in helping investors save for retirement. So maybe you can talk a little bit more about that as well.

    Larry Fink: The US has been blessed by the ingenuity in the financial markets to create the most substantial, capital markets of any place in the world.

    And one of the foundations of what the capital markets have done to the majority of people in the United States was if you are in need of a home mortgage, that home mortgage is not sitting at that bank or that institution that it was originated. It is packaged into a mortgage-backed security, and it's part of the capital markets.

    The reality was the capital markets drove down the cost of mortgage finance, and that is the beauty of the capital markets. That we have a country that has a strong banking system and a country that has strong capital markets generally are the most robust economically. And the United States has the most robust capital markets. If you think about the markets in 2008 and 2009, during the great financial recession, there was a lot of fear. If you look at the rebound in the United States post 2009, was far faster here than any region in the world.

    In the United States we had the capital markets and so as the banks were told that they have to raise their capital standards as other banks were trying to rehabilitate their balance sheets out to the financial crisis, more and more economic activity, flowed to the capital markets. And that is the main reason why we rebounded as a country faster than Europe, faster than anywhere else in the world. And it actually took Europe five to seven years longer than the U.S. to rebound because they have a much weaker capital market.

    In addition, getting back to my conversations about retirement worldwide. Most policy makers are looking at the United States capital markets with true envy. They're witnessing that U.S. Corporations generally traded at two to four, multiple point higher than in Europe and other places, and much of it has to do with the retirement system here in the United States. And the U.S. investors are willing to put more of their savings into equities. They have more hope. As I said in my letter, if you're fearful of the future, why on earth would you put anything in a long-dated asset? You'd keep it all in the bank.

    So, one of the big observations is the US economy has historically just been more hopeful than most places in the world and so in my conversation with many of the governments, they're now saying, how can we develop our own capital markets link to a retirement system because they want to build out their corporate champions, they want to build out their economy. They see the magnificence of our mortgage securities market and how that brought down the cost of home ownership in terms of mortgage rates, all of this. And so, the conversations we're having related to the development of the capital markets, with the retirement is totally linked.

    Now, if I may, let me go back to this whole concept of aging and technology. And I've had conversation with the heads of state on this issue, especially the heads of state of declining populations. It is imperative that these countries embrace AI, robotics, and new sensor technologies. This is the only way these economies going to be able to grow and be more productive is to be advancing AI and technology even more rapidly. So, if the estimates of how powerful AI can be we can build and increase productivity in these countries with a smaller population. And if you can build productivity through technology, actually the wealth of the declining population grows up.

    And so, to me, we need to be embracing technology more than ever before. And to me, this is going to be a very interesting dilemma and paradigm; how each country is going to be navigating the expansion of technology in their own society, and how does that play out with a growing population versus a declining population. So conventional wisdom has always been declining population is bad. I could make a statement if you are a big believer in the advancements in technology, a declining population actually makes the advancements of technology within the society easier to do. And the advancements of technology can most certainly elevate productivity, and when you elevate productivity will elevate wages. That is one of my futuristic views. but it's all interconnected.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, and I'm glad you raise AI technology because actually in the letter. You know, the other big topic that you discuss is the urgent need and focus around infrastructure. So, you know, you mentioned AI. I think about topics that we've covered on the podcast, like cryptocurrency, there's a whole host of new technologies, Larry, that are changing the way we live and work, but they also change the physical world in terms of how we consume energy, in terms of how we think about transportation.

    So, coming back to this topic of capital markets, which is sort of a common thread throughout the letter. What is the role that you think capital markets are going to play in funding the infrastructure needs of the future?

    Larry Fink: In my letter, I talk about deficits and the debt, GDP with some other countries. And I don't believe fiscal stimulus is going to be as broadly used as they have been for the last 23 years. In fact, I would argue the fiscal stimulus is these deficits that are being accumulated by this country and other countries. But more importantly, the U.S. are at unsustainable levels.

    Getting back to growth, the only way we could get out of these deficits is growth. How are we going to grow? We need to be focusing on more public, private type of deals, pipeline, the financing of any new technology, digitization, power grids. it's going to be financed through the private sector, through the capital markets. If you understand the cost it's going to take to digitize an economy to decarbonize at the same time, making sure that you have adequacy of power at any given moment. I talked about energy pragmatism, so you have to have both hydrocarbons and more sustainable, energy sources.

    But I do believe the role of infrastructure. Because the enormity of costs in doing this We're just going to be hitting the J curve where this is going to be very much accelerated, and this is one of the reasons why I'm so bullish. The amount of capital that's going to be necessary to build this out, it's going to continue to stimulate the economy.

    One thing we've learned most recently that with all the AI's potential, at the present technological level, it is really costly. The algorithms to do AI require so much power. These new data centers are going to be responsible for ab absorbing as much power as a small city, and we're already witnessing energy shortages, power shortages. If we are going to reach the full potential of ai, that means we're going to have to develop better power grids, we're going to have to have much better sources of power, and all of that is just very expensive. The role of the private sector through the capital markets can play an enormous role in this. It doesn't have to fall on the backs of state and local government financing or federal government financing.

    And so, we are seeing tremendous opportunity. Even this past week, the conversations I'm having on the intersection of power in AI, the reason why we're having all these conversations, everybody who is thinking about this dilemma, 'We need capital to do this. We need hundreds of billions of capital to pull this off.' And now if you overlay the whole idea of decarbonization, we need to develop new technology to bring down the green premium or we'll never decarbonize.

    And so, the amount of capital that's necessary is enormous, both here in the developed world and in the developing world. This is probably one of the more exciting parts of the overall global capital markets, how we are going to move society forward both in a way of having adequacy and power and developing relatively cheap power from non-carbon-based sources. The fundamental problem of non-carbon-based sources like wind and solar, it's intermittent. We can't afford just to have intermittent supply. So, the need for Consistency and power, dispatchable energy, having energy flowing all the time, and the amount of capital that's going to be needed to do all this here in the United States, but everywhere else in the world is going to power the global economy is going to be the next horizon. And all of this is just so exciting.

    Oscar Pulido: Larry, you've used the word hope a lot in your comments, and you've talked about how, despite all the headlines that can at times seem scary, you're optimistic. So, what is the message that you want to send to the younger. Generations maybe, who are just starting to invest and thinking about the future and also, to the pre-retirees who are maybe just at the front end of starting their retirement?

    Larry Fink: Focusing on the long term, not the moment, think about your objectives and your game plan to me is critical. We built BlackRock in the idea of focusing on the long term, focusing on big macro trends over tens of years. Being in the market all the time is really important. there are a lot of people who were good at market timing, okay? Then you could go in and out of the market. But the majority of people have no ability to market time. And this is why we constantly try to remind people your liability is 30 to 40 years. You need to be thoughtful about that. It's not about the ins and outs of the markets, and I know the financial press talks about the markets today, what's hot, what's not? It's all garbage. It doesn't matter. What matters is being consistently in the market, consistently investing for the long term is going to have a far better outcome.

    Oscar Pulido: Larry, it's always good to hear what's on your mind. I have to say, I was actually struck by the very beginning of your letter where you tell a personal story about your parents and how they meticulously saved and invested for retirement. So, I know these are important issues, and in particular helping others, save and invest for retirement the way your parents did. Thanks for starting the conversation, and thanks for doing it here on The Bid.

    Larry Fink: Thanks for having me, it's great to here.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out the episode. Larry Fink on the Power of Capitalism.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0424U/M-3540354

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host Oscar Pulido.

    Amidst the backdrop of unprecedented inflationary pressures. Most people might not think of insurance as such a key input to their overall consumption basket, but the impact of the insurance industry is felt far beyond what individual consumers pay for individual policies and extends broadly throughout the supply chain as a necessary input for many industries in the production process. So, what can this link between inflation and insurance tell us about the future path of inflation and how can investors use this learning in their own portfolios?

    Today I'm pleased to welcome back Mike Pensky, portfolio manager within BlackRock's Multi-Asset Group. Mike will help us understand the connection between insurance and inflation, the possibility for rising insurance premiums to persist, and how investors can position their portfolios in a new market regime.

    Mike, thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Mike Pensky: Thanks for having me, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: And I should say, Mike, welcome back. It's been about a year since we had you on, and we're going to talk about inflation and insurance and how the two are interrelated. But perhaps let's start with inflation, which is a word that we hear a lot about, but we spend less time talking about how it's measured. So maybe you can tell us a little bit there as a starting point.

    Mike Pensky: So, Oscar in one sentence, determining inflation levels it involves systematically tracking and analyzing changes in the prices of a representative basket of goods and services over time to really understand how those prices are changing at the overall economy level.

    So, think about a basket of goods, you go to the grocery store, you have a shopping cart, and you put a bunch of items into that shopping cart that you regularly consume. So today you go, and it costs a hundred dollars. Next year, you go, and you buy the exact same basket of goods and suddenly that basket of goods cost $102.

    So that represents a 2% increase in the value of that representative basket of goods. Of course, within your shopping cart, you can look under the hood and you can see, some items maybe went up by 5%, maybe some items dropped in price, and you can really get a sense for how prices are changing and what's driving them.

    Economists do that at an economy wide level, they look at a representative basket of what overall consumers buy, whether it's a good or a service, and they try to evaluate how the cost of that basket of goods and services is actually changing at the overall economy level.

    Oscar Pulido: What you described sounds like a pretty straightforward process, but in a big economy, I imagine there's a lot of goods to try and keep track of and one of those goods is insurance or maybe it's a service or it's kind of a combination of both. How does insurance interrelate with inflation? I know there's been a lot of headlines about rising insurance premium, so maybe that's part of it.

    Mike Pensky: Insurance has made national headlines in the last year or so for a couple of reasons. So, first of all, we've seen insurance prices or what we call premiums come up meaningfully just in the last couple of years. So, if you look at the property insurance component of the CPI basket, it's actually running now at about 4% year over year increase at the highest level of roughly the last 10 years.

    And this is at the same time as we've actually seen overall inflation levels come down in the last two years. The second reason why we've seen it in the national headlines is that especially in places like where I live in California, there have been many news stories of major insurers pulling out from renewing policies in particular for property insurance. Of course, we're not the first ones to be talking about this, but the story really started with insurers pulling out from natural disaster-prone areas, especially those that have recently encountered increased wildfire and flood risk.

    Lately, we're seeing insurers actually pull out of other areas where those risks are lower, but really where there's just higher density of populations living close to each other because of the concentration of their exposures.

    One thing that has been common in all these situations is that there have been elevated asset valuations, rebuilding costs a bit much higher, and quite frankly, natural disasters have become a bit more frequent and as a result, have lowered the insurer's profitability when they encounter these, when they encounter these events.

    I'll give you a personal example. My family and I, we live in San Francisco in about a central part of the city as possible, so we're not the most natural disaster-prone area of even San Francisco very far from floods and quite far from wildfires. Arguably, we do have some density in our neighborhood, but like most homeowners and actually drivers of cars as well. When we saw our insurance prices reset this year, they went up. They went up by about a hundred dollars or more. That's a bit painful, but there's one thing that I really should clear up as a direct part of the inflation basket, that grocery cart that I talked about earlier, property and car insurance don't actually make up a very big component of the overall consumption basket. It actually only makes up about 3.3% for an individual consumer on average in the United States.

    One thing that is underappreciated by many people is that insurance is actually a very central component of the production process for goods and services in the United States. This is really because it's a necessary input for every component in the production process, and this is because it's a very central component of the production process, whether you're a goods manufacturer or a service producer.

    Take the example of a restaurant owner. You provide a service, you provide food, you provide hospitality, entertainment, and you charge customers for this. Essentially, that comes into the form of revenue. Of course, you have costs on the other side. You have food costs, employee wages, equipment, rent, and of course insurance. So ultimately, your profit that you earn is the difference between those revenues that you get and those costs that you pay. Now, as your prices go up, that means that your profit starts to decline. So, we actually saw this recently the pandemic where labor costs were a major component of rising cost pressures for producers of goods and services. So, what typically happens is that if you see your profitability go down because of price increases, you'll start to think about passing those costs onto your customers through higher prices. And what's amazing is that we actually see this effect economy-wide, and we study this regularly to help us position our portfolios.

    So going back to insurance, it's one of those inputs costs as well. So, if your property insurance prices start to go up, you're likely to pass that out on through the production process through the form of higher output prices as well.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Mike, the restaurant example actually resonates. It was, pretty vivid. I'm picturing myself going into one of these places and they have all these costs. you said employees rent insurance. I've always thought employees and labor were the biggest cost for any business, including a restaurant. So how important is insurance then, as an input cost? How impactful is it and how do you measure that at an economy-wide basis?

    Mike Pensky: To answer your question, in short, Oscar, insurance is a very central component of the United States production process for goods and services.

    To get a better sense for this, we use something called input-output tables, which really tell us how the inputs and outputs of various industries relate to each other. And really, it's something that the US government publishes through their economic statistics frameworks. Within these input output tables, within one of the more granular formats, we can look at something like 380 different industries and understand what inputs of one industry are related to the outputs of another.

    So let me give you an example of a traditional car manufacturer. The data might tell us that 15% of the value of the production of that car might come from engine manufacturing. Another big component might come from transmission manufacturing and so forth. each of those inputs has its own sub inputs as well. So, this really goes down the chain.

    Oscar Pulido: And Mike, just to clarify there, you said. 15% of the value of the car comes from the engine. is that 15% of the cost of producing it is from the engine or does it mean something else actually?

    Mike Pensky: Oscar, ultimately what that 15% relates to is how much of the value of the car on average economy wide can be attributed to the 15% input of that transmission manufacturing. One thing that is really interesting, and this is much more of an important point, is that when we look across those 380 or so industries at the economy level, we find that insurance carriers rank at just about number 15. That puts them at roughly 3% of the share of the relative importance at the overall economy level. That's on par with really critical industries that we typically think of like banking goods, transportation, petrochemical, manufacturing.

    And what's really interesting is that if you play that input output game of trying to understand how much that pass through might ultimately mean for the importance of insurance overall, it retains its importance in its relative ranking even as other industries shift around. So, this tells you that even as individual consumers insurance might be a really small part of our basket of consumption at the overall economy, it has very central importance. And one thing that is also really interesting, and we found this and highlighted it in a blog post that I co-authored with my colleague Tom Becker, is that property insurance innovations tend to foreshadow future service inflation.

    And this is because of what we've just been talking about, premium changes they transmit through the production process and ultimately result in higher output prices. So, when you put this all together, this means that large impending property insurance price increases are likely to be passed down the chain and you might see higher upward increases in prices in overall services within the United States.

    So, we talked about insurance being a central part of the US production process. You might be wondering what is not that important. And these are things like amusement parks and breakfast cereals, while they make me very happy, not really that important at the service and goods production in the United States.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Mike, you've made a compelling case about why insurance is so central to the inflation story in the economy. And I guess my question then is, how quickly do we see these rises in insurance premiums when oil prices go up and down. I feel like that kind of, affects our gasoline prices pretty quickly. Or sometimes you hear about, droughts and that causes commodity prices to move around pretty quickly. Is it the same for insurance or does it happen a little bit more slowly?

    Mike Pensky: So, insurance is a little bit different from other industries, and mainly that's because it's a very regulated market. So, this means that in many areas, insurers are actually statutorily limited in how much they can increase their premium. Despite the high rates that we've already seen, so give you an example of California where I live here.

    Insurers must get approval for increasing their premiums beyond certain levels, even though there are some rules now in the works to try to amend that. There are processes by which these increases might also be contested, and so as a result, it might take time for those increases to actually happen. So even when you thought some of the insurance price premium rises might already be done, you might continue to see them filter through because of the limits on those step changes that could actually happen.

    So why this is really important is that in effect, gradual changes can take a longer time to impact inflationary pressures in the United States. So as a result, not only might we see a slower burn of persistent increases insurance premiums, but also given those lagged pass through effects to other services and goods that might also increase inflation over a longer period that many might expect.

    Oscar Pulido: And Mike, I mentioned that it's been about a year since you joined us on the podcast. When you joined us last year, you were talking about geospatial data, and how you're using big data to help, investors in their portfolios. How are you applying that to the insurance space and just some of the insights that you're trying to derive.

    Mike Pensky: That's a great question, Oscar, and just to remind everybody about what we mean by the term big data, my colleague Josh Kazdin, said this very eloquently in the last discussion, but we use all sorts of generate, but we use all sorts of data to generate insights in alpha, and it can come in different forms, traditional, big and alternative. So traditional data is something that we've used in finance research for decades. This is things like financial statements, macroeconomic releases, industry reports. They can fit neatly into a spreadsheet and are fairly easy to understand and interpret. Big data refers to both the size of the dataset and the computing resources needed to process it.

    So, moving from the megabytes of A PDF that you might download in a few seconds to terabytes or petabytes of data that require a lot of computing resources to be able to understand. And then finally, alternative data. It can be big or small, usually strange, unstructured, harder to map to really understand how to use it.

    Just to give you an example, newspaper articles or broker reports that are just a collection of sentences that somebody wrote is a traditional form of alternative data. Of course, our geospatial data that we talked about where we pull satellite images is another example of both alternative and big data.

    It needs to be processed, transformed, mapped to be useful, to interpret and actually make investment decisions. So, since we're talking about insurance. Geospatial is actually again, a data lens that we can help us to gain some, since we're talking about insurance, geospatial data is again, a lens through which we can gain some insights about the space.

    So, one thing that we have recognized is that lower availability of private insurance could actually make certain regions of the country more vulnerable to the negative economic impacts of future disaster events. Traditionally, the federal government has really backstop the largest US natural disasters, and so we can actually use historical disaster relief data to explain some of the recent pressures that we've seen within the private insurance markets.

    So, if you look at spending by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, we call. FEMA The regions where private insurance have been pulling out the most, so these are places like California, Florida, Louisiana, in some cases, Texas.

    They're the exact same parts of the country that have had the highest historical funding, that have had the highest historical federal spending on disaster relief. Of course that's not an accident.

    These are areas that have seen many more large national disasters and also lower private sector insurance availability has led to the federal government needing to backstop some of these areas. So, we also talked about really the need to understand the macro fundamentals, but from an investment perspective, we also really need to understand what the market is already appreciating.

    And so, we spend a lot of time trying to understand how much of the market has already priced some of these insights that we have. For that we use some other tools, for example, natural language processing and in, in one sentence, natural language processing is another example of alternative data, where we use computers to read thousands of documents, whether it's newspaper articles, broker reports, to understand what the collection of market participants represented within those documents. Think about a particular topic. So, in this case, relating to insurance. What we are finding is that the potential for the persistence of inflationary pressures, especially relating to some of these issues relating to insurance premiums, are really not well understood by common market participants, and that gives us a lot of confidence that it's not yet priced by markets.

    Oscar Pulido: As you started to use some of that terminology, natural Language Processing and alternative data. You've reminded me of some of the conversations we've had about artificial intelligence over the course of the last year with people like Brad Betts, who I know also is based in San Francisco, like you, Mike. So, what does artificial intelligence, or how are you applying that, in the big data that you're analyzing, or are you? Is that something that's on the horizon?

    Mike Pensky: So, AI is definitely a tool that can provide very rich interpretations from large sets of documents, and it's something that we are starting to leverage as well. Really moving beyond the traditional way of counting words and looking at the pers, the. Accounting words and looking at their frequency to, in a much more romantic way, actually having conversations with the market as represented by a set of documents.

    So, in this way, what we can do is we can upload a large group of newspaper articles of broke reports and start to ask that collection of reports in an aggregated way. What does the market believe is going to be driving inflation going forward? What are the causes, what is appreciated, and what the market may not yet know.

    Oscar Pulido: Mike, you've made this compelling case of how insurance is such an important input to the economy and how, it is prognosticating, higher levels of inflation going forward. So, what does this mean for investors and particularly in their portfolios?

    Mike Pensky: So ultimately one thing to recognize is that the issues in the insurance industry are likely to move beyond just insurance itself. So, we talked about how increases in prices for insurance are likely to continue for some time, but also that they might pass through the economy through the input cost channel. This is going to lead to inflation staying stickier at higher levels for a longer period of time. Already in the world where inflation doesn't appear to be heading down to the 2% target rapidly, it becomes an even bigger challenge to overcome, yet an additional pressure that might keep inflation at a higher level.

    So, from a portfolio perspective, the way that we tend to think about this is that higher inflation for longer likely means that you need more compensation, more return for holding bonds over longer maturities. So said in a simpler way. Higher interest rates for longer maturity bonds.

     So as a result in portfolios, we're underweighting those longer duration bonds to benefit from the notion that yields will likely rise for some time on the backend of the US treasury curve.

    Oscar Pulido: And what you're saying is consistent with actually some of the comments that we've heard from our colleagues in the BlackRock Investment Institute of we're in a new market regime, that means higher interest rates and higher inflation than what we've been accustomed to. Mike, thank you for once again providing this interesting lens on the economy that it seems like only you can provide. And thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Mike Pensky: Thank you, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out how geospatial data can inform investing where Mike Pensky and Josh Kazdin explain big data and how investors can use it in their decision-making process.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0424U/M-3501816

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    The BlackRock Investment Institute has outlined five mega forces that are shaping the macroeconomic landscape and demographic divergence is another one of them. The aging of populations will limit how much major economies can produce and grow, leaving governments with less tax revenue to support rising retirement and healthcare expenses. The impact of fewer workers could result in lower corporate profits and higher government debt unless economies adapt to mitigate these pressures. So, what does this mean for investors and what risks and opportunities does this megaforce create?

    I'm pleased to welcome Nicholas Fawcett, senior Economist in the BlackRock Investment Institute and Peter Fisher, head of BlackRock's Global retirement initiative. Nicholas and Peter will help us uncover the impact of this megaforce on global economies and the potential risks and opportunities investors should consider. Peter And Nicholas thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Peter Fisher: Nice to be here.

    Nicholas Fawcett: Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: So, as both of you probably know, for several months now on The Bid, we've talked about the five mega forces the BlackRock Investment Institute has been talking about, today we're going to talk about one of those, and that's demographic divergence. Nicholas, perhaps I could start with you, which is why is it that we're considering this a mega force? Can you give us some of the terms and definitions to help understand what it is we're talking about?

    Nicholas Fawcett: Thanks Oscar. You'll remember that when we talk about mega forces, what we're really talking about are big structural changes that are going to shape our economies over the next couple of decades. And these affect everything around production, the way we produce things, what we produce, and ultimately who produces it.

    And crucially, that affects the investment landscape. It raises, opportunities and of course, it also raises risks. We think that investors need to pay attention to them now, even though they're going to play out over the course of several decades. As far as demographic change is concerned, what we're really talking about is the fact that populations are aging- life expectancies on the up, birth rates are coming down. And when you combine that together, it means that working age populations, so give you a definition, it's those age between 15 to 64, in general, are shrinking relative to the size of the overall population. For a lot of large economies, especially in developed markets, that means that workforce growth over the next 20 years is going to be much lower than it was over the past 20.

    In fact, in some countries it's actually going to shrink quite materially. And the numbers are big, so just to take a case in point, if you look at the UN's projections for the working age population of China, it's set to shrink in the next 20 years by 140 million. Now, that's the combined total population of Germany and Italy. These are big numbers, the key thing is that presents an economic challenge because taken by itself, slower workforce growth means slower economic growth overall. And something needs to change in order to alleviate that kind of constraint. So those are the facts. The population's aging.

    With workforces either shrinking or growing less rapidly than they were in the past, there are some key implications that we need to think about from the investment landscape. We think there are three important debates to be had- population aging is the fact, but how it plays out really is, a matter for discussion.

    The first is, does aging actually slow growth or are there things you can do to offset that? The second is what happens to inflation? Is all of this aging going to result in more inflation in the future or less? And then finally, what's that going to do for government debt? Are government's going to have to borrow more as a result of aging.

    Oscar Pulido: Peter- Nicholas talks about, the fact that an aging population could slow growth. It's worth mentioning that Larry fink in his recent annual chairman's letter talks about this demographic slowdown, and so it sounds like it is a big global issue for the future, but let's just come back to why should an aging population slow growth in the first place?

    Peter Fisher: Well, we measure economic growth by changes in hours worked, plus changes in productivity and then we add in new investment spending. And so when the working age population, the core workforce, starts to shrink, it's really hard to get more hours worked going because you actually have fewer hours work tend to come in, now there's some adaptations that countries can make. But so other things equal, you shrink the working age population, you shrink the economy, it's pretty direct.

    Now, what countries can do to adapt is try to find other sources of workers. You can bring in more immigrants, you can increase the participation rate- people who are standing on the sidelines of the labor force, you can bring them into the workforce. That normally we think of happening cyclically in economy when the economy gets strong. You can push out retirement ages, get people to just keep working longer. And those are all ways you can add hours, or innovation and productivity, you have to get more out of each worker that you put in.

    And so, these forces are how countries will adapt. a couple of quick examples. One, think about Australia and Canada as the champions of immigration, these countries just keep bringing new workers in and in, skilled workers, legal immigrants bringing them in, and that grows their economy. They both would already have declining workforces without all that immigration. Even a country like the US and the UK, we would be having a shrinking working age population without immigration, we're already past that point. Another way to think about this is two countries that both have really stark shrinking populations, Korea and Italy. They both have been shrinking. They're going to keep shrinking for the next 20 years. Korea has much higher productivity than Italy. So, the Koreans are deploying more robots per worker than most countries in the world, they're in the top three in doing that, so they're adding to productivity another way. So those are different ways different countries adapt to this relentless force that if the working age population shrinks, the economy is also shrinking, other things being equal.

    Oscar Pulido: And you shared a basic math equation at the beginning of your response and an important input was hours worked. If you have a declining working age population, all else equal, you have less hours worked, then that means less growth, but then you mentioned the number of ways in which countries can offset that. And you talked about immigration, you talked about productivity, we spoke with Belinda Boa recently about Japan, which is enjoying this Renaissance and economic growth and higher inflation, but they've also been dealing with the declining working age population. So how have they combated that?

    Peter Fisher: Japan's had a shrinking working age population since 1994, and right after the bubble burst in Japan, that Belinda discussed, and we had a banking crisis then they've experienced the shrinking workforce, which was part of the deflationary environment that Japan found itself in.

    And from 1994 to, I think around 2011, the working age population contracted about 10%, and hours worked declined by 10%. You need to go back and realize that's the world's second largest economy that just lost 10% of its mass. That's a really big number. Now, they were able to stabilize that, as Belinda described a little bit with Abenomics, Prime Minister Abe had some structural reforms. In hindsight, the one that's really astounding is how effectively he got women into the workforce. Female labor force participation went up by 16% over just a decade, and female retirement rates were pushed out by three years. That helped stabilize hours work to actually raise it a little bit and then stabilize it, which is a big part of how the Japanese economy is stabilized.

    Oscar Pulido: Japan though, experienced deflation. You touched on that, that as the working age population was shrinking, it was deflationary. Nicholas to come back to you, you would actually argue that perhaps that was an anomaly that actually declining working age populations should be inflationary to an economy. So, tell us a little bit about why was Japan different and why is your view that the more common scenario is inflation?

    Nicholas Fawcett: This is where things get really interesting, and in fact, that's the second key debate about the impact on inflation. Intuitively you would think that if we're talking about slower growth, as Peter just described, that's going to push down on inflationary pressure because there's just less demand. But here the problem is a completely different one. We're talking about less supply, so because there are fewer working age workers, the overall production capacity is lower than it would otherwise be, and so you can't produce as much from that working pool. As a result, people produce less as an overall group. You tend to find that with older workers on average are more likely to be retired. And so, as workers, overall get older, the total amount of production goes down.

    But that's a view from the supply production capacity in the economy. Demand keeps on going. People don't just stop all spending when they hit retirement. In fact, even though they may change the nature of things they consume, they may consume more healthcare and social care, overall, in terms of value of spending it, it's actually pretty smooth over people's lifespan. The key thing is really what happens to the balance of demand and supply as a result of this. If demand proves quite resilient and supply capacity is going down, then that puts demand out of line with supply. And so, there's inflationary pressure that builds up. And Japan's a really interesting counterpoint to that.

    But in a sense, Peter's already given the answer for why, it doesn't necessarily give us a good guide to what's going to happen in the future. Japan had a lot of other things going on at the same time. It had the financial crisis, banking crisis It also had its population aging around a period where globalization was on the up. That meant that a lot of Japanese producers could outsource production, especially in manufacturing, to other countries and escape the constraint of having a shrinking working age population. And so, on net, the Japanese circumstances is quite different to the one we see for other developed market and the large economies in the future.

    That's why we think that on net the implication of population aging in the future is going to be inflationary. Now, what does that mean for monetary and fiscal policy? Well, central banks are going to face more persistent inflationary pressures in the future. They're going to have to respond to that with tighter monetary policy raising interest rates. And that's very different to the experience we saw before the Covid pandemic in the 2010s where they had to do the opposite. They had to cut interest rates to bring low inflation back up to target. Now, for governments, we think aging spells more debt. slower growth means slowing tax revenues, to cover spending. And all the while rousing interest rates just mentioned before means the governments are going to have to spend a lot more on interest costs than they previously did. And the numbers here are pretty stark.

    Take the US for an example, the US Congressional Budget Office projects that within the next few years, the US Federal Government is going to spend about the same on interest payments as it does on Medicare. That's a pretty stark comparison. And cutting spending in other parts is going to require really difficult political decisions, and that's all against the backdrop of aging populations, probably meaning more spending on healthcare and social care than is currently the case. So, there's a real tug of war going on here, big trade off, and the big picture is that all of this means that government debt is on the up.

    Oscar Pulido: Right. So, the working age population is getting older. that's causing inflationary pressures that causes interest rates to be higher, all else equal. And that challenges the fiscal position of a lot of these countries that are experiencing that aging of the working age population. So Maybe Peter to come back to you. What does this mean in terms of investment opportunities? Where are there sectors or countries that are benefiting from this demographic divergence?

    Peter Fisher: Well, before I jump to the sectors, countries and companies will adapt. We've seen that in enough places. And I want to emphasize, we investors have to adapt to and learn to look for different things. A really simple one is we've normally, for the last 50 years, thought about cyclical changes in the unemployment rate as a really good guide to how strong the economy is. Unemployment rate goes up and down, it tells us how strong the economy's doing.

    Or, if you have a persistently tight labor market, the unemployment rates always really low and there are not many changes in it. So, there's not much information content in that. So, we investors have to start looking for other things.

    Now, the first thing I think we have to look for is how do companies source labor? If you've got a tight labor market, companies are going to have to have their own strategy. Maybe they have to bid up younger workers and pay more for that. That may just be the cost of doing business, and so we have to watch what happens to company margins. Now the sectoral impact, Nicholas has already mentioned one, the healthcare sector, people get older, they're going to spend more on healthcare. I really enjoyed, a couple months ago we had a group of investors, talking about the longevity opportunity, and a young equity investor was saying, you have no idea how much money people have to spend on cataract surgery and hearing aids. And I assured him, I knew exactly how much older people had to spend on cataract surgery and hearing aids.

    It's a big opportunity for someone. Now, there's another flip side of that, which is longevity itself as an industry. There are huge amounts of money going into investments in startups and drugs to make people live longer. The obesity drugs are an example of that. They're going to take down all sorts of morbidity problems we have from heart failure and heart attack. People are healthier for longer; we're all going to live longer. That's an industry in itself that is an investment opportunity. There are other ones like big changes in demand for real estate, old people like me don't move around as often as my son and my daughter do.

    Oscar Pulido: So, adaptability is a key theme. There are trends that have been in place for many decades and perhaps that's made us think about certain sectors or certain economic data points. Differently and we need to adapt. You mentioned the unemployment rate, that it's maybe not going to provide as much information as it has in the past when you have a tighter labor market.

    We've talked a lot about, aging working populations, and mostly developed markets. Although Nicholas, you also mentioned this is a trend in China, but there are also countries that have younger populations and there are working age populations that are still growing in certain countries. So how do you think about the investment opportunities in those parts of the world?

    Nicholas Fawcett: Yeah, absolutely right. So, if you look at Indonesia, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, amongst other economies, these are going to experience pretty rapid working age population growth over the next 20 years. They're aging in a general sense, average age is going up and at some point in the future, that working age population growth is going to come to a halt. But compared to the other economies we were talking about earlier; they have a better dividend at the moment.

    In terms of how they translate that into stronger growth in the future, it really depends on a lot of, catalysts that enable them to take advantage. One of them is how effective they are in translating growing, working age population into growing actual employment.

    Peter mentioned before, people sitting on the sidelines, not really looking for a job or in jobs. That's a big problem for some countries. The share of people actually in employment or looking for it is really low compared to advanced economies, there's a huge amount of catch-up potential there, but they really need to harness that extra workforce.

    Or it might be in another really important part, which is, what we would call, productive ca, capital productive capacity. So, things like machinery, transport infrastructure, hospitals, schools, energy investment, especially with the low carbon transition over the next, couple of decades. These countries have to be able to harness the investment needs for all of that capital to be built up in order to take a full advantage of a bigger working age population.

    Some countries are going to be much more effective than others in taking advantage of that demographic dividend. And that's where some of the investment opportunities are really going to lie in our view.

    Oscar Pulido: And just hearing you say the word dispersion brings me back in in recent episodes where we've talked about this is a new market regime, the need to be granular and dynamic and, and these mega forces will play out over many decades. So actually, given that, given everything, you've said as you think about demographic divergence and its impact globally, what would be some parting thoughts that you would want investors to think about as they think about the world aging?

    Peter Fisher: Well, where I started with the engine of growth, we are really going to need to focus on innovation, realized productivity. Not just gee-whiz technology, that's fun, but is this actually producing more output? Is this making workers more productive? Real innovation that gets embedded in the economy, that's going to be where we have to look for returns as investors.

    And so, we have to switch and we're going to be a little less sort of momentum in the economy as a whole unless we can find returns coming from innovation. And I thought it was really interesting what Belinda said about Japan being a laboratory for innovation on a tight labor market. And that's the transition but from what both Nicholas and I were talking about, the 1990s where it was all blah in Japan and they weren't, didn't have any momentum, and now they're really ahead of us. They're figuring out what innovation you have to do to keep growing a company where there's so few workers and so they're on the front foot on a lot of robotics and technology. And so, I would emphasize that for investors going forward.

    Oscar Pulido: Nicholas, what about you?

    Nicholas Fawcett: Yeah, I agree with Peter. He really puts his finger on it saying there are opportunities in some of the countries we've been talking about, that face the biggest, countrywide headwinds. I think the key thing is that it's not a simple case of ignoring all the countries that have shrinking populations.

    It's much more nuanced than that. There's a huge amount of dispersion across sectors that Peter alluded to. the really interesting thing from the investment point of view is these phenomena that we've been talking about are pretty predictable in the sense that we know how working age populations are going to evolve in the next kind of 30, 40, 50 years because of the nature of what we're trying to forecast here.

    And yet, if you look back in history and look at the academic literature, there've been a lot of times where these kind of predictable demographic trends have been really slow to be priced in by markets. And so there should be ample opportunities, if that's true. And that continues in the future for investment opportunities because the things that aren't currently priced that we know with reasonable certainty are going to happen are where some of the greatest opportunities lie. It also helps us gauge where the risks are, but the bottom line, as you said is you really need to be selective.

    Oscar Pulido: I was reading something this week and that I had read before, but it was a reminder, it was this concept of peak 65. That in the US every day, there's 12,000 people a day hitting the age of 65. And when I first saw that, I thought, that number can't be right because 12,000 is a lot to happen on a daily basis.

    But it brings forward the magnitude of what both of you were talking about. Thank you for shedding some light on this Megaforce. I'm sure we'll have you back at some point to update us on where we are. Peter and Nicholas, thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Peter Fisher: Thank you.

    Nicholas Fawcett: Thank you.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out the recent episode with Belinda Boa 'Is Japan at an inflection point?' And subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0324U/M-3460372

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid. Where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Bond yields are higher today than they were 20 years ago. With inflation indicators falling around the globe, the time of elevated cash rates may be drawn to a close. So what are investors doing? They're choosing bonds in record numbers with 2023 global bond ETF inflows of $333 billion.

    My guest today says investors could be moving even more quickly back into fixed income. Why? The signs of market change may be coming into focus. Global central banks appear at or near the end of a tightening cycle designed to quell the most significant surge in inflation in decades, a cycle that made cash so attractive.

    Today I'm pleased to welcome Steve Laipply, Global co-head of iShares’ fixed income ETFs for BlackRock. Steve will help us understand what has been driving investors towards, or in some cases back to the fixed income market and what investors should be looking for as central banks appear set to loosen their grip on interest rates.

    Steve, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Steve Laipply: Thanks for having me, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Steve, we're here to talk about fixed income or bonds. We often use both terms to refer to that asset class, and perhaps we can just start with a really basic question, which is, how do investors tend to use this asset class in a portfolio?

    Steve Laipply: Yeah, Oscar, let's start with what a bond is supposed to do. So, a bond is basically a company borrowing from someone. So that can be you and it can be an insurance company, it can be a pension fund or what have you. But generally, the way it looks is the company issues this piece of debt. It has a stated rate that it'll pay and it has a maturity date. When that maturity date happens, you're supposed to get your money back. And so bonds, generally, trade in the market so investors can buy them outright from the issuer when they're issued, or they can just go into the market and buy them after they start trading.

    Equities are more intuitive, we hope they go up, they pay us a little bit of a dividend along the way, that's great. Bonds, if all goes well, you're going to get this payment that they told you were going to get, and then you're going to get your money back, but you're not going to get anything beyond that. And so a good outcome is you getting that payment and you getting your money back.

    There are different ways that people evaluate that risk. People may have heard of the credit rating system where AAA is really good and BB is not so good and there's everything in between. Investors will look at that and look at what yield the bond is going to pay them and make a decision on whether they think they're taking the appropriate risk for what they're getting paid. Getting to your question on the portfolio, bonds do two things.

    The first thing that bonds do when you use the term fixed income, Oscar, income, so in a portfolio, if you think about equities, equity dividend yields are fairly low. They're around one-ish to two-ish percent. Bond yields actually, as we know before the Fed hiking cycle, were probably not too far from that but now we're in a very interesting world where bond yields are back to where they were about 20 years ago.

    So you can now get a decent amount of income, in the treasury market in the 10 year note, you can get around a four and a quarter, at the very short end you can get 5.5%. And so, we're in a different world. In the high yield market, you can get much more than that. So now the income part is back.

    The second thing bonds can do in a portfolio is provide diversification. That tends to be more applicable to higher quality bonds like treasuries. If you look way, way back across time, treasuries as an example, tend to move in the opposite direction as stocks. And what investors would do with an equity, heavy portfolios, is hold some amount of high-quality bonds against those so if the equities go down, they get some protection from the high-quality bonds. It's a combination of this income and diversification that investors are looking for in their portfolios.

    Oscar Pulido: Right, so they provide diversification to the stock market, and you mentioned treasuries in particular, which are sort of the risk off asset class that investors will tend to gravitate towards. And then you also mentioned income, it seems like the income that fixed income generates these days is like a capital I income compared to recent years. And you talked about the fact that the yield on bonds is back to 20 year highs. So how did we get back to these 20-year highs?

    Steve Laipply: Yeah, so if we, take a little bit of a journey down memory lane, let's say before 2008, we had yields that didn't look terribly different than they are now. 2008 happened, all central banks all over the world reacted, including the Fed, they cut rates to zero. We had a full decade plus of rates that were very near zero.

    That's where we were. We were scraping bottom for quite a while, and that was on purpose. The Fed was really trying to keep the economy going post-crisis. And there were all these programs, quantitative easing, et cetera, et cetera, that were going on that kept yields really low. Well, coming out of the pandemic, all of a sudden inflation for the first time in many, many, many decades, and I think, a lot of, quite a lot of people probably had never experienced inflation, and all of a sudden, everyone's, googling that word and what it means and what it looked like in the past and how bad it could get, and, sure enough, it comes roaring back.

    And of course, the central banks react again, going in the opposite direction, they start hiking rates really, really aggressively. And in the US, they went from zero to 5.5% in a couple years. That, some people would say shocked the system, other people who were rooting for higher yields would say they renormalized the bond markets back to where they used to be. But nonetheless, here we are.

    Oscar Pulido: So, your perspective on whether interest rates or yields on bonds are high really depends on how far you go back. Compared to a few years ago, they're, they're really high. But as, as you said, if you go back 20 years ago, pre the financial crisis of 2008, they are really just kind of back to where they were in that maybe more normalized period. So, as the Fed has raised rates and done so to combat inflation, a topic that we've spent a lot of time on with some of our colleagues at the BlackRock Investment Institute. So, what has this meant for investors? Does this mean they're more constructive on putting money into bonds or do you see them sitting in cash a bit more?

    Steve Laipply: It was interesting, at the beginning of the cycle which really took hold in 2022, we were all sort of bracing for significant outflows, whether that was individual bonds or mutual funds or ETFs or what have you.

    It turned out to be a little more mixed than that. Yes, you saw outflows in mutual funds, but astonishingly you saw quite a lot of inflows into bond ETFs as an example. And then of course, you saw, saw a lot of inflows into, very short-dated instruments like treasury bills.

    That reflects a couple things. Yes, there was a little bit of sticker shock, people looked at their statements, for example, maybe in a mutual fund they'd held for a long time and, and perhaps decided to allocate out of that and into cash. But there was also this dynamic where investors got excited about yields that they literally haven't seen, like we said, in, 20 years, give or take.

    I think that explained some of this allocation that we've seen the last two years into bond funds because investors are now looking at that and saying, you know, I'm not going to be able to call the top in yields, but how about this, I haven't seen these yields in a very, very long time, and maybe it's time to start getting back in.

    Oscar Pulido: Can you say a little bit more about the allocation to cash instruments?

    Steve Laipply: So, by design, when you, increase interest rates this much, you know, when we go from zero to five and a half, by design, you're going to invert the yield curve. that is designed to tighten financial conditions. And that's just a fancy way of saying you want people to be defensive. You want the premium for companies taking risk to go higher for investors taking risk to go higher.

    Investors responded exactly the way that was intended, which is they moved into those very, very short-dated instruments or just outright cash. Why did they do that? Well, because it turns out you're getting paid more sitting there, than you are in say, 10-year notes, right? And so that was the point. But now they have to start thinking a little bit about, are things changing, are they done? Aren't they done? When's the first cut going to come? Will it come this year?

    One way or another, we're probably coming to the end of this particular Fed cycle. Investors really need to start thinking about what role is cash playing in their portfolio? And it does play a role, you should always have some cash on hand, of course, because you may need that instant liquidity to, for an emergency or, or something unexpected that happens. But having all of your money sitting in cash is probably not ideal.

    And we know, the reasons for that, which is that yield that you're seeing in cash today, can very well be gone tomorrow. It can change very, very quickly. This is the conversation that's very much happening right now everywhere, which is, when do I do this? When do I start moving out of cash? I do think it is appropriate now to start having that conversation and start thinking about it because markets have a funny way of moving before they send a very strong, all-clear signal.

    So they're not going to tell you when it's over and when it's time to move, you're going to have to figure that out and as it turns out, those longer yields move much more quickly than the Fed. And so they'll move before the Fed even cuts. And that's something everybody needs to be aware of.

    Oscar Pulido: So there's a bit of anticipatory behavior that investors have to think about. And you touched on this concept of the yield in a cash instrument might be a certain figure right now, it can change quickly, and I think that means that there's reinvestment risk for an investor - what they were getting in their cash instrument can change. It could go up, it could go down, but it certainly doesn't necessarily have to stay stable for an extended period of time.

    What does it mean for investors though, as they're allocating to the bond market and some of the areas that you mentioned when the backdrop is also one of higher inflation. So how should investors be thinking about, on the one hand, their yield is higher, but inflation is also higher. So how do you grapple those two things together?

    Steve Laipply: And that's, the trick, isn't it? So you have to look at what you're getting paid, after inflation. And so this is the whole discussion. And so when people are looking at, short-term yields versus long-term yields and where inflation currently is and where they think it's going to go, a simple thing to do is just take the current inflation rates, subtract that from the yield that you're looking at, and decide if that's going to work for you. A situation you don't want to be in, and we were in the situation for some period of time, before covid was what's called negative real yields. And real just means that arithmetic we just did, where you take the yield, you're looking at and subtract inflation, and if it's a negative number that's tough, right? But, we were kind of that way in many, many countries across the globe for a long time. And we're not, now we're at positive real yields. That's, something that people haven't seen for a while, and I think that's why they're taking comfort in this idea that even subtracting inflation, you're getting a positive return.

    Oscar Pulido: The term 'negative real yield' translates into a stealth way to reduce your purchasing powers is what it sounds like, it also sounds like we're now in a better environment where even though inflation is higher, yields are compensating you for that and some, so investors are back to at least growing their purchasing power, even if it is a very small amount.

    You touched on central banks. Will they cut, will they not? This is like a bit of an Olympic sport. I think now watching central banks and what they're going to do with policy, maybe just go back to why that is important. Why do people spend so much time thinking about the next policy decision, from the Fed and other central banks for that matter.

    Steve Laipply: It's interesting when we look at how responsive the bond markets have been to these pronouncements, whether they're official statements or whether it's just a particular fed speaker, in the news cycle, markets have reacted very, very strongly the last couple years. I think it's because we just were in a period for quite a long, stretch there where, everybody was waiting to see what the outcome of this would be, are they going to land the plane?

    Are they going to be able to, you know, bring this thing in for the much talked about soft landing, or are we going to suddenly find ourselves, moving far too quickly into a slowdown and will they have to react to that? So the sport has been all about, did they do the right thing? Did it work? And I think that's why Oscar, you're seeing so much attention paid because people want to know what the score of the game is, but they actually want to see what the final score is going to be. Not sure that they're going to get that satisfaction because again, I don't think the market is, is very good at just giving you these all-clear signals or, oh, the clock ran out and the final score is X. The economy is dynamic, so you might not actually get that, signal you're looking for, but that's why everybody's trying to figure out did they pull it off or not, and what will the next phase be?

    Oscar Pulido: Steve, you've been working in the fixed income market, the bond market for years. And presumably you feel like you've seen this movie before where investors are waiting for clues from central banks, and as you said, trying to predict what the final score is going to be. And I think, what you're saying is that investors, should be thinking a little bit further ahead and not be overly focused on decision to decision if I'm not mistaken.

    And so Steve, what's the bottom line for investors? I mean, you touched on a few of these things and, you referred earlier to moving out to, three or four years of maturities, meaning moving out of cash and moving a little further out the yield curve. But are there areas of the bond market that you're focused in on and maybe some key takeaways for investors?

    Steve Laipply: This is going to sound obvious, but I think investors have to have certain views in order to make these decisions.

    So let's take case one. Case one would be if an investor does believe that, you know, like we talked about before, that they pulled it off, that we're going to get this soft landing, we're not going to go into recession. They'll be able to start cutting rates very gradually, inflation will behave and continue to grind down to 2%, et cetera. You could do a lot of things then, you can have the confidence to invest in something like high yield. If you believe that the economy is, on firm footing and is going to stay that way, and high yield's offering very attractive yields. What's interesting, Oscar, last year everybody was scared of high yield because of all the talk about a recession, but it returned 13% last year. So, you know, even though it was yielding, I want to say 8, 9%, it returned something like 13%. So, you know, that was one of those contrarian things where people stayed away from it, but it generated a very good return. So if you do think the economy is going to, sort of glide into the soft landing, then you could take more risk in something like high yield or emerging markets or what have you.

    If you're more defensive than that, then you want to stick to high quality. You want to be in high quality investment grade. And we talked about treasuries. You want to move a little bit further out the curve to get that diversification, get a little more duration in your portfolio to help balance out that equity risk.

    If you think, I'm not quite sure, we might or might not, enter into a slowdown and I want to be a little more balanced here. Let's go with one more, which is, if you are very worried that, maybe all of this right now feels great, but we will wake up, in six months or a year and realize we're, we're in a recession. Well, you probably want to be even more overweight to that very high-quality exposure further out the curve, let's just say longer maturity or longer duration treasuries as, as an offset or diversification for the equity part of your portfolio. If you think a recession could be a real risk, and also that is the benefit of locking in yields where they are today because in that scenario, they probably will fall.

    Oscar Pulido: Right. So you painted three very different scenarios, but the commonality was, uh, there's something to do. There are opportunities in the bond markets. And so we will stay tuned to see what the final score of this game is, although it feels like following markets the game just always, continues.

    Steve Laipply: There’s always over time.

    Oscar Pulido: There's always overtime! Steve, we appreciate your insights and thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Steve Laipply: Thanks for having me, Oscar.

     <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. You enjoyed this episode. Check out my conversation with Becky Milchem, 'Are you leaving cash on the table?' where we explore three things investors should consider when it comes to cash in uncertain markets. And subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

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  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    In the ever-evolving tapestry of geopolitics and economics, the Asia-Pacific region stands at a pivotal juncture. Structural shifts are underway, redefining global dynamics, and the emergence of competing economic and geopolitical blocs takes center stage, reshaping alliances and influencing international relations.

    Not only has the region been grappling with high inflation post the global COVID pandemic, it's also an historic election year, with over 70 elections globally that could have seismic implications for economies. And as we anticipate the outcomes, we're compelled to examine the economic implications, opportunities, and potential pitfalls that arise at the intersection of politics and finance.

    In this special episode, we took The Bid down under to record this episode live. Wei Li, Global Chief Investment Strategist for BlackRock joined me at the event in Sydney. Wei and I discussed the intricacies of high inflation, emerging competing geopolitical bloc, how a momentous global election year will impact Asia-Pacific region and what opportunities investors can expect from the region.

    Wei, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Wei Li: Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: And Wei welcome to Sydney, Australia. We are down under recording another episode of the podcast.

    Wei Li: So exciting to be here!

    Oscar Pulido: And we're also in live in front of a live audience. and I'd like to bring them into the discussion. G’day, Sydney!

    AUDIENCE: G’day!

    Wei Li: I feel like I'm on the Friends set. This is so cool.

    Oscar Pulido: I did a little research before this, just out of curiosity. I know you flew in from London. I came in from New York. It turns out both of those cities are 10,500 miles from here, so thanks for meeting me halfway. Let's get into the discussion around markets. You're obviously the global Chief Investment Strategist for BlackRock and the BlackRock Investment Institute. Your colleague Alex Brazier and many others have talked about the year ahead with an optimistic tone. But given that we're in the Asia Pacific region, what are some of the major stories in this region that you are following?

    Wei Li: Absolutely, so this more upbeat sentiment extends to our view of the APAC region as well. And as I think about the main stories that, are playing out our kind of look at it geographically from the perspective of what's happening in Japan, India, and also what's happening in China.

    So very quickly Japan, depending on which index you're looking at, it's just broken out from the all-time high last set in 1989. So, it's really taken a long time to get where we are and we think that there is more for the rally to go, because the first leg was driven by macro development, the economy exiting long time deflationary mindset. From here on the micro development on a corporate level, are likely going to drive the next leg higher, and we're excited about that.

    In terms of India, this morning we talked about mega forces. the likes of AI, digitalization, geopolitical fragmentation, they are all forces benefiting India, at the moment. Yes, valuation is not particularly cheap, but, these structural forces have long runway and we think that this country is really standing out at the moment in terms of what's happening to China, is a bit of a more nuanced story, In the run-up exiting from the pandemic, consumers have been somewhat disappointing in terms of their willingness to spend, which is why equity markets didn't really deliver the sort of recovery that many were hoping for. Maybe now there is a window, given very cheap valuation, to respond to stimulus, measures, but the long-term structural challenges still exist for the country. So, it's more of a nuanced story, but definitely one that not only impacts APAC, but also emerging markets broadly.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you touched on Japan, India, China, mega forces. So, I'd like to get into all of those things maybe in a little bit more depth, but why don't we start with India. We recently had Catherine Kress as a guest on the podcast, talking about the geopolitical environment. She described India as a multi aligned country, one that has not chosen sides amongst the economic blocks that are being established around the world. We know it's also a country that is growing demographically, financially, going through a lot of, evolution. So, talk to us a little bit more about India's investment opportunity.

    Wei Li: So, if we think about the theme geopolitical fragmentation, India definitely has demonstrated its ability to interact with multiple, and potentially, differently aligned economic blocks, right? So, thinking about its interaction with the US, with China and their respective spheres of influence and that is an advantage in this increasingly polarized world.

    In terms of other geopolitical forces, you think about the strength of consumer lending. You think about younger population in India and in the rise of the middle class. You also think about the incredible penetration of digitalization, UPI- unified payment interfaces- it's really incredible in terms of the progress that they have made. So again, this is not a market that is cheap because the progress is clear for all to see, but we definitely think that the representation of Indian market, in broader emerging market benchmark, has more room to grow. You look at a population, it's just overtaken China as the most populous country in the world. And that's just the start. So, we definitely think that it's one to watch out for.

    Oscar Pulido: You and I both live in parts of the world where the demographic discussion is about an aging population, but you described India as a younger population and having a divergence maybe from much of the developed world. You also mentioned China. We cannot have a discussion around the Asia Pacific region without discussing China- it's the largest economy. So, talk a little bit more about your macro viewpoint, and the investment viewpoint that you have on China.

    Wei Li: So far over the tactical horizon, consumers have not been very confident to spend given policy ambiguity. And also, some of the tailwinds for Chinese economy during the pandemic, when it was the factory of the world, they were fading away exports dropping off as the rest of the world switched back on. And obviously the real estate overhand has just been such a sentiment dampener.

    So, over the near term it hasn't been great last year, but we're seeing signs of policy support coming through, targeted to start, but now a bit more coordinated. Is this the bazooka that is needed for the country to turn around? I think it's too early to say that. I think for us to really get index level wide kind of confidence, we need deeper cuts, we need greater fiscal spend, and we also need more meaningful resolution in the property sector, which is really hard to come by. So, it's hard to see Chinese equity market right now, as more of a long-term investment.

    There can be a trade given how cheap valuation is, but is it the attractive long-term investment in a whole portfolio context? I would put a question mark around that and over the longer term, there are structural challenges around Chinese long-term productivity and growth because of aging population. By the end of this decade, Chinese economy growing was a 300, which is not that much more attractive than the US for example.

    So, for reasons like this, we are thinking about China as a as a tactical opportunity right now, but even then, we're neutral, not overweight. We're starting to see some flows coming back into this market but in more speculative fashion and also, international investors need to feel more comfortable about the market before we can really see a meaningful sustained turnaround.

    Oscar Pulido: And you mentioned policy response, fiscal and monetary, that's been a common theme it seems like in recent years for economies around the world. The importance of policy in terms of the trajectory of markets. we're here in Australia, as I mentioned, a country that has sometimes or often been dubbed the 'lucky' country. And I think, if I'm not mistaken, a country that hasn't experienced a recession in something like 30 years. I'm not sure how that's possible, but it's also a country that is grappling with higher inflation like much of the world. So, what's your outlook on Australia?

    Wei Li: Well, the trade-offs facing policy makers worldwide, exist in Australia as well. So, in this new regime of structural supply constraints, policy makers are finding themselves having to sometimes balance inflation fighting versus, labor market versus growth and that balance, that delicate, balancing act and trade off exist in in Australia as well.

    We are in an environment of lower trend growth. We're in an environment of structurally higher inflation. We're in an environment of structurally higher rates, that applies to Australia as well. You talked about it, avoiding recession for such an enviably long period of time.

    But the trend growth in Australia is lower compared to pre pandemic in our assessment. So, inflation has also come down, it has come down a long way, goods deflation contributing to a large part of that. But the service component of inflation, what drives that, we're talking about wage, we're talking about rents, they have shown signs of persistency too. So yes, we are expecting rate cuts in the same way that we're expecting rate cuts from the fed, but perhaps later in the year and also not as many as what we have seen in the past. So, a general trend of new regime, new environment for central banks. That applies here too. But you're right, it's a lucky country!

    Oscar Pulido: Right, so while it might be a great distance from countries like the US and the UK, it seems to have a lot of similarities post pandemic. Uh, that you talked about in terms of, inflation growth and what it means for interest rates.

    Wei Li: And because the world is becoming increasingly intertwined. Yes, we're talking about maybe globalization, not making further progress, but even stalling at the current pace of, exporters percentage of GDP globally, we're talking about, it steadily increasing to now more than 50%. That's quite a high degree of intertwined connectivity and that's why we have similar patterns in the US, in Europe, in UK, and in Australia for that matter.

    Oscar Pulido: Can we go back to the mega forces, something that the BlackRock Investment Institute has really coined those five, so I imagine you must wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about these five mega forces. Things like the future of finance, geopolitical fragmentation, demographic divergence, artificial intelligence, and transition to a low carbon economy. Mm. I've memorized them myself because we've covered them a lot on the podcast. So how do these five mega forces, touch the Asia Pacific region? Are they all relevant or are some more relevant than others?

    Wei Li: They're actually all relevant. And I would also say that some of the mega forces that are typically associated with not so positive investment consequences are acting as a tailwind in the case of APAC.

    So, let's start with geopolitical fragmentation, because that's typically something that just sounds so negative, not like we're talking about geopolitical risks and how much more geopolitical risk premia that needs to be baked into market pricing.

    So more broadly, when we talk about geopolitics, it sounds negative, but if you look at the likes of India, the likes of Vietnam that have benefited from reshoring and shifting of supply chain, Asia has stood to benefit from that. So that's on the geopolitical front.

    In terms of AI, obviously China has a role in that, but the strategic confrontation between us and. China has made it harder to harvest that theme in the context of the Chinese investment universe. So instead, I look at Taiwan, I look at South Korea as beneficiaries of this trend, and these equity markets are starting to respond to that as well. So that's two of the mega forces.

    And then if you think about the aging population, we already talked about India overtaking China as the most populous country in the world. And then low-carbon transition. India actually stands to benefit from potential acceleration of decarbonization after the election. So, it's something that we're paying close attention to.

    So, this year is a big election year, obviously everybody's talking about the US election, but India is going through election too and we're expecting a bit of a continuity in policy. And once we have this big event moving into the rear mirror, we actually are expecting re-acceleration of the pace of India as growing as a bigger hub of energy, renewable energy production and decarbonization pace. So that's likely going to gain more traction with greater capital expenditure too.

    Future of finance has a role in India too, if you think about digitalization, but also the greater, consumer spending and the role of private credits and also the evolving role of banks in lending and it has just been growing at incredible pace.

    So, when you bring all of that together, I mentioned India probably a dozen times doesn't come as a surprise that it's one of our overweight countries. It's not cheap, but it's expensive for a reason, and we continue to think that it deserves a good-sized allocation in portfolios.

    Oscar Pulido: You touched on a lot of countries, you did mention India a little bit more, but, I guess it's not surprising that the five mega forces in some way, shape or form touch the Asia Pacific region because the Asia Pacific region is quite broad, not just geographically, but it is, very heterogeneous in terms of, economies and stock markets and actually Japan, which would be good to get your thoughts here because Japan is both a large economy and a large stock market, but has been very out of favor for a long time. And when we spoke to Belinda Boa recently, one of our senior investors, in Singapore, she made a very bullish case for Japan. I think one of your recent pieces talked about Japanese equity prices are high, but they could go higher. So, talk a little bit more about what's changed in Japan that makes you more bullish?

    Wei Li: Yeah. So, I talked about how the axis from deflationary mindset has really been the first catalyst in terms of Japanese equities staging the comeback and ultimately getting to where, we are, right now. and precisely because of that, precisely because it took such a long time for the economy to come through and for markets to come through. We do think that the Bank of Japan is going to be very careful in its, exit from the very low and lose monetary policy environment.

    So, everybody's looking at Bank of Japan starting to hike rates and maybe meaningfully, move it higher. We think that they're going to err on the side of caution just so that they are not responsible for killing the exit from deflationary mindset too early, which is why we think that they're going to hike rates later than market expects, and they're also going to hike less than markets expect.

    So, that in itself already is a bit of a boost to further kind of momentum. And then in terms of how we want to play this next lag, I think there are some interesting themes that we can position for. Like the broad market obviously have benefited but as we think about the beneficiaries of the corporate governance reform- the Tokyo Stock Exchange reform- companies that are positioned for that is one way of slicing and dicing, the market another way, as kind of economy stabilizes and inflation meaningfully comes through a nominal earnings are strong, a nominal growth is going to start to build having exposures to domestic players, that are benefiting from domestic recovery, that's another way of kind of thinking about, slicing and dicing the Japanese market.

    And then as we think about re-shoring, friend-shoring beneficiaries of reshoring as a theme is another way to think about the Japanese market. I think there is room to be active along those lines that I just talked about in the same way that actually that there is huge room to be active in the Chinese market.

    But the broad market in Japan, we also like right now we like the whole top-down benchmark. We think that there is more what is misunderstood, given that Japanese equities have come a long way, is that maybe, oh, it's expensive given how much it has rallied, if you look at earnings revision momentum. Japan actually is currently outpacing that in Europe, in the UK, and also in the US. In terms of earn revision, Japanese equities are really well positioned and at the same time, given the still prevalently low-rate environment from an equity risk premium perspective, which is actually our preferred way of looking at valuation, because that considers the rate environment, not just the multiples itself, because rates are still low. Japanese equities are still offering attractive equity risk premium. So yes, it has done well, but it's not as expensive as you would've thought. Looking at price appreciation, which is why we still like it.

    Oscar Pulido: And so, when you put all this together, what does this mean for investors who are interested in the Asia Pacific region? What are some things you would tell those individuals?

    Wei Li: Yeah, so as I reflect on our conversation here, I think I mentioned India many times. So that's definitely a country that I think deserves to be considered even standalone in the context of portfolio construction. So, India, we like. We talked about mega forces, more broadly. So yes, country is one way that we slice and dice the universe. But as we construct portfolios that are, positioned for mega forces, I think going at it from a sector perspective, maybe even on a stock selectivity perspective, is a more precise way of playing these mega forces. So, we're working with our, colleagues within, RQA to construct, RQA is our internal risk analytics, team to construct portfolios from a bottom-up perspective, selecting stocks that are well positioned to benefit from these mega forces is another way that we are thinking about playing Asia as well.

    And then we so far only talked about stocks- equity market. Actually, we also like, bonds, but that goes beyond Asia emerging market, for example, we're talking about an environment where policy rates are coming down, growth is, reasonably robust. So that benefits emerging markets more broadly but given, the higher volatility in stocks from a risk adjusted return perspective, we actually like EMD better than EM equities from a top-down perspective. So that's one additional consideration I want to throw into the mix as we construct portfolios.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, and at the very beginning you said country's one way to do it, but it does pay to be more granular, more precise. And that actually goes along with the outlook that your team have published at the beginning of the year of this being an environment where precision and granularity, is important.

    I know you're very used to doing live television and I'm used to watching you on live television. I know you always do a great job on that. You did a great job on the live podcast as well. Thank you, wave for joining us on the Bid.

    Wei Li: Thanks for having me.

    AUDIENCE: [Applause]

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid, if you’ve enjoyed this episode check out our recent episode with Liz Koehler, where we talk about how the younger generation is looking to the future and considering their own retirement outlook approaches.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0324U/M-3441502

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Younger investors are looking to the future with greater anxiety than future generations. They are looking at a future with aging populations and reduced labor forces and a new age of technology and connectivity that is impacting their values and expectations. On the other hand, pre-retirees now are having to consider that fact that their generation will live longer and what do they want to prioritize in their retirement years.

    So what do investors at different stages and ages need to consider when planning for their future, and how do those approaches differ? 

    In this special episode, we took The Bid down under to record this episode live. Liz Koehler, Head of Advisor Engagement for BlackRock’s US Wealth Advisory business joined me at the event in Melbourne. Liz and I discussed how the younger generation are thinking about their future and what pre-retirees should be thinking about as they head toward retirement age, and opportunities all investors could take advantage of as they prepare for their futures.

    Oscar Pulido: Liz, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Liz Koehler: Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: So Liz, this morning I was walking to work through the city and walking towards the river and I looked up and I saw hot air balloons flying overhead.

    Normally I'm walking through New York City on the way to the Hudson River, but I was actually walking through the streets of Melbourne, Australia walking towards the Yarra River, and that's why I saw the hot air balloons. So here we are, The Bid is down under.

    Liz Koehler: Very exciting.

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you for joining us here. I know it's, a great distance. And the other thing about this podcast is that we actually have a lot of individuals looking at us right now. We're in front of a live audience, so to prove that I'm going to say… G'Day, Melbourne!

    Audience: G'day!

    Oscar Pulido: There they are! Liz, regardless of where we are in the world right now, there are topics that sort of transcend borders and demographics and aging populations is one of those topics. So, in the past, on the podcast we've talked about the aging population, we talked about the pandemic and how that forced a lot of people to retire early. So, maybe just give us a state of play today. Where are we when you think about the demographic landscape?

    Liz Koehler: Thanks Oscar, so demographic divergence is absolutely one of the five key mega forces, that BlackRock continues to track. And some of the themes that we're seeing, is people over the age of 65 tend to be the age group that is growing the fastest globally. And that has implications, certainly, including for fewer people in the workforce, causing us to do more with less but the reality remains, there are still some really interesting technological and medical advancements that could create some great opportunities for us.

    Maybe just focusing for a moment on the investor landscape, so, similarly, baby boomers hold the lion's share of the wealth as well today, not surprising, but their wealth is growing significantly slower than generations that are coming after them. So, for example, millennials, their wealth has grown exponentially quickly, given where they are from an earning cycles perspective and also the great wealth transfer. But the reality remains that these generations, in particularly millennials and Gen Z, are quite different in terms of who they are and what they want.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you mentioned Gen Z and the millennials, these younger generations. How did they perceive their ability to save and build wealth? Maybe talk a little bit about, how that compares to the baby boomers, for example.

    Liz Koehler: So, these two generations have just experienced the world differently, than their parents did. They have different fears, different values, different insights and perspectives. Just for example, millennials were really born into, the more prosperous nineties, right? They had fairly encouraging baby boomer parents. They tend to be more optimistic, a bit more collaborative. They saw the rise of innovation, they saw the rise of smartphones and social media, for example. And then you have Gen Z who was born more into, call it the lost decade of the two thousands, tend to be a bit more independent, really born into ubiquitous connectivity twenty four seven news. COVID was a pretty defining event for them, and they're also often called the socially conscious generation.

    So, millennials on one hand, saw the rise of innovation and Gen Z was immersed in it. Maybe just a few more quick things about the generations, they tend to stay with employers for less and less time, and so while they have options available to them, oftentimes they're navigating retirement savings in a more independent way, and they want to invest in brands and services that have a real purpose and align to their values.

    Oscar Pulido: You mentioned that both of those generations grew up in, in periods of technological change, different periods, but still technology became a bigger part of their day-to-day. So, with the expansion of AI and technology, does that help this generation in terms of making investment decisions, or does it actually do the opposite where it's information overload?

    Liz Koehler: Yeah. By the way, did you know I'm a geriatric millennial? Did you know that was actually a thing?

    Oscar Pulido: Is that on the cusp of millennial? Is that what that means?

    Liz Koehler: I'm either Zennial or a geriatric millennial.

    Oscar Pulido: I might be with you on that one.

    Liz Koehler: Geriatric… I don't like that. To your point, there is definitely a lot of information out there, and some of it is useful and well-informed and a lot of it is not, and oftentimes it's out there on social media platforms. And so, what I would ask when we think about financial professionals in the industry, who have expertise, who have experience, who can proactively share information that's really useful for these generations and will help them achieve more financial wellbeing, please do it. I think as an industry, we all can challenge ourselves to do better around more plain English, less jargon being clearer to really help people understand and invest for the future.

    Oscar Pulido: Yeah, for sure the financial services industry can introduce a lot of terminology and jargon. I think all generations could probably benefit from a simplification of those terms. Let's go back to the retirees and pre-retirees, which I think is where the baby boomers tend to sit more. What are some of the challenges that they're facing?

    Liz Koehler: Yeah, oftentimes I think this idea of retirement is a bit of a manufactured concept, right? And what I mean by that is historically people didn't necessarily abruptly retire, right? A lot of times people couldn't afford it, so they continued to press on, and it was more of this kind of gentle transition from life stage to life stage. Don't get me wrong, I think retirement can be a wonderful thing, but oftentimes it brings a lot of fear these days. People wondering about their independence and finances and sense of purpose. And so there's a lot of uncertainty and fear that can come with it if people don't think about and plan for the future. and also thinking about sources of retirement income and healthcare planning and getting family involved. There's a lot to think about. And so I think those are some of the challenges that exist, but I do think there are things we can do to help ourselves.

    Oscar Pulido: I've heard you say the term 'rewirement', sounds like if a two or three-year-old was trying to say the word retirement and what it would sound like, but you actually mean it as a distinct term, I think, right?

    Liz Koehler: Absolutely. I think it, it aligns to what we just said, which is we can think differently if we plan and we create more intention around what we're doing, and that's why we tweaked the word to be 'rewirement.'

    Oscar Pulido: And so I think I know the answer to this question. You're sort of alluding to it, but retirement seems to look very different today than it did 2030, or or even 40 years ago. So, walk us through maybe some of those differences for somebody who's heading into that stage.

    Liz Koehler: Well look, one, I think that we have an opportunity to be a little bit more intentional around what we want retirement, rewirement to look like. And so I think that there are questions that we can ask ourselves ahead of time and each other around.

    What do you envision that retirement to be? Who is someone that you think has retired well and why? What are some of the strengths and accomplishments that you want to take forward with you? Where do you want to live? Who matters to you and why? Who do you matter to? I think there are questions that we can ask ourselves ahead of time in preparation, for designing that retirement that we want.

    Certainly, starting early is really important. I think, Albert Einstein called it the eighth Wonder of the World, the power of Compounding, right? And working with professionals to seek advice. But we worked with a great company called Designing for Better to think about frameworks and questions we can ask ourselves to help in retirement.

    Oscar Pulido: Those questions that you started to go through, are those supposed to be intuitive to people or how do folks know? What are those right questions to ask themselves as they're thinking about retirement?

    Liz Koehler: I think that oftentimes, we're all moving fast, right? We're trying to accumulate assets for retirement. We're thinking about families and work and all of the things that go into our busy lives. And so I don't think it's difficult. I think a lot of times these are common sense questions. They're just not common practice. And so, I think if we can push ourselves to pause, reflect, think about, and ask each other, and also do this as partners and families, it can go a long way.

    Oscar Pulido: It's, women's History Month, so it would, I'd be remiss if I then didn't. Think about it, looking through the lens of, women, seeking to retire. Are there unique challenges that, you think women face as they head to this stage of their life as well?

    Liz Koehler: Yeah. opportunities and challenges, right. So, the truth is we're moving to a situation, a world in which women are poised to hold the majority of the wealth. That is a pattern that we've seen, women, 80 to 90% of women will at some point in their lives be solely responsible for their finances and their homes. Oftentimes they're breadwinners or co breadwinners in their houses, and so there's a lot of interesting patterns that exist. But also, there's still some statistics that are a little bit, unfortunate, right?

    I think, the number is now 61% of women would rather talk about their own death than money, right? So, it's not something that they lean into all the time. I think they're looking for financial security, absolutely. and I think while more concerned with things like short-term debt, they can see the power and the importance of staying invested. And so, the good news is we can work on this through education, through transparency, through conversation. And women, when they have the information that they need, are actually quite good investors. They're disciplined, they stick with the plan, and they invest for the future. And so, I think it's more about having the conversation and opening it up and sharing insights.

    Oscar Pulido: I mentioned we're in Australia, which is, a nice, change of pattern to walk through the streets in the summer, and it's only March. But let's talk about Australian investors actually learned earlier today that Australia has the third highest life expectancy in the world. So, longevity, risk, or living longer is a nice problem to have, and Australia's right near the top of that list. So can you talk to us about some of the trends? In Australia, how do they compare to other trends that you see in other parts of the world?

    Liz Koehler: So, a lot of the same demographic patterns and trends we talked about hold true in Australia as well. I will say one thing I've learned more about is they have a well-established and well-funded retirement saving system, superannuation, which is great, and I think other markets could probably have learned from some of the patterns in terms of retirement savings. I think one could argue across the board for all investors that. We learn sometimes to save well for retirement, we also need to learn to spend well in retirement for sure. But when you look at local regulatory changes, they're setting more Australians up for access to more advice in retirement, which I think is really encouraging.

    And also, the development of more and more products and solutions to help retirees. And then I think other patterns we talked about, other trends around starting early, seeking advice, thinking about wellbeing in retirement hold true, absolutely. But I will say that we could all strive to live in a nice climate with beautiful weather like this one.

    Oscar Pulido: And hot air balloons in the sky, on your morning commute, which I'm just not used to seeing in New York. And you mentioned superannuation, which, maybe not everybody's familiar with that term, but think of it as compulsory savings and to your point, in Australia and some other select economies around the world that have these types of plans. People end up with savings in retirement, but they still need some guidance on how to spend, in retirement.

    So, what does this mean for investors, Liz? Yyou talked about the millennials and the Gen Zs liking to express their preferences and invest in brands that they like, what does this mean when you think about this mega force of demographics? Tell us what the end investor should be thinking about.

    Liz Koehler: I think at the end of the day, a few things. One, understand your goals, understand how you feel about risks. Oftentimes, if we can separate our emotion from our decisions, I know that's hard, especially when we're bombarded in the media. I think that's really important. I would say we also have this action bias as humans. I like to equate it to, penalty kick in soccer. I should probably say football. But basically the idea is oftentimes the best place to kick the ball, in a penalty kick is straight down the middle. And the reason for that is oftentimes the goalie will jump left or jump right before the ball is even kicked because they have this action bias, they feel like they need to do something. to not risk losing, that point. And I say that because as investors we can have this tendency too, and it's really important not to jump to action, but to stay invested, stay diversified for the future. One other key statistic I think is interesting for all investors to think about is oftentimes the 24 of the 25 best days in the market over the last 20 years have occurred within one month of the worst day.

    And I share that because I think oftentimes, it's easy to get spooked and overreact to one given point, but if we do that, we run the risk of overreacting and losing out on some real opportunities. So, my point here is have a plan. Think through and try to control impulses ahead of time and have a plan for your long-term success and try not to let emotions get in the way of your investing for the future.

    Oscar Pulido: Liz, maybe one more question. You and I have known each other for a long time and a fun fact is you called me five years ago and asked me whether I'd be interested in hosting a podcast for BlackRock. You knew there was an open role, and so thank you for that phone call, I'm enjoying this! But what is it that got you personally passionate about this topic of retirement and demographics that you're spending so much time on today?

    Liz Koehler: I think, ensuring that people, all people have a chance to feel seen, feel heard, really reflect on what they want out of their lives, how they want to invest to reach their dreams, has just always been a passion for me. That's why I got into this business. And so I think taking the time to understand where people are coming from, their life experiences, how to address their concerns, and to achieve more success for them in their lives is just something that, I know a lot of the people in this room strive for each and every day, and it's just a journey worth taking.

    Oscar Pulido: Liz, I know you just recently celebrated a birthday, so I have two pieces of good news for you. One is you're one year closer to retirement, and the second is that I think you're going to be in good shape 'cause you know a lot about this topic. So thank you. Thank you for joining us today on The Bid.

    Liz Koehler: Thanks Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Everybody give Liz a of applause!

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0324U/M-3431058

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    In the ever-evolving landscape of finance, women investors are overcoming historical barriers to embrace the world of investing and secure their financial future. A significant shift is underway as women increasingly recognize the importance of financial independence and long-term wealth creation. They also recognize the unique challenges they face in the workforce and are bringing issues like wage and resume gaps to the table. Today on this International Women's Day episode, we shine a light on the ways in which female investors are redefining the investing landscape.

    Today I'm pleased to welcome back two phenomenal women in the world of finance, Anne Ackerley, head of BlackRock's Retirement Group, and Gargi Pal Chaudhuri, head of iShares Investment Strategy and Markets Coverage at BlackRock, Anne and Gargi will help us understand some of the unique challenges women face investing for the future, and how women's improving prospects can benefit the wider economy.

    Anne and Gargi, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Anne Ackerley: Thanks for having us.

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: Great to be here.

    Oscar Pulido: I always look forward when both of you are on The Bid - I'm not used to having both of you on at the same time. So, this is a special treat, and it really is a special occasion because we're celebrating International Women's Day.

    And so, we want to talk about the state of women in investing. And Gargi, maybe I could start with you. Every year you write a progress report for your own weekly newsletter, about the state of women in investing in the workplace. Can you give us your report card? What is the state of women in investing that you're seeing?

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: I'll start off by saying I have very happy International Women's Day to everyone listening. And to your point, as I think about the progress of women in investments and in the workplace, there are a couple of things that I look at every year and this year we have a ton to be really excited about when we look at women and the progress they have made on a few different fronts.

    So, the first one is, participation in the labor market. Now, we all know that the US economy right now, especially when we look at the jobs market, is doing very well. And a big part of that is because women have come back to the labor force in droves. Right now, for prime age, which is 25 to 54-year-old women, the participation rate is at the highest level it's ever been. So that's something that we are really excited about. And why does it matter for the economy? The more people that come into the labor force, the more productive, an economy can be, and the more job growth and the more growth for the economy we can have.

    The other thing that I look at is of course, unemployment rate. And again, here, the unemployment rate for the overall US economy is fairly low. But what's also exciting is looking at women's unemployment rates specifically, which is, currently, for prime age women sitting at 3.1% for women overall sitting at 3.4%, very close to multi-decade low.

    Comes to wages, the good news is wages are rising for everyone in the entire US economy. Up by about 4.1% last year when we look at women's median wage gains, one thing that's very exciting to me as a woman, and it should be to anyone listening, is that every single quarter of 2023 women had higher wages than the previous quarter.

    That is something that we want to celebrate absolutely. However, what we also have to recognize is that there is a wage difference, between women and men. And currently, as of the data that we got from the Bureau of Labor Services- the BLS- we are seeing about an 82 or 83 cents on the dollar in terms of where, median wages are for women versus men. So, we have to take that into consideration, the good news along with the bad.

    And then I think another big focus that I have, the concept of a wealth gap. Thinking about where that comes from in terms of women not investing enough, in terms of women staying in cash and missing out on this incredible rally over the last decade, last two decades that the US stock market has been able to have. Also, in terms of women having higher student debts, living a little bit longer, and therefore having higher healthcare costs. All of that lead to the wealth gap.

    Oscar Pulido: So, it sounds like there's definitely good news recently, you mentioned more participation, wage growth, low unemployment, but still a lot of progress to make. And it seems like when you're on the podcast, Gargi, we have to ask you about inflation, what your outlook is for inflation, but also how is it impacting women in investing?

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: As of the last print of inflation, we are seeing a lot of progress on inflation. So, back in 2022, we'll remember, and I know there were many Bid podcasts about this, where inflation was very high, and of course the central bank was combating that with higher rates. And from a high of 9.1% on headline inflation, on CPI, inflation is now at 3.1%, which is absolutely magnificent, and something we should all celebrate.

    Having said that, obviously this conversation here is much more about how inflation specifically impacts women. And I think one of the things here to think about is what is commonly known as the pink tax. Do women pay somewhat higher prices on equal quality and equal amount of goods and services than men?

    And you know what's very interesting when I was researching this. I found this paper in 2015 that was written about in New York City, how Pink Tax Impacts Girls in Women from Cradle to Cane. So, from when they're born, all the way till when they're older and using canes. And what that report found was the difference in the similar goods if you're a man versus a woman, how things were priced differently. And of course, that was about a decade ago. So, my team went and looked at something similar for now to see if some of those discrepancies and prices still existed.

    Two examples that we quickly looked at one, was for razors. for the same product, and I don't want to name the company, but women paid more for fewer blades. The same product for women was $25 and for men was $22 with, men having five blades versus women having four. And yet there was a cost difference.

    Similarly with deodorant, same company, but women are getting for the same cost, a smaller, deodorant versus men so it the cost is the same, but you're getting more.

    But footwear inflation, for example, 10 of the last 12 months. Women's footwear, shoes, have experienced higher inflation versus men's. Even with clothes. Like sometimes I go shopping with my husband and he'll buy a pair of shorts and I'll look at a pair of shorts and his shorts is slightly bigger, and it'll still be that his shorts will be, cheaper than mine. So again, these sound like small numbers, but it all adds up.

    Oscar Pulido: I'd never heard of the pink tax, and it sounds like you've not only relied on government data, but your team got their hands dirty and did.

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: Some due diligence!

    Oscar Pulido: Anne maybe coming to you now, and the last time, we spoke was about retirement and the five forces shaping retirement. Things like people are living longer, there's a move from defined benefit plans to defined contribution. but talk about with respect to women, what are some of the barriers that. Exist for women saving for retirement, and what are the implications of those barriers?

    Anne Ackerley: Sure. Well, first, let me say, happy International Women's Day as well, and how excited I am to be on The Bid podcast with my colleague and friend Gargi.

    And one, I do think we should all celebrate the success that women are having in the labor force, as Gargi pointed out, that's really exciting news. My news might be slightly less, inspiring. When we look at retirement what women have when they get to retirement. Their balances are often 30 to 40% less than men's. And that's in the United States, in Japan, that number is like 50%. Now, there are countries where that number is smaller, but according to Mercer, there's no country where it's actually zero. And there are a number of reasons that factor into why this happens. I sometimes call it the triple whammy.

    First, we have the wage differences between men and women, which Gargi pointed out, if you're making 82 cents on the dollar, and even if you're saving the same percentage as a man, that's less absolute dollars and that's going to compound over your lifetime.

    The second thing is, even though women's labor participation has increased, which is great, women often have gaps in their employment. They are often the primary caretaker, whether it's for children or adult parents. And having those gaps means often women aren't saving consistently through the course of their lifetime. We know women live longer on average of five years, and so that money actually has to last longer. All of this adds up to women when they get to retirement and maybe not being as in good a shape as men.

    Oscar Pulido: What about, the other side of that coin? Are there areas of success that you see for women? There's an assumption, for example, that women are more risk averse and perhaps that means that they're saving more. Is that a correct assumption to be making?

    Anne Ackerley: So, I think the data on whether women are more risk averse is mixed. I think what is often said is that women, do keep their money maybe more in money markets or cash. When they actually do invest, they're not as risk averse as men. But what I would say, and if I put my retirement lens on this, there are things definitely to celebrate. Women participate in 401ks at the same rate as men. Women actually contribute a greater percentage of their salary than men do. What we find is, and I think this is a good thing for retirement investing, is women tend to look at their investments less frequently, which may sound, oh, that might be a bad thing, but when you're in a retirement plan, if you're defaulted into the target date, you're getting the right asset allocation, not checking it, being able to live through the market volatility is probably a really good thing.

    So, the fact that women tend to do it less frequently than men do trade less frequently than men do, I think, accrues to their benefit.

    Oscar Pulido: And just listening to the two of you, you've diagnosed some of the problems that women face, whether it's maybe a different inflation rate or an employment gap. So, what are some of the solutions, I imagine they don't take place overnight, but if you think about the longer term, what are things that women investors can be doing to correct some of these issues that you've mentioned?

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: So first of all, it is a recognition, an acknowledgement that no matter where you are on your investment journey, if you haven't started at all, or if you have been investing very well for the last 30 years, that there is still progress to be made. It's never too late to get invested in the market, that's true for everyone!

    But, just looking at a couple of the numbers and recognizing that there's a lot of data that has shown that, if you stay invested in the market, to Anne's point earlier, if you don't churn your portfolio around too much, that you can have a really good outcome if you stay invested in the market.

    But if you just stayed in cash, we actually ran the numbers, if you, over the last 10 years, if you stayed in the s and p 500, earning about 230% over the last 10 years, if you were just in cash for that same period of time and over 10 years, you'd earn about 13%. There is a big cost in terms of not putting your money in the markets.

    The numbers that I just, said to you were over a 10-year period, if you looked at over a 20-year period, it would be about 535% versus 34%. So again, anytime that you're staying away from the markets, you're missing out.

    So, number one is a recognition that you need to do this, but don't worry, it's never too late. The second one. And I feel very strongly about this because even as an investor myself, there were periods in my life and when I was, new to the business, I didn't invest as much as I should have. And I think just recognizing that you don't need to know everything about everything to get invested or to start investing.

    And I think there's a lot of research that has shown that women tend to apply for jobs when they have hit 10 of the 10 requirements, whereas men would do it only when they hit eight of the 10 requirements. And I wonder if that also translates to the markets where you feel comfortable to invest. So even if you do, that's wonderful, but even if you don't, if you just invest in a diversified manner- And do so consistently, it pays off.

    The other thing I would say is, and this is really important, and Wells Fargo did a survey on this, is women are often more reluctant to share their financial information. On average, 52% of women were comfortable talking about their financial health compared to 62% of men. I remember when I was starting out my career at BlackRock, I came to Anne once, and I don't know if you remember this, but I came to Anne to ask for advice on how to talk about money because I didn't know how to do that.

    And Anne, you taught me how to talk about getting a raise, getting a promotion, it was an uncomfortable moment for me. But I had Anne, and I'm very thankful that I did, but recognizing that if you are reluctant to talk about your financial health, you're not alone. but you have to be able to do that.

    So, another thing that we can do is really making sure that you are able to have those conversations. And finally, I'll say. get the financial help you need. Think about if you need a financial professional that can help you, that understands your goals. And think about other ways in which you can, become more financially savvy. So, if there's a podcast that you want to listen to, such as this one, or if there is financial outlets, financial news, that you want to start incorporating into your daily life and bite-size pieces. So read one article a day and spend five minutes on it. That's it. And just start there.

    Oscar Pulido: Anne, do you remember that discussion with Gargi?

    Anne Ackerley: I actually do. Yes. And I'm glad it paid off.

    Oscar Pulido: Anne, what else would you add to Gargi’s comments about, maybe just behaviors. I think Gargi touched on a number of points that seemed like good common sense, and maybe just hearing it from you, Gargi, is one of the most powerful things that you've followed some of this advice. But, Anne, what about you? You've had a long career in finance as well. what advice would you give?

    Anne Ackerley: I think Gargi gave amazing advice, and I think those are all things that, women and actually men can do to invest. I might pull out just a broader thing to say that not everything that we talked about today can be solved by women themselves. 

    And so, when I think about solutions, And I might just focus on two things that we think a lot about here at BlackRock.

    One is access to 401k plans. 57 million Americans don't have access to a workplace plan. That's almost half the private sector workers, and it falls disproportionately on women and people of color. But we know that when you have access to a plan at work, you're 15 to 20 times more likely to save. So, I think one of the things the industry needs to do is to help get people more 401ks where they work. So one is, let's try to get everybody a 401k plan at work.

    The second thing that we talked about is women live longer, and probably the number one financial fear for women is the fear of outliving their savings. and so, we as an Industry really need to work on how do we help everybody, take their savings and convert that into a stream of income that they won't run out of for however long they live.

    Oscar Pulido: I mentioned at the beginning the pleasure is to have both of you in the studio. at the same time. There was a lot of, folks in finance, men and women that, look up to you and admire the careers that both of you have had. So, who are the people who inspire you, whether it's female business leaders, within finance or elsewhere? who are some of the folks that you've looked up to throughout your career?

    Anne Ackerley: I'll go first. So, one, Gargi! Absolutely, I'm just inspired when I'm with her and inspired as she gets out there and talks to people in, in real words about how to invest. Other people that I think about, I always talk about my mom, maybe not a business leader, but somebody who widowed young, worked really hard, but told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, and so she inspires me. And then there are people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who have worked their whole lives fora society where men and women are equal. I think about people like Serena Williams who's the absolute best at what she does. So, I can take inspiration from a lot of different places, but those are just some.

    Oscar Pulido: Gargi, you had some good company there.

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: Thank you, Anne. And I was going to say that when I first got here, you were a managing director and you let me put time on your calendar and gave me sage advice that I use to this day. And I will never forget how meaningful that conversation was. So, I send a lot of people your way and I really deeply respect what you have done for women and retirement for the US. I also think about, this paper that Janet Yellen wrote that talks about the GDP of the country of us can increase by 5% if women were to participate in the economy and the labor market in the same way that men do.

    Which goes to show how when you have leaders like Janet Yellen, treasury Secretary, but of course, chair of the Fed before that, how much research can be influenced. And she's someone that I have looked up to my whole career. And, Indra Nui, as a woman of color, when you're young and you are an immigrant in this country, your parents want you to be Indra Nui. So, I was sent to America and told that you have to be her one day. So, I have let my mom down. And lastly, my mother. Anne to your point, I think many of us, we are a reflection of who our parents are, and my mom is a doctor, and she was a doctor in India in the sixties. Having a mother do that in the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and now in India has been such a source of inspiration for me. All of that to say that there are so many women to draw inspiration from.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, I'm happy to talk to your mom if you think you've let her down, and I'll let her know that every once in a while, when I look up on the TV and see you talking about markets, on live television, I think it's-

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: -yes, but I'm not a CEO of a big company

    Anne Ackerley: Not yet! Watch out Larry!

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you both for joining us. Gargi, you talked about it's never too late to start investing and just some of the practical advice you gave is about starting sooner than later. So hopefully, on International Women's Day, we have, women and men, frankly, following some of this advice and enjoying more financial security. Thank you, Anne and Gargi, for joining us on the podcast.

    Anne Ackerley: Thanks for having, us.

    Gargi Pal Chaudhuri: Thank you for having us.

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out the episode on Five Forces Shaping Retirement, featuring Anne Ackerley, and subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

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  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    A culture of growth within an organization is vital to foster innovation, resilience, and adaptability, which will ensure that a company can thrive in an ever-evolving business landscape, or so argues today's guest, Dr. Mary Murphy, social psychologist and author of a forthcoming book entitled Cultures of Growth.

    Mary has spent over a decade pioneering research on motivation, performance and interracial relations at Stanford and Indiana University. In her inaugural book, Mary Unveils how to recognize an organization's mindset and strategically embed a growth mindset within its culture.

    She also shows how to discern the triggers. Move you and those you work with along the mindset continuum so you can create environments that shift you towards growth more often. Mary, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Dr. Mary Murphy: Thank you so much for having me, Oscar. I'm very happy to be here.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Mary, congratulations on publishing your new book. It's called Cultures of Growth. I'd love to start with what inspired you to write this book and what is it about this concept that you want leaders and investors to know about?

    Dr. Mary Murphy: It's a great question. So, for years we have thought of Carol Dweck's fixed and growth mindset as something just in our minds, if you have a fixed mindset, you're thinking about intelligence, talent, and ability as something that's fixed- you either have it or you don't. At Stanford, we would talk about are you a techie or are you a fuzzy?

    That's the fixed mindset and the growth mindset is this idea that intelligence, talent, and ability, it's something that is a potential that we can actually develop with hard work, good strategies and support from others. And what we have discovered over the last 10 years is that the way in which mindset has actually been applied and studied over time, there's been some misconceptions about it.

    The biggest misconception and why I wanted to write this book is to really correct some of these ideas that, first of all, there's only two mindsets and you have one or the other. The truth is, we have both within us. And the second is that it's located only in our mind. And for the last 10 years, my team and I have been doing research. Carol was my PhD advisor and we've all been doing research on how mindset actually exists as a cultural feature of teams, companies, schools, leaders, and how that mindset culture affects everything from motivation, engagement, to bottom line performance.

    And so, what I want leaders and investors to really know is that anytime you have two or more people together in your one-on-ones, in your team meetings, in your organization, you have a mindset culture happening there between you. The question is, do you know what that mindset culture is, and do you know how it's affecting you and everyone else around you?

    Oscar Pulido: So, Mary, you said fixed mindset, you talked about a growth mindset, and then you also talked about this continuum that it seems like you can move between the two. In fact, you said that both live within an individual, so just maybe go a little bit more into those concepts, which for some people might just be new terminology.

    Dr. Mary Murphy: So, this growth mindset idea is a really powerful one. It influences motivation, engagement, performance, willingness to take risks. And the fixed mindset if we think we either have it or we don't, I'm just good at math and that's always been the case, or I'm terrible at math and I don't want to deal with that, right?

    If have that fixed mindset belief about ourselves, oftentimes there's nothing we can do about it, it's relatively fixed. What we see is that these mindsets we're oftentimes in our growth mindset and sometimes we're in our fixed mindset. And so, what we know is that both mindsets exist within us, and they exist on this continuum. And what moves us between our fixed and growth mindset is predictable and common situations, what I call mindset triggers.

    And it's really important for us to understand, those mindset triggers because that helps us understand when we're slipping more towards our fixed mindset, and when we are actually engaging in more of a fixed mindset culture, in our teams and in our interactions with others and then what we can do to move ourselves back towards growth.

    Oscar Pulido: And what are some of the cues or the markers that indicate that somebody's moving more towards that growth mindset? Because in listening to how you've described the two, I think I'd want to be in the growth mindset a bit more. The fixed mindset sounds very limiting and not as ambitious, but what are some of those cues that tell you somebody's moving more consistently into that growth mindset?

    Dr. Mary Murphy: Well, we have two different levels of cues or situations that we look for when we're looking to see whether we're moving more towards our fixed or our growth mindset.

    At the individual level, we can look at our mindset triggers, and these are those four common, predictable situations that move us towards our fixed or growth mindset, and those are evaluative situations, when we anticipate being evaluated by others, we're putting together a big report or a presentation, we're pitching a new client, High effort situations. I have to put in a lot of effort to understand that appropriately. Critical feedback is another fixed mindset trigger where the critical feedback that I might have been anticipating now is actually here, and how do I address and think about that critical feedback? Do I think about it as telling me whether I'm right or wrong, good or bad. Or is it telling me what I can learn, how I can improve, what I can do to develop?

    And the last mindset trigger is the success of others. When I see other people being praised, to what extent is it moving me towards my fixed mindset? Oh wow, I'll never be as good as her. Or is it moving me towards my growth mindset, which is finding inspiration in her success and trying to figure out the strategies she used, so that I can get as good as she is in the way that's authentic for myself.

    I'll also say that in fixed mindset cultures, what I'm calling these cultures of genius, the focus is primarily on star performers, this belief that there's just going to be some geniuses, some people crowned in these environments that are thought of as inherently more capable. And so, we see a lot of markers in these environments that these cultures of genius are reifying and really praising and giving all kinds of power and status to these individuals, these geniuses in the environment. And so, we can see, where do the good ideas come from? Do they come from everywhere or do they just come from a few different, individuals crowned as the genius in the context.

    And conversely, the main belief in this culture of growth is that given the right supports, everyone can develop and contribute. And so, we look, and we can see that their structures, policies, practices, supports embedded in these organizations that actually support people's growth and development. And the reality is that just like in an individual, we have both mindsets within us. We do see that most companies don't just have a culture of genius or a culture of growth. It's oftentimes a mixture, and so understanding where we can move towards growth both at the individual level and at the cultural level, that's where we're going to get the most success.

    Oscar Pulido: And have you come across examples, of organizations that live along this continuum and maybe what are some of the characteristics that, you see?

    Dr. Mary Murphy: Well, it's important to understand that when we're talking about culture, there is an argument among scholars and among practitioners around what culture is, is it what we say we value, or is what we actually do on the ground, right? And the best of course is when these things match, when we have very little or no, what I call 'value implementation gaps'.

    And so, we've used AI algorithms where we've been able to scrape the whole Fortune 500, look at their mission statements, their websites, how do they actually describe themselves to the public in their own materials?

    And then we've been able to look at other data like in Glassdoor, where we're looking at how, people who work at these companies, how they're experiencing those companies. And what we see is that when these companies have more of a growth mindset culture in their own materials, what they're saying,

    The people within it are experiencing that culture more positively. But we have to look deeper, we have to look actually at the behaviors that are on the ground to see if they're a match to what the company believes and what they value.

    And so, what we have seen putting this into practice is that cultures of growth are really places where people are collaborating internally. There's strong, norms around collaboration, strong norms around innovation and creativity. Mistakes are something that are understood, mined for their learning and then shared widely, so those mistakes aren't repeated in the context. There's a lot of risk taking, there's resilience, there's agility, and we also see much higher levels of integrity and ethical behavior in cultures of growth because the whole organization and team is about learning and development.

     Whereas in these fixed minded cultures of genius, what we see is not much collaboration. Why would I collaborate if I'm not going to get the credit, I'm really focused on trying to be the star, be seen as the star, and maintain that status.

    We don't see much innovation and creativity, instead we see people playing it safe, recycling what's been working in the past. We also see a lot of unethical behavior like information hoarding or cheating, right? In order to be seen as the star, I know that information is power, and I might not share it broadly with everyone else because I know that that gets me ahead in a culture of genius.

    Oscar Pulido: And it's interesting 'cause you go to school, you get a degree, you're doing all this learning, to land a job at an organization, and the culture of growth mindset feels like the learning continues that you might feel working at one of these organizations that you're still in school, and you're, iterating on work, there's trial and error, there's informed risk. And so, a workplace either has that culture or it doesn't, and if it doesn't, what's your experience in terms of how to change that culture? What does that journey look like for a company that wants to move more in that direction?

    Dr. Mary Murphy: I want to be really clear that what I'm not saying is that we're just victims of our environment, right? The truth is that we're all culture creators, so that means we're all shaping our surroundings. And while you're right that it's going to take some time to shift an entire culture and that it's going to be a group effort that's needed for that, we're each going to play a role. But it's also true that those in leadership positions or with wider spheres of influence, they will have an outsized role in trying to shift the mindset culture of a team and of a company, broadly speaking. And so, the key of how to start doing this in small ways is to start to look at everything through the lens of learning.

    How can I grow? How can I develop in each task, and in each interaction that I have? We also talk about storytelling, trying to identify the places where I know I've occupied my fixed mindset, and how has that held me back in some ways? How does switching to my growth mindset actually move me forward? What strategies did I use? How did that actually forward my ability to make progress towards my goals? So, when you start with that storytelling. You're really communicating and creating a norm that these are the ways that we want to approach our work. These are the ways we want to approach our organization as a whole towards that growth mindset.

    Another thing I tell companies to do is to start thinking about your hotspots and your bright spots with regard to mindset culture. The hotspots are the places where we see really strong cultures of genius- they might exist on certain teams or in certain divisions. And where do we see the bright spots of these dynamic cultures of growth? And by understanding those bright spots, we can then understand how to spread the practices that make those bright spots, within the organization actually spread over time. So that's a strategy we can use within organizations.

    The last thing I'll say is to conduct a Q'S audit. Look at your everyday practices and see where the fixed and growth mindset is actually being communicated, maybe even subtly. one example I like to give is how we give praise. So, Oscar, when you praise an employee, what do you usually say when they've done a great job?

    Oscar Pulido: Great job and keep it up!

    Dr. Mary Murphy: That's right. Exactly. That's how I give feedback a lot of the times, but it also doesn't actually communicate what someone did well or what they should repeat, what you actually want to see the next time they do that, we can also help them understand what they did well and then challenge them to the next level and that's going to move everyone towards their growth mindset.

    Oscar Pulido: So, I would then say, great job, keep it up and what I really liked that you did is the following and that is still positive feedback, but a little bit more specific and sends that individual maybe on a better path.

    And you mentioned, a lot of the benefits to companies and employees that adopt a growth mindset. What about the investors in these companies? What's the value for them of organizations moving in this direction?

    Dr. Mary Murphy: Well, in a study my team and I conducted, we did work with hundreds of startups and early-stage organizations. And what we found was that those with stronger cultures of growth and that had founders who had more of a chronic growth mindset, they were more likely to meet and exceed their fundraising goals.

    And they were more successful at establishing and reaching their products and services goals. We also found that in more established companies, those with stronger cultures of growth are more innovative, they're more resilient, and they're more financially successful than those with strong cultures of genius.

    So, when we're talking about an investor perspective, I think it's really important for us to be thinking about what kind of mindset culture is this company really embodying. How are the policies, practices, procedures, how are the interactions really structured in such a way that's really going to help people actually perform better, create more innovation, and actually have more financial success than, these fixed minded cultures of genius?

    Oscar Pulido: Mary, as you're talking about that, I'm just thinking back to something you said earlier about using AI to scrape the language that companies use to describe themselves and how that helps you decipher between more of the fixed mindset or the culture of genius versus culture of growth. Can you share a little bit more about what are some of the key words or phrases that you tend to find in one example over the other?

    Dr. Mary Murphy: We find some really interesting cues that you can tell even an individual reading these mission statements we have found can tell whether a company is more along the mindset culture continuum towards the fixed minded cultures of genius or the growth minded cultures of growth. So, what we find in differences, I'll give you some examples from some of these mission statements.

    In these cultures of genius, we see language like we offer the highest performance opportunities, we're going to emphasize employees, talents and success, we're going to focus on results and only results, rather than process, we're going to beat an atmosphere of best, the best instincts, the best ideas, the best people, really communicating. You either have it or you don't, and this is going to be the place where geniuses are going to thrive.

    The culture of growth sounds a little different, culture of growth still cares about the highest performance, the highest outcomes, and in fact, we find they have better outcomes, but they're also talking about the growth and development of their people. So, on their mission statements and on their websites, they say things like, we offer the highest growth opportunities, we're emphasizing employee’s motivation and hard work, we are focused on results and process. We're an atmosphere that fosters a love of learning, creativity, passion, and resourcefulness. And we're going to be a place where you can come and do your best work because we're going to support you to do that here. It has a different sense to it, right? Rather than a harsh proven perform, you're only as good as your last performance kind of context. It's much more about development, growth, and actually finding the supports in this environment. They're going to help you take the work and the organization to the next level.

    Oscar Pulido: And Mary with AI entering the workplace more and more. In fact, we recently spoke with Rob Goldstein and Lance Bronstein, who are two senior executives here at BlackRock, about how AI is influencing financial services. So as AI enters the workforce, what does it mean for the evolution of company cultures and those that want to move towards more of a growth mindset?

    Dr. Mary Murphy: I think no matter. What technological era we find ourselves in culture is always going to be paramount to both individual and organizational success. What I think is going to happen is that with AI, companies are going to become more and more smart about what to put in those mission statements and what to put on the website, What I anticipate happening is that people will become actually a bit more skeptical about whether a company really is what it says it is. What it actually is to work inside the organization, when your mission statement or your website is AI written and driven, algorithm created, it's going to be much more important how the experience is of working in the company on the ground.

    I think it'll be more important than ever that companies address and minimize these value implementation gaps. Because while what the mission statement and the website and what our public leadership statements might help get people through the door, initially, whether they stay in the company, whether they trust it, whether they're committed to it over time, is really going to be influenced by those norms on the ground. Is it collaborative? Innovative? Can I do my best work here? Am I supported? Am I seen as someone who can be promoted? Am I being motivated by what matters most in this organization? That's going to actually predict success, both at the individual level and the organizational level at the long term, and growth mindset culture is a huge part of that.

    Oscar Pulido: Employees are going to, look for truth in labeling, it sounds like. They're going to want to make sure that gap that you talked about between what the language says and. What the culture feels like is small or non-existent.

    As you were talking Mary, I was thinking, about, very famous, organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, who I know has given you a nice, testimonial for your new book and he said something recently about how much better he feels about succeeding at something that initially he was not very good at versus something that maybe came easily. And as I listened to that and when he said that I'm thinking about, again, fixed mindset and growth mindset.

    Dr. Mary Murphy: Absolutely Adam's work and his new book, Hidden Potential is a fantastic read it really does talk about this idea, what I talk about in my book around effective effort, is this idea that a true growth mindset is really paying attention to where our skills and abilities are now and applying effort to move us in the direction of increasing or developing those skills and ability.

    The false growth mindset is this idea that you're just going to try hard, right? We hear a lot of this with managers or teachers who say, I'm sorry, this employee or this student, they just have a fixed mindset, there's nothing I can do about it. They just need to try harder. What we're seeing in both, what Adam's sharing and what we talk about with regard to mindset, is that a true growth mindset isn't just about banging your head over and over trying again and again in the same way

    If you do that over and over, your head's going to explode, right? The wall doesn't move, and so what we really need to be focused on is effective effort. Is the effort that we are actually applying? Is that effort actually moving us towards the goal that we're moving to? And so, what Adam said, the things that don't come easy at first, I really enjoy the things most when I've had to try hard and when that effort has actually moved me towards some kind of learning, some kind of growth, some kind of development, it's moved me closer to the goal that's effective effort in action, and that's a true growth mindset.

    Oscar Pulido: And it goes back to organizations continuing the schooling that. perhaps you of enter that organization with, in the first place.

    So, Mary, congratulations again on, on publishing your book and best of luck as you go out and get the word out to more and more people. We appreciate you joining us here on The Bid.

    Dr. Mary Murphy: Thank you, Oscar. This has been fabulous. Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. Next up, I welcome back Bid favorites and accurately and Gargi Pal Chaudhuri to celebrate International Women's Day. And take a look at how women are increasingly recognizing the importance of financial independence and long-term wealth creation. Subscribe to The Bid and don't miss the episode.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

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  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host Oscar Pulido.

    From our episode last year on emergency savings, we discovered that 37% of all Americans can't afford an unexpected expense of $400. And for black families, that number is 72%. So how can these statistics be overcome to allow communities to save for the future and build wealth?

    To help me answer that question, I'm pleased to welcome Troy Millings and Rashad Bilal, founders of Earn Your Leisure, or EYL. Founded in 2018, EYL has grown into a multimedia business platform, an online educational platform focused on business, finance and entrepreneurship, and also a successful podcast.

    So, thank you guys for joining us on The, Bid.

    Troy Millings: Thank you for having us.

    Rashad Bilal: Thank you.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Troy and Rashad, tell us a bit more about the Earn your Leisure story. How did this become a personal passion for you? And maybe tell us a little bit about your stories, your personal stories of how you met and what caused EYL to come to life.

    Rashad Bilal: We met in middle school. We grew up together in the same town, a small town in Westchester County. And we just became friends and played basketball together.

    So as we started to choose our professional careers, he was a teacher in the Bronx and I was a financial advisor when I came out of college. So we combined to have financial literacy by working in the classroom and teaching financial literacy to kids. That spread to social media and a variety of other things that was happening at the time with the beginning of Instagram – me, as a financial advisor using Instagram to grow my practice outside of the traditional realm of cold calling and going to networking events and doing seminars. I saw that the new age of social media would be a good way to grow the practice and to get attention on my financial services business. And that was the birth of EYL, five years ago.

    Troy Millings: Yeah, it came at the perfect intersection of our careers. Like you said, I was teaching, he had just started his financial advising career. And originally it was just to scale his brand when he was trying to figure out how to become a celebrity financial advisor, it was like, how do we do it? We need a hashtag because that's big on social media.

    And I said, look, earn your leisure is going to be the hashtag. It has to be the hashtag. It encompasses everything that people have a misconception about, right? They think that there's no hard work that goes into this. They think that everything is given. They think we're Silver Spoon kids 'cause we're from Westchester. They never see the hard work that was put into the things we had to accomplish. And Earn Your Leisure was the perfect title for it.

    Oscar Pulido: It does seem if you're going to start a platform around financial literacy, no better combination to have than a teacher and somebody who worked in the financial sector. Tell us more about Earn Your Leisure, we described that as a platform. Really there's a lot of initiatives that go on, maybe tell us a bit about some of those initiatives.

    Rashad Bilal: Yeah, we have a podcast network, so we have six shows under the umbrella. That's a major part of what we do as well as far as daily content that's produced on the social media side.

    Then we do events, we have a very big event called InvestFest, which is a financial literacy festival of sorts. We combine the best fields and elements of festival and a business conference and kind of put it together. So that's in Atlanta every year and, last year we had 20,000 people there. We've had people like Steve Harvey and Tyler Perry, Rich Paul, Kathy Woods, Mike Novogratz, Dan, Kathy.

    But we also do other events. We were just on a world tour for our show Market Mondays, which is a stock market show. So we went to Ghana, Toronto, London, LA and Chicago. We've done shows in South by Southwest, art Basel, New York Fashion Week. The event aspect of it is very big for us.

    And then we're also working on curriculum for school districts. So that will be ready very soon. And the idea is to have a new age curriculum, as far as what has been taught traditionally in school. The same thing over the last century and very few things have changed. And a lot of school districts still don't have financial literacy as something that's mandatory, or even optional. When we were in school, financial literacy wasn't taught, and our school still doesn't have financial literacy to this day. So we want to teach financial literacy to young people because we feel like if you can educate a kid, then they have a much better chance at success as an adult. So those are just a few things that we have under the umbrella that we're currently working on.

    Troy Millings: The backstory is that this really started with an iPhone and an idea in my dining room. And we were just creating a mission on trying to liberate people, from financial trauma, trying to educate them on financial prowess really. And it spawned into this. And so every time we look what is needed in our community, how can we help, how can we help? So it has been an amazing journey.

    Rashad Bilal: I've also forgot, we do have a subscription-based model as well called EYL University, so that's more of a hands-on learning and we have around 8,000 members in that. Everybody's welcome. Anybody can receive the education, but some people need more of a hands-on learning experience. So, we have a private school model with EYL university.

    Troy Millings: The original show was just me and him doing case studies and giving background information on different financial topics and different business topics and culture as well. And then early on we had an episode where a restaurateur broke down his entire business model and we were sitting back like, 'oh, this is the new format.'

    And when people heard the episode they wanted more information. And so now there's an opportunity to have a private education piece where now you could actually talk to the person who was on the episode. The stock market was the same thing when during the pandemic we saw the market crash and people were trying to figure out how can I make money? Especially since I'm sitting at home with the pandemic, we couldn't go anywhere. We had been preparing the entire time, to educate but the pandemic expedited everything because now everybody was locked in, 'how do I have more multiple streams of income?' And we had all these episodes, where professionals had, who had been given the details of how they created their businesses, and so the timing was perfect.

    Oscar Pulido: It's interesting. I think about like school back in the day was thick textbooks with a lot of information. And if that was the way you were teaching folks these days, I think they'd turn away pretty quick. But nowadays, do you have a lot of different ways to convey that information, social media, subscription events and that maybe brings people closer to a topic that can feel intimidating? So, on this podcast, on The Bid, we've talked with BlackRock colleagues, about things like employee sponsored retirement plans or sometimes what we call 401ks. We've talked about emergency savings and we've talked about these things as a way for people to chart a path to more financial security. What does the earn your Leisure curriculum teach people about building and growing wealth?

    Rashad Bilal: I think it teaches a variety of different things. I guess it really just depends on where you're at. So you can pick it up as you go or what's important to you, so credit, what does credit mean? how to build credit, how to utilize credit effectively, how to utilize business credit, how to build business credit. These are all things that's extremely important for individuals, employees, and entrepreneurs.

    Of course, real estate is a major part of what we have taught from the beginning of the foundation of Earn Your Leisure. So many aspects of real estate. The biggest purchase in your life will be a home. And there's really no education on buying a home at any stage in life, from high school, to college, if you don't know the process of buying a home, then you're really just relying on the bank to guide you through it. And especially if your parents were not homeowners. who's to know if you're getting taken advantage of? Who's to know if you're getting the best rate? Who's to know what a, difference between, a home that you're actually building from the ground up as opposed to a home that you're renovating?

    Stock market investing, of course, educating people on what is an ETF, what is an index fund? What's the difference between an index fund and the ETF? Is it a good idea to invest in tech stocks, like individual stocks as opposed to collective saving for your retirement, getting the tax deduction for your 401k. What's the difference between a 401k and an IRA? What's the difference between an IRA and a pension plan? These are things once again that there's really no education for.

    Most people, the average American, their wealth is either in their 401k plan or their home, and those are two things that most people are very uneducated on. So, teaching people about the fundamental aspects of the stock market, not just day trading, not just, stock options, that's probably 10% of the information that we're providing, 90% of the information is. More on the fundamental long-term investing, and how to have the emotional intelligence for the stock market. That's another thing, right? Like people panic. If you buy a stock and it goes down and you want to sell it, then the stock goes back up, then you start chasing it.

    Of course, we're in a new age, so you have to talk about Web3, crypto, we have to talk about, artificial intelligence. but that's some of the core pillars that, we've built the platform.

    Troy Millings: Yeah, it goes for all ages. And so when you're talking about buying a home, that’s great, but a lot of people are just trying to buy a car, and understanding the difference between leasing and buying and advantage of it. What are the tax advantages of buying a leasing? What's the advantages of having it inside of your business name? And so when we talked about the 6,000 pound rule, This became a viral moment and we started hearing people discussing it around us and it was like, wow, this is really good information, but it existed for so long.

    That's kinda why I was telling you prior to sitting down was that decoding process. These are all these things that can generate wealth from a sustainable standpoint for your family, but nobody had decoded it or at least explained it in a way that it felt transferable to a community.

    Oscar Pulido: Demystifying just the financial landscape, which we can relate to actually in terms of a lot of the discussions that we have on this podcast. And you also mentioned that the origins of Earn Your Leisure was for more high school students, but that gap existed also at their level of their parents. So it was across generations and that gets me to, the question, or one of the findings that the Wall Street Journal reported on recently, which was that black investors are now the biggest new group of retail investors and goes on to say 68% of black Americans under 40 are now investing. So why is this trend emerging now?

    Troy Millings: I think it's incredible, first and foremost. And if you look at the start of when they began taking the statistic was around 2019. And it just so happens that, we started our mission in 2019 and so I like to think that we had a little part to play in that. But it's encouraging because people are looking at themselves and saying, again, it goes back to that age old adage that is 'one income is too close to none'. And it's tough to save your way to wealth. And so investing is very important. And so to hear that statistic, to understand that people are looking at creating brokerages accounts and looking at their long-term, financial gains, it's an incredible stat. We've seen and we've heard all statistics, especially when we're talking about, wealth gaps in our, country. This is one of the ways to combat it. We can talk about real estate, we can talk about investing, but these are just steps. It's extremely humbling and gratifying to know that it's at that number. But let's see what happens when it's 90%, when it's a 100%. Because like I said, it's tough, it's almost impossible to save your way to wealth. You have to invest, you have to create businesses and other ways to create generational income.

    Rashad Bilal: I would say that the reason for that is social media, the New York Times had a term, what they call it 'Finfluencers', like financial influencers.

    There's been institutions around forever, there's been banks around forever, and that hasn't moved the needle. So having people that speak in a language that you understand and are relatable is something that is beneficial. So I definitely think that, that would probably be the majority reason for that uptick in young black people investing.

    Oscar Pulido: Let's go back to that cohort of black investors now, getting more involved in the market. what are they investing in, and do you see any trends, among this cohort or among the Gen z the millennial type, that you come across?

    Rashad Bilal: Yeah. So you see a lot of people invested in tech stocks, everybody's invested in right now. all the chip stocks. That's what's leading the market with Black investors, young investors, because they can relate to the company. They understand it. They know that artificial intelligence is now and is going to lead the future. We'll see how it plays out in the future, but definitely that's something that has gotten people excited over the last 12 months for sure.

    Troy Millings: I'd be interested to look at the correlation between those accounts that they said that's 68% and the correlation between the amount of money that's been poured into ETFs 'cause they've hit record numbers over the past five years. And so again, I mean it's just, it's beautiful to hear. We're talking about what are they invested in rather than them not being invested. So yeah, tech, a lot of people are looking at opportunities around them, more so than they ever have. The mindset has changed, but the vision and the landscape has changed as well. Now we're walking around, each thing that we probably have our eyes on has a company that is running it. So I think it's a beautiful time. But that correlation would probably be interesting, the amount of money poured into ETFs with the amount of new brokerage accounts that are open, especially for our community.

    Oscar Pulido: When we talked about the various initiatives that EYL has going on, Rashad, I think you mentioned Invest Fest. So let's just go back to that. I must confess, I did a little bit of research before this and I found a video of I think it was this past year's Invest Fest, and I think there was a drone flying through the convention center. And I remember thinking. There's not just a couple hundred people there. That looks like a couple thousand, and you said it was 20,000. And it did occur to me, you might need a blimp to fly overhead if you want to capture the whole audience. Tell us more about Invest Fest and tell us more about this term that I heard you say once ‘edutainment’ and how that captures I think what you're trying to do at Invest fest?

    Rashad Bilal: When we were putting together InvestFest, we wanted to break the mold and be different. So even with the wording 'festival' was a word that I had never heard used in conjunction with finance or business. Now it has been used several other times, but at that point in time, I had never heard it. So it was like, okay, if we can combine a festival element, and festivals have become very big over the last couple of years, especially music festivals. It was like, okay, how do we have the excitement of a music festival, but educational, like a business conference?

    That shot that you saw, that room holds 15,000 people. So we wanted to create that rockstar element, right? You come on stage and there's smoke and there's fire, and Mike Novogratz walks out so it's just like a different aspect to highlight entrepreneurs, but we also, as far as the edutainment, so just being an education and learning from teachers that in order to get kids' attention, you have to have some level of education attached to it, but it has to be entertaining at the same time, adults are the same way. If you just make things plain and boring, a lot of times people will check out.

    So putting all of those things together and just merging pop culture with business, which was the original thesis of earning leisure, was the blend pop culture with business. and that's happened in a real-life format as far as Invest Fest is concerned. So, you have a vendor marketplace, you have the food experience, you have musical performances, you have live podcasts, you have a keynote address, you have panel discussions, and it's all happening simultaneously.

    So that was something, like I said, I think that we broke the mold with InvestFest and it's just grown every single year. One year, the first year we had around 5,000 people. The next year we had 14,000. Last year we had 20,000. So it's just a lot of good energy for sure.

    Troy Millings: Yeah, and it goes back to that core principle that I talked about. It was that kid who walks in the classroom, sees a note on his desk and realizes that he's going to learn today about financial education through a lyric from his favorite artist. It's like now the relatability is there.

    I could imagine, edutainment in the classroom, all right, here's the Beyonce lyric. It's 'put some respect on my check.' Pay me an equity, now this is a financial lesson. What's equity? Is that, how do you get equity inside of a company? And so that's always been the core principle and it's been elevated to a point where now, like you said, InvestFest becomes a place, it's the center place for culture and business, right? People are looking to network, they're looking to raise funds, they're looking to potentially invest in people and in themselves. so we're very proud of it. and this year, be no different. This year is going to be the biggest one yet.

    Oscar Pulido: I can think of a few classes I've taken over the years where I could have used some of this entertainment aspect to liven it up. But you guys have thought about the experience for the person attending as much as the curriculum and the information, itself and making sure that both are important to keep the engagement level high.

    It's clear that, both of you had, have had a massive impact on investors over the last few years. And, maybe talk to us a little bit about what's been the key to success and the popularity of earn your leisure and where do you see this going from here?

    Rashad Bilal: I think the key to success has definitely been the relatability has been the democratization of financial literacy and business. That's probably the number one thing.

    Troy Millings: And like you said, we're super excited about the curriculum, we're going to start here in New York. but this is not just an issue that is, synonymous with just New York. This is something that we see could be an elective in high schools, but throughout the entire country.

    and we also see it as not something that is synonymous with America. Like you said, we travel a lot and we do it very intentionally. Whether we're in Davos, Switzerland, or we're in Ghana, or we're in London, the message is the same. People are looking for someone to democratize the me the theory of what finance should be and how it can be relatable to them. And so global domination is something that we see. This matches we, we want to spread through throughout the world. Because, we took it from watching sports. I always give the analogy, the rumble in the jungle was bigger than a boxing match. The thriller in Manila was bigger than a boxing match. It wasn't to say 'I'm the US champion.' It was to say 'I'm the champion of the world.' And so we're taking that same approach when it comes to finance. We want to be the champions of this message, but not in a way where it's encompassing saying we're going to send our message no, we want to take what's being done in all these other countries and see how we can incorporate, how we can build bridges and how we can work together to champion for everyone. Because like I said, it's a mission, that's worthwhile, and is definitely needed.

    Oscar Pulido: Yeah. Troy and Rashad on your path to global domination or taking your message around the world, we appreciate you stopping in here and joining us on The Bid podcast.

    Troy Millings: We appreciate you having us. Thank you.

    Rashad Bilal: Thank you for having us Thank.

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out the episode on emergency savings from September last year featuring Claire Chamberlain. Where we dig into factors that are exacerbating this problem and solutions to overcome them. Subscribe to The Bid, wherever you get your podcasts.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

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    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

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    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

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  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido. The BlackRock Investment Institute has outlined five mega forces that are shaping the macroeconomic landscape and the transition to a low carbon economy is one of those. 

    This brown to green transition is underway and represents a journey from fossil fuel reliance to renewable energy sources. It is a stepped process that is not only a response to environmental challenges, but also a structural shift in the evolving investment landscape. This transition requires a significant amount of capital to propel us forward into a greener world. Governments, companies, and investors are all channeling resources into supporting low carbon transition targets that will reshape industries and create new opportunities to help me unwrap the various layers of the low carbon transition. I'm pleased to welcome Olivia Markham, a portfolio manager from BlackRock's Fundamental Equity Team. 

    Olivia and I will explore the changes she's observing in the global economy, how companies are evolving their approach to low carbon emissions, and why investors should take note of this mega force. 

    Olivia, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid. 

    Olivia Markham: Thanks for having me here. 

    Oscar Pulido: So, Olivia, one of the topics that we have covered a lot in the podcast over the last few months is this topic of the mega forces, which are these structural investment themes that the BlackRock Investment Institute says will characterize market movements for many years ahead. One of those mega forces is the transition to a low carbon economy. And there's this other term that we hear which is the brown to green transition. But maybe we can take a step back and talk to us a little bit more about what does it mean when we talk about the brown to green transition. 

    Olivia Markham: So, this terminology, in its basic form, it really involves moving from today's economy, which is based on fossil fuels, it's got high carbon emissions associated with it, and we're trying to move towards a green economy, which has lower emissions associated with it. 

    Quite simple, in its basic construct, when we think about what's really driving the change, we are moving away from just thinking about the cost of an activity, and we're now starting to think more and more about the impact that that activity is having. 

    There's also another important point we should recognize here, and I think that word transition is really important because this isn't change that happens overnight. It takes time. It can be a stepped process but it's going to involve a lot of capital, there's a lot of opportunities and it's a really important conversation that the investment community should be having. 

    Oscar Pulido: You said this transition takes time and you also said it takes capital. Maybe on the capital part, how much are we talking about? What kind of investment is needed to transition to this greener world and what areas will see the greatest demand? 

    Olivia Markham: In my view, the low carbon transition going to be one of the greatest re-mobilizations of capital that we've seen in the global economy for some time. There's a lot of forecasters out there trying to estimate the cost of doing this. The numbers are incredibly big - they're in the tens of trillions of dollars. What’s been encouraging is that we have seen over the last couple of years that governments are stepping up. They're providing support, stimulus incentives to start driving this change. But it's not just the funding that's driving it, it's actually economics. Today it is cheaper to build, renewable based power than to build fossil-based power. So, it's just good economic sense to be doing this. 

    The other thing that we're also seeing is the private sector stepping up. We're seeing huge amounts of capital invested by the private sector into areas such as wind and solar, so that's also helping to drive and accelerate this change. But what I find quite interesting is that when people think about the investment that we need for the low carbon transition, they think about the investments that are going to go into wind and solar infrastructure. They probably think we're going to swap internal combustion engine cars into electric vehicles. They probably think we need charging infrastructure. Maybe they even think we need to upgrade the grid. And I guess that's the obvious stuff. But I think what many people fail to really appreciate is what do we actually need to build this low carbon infrastructure.

    And so, from the work that we've done, we can clearly see we're going to need a lot more metals and materials. When you think about a wind turbine, you probably should think about the steel, the cement, the rare earth that we need. Similar for solar, it's the aluminum, the silver, the polysilicon battery materials for the EVs, copper cabling for the grid. The list goes on. So, when I think about this green economy that we're moving to, we're going to have this energy system based on sustainably produced metals and materials. It's very different from where we are today, and that's just going to create a much more materials intensive, global economy going forward. 

    Oscar Pulido: It is interesting, you do tend to think of that finished product of a greener economy, the wind turbine or the battery in the electric vehicle. But you're saying, hold on a second, there are materials that we need to just create those things. You started to allude to some of them but what are some of these materials that we need to source in order to transition to more of a green economy?

    Olivia Markham: I find this, personally, incredibly interesting. We've done a lot of work on this area. We've written white papers on it because the opportunity is really, really big. and maybe let me take you through some examples here. A core component of the energy transition is really electrifying the power sector, and what we think about is effectively having to build out a lot of wind and solar infrastructure to be able to support that.

    However, we have a challenge in doing this, and that's principally that the sun only shines during the day and the wind typically blows at night. So, you end up actually having to build a lot more capacity to deal with that lower level of utilization. The numbers start to really inflate. If you think about an example of wind, the amount of steel that's used to build a gas plant and compare that to the amount of steel that's used to build an onshore wind turbine is three times larger. If we think about an offshore wind turbine, it's five times larger, and then we're going to need copper to have the cabling to connect renewables back to the grid, we're probably going to have to expand the grid because we're going to have to deal with the intermittency of renewables. 

    So, when we think about those commodities that are benefiting, they range. Some of the more traditional commodities, like steel, they do see structural growth from this transition, but what's going to see the really exciting demand is green steel - steel that is produced with lower carbon. There's some really interesting technologies that can produce carbon free steel that essentially involves using high grade iron ore with hydrogen to take out coal from the production process. 

    Oscar Pulido: So steel, copper. But the examples you were giving, you were very clear, we need more of those, commodities when we produce infrastructure for a greener economy. And so, it sounds kind of counterintuitive in that we're moving to a greener economy, but we're having to use more of these commodities, which produce emissions when they're created. But again, it sounds like companies are thinking about how to produce these commodities, produce more steel, produce more copper in more eco-friendly ways. And you mentioned green steel, but what are other ways that companies are evolving their processes to be able to produce these commodities in a, in a more eco-friendly manner?

    Olivia Markham: I think one of the conundrums that we have with the transition is we clearly need more metals, more materials to enable the transition, but the production of those products are themselves carbon intensive. And let's be honest, we're not really going to achieve a lot if we take out carbon in the production of energy or in the usage of energy, but just swap those emissions to the production and materials. We're not a achieving a lot in doing that. 

    So, I think what we really need to see happen here is we need to see the investment into the green infrastructure. But we need to see it happen with materials that are produced with lower carbon. And that really requires the value chain, the material sector, to do their bit. If we can produce these materials in a lower carbon way, we are going to accelerate the transition overall and that's going to have a really big, real-world impact given that the materials sector accounts for around about 17% of global greenhouse emissions today. That real world impact is very significant. But we do have solutions here and we're seeing change happening.

    So, in the steel sector, we are seeing the development of low carbon green steel using hydrogen instead of coking coal in the production process. Similarly in cement, there's some really interesting technologies to reduce the clinker content in cement which in turn reduces the amount of carbon content.

    Another area that I see companies using, and I think is going to be a growing solution in the future, is this notion of the circular economy and closing the loop. When we look at a number of processing options nowadays, you're seeing companies who are generating energy and generating emissions through that process, try and capture and reuse heat, capturing, reuse water. They're investing more in recycling, they're investing more in carbon capture, they're using waste to make new products. They're making products that will hopefully last for longer. As we do all of these things, we're also going to reduce the emissions overall.

    Oscar Pulido: I also get the impression as you talk about what these companies are doing to reduce their emissions, that we're still at an earlier stage of the process. That there, there's innovation, there's innovations that we've seen but there's still a lot more innovation to come. That's my impression as you're talking about this that there's a lot more innovation yet to come. 

    Olivia Markham: That's very fair. I mean, if we think about companies and the targets that they are setting to reduce their own emissions, we're going to see some very meaningful emissions reductions by the end of this decade. And the companies are not doing this alone, they really rely on their own supply chain to come up with some of the technologies, the equipment, the battery operated trucks to help them decarbonize, and that's creating a whole new profit pool for that supply chain and in creating more investment opportunities that they can feed into as the material sector is spending more and more money on decarbonization. 

    Oscar Pulido: Olivia, last year we spoke to your colleague, Charlie Lilford, who like you, is based in London and we talked about electric vehicles he touched on the fact that about 25% of carbon emissions in the world comes from the transportation sector. So, going back to the use of materials, is it fair to say that electric vehicles require more metals and minerals than what we would see in, regular combustion engine? 

    Olivia Markham: Well, the simple answer is yes, but let me give you the spectrum of what we need here. I alluded to it before, but an electric vehicle typically requires about four times the amount of copper. So, then we need to think about how we are going to charge that electric vehicle. So, we're going to have to build in charging infrastructure to do that. An electric vehicle has a much bigger battery, so we're going to need all the battery materials, the lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite that goes into the batteries today. So once again, much more materials intensive.

    So that's just to produce the EV, but then really, we need to power that EV with green energy. So, we're going to also have to use materials to build out, the green infrastructure, the wind, the solar that we need. we've got intermittency issues with some of that renewable capacity. Probably have to have some more battery storage as well. We're going to have to upgrade the grid. We have to connect the renewables via copper back to the grid. So, as you can hear me talking about it, these numbers start to scale and the materials intensity of an EV becomes really quite substantially larger than that, of an internal combustion engine.

    Now we have some solutions in time to start to deal with what will become. supply challenges for some of those commodities and that's really around recycling. As we start to build up the amount of EVs on the road, the amount of batteries that are out there we are going to have options and requirements to actually start recycling these batteries more, which will then create a, a new source of feedstock for the future batteries that we need. 

    Oscar Pulido: And that was leading to my next question as you're talking about recycling because I did start to think do we have, or does the earth have enough of the materials that you talked about? You took us on a bit of a tour around the periodic table, as you were mentioning, nickel and cobalt and copper, but is there a risk that there's not enough supply of these materials? 

    Olivia Markham: In theory, we have enough commodities but what we don't have enough of is high grade, low cost and readily permitted projects that can come in and feed this supply that we are going to need. When I look across the board, for quite a long time now, we have become too complacent that commodity supply will always be there. This is a cyclical industry, at times we have too much supply, at other times we don't have enough. But given the long period we've had now of underinvestment into new supply, I do think that we are approaching a point where supply is going to be challenged to meet demand, and if supply cannot respond quickly and that will inevitably see higher commodity prices associated with that.

    Now, when I think about some of the commodities that we need, we just haven't had the exploration success over the last decade as what we've had in prior decades. When we look at new projects, they're deeper, often at higher altitude, and all of this translates into a higher cost, to actually go out and build these projects. The industry is becoming a bit more disciplined in how it's allocating capital. and if these projects are not economic at current commodity prices, then that supply will not be built. So, we need to see a move up in commodity prices to try and justify and incentivize that supply to come into the market. 

    Oscar Pulido: So, this is an evolving space not only commodities, but all the different, areas of the market that must touch the brown to green transition from producers of the commodities to the companies using them, the electric vehicle companies. You're an active stock picker, you spend your day looking at companies that presumably are benefiting from the brown to green transition, and perhaps those that are not, and thinking about how to own those appropriately. So, what are you looking for in these companies as you think about this trend? 

    Olivia Markham: What I always look for is companies that have got high quality resources. They've got growth optionality, ideally, they're being run by a management team with a proven track record of value creation, and ideally an attractive valuation.

    What we are also looking for is companies that have really credible plans around reducing their own emissions intensity from their business. Now, why I think this is so important is, yes, I think it's important for the world, if we can produce the materials with, with less emissions, we're going to have a faster transition. But I think for a number of companies, particularly those companies that are very carbon intensive, they've had their valuation depressed. because of their carbon risk, the carbon that is associated with their business. And if they can reduce that carbon risk, reduce their carbon intensity, I do think that that's going to improve the multiple that they trade on, the margins they receive and their valuation. 

    Oscar Pulido: And presumably as part of your research, you get a chance to visit some of these companies as part of your research process. So, what has impressed or maybe surprised you the most when you visit? 

    Olivia Markham: So, a really important part of our job is getting out and seeing the assets, getting our hard hats on, our boots on the ground, and actually going and seeing what change is occurring. I've been everywhere from R&D centers looking at new battery technologies, I've been to some very carbon intensive cement plants across Europe and seeing the change that's happening there. 

    I've recently come back from a trip to Chile, to see some of the capital costs and some of the challenges that they're having in terms of bringing on new copper assets. So, it's, a great part of the job. It's really important thing for us to do and what I'm most impressed by is that change is happening. 

    I think back to some of my early site visits back 25 years ago, and I look at the big yellow trucks. Now big yellow trucks in the past were all driven by people, you typically have about, four person to a truck because people have shifts and there's downtime at maintenance, et cetera. And then, we moved away from having people in trucks and we had instead those people sitting away from the mine in a remote operating center driving the trucks. And then we've taken another step, we no longer have people driving the trucks. They're actually driven by technology. And I look forward to, in the next few years, no longer seeing trucks driving around with diesel fuel coming out the back, I'm actually going to see these trucks being driven by batteries. And I think that just shows the continuous change and improvement that we see across this sector. 

    Oscar Pulido: Change is coming, and new profit pools are being created. So, it must make for a lot of fun for somebody who gets to sort of look through companies and decide who are going to be the leaders in this brown to green transition. Olivia, thank you for painting that picture of the change that is coming in the world economy. And we look forward to having you on The Bid again. Thanks for joining us on the podcast. 

    Olivia Markham: Thank you. 

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. Be sure to subscribe to The Bid and don't miss the episode.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0224U/M-3371220

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    The advent of AI has radically altered the landscape of work, reshaping the fabric of industries and prompting a monumental shift in how tasks are executed, and decisions are made within the financial services industry. AI has induced both awe and apprehension. The financial world stands on the precipice of an AI driven transformation where the balance between machine intelligence and human ingenuity heralds a new era of possibilities, challenges, and responsibilities.

    Joining me today is Rob Goldstein, BlackRock's, Chief operating Officer, and Lance Bronstein, head of Aladdin engineering, BlackRock's Portfolio Management software. Rob and Lance will help us consider the issues facing business operators. From how to harness this technology to amplify human capabilities, redefine roles, upskill the workforce and recalibrating approaches to risk management and client interactions.

    Lance and Rob, thank you for joining us on the podcast,

    Rob Goldstein: Awesome. Great to be here.

    Lance Braunstein: Thank you.

    Oscar Pulido: Lance, this is your first time, I think you're what we refer to as a longtime listener, first time caller. And Rob, it turns out a little fun fact is that you were actually the first guest on the first ever Bid podcast that we recorded, the topic was around FinTech, the sort of intersection between finance and technology, so it's very appropriate to have you back.

    Rob Goldstein: I actually assumed I was coming to get my royalty checks. Is that not what's happening here?

    Oscar Pulido: We know you've been busy, so we took a little bit of time in welcoming you back. That was about five years ago, you didn't spend a lot of time talking about AI on that episode at the time, but a lot's changed. It's 2024 and AI is top of the list of topics that we've been addressing on the podcast, and this is a really great opportunity to hear from two business leaders at BlackRock about how it's impacting the business.

    So, Rob, maybe I can start with you. I'd love to hear your perspective on Gen AI, and just how it's evolved over the past year because it seems like things are evolving quickly.

    Rob Goldstein: Taking a bunch of steps back, AI as a concept is not a new concept. In fact, sometime in the 1950s MIT started its AI lab. So as a broad concept, AI's been around for a long time.

    So, it's January 2024, but if you really think about it, from the period of time, more or less of Davos last year, so in January 2023 till now was actually, in my opinion, one of the most extraordinary times in the history of technology.

    And there were major, major, major step functions in terms of technology, but more importantly, it's less that there's sort of new math. It's this confluence of data, compute power methods that have existed for a long time all coming together in a way that effectively has enabled or really started the transformative journey to enable English to be how people interact with computers.

    People have grown accustomed to interacting with computers in certain ways, they've grown accustomed to interacting with them, with a mouse, with a keyboard, through your phone, with your thumbs. But for the first time, there's enough data, there's enough compute power, there's enough technology to fit models that enable you to talk to a computer, and to have it talk back to you. That capability, that step function is actually, in my opinion, one of the most transformative technology step functions we will see in our lifetime, this is going to really change how people think of technology.

    Oscar Pulido: I'm glad you mentioned that AI is not A new concept. It's popular now, but that it's something that's been around for decades, and we actually talked about that on a few episodes, last year with some of our investment leadership. People like Jeff Shen and Brad Betts, who talked about, Dr. Steven Boyd and, the AI labs that we've set up. I'm also fascinated that you've been in the industry and with BlackRock for 30 years, very close to technology, and that you're saying in the past year is some of the most transformational change that you're seeing. So, how does that impact the financial services industry. You're the COO for BlackRock so you're the pacesetter for change. so, what are financial services company doing to try and stay up with that change?

    Rob Goldstein: It's actually a super fascinating question because when you go to meetings and start talking about this stuff, people want to start talking about humanity, robots, when are the robots taking over humanity. So often I'm the one saying that's super important, but we need to focus on this through the lens of being in our jobs in a company.

    The way I like to think about it, this whole concept of language and English being the way people interact, is a very different way technology is used and it's a way that really impacts work patterns. It's a way that really impacts how companies view productivity, efficiency, those broad concepts.

    I'll give you a couple of examples. Lance and I were, leading a group of people as we presented this to the board. We wrote a presentation, and in the presentation, we spoke about a variety of the aspirations that we had for BlackRock, but the key theme is that all of the technology tools we build, people should be able to just type in what they want the tool to do, and the tool should be able to do that. That's number one.

    Number two is we produce a lot of client reports. performance evaluations, credit write-ups, prospectuses, whatever it is. That first draft why can't that be done by a computer? Normally the work pattern would be someone would then take that away and four days later you'd get a draft of the letter. Why can't, right after that meeting, we get a draft of a letter that's from a computer and then we all comment on it.

    So, what we did for the board presentation is we wrote a PowerPoint presentation explaining what we were going to do, the strategy, the risks, all of those components, everything you would imagine. Then, we actually fed it to ChatGPT within what we call a walled garden, basically our own version of effectively running the ChatGPT models, but within our own infrastructure, so we're not leaking any information. So, we took that presentation, put it through the model, and we said write a 1000-word executive summary, because in addition to submitting a PowerPoint presentation, we also would submit a, an executive summary more in like Microsoft words, something that's more, literal than a deck.

    I got the memo coming out of it, and I gave it to two people who are among the most critical people in terms of looking at memos. One was Larry Fink, and one was Martin Small, our CFO. Martin came into my office and Martin said, I don't know why you didn't mention this, it's missing this, the tone's a little, you should be more confident in what we've done. And I was like, 'Oh, Martin, it was written by a computer.' He was like, 'Oh, really?' He had no idea. And then with Larry, it was the same thing. 'Hey, the tone of this is off.' And I said, Larry, it was written by a computer. We could set that tone.

    I could have said, 'Here's a PowerPoint presentation, here's 10 memos. Give me a memo in a thousand words that summarizes this PowerPoint presentation in the tone of these other memos.'

    And I think if you look at it through the lens of A COO, the productivity that unlocks is beyond imagination. If you look at it through the lens of a normal person in terms of helping you in daily life through being able to talk to a computer and have the computer talk back to you, it really is a remarkable, transformative opportunity.

    Oscar Pulido: And that word productivity, the two of you are senior leaders and any time saved is very helpful, but it helps people across an organization. The example you just gave time saved and being able to invest it elsewhere. And Lance, you sit at the forefront of the technology platform that BlackRock runs and what has what Rob has discussed around the evolution of gen AI mean for an organization that has a tech platform that employs engineers, what do those engineers do now when the gen AI tools can do the kind of stuff that Rob described?

    Lance Braunstein: Before I get to that, let me riff on the idea that this is really expansive. So, when we say that this will impact productivity across job families, we mean that quite literally. We talked about executive presentation, getting to a first draft of a PowerPoint, a Word document. But imagine getting to a first draft of an application. Having a software engineer, not start with a blank slate, but say, do the thing that is like this other thing that we've done before, or an analyst summarizing broker, documents or a salesperson summarizing all of the interaction notes. The idea here is that this democratization of data and models really is expansive across the enterprise. It's every job family, HR professionals, legal professionals, compliance professionals will work differently. How does this impact the technology world? in a couple of ways. So, if you have a technology platform, it will change the way that you think about the user interface and the user experience.

    First, the standard will become a chat interface, exactly what Rob was describing, which is an English language, natural language interface to the computer rather than code or rather than complex application navigation.

    Second, the way that you think about your information architecture, this is the way that information and data interrelates changes. So instead of having to navigate four different applications to determine my risk to book a trade, now I can simply ask a chat interface like 'Tell me what my risk is and on the strength of that risk rebalance my portfolio in the following ways.' That changes the navigation paradigm in a pretty profound way.

    And then finally, I think this notion of democratization of data and models is really powerful. The idea that more people will participate in a broader set of data-driven decisions than they have historically. And I'm not talking about data scientists, and I'm not talking about PhDs. I'm talking about every single person involved in the investment life cycle now will have more data at their fingertips than they ever have before. That is hugely powerful.

    So, if you are at the helm of a technology platform, thinking about the interface, thinking about the democratization of data, thinking about your information architecture, changes.

    Oscar Pulido: I have two kids, I'm listening to you both talk and you're describing this world where, things seem a little bit easier. Like I can get to a more advanced part of the work or the project sooner. And when I think about my kids, part of how they learn is trial and error. They learn from mistakes that they make, and we learn from our mistakes. So, is the environment that you're both painting one where it's different in terms of how you develop talent because they don't get to learn as much from their mistakes? And maybe I'm not thinking about it, right, but what does that mean for talent development in an organization?

    Lance Braunstein: First, I think it's what Rob said a minute ago, this notion of getting to a first draft sooner. Part of the power of these large language models is prompting the model often in a very precise way. So, like when Rob talked about tone, you could create the initial draft and then go back and say, I'd like it to be in the tone of this other document, or I'd like you to refine this into a set of bullet points, et cetera, et cetera.

    So, in terms of development and learning, the idea that you could get to that first draft of your term paper of your science project faster by harnessing more data and more models, I think is a powerful learning tool. That is not cheating and getting to the Wikipedia of result sooner, it is actually harnessing more information.

    Then the interactivity that you have with that first draft or with the model, I think is another learning opportunity. So, the ability to prompt in an increasingly precise way to me, drives a greater analytic mindset. Rob and I talk about this notion that we all are going to become developers, when you think about the human computer interface becoming a prompt in English, that means all of us are writing code. We may not think of it as code, those prompts may not look like code, they may look like an English language sentence, but they're code. And they will generate code in some cases. So, the precision with which you have to prompt the computer increases over time. So that learning to be more precise, more analytic, more data-driven, is a talent opportunity. It's a learning and development opportunity.

    Rob Goldstein: Lemme just add, we try very hard to be tech optimists and it's amazing how many things through the years you could point to as given this new technology, this means humanity's going to become much more stupid and humanity is doomed. But I'll give a couple of examples through my own personal lens.

    So, my dad was a financial advisor my dad growing up would work almost every night, but at nine o'clock, he would stop working because it was not polite to call people at home, after nine o’clock, and once email came about, if you get an email at nine o'clock and you don't answer it by like 10 o'clock, you're considered rude.

    So, everything just adapted, and if anything, expectations change. It created a huge productivity boom in theory. As opposed to having to FedEx documents, you can now email documents, that's a productivity boom. But it didn't seem like the amount of work went down, just expectations changed. And I think what happens with technology is as it empowers this new productivity and these productivity step functions, it brings with it changing expectations.

    People can look at these technologies through different lenses. I look at it through the lens, I think there's going to be a giant productivity boom. I think there's going to be a giant expectations boom. And I think that how people get smart will change. I don't exactly know how, but I know that humans are very adaptable. Technology's a tool that actually makes them even more adaptable. And I think that combination, I have confidence that people are going to get smarter, not less smart.

    Oscar Pulido: You've given examples of the productivity boom, right? You mentioned the board presentation and the memo and, but now you just talked about the boom in expectations, and you touched on your dad being a financial advisor. That's a very client-oriented profession as most of financial services is. So, talk a bit more about how does this change what clients. Expect now that generative AI is more interwoven in business.

    Rob Goldstein: Absolutely. And, if you zoom out for a second at the state of the industry, on the wealth side, most clients have websites or apps that they could access. They could see things in real time, but the truth is you get reporting once a month. And on the institutional side, it's equally the same, if not even more so once a month.

     Oscar, if I said to you in the year 2030, do you get reporting, once a month? I think you'd be, 'hmm, I don't think so.' Ultimately, you could imagine, every day, every hour, every trade, whatever, if you want a summary of your portfolio and how it's changed, you have access to one. I think it's going to be very hard to fulfill that expectation with people. I think it's going to be very easy to fulfill that expectation with technology.

    And that is why that English component, the ability to talk to the computer in English and have the computer talk to you in English, that is why that is a whole new unlock with regard to technologies that will be profoundly impactful in terms of the Day-to-Day lives of people, in ways that are unimaginable.

    Oscar Pulido: You both mentioned this point a couple times, so worth reiterating that the language that you use to interface with computers has been coding languages for many years. But what you're saying is that now it's English is that language to interface with the computer and the coding goes on in the background, but by, having that shift, more people can interact with the machines that are increasing productivity in businesses or the economy.

    Lance Braunstein: Yeah, that's correct. the question often comes up because we've lowered the barrier to the human computer interface, do professions like software engineering, software development, system engineering, data analytics go away? I believe the answer is A hard no. Not only do they not go away, but the burden that we put on our servers, on our computers, as we expand the aperture of the user base- in this case, the prompt engineers, who is every human who will interface with a large language model- actually grows the burden on resilience, scale performance security increases.

    So, the need for really talented engineers who could construct the backends. of all of these systems that now have quite an elegant low barrier to entry as a co-pilot or a chat, I think that need grows over time. Now I am like Rob, a tech optimist and pragmatist, I am thinking the hard next 12 to 24 months, there are jobs to be done, they will be enabled by these generative AI technologies and these models, but they are jobs that we could predict.

    Rob Goldstein: If we were having this conversation pre covid, the technology that we would be talking about was autonomous driving. And it was like, why would your kids get a driver's license? Don't buy a new car. Everything is going to be autonomous driving.

    Then if you think about what happened, you basically had a once in a hundred years, scenario, where two people couldn't get into the car with each other unless they were in the same family pod. So, if ever there was a time for autonomous driving to take over, it would've been then. Instead, what happened was driving trucks wound up being so in demand that in certain countries, they had to call up their National Guard to actually drive trucks because it became a matter of national security and national infrastructure.

    And I think as you listen to the subtext of what Lance and I are saying here the subtext is, this isn't about the computer alone, it's about the person being much more empowered, much more productive by the computer, but the person in a very similar scenario to autonomous driving, still being part of that process, still being the critical control, still looking at what the computer is doing. I think where people get confused is they look at a world with no people, we look at a world with people who are enabled to be better by the power of the technology.

    Oscar Pulido: You've both touched on the fact that you're both tech optimists and I think, it's always good to end and pragmatists. but always good to end on an optimistic note. I think as we talk about any topic. So, I'd love to just get your thoughts on, the next year or two, what lies ahead, like what haven't you discussed that gives you even more optimism about ai, in a business setting?

    Rob Goldstein: I have a vision that I believe will come true. Which is right now there's this concept of the prompt engineer, no one knew what that was a year ago, now it's going to be the job of the future. I have a different perspective on it, I'm very fortunate, I have two children. One of them is graduating this year of college, and one of them is a sophomore in college. And I think for my daughter Sadie, who's a sophomore in college by the time she graduates, I believe two things. One, the concept of a prompt engineer won't really exist. And two, whatever it was supposed to do, she will naturally know how to do from being in college for the next two years. This goes back to your question about training, sometimes you're training yourself and you don't even know it. I think a lot of what we're talking about here is just going to be natural. It's going to be in the water, and we won't even know it.

    Lance Braunstein: And I would just extend that Getting everybody into generative ai, teaching them the concepts, teaching them the prompting. Is going to enhance our ability to just run a better investment process to be a better technology company. The thing that excites me in this next year, and I am really thinking about from now, is getting people more into ai. Getting people like hands-on into co-pilots and chat assistance and enabling them to get to that first draft that we described earlier, faster with higher quality. That's thing one. I think thing two is there will be a number of jobs that we want to automate, that we want to create greater automation.

    And again, not in the, not to, to the exclusion of the human supervisor, but getting those rote tasks to a greater place of automation, I think is immediate and exciting for me. So more of us becoming sort of gen AI enabled and empowered. And more of us doing the highest value work rather than the rote tasks that is near and present and super exciting for me.

    Oscar Pulido: And it sounds like more people becoming students of technology,

    it sounds like the evolution in AI is going to push everybody in that direction. And guys, I want to thank you for, joining us, on the podcast as almost the professors of technology that we will look to, I'm sure down the road. Again, Rob, Lance, thanks for joining us.

    Rob Goldstein: Great. Thank you.

    Lance Braunstein: Thanks.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed this episode, check out our two-parter on AI featuring Brad Betts and Jeff Shen, where we look at the history of investing in ai, and potential future applications in finance. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0124U/M-3342452

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    In the ever-evolving landscape of geopolitics, the world finds itself at a pivotal juncture marked by structural shifts that redefine global dynamics. The emergence of competing economic and geopolitical blocs stands out as a prominent feature reshaping alliances and influencing international relations.

    As we've learned on previous episodes, the BlackRock Investment Institute has outlined five mega forces that are shaping the macroeconomic landscape. And geopolitical fragmentation is one of them.

    To help me explore this topic, I'm pleased to welcome Catherine Kress, head of Geopolitical Research and Strategy at BlackRock. Together we'll explore the macro and investment dimensions of this megaforce, the complex interplay of geopolitics and global markets and provide insights for investors navigating this new era. 

    Catherine, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Catherine Kress: Thanks for having me. 

    Oscar Pulido: So Catherine, we've been talking to Alex Brazier from the BlackRock Investment Institute, and one of the things that he's been mentioning, and that actually has been a common theme throughout a number of our episodes, have been the mega forces of which there are five, artificial intelligence, aging demographics, the transition to a low carbon economy, the future of finance, and last but not least, geopolitical fragmentation. Talk to us a little bit about the geopolitical landscape and what's changing. 

    Catherine Kress: So, I think it's important to take a step back and if you think really to the last half decade or so, it's clear that we've had these cascading events that are really building on each other and now hang over the global economy. 

    We had the US trade wars back in 2018, 2019, which extended into the Covid pandemic, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and now the outbreak of war in the Middle East. These events are really starting to build on each other and drive structural change in the global economy. Our BlackRock view is that geopolitics from an investment perspective has become a persistent and structural market risk. 

    We saw last year S&P 500 executives use the word geopolitics 12,000 times, which was up three times relative to two years ago. If you look at our proprietary BlackRock geopolitical risk indicators, we see them hit their highest level in the last year. Throughout history, the impact of geopolitics on markets economies has been fairly short-lived. It's been modest, markets have tended to fade geopolitical shocks when they happen. We actually did a study several years ago within the investment institute 62 historical risk events, and that's what we found that these events had a fairly short-lived, indirect market impact. We see today's events as different. We believe that they're driving structural long-term change, and the world order that's emerging really stands in sharp contrast to this post-Cold War period, which was characterized by US hegemony, constructive and productive relations between major nations, lower trade barriers, ever increasing globalization. We see today's environment as different, it's driven by the emergence of competing economic and geopolitical blocs, competition between those blocs and increasingly less international cooperation. 

    Oscar Pulido: You mentioned the events that you look back on over, I imagine, many decades. And the fact that the impact on markets was modest and short-lived, but you've also said we're in a structurally different world with respect to geopolitics. So is it fair to say that going forward market impact will be less short-lived and more impactful?

    Catherine Kress: This is a discussion that we're having right now: has the environment changed that much that markets should be treating geopolitical events differently? Our view is, yes. The world today is a lot more connected than it used to be four or five decades ago. So, a risk or a crisis in one part of the world can really emanate and have ripple effects to other areas and other issues. 

    Oscar Pulido: You mentioned the Russia, Ukraine war, people saw their food prices going up and some of that is because of the production of grains in that part of the world that was impacted. You also mentioned competing economic blocs, competing geopolitical blocs that are being formed. So, talk a little bit more about that evolution. 

    Catherine Kress: So really, over the last several years we've seen the rise in emergence of these competing economic geopolitical blocs. This is one of the key fixtures of this fragmented landscape. On the one hand you have the US which is as unified as it's ever been with its allies in Europe and Asia. 

    You see that with the expansion and solidification of NATO in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. We've seen the rise of multilateral fora like AUKUS and the Quad, but meanwhile we have China and Russia who are cooperating more closely than they have, and they're partnering with countries like Iran and in some cases North Korea. These powers are working together more closely than they have in decades, and that's something that we've really seen evolve and deepen over the last several years.

    I mentioned Russia and China growing particularly close. There's been some interesting data points recently that show that. So for example, China-Russia dollar denominated trade last year hit $240 billion, which was 26% increase from a year earlier. Today, China trades more with Russia than it does with Germany. If you look at China's exports of transportation equipment specifically to Russia, that's up 800% over since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And we now see that Chinese cars make up 55% of the Russian market. But I mentioned this informal alignment, deepening as well between Russia, China and North Korea and Iran, and there's some interesting data points here as well. For example, Iran has become a principal supplier of drone technology to Russia. We've seen North Korea provide more munitions to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine than Europe has provided to Ukraine. And Russia's providing its partners with supplies too, for example, cheap energy, natural gas. Increasingly, there's concerns about Russia exporting military technology and equipment to Iran and North Korea. So we're seeing these blocs harden and they're increasingly competitive with each other, 

    Oscar Pulido: And at the same time that these blocs are forming, I think there's another term that you've used, which are these multi-aligned countries, that are also developing. I'm thinking of these countries as I think they're friends with everybody, or at least maybe they're not taking a particular side when it comes to some of these economic blocs. But maybe help clarify, when we say a multi aligned country, what does that mean and what are some examples of some of those countries? 

    Catherine Kress: So, these are the countries that haven't taken sides in the contest between the US and China, or necessarily adopted the western position on Russia. They're very different from the non-aligned movement of the Cold War. So, we've chosen the phrase multi-aligned because we see these countries as fundamentally different. 

    The non-aligned movement of the Cold War was much more about statements and posturing and protests. Today, the multi-aligned countries are major economies in the world that have a lot of power and influence.

    The Economist calls them the 'Transactional 25' or the T25. Together, the T25 make up more than half the world population and about a fifth of global GDP, which is more than the EU. The multi-aligned countries are pragmatic. They have a fluid transactional approach to the world. In a way, they're uncertain about the future distribution of power, and so they're hedging their bets and aligning with both blocs in line with their national interests.

    An especially important grouping of multi-aligned nations are the countries in the Middle East. So, years of high oil prices have made the countries, the Gulf Oil producers specifically, really primary sources of liquidity in the markets. we think that they're at an inflection point. They'll be the last one standing in fossil fuels. They have enormous opportunity if they can continue to maintain fiscal discipline, if they can manage regional tensions. 

    But another multi-aligned player to watch is India. India's already the world's most populous nation, its working population is expected to hit a billion within a decade. It's projected itself as a leader of the global south. 

    So, we have demographics alongside macroeconomic stability, as well as a focus on physical and digital infrastructure that I think make India really well poised, to compel global growth going forward. 

    Oscar Pulido: One of the things that emerged post-Covid, was this recognition on the part of companies to, bring production closer to home. Prioritizing, resiliency more than cost, I think is a lot of what we've talked about with some of our guests on the podcast. And some people talk about this as de-globalization that after many decades of globalization, now we're going in reverse. Maybe Alex Brazier has talked about it as the rewiring of globalization. So, what is the right term and do you agree with this and what are the sort of the impacts if this trend in fact is happening? 

    Catherine Kress: I very much agree with the framing as the rewiring of globalization. I don't think it's correct to say that the world is deglobalizing, that we've hit the end of globalization. There are measures of globalization that have receded. For example, trade is a percentage of GDP since the financial crisis. But there are other areas where we're seeing rapid globalization like digital trade and services. 

    I do think it's fair to say that the system of globalization has been politicized and that we're seeing issues, as you said, like national security resilience, increasingly making their way into economic policy, business decision making, and we're seeing countries and companies leverage targeted policies like export controls, tariffs, investment restrictions, trade agreements with like-minded countries to achieve economic and policy objectives. 

    So, our view is that globalization is rewiring, and this is a dynamic that we were hypothesizing for some time that national security and resilience would drive this rewiring and increasingly play almost a bigger role than traditional economic and market factors like pure cost efficiency, comparative advantage, in supply chain decisions. 

    And increasingly, there's a critical mass of studies coming out that supports that hypothesis. Policy and geopolitics are driving this rewiring of globalization, and at a high level, it shows that trade isn't necessarily declining, but it is shifting, and we're seeing this in a couple of specific areas. 

    So first, we're seeing that trade between geopolitical blocs is slowing. So, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the World Trade Organization has reported that trade between geopolitical blocs has grown four to 6% slower than trade within the geopolitical blocs. And today, China's trading more with developing countries than it is with the us, Europe, and Japan combined. 

    So, we're seeing that kind of shift among the blocs. Second, we are seeing some reduced dependence on cross border suppliers. So, there is an element of that reshoring that's taking place. Third, and this is what I think is the most interesting and presents an investment opportunity, which is that as we see trade between the blocs decline, we're seeing the rising up of countries, which Bloomberg has referred to as the connector countries. 

    These are the countries that are injecting themselves into global supply chains and becoming intermediaries. so, as US direct sourcing from China declines. For example, countries like Vietnam, Mexico, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland are inserting themselves into global supply chains, and China's trading more with them and they're trading more with the us. 

    So, the US isn't necessarily reducing trade exposure to China entirely, but it's being more intermediated. These countries, according to one Bloomberg analysis, reported $4 trillion in economic output in 2022. They've all seen trade grow above trend for the last five years. So, they reflect a really interesting and important opportunity going forward. 

    Oscar Pulido: So, let's go back to the fact that you said some of these geopolitical changes, or all the geopolitical changes you're mentioning are more structural in nature. That this isn't just a one- or two-year type of trend, but that, the world is fundamentally shifting. So, what does that mean for. Future geopolitical shocks, like how should an investor or just individuals be thinking about them as opposed to what they've seen in the past?

    Catherine Kress: So, we had this conversation with a number of our investors recently, and I thought something that was interesting that emerged from that conversation is that fragmentation on its own doesn't necessarily need to massively disrupt core investment theses, it's a structural trend as I said. So, there are elements of it that we can track, that we can build into our investment hypotheses. We may get to a more stable world order over the longer term, but the path to getting there in our view is going to be very rocky. And so, what's critical for us to watch as investors is whether this kind of transition to a more fragmented world order is a managed and orderly one, relatively speaking, or a chaotic and disorderly one. 

    By all counts, we are in a more volatile world order right now. The UN reported last year, the largest number of violent conflicts underway since World War II, and we're facing the largest election year in history with 76 countries or so going to the polls next year. So we are trying to identify what are the types of risks that could change that fragmentation path and disrupt core investment theses. There's a range of them, we feature our kind of top 10 risks on BlackRock's geopolitical risk dashboard, which you can see on the web, but I'll mention three specifically. So, the first is the competition between the US and China. We see US China competition really as the new normal for US-China relations. 

    It's focused on the defense area, but it's focused very sharply in the technology area. Where the US is really pursuing a policy of protecting, defending, extending its lead in the most advanced technologies that it sees as having military applications like AI, quantum computing, semiconductors. China is responding by investing in its own indigenous technologies, which we believe will lead to parallel competing tech stacks for the most important technologies. 

    This is one area that we're watching. A conflict over Taiwan or a conflict in the South China Sea would be massively disruptive to markets. So, these kind of competitive dynamics are areas we're monitoring. Another area is the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. At this stage, we don't see a diplomatic solution as likely in the near term. 

    We believe a long-term standoff between the west and Russia is likely. So, we're just ever monitoring the potential risk of escalation there. Then third, we have the ongoing war in the Middle East and here, we are very closely monitoring the risk of escalation as well. We've seen recent attacks on shipping in the Red Sea as an example of how conflicts can, disrupt shipping lead to higher production costs, contribute to potential inflationary outcomes. 

    So, these are types of geopolitical risks we're monitoring as affecting the path of fragmentation going forward. 

    Oscar Pulido: And it's worth mentioning the geopolitical risk indicator that you talk about. There might be, I think you mentioned 10 different geopolitical risks that you're monitoring, but you don't necessarily view the risk of them all the same. You, the risks can vary based on what you're observing in the market. 

    Catherine Kress: Absolutely. So, one thing that we try to do as we assess the risks is provide both kind of a subjective assessment as to how we see the risks evolving, but then also a quantitative assessment as to how markets are. Paying attention to them if they are or aren't. 

    So, these geopolitical risk indicators that we have are a quantitatively driven measure of market attention or investor concern about a particular geopolitical risk, and it's a sort of proxy for market pricing. Our belief is that if markets are paying attention to a risk. It's more likely they're pricing that, in so we try to identify the disconnects between our subjective assessment based on subject matter experts, and this quantitative assessment based on natural language processing of brokerage reports, financial news, media, and the like. 

    Oscar Pulido: And the inverse of that is where you think the market is not paying enough attention to a geopolitical event. It could actually pose a higher risk because markets are ignoring it and maybe they shouldn't be.

    Catherine Kress: Exactly. 

    Oscar Pulido: Can we just talk then finally about the bottom line for investors? If I'm listening to this and thinking about the structural changes in geopolitics and what that means in the years ahead, what does that mean for my portfolio? You mentioned that investment teams shouldn't necessarily, in your opinion, be changing their core investment thesis, but what does an end investor need to think about? 

    Catherine Kress: So, the geopolitical moderation of the post-Cold War period that we talked about was generally supportive of lower inflation and higher growth. 

    We see this period of geopolitical fragmentation as inflationary and potentially likely to dampen growth going forward. We worry that as supply chains get longer and more complex, that is going to be expensive. It could weaken productivity in developed markets. And then meanwhile, we have structural economic challenges in China, which could present a drag on global growth going forward. 

    So, from a macro perspective, we see geopolitical fragmentation as inflationary and likely to impact growth in a negative way. From an investment perspective, we're looking at relative opportunities where things are priced or not priced. And we can look at this geographically. So, for example, the connector countries that I mentioned, are already benefiting from a diversion of trade and investment flows. 

    So, we think that there could be relative opportunities, in those countries. From a sectoral perspective, a parallel dynamic that's underway is, as countries are – as these blocs are hardening as countries are turning inward, we're seeing a surge of industrial policy in strategic sectors and areas of focus like clean energy, like advanced technology. 

    And so, we can look at some of those areas for opportunity as well. So, the bottom line for investors is that while fragmentation may be inflationary and impact growth over the long term, we see relative investment opportunities both geographically and at the sector level. 

    Oscar Pulido: And it rhymes with what the BlackRock Investment Institute and Alex have been talking about being nimble, being agile, and perhaps being more granular in this new macro regime that we talk about. 

    Catherine Kress: Exactly, and fragmentation will create dispersion. And so that does allow investment skill to shine in this environment. 

    Oscar Pulido: Catherine, listeners who have been following the podcast closely will know that you have both hosted and now, served as a guest of the podcast. So I hope you enjoyed sitting in the other chair today. Thank you for joining us on the Bid. 

    Catherine Kress: Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. Next up, we'll revisit the world of electric vehicles to discover how the infrastructure has entered its growth stage with rapid increases in adoption and usage, as well as improving technology and falling costs. 

    Subscribe to The Bid and don't miss the episode.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

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  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Long regarded as an undervalued and overlooked market, Japan has been undergoing a profound transformation. The renewed interest in this market stems from a variety of factors, including revamped investor sentiment, evolving macroeconomic conditions, and compelling corporate reforms. And as global dynamics continue to recalibrate, will Japan live up to its potential and redefine its role on the global investment stage?

    To help me answer that question, I'm pleased to welcome Belinda Boa. Head of active investments for Asia Pacific at BlackRock, Belinda will help me examine the prospects challenges and potential opportunities that may define Japan's future in the global investment sphere.

    Belinda, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Belinda Boa: Hi Oscar. Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: We're here to talk about Japan, and I'm wondering if before we zoom in on the present and the reason that people are talking about Japan so much today, I wonder if we could zoom out and think about some of the standout moments that Japan has had over the past few decades and how have people thought about Japan just as a market to invest in?

    Belinda Boa: Yeah. Japan was the poster child of the 20th century. Post-World War II, it grew a massive agricultural hub in the sixties. It was known for its engineering and its innovation in the seventies, and by the eighties it was actually the second largest economy in the world. And the reason why I say that is not only that the economy was thriving, but so was the stock market.

    December 1989 was the peak of the Japanese stock market, and at the time, Japan was 45% of the world's market capitalization, it's now six. Not only did it have an incredible run, it became an asset inflated bubble economy.

    Post December 89, just one year on from that, about 2 trillion was roughly knocked off the market capitalization of the exchange. That was roughly half its value. And from there it entered two decades of very low economic growth, deflation and stagnation.

    And the reason why it's so important is that, when you have an environment of stagnation and deflation, for as long as Japan did, it creates a strong incentive for both corporates and for households not to invest and not to spend.

    And so Japanese investors historically have been some of the most risk averse in the world. Households today, still, most of their assets are in cash and in deposits. And up until recently, even corporates had very high cash balances. Lack of investment also meant that there was a lack of growth in the market. Roll on to the end of the nineties and beginning of 2000, the Japanese government, put forward some aggressive policies, some of which worked, but only for a short space of time. It was only in 2013 when Abenomics, which was really the economic term for the late Japanese leaders, revival of the Japanese economy had sort of three errors and the focus was monetary policy, flexible fiscal and then a structural reform story.

    And the idea there was to reinvigorate growth to bring back inflation into the economy. So up until recently, we haven't seen any of that, but that's why I think we're so excited about this transformational story that's playing out in Japan because we are now seeing in the economy some of these efforts by policy makers and by corporates, which are really turning around what has been a very disinteresting environment for Japanese investors.

    Oscar Pulido: Belinda, you mentioned a couple of really interesting things across that timeline that spans a few decades. I wrote down two numbers- 45 and six. You mentioned Japan was nearly half of the world's market cap back at its peak in the late eighties, and today it's less than 10% at single digits, so that suggests that Japan has lagged a number of global stock markets over the last 30 plus years. But you're painting a picture that things are getting better, maybe talk a little bit more about this renewed investor optimism that really started in 2023.

    Belinda Boa: Well, Japan has been both unloved and under owned in global portfolios. And Oscar, you're right, there was a good reason for that. When you're in a deflationary environment with a lack of consumer confidence, a lack of spending, both at the corporate level and at the household level, it doesn't generate the sort of returns that you've wanted, and that's been the environment that actually characterized Japan. But there are some really big shifts that are happening, and I want to just focus on three of them.

    Firstly, the macroeconomic environment. I mentioned that Japan has been in this deflationary spiral for a long time and for the first time, since mid 2022, we are starting to see inflation come back. This is going to have a profound impact on the behaviors of households and corporates. Because as opposed to always being in a cost cutting exercise and worried about costs and not spending, actually, we are now seeing companies able to increase their prices. The impact of that is that we're seeing margin expansion. So, this is profitable for companies and also, they're able to spend not just on their own CapEx, but on wages.

    So, we're seeing wage inflation, you look at CapEx, you look at wage inflation. The numbers at the end of 2023 are at multi decade highs. So, the macro environment is significantly different to where we've been and the impact that it's having on corporates, on households, I think still has a long way to play out, but it's very important because it's so different.

    Secondly, Japan is a diversifier. When you look at the rest of the world, we've been in an inflationary environment where inflation has remained stickier for longer, rates are higher for longer, and Japan's policy is very different to the rest of the world. But that may change going forward. what's also important to note is when you look at the stock market, it is very diversified. The US stock market is very concentrated in a number of tech names. Even A ex J when you look at Korea or Taiwan, has a very big concentration in semiconductors, and Japan is far more diversified. So, when you think about a global portfolio allocating to Japan, they really benefit from the resilience of low correlation driven by the macroeconomic policies, the economic environment, as well as the diversification of the index.

    And then lastly, not only are we seeing investors globally interested in Japan, but also there's been a very big shift from the government in terms of launching, a tax savings scheme for households. This is to encourage households to allocate from their significant cash holdings into securities. And while I think this is going to take a long time to play out, and we do understand that this is not only an allocation to purely Japanese equities, it is a very big shift from the environment we've been in where, like I said, households have held very large cash balances.

    Oscar Pulido: So as of this month, we believe that the NISA scheme, which is going to be launched, is going to actually provide a separate tailwind to the Japanese equity market from domestic investors. You just reminded me I was going through my bookshelf this weekend and I came across a book that I read post the Financial Crisis in 2008, and it was titled This Time is Different and the authors were making the case that financial crises actually have repeated themselves over time. So actually 'this time is different' are four very dangerous words to utter when it comes to financial markets because we tend to see a lot of these false starts and I think Japan has been characterized like that, before where you saw some of these ingredients that you mentioned maybe in place and then nothing manifested from it. But you've talked about inflation, you've talked about the role that it plays as a diversifier, policy changes, and so maybe this time, in fact really is different in terms of Japan's revival. Can we talk about the geopolitical landscape and how does that affect the renewed interest in Japan?

    Belinda Boa: This is a theme that we speak about a lot, particularly in this part of the world. We have been over the last decade in an era which can be described by geopolitical moderation, a globalization, and those terms, we're not speaking about anymore. We're in a world of global fragmentation. We are calling it the world in three, where we have the countries aligned with the West, countries aligned with China and the East, and then there is a large block of neutral political countries. These countries we think are going to benefit massively from the shifting trade patterns and shifting in supply chains.

    So, when I look at trade numbers, trade's not declining. Trade is just shifting, and it's been driven by politicization, by a need for security. That's true for governments, it's true for companies as well. And we look at Japan, which has been very politically stable for many years. It has very close ties and allies in the West. And so as global companies are looking at rewiring their supply chains, we are seeing, companies looking at Japan as a market that could benefit from this. We know there are very large companies which are signing contracts to build manufacturing plants and large R&D centers in Japan. There are also domestic companies that are doing the same. And while this is going to take a long time to play out, we believe because of its political stability that Japan is one of those countries along with some of the other multi-aligned countries that are set to benefit from this rewiring of supply chains globally.

    Oscar Pulido: And you made the case that Japan is a more diversified stock market maybe than some of its developed market peers. I think you talked about the US and the peers in Asia as well, having more of a tech concentration. So, talk a little bit more about Japanese companies and. Businesses, what is it that makes them unique for investors to consider?

    Belinda Boa: There's so many unique stories that are really playing out now, some of those opportunities actually are driven off the headwinds which Japan has faced over the last couple of decades. Japan has had a declining workforce since the middle of the nineties, and that's because of its aging population. It actually leads the world in a graying population- they call it a silvering population. And as a result, it has actually been focused on developing, medical technologies and factory automation to deal with the fact that they're going to need to address labor shortages. As a result, there's some global companies, which are leaders right now in this space, not only to provide those type of services and factories as needed in Japan, but also globally.

    An example of that would actually be railway operators. They're using AI to monitor remotely and to improve the efficiency of the railways. This is an area which is growing, not just domestically in Japan, but also there is a need for this globally because Japan is now not just unique in an aging population with a tight labor market and labor shortages.

    Medical services and products is another area where we are seeing Japan has been focused. Also because of its aging population, but there is now a regulation which is coming through. So as of April, doctor's hours are going to be regulated in Japan. The need to have medical services and products which will be able to alleviate the hard-working hours of doctors, is now a regulatory requirement. So, we are seeing investing in this infrastructure. And we think that there's going to be a global need for this, so again, we are seeing the need of some of these unique investments that Japan has made over the last couple of decades now playing out in both innovation and leadership for aging populations.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Belinda, when you went back through the timeline of Japan over the last few decades, you touched on some economic reforms that started about 10 years ago. they were called Abenomics, and this was when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, introduced economic reforms, and I think they didn't quite deliver the impact that they were intended to. You've touched on some more targeted, regulatory reforms in your comments around healthcare, savings schemes that individual investors have, but usually at a country level, there are some more significant reforms that need to take place for a country to really experience this revival. So, can you talk a little bit more about those?

    Belinda Boa: Yeah, corporate transformation, so this is a unique story to Japan. It's one of the biggest themes that we have had in our portfolios over the last year and a half. Japan used to have a significant number of conglomerates. Or complex organizations with a number of listed subsidiaries. they were both difficult to analyze, but also a lot of these were not profitable or had very low growth prospects. When Abenomics introduced, the third era was very specifically directed at this corporate reform. We have seen a number of companies restructuring, and spinoffs of non-core business. And that's actually generated, improved multiples for the companies, higher profits, and clearly the equity prices have reacted as well. This is just the start of this transformation. There are many more companies that are going through that right now. So, we do believe that there is still a huge amount of embedded value that can be unlocked from these corporate transformations going forward.

    But look, it's not only the government policies like Abenomics, which have helped with this corporate transformation story. We've also seen the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which has called for better capital efficiency of companies. And by that they are focused on making sure that companies, stop hoarding their cash and spend their time looking at how to spend it and how to improve shareholder returns. So, it's focused at the end of the market where book value companies are low. that was a reform that was actually introduced in 2023. As of a couple of days ago, the Tokyo Stock Exchange has taken it one step further and they have decided they're going to name and shame companies that fail to report on how they're going to release value for shareholders and how they're going to improve their book values. That has actually been one of the most significant themes that we've been invested in over the last number of years, and it's playing out. And while I think there has been progress, we're seeing change in multiples, we're seeing business models improve.

    There's still a long way to go, Oscar, when I look today at the Top Ex, which is the broad index in Japan, roughly half of the companies still trade below their book value. And what that means is they trade below the value of their assets. So, there's still a lot of upsides here, in terms of corporate transformation, it's one of the bigger opportunities and themes we've been invested in.

    Oscar Pulido: And it sounds like what you're describing takes some time to play out. It doesn't happen in a week or a month or maybe even a year but makes this an interesting market then to follow for the next couple of years as things like what the Tokyo Stock Exchange is doing come to fruition. And you mentioned where you're sitting, we should mention that you're recording this, in Singapore at a rather, late hour of the evening to accommodate us. But you're the head of active investments in the Asia Pacific region for BlackRock. So how do you think about the role of an active investor when you're looking at the Japanese market?

    Belinda Boa: It's a good question, I feel biased answering it, but let's be clear. We believe that Japan is going to have a larger role in global portfolios because of all the things that I've mentioned going forward. And whether that is a role in terms of just broad index exposure or whether it's an active exposure, so relative to a benchmark, or even a private exposure. I just believe that because of this transformational story that is playing out, we are going to see more interest and more investment in Japan as a whole.

    However, because of this massive transformation that we are talking about, and because Japan is ripe for stock picking, Tokyo Stock Exchange had 3,900 companies listed on the exchange at the end of December. It is deep, it is liquid. As I've mentioned because of this transformational story, not all companies are ripe for the changing business model environment and are going to benefit from some of these things. So, I'd argue that this is one of the few markets where you really do want to be active, so that you can be on the right side of that trade if you want to enhance your returns in Japanese equities.

    Oscar Pulido: Right, it's a large market with a lot to choose from and perhaps some inefficiencies that are going to start to correct themselves in the years ahead. So, an active investor has a good playground from which to choose from. Belinda, you're probably familiar with the five mega forces that the BlackRock Investment Institute has put out, and we've talked about them on the podcast.

    You've actually mentioned a few of them in your comments. You talked about artificial intelligence, aging populations, and geopolitical fragmentation. Other mega forces include the future of finance, and the low carbon transition, as you think about. Japan, what are some of the most compelling mega forces that you think impact that country?

    Belinda Boa: Yeah, the one I probably haven't spoken about is this transition to low carbon. It is front and center for Japan, and interestingly, it has been probably long before sustainability, the term became popular globally. And the reason for that is Japan has had to focus on the scarcity of natural resources, and its social values given the changes that I've mentioned from demographic perspective. It is a country that has faced unbelievable earthquakes and tragic tsunamis over the years, and there is a deeply felt duty to both protect and preserve the environment in Japan. That combined with the country's expertise in engineering and innovation has meant that it's actually developed energy efficient industries years before the rest of the world was starting to look at that. It was the first place that developed the hybrid electric vehicle. It also has this deep sense of renewables, and in fact, plastic bottle recycling, it has been running at over 80% in Japan for over the last decade. That is significantly lower in other countries, so just examples of how focused the country has been in terms of the theme around sustainability.

    But more important than anything else is the fact that we are seeing both public and private companies aligning with the government's commitment of 150 trillion yen to building a sustainable future in Japan. And that means we're going to see more leadership and more innovation from companies around the theme of sustainability coming out of Japan. And they will thrive in that environment.

    Oscar Pulido: So, it sounds like almost all of the mega forces are somehow interweaving in the Japanese investment opportunity based on what you're saying. Belinda, I know that you're actually from South Africa. you spent part of your career there, you've worked in London, you've worked in Hong Kong, now you're in Singapore, you have this great global perspective. I'm just curious, when you go and visit Japan, is there anything that, jumps out at you in terms of the economy, the industries, the companies that you're looking at that you'd want to share some perspective.

    Belinda Boa: I've traveled to Japan for years, Oscar actually one of my first trips to Japan, I wouldn't have even considered going to Hong Kong or Singapore as Japan was really the hub. It was the hub of Asia, that's, where business was done for Asia. I remember one of my first couple of trips to Japan, I needed someone to walk me through the station because there was no way that I could navigate the station, it had no English language. I'm sure you know that from your trips as well. But one of my more recent trips to Japan, I stood in a queue at immigration for an hour and a half. And that is not speaking about any inefficiencies in immigration in Japan, it really was speaking to the number of tourists that were coming into Japan. It has become an absolute global destination for tourism. Certainly, in Asia if you speak to anybody, their number one choice of destination is Japan. and Japan, when you look at the numbers, is seeing a real boom post covid in terms of tourism. That's true because it's a fantastic cultural hub, it's a shopping hub, it's got beaches, it's got magnificent skiing and not to mention all of the incredible food.

    I mention that because for a lot of our investors globally who have not seen and felt on the ground the transformational story that I'm talking about, it is an incredible destination to go to. And lastly, it is now 35% cheaper than it was a year ago because of the yen depreciation, I think tourism's going to continue to boom. It's an open politically stable economy in our part of the world, which is, looking for the story of transformation and as it plays out, I think getting a feel for it on the ground is going to be super important.

    Oscar Pulido: You're right! I have had that experience of walking through the train station and feeling a bit lost, fortunately I was guided by somebody. But it gave me the sense that there's a lot about Japan that I don't know, and you've helped fill in some of those blanks today. Belinda, thank you so much for your views on Japan, and thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Belinda Boa: Thanks Oscar!

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. On our next episode, I welcome Catherine Cress, head of geopolitical research and strategy at BlackRock to discuss what the economy can expect this year from the world of geopolitics.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0124U/M-3333800

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Digital assets have become a fascinating and sometimes perplexing phenomenon in the financial landscape. Cryptocurrencies offer decentralized and borderless transactions challenging the long-established norms of the financial system. And the underlying blockchain technology not only ensures security, but also opens doors to innovative applications beyond currency- impacting industries from finance to supply chain.

    Robbie Mitchnick: The ability for the first time to have an asset that is truly global, that anyone with a mobile phone and internet connection can tap into. This asset, and the new access to financial opportunities that it creates in a permissionless way is really a significant breakthrough.

    Oscar Pulido: But cryptocurrencies receive their share of skepticism due to their volatile nature. So, what does the future hold for this asset class?

    Samara Cohen: This era of access and integration is what's here for Bitcoin now. So it's going to be critical to see how the integration of Bitcoin in capital markets catalyzes new strategies for investors and differentiated outcomes.

    Oscar Pulido: Today I'm joined by Robbie Mitchnick, head of Digital Assets at BlackRock and Samara Cohen, Chief Investment Officer of the ETF and Index Investments business at BlackRock. Robbie and Samara will lend their knowledge and experience to help us navigate the story of digital assets, from their inception to their current state and beyond. We'll explore the unique features that set digital assets apart and the potential they hold for investors seeking new opportunities in the ever-evolving financial market.

    <<THEME MUSIC ENDS>>

    Oscar Pulido: Robbie and Samara, welcome to The Bid.

    Robbie Mitchnick: Thanks for having me. Good to be back.

    Samara Cohen: Thanks for having us, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: I'm very excited to have you both because, I don't know if it's just me, but when we talk about this space, there's a lot of terminology that we use. We talk about digital assets, there's blockchain, there's crypto, there's Bitcoin, and I've needed to listen to a few of these conversations to make sense of how this all comes together. Robbie, maybe I could start with you, help us make sense of some of these concepts.

    Robbie Mitchnick: Sure. Digital assets as the starting point is the umbrella term for this space. And everything in digital assets is enabled by blockchain as the underlying technology.

    So, when we think about digital assets, I think that best way to think of its significance is with an analogy to the internet. That is that digital assets through blockchain makes possible for the movement of value, what the internet did for the movement of data multiple decades ago, a global, decentralized, accessible, real-time network.

    Then within digital assets, you've got really three buckets that we think of. One is crypto, the most famous -generates a lot of the headlines, you have 10,000 plus different crypto assets today of which Bitcoin is the original and remains today by far the largest with a striking share of market cap north of 50%.

    Second bucket, stable coins where you take the properties of digital assets of crypto in terms of ability to send them anywhere in the world in near real time, at near zero cost in a digitally native, transparent way, and strip out some of the intrinsic volatility that exists today for crypto assets to make them more useful as a payment asset.

    The third bucket, tokenized assets, the idea is you're taking real world assets or financial assets, and you're issuing the ownership record of those on a blockchain in digitally native format.

    Oscar Pulido: I love the analogy about digital assets, providing the ability of the movement of value, I think is what you said. The way the internet facilitated the movement of information. And thank you for that description. I think that helps categorize these various concepts. But if I'm an investor, what does this all actually mean? what part of what you mentioned actually matters to me as somebody looking at the markets.

    Robbie Mitchnick: Yeah. I think sometimes it's tempting to look at this and say, the applications of blockchain technology, maybe Bitcoin or crypto was first, but there's going to be so many vast applications of blockchain that those'll be irrelevant in the long arc of history. And I don't think that's quite correct, Bitcoin's been around for 15 years, the blockchain hype and institutional interest has been here for, let's say six, seven years. When we look at, what are the things that we couldn't solve before as a human society and economy or that we did, but we did them in a really inefficient way. Now through blockchain, we either solved that or we predominantly use blockchain to do it in a much more efficient way. The record so far is pretty thin, and the exceptions are really Bitcoin, Ethereum to some extent in a more early-stage way, and stable coins.

    So, Bitcoin, why is it significant? I think it's a really complex question that's not well understood. The way to think about it is in three components, three problems that it solves, which are centuries old problems.

    And the first is payments and particularly cross-border payments or moving money across political jurisdictions. That has always been difficult. Domestic payments today actually pretty easy, pretty efficient. A lot of countries have real time digital payment networks. But cross border is another story altogether.

    And if we go back a millennia to what was a very pioneering system in the Middle East, the Hawala system. And that was how, money moved across longer distances in that time. And how it worked was you went to a broker, and you deposited something of value, they created a receipt that was then transmitted to another broker, let's say in the next village, who was connected to your broker. And they would pay out to some recipient something of value, and then the two brokers would periodically settle.

    It's an innovative system for the ninth century AD. But in fact, our cross-border payment system today looks a lot like that. If you're sending a wire or a money transmission, you're going to your bank or your money transmitter and you're depositing with them, and then they've got a relationship with their bank, and their bank has a relationship with the end recipient's bank, and at the end of it, someone at the other end gets their money, but in the process you incur significant fees and time delays and frictions, and so that has not modernized really in centuries.

    When we think about the introduction of Bitcoin and digital assets, this idea of being able to move a digitally native asset globally across borders in near real time at near zero cost, that's an amazing breakthrough.

    The second piece is when we think about the predominant form that money lives in today, Now, for most of our history, money was either a commodity itself or coinage that had a linkage to commodity, whether directly or through convertibility. Today the predominant form of money is as government issued fiat currency. And that has all kinds of benefits in terms of efficiency to settle transactions at scale and digital format. But what it doesn't have is security against arbitrary supply increases. And so, what we've seen throughout much of modern history is when fiscal challenges arise in a given country, there's this temptation to increase the supply to base currency and ultimately create inflation. Bitcoin with its rigidly fixed supply cap of 21 million units, 19.5 million of which are already in existence, has a totally different paradigm.

    And then finally, the ability for the first time to have an asset that is truly global, that anyone with a mobile phone and internet connection can tap into. There's people who have mobile phones but don't have bank accounts. So, this asset, and the new access to financial opportunities that it creates in a permissionless way is really a significant breakthrough.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you're saying that crypto, and you use Bitcoin as the prominent example, is modernizing the financial system. It's making it easier for cross-border payments and is making people think about the currency that they have in their pocket, that fiat currency, those bills, are not fixed in supply, they can't increase in supply. And in fact, we saw central bank responses over the course of many years do that in response to crises. Whereas cryptocurrencies are more fixed in supply, and therefore have a purchasing power that perhaps is more valuable. Let's talk more about cryptocurrency, which perhaps had a lot of critics, that this was a fad, and, to some extent that appeared to be the case at the end of 2022. But here we are again today with crypto and Bitcoin, really prominently in the headline. So, what's changed?

    Robbie Mitchnick: Actually, you allude to the major correction that happened in 2022, that was just one cycle in crypto's history. But there've been four. And if you put a price chart of them side by side, they look almost indistinguishable.

    So, Bitcoin's created in 2009, and then you have 2010, 2011, this spectacular parabolic rally when it goes from nothing to something. Then crash.

    2013 another parabolic rally. This time it enters the mainstream consciousness of a wider number of people. Ultimately that, cycle collapsed when Mount Gox, which was the leading crypto exchange at the time, imploded. Then you have this bear market for a while.

    2017 arrives and crypto goes parabolic again, hits all-time highs, order magnitude above where it had ever been before. And now it started to enter not just mainstream investors, but big institutions are thinking about this, Again, that, rally collapses.

    Finally, the fourth cycle, which we saw starting in Covid, it was some flight to scarcity value of Bitcoin initially, but then it extended to other crypto assets, that too collapsed in 2022 with some excesses and other bad behavior.

    So, it's been this, rollercoaster journey, but when you look back at the long-term trajectory, each of these cycles, tend to be a multiple or even an order of magnitude or higher than the prior cycle.

    Oscar Pulido: So, these ups and downs are nothing new. And in fact, your timeline went back to the early 2010s, but we should expect volatility in this asset class. that gets me to think about investments and Samara, when we think about these digital assets and particularly cryptocurrencies, how should investors think about this relative to more traditional investments, things like stocks and bonds. Are there certain advantages they possess or are there certain challenges, or maybe it's a combination of both?

    Samara Cohen: Oscar, what I love about the framing that Robbie just gave us is that he not only just did a 14-year history of cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin specifically, but he actually went back a thousand years in talking about the history of money, which I love as a self-professed markets history nerd.

    And Robbie has laid out really well the vision for digital assets, they can be traded across borders in a transparent manner without intermediaries and that's the crux of what is the specific change in this new paradigm. And of course, these are markets that don't close, these are 24/7 markets. so that's the vision. Now let's speak to the actual practice of investing in Bitcoin.

    When you look to invest in and own Bitcoin directly, as an investor, you're engaging with an entirely new ecosystem. You have to take a more direct role in vendor selection, in onboarding, you need to understand custody and also the differences in tax management. This is a big education curve, and it introduces, complexity as well as potentially trading and operational costs.

    So that's the state of play for investors who are, alongside their, asset classes and markets they have traditionally been invested, in looking to overlay bitcoin strategies. Now the attributes of digital assets that we've talked about are actually particularly appealing to millennial and Gen Z investors who, over the past several years, are becoming much more predominant in the investing world. And that's an important part of what's happening in market structure around the world and what's happening in crypto.

    Both of these generations are digital natives, they grew up with the internet, they're comfortable transacting their lives in an increasingly borderless space. And they are more likely to own crypto than mutual funds, equities, or ETFs. And as Robbie spoke about, this trend of engaging in Bitcoin has been spreading to institutional investors as well with a number of them, adding Bitcoin as an asset class alongside others in their portfolios. So, the moment right now, and I love Robbie's layout of the four eras of Bitcoin because I think this era is really around integration and access with the availability of access technologies like ETFs.

    Oscar Pulido: It sounds like it won't just be the millennials and Gen Z investors that are thinking about crypto, but that it could broaden out to a broader swath of investors. So are there certain developments in the regulatory landscape that have created more legitimacy or acceptance for digital assets that you've seen or that you foresee happening?

    Samara Cohen: Yeah, this is important to talk about because evolution in the regulatory atmosphere has not only enabled the rise of digital assets, but where it goes from here is going to be critical to the path forward.

    I do want to make the point though, Oscar, to what you said about institutional investors alongside the Gen Z millennial investors. Putting crypto to the side, a huge topic in markets around the world is how market structure is adapting to self-directed retail investors. And that is true, across asset classes with platforms and a huge part of market structure regulation generally. Looking at equity markets, through the lens of how they are accessed directly by investors, is really guiding policymakers around the world in traditional finance as well.

    Now policymakers are starting to make moves to develop frameworks around Bitcoin, and the reason they're doing it is because they see the increase in interest in investors and also the evolution in infrastructure across the industry.

    We see countries broadly focused on how to bring crypto markets into compliance by creating frameworks, which is what they do, and what they're supposed to do for all parts of the financial system and all parts of emerging technologies.

    The European Union will actually be the first major jurisdiction with a comprehensive crypto framework. The Markets and Crypto Assets licensing regime, and that takes effect at year end 2024. In the US there have been efforts in Congress on a bipartisan basis to create measures aimed at regulating and providing greater market structure to the digital asset industry, those measures have progress that needs to be made. I will say in my own engagement in the industry and with US policy makers, I think the drive to ensure the US is competitive in this space, is going to accelerate and make sure we progress.

    Oscar Pulido: Samara, it sounds like what you're saying is that regulators are working to put frameworks in place that give investors some comfort that there are guardrails in place, so that if they want to incorporate Bitcoin and digital assets into their portfolio, they can do so in a more confident manner. And Robbie, I think Samara alluded to this, you mentioned blockchain technology, it has wider application, that it's the foundation for, digital currencies, but it has other ways in which it can be applied. So maybe talk about, where are we there?

    Robbie Mitchnick: It's fun that we get to do this together because you were one of the original believers in this Samara. I remember, sitting in your office on a Friday afternoon in October of 2018. And you were so dialed in to what this was, and you were newer to the technology at the time, but thinking about what this could mean for ETF markets, and I remember walking out of that thinking, this is going to be a thing here,

    Samara Cohen: And I'm just sad you didn't bring up your thousand-year history of money, Robbie, because I think we would've gotten here faster!

    Robbie Mitchnick: Or, you might've said, that guy's crazy and I would've been, looking for another job. But, when we think about going beyond crypto and I mentioned in the sort of three-part framework at the top for digital assets of crypto, stable coins and tokenized assets. And tokenized assets is how I would answer that question where, there's a lot of interest and, hype around, the potential to take this technology and apply it to existing assets, whether they be financial or physical assets- we could be talking about stocks, bonds, commodities like gold, real estate, art, you name it. And take the properties of blockchain and what it enables in terms of transparency and efficient settlement and, borderlessness and being digitally native and programmable, all these things and modernize how our financial system works and modernize access to, maybe asset classes that weren't easy or efficient for many investors to get access to. And so, I think this is a transformation that is going to take time. This is not a three-year transformation. This is 10, maybe 15, maybe 20 years, but if it happens, it'll be the biggest transformation in our securities market since we moved from paper-based share trading in the 1970s to electronic records.

    Oscar Pulido: And the reason it takes that long, the 10, 15, 20 years, is just that financial markets are complex and there's a way in which things are done that takes a long time to unwind. Robbie, I think I've also heard you talk about the issue of property rights and how tokenized assets strengthen this issue of property rights over digital assets. So maybe talk a little bit about that.

    Robbie Mitchnick: Yeah, one of the breakthroughs of Bitcoin that then, applies, in other digital assets is, historically it's been very difficult to create a form of property, a form of value that cannot be seized by force.

    Again, go back centuries or millennia, property, whether that was at risk of seizure by an invading army, or by a hostile or authoritarian government. Now for the first time, you have this idea that your wealth can fit on effectively a USB key as stored in your pocket, or even be memorized in your head. We're talking about private key that gives you access to your Bitcoin. that's an amazing breakthrough,

    Oscar Pulido: So, Samara, what advancements do you see taking place in the digital asset space that investors should be mindful of? What do you think that's going to mean in terms of the investment decisions that investors need to make going forward?

    Samara Cohen: I have to say, the private key, comment is a great example of when we talk about the practical applications and what's new for investors here, like having to memorize seed phrase is very stressful for investors. And so, figuring out how you want to engage and whether that's how you want to own your crypto, that's a perfect example of what it means to actually have to adopt to a new ecosystem.

    For all of the reasons that we've talked about, self-directed investors, we know we see it, this is a huge topic for policy makers, they are interested in gaining access to digital assets broadly, to Bitcoin specifically in a way that's convenient and efficient and secure. Importantly, crypto is also becoming a topic for the whole wealth industry and for financial advisors.

    And then we're starting to think about crypto in a whole portfolio context, this brings me back to this idea of the era of access and integration. What are the ways to integrate crypto into a broader portfolio? And then the significance of the application of existing and familiar technologies like ETF technology to spot Bitcoin? The use of ETF technology, which is now becoming predominant, in multiple jurisdictions allow investors more access to Bitcoin in a whole portfolio way. So, they can see the integration of risk, they can manage their portfolios holistically. And that's a very significant aspect of what this kind of next phase will be.

    And I will also add with respect to whether it takes, years, decades, millennia for market structure to change. We know a few things, like really what moves market structure forward are two things, it's what technology enables and this inexorable march towards more access and more transparency, which investors always want. Competing with that are, entrenched interests often, which can, slow things down. And then as you talked about before, the ability of policy and regulatory frameworks to adapt in a way that supports the new ecosystem.

    This era of access and integration is what's here for Bitcoin now. So, it's going to be critical to see how the integration of Bitcoin in capital markets catalyzes new strategies for investors and differentiated outcomes.

    Oscar Pulido: It sounds like both of you have a front row seat to the modernization of, financial markets. So, thank you for sharing that with me today, I feel like I've got a little more information on this topic, but I know there's probably more to learn, so we'll look forward to welcoming you both back at some point on The Bid. Robbie and Samara, thank you for joining us on the podcast.

    Robbie Mitchnick: Thanks for having us.

    Samara Cohen: Thanks for having us. Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening. to this episode of The Bid. Next week, be sure to tune in and check out my conversation with Jeff Spiegel, where he'll provide a holistic overview of major investment themes to help investors navigate the year ahead.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0124U/M-3290789

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Benjamin Franklin once said, an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. So, as we begin a new year, what knowledge will help investors prepare for potential volatility on the one hand, and potential for opportunities on the other?

    Jeff Spiegel: One thing that we have to keep in mind, and this really started last year, um, is all decisions around investing, everything we're seeing everyone doing is now colored by the rate situation. With yields where they are, um, frankly, you have to be a little more thoughtful about taking risk, right, if you can capture, you know, four or five, 6% on short-term debt uh, that raises the bar. And so, we think that investors, when they're thinking about the equity side of their allocation um, need to be thoughtful about where can they really drive returns.

    Joining me today is a Bid regular Jeff Spiegel. US head of Thematics Sector and International ETFs at BlackRock to help investors navigate the year ahead. Jeff will provide a holistic overview of three major investment themes, including the emergence of the AI trade opportunities in medical innovation, and the impact of geopolitical shifts on globalization.

    Jeff, welcome back to The Bid.

    Jeff Spiegel: Great to be back with you, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: And Jeff, Happy New Year. it is 2024. I hope you had some time off, before we started the new year?

    Jeff Spiegel: Happy New year to you, Oscar. I've actually been out in Denver for a couple of weeks, visiting my sister who's a veterinarian, which means I was also staying with four chinchillas and a four-pound dog.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Jeff, with the new year comes the opportunity to invest in new themes. So, I'm curious, how are you thinking about the year ahead as far as the broad themes that investors should be considering?

    Jeff Spiegel: One thing that we have to keep in mind, and this really started last year, is all decisions around investing, everything we're seeing everyone doing is now colored by the rate situation. With yields where they are, frankly, you have to be a little more thoughtful about taking risk, right, if you can capture, four or five, 6% on short-term debt that raises the bar. And so, we think that investors, when they're thinking about the equity side of their allocation need to be thoughtful about where can they really drive returns. Where is that potential opportunity to get the outperformance that justifies being out of cash and being out of bonds?

    And so, when we think about that, there's really three areas. The first is artificial intelligence. I know we've been talking about this for a long time. I did a Bid episode with you last year where we discussed it but it, it's a constantly growing and transforming phenomenon. We're really thinking about it as the very early iterations, the concepts, the ChatGPT to real products and enterprise usage and commercialization.

    The second is about medical innovation, unlike artificial intelligence a lot of the most exciting areas of medical breakthroughs last year in 2023 really struggled, from a performance perspective that rerated valuations, and even though we have amazing breakthroughs right in front of us, against cancer, against neurodegenerative conditions, those valuations make really attractive entry points.

    And the last is this idea of rewiring globalization. This new megaforce that we've brought to market last year in 2023, the idea of a fragmenting world is something that investors have to think about more and more in their international allocations.

    Oscar Pulido: Let's go through some of these themes. You mentioned three of them, but let's start with AI and I was going back through the archives and in fact it was last February that you and I spoke, and we talked about ChatGPT, in fact people might remember that we had ChatGPT join us on the podcast as a special guest. It was a big theme for 2023 as it turns out, and you're saying it's going to be a continued theme in 2024. What are the developments that you expect to see this year? What industries, what sectors are going to benefit from this AI theme?

    Jeff Spiegel: We make a lot of predictions, both of us in our work. I think we were both really excited about AI back in February. I think we probably under clubbed it, in terms of how exciting it was going to be, and that excitement really continues. but again, it's shifting, towards a new phase. last year most people's experience with artificial intelligence was having an amazing conversation with ChatGPT or with Bard and that felt a little bit more like a novelty but was teasing people's idea of what might be possible.

    I think going into this year, what you're going to see is, much more commercial applications. That means that if you work in a law office, you're probably going to be using technology that allows you to iterate on contracts incredibly quickly with just text-based inputs, and this idea of text-based inputs is so important because one of the other areas that I think will be transformed is coding. Pretty much anything that you might write in code, you can actually just tell your artificial intelligence what you want it to do, and it'll output that code. So, across industries, you're going to be able to use text language to accomplish incredibly complicated tasks that usually would require some level of coding automation. And again, that could be contract based, that could be marketing and advertising language, so on and so forth. And again, companies are investing not just because AI is cool, though, I think we can all agree it's pretty cool, but largely around cost reductions. When you think about the efficiencies that are created, a coder sort of spending his time or her time, debugging something rather than writing the code from scratch- that's faster, that's powerful. Actually, about 60% of companies who plan to adopt AI are planning to do so for the reasons of cost savings.[i]

     This is a real imperative in how businesses are being run in generating more revenue and generating more profitability. These productization, these actual use cases in the way that we work, I think that's going to be really powerful.

    We've also talked in the last year a lot of the downstream implications and beneficiaries, the picks and shovels, if you will. There were semiconductor companies that were some of the biggest performers around the AI craze. a lot of that specifically semiconductor companies that were responsible for GPUs or graphic processing units. Now, these are really critical when it comes to training AIs, when it comes to crunching massive amounts of information. But we actually think that semiconductor opportunity is really just starting because as we move forward from training artificial intelligence towards what we call inference. You actually need different semiconductors, you need CPUs. That broadens out the opportunity set to a range of other firms. And the way you can think about this is the training process is about learning how to do a math problem. The inference process is actually taking what you've learned applying it to solving a math problem. As we shift to that phase of artificial intelligence, the semiconductor opportunity only broadens out from here.

    And then investors remain really underexposed to a lot of these themes. If you look at the NYSE fact set, robotics and artificial intelligence index, it’s a very small holding in most people's portfolios when you consider pure play companies. From pure play companies under a hundred billion dollars, the average investor is only owning about 1.5% of their portfolio in artificial intelligence, there's a lot of room to grow that allocation, especially as artificial intelligence continues to grow in importance in our lives and in the economy.[ii]

    Oscar Pulido: It is interesting to think back to the conversation we originally had around AI and chat GPT. You used the word novelty and just thinking about how that discussion around AI evolved in 2023, where we had seemingly this kind of cool toy to play with.

    And then, what. Manifested over the course of the year was all of these real-world applications that it was going to start to apply to. And you started talking about some of those and some of what's to come. You also mentioned medical innovation. So, what are some of the factors that make. This sector, attractive in terms of valuations, in terms of potential breakthroughs? I'm remembering as well the discussion you and I had around neuroscience and maybe that's one of the areas that you're, wanting to discuss.

    Jeff Spiegel: It absolutely is. We're quickly entering a world in which there will be more grandparents than grandchildren. Effectively that's more people over 65 than under the age of 18[iii] and, we can actually predict what some of the consequence of that is medically.

    We know that in older populations, cancer is significantly more prevalent. We know that in older populations some of those neurodegenerative conditions we talked about last time, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, various other forms of dementia are a lot more prevalent. That's a challenge for society, for sure, but it's also an opportunity because we can see it coming, because this is a very predictable force, these aging populations. And so, there's a bunch of breakthroughs in both areas as well as biotechnology broadly. It's not actually just that people are getting older, that age cohort, that baby boomer population is aging up, it's also that people are living longer because medicine is better.

    And I would actually predict we're going to accelerate that pretty quickly because a lot of the drugs that we've seen that are combating diabetes and obesity, that's one of the major problems that limits lifespans, particularly in the United States. These drugs are actually going to drive about a hundred billion dollars of additional revenue in the prescription drug market up from about 1.5 trillion today, so almost an 8% increase in the total prescription market just based on these drugs that are going to reduce obesity and therefore extend lives even further.[iv]

    But when we think about specifically, how we're going to operate faster, how we're going to operate better, we actually can go back to that artificial intelligence conversation that we were just having. One of the differences from 2023 to this year is when you're playing with chat GPT, when you're using Bard, these are generative AIs that were trained on the internet, they were trained on public information. What you're going to increasingly see is more specialized artificial intelligence that's trained on specific information. And in medicine, that's going to be one of the most powerful places, naturally medical data is restricted. That's exactly what we want, so it's not available to a GPT or a Bard. But when you use it within a walled garden of a biotechnology company, for example, you can actually get at that.

    And so, for example, scientists actually last year, used AI to map a fruit flies’ brain, 150,000 neurons.[v] And this is actually the first animal that we have ever mapped the brain for. How did we do that? We used artificial intelligence to accelerate the process. Now, the human brain is a little bit more complicated, it's more like 86 billion neurons than 150,000 neurons.[vi] But at the speed of which artificial intelligence is improving, we're probably going to be able to map the human brain as well in the near future. Artificial intelligence is driving breakthroughs in one of those areas that we know is going to be such a prevalent problem, which is these neurodegenerative conditions. Because if we can better understand the brain, we can come up with a lot more treatments in those areas.

    And then when we think about cancer and drug discovery more broadly, bringing a new drug to market, if you factor in failures, which there's a high fail rate, the average drug actually costs about $2.5 billion in development costs.[vii] It takes about 12 to 15 years on average from development to regulatory approval.[viii] There's only about a one third probability that a drug researched actually is successful, in treating the condition it's intended for.[ix] And then almost a 10% probability that it gets approved by the FDA or whichever governing body.[x]

    So, it's incredibly challenging bringing new drugs to market but again, AI can prevent a really nice solution here, which is by 2025, we actually think that over 30% of new drugs are expected to be discovered using generative AI,[xi] which is really good at iterative processes, which is what drug development is often all about, and we think that this can save biotech companies 25 to 50% of their development time,[xii] When you think about that, you're basically saying drugs go from a likelihood of 35%, of being successful over 10 to 12 years, to basically taking that risk only over five to six years. that makes a huge difference in the profitability of biotech companies as well as in the opportunities we're all going to have to have these drugs brought to market sooner for us and for our loved ones.

    But when you think about AI a little bit more holistically in healthcare, you could actually think about the patient experience. virtual nursing assistants, AI robot assisted surgeries, health monitoring through wearables, personalized healthcare plans.

    You can almost imagine, 'Hey, artificial intelligence, read all of the patient notes on this person, take a look at the patient tests, and then spit out for me a treatment plan' That's where we're headed. And then more diagnostics and more treatments. So, it's not just drug discovery, it's this whole universe of health care that's going to get supercharged at a time that's really important because we know we have that aging population, we know we're going to have those greater health needs.

    Oscar Pulido: Just listening to you talk, you've intersected the AI investment theme with a medical, healthcare-oriented investment theme, which is a good reminder that these two things are not interdependent.

    They can, intersect. and you brought up some good examples. you also talked about an aging population, as I understand it. I just recently heard this, that 2024 is what they're calling Peak 65, which is the year in which the most baby boomers are turning 65 years old. Just to give us a sense of the aging population.

    So, what is the impact for somebody who's a long-term investor and thinking about investing in the market, what is the impact of this larger and older population?

    Jeff Spiegel: So, I think there's, two impacts that I would point out. So, one is what we were just discussing. It's very predictable that we're going to see more healthcare spending. It's very predictable that we're going to see more breakthroughs as we invest more to fight those diseases, and we use artificial intelligence to supercharge that process.

    The other areas that, this demographic dividend that was effectively paid to the United States and some other countries following World War II because of that baby boom is ending in much of the Western world. It's long over, in a place like Japan. but when you think about large parts of emerging markets, particularly emerging markets outside China, the demographic dividend is only just paying out now. labor productivity, size of labor force, age of labor force. Increasingly, opportunities are a lot more attractive outside of the United States and outside of Western countries because of the disparity in where folks are on this demographic dividend, on this aging curve,

    Oscar Pulido: As you talk about the differences in, geographies that, changing demographics are having, it brings up the last theme in the outlook, which is, the rewiring of globalization, which is something that we've seen accelerate post the Pandemic. Again, you've been on here talking about this theme in the past, so tell us a little bit about the countries that you think are poised to benefit from the changing supply chains around the world.

    Jeff Spiegel: There's a range of countries, that are going to benefit. And, two really important concepts are, French, shoring and Nearshoring. So Nearshoring, actually to back up for a second, just to provide context, for 30, 40 years. Companies really only prioritize cost in the development of their supply chains.

    Now they're focusing on resilience for a range of reasons. One, the supply chain disruptions of the Covid Pandemic two, an increasingly fraught geopolitical world. a lot has been shown based on what's happened in Ukraine, based on what's happened in Israel, and as a result. That more fraught geopolitical environment means that supply chains around the world are even more at risk.

    So as folks think about reorienting these, they want to limit the geopolitical risk and they want to limit the sort of, geographic distance sort of risk. So Nearshoring is bringing production back towards closer to home. and French shoring is doing more business with countries which you have more free trade agreements or just more positive government relations.

    And so, thinking about those two areas, Mexico and India are the two that come to mind. Mexico kind of hits, on all fronts here, right? So really strong free trade agreement with the United States. if you ask executives what are the reasons you want to do more business in Mexico, they'll tell you it's because there's a qualified labor force, they'll tell you because the salaries are attractive, but they'll also tell you in huge numbers because of the proximity to the United States. and then you think about a place like India, and India obviously is a good bit away geographically from the United States, but today it's the world's fifth largest economy.[xiii]

    We think by the end of the decade it'll be the world's third largest economy.[xiv] and again, a lot of that growth is driven by what we were talking about, the working age population, growing incredibly rapidly, the amount of educated young workers, growing incredibly radically, along with being a democratic countries that is good relations with a lot of other democratic countries like the United States, and so we've actually seen about $2 billion flow into India ETFs just over the course of last year.[xv]

    But when you zoom out a little bit, Mexico and India are really good examples, but the list goes on, right? You've got Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, all of whom are benefiting from the near or French shoring components or both.

    And when you also think about the fact that China makes up about 30% of the emerging markets benchmark,[xvi] we're seeing investors increasingly focus on emerging markets X China We've actually seen about $4 billion flow into, emerging market X China ETFs just over the course of the last 12 months or so.[xvii] you know that growth is incredibly rapid. In fact, emerging markets x China is now making up a really large percentage of total flows into emerging market ETFs, this new way of investing, focusing on this wide range of beneficiaries of nearshoring, of friend shoring, and thinking a little bit more about a diversification of supply chains beyond just China.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Jeff, maybe just to wrap up, it's been a bumpy few years. We've had Covid, we've emerged from the pandemic, we have a new macro regime that the BlackRock Investment Institute has talked about with higher interest rates. You tend to come on here and give us an optimistic view of the world and think a little bit more long term, so starting off 2024 on the right foot, what are some of the things that investors should be considering to maximize the opportunities that are out there?

    Jeff Spiegel: Everything has to be covered by this new yield environment that we're living in. And when you think about in that context, investors really have the luxury. of being pickier, if you can lock in fairly safely or very safely, strong yields, it gives you an opportunity in the portfolio to take a bit more risk, but also to be really thoughtful about that risk. That's why we think artificial intelligence, given the sort of expanding out of the opportunity, it's why we see medical breakthroughs given the attractive valuations combined with the supercharging impact of AI combined with some of the really near-term breakthroughs that are right in front of us.

    And again, this geopolitical fragmentation, as places where we think investors can take some of that additional risk and be really targeted in equities, and not just as has worked really well for the last decade or so, own the whole market, but own specific markets where they think they can truly drive growth.

    And honestly, when I think about these three areas, in a lot of ways, I think the biggest risk is missing the opportunities potentially being left behind. That's this whole idea of mega forces of really thinking forward, of really thinking about the opportunities that are huge, that we know are coming and that we want to make sure we participate in.

    Oscar Pulido: Jeff, as always, very insightful. Again, happy New Year. I'm not sure if staying with your sister makes you more likely or less likely to want to have pets, but we do hope you'll rejoin us on the podcast over the course. Of 2024. Thank you so much for joining us on the bid today.

    Jeff Spiegel: Still love pets, huge animal lover. I don't think I will ever have a chinchilla, much less for Chinchillas, but it was great getting to visit with her over the holiday season and as always, it's great getting to visit with you today, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    [i] Slalom, 'AI’s most powerful prompt,' 10/10/23.
    [ii] BlackRock, Morningstar, BlackRock Portfolio Solutions as of June 30, 2022. Starting Portfolio Allocation is representative of advisors’ broad asset allocations for equities, based on analysis of 21,276 portfolios over the 12-month trailing period.
    [iii] Inter Press Service News Agency, 'The Historic Reversal of Populations,' 08/08/2016.
    [iv] BlackRock, 'Diagnosis: Big opportunity in healthcare stocks,' 07/27/2023.
    [v] Fortune, 'Scientists just used A.I. to map a fruit fly’s brain. Here’s why it’s a ‘turning point in neuroscience’,' 07/08/2023.
    [vi] Drug Discovery and Development, 'The Brain Knowledge Platform aims to illumine the brain’s cellular universe,' 06/10/2023.
    [vii] Morgan Stanley, 'Why Artificial Intelligence Could Speed Drug Discovery,' 09/09/2023.
    [viii] BCG and Wellcome, Unlocking the potential of AI in Drug Discovery,' June 2023.
    [ix] Ibid.
    [x] BCG and Wellcome, Unlocking the potential of AI in Drug Discovery,' June 2023.
    [xi] Gartner, 'Beyond ChatGPT: The Future of Generative AI for Enterprises,' 01/26/2023. BCG and Wellcome, Unlocking the potential of AI in Drug Discovery,' June 2023.
    [xii] Ibid.
    [xiii] World Economic Forum, 'This chart shows the growth of India’s economy,' 09/26/2022.
    [xiv] The Economic Times, 'India set to be world’s third-largest economy by 2030: S&P Global,' 10/25/2023.
    [xv] Global Business Intelligence, Bloomberg, as of 10/31/23.
    [xvi] Morningstar, as of 10/31/2023.
    [xvii] Global Business Intelligence, Bloomberg, as of 10/31/23.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

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  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido. In 2023, global equity markets experienced a notable surge driven by resilient economic growth and increased investor confidence. Setting an optimistic tone for the forthcoming year.

    In particular, US equity returns pleasantly surprised investors, but with higher rates and inflation coupled with rising geopolitical tension still top of mind, can the solid performance continue and how might these topics impact markets in 2024?

    Tony DeSpirito: If there's anything I've learned over my 30 or so years of investing, it's to expect the unexpected. I'd have to say We're still in the late innings of the economic cycle. Employment's rather full, there's not a lot of slack in the economy, and the Fed's job is a tough one.

    Oscar Pulido: Today I welcome back a Bid regular BlackRock's global CIO of fundamental equities, Tony DeSpirito. Tony will break down the headlines and his stock Pickers guide to 2024. Tony, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Tony DeSpirito: Thank you, Oscar. It's great to be here again.

    Oscar Pulido: Tony, as we look ahead to 2024 and your expectations for the stock market, maybe we can first start with, how the equity markets defied expectations in 2023.

    Tony DeSpirito: That's a great way of, putting it defying expectations. And if there's anything I've learned over my 30 or so years of investing, it's to expect the unexpected. Let's scroll back to the beginning of 2023, inflation was running at about 6.5%, the Fed was in the middle of its biggest hiking cycle, in the last 40 years, and you could describe investors as at best, cautious, and maybe even fearful.

    You fast forward to where we are today, things worked out remarkably well. First in terms of inflation, it's running at less than half of what it was running at last year, so the Fed tightenings having a real impact there. But where we haven't seen a big impact is on the economy itself. If you look at the economy and the jobs market, that's remained really solid. In fact, we're probably going to end this year at about 2.5% GDP growth. The latest unemployment report was 3.7%, very healthy.

    And then you look at markets and even if you look at the equally weighted S&P500 index, the market has climbed that proverbial wall of worry, if you will. Now it wasn't without some wobbles along the way, we had a banking crisis back in March. It's hard to remember now.

    So it wasn't, without its wobbles, but certainly when you look at the year on the whole, you'd say the returns look quite normal. The economy looks quite healthy and inflation's about where, almost where we want it to

    Oscar Pulido: And it's interesting you mentioned interest rates mention inflation, the economy, I might even add geopolitics. Those are topics that we touched on in 2023, but it seems like these are also some of the main topics going into 2024. So, tell us again where you fall on these various topics and what does it mean for equity investing?

    Tony DeSpirito: I represent Fundamental Equities and we're not macro forecasters. We're bottoms up stock pickers. we're looking for good businesses at good prices that we want to own for the next three to five years, that's our investment horizon. That said, it's important to recognize where we are in the cycle.

    I'd have to say we're still in the late innings of the economic cycle. That doesn't mean I'm forecasting a recession or preparing for recession. It just means we're in the later innings. the later innings are when employment's rather full, there's not a lot of slack in the economy, and the Fed's job is a tough one, to be quite honest, If the Fed tightens too much or for too long, we risk a recession, and if the Fed tightens too little or rolls back, some of those increases too quickly, we risk inflation coming back. And so, we're at that point in the cycle where you got to pull out your late cycle playbook as an investor. And to me what that means is you want to go up the scale in quality. Quality, I think about good businesses. I think about really strong balance sheets. And I think about buying at fair or good valuations, good prices. As you do that, the implication for investors is that you'll be okay no matter what the macro environment turns out. And I think that was the lesson from 2023, to be quite honest.

    Oscar Pulido: The environment you describe, seems to imply that investors should be selective. You mentioned quality as a characteristic, but perhaps in the later, stages of economic cycle, selectivity is important, and this actually rhymes with what Alex Brazier has talked about from the BlackRock Investment Institute, which is this need to be agile in terms of your investment approach. So where should investors start in 2024 when they think about the stock market, particularly because a lot of them were very focused on cash at the beginning of 2023, should their mindset change as they go into the new year?

    Tony DeSpirito: Well, this issue of selectivity, I think it's going to be a multi-year issue. I don't think it's going to be an issue for just 2024. I think we need to look back in history a little bit. We've talked a lot about this is a new era of investing. And I think what we really mean is that we're going back to old eras. I think about that period, post the global financial crisis all the way through till the end of 2021, when the Fed first realized it was behind the curve on inflation and rates. I call that the 'post global financial crisis' period.

    It was incredibly unique by any historical standards. It was a period that was characterized by excess supply, too many empty houses, too many unemployed people, too many goods coming from all over the world in terms of low-cost geographies, and it meant not enough demand to soak up all that supply. The Fed's job was to fight deflation to constantly come to the rescue, to markets with low interest rates, quantitative easing, et cetera. The result of all that was extremely high equity returns, particularly in the US equity returns were about double historical averages for that entire period on average. Wow, that's a long time!

    And not only were equity returns super high, but volatility was really low versus history. So, it was a proverbial free lunch, way better returns at slightly better volatility. I. That meant you really need to make one decision, buy the S&P500 in the low-cost way and forget it. We're in a very different environment now, I think BII has done a very good job of describing this. We're in an environment where it's no longer excess supply, now it's not enough supply. Some of that's demographics, the baby boom's retiring and that's having an impact. Some of it is, we're going through a massive transition with decarbonization. Eventually that's going to help on the cost side, but there’s going to be a number of years where we're just spending a lot of money, and that's inflationary.

    Then finally, think about globalization. We've reached peak globalization. Now we're in a period of deglobalization. We're in a period of rethinking supply chains. That too means higher costs, more inflation. And so, the fed's battle is going to be dramatically different going forward. It's going to be about fighting inflation instead of deflation. inflation will come and go, but that'll be the fight that'll be ongoing. What that means is more stock volatility. So, I think this is a really good environment for people who do what I do, stock pickers, fundamental equities, because of two things.

    One is if you think about returns are going to be more normalized. That means alpha is going to be a more important part of portfolios. So, they're going to seek excess returns, they're going to seek active managers, and at the same time, when you think about volatility, volatility's really good for what I do. If you're a skilled stock picker, volatility is your friend. Now and I use the words carefully, skilled stock picker, because we all know, alpha's a zero-sum game, but if you're skilled in a volatile environment, you'll do better than average. And so, when I look at that, I think that's what's important for investors is to stay invested in the market. 2023 taught you that if nothing else and be active.

    Oscar Pulido: Most people don't associate volatility being your friend, but as you point that out, because you're saying in your line of business when you have volatility, you have opportunity to identify some of those companies that could perhaps, do better than the normalized returns that you think we're going to experience going forward. I think in the past when you and I have spoken, you've talked about particular sectors that interest you. I know healthcare has been one of those sectors. Is that still an area of interest for you as you look ahead into the new year?

    Tony DeSpirito: It totally is. What do I like about healthcare? first of all, demand long-term demand is solid. And that goes back to demographics. We're aging as a society, and as you get older, you consume exponential amounts of healthcare. So, the demand is there, the growth is there It's a sector with a lot of innovation, a lot of high-quality companies. And then it's also a very resilient sector. Think about a recession. You don't stop going to the doctors just because we're in a recession. You don't stop getting sick just because we're in a recession. So, it's a very resilient sector, and yet, despite the fact that has all these great characteristics, the valuations are quite attractive. Lower multiples than the average stock, in the S&P500.

    The last point is about stock picking, there's a lot of variation. There are some winners and there's some losers in the healthcare sector. And so, I think it's not only a good sector to own overall, but it's also a really good sector for stock pickers.

    Oscar Pulido: Tony, hopefully you've been listening to the podcast, not only when you're on as a guest-

    Tony DeSpirito: I do, I listen all the time as I'm walking my dog!

    Oscar Pulido: Fantastic, well, I'm sure you've heard a podcast or two around the topic of artificial intelligence. We've talked a lot about AI on The Bid this year, which, is obviously then an investment in the tech sector for those wanting to invest in that theme. How do you see that as an opportunity set in 2024?

    Tony DeSpirito: The tech sector is another area where there's a lot of dispersion, a lot of opportunity for stock pickers. And I think artificial intelligence is going to be the topic for the next 20 years. It's one of the biggest things going on, just like the internet and the smartphone was over the last 20 years. But I don't think this is going to be an area where it's about, set it and forget it.

    One of the ways we think about it is in terms of a tech stack, if you will, at the bottom level, there's the hardware, there are the chips, the servers, the cloud providers going up a layer, the large language models. Above that data and above that new business models that have yet to be developed. Right now, the winners have been basically in that hardware layer, the chips, maybe some of the server, producers, maybe, the cloud providers. And I think going forward, what's going to win is finding areas of technology that the impact of AI is just underappreciated. and that's what the opportunity set is going forward.

    Let me give you a couple examples of what I mean by that. One Is in the memory area. So, if you think about the memory business, it's a growth business. We consume more and more memory over time, but it's a cyclical business. There are up cycles, there are down cycles while the general trend is up. Right now, we're actually in the middle of a down cycle. Probably around the trough. So, I think cyclically it's good time to invest in memory. But AI is a total memory hog. In fact, you actually have to use specialized memory in many cases, high bandwidth memory. So, I think about it as, okay, there's a potential for a normal upcycle, that's good, but with Ai, there's a potential for a super cycle on the way up that's even better. So, I think this is an underappreciated area of artificial intelligence -memory.

    Another area where our investors are scouring is looking at companies that have unique data sets. If you think about training large language models on publicly available data, that's going to become commoditized. Everyone has access to that. What's really interesting is when you have proprietary data and AI makes that proprietary data even more valuable than it already is. And so, we're looking for companies with proprietary data sets that can be made more valuable by AI that'll then allow those companies to price up for their data. So those are some examples of hidden opportunities, if you will. Eventually we'll start getting new business models, et cetera. But that's still to come.

    Oscar Pulido: So, what you're saying is AI is an investible theme, but the way in which you can best access those returns, or the more interesting investment opportunities might be different companies in the years ahead than what have been the winners so far. And that'll be a rotating process based on how business models are evolving.

    Tony DeSpirito: Exactly. And that's how the internet played out.

    Oscar Pulido: You talked about, deglobalization. We went through this period where, supply chains broadened that across the world, and now we're seeing that reversing, there's another term that often comes up, which I think is, reshoring, that seems to be related. Maybe you can talk a little bit about those themes, just what's going on geopolitically and how do you think about investing in these themes.

    Tony DeSpirito: So, let's look back historically. Supply chains were built for maximum cost efficiency. not for resiliency. And that worked pretty well until we got to Covid. What we saw was all of a sudden that was a problem, we went too far. And that combined with some of the things that are going on geopolitically have really created an incentive for companies to rethink their supply chains. Some of it I would call reshoring, some of it I would call friend shoring, moving to economies like Mexico or India, which we're closer with. Some of it's actually bringing it back here to the US. Certainly, government has played a role in this too, we've had three major acts. We've had the inflation Reduction Act, the Chips Act, and even the Infrastructure Act. I think all of these are encouraging companies to bring more production back, to the US and so that's a really playable theme. But again, there's going to be winners and losers.

    Take electric vehicles. for instance, the Inflation Reduction Act subsidizes the purchase of EV vehicles, but there's a requirement in order to get that $7,500 subsidy, a large part of the vehicle has to be made in the United States or in NAFTA, particularly the critical battery components. Some cars qualify, some don't. And so, if you look through the car manufacturers, some have a long list of vehicles that qualify, and some don't. The ones that don't, they're going to be the relative losers. For example. Another comment on geopolitics is certainly over the last two years we've seen the world; it's potentially becoming a less safe place rather than a more safe place. And so, I do think defense is also an interesting theme that would include here under geopolitics. Defense companies are very reasonably valued, less than the market, yet when you think about the growth opportunities in defense, they're probably going up, not down.

    Oscar Pulido: It's interesting to hear you talk about these very high-level themes, but then distill it down to very particular sectors and industries and then ultimately companies that you're identifying that benefit from these themes.

    If I could ask you to maybe take your passport out and take us outside the US for You have a global view on the world from your seat as a chief investment officer, where do you see the investment opportunities on the international stage outside the US?

    Tony DeSpirito: So, I think the markets globally are quite interesting. Japan is definitely an interesting market. One of the things I do is I run an assembly of our US portfolio managers every other week. For two weeks in a row the topic, which the individual members portfolio managers set, was around Japan.

    If you look at Japan valuations, they're pretty attractive. But what's really interesting about Japan is profitability. Japanese companies have been less profitable than their developed market peers around the world. Part of that's because of the deflationary spiral they've been in, and that looks like it's getting resolved, part of it is company will. and what we're seeing is both governments and stock exchanges there putting a lot of pressure on companies to become more efficient. and so, we're starting to see companies get away from the conglomerate structure, we're starting to see them deploy cash that's just been sitting on their balance sheets, not earning a lot. And so, we're starting to see that ROE, the return on equity going up for these companies and then becoming more profitable. That's where the real opportunity is. And then as I look across the globe, two big themes I’ll talk about.

    One is in energy, what I see is a really big valuation dislocation. The US integrated oil companies are much more highly valued than the European and UK integrated oil companies, despite the fact that when you look at the underlying businesses, they're actually quite similar. And over the last couple of years, the Europeans have become much better capital allocators than they were historically. So, I think that's a really exploitable valuation opportunity. That gap has started to close actually in 2023, but I think it has a long ways to go.

    Another gap is a quality gap, so when I look at, US pharmaceutical companies versus European, the, they're similarly valued, but the Europeans have way higher quality, particularly when it comes to patent expirations. the US large pharmaceutical companies have a number of upcoming patent expirations. That's a lot less so true for Europeans. And then the R&D pipeline is way more robust in Europe. actually, we talked about healthcare earlier, it has not been a great sector in 2023, but we avoided the value traps of US large cap pharmaceuticals deploying the cash. In some of the obesity drugs, deploying the cash in some medical devices and some European pharmaceuticals. So again, very much about stock selection.

    Oscar Pulido: Tony, we spend a lot of time thinking about the year ahead,

    Tony DeSpirito:

    Oscar Pulido: and of course, when it's a new year, it's always a time for reflection. you've had a long career, of investing and you have a lot of history that you've brought into the discussion What are some things right now that you would tell investors reflecting back on many market cycles in the past, as we go into 2024 are there any lessons that you've learned that you think are important to keep in mind right now?

    Tony DeSpirito: Let me pass along what I think is some Wisdom about, growing your wealth. Improving your retirement over time. And first of all, it's about savings, you should save like a pessimist. There's a Chinese expression 'The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.' So, I encourage everyone to save as much as you can for your future.

    Also don't try to time the market. We have an expression around here. It's about time in the market, not about timing the market. And I think that's really true. And if nothing else, 2023 is a great example of that. I think a lot of people would've thought, oh, this would be a great year to sit things out. Turned out to be a horrible time to sit things out and not being in the market. And then finally, I think the best advice is yes, participate in the market, but do so in a prudent way, don't do it in a speculative way. The more prudent, the more resilient your portfolio is, the more likely you are to stick with it and that's the key. Get rich slowly, not fast.

    Oscar Pulido: As usual, these are great insights. I hope you'll listen to them the next time you're walking your dog, and listen to some of your own advice, Tony. But thank you again for joining us on The Bid.

    Tony DeSpirito: Thank you, Oscar. It was my pleasure.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening. to this episode of The Bid. Next week, be sure to tune in and check out my conversation with Jeff Spiegel, where he'll provide a holistic overview of major investment themes to help investors navigate the year ahead.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the 'Advice Law'), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2024 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0124U/M-3284722

  • Stevie Manns: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host and producer, Stevie Manns.

    From the rise of AI, banking collapses, inflation and geopolitical changes, 2023 has kept us busy with no shortage of market-moving events. Now, as we wrap up the year in our final episode for 2023, we’ll look at how the year’s biggest stories have impacted economies, and how these events impact what’s to come in the new year? But… with a twist.

    Today, we’ll be taking a lookback on 2023 year with a special Holiday Quiz edition of The Bid. If you’ve been listening to episodes of the podcast this year, you should be able to play along and see how you do compared to our budding quiz contestants.

    My guests today are eager quiz goers and familiar voices to Bid listeners. We have Oscar Pulido, your regular Bid host with the most and ETF expert and Bid, regular Gargi Pal Chaudhuri. Oscar and Gargi will play for bragging rights, and the esteemed title of The Bid Quiz winner in our inaugural holiday quiz, and maybe a special prize at the end...

    So, Oscar and Gargi, welcome to the special holiday quiz edition of The Bid.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Thank you for having me, Stevie!

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you Stevie. I'm excited.

    Stevie Manns: So Oscar, how do you feel in the speaker chair today?

    Oscar Pulido: This is actually the same chair, but I'm playing a different role. I'll let you know in a couple minutes.

    Stevie Manns: Let’s kick off. For the benefit of our listeners, Oscar’s buzzer sounds like this… [BUZZER 1] and Gargi’s sounds like this… [BUZZER 2]

    So let's start with interest rates. When did interest rates reach their peak in the US and what is the current interest rate?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: [BUZZER 2] July of 2023 and 5.375%.

    Stevie Manns: You are correct!

    Oscar Pulido: Gargi lives on the Federal Reserve's website though, in fairness!

    Gargi Chaudhuri: I do and I’m proud of that fact.

    Stevie Manns: Let's dive into this bit more. So we're a couple of weeks post Black Friday, we're now into the full holiday season. So how is consumer sentiment right now?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: So consumers are still strong but slowing and you bring up Black Friday, I think it was an interesting phenomenon that we saw is that there was still spending certainly more online than brick and mortar stores, but what we saw pick up was a lot of that buy now and pay later type behavior. So what that hints at is a consumer that's still feeling good about going out and spending.

    It has been a move away from traditional goods, like things that you can touch and feel towards more of services for going for movies and entertainment and things like that. But there is a little bit of slowing down. We are already seeing that in various data points that are coming out, and the slowing down just means that as we look into 2024, maybe don't expect the same sort of outcome from consumers as we saw in 2023, which was so robust.

    Stevie Manns: You have definitely described my spending habits there and how I'm planning for Christmas… Let's turn to the job market, how many US jobs were created since January, 2022?

    Oscar Pulido: [BUZZER 1] I'm going to say 7 million?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: [BUZZER 2] 8 million?

    Stevie Manns: Oscar you have it, It was 7.4 million.

    Oscar Pulido: Nice, rounding to the nearest million!

    Stevie Manns: So what are some of the factors that have led to this strong job performance over the last two years?

    Oscar Pulido: I think Gargi has more of the details, but my, understanding is that a lot of the strength in the job market is simply the economy coming back from the pandemic. There were a lot of jobs lost during 2020, and so a lot of the strength we're seeing is just people coming back to work and, the economy getting back to a more normalized form.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: I love that answer. I think a couple of things in addition to that is, people coming back to participate in the job market is really important. Particularly think back to the pandemic where many people, I'm sure many of our relatives left the job market earlier than they would have taken retirement. And we needed people to come back to the job market to fulfill some of the gaps left. And what we saw in 2023, which we obviously are very happy about, is that participation of people in the job market started moving up again.

    Particularly for women between the ages of 25 to 54, that participation rate has gone up. Participation from immigrants foreign born, that is at the highest, that's another exciting thing. And then I'll also say that there were some areas of the economy, if you look at, healthcare, so nurses for example, very much in demand. If you look at education teachers, for example, very much in demand. So when we look at all of these 7.4 million, jobs that have been created, where they've come from, these particular sectors of the market, there is still demand there, which is great. And I think this shows that keeping wages higher, which has been the phenomenon over the last couple of years has enticed people to come back to the labor market, which of course we like,

    Oscar Pulido: I'm starting to wonder if I deserve the point for answer, but…

    Gargi Chaudhuri: You do!

    Stevie Manns: So from jobs to retirement, some of you may remember an episode with Anne Ackerley this year. What percentage of workplace savers in the US feel on track to retire with the lifestyle they want?

    [BUZZER 1] [BUZZER 2] Oh, that was a tie!

    Oscar Pulido: Ladies first.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Less than 50?

    Oscar Pulido: I'm going to say 50…

    Stevie Manns: Then Oscar, you are correct. It was 56%.

    Oscar Pulido: Again rounding!

    Stevie Manns: Yeah… But you were both so close. Can either of you tell me what is driving this drop?

    Oscar Pulido: Yeah, a couple of things that I remember from the conversation with Anne is we've had market volatility. We had Covid, we've had the financial crisis, we've had plenty of scares in the markets over the last many years. I think that's part of it. inflation, which, Gargi is close to the inflation data month to month. I think people feel like that's eroding their savings. And then perhaps

    one of the thing that I remember Anne talking about is, the lack of retirement income. People feeling uncertain about how are they going to generate income in retirement.

    Stevie Manns: Excellent answer. I'm glad to see that you were paying attention during these recordings!

    Oscar Pulido: Once in a while I do!

    Stevie Manns: Okay, so one of the biggest winners this year was ETFs. How much did investors put into the ETF market this year?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: [BUZZER 2] $800 billion?

    Stevie Manns: Well done, Gargi. So why did investors turn to ETFs in such a big way this year?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: First of all the different use cases of ETFs. When investors think about building portfolio blocks, ETFs can be used as a portfolio builder. So that's one of the main use cases, and of course this year with markets having a great performance with equity markets up globally with bond markets somewhat positive, I think investors seeking income as well as growth and returns. That was one driver.

    Another one, is the advent and the growth of active ETFs. So many investors coming into the market to express views actively using active ETFs. That's been a huge growth area for the market, and we saw that across the industry. I'd also say that investors trying to find more granular ways of expressing views. So if you wanted to have allocations to Indian equity markets, if you wanted to have allocations to Japanese equity markets, if you wanted to have allocations to a particular part of the fixed income markets, such as high yield, for example. Again, granular ways of expressing your views on the market were also seen in ETF flows. And then lastly, I think, many institutional investors using ETFs as a financial instrument of choice for them to, get liquidity, especially in volatile times.

    Oscar Pulido: I was waiting for you to say the word access, which I think was another sort of theme when we talked to building you and various others from our ETF business, but just that ability to access so many different parts of the market quite easily.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Yeah. Fantastic. Yes, of course.

    Stevie Manns: Okay, name one commodity that investors often turn to in times of high volatility?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: [BUZZER 2] Yay. So I did do a podcast on this, so a little shameless self-promotion, but gold is one thing that we did talk about earlier this year, That was not, you were wearing gold.

    Oscar Pulido: You were wearing gold!

    Gargi Chaudhuri: I was wearing gold! It was my wedding gold. And we had talked about the role that gold plays during times of geopolitical, uncertainty. And obviously at that time we couldn't have possibly known some of the events that would've unfolded later this year, but we have seen

    investors turn to gold. We have seen gold outperform many other asset classes this year. So that's certainly an episode people should watch.

    Oscar Pulido: I found it interesting, if I could jump in, that gold has done so well. I grew up understanding that when interest rates are high. Gold really shouldn't do well ' cause it doesn't pay you any interest. Yeah, and so it should look less compelling, but you talked about the reasons why it still has managed to outperform.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: We did. We talked about how when real rates are high, because gold actually does not have a real rate associated with it. But one of the other things that I think we talked about was how it's not an inflation hedge necessarily but a good geopolitical or uncertainty hedge. So I think Oscar, to your point, yes, interest rates are high and investors are certainly, we talked about ETF inflows in 800 billion earlier this year, and a lot of that is in fixed income.

    We've certainly had investors flock towards fixed income for that higher interest rate and to optimize for that. But there is another role that gold provides in a portfolio, which is of course that of that uncertainty hedge.

    Stevie Manns: That was one of my favorite episodes actually. I really enjoyed that.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: I enjoyed wearing my wedding gold to it!

    Oscar Pulido: My buzzer looks a little gold here. I need to get this thing going a little bit. It's lying dormant!

    Stevie Manns: Let's see what happens with the next question, Oscar... From commodities to low carbon emissions transportation accounts for approximately what percentage of global CO2 emissions today,

    Oscar Pulido: [BUZZER 1] I seem to remember this from the episode with Charlie Lilford. I was in London, I think he said like 25%. 20 to 25%. I'm going to say

    Stevie Manns: You are correct, from that EV episode with Charlie Lilford. What are some of the barriers that are preventing EVs from becoming more mainstream?

    Oscar Pulido: Yeah, I thought he was going to say price, but actually over the course of the episode, he made the point that price is coming down and, there are more producers of electric vehicles and they're getting better at scaling and there's government subsidies now, so price is less of the inhibitor.

    And the answer was actually the other thing that I thought, which was charging infrastructure or lack of sufficient charging infrastructure and people still having range anxiety, not sure about how far they can drive on a battery, and I, in the episode I told him how I'm a recent buyer of an electric vehicle and I've experienced some of that as well. So that lack of charging infrastructure seemed to be the main impediment.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Range anxiety. I love that terminology. I'm going to use it.

    Oscar Pulido: And I've experienced that. It's like when your phone's about to run out of battery, you'll be okay most of the time, but if your car runs out of battery and you're somewhere more you don't want to be, then you can see how that's a higher level of anxiety.

    Stevie Manns: One recurring theme for 2023 has been AI. Chat. GPT just celebrated its one year at birthday in November, and when we had Jeff Chen on The Bid, he mentioned some early breakthroughs for ai, one of which was when Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer beat chess world champion Gary Kasparov in a chess match. What year did that match occur

    Gargi Chaudhuri: [BUZZER 2] 1996.

    Stevie Manns: Ummm….

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Seven!

    Stevie Manns: Seven, is correct

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Yes!

    Oscar Pulido: Let's round to the nearest something. This is a theme here!

    Stevie Manns: For a bonus point, how many days did it take for chat GPT to reach 1 million users?

    Oscar Pulido: Less than a hundred?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: I think it was 53?

    Stevie Manns: It was actually five!

    Oscar Pulido: Oh wow. Which is less than a hundred!

    Stevie Manns: What do you see for the future of AI investing? is there anything that you're keeping an eye on?

    Oscar Pulido: Well, we've heard this from a couple speakers, which is that AI is an investible theme, will remain prevalent, but it's where within the tech sector, the winners will be, that is maybe going to evolve. It's been a lot of the chip manufacturers and the semiconductor companies this year, but perhaps going forward, it's companies that are more involved in data, just the sheer quantities of data that are created and processed. And that just means different winners in years ahead versus maybe what's been the winners this year.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Yeah, one of the things that I learned when I was listening to Jeff was just this idea of how there are winners and losers. This is where active management plays a great role and obviously Jeff and their team are fantastic at this and all the work they've done. And I also think that. Maybe next year or even sooner than that when you have other people talking about AI on The Bid, I think there'll be a lot more talk about the advances in healthcare. There'll be a lot more talk about

    the advances that AI has brought to education. Now we're talking specifically about just the tech sector and I can't wait to see how we're talking about it in the healthcare sector.

    Oscar Pulido: We also learned about the game Go by the way, which I had never heard about, which is probably my fault, but something about the number of moves in that game is greater than the number of atoms. Was it on the planet or?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Yeah, that's what he said, because there's so many outcomes in that game!

    Oscar Pulido: He subsequently said that the world champion and go then, retired from the game after losing to the AI machine.

    Stevie Manns: Okay, so let's zoom out and look at global trends for a moment. Which country's economy grew by about 5% in 2023 and is expected to be the fastest in coming years.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: [BUZZER 2] I think it's mine. And if you can't tell from the accent, that's India.

    Stevie Manns: Correct. Gargi, what are some of the key attributes, from India that is helping this, country thrive?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: The easy one that we would've spoken about and we'll continue to speak about is demographics. Looking at a country with a young population, a population that is between the ages of 25 to 35, the highest population in that age group obviously leads to a more productive economy. So that's number one.

    But I think more importantly, and I think coming to the forefront now more and more is. It's a digitized economy. It's one where most of the population have access. They've gone from not having a phone to having cell phones to do all of their shopping, investing, et cetera. So there is that digitized economy, and I think there's a lot of potential there.

    And then another feature that I'm really excited about is outside of the advances that India can have in the AI space, the adoption of AI in India. I was surprised that India and many other EM countries have actually have a higher rate. Of AI adoption, so that I think can, reap benefits in the decades to come.

    And then lastly, from an infrastructure perspective, the a government has done a lot and is trying to do a lot to improve roads and railways and the efficiency that brings about in the economy. So if you combine all of that, it's not a single pronged approach. It's not just about the demographic dividends that we often talk about, but it's also about digitization, it's also about technology, it's also about infrastructure. And I think all of that adds to a picture where, yeah, Indian equities can look rich, certainly by our valuation metrics they do, but investors are taking note of this as being another long-term theme in your portfolio that's going to reap benefits for years to come.

    Stevie Manns: Absolutely. And Oscar, you had a great conversation with, Jeff Spiegel on emerging markets recently. Was there anything that you took away from that from a different emerging market that is growing?

    Oscar Pulido: First of all, I feel like playing against IBM’s Watson, giving all this great information. But, yeah, actually Jeff mentioned India in his conversation. He talked about. Mexico as well as another country that benefits from nearshoring and just this sort of environment post the pandemic where companies are moving their supply chains closer to home before the pandemic. We talked about globalization and the need to lower cost or the desire for companies to lower their cost. And so seeking out supply chains that in some cases were far and wide, but near shoring, meaning you're bringing those supply chains closer to home and Mexico as a friendly neighbor to the south of the US, stands to benefit from this trend. So that was another country he talked about.

    Stevie Manns: Great information and responses from you both. we have one final question. Staying global, what is one country, not the US that will benefit from nearshoring? I feel like we might have just answered that question….

    Oscar Pulido: Can I buzz in?

    Stevie Manns: You may…

    Oscar Pulido: [BUZZER 1] Mexico?

    Stevie Manns: Correct!

    Oscar Pulido: We have a little bit of a sixth sense going on.

    Stevie Manns: We do. We've been working together for so long now. In fact, you know what? I'll give you a follow-up saying as you answered so expertly... What considerations should investors take into account as, global rewiring continues to trend?

    Oscar Pulido: I think if I remember Jeff's comment, he used this term not only near-shoring, but friend-shoring, I think was the other term he talked about, which is not only the proximity of a country, but just the diplomatic relationship that countries have could be very beneficial as you think about where to source your supply chain and Mexico being a beneficiary of that.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Just to maybe add to that, I think there are a few others. Obviously, Mexico great one. but I think if we look at the global south more broadly, I think thinking about the opportunities in Indonesia, in Vietnam, some of the other countries that might replace, some of the other broader, partners that the US has had as a big trading partner. So thinking about where else we can friend shore to and from. And I think, investors will over the next few years, turn to these countries as sources of return. Vietnam is a good one that comes to mind again, very favorable demographics, Indonesia is another one. and I can't wait to see how those, economies evolve and their markets evolve over the next few years.

    Oscar Pulido: Alt-Asia, is what he said?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: We like global south, I think.

    Oscar Pulido: Yeah, I like that better.

    Stevie Manns: Okay, we are just going to tally up the, scores... It is my great honor to announce our official runner up for the first inaugural Bid holiday quiz, Oscar Pulido with five points.

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you!

    Stevie Manns: Our winner, our esteemed winner with bragging rights and this wonderful, limited edition The Bid mug is Gargi Pal Chaudhuri with six points!

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Wonderful.

    Stevie Manns: Well done!

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Thank you. This means a lot to me. I have a long speech prepared, but we don't have time for it, but listen to it for when I'm invited back to the next bit. Congrats

    Oscar Pulido: Gargi. Congrats.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Thank you Oscar. Thanks for letting me win.

    Stevie Manns: Thank you both so much for your insights. Oscar, thank you so much for hosting a wonderful year of The Bid, and we can't of course forget our listeners. Thank you for joining us and we will see you all in the new year.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Thank you for having us. This was so fun.

    Oscar Pulido: Let’s do it again next year.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    For investors in Israel: BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advice, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755-1995 (the “Advice Law”), nor does it carry insurance thereunder.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH1223U/M-3279674

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    2023 has seen high volatility across global markets driven by high interest rates, bank failures and a surge in bond yields. The financial landscape witnessed a year colored by nuances and unexpected turns. Despite initial optimism, the year unveiled challenges that reverberated across global markets. Central banks grappled with persistent inflationary pressures amidst structural constraints, while investors sought new opportunities amid heightened market volatility. So, after a tumultuous 2023, what can investors expect in 2024?

    Alex Brazier: This is a macro environment that's more complex and interesting, perhaps, than anything we've had in the last 20 years. There are now rewards for getting the calls right and for being precise, selective, and agile in portfolios. And that's a big contrast to the last twenty years. So, it's time to grab the wheel!

    Oscar Pulido: I’m pleased to welcome back Alex Brazier, Deputy Head of The BlackRock Investment Institute to help us look ahead to a new year. The BlackRock Investment Institute has just released its 2024 Outlook and Alex will give us an overview, help us understand the structural shift to a new macro regime and explain how investors can consider the 5 mega forces that the BlackRock Investment Institute sees as being the key drivers of the new regime.

    Alex, welcome.

    Alex Brazier: Hello again, Oscar. Thanks for having me back.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Alex, as we near the end of 2023, a year that has felt like quite a rollercoaster ride, how are you feeling as you look ahead to a new year?

    Alex Brazier: Well, in short, excited! And this is, notable. It's rare for an economist like me to be excited, that's why I make a point of it. Why excited? Well, this is a macro environment that's more complex and interesting, perhaps, than anything we've had in the last 20 years. So, in some respects, it's making me feel young again but more importantly, it's an environment where there are now rewards for getting the calls right and for being precise, selective, and agile in portfolios. And that's a big contrast to the last twenty years where broad, static, asset class exposures worked about as well as anything else. So, the way I think of it now is the economic and investment road is actually a very bumpy and windy one. And that means there are big rewards for good, agile drivers to outperform others, rather than driving along the straight highway we've been on for the last 20 years. So, in the words of The Outlook, it's time to grab the wheel.

    Oscar Pulido: I think you are a pretty upbeat guy in general, but I can sense that extra level of optimism in your voice. And as you said, you ae an economist so tell us more about the global economy as we finish 2023 and perhaps that will help us understand the excitement you feel going into next year.

    Alex Brazier: Well, the macro environment isn't straightforward, which is actually what makes this an interesting time. Now, the good news is, as we end the year, we see inflation coming down on both sides of the Atlantic, in the US and in Europe. And that's happening as the mismatches that arose as a result of the pandemic, we were all spending a lot on goods and not on services, for example, they're all unwinding.

    And in Europe, the energy shock is unwinding too. So, inflation's coming down. That means central bank policy rates have probably peaked as a result. that's all good, but then take a step back and look at the broader context, because actually the context is everything here. And there are three aspects of this macro picture that are really quite interesting.

    The first is that we seem to be on a weaker trend growth path. Before the pandemic, the US economy typically was growing at around about 2.5% a year. Since the pandemic, on average, it's been growing at about 1.7% percent a year. Now, employment growth has been pretty strong recently, but that's because it's been catching up with the restart of activity.

    And overall, over the last three years, that's been quite muted as well. We've got weak output growth, weak employment growth, and yet we haven't really got unemployment or slack in the economy. And that's because the workforce is growing less quickly now as the population ages. That's telling us that the economy can't actually grow faster than this new muted rate without resurgent inflation. So, the first kind of really interesting aspect of the macro regime, the really important piece of context, is that trend growth is somewhat lower than it was pre pandemic. The second really important piece of context is it's going to take higher interest rates than we were used to in the past for central banks to keep growth muted. And that's because they're pushing against fiscal policy, which has become looser and is stimulating the economy, and they're leaning against that, and they've got to lean down to keep growth muted. Interest rates probably coming down at some point next year, but not to where they used to be. So, weaker growth, higher interest rates.

    And then the third important piece of context is that in this environment of geopolitical tensions and the energy transition, we do expect future bouts of inflation. So, this bout of inflation going away,

    but we're likely to get future bouts too- we don't know when or precisely what will cause them. But this is the opposite of the past 20 years when geopolitical integration of supply chains, all repeatedly pulled inflation down. And now we're turning that on its head. And central banks are going to be squashing inflation down over time, with higher rates, rather than trying to push it up over time with lower rates.

    So weaker growth, structurally higher rates, and more volatility, and that's what makes this road really windy and bumpy. And it's a road where investors who can be precise, selective, and drive in an agile way can actually outperform.

    Oscar Pulido: So, from what you’re saying it sounds like inflation and interest rates are trending down but probably not to the levels we were accustomed to for the last 20 years. You also talked about the need to grab the wheel in this new macro environment. Sticking with this driving analogy, how can investors think about avoiding the bumps or maybe the ‘potholes’ in 2024?

    Alex Brazier: Well, this is the first theme of the Outlook that we're publishing now, and that's about managing macro risk. This isn't a road for the autopilot or for taking unintended macro risks, you have to be very deliberate about macro risks in this environment and navigate them skillfully. I would just highlight two in particular that we're paying attention to.

    The first in fixed income markets is really the US fiscal position. Because in this regime of muted growth, higher interest rates, and bigger government deficits, put that together, it means that public debt, relative to the size of the economy, is going to be growing. It's on an unsustainable path, and that actually raises the prospect of higher inflation in the future.

    That makes us more precise in our fixed income exposures, tilting towards short and medium-term bonds, the belly of the curve, rather than very long-term bonds. So that's one issue that needs careful navigating.

    The second one that needs careful navigating is that it's not clear that all broad asset classes have really adjusted to this regime of persistently higher policy rates than we were used to in the past. In other words, expected returns adjusted for risk are not equivalently higher on all assets as they are on cash. So, we're careful with broad static asset class exposures, but that is where the opportunity lies to get selective and beat the benchmarks.

    Oscar Pulido: Ok so those sound like a few of the trickier aspects that investors need to consider as they manage their portfolios. But on the flip side, what is making you excited? Where are the opportunities that investors can look to take advantage of?

    Alex Brazier: I think the flip side of this difficulty with broad static asset class exposures is that now there's an opportunity that we haven't had for 20 years to really outperform those broad static exposures by being selective and agile in approach. You look back at the past 20 years, investment that was agile and selective wasn't really rewarded because broad static exposures did about as well as anything else. But now, because we've got this weaker growth, higher rate, more volatile regime, we don't expect the sustained bull markets of the past. Sure, there'll be periods when everything goes up, but it won't be sustained like it was in the last 20 years. And so, the complexity of the macro picture means there's much more dispersion of expectations on a pricing of assets.

    And that means there are real rewards now for being very selective and precise and in this outlook that we're publishing we highlight potential gains in portfolios from tilting allocations across asset classes depending on how they're valued right now. For example, I've already mentioned that we tilt towards shorter and medium-term duration bonds rather than longer duration. We're tilting towards hard currency emerging market bonds and mortgage-backed securities in the U. S. rather than developed market credit. That's because we see spreads as more attractive on those. And we're tilting towards equities in Japan versus Europe on account of the differing fundamentals not really being reflected yet in market prices.

    So, opportunities from being very selective and granular across asset classes but also opportunities to get really precise and granular within asset classes too. And we highlight in the Outlook, for example, the idea of being underweight the broad U. S. equity index and using that space in portfolios to focus on U. S. equities that are set to take advantage of AI to lower costs, boost revenues, in the future. And I know you've talked a lot on this podcast about AI. So, it's absolutely not the case that complex, difficult macro environment means we think we should sit and wait. It is what it is. And we're embracing the fact that the road ahead is windy and bumpy and interesting, and using precise, agile exposures to outperform.

    Oscar Pulido: Yes, as you mentioned we’ve had some interesting conversations here on The Bid about AI, and I expect we will continue to do so in 2024. In fact when we’ve discussed AI, we’ve described it as one of five megaforces reshaping the investment landscape so tell us about the role of the other megaforces in portfolios and how those might impact markets in 2024?

    Alex Brazier: Sure, and I think these are things we see as big structural shifts in economies, and we see them actually as drivers of return differences within asset classes. They're a way in which to get selective about your exposures within asset classes. Now in addition to AI, there are four others that we're monitoring particularly closely.

    The first of those is the reshaping of the financial landscape, especially in the United States. Banks are under pressure from increasing regulation and greater competition now for deposits. And so, bank credit is likely to become more expensive, less available. That's going to be a differentiator across banks who can adjust to this reality, but it's also going to create opportunities, for example, in private credit where we see ongoing demand from borrowers who are looking to replace tighter bank credit.

    The second megaforce we're looking at is demographic change. I mentioned this earlier in the context of weaker trend growth in the United States. It's also true of other advanced economies and, importantly, China. But it's also a potential driver of sectoral prospects in economies, for example, around healthcare.

    And it's also a driver of different growth prospects across economies, because not all economies now have ageing populations. There are some economies still with very quickly growing populations, and it's important to take that into account.

    The third megaforce we're looking at is geopolitical fragmentation. And that's interesting because it's spurring industrial policy and a rewiring of supply chains. And that's something we use to get precise within portfolios to try and find securities that will outperform.

    And then finally, we're looking, of course, at the transition to reduce carbon emissions, which, as we know, is driving a big shift in the energy mix, but it's also now creating demands for solutions to resilience a changing climate and weather events. You talked a lot about this, I think, a couple of weeks ago with Helen on the last podcast. So, four or five in total, with AI, big mega forces that we see really reshaping economies and not in all cases yet fully reflected in market prices and therefore creating interesting investment opportunities for precise exposures within asset classes.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Alex, a winding and bumpy road ahead, but exciting terrain for those agile drivers you described earlier. Maybe just one final question, which is if you had to briefly sum up your outlook for 2024, what will you be telling investors?

    Alex Brazier: Well, it's an environment where money can be put to work, but it can't be done by putting on the autopilot on a straight highway. It's a bumpy, windy road, as you say, so grab the wheel, drive skillfully, drive precisely, and drive in an agile way, and have a great holiday season.

    Oscar Pulido: Grab your driving gloves for sure and thinking back to all your comments, it sounds like in 2024, we better be ready to shift gears! Alex, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid, it’s a pleasure as always. Wishing you a great holiday season as well.

    Alex Brazier: Thanks so much.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid, if you’ve enjoyed this episode check out our recent episode that Alex mentioned featuring Helen Lees-Jones entitled “Low-Carbon Transition Investing 101” and find out how investors are taking advantage of the energy transition in their portfolios.

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH1223U/M-3265872

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    The transition to a low-carbon economy has emerged as a key player in the 5 megaforces that the BlackRock Investment Institute have been outlining for us in recent episodes. But what exactly does it mean to 'invest in the transition to a low-carbon economy', how are investors seizing this opportunity, and why is this transition seen as a 'mega-force' for investors?

    My guest today is Helen Lees-Jones, EMEA Head of the Sustainable & Transition Solutions group at BlackRock. Helen, will reveal the top questions investors are asking about transition investing and will highlight the particular areas in this field that are exciting investors. We'll also delve into the timing, the regional variations, and driving factors behind the transition. Helen, welcome to The Bid.

    Helen Lees-Jones: Thanks so much for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: So Helen, in recent episodes of The Bid, we've been discussing the five mega forces that Alex Brazier has introduced us to, and these are forces that are affecting investing both now and in the future, and creating opportunities and risks that investors can't ignore. The transition to a low carbon economy is one of those forces. So can you tell us why this is one of those mega forces?

    Helen Lees-Jones: So, as you've heard, this is one of those mega forces, it's not the only one and as we think about advising investors and talking to them about what's happening in markets. We see that alongside the future of finance, the advent of digital technologies like AI, the transition to a low carbon economy is rewiring economies, sectors and businesses. And we see as a result of this transition the average investment in the energy sector increasing to $4 trillion per year over the next 30 years, that's up from only $2 trillion over the years past.

    And so, as part of this rewiring of economies, that is creating both risks and opportunities for investors. And what we're seeing is that it's also channeling investment into both high carbon sectors and low carbon sectors. So, it's really a transition that is affecting the whole of finance and we are trying to put as much information into the hands of investors as possible.

    When you think about this transition, there are really three key drivers behind it. You've got policy forces like the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. or the EU Green Deal, you've got the advent of new technologies like carbon capture, and you've got real changes in the way consumers and investors like to think about their investments. We also know that the transition to a low carbon economy, is playing out at different speeds in different regions, particularly when you look at developed markets versus emerging markets, as one example.

    We see that the electrification of light vehicles is largely on track for 2050, whereas other sectors that perhaps have harder to abate emissions in the emerging markets need a significant amount of investment and or policy in order to drive that transition ahead.

    Oscar Pulido: Okay, so just to reiterate, you're saying $4 trillion per year of investment in the energy sector over the next 30 years. That's a huge increase from what we're seeing now, and maybe we can take a moment to think about what does it mean to invest in the transition to a low carbon economy. In other words, what are some of the ways that investors are thinking about this opportunity?

    Helen Lees-Jones: Great question! The definition of transition investing is something that continues to evolve, we're operating in a quite new space when you think about it. So, we at BlackRock have tried to put our own framework around it just to help investors think through the risks and opportunities associated with it. And we define transition investing in four ways, but the first area is around preparing for the transition. And that's where companies are investing in assets that make them better positioned for the transition, such as those improving and or leading on mitigating GHD emissions within their industry, either through their business operations, or their business models.

    So, you're probably sitting there thinking, what on earth does that mean? Let's bring it to life a bit. As an investor, you're going to be thinking about companies that are outperforming their peer group, and we'd see in this category someone who is placing particular emphasis on reducing emissions intensity in their own operations and or deploying more CapEx than their competitors in that space into lower carbon solutions. So that's the first definition, those companies that are preparing for the transition.

    The second is those that are aligned to investing in portfolios or assets on a decarbonization pathway that's aligned to an industry accepted low carbon scenario. So, you are an investor, you're looking at your portfolio, here, it might be an index or a portfolio that's aligned to a Paris aligned benchmark.

    Thirdly, those companies that are really benefiting from the transition They're investing in assets such as those that are providing key inputs necessary for decarbonization that will benefit from the macroeconomic trends offered by the transition. Here you might think about the mining sector and a company that produces lithium. That's a key input into electric vehicles and the batteries within electric vehicles. So, a company that is leaning into lithium production, we would see as benefiting from the transition to a low carbon economy.

    And then finally, those companies that are contributing to the transition. So here this might be companies who are investing in solutions or interim low carbon alternatives that are needed to mitigate emissions in the real world. So here examples might be wind farms, or grid scale batteries. So those are really the four ways in which we are defining transition investing here at BlackRock.

    But when we think about investors and what's driving their preferences in transition investing, you see a range of interest from investors worldwide. Some want to look at it through a whole portfolio lens, you tend to find the big institutions who have made whole portfolio commitments seeing this as really something they want to see throughout their whole portfolio. Others who are very much focused on the thematic opportunities associated with the investment, like investing in specific sectors, minerals, materials, would want to play it thematically. But the prevailing interest that we are seeing is in the private market space because we see that the transition is driven by new technologies and new businesses that don't exist today. The real innovation that's going into this space requires an awful lot of private capital.

    Oscar Pulido: That framing was very helpful that description of the various ways in which somebody can go about investing in the transition to a low carbon economy. I wonder if you could maybe give us a few real-life examples that might help someone who's learning about this investment space for the first time. You mentioned batteries. What are some of the opportunities that exist in the battery and carbon capture space?

    Helen Lees-Jones: Of course, two exciting areas in which to invest. When we think about carbon capture, we have a brand-new joint venture with a US oil major on this very topic because as you will know from what I've talked about so far, traditional oil and gas producers are really key to meeting the world's growing energy. Even with the rapid build out of clean energy infrastructure, we still see that there's a space for emissions removals capabilities to come online. So, carbon capture is really there to use new technology to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and put it back into the ground.

    On the battery side of things, they're essential to the transition to a low carbon economy, whether it's from powering electric vehicles or ensuring grid reliability. And we have also in our infrastructure business invested in a super battery in Australia, it's there to ensure that it stabilizes energy grids as they shift to renewable sources. When you think about it the wind only blows for a certain amount during the day, the sun only shines for a certain amount during the day, so being able to harvest that renewable energy supply, store it and then transmit it when it's needed, those grid scale batteries are critical to ensuring that we can make the most from those renewable energy sources. So those are just two examples, carbon capture, grid scale batteries.

    Perhaps the third space, whilst we're talking about batteries is next generation materials that are needed. Batteries are now prevalent everywhere, whether it's in your electric car, or in other parts of your Day-to-Day life and those batteries need to become higher performing more efficient, more sustainable. So, looking at new materials and minerals that are required in order to make those batteries better, is also another interesting area for investment opportunities.

    Oscar Pulido: And so, Helen going back to the numbers you referenced earlier about the investment in this space doubling, what impact will that have on opportunities for investments going forward?

    Helen Lees-Jones: So obviously with that significant scale of CapEx going into new energy sources, there's an array of opportunities across the world. This transition isn't happening just in one sector or one country, this is something happening globally. I talked about, a super battery in Australia or a carbon capture facility in the U.S., there are other areas in which we are investing in transition assets. Pipelines as one example, we're looking at ways in which we can invest in building thousands of miles of critical infrastructure to help transition from oil to natural gas and clean hydrogen. So, it is about taking some of that infrastructure that exists and finding ways in which it can both continue to deliver the oil and gas that is being produced today but also be converted in the future into a way of transmitting newer energy sources like clean hydrogen.

    Electric vehicles, we've made a pretty significant investment into a continental European EV charging company, which installs and manages high speed electric charging stations. Their goal is really to be the biggest charging facility provider across Europe, and they're already operating one and a half thousand chargers across the continent today. As we see wider adoption of electric vehicles coming online, those drivers are going to want the convenience of being able to charge wherever they wish. you can charge your vehicle at a petrol station wherever you like today, but the infrastructure still needs to be built out in order to charge your electric vehicle. And the goal there is to ensure that around every 150 to 200 kilometers on European highways, you can access the convenience of EV charging as you drive.

    Perhaps if we look at the more renewable end of the investment opportunity set, you can think about solar power. We can see big opportunities in solar power, we have significant investments across our portfolio today, we've invested, in a renewable energy developer in the Philippines as another example of where we see global opportunity. So yes, this is happening in, developed markets, but increasingly we're seeing much more opportunity coming across in the developing markets.

    And those transition assets are not only helping transition from browner sources today to greener sources tomorrow, but they're also providing resilience and security, which importantly we see as key characteristics of the transition. Yes, of course we want it to be green and lower emissions, but also it needs to be consistent, and it needs to be stable. Things like solar power and battery storage are a key component of that transition, so for investors, there's a wide array of infrastructure, assets and technologies in which to invest globally.

    Oscar Pulido: So Helen, you may have recently listened to an episode we did with Portfolio Manager Charlie Wilford around electric vehicles, and he commented on some of the charging infrastructure challenges that you mentioned as well. You also mentioned policy as a driver of the transition, and you touched on the Inflation reduction Act in the us. And the EU’s Green Deal package. What impact does policy have on investment opportunities and what challenges might it present?

    Helen Lees-Jones: Great question because the policy landscape is a really critical input into how you think about making investments, particularly as long-term investors. What we've seen with new policy come online, whether it's the US Inflation Reduction Act, whether it's the EU's Green Deal package, there's been a significant investment of policy and subsidy into both the US and European marketplaces, we're seeing other parts of the world also come online, Japan most recently. The policy support is huge in this space, that catalyzes investment, which is what we want to see, but it also does create risks when you think about how that policy is going to be deployed.

    Things that you might want to consider are things like policy changing. So, policies are enacted normally aligned to political cycles, what happens if a different, political party comes in or the government is managed differently, will those policies endure or will they look different or be removed entirely. And so that's a risk to consider when you think about just the feasibility and long-term nature of policy.

    The second thing is that huge wave of investment that it generates can also create bottlenecks, whether that's in your supply chains, getting hold of critical raw materials and minerals, that wave of demand can also generate bottlenecks in your supply chains. And then you've got the issue of permitting risk. The policy support is there, the money is there to put to work, but are you allowed to actually go ahead and build that new project? And often you require permits in order to put those infrastructure projects in place.

    And that in itself comes with risk, not all projects actually end up getting the permits they expected to get, and we've seen some of that play out recently. So, policy is a great mechanism. It comes with huge opportunity, but it does come with some risks as well. And importantly investors in this space want to work with a partner who can understand and help navigate all that complexity that I just talked about.

    Oscar Pulido: And do we have any data how many institutional investors are already thinking about this for the future or are they already investing in the transition?

    Helen Lees-Jones: So that's a timely question, Oscar, because we recently surveyed 200 institutional investors globally over the summer, and a whopping 56% of them indicated that they plan to allocate more to the low carbon transition over the next few years. Some are looking at it through a whole portfolio lens, they want to really think through how do they hit net zero targets if they've made them, others think about it from an asset class perspective, so where can they generate the highest and best, investment return in their portfolio and or manage the risk that it generates.

    Oscar Pulido: So 56%, that's a significant portion of the investors you surveyed, and I'm curious, as this is a relatively new space, how has that number changed in recent years? Is that a big shift in investor preferences into investing in the low carbon transition?

    Helen Lees-Jones: We have seen a change in investor preferences particularly since three years ago. We've seen the world change around us, we've seen a shift in the geopolitical context, we've seen, unfortunate crises with energy supply, with geopolitics. That has changed to some extent the way investors think about their objectives as fiduciaries to their assets. thinking out over both a, 1, 3, 5, 10, 30-year horizon, you've got to adjust to, what's going on around you. And of course, the transition. Isn't necessarily linear. So perhaps three years ago, investors who were interested in the space would've been very much focused on things that you'd perceive to be green today.

    They'd be very invested in your renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and having quite restrictive exclusions in their portfolios, they might have chosen particular sectors that they felt were not aligned to sustainable investing and excluded them from the portfolio. And as I said, today, we've seen the conversation shift quite considerably, and investors are much more interested in assets that are greening, so they're transitioning, and hence why we're so focused on the transition in all its frames.

    Because when you think about what this means in a portfolio, an exclusionary approach doesn't get you to where you want to be necessarily. You understand that the biggest drivers of this transition are also perhaps the industries, sectors, companies who aren't necessarily the greenest today, they've got big plans to transition and they're putting a significant amount of time, energy, and resources into thinking through how do they get to where they'd like to be over a long horizon.

    But those things can't be done overnight, and we're seeing a much bigger preference towards transition assets. And I think importantly, the dialogue is really shifting as well between investors and corporates, and we're seeing much more of a partnership approach between incumbents and disruptors.

    Rather than just seeing the new technologies recast the playing field, we're seeing much more interaction between traditional sectors today in traditional companies within those sectors, partnering with the challenger technology providers, challenger companies in the same sector. And we see that coming to life in investors’ portfolios. So, whilst they'll invest in perhaps the traditional sectors today, they'll also be investing in newer technologies through their private markets allocations to almost go alongside what they have in their public markets portfolios. This is something that we see as an important part of the transition investing opportunity set that it really is a whole ecosystem opportunity and that, investing across a wide range of assets, sectors, capabilities is just a great opportunity for investors.

    Oscar Pulido: So basically what you're saying is that the good news for investors is that there are a whole multitude of ways to think about investing in this transition to a low carbon economy. Helen, thank you so much for this 101 on transition investing. It really does sound like there are a lot of exciting opportunities in the space right now. And thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Helen Lees-Jones: Thanks so much for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out our recent episode 'The Race is On For EVs' where portfolio manager, Charlie Lilford, unpacks the contribution of transport and electric vehicles in the transition to a low carbon economy.

    Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH1123U/M-3243169

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    In a world filled with financial uncertainties and rapidly changing economic landscapes, one thing remains clear. Emerging markets are becoming increasingly pivotal in shaping the global investment landscape.

    This topic has been a point of great interest for us since our enlightening conversation with Emily Fletcher in London during the summer. You might remember Emily is a portfolio manager in BlackRock's fundamental equities business. Emily and I discussed the BlackRock investment institute's bullish outlook predicting that emerging market equities would significantly outperform their developed market counterparts over the next decade. But the question remains, how will this outlook play out in the near and long term?

    Today I'm joined by Jeff Spiegel, US head of BlackRock, megatrend International and Sector ETFs. Jeff is going to help us explore the multitude of factors contributing to this anticipated outperformance. We'll delve into specific global trends that are paving the way for emerging markets, including the intriguing concepts of supply chain rewiring, and demographic population shifts.

    Jeff, thank you so much for joining us on The bid.

    Jeff Spiegel: Pleasure to be back with you.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Jeff, as you know, over the summer, I spoke with Emily Fletcher. Emily's a portfolio manager in our fundamental equities business and she invests in emerging markets and was quite constructive on, the asset class. The BlackRock Investment Institute, has an outlook that of the next 10 years, emerging market equities will outperform, developed market equity, so they're quite constructive as well.1 So how do you see, this playing out in emerging markets? What's your outlook on the asset class?

    Jeff Spiegel: Oscar, as you and I have discussed in the past, one of the privileges of getting to work here at BlackRock is we work with some of the greatest investors in the world. In Emily's case, a fundamental equity investor, at the cutting edge, but it's not just our fundamental equity business or even our investment institute that's excited about the opportunity in emerging markets. It's our alternatives business, it's our systematic business, it's our index business.

    Really, there's tremendous excitement all across the firm around these opportunities. There's a historical truth about emerging markets, which today has become a misconception, which is that a lot of emerging market countries are actually the smaller countries in the world. Actually, that's changed significantly.

    Countries like China, India, Brazil are today some of the world's most important economies. The reason we consider them emerging markets has more to do with local equity market structure, as an example, and going forward, we actually think in the next 10 to 20 years, four out of the five largest economies in the world, markets we would consider to be emerging today. So, these are big, important economies and these emerging market countries are being driven forward by one of the things we like to talk about a lot here, which are big structural changes or mega forces we have identified five of them: digitalization and artificial intelligence, demographic divergence the transition to a low carbon economy, geopolitics and economic competition, and the future of finance.

    All of these are going to play a role in propelling forward emerging markets. In particular I think we'll have the chance to talk about them today, demographics, that transition, and geopolitics because so many of these countries have favorable demographics, so many of them have access to the key resources for the climate transition and there'll be beneficiaries of increasingly, competitive geopolitics by essentially playing all sides and staying in the middle.

    Oscar Pulido: You mentioned the five mega forces and one of the ones you touched on was demographic divergence. I think we read a lot about in the US in the UK, in Japan, these developed markets, how populations are getting older. So how are demographic shifts then impacting the emerging market economies? Is it the same story or is it something different?

    Jeff Spiegel: It's actually quite different, so The Economist has this term I like, called 'AltAsia', like alternative Asian economies, that are really coming up in importance.2 And a lot of these countries have incredibly favorable demographics, especially relative to, developed market countries or even China.

    And just to put some numbers around that, AltAsia, think about Vietnam, Thailand, India, has a collective working age population, about 1.4 billion people.3 It's home to about 155 million people between age 25 and 54 who have a tertiary education.4 What's interesting is these are some of the only countries in the world where those stats are actually improving, year on year. They're not at the sort of peak, they're actually still in the early innings of that demographic growth and of that education trend.

    Now, when you compare that to China, Western Europe and Japan, all three are actually shrinking in terms of working age population, and even the US is actually only staying about flat. There's a term we like to use here that demographics are destiny, because this is one of the big changes in the world that you can actually predict with a pretty good amount of certainty- how many people are in a country today? What does the birth rate look like and how are people going to age over time?

    And looking at those things. A lot of emerging markets, particularly in this sort of Alt Asia cohort, present incredibly attractive opportunities that are going to be hugely important for economic growth in those nations.

    Oscar Pulido: And so, on top of the demographic shifts that you just mentioned, we also hear a lot about geopolitical fragmentation we're seeing it in the world. We're seeing more economic competition. So how does this play into your long-term outlook for emerging markets?

    Jeff Spiegel: So, we talked about demographics and the importance of that mega force geopolitical fragmentation, another really critical mega force that's affecting the emerging markets cohort and in a variety of different ways. So, off the bat, trade is actually growing faster between geopolitically aligned countries that have better diplomatic relationships with one another.

    We are also distinct from the Cold War period, have this idea of multi-aligned states, really large economies, that are negotiating with all sides geopolitically, and they're benefiting, they're getting infrastructure support, they're getting trade deals, from some of the largest economies in the world.

    To get a little more specific, you have the Gulf States. these are countries that have massive capital account surpluses and people are courting their investments. You have, Latin America, which has a lot of the most critical minerals, that are going to be really important in the transition to a low carbon economy.

    So, lithium supply is really geographically concentrated. About 98% of it comes from South America, Asia, and Australia.5 And the bulk of that, specifically from South America. and then copper. You think about countries like Chile and Peru, they alone account for about 40% of output.6 And then beyond this idea of multi-line states beyond this transition, metals, you also have this sort of geopolitical battle in technology where South Korea and Taiwan are great examples of beneficiaries.

    So, East Asia, particularly Taiwan, really excels in wafer fabrication and assembly, for semiconductors. Whereas actually the US and Europe and Japan tend to specialize in more of the design of chips. So, you only have a couple of countries that can actually do the fabrication and assembly, they're going to be beneficiaries as the world increasingly fights over things like semiconductors. So, this geopolitical fragmentation idea is going to benefit a range of emerging markets, but also in a range of different ways.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you took us on a little bit of a tour around the world in some of your comments and you highlighted the point that these countries are cooperating. They're creating economic blocks. They're increasing their negotiating power and that's making them more powerful players on the economic stage. But we've talked about emerging markets at a high level. Maybe we can zoom in a little bit, you've touched on a few countries, but are there specific ones that in particular you think are poised to outperform?

    Jeff Spiegel: If I was going to lean into one country that is potentially most poised to benefit, I would think about this as India, for a variety of reasons. They are beneficiaries of geopolitical fragmentation as well as demographics. And I'll break this down into a couple of areas. The Indian economy is now the world's fifth largest, recently overtaking the United Kingdom.7 Again, reinforcing this idea is that emerging markets are not the smaller countries. they're actually some of the largest economies in the world. And by the end of the decade, economists actually think that India will be the world's third largest economy, behind only the US and China.8

    In fact, the Indian economy grew at a rate of about 7%.9 In 2023 and that's expected to remain strong going into 2024. in fact, India's likely over the period to be the fastest growing economy. The G 20 and the upsides are massive going forward, so manufacturing opportunities come to mind. So as supply chains rewire and the world looks to find a gateway to growing South Asian markets, India's really well positioned to benefit.

    The Indian government has certainly taken note of this and it's looking to increase attractiveness, as a home for manufacturing. They've introduced production linked incentives. To encourage overseas manufacturers. that initiative alone drew about $6.5 billion in investments during 2022.10 But India's heft, it's demographic, it's demographics, it's multi aligned status.

    all of these things make us think that if there's one sort of standout with maybe the biggest opportunity in emerging markets, it may very well be India.

    Oscar Pulido: And it's interesting to hear how they've climbed the ranks in terms of the size of their economy and where you projected that going forward, very much among the leaders in the league table if you were looking at it on a global scale. Jeff, one of the things that, I think back over the last few years, when we think about the pandemic and we think about how the economy was getting rewired, a lot of companies realizing that they were sourcing their supplies from very far away, and we've started to hear this term of nearshoring and companies bringing their supply chains, closer to home. How does that impact. Emerging market economies, is that a positive for the space?

    Jeff Spiegel: I think it's a mixed bag for the space. And this is where you have to think about, what are the more specific opportunities in emerging markets and not think about emerging markets as just a single or monolithic cohort.

    Trade openness or globalization we often call it has been a one-way escalator ride since the end of World War ii. there were really two forces that drove that. So, the first was the Bretton Woods system after the Second World War championed by the United States. And the second was really around the initial rise of China, its entry into the World Trade Organization, for example, in 2000, but there's a few forces that have changed, a lot of this just in the last few years. And we've actually seen trade openness start to go into reverse for the first time in a long time.

    What are those three forces? The first was the Covid19 pandemic, to your point about supply chains, it's not just that they were far away, it's that companies were really prioritizing the lowest cost production of goods. And what they learned is it can't just be about cost. You actually also have to think about resiliency, even if that might make your goods a little bit more expensive. So Covid19 changed this focus away from purely cost towards resiliency. That's the first area, rewiring supply chains. The second is really the war in Ukraine.

    And here it was less industrialized goods that were affected, but a lot of commodities, be it energy, be it food, were massively disrupted by this, geopolitical event that's also leading to a rethinking of supply chains. And then lastly, and we've already talked about it a bit, is geopolitics. as geopolitics become more fraught, it means that not just reshoring is important, not even just nearshoring, which you referenced, but also something that we think of as friend shoring. now Mexico I think is actually a really good example to think about what that means.

    So, Mexico is a candidate both for nearshoring and front shoring. Nearshoring is moving production, closer, to the ultimate destination of goods. Friend shoring is moving production towards areas that have really friendly relations between governments, really open trade. So, when you look at Mexico, and you poll executives, of companies around the world and you ask, why is Mexico a potential beneficiary of all this? The answer is threefold.

    Qualified labor force, proximity to the US and friendly relations. But Mexico actually isn't the only story in this regard, if you think about a country like Poland in Eastern Europe and its proximity to Western Europe and its friendly relations and its qualified labor force, you actually have a very similar story.

    Think about Vietnam, again, skilled labor force, strong government relations with the west, proximity to a lot of markets like India and like Japan. Mexico's not the only part of this story, even though it gets referenced the most, probably because we're sitting here in the US and it's obviously the most directly close by.

    But when you start to rattle off the full list of countries who are going to benefit from this rewiring, be they in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, you actually start to think about most of the actual countries in the emerging market benchmark being huge beneficiaries of these shifts.

    Oscar Pulido: Right, so the shift is companies went from just seeking the lowest cost to seeking, you said, resiliency in where they source those supplies and that could be from still a low-cost location, maybe not as low, but also with countries where they have stronger diplomatic relations.

    Jeff, you also touched on China. And China constitutes a large proportion of emerging markets.11 China's not only large, but it also has its own opportunities, challenges and nuances. How are investors thinking about China distinctly from other emerging market countries?

    Jeff Spiegel: Yeah, so this gets back to this critical point of emerging markets are not a monolith. They have different opportunities associated with them. Now, as far as China's specific role, in emerging markets or in an emerging markets benchmark, the analogy to make here is actually the United States, versus developed markets more broadly. So, people don't tend to invest in developed market equities inclusive of the us.

    Instead, they tend to have a dedicated allocation to developed markets, ex-us. Alongside a dedication, a dedicated allocation to US equities. why is that? It's really a size issue. when you put all the developed market countries together, the US makes up such a huge portion that it's just critical to think about it independently.

    Otherwise, it's driving your whole developed market allocation. It's a similar situation now with emerging markets in China. So more and more we're seeing investors take a modular approach that actually splits China and these other EM holdings. in fact, ETFs that are tracking, emerging market X China benchmarks might be great tools for investors who are thinking about this opportunity.

    this has been a really popular trade. in fact, year to date, we've seen almost $3 billion, flow into such ETFs.12 Now, what's important to remember is. There's no right or wrong answer, for how to access emerging markets in a portfolio. But we recognize, and we have to recognize that China is a large component of the EM universe, with its own unique characteristics, and it makes more sense today than ever before to have an EM view and a China view that are distinct from each other.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Jeff, we've heard from Emily, Fletcher, we've heard from you today on your view on emerging markets and the exciting trends that are driving these countries. So, looking ahead, there's plenty of economic uncertainty and the geopolitical risks, have only escalated more recently. So, what should investors be considering when it comes to emerging markets?

    Jeff Spiegel: So, the question is, how do you want to access emerging markets? Do you want to own a broad emerging markets benchmark? The traditional emerging markets benchmark holds about a dozen plus countries, and we continue to see this as the way that most investors seek EM exposure.

    Or as we discussed, do you want to think distinctly about emerging markets and China emerging markets? Ex China as an index is actually outperforming that traditional EM benchmark,13 and critically flows into it or growing incredibly rapidly. This is a new phenomenon really just in the last few years, so it's a sea change on the part of investors to do this break.

    In the emerging markets benchmark and some are actually getting even more granular still. so India and South Korea have both had tremendous performance this year.14 They've also had flows into chinaETFs that specifically track those countries.15 So we're moving from a world in which investors are thinking about emerging markets as a monolith into one where they're either breaking it into two camps or even just targeting to target these individual countries they're getting more deliberate, they're getting more targeted, and that's important because as we discussed, these are some of the most, large and important economies in the world.

    So, at the end of the day, emerging markets on the whole are really set to benefit from a lot of these mega forces, demographics and geopolitical changes in particular, but whether in Asia, south America, Eastern Europe, and even within these geographic boundaries, emerging market countries will capitalize on these opportunities differently Some will succeed in policy, others won't. Some will benefit from geographic proximity to the US or Western Europe, others will profit from significant deposits of the metals that are critical to the energy transition. So, the opportunities in emerging markets are many, and they're exciting, but investors need to be deliberate in how and literally where they want to capitalize.

    Oscar Pulido: It sounds like a space that is evolving a lot and the way in which investors are approaching emerging markets is also evolving, is what you're saying. So, we'll hope to have you back and hear more about how emerging markets are evolving and how this story is playing out. But Jeff, once again, thank you so much for joining us on the Bid.

    Jeff Spiegel: My pleasure. Great to be back with you.

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out the episode titled A Stock Pickers Guide to Emerging Markets with Emily Fletcher. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    Source
    1 BlackRock Investment Institute, 'Capital Market Assumptions,' 08/2023. Data as of 06/30/2023.
    2 The Economist, 'Global firms are eyeing Asian alternatives to Chinese manufacturing,' 02/20/2023.
    3 Ibid
    4 Ibid
    5 McKinsey & Company. Lithium Mining: How New Production Technologies Could Fuel the Global EV Revolution, 4/12/22.
    6 International Energy Agency. 'The role of critical minerals in clean energy transitions', May 2021.
    7 World Economic Forum, 'This chart shows the growth of India's economy,' 09/26/2022.
    8 The Economist, 'India likely to become third biggest economy behind US and China by FY28,' 10/16/2022.
    9 The Economist, 'India's economy likely to grow 7% in FY23: First advance estimates,' 01/07/2023.
    10 Reuters, 'India to review production incentive scheme this month-end,' 06/13/2023.
    11 Morningstar, MSCI. China constitutes 30% of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index as of 9/30/2023.
    12 BlackRock, as of 9/30/2023.
    13 Morningstar. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ex-China ETF has a YTD total return of 6% as of 09/30/2023. The iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF has a YTD total return of 3% as of 09/30/2023.
    14 Morningstar. The iShares MSCI India ETF has a YTD total return of 7% as of 09/30/2023. The iShares MSCI South Korea ETF has a YTD total return of 4% as of 09/30/2023.
    15 BlackRock, as of 9/30/2023.

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    MKTGSH1123U/M-3192519

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Electric vehicles, or EVs, have been hailed as the future of transportation. They promise cleaner air, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and a seismic shift in how we commute.

    Charlie Lilford: When I work in the office, I take my bicycle which is obviously lowering my carbon footprint significantly when I travel. Yes, we can buy electric cars and we can utilize that in an EV, but when we think about our mobility and our transportation around our daily lives, it becomes much more significant.

    Oscar Pulido: But as we navigate this high-speed journey towards an electric future, there are certainly some speed bumps ahead, whether it's concerns about range anxiety, the availability of charging infrastructure, or simply the price tag of EVs.

    Charlie Lilford: These cars are much cheaper, in some cases even cheaper than a lot of combustion vehicle cars today. And so the next question is then, what is the challenge today?

    Oscar Pulido: Here to dive into the fast lane of EVs is Charlie Lilford, Portfolio Manager for BlackRock's Fundamental Equities business. Charlie talks with hundreds of companies across the electric vehicle and renewable energy supply chains every year. Today, he joins us to talk about the rate of adoption of electric vehicles across the world. and where he sees the most exciting investment opportunities.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

    Oscar Pulido: Charlie, welcome to The Bid.

    Charlie Lilford: Thanks, Oscar. It's a real pleasure to be here today.

    Oscar Pulido: Maybe we can start by talking about what is driving this shift towards electric vehicles? We hear a lot about the transition to a low carbon economy, so I think these two things are related.

    Charlie Lilford: Yeah, they definitely are related. I think what's really exciting right now is the fact that electric vehicles are truly accelerating. This is becoming a mass market opportunity, we're seeing more and more of these EVs proliferating in our cities, in our economies, and we've really taken a totally new step change in terms of the future of electrification and electric vehicles.

    As these cars become much cheaper, much more affordable to the consumer, we will see more and more of these cars being owned and purchased in all segments of the population. Historically, people thought of electric vehicles as something that's quite exclusive, whereas now it's really democratized.

    We often see Government regulations and subsidies has having been very supportive to get that initial take up of electric vehicles and that's certainly been the case in a number of markets such as in Europe and China for instance where EV penetration rates are now in excess of 20 percent in new car sales.

    But that was really just the first step and now what we're seeing is this more broad and holistic adoption of EVs which I think is very exciting for the net zero transition and what it means for just our ability to reduce our impact on emissions in our cities. But also, this advancement in technology and mass market opportunity for electric vehicles

    Oscar Pulido: And you talk about the net zero transition and the reduction of, carbon output, the lower reliance on fossil fuels, this is something we hear a lot about. What is the contribution that this transition to EVs is making to that transition? Because certainly there's a lot of other things that are contributing to that transition, but what's the EV contribution to that?

    Charlie Lilford: There's certainly a lot of other things that contribute to this and that there has also been an evolution what it means to be able to emissions more generally. And so, it is clear that this is something which is holistic and will need to be done in variety of industries and sectors.

    But transportation accounts for approximately 25 percent of global CO2 emissions today. And then road transportation, passenger vehicles and freight, that's about two thirds of that amount. It's a huge component of emissions, and yet it's hugely addressable in the sense that we can actually create change over the coming decades very effectively just from moving from mechanical to electrical transportation.

    Passenger vehicles typically see that car owners own their cars for 12 years or in some cases more than that that's clearly an area where we will see electrification expanding and evolving and increasing penetration rates of electric vehicles over time.

    But commercial vehicles are typically used for six to eight years on average the turnover rate of those vehicles is much higher compound that with the fact that many of these companies have net zero targets. They're trying to also reduce their costs and clearly electric vehicles do reduce your operating costs. It suggests that we will potentially see much higher acceleration and adoption of electrified vehicles in these segments than what we've seen to date. And that all comes down to the fact that it's becoming much more affordable, it's being driven by cost incentives and operating costs, and these adoption rates could accelerate.

    Oscar Pulido: So, it's not the only way in which the world can transition to lower carbon, but it is a major contributor is what you're saying.

    Charlie Lilford: Exactly, Oscar. But as I said before, the fact that we are seeing these vehicles becoming cheaper every year, they're democratizing into our economy so that opportunity is no longer something that we are forced to do. It's something that we will naturally choose, it's cheaper for us, it's a better solution and actually it has a much, more sustainable outcome.

    Oscar Pulido: So, let's talk about the consumer, and I have to admit I'm actually one of those consumers in recent years of having purchased an electric vehicle, but what are the barriers to more mainstream adoption of electric vehicles? is it still price? You mentioned government subsidies before played a role early on, but is price the biggest barrier or are there other factors at play? Are people concerned about the range of the vehicle, maybe you can talk a little bit more about that.

    Charlie Lilford: Historically it had been about price, this is changing, and this is actually changing very quickly. Now that we're seeing Not just one or two car manufacturers in the world producing electric vehicles, we're seeing many more. For instance, this year alone, there are over a hundred new designs that are being launched in Europe, close to 50 in the United States, China is even more, about 150 new designs.

    So, the opportunity for us as consumers to purchase electric vehicles is expanding. And so, we are spoilt with choice, and we will be even more spoilt with choice in three, five, 10 years’ time, because these manufacturers are producing electric vehicles at scale at affordable prices. That affordability question and the price point is becoming relatively mute in the future. These cars are much cheaper in some cases even cheaper than a lot of combustion vehicle cars today. And so, the next question is, then, what is the challenge today?

    There's still challenge around charging, and I think people's anxiety around range. Can I get to my destination without having to stop and charge? To some degree that's people getting used to using electric cars and being familiar with how they would utilize them day to day.

    It's clearly also a factor of building more charging infrastructure. And we're seeing a lot of that being built out. So longer distance charging. A lot of work being done with automotive manufacturers to work together to find solutions so that they solve the problem for the consumer.

    And then also the fact that ironically, we've over built the batteries in the cars. The average US driver drives 40 miles in a given day. And if you think about the efficiency of battery in a pack, we are effectively looking at a car that is overbuilt by a factor of four or five times in terms of battery capacity. So, there are ways that we can evolve the cars to be best suited to the use cases of the end consumer.

    Oscar Pulido: And it's interesting you mentioned all the new models, new companies coming out with electric vehicles, and I've had this experience of walking on the street and seeing a car and not recognizing the manufacturer of the model and more often than not, it does appear to be an electric vehicle. So that resonated with me as you said that.

    Before there were electric vehicles, we had something called hybrid vehicles, and they still exist, but there was this sort of steppingstone where people used hybrid cars before they went fully electric, and now people making that jump to just go more fully electric. So, what is that role of the hybrid vehicle these days then?

    Charlie Lilford: Well, I think the hybrid still has a place. Particularly for those making that are using the car more frequently, want to have the opportunity to use electric, but also that range anxiety means that they want to fill their car with gas when they need it.

    That being said, the progress and the advancements that are being made in EVs, pure EVs, battery electric EVs, is so significant. Really the core of the matter is hybrid is just a transition story as we move to a full electric marketplace. With the advancements in technology around electric vehicles there is the opportunity to see more and more of these EVs coming to the market. If you think about some of those step changes in technologies, the chance to have higher voltage electric batteries being able to charge faster. I mean, that’s the key right? As a consumer, you don't want to waste too much time charging your car If you're out and about you want to be able to charge it quickly.

    That's one of the key changes that we see underway, and a lot of these car companies and a lot of the manufacturers are focusing on that. How do they produce batteries that have much higher energy density that can enable us to charge our cars faster?

     Then car manufacturers asking the next question, where do we find greater efficiency? Where do we improve the technology? And then it comes down to the aerodynamics. It comes down to the rolling resistance. So how much resistance is applied from using your tires or the inertia? All of these incremental improvements mean that we can find ways to be far more efficient with the electricity that we're using in our cars and enable further adoption of electric vehicles.

    Oscar Pulido: Everything you've mentioned certainly highlights that there's progress for the consumer, there's more choice, and there's progress being made in terms of transitioning to lower carbon emission. For you, as somebody who comes to work and is investing in stocks and companies, it sounds like the automobile ecosystem has changed dramatically over the last couple of years. So, what does that mean in terms of investment opportunities?

    Charlie Lilford: This is such a great question, Oscar, because You're getting a collision of effectively the legacy environment with this new onset of what it means to be in an environment with electrification and electric vehicles.

    And so, when you take a step back and you think about the automotive sector or the transportation sector, we've seen these companies historically engineering change. The fact is that this is the first time in over a hundred years that we've actually seen a totally new power train technology. We're moving from a mechanical to an electrical world. And what that means for me and our team as investors is that you see new companies coming into the space, new technologies emerging. There's a lot of change and that as an active stock picker really represents a huge opportunity for us.

    We see companies that are legacy, or companies that are incumbent, that are able to change, that will evolve, that will survive, that will succeed. That being said, some other companies that are legacies will not be able to do that. And I think that's where it gets truly exciting, this change that's underway, the emergence of new players, the emergence of new technologies, creates true opportunities for us at BlackRock as active stock pickers.

    Oscar Pulido: And so, what's that one innovation that you see coming to electric vehicles that could, be a game changer in terms of performance and price and how far away is that innovation from being in mass production?

    Charlie Lilford: We get this question quite often. We’re certainly looking for these game changing technologies. So, if it's advancements in battery technology, to get very technical, some of the anode technologies that we're seeing, where these companies are progressing on that front. Even just the advancements in the chemistries for the batteries, and furthermore, when you think about longer term, a lot of people talk about, solid state batteries. There is evidence that this could be very exciting and a game changer in its own right.

    When I say solid state battery, what that means is there is a different technology that we can see being able to be used in cars, which is, much safer, but also has much greater performance. if we were to get into this achieving solid state status, it does unlock a lot of the issues around charging times.

    But I often reflect on what is the key game changer. And the key game changer for me here is efficiency. The ability for the manufacturers, for the supply chain, for the providers of technology to find much, much more efficient solutions to the problem.

     When you think about it, how does a car company scale? How does a car company manufacture millions of vehicles very cost effectively so that it is cheaper for you and I, when we want to buy our next car. How do manufacturers of batteries, get into a position where they can produce batteries at an affordable level so that those batteries are much cheaper when going into the electric vehicles?

    And so, there are a lot of really interesting game changing technologies out there, but it comes down to efficiency and the entire ecosystem to become more and more efficient, to improve day in, day out, year on year, to bring a product, which is going to be far more cost effective, far more affordable for everybody, not just a premium product.

    Oscar Pulido: That's interesting because we live in a world where we want something, and we want it right away. We expect it on our doorstep. And what you're saying is there's great technology already in these vehicles. So certainly, there could be improvements. There always is, but it's just these companies getting to a point where if a lot of people actually want these vehicles right away that they can do it in an efficient and scalable manner.

    Charlie Lilford: Yeah, exactly. Like you said, it's really about providing something to the consumer they want, that solves some of their problems. People want to have a car that's easy to use, cheap to run, comfortable, safe, reliable. All of these factors come into play in this sector, and I think electric vehicles do solve a lot of those issues.

    Oscar Pulido: You mentioned before that one of the anxieties that potential buyers have is the range of the vehicle and where am I going to charge it? Is that the biggest obstacle right now for electric vehicles or is there something else that is precluding this industry from growing faster?

    Charlie Lilford: That is the case. We've seen that costs are coming down. In fact, costs will come down even more dramatically when we think about buying our next car. Really the key factor right now is, can I charge my vehicle? And I think this is, also very interesting when you think about it, and I often use this quite flippantly, but it’s incredibly true. Electrification is all around us. If you think about electrification and the access to electricity, in many cases it's more accessible to us as urban dwellers than combustion engine or combustion fuels are.

    So, if you think about where do we source our electricity to charge our cars, it's in our apartment buildings, our homes, in our offices, on our streets, and so the fact that electrification is permeating all around us is one of the key constraints which we believe is there but in fact isn't, and so it's really about changing some of the behaviors.

    And very similarly to when you think about when you go home and charge your mobile phone, you charge it overnight. And then I wake up in the morning and I go to work with my phone fully charged.

    When you think about electric vehicles, The best solution is to charge it slowly overnight, take eight hours, let your car charge. it's a behavioral factor that will evolve and emerge over time as people become more accustomed to using these new technologies and become accustomed to how they can optimize those technologies.

    Oscar Pulido: So, imagine you wake up 10 years from now and it's the year 2033 is the adoption of electric vehicles now mainstream? Have we gotten to that point where that's what you own?

    Charlie Lilford: So, ask this another way, in 2033 when you're looking for your next car to buy will you be buying an internal combustion car? That's the key here. There are obviously some very optimistic scenarios around this many people think that internal combustion cars will disappear overnight. The reality is they won't. internal combustion cars will be with us for many years to come. And that's a factor of, we as drivers of these cars own these cars typically for 12 years. So that turnover rate is relatively slow, but nonetheless, what we're seeing is a dramatic increase in escalation in EV adoption.

    And you just have to look at what's happened over the last few years. this year we should have EV penetration rates close to 20%, on a global basis, forget about certain markets where we see dramatic penetration rates, but if you reflect on that a few years prior, this was barely at 3 or 4%.

    So, we've seen a 5X development in this just over the last four or five years. And when you think out to 2030, given the costs that we're seeing coming down, and given the nature of the design releases that we're seeing coming out of the manufacturers, there's nothing to suggest that we will not see significantly higher penetration rates in electric vehicles by 2030.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Charlie, I have to ask, I mentioned at the beginning that, I became an electric vehicle driver myself in the last couple of years, but do you practice what you preach? Do you drive an electric vehicle?

    Charlie Lilford: I do, but I think it's even broader than just that. what's really interesting is that it's becoming a question of electrification in our lives. Yes, we can buy electric cars and we can utilize that in an EV, but when we think about our mobility and our transportation around our daily lives, it becomes much more significant.

    When I go to London to work in the office, I take my bicycle. I use mass transportation, which is obviously lowering my carbon footprint significantly when I travel. So, it becomes far more holistic, EVs are just one piece of that puzzle in terms of, how we can address our own impact and what it means in terms of our own impact on net zero, but also how we travel more efficiently in cities. And so how can we be much more sustainable in our daily lives?

    Oscar Pulido: So, I feel really charged after this discussion. I was trying to think of a witty pun to match, many of the ones that you had as you were describing this space. But, Charlie, thanks for your insights on electric vehicles and what's to come ahead. And thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Charlie Lilford: Thanks, Oscar. we will see more and more electric vehicles in the future, and it's just going to be such an exciting next couple of years.

    Oscar Pulido: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out our conversation with Cristiano Amon, CEO and President of Qualcomm, where we discuss the digital transformation and how that's already affecting the electric vehicle market. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH1023U/M-318700

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    The face of finance has evolved considerably of late. From changing financial architecture and payment applications through to regulatory developments and the impact of AI, all of which have major implications for banking’s business models. So with all of this rapid change, what should investors be considering?

    In our midyear outlook we discussed a new regime of greater macro and market volatility is being shaped by five major structural forces that we’re calling megaforces. Alex Brazier, Deputy Head of the BlackRock Investment Institute joins me to talk about the first of these big forces in detail, the future of finance. Alex will explain what this big shift will entail for banks, companies and investors as we grapple with a changing economy and structural changes. Alex, welcome back to The Bid

    Alex Brazier: Hello again, Oscar. Thanks for having me back.

    Oscar Pulido: Alex, you introduced us to the idea of megaforces in the mid-year outlook earlier this year, but perhaps you can remind us what a megaforce is, and what are we talking about when we say the future of finance?

    Alex Brazier: These megaforces, they're big structural shifts in our economies. Things like demographic change. Competition between great global powers, the development of artificial intelligence, and the transition to a low carbon economy. All these things are changing the way we produce, the way we consume, and the way we work. And they are enormous, sort of powerful forces in our economies, and they're absolutely relevant to investment. They might be forces that are here with us for very many years to come, but they're actually shaping investment. returns right now.

    And this week we're talking about reshaping the financial system, the future of finance. It's a big topic, I don't pretend that what we've got to say on it right now is in any way the last word. There's loads more to explore, and we'll be exploring it. But what we're really looking at here is how the way the financial system serves savers, borrowers, how stable the financial system is, and most importantly, as it evolves, what investment opportunities does that create? And what risks does that create? That's what we're exploring in the future of finance.

    Oscar Pulido: Okay, so as you said, you're thinking about these as thematic shifts. So, moving on to today's topic, the future of finance, as we're looking ahead and considering what that might look like, maybe we can start by thinking about the fact that US banks have been experiencing deposit withdrawals. At an unprecedented pace. So, can you tell us what's been happening that's led to this change? And what is the ultimate impact?

    Alex Brazier: Yeah, when we talk about deposit withdrawals at an unprecedented pace, it sounds like really bad news. we're normally used to people taking deposits quickly out of banks when they 2008.

    But this is actually pretty good news, because part of what's happening is just due to what the Federal Reserve has been doing with, first of all, QE - purchasing assets. Every time it purchases an asset, it puts money in someone's deposit in a bank. And now it's doing QT, Quantitative Tightening, it's, selling the assets that it had and draining deposits out of the banking system.

    It's inevitable given that monetary policy, but there's something deeper going on as well, which is the good news here. Really what's happening is that savers are searching around for the best return. We're now in a very different environment, We're not in a zero-interest rate environment. And savers are looking for other options. And most importantly, they found them as well. And they found them in things like money market funds.

    And we've seen around two trillion dollars’ worth of deposits over the last few years flow out of the banking system into money market funds. And, as I say, that's not largely because people have any questions about the safety of the banking system. There was a bit of that back in March, this year. But largely it's because banks have been slow to raise deposit rates as the fed has raised rates, but money market fund rates have basically followed the Fed's rate. So, people are looking to earn a higher return on their deposit. They're putting money where it earns the higher return. So, what it's telling us is that there are now credible alternatives to bank deposits. Money market funds have been substantially reformed since the financial crisis in 2008.

    They put their money mainly in short term treasury bills and even on deposit at the Fed. So having this alternative to bank deposits is great news for savers. They can find the best returns. They've got choice. That's a new development, and as a result, they're looking around. Now, it's good news for savers, but it's going to be a challenge for banks. And they're going to have to face up to this more competitive market for people's savings, effectively. But broadly, big outflow of deposits, not the usual bad news story. Actually, a good news story about choice for savers.

    Oscar Pulido: Certainly, sounds like a really good story for consumers, and they have better options, and sounds like banks are going to lose out if they can’t compete. So how are they going to adapt to this change?

    Alex Brazier: Well, they will, over time, have to. for the bank, as we talk about in our paper, it's not really an urgent problem for the banking system as a whole. It's still pretty flush with deposits, largely thanks to the Fed's monetary policy actions. But what this is revealing is that banks can't rely on continually paying rates on deposits that are much bigger.

    So, they're going to have to compete more aggressively for deposits over time. Now, there will come a point over the next few years where that. they really have to do that. And for some banks, they really have to do that now. We're particularly seeing that with smaller banks who perhaps aren't so flush with deposits.

    And they've been repricing their deposits. That's a sign of what's going to happen in the system more broadly. What does that mean for them? Well, for banks, it means two things. It means squeezing of their profits, their so-called net interest margin, the difference between their lending rates and the rates they pay on their deposits.

    And it also means they're going to be trying to pass through some of that higher cost of deposits. into lending rates, into the rates that borrowers pay them. And that means that over time, bank credit is probably going to get a bit more expensive relative to other forms of finance. That sounds like bad news as well. But actually, it creates an opportunity for reshaping or reinforcing a trend in the financial system that's been going on for many years actually, which is diversification in the sources of finance, particularly for companies.

    So over time, companies have come to rely less on banks. They've been reliant more on using public markets in particular. Now this change, bank credit becoming a bit more expensive is actually going to encourage companies to continue to look for other sources of finance from outside the banking system. And ultimately, it's going to mean a financial system where companies have more choice as well. They've got more options, they've got a more diversified system to finance growth and jobs, in the economy. and that to us is one of the more exciting things of this, this tectonic shift we see going on.

    Oscar Pulido: And if we think about the public sector for a moment, what are regulators proposing and what's that going to mean for this, change in bank lending?

    Alex Brazier: Yeah, regulation is clearly in motion here and bank regulators, particularly in the u. S., are likely to make changes. They've made some proposals, and those proposals, could change, over time. But the thrust is that they're probably going to expect banks to fund more of their lending with shareholders cap their own shareholders capital. Now, that's great for the stability of the system, because it means banks are funded more with something that can absorb losses. if they take losses on those loans. but it also means that for banks, funding themselves in the mix the regulators want is going to be more expensive. if these proposals go through, it's likely going to reinforce this trend to make bank credit relatively a bit more expensive than other forms of, credit. And there's one other aspect to the proposals as well, which is, in large part, u. S. regulators are responding to global agreements reached a few years back,

    But they're also responding to what happened back in, in March, and the failures of some mid-sized banks, in the u. S. And what they're proposing to do is to extend some of the more stringent regulations. that apply to the biggest banks Down to some of those mid-sized banks as well.

    So that's going to be a particular tightening for that segment of the banking system in the U.S. it's going to take away some of the advantages to being middle sized rather than big which as a result we think is going to encourage some consolidation in the industry but it's also going to add to

    This sort of tightening of supply of bank credit, because these mid-sized banks have actually been pretty important in the supply of credit to the U.S. economy over the last few years. they've been playing an outsized role. So, for all these reasons, regulation we think is a kind of added factor, added to competition for deposits, that means bank credit is going to become relatively a bit more expensive.

    Oscar Pulido: So overall banks are raising rates, regulators are making proposals for more regulations and stricter regulation I should say. So, what does this mean, perhaps, for the broader economy and maybe what opportunities do you think this is going to create?

    Alex Brazier: Yeah, we've talked about how it's good news for savers. It's probably good for the stability of the financial system as well. But it does mean slightly more expensive bank credit.

    So, what does that mean we're going to see? we're likely to see some innovation in the way finance works. We're probably going to see growth of non-bank forms of finance. and for many years, we've seen companies diversify finance away from banks towards public markets by issuing bonds. This is going to reinforce that trend. And it's also going to broaden it out a bit as well. Because many companies want smaller deal sizes than the public markets can serve them with. And so maybe we're going to see partnerships between banks and other parts of the financial system where the banks do the lending, but the loans are held outside the banks on other balance sheets. But we're also probably going to see the growth of things like private credit. by which we mean loans that are directly negotiated between a borrower and a non-bank lender like an asset manager. And they're held in funds financed directly by investors. Now, this market's still pretty small relative to public debt markets and bank lending. But we think we're likely to see it grow. And that's going to be good for diversifying the sources of finance that companies have to drive growth and drive, drive job creation.

    But it also potentially creates a pretty big, investment opportunity over the long term, and we actually see some opportunities in private credit over the long term because as banks step back, we're Probably going to see more demand from borrowers for these alternative forms of credit. That's going to keep interest rates pretty high.

    And that's what creates the potential opportunity, but we think we need to be pretty discerning here because private credit loans are not immune from credit losses in a higher interest rate environment. So, we focus on companies that are better placed to navigate that as borrowers. And it's really important to recall that much of the kind of interest rate premium, the extra return on private credit, reflects the so-called illiquidity of those loans. The fact that it's difficult to sell them quickly at a good price.

    So, these are not investments suitable for all investors and investors who do hold them need to be able to manage their cash needs pretty effectively using other assets. But if they can do that, then actually there's a premium. To be harvested, and that's why we see the appeal in things like private credit, particularly in longer term, strategic, portfolios.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Alex, it sounds like there's a lot to consider. and I'm just wondering, there's a lot of things happening in the world at the moment. Why are we considering the future of finance such an important megaforce?

    Alex Brazier: Yeah, it's particularly important, I think, for the way our economies are going to function. In the same way that many of the other megaforces are as well. It's a big structural shift in the way a core part of our economy, the financial system, works. And we're not just interested in this because it's, close to home for us. We're interested in this because it reaches a lot of different parts of the economy. It's changing the way savers save. It's changing the way borrowers borrow. It's changing the way our financial system interacts with our economy. And in the process, potentially creating some investment risks, but also very importantly, investment opportunities. And that's our focus on this. So, it's a big force with big structural effects that's going to be at play for many years yet, but it's already having an effect on investment returns.

    Oscar Pulido: Alex, as always, thank you so much for your time. we very much appreciate your insight leading the way in the first of these megaforces that we're considering. And I very much look forward to speaking with you about the upcoming outlook for 2024.

    Alex Brazier: Great, thanks for having me, Oscar. See you soon.

     

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH1023U/M-3181415

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I’m your host, Oscar Pulido.

    How do you feel about your own retirement during uncertain market conditions? In periods of volatility, investors can often be short sighted when considering the outlook ahead. And your retirement is a journey that's not only personal, but also profoundly influenced by external factors.

    These forces can make or break your retirement dreams and understanding them is crucial for anyone looking to secure their financial future. So, what should investors be thinking about today when planning for tomorrow? Here with me today is Anne Ackerley, head of BlackRock's retirement group. Anne will help us consider the current market conditions from a retirement lens and will walk us through the five major forces that are shaping the retirement outlook. Anne, welcome to The Bid.

    Anne Ackerley: Thank you so much for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: Anne you're a frequent guest on the podcast, so it's good to have you back. And when you've been on in the past, you've talked about the retirement challenges that women investors have, you've talked about the need for more resilience in retirement plans. And today you're here to give more of a State of the Union address about the retirement industry. I know you released a paper earlier this summer, so what are some of the things that are going on that you want people to know about?

    Anne Ackerley: Well, I’m excited to be back here talking about my favorite subject, retirement, and I'm glad that you called it, the State of the Union. that's really what we had in mind when we wrote the paper, and it's about the five forces that are impacting retirement in the United States. It's probably no surprise to you that retirement today is kind of a mixed bag. There are a lot of things that are really quite challenging, but there are things that are working, and we wanted to really focus on that as well. The five trends that really stick out to us are the following:

    So, one, Americans are living longer.

    Two, there's been this move from defined benefit to defined contribution.

    Three, there's Millions of Americans actually don't have access to a workplace retirement plan.

    Four, there's a really great need and a great desire for, lifetime income.

    And then finally, the racial and gender, disparities continue to exist in retirement. Before I go through all of these, or I hope we get to all of these today.

    Oscar Pulido: We definitely will.

    Anne Ackerley: I did want to double down on maybe the first two and just do that as scene setting for the rest of the conversation.

    So, longevity, Americans are living longer and actually, in the 20th century, we added 30 years of life. We went from 49 years to 79 years in just that short amount of time. And when you think about historically, people have been around for thousands and thousands of years, and it's just been this massive change in longevity.

    Now, one thing I do want to just point out, we talk about average longevity in the United States. It is not the same for everybody, and we do need to be aware of the differences. It differs by race, by ethnicity, by gender, by socioeconomic status. And actually, over the last couple of years, longevity has actually been on the decline in the U. S.

    But generally, overall, Americans are living longer, and it should be a good thing. Now at the same time that Americans are living longer, our society is also aging. We are going to have more and more people over 65. In fact, within the next couple of years, there'll be 15 million Americans over 65, and that is unprecedented. It's also unprecedented math. All these people are going to have to find a way to pay for these longer more expensive retirements. And interestingly, the one thing that hasn't changed in that time frame has actually been the retirement age. So, while we're living longer, people are still retiring right about the same age, 62, 63, on average, that they were, 40, 50 years ago.

    The last thing I'll say, is that the tools that people have to save have also changed during this time period. And there's been this kind of massive shift from defined benefit to defined contribution. I think for most people listening to the podcast, probably very few of them will have guaranteed pensions. Maybe some of the lucky ones, maybe some of the people who are working in the public sector. But for the most part, people will have, defined contribution of 401K plans, which really means the onus is on the individual now, not the company, for people to save and invest and then ultimately figure out how to spend their money in retirement.

    Now, it sounds like, whoa, is that a good thing that we've moved from defined benefit to defined contribution? There are some good things about that in a lot of ways.

    Oscar Pulido: So just taking a step back, you mentioned, living longer is a good thing, but it requires more planning and you're right about that retirement age point because I can think about my parents. Both have retired in that mid 60s, but yet, their life expectancy has gone up relative to history. So, let's just go back though to define benefit, define contribution. Defined benefit, a company is responsible for a pension that an employee gets after they retire. But there's been a shift towards defined contribution where that employee now is responsible for making their own investments, and they dictate what their retirement pot's going to look like at retirement. So why is that move to defined contribution so impactful to the industry?

    Anne Ackerley: You know, 401k plans have helped millions of Americans be better prepared for retirement. and there are two things that have happened with the rise of 401k that have helped that. And we call them the autos, like automobile, but they, actually automatic enrollment.

    And automatic escalation, so the autos, and also the rise of the target date fund. So those two things have actually helped more and more people be prepared. So, what is, auto enrollment?

    You start at a company; you're automatically put into the 401k plan. money is taken out of your paycheck. And it gets invested into the plan. You don't have to do anything. And in this way, inertia works for you. You're just put into it. Auto escalation means you start out at an initial contribution, and generally every year that contribution might increase by half a percent or a percentage up to a maximum amount. often, it's timed with when people get raises and the concept of auto escalation is that people might not even notice that they're saving even more money. both those things have helped people be more prepared. the second thing, I would just say target date funds, I'm sure we'll talk a lot about them, but they have also been a major, I'd say revolutionary transformation that has happened over the last 30 years in retirement.

    Oscar Pulido: The auto part is, it's interesting to me, it would seem like somebody should just do that on their own, but there's also a behavioral aspect of sometimes people need that nudge, you use the word inertia that once it's done for them, they're not tending to reverse that, right?

    Anne Ackerley: Absolutely. Look, people are busy. People are out there living their lives, they're working, maybe they're having families, they're volunteering, they're just doing so many things. And the idea that you have to remember to sign up for something, and I will just use my 30-year-old son as an example, because he's in a school that they actually don't have auto enrollment.

    And just yesterday I asked him. Did you enroll? And he's like, 'Oh, I need to go check.' You know, people are busy. And all these autos, the doing it for you, and these nudges have really helped. And just on auto enrollment, we know that when people are automatically enrolled, it's something like 98 percent of people or 95 percent of people stay enrolled in the plan. When you have to do it yourself. The number is something like 28%. People are busy, and they think they're going to get to it, and they don't get to it.

    Oscar Pulido: So, it's in their best interest,

    Anne Ackerley: A hundred percent.

    Oscar Pulido: So, your son is 30 years old. It turns out that Target Date Funds, at least the ones at BlackRock, are also celebrating 30 years this year. You've talked about the importance of Target Date Funds within the retirement ecosystem, so maybe take us back, why was it important that Target Date Funds came of age 30 years ago? What's the state of them today? When you look ahead, are some of the evolutions coming to Target date Funds?

    Anne Ackerley: This is the 30th anniversary of the Target Date Fund, and BlackRock did pioneer it, 30 years ago. Really, what a Target Date Fund does is take the complex job of trying to figure out how you should invest over your career, and it does it for you. Target date funds are basically a mixture of equity and bonds and that mixture changes over the course of your career. It's more in equities when you're young and then target date funds take risk off the table as you get closer to retirement.

    And really the only decision that you need to make is, quote unquote, the target date. What is the year that you think you will retire? You pick that and then you're put into it, and it does all the investing for you, both, what we call the glide path, the mix of stocks and bonds, as well as the asset allocation within that.

    Really revolutionary just transformed. What happened with 401k plans. Today, something like 36 million Americans use a target date fund, and they are the primary default vehicle, in over 90 percent of 401k plans. So, this is just a way that we've made it easier and simpler for people to be invested appropriately during the course of their life, and I'm just really proud that BlackRock pioneered this amazing vehicle.

    Oscar Pulido: I'm thinking about how you said it and people are busy. within the retirement ecosystem, this concept of enrolling them automatically escalating their savings, and then within the target date fund, it sounds like making adjustments in the portfolio is also happening automatically. So, all of this creates, hopefully, a better long-term experience for the person in 30, 40 years or whenever it is that they're retiring.

    Anne Ackerley: You know, if you put yourself in a 401k plan, let's say you put yourself in a certain non target date fund, you get busy in life, you forget about it, maybe you're not changing your asset allocation often enough, maybe you started in cash. And you're young, you shouldn't be in cash, as you get older, you probably shouldn't be in all equities. it does it for you, and you really don't need to think about it as you're busy living your life and doing the things you want to do.

    Oscar Pulido: And then one day you retire, and you have this pool of money that ideally, you've been very diligent about and saving and so you've talked about then the need for that person to have retirement income or at least the concept of retirement income becomes important to that individual because now I have this pool of money. I'm no longer working. how do I consume and how do I maintain that day to day that I was accustomed to having? So, maybe talk a little bit about this concept of then retirement income and why it's so important.

    Anne Ackerley: Absolutely. The number one financial fear in the United States is the fear of outliving your savings. And it's actually, it does make sense if you think about it. as you said, you retire, you no longer have income coming in, and you've got this pool of assets. And, in the United States now, because we're in 401k plans, it's really up to you to figure out how to spend that money and spend it so that you won't run out of it. And yet, you don't know how long you're going to live. You don't know what the markets are going to do, and you probably don't really know what your expenses are going to be, particularly if you're going to have some sort of larger medical expense or some unforeseen expense, and yet we say, everybody, hey, go figure this out.

    Bill Sharp, the Nobel Laureate, has called this the nastiest, toughest problem in finance. Particularly as people are aging, more and more people are retiring, people are getting very focused on retirement income. The question of how do I spend my money so I can continue to live the life I want, but not run out.

    And we've looked at surveys, 98 percent of employees want help with this, or over 90 percent of employees want help with this. 98 percent of employers I think they should be helping people with it. If you look back, people were very focused on that accumulation phase, the saving phase, now people are really starting to think about, how do I generate this income stream? at BlackRock, we've been very focused on this. we've taken the concept of the target date, and we've extended it. And we have come up with a strategy that embeds annuities into the target date strategy so that when a person gets to retirement, they would have the option of perhaps annuitizing and getting some form of guaranteed income.

    And all embedded within a target date, which people know, and now we've put a guaranteed, piece into that as well. So, they're trying to bring back some of the defined benefit aspects. But still within the confines of a defined contribution plan. it's industry innovation, I think, at its best. There's just, the fact that people are living longer, the fact that they want help, employers wanted help, we've really pulled together to come up with something that we think can give people real help in figuring out how to spend in their retirement years.

    Oscar Pulido: And so, everything you've talked about is around, if you have a retirement plan, if you work somewhere that offers you target date funds or a company has a 401k plan, right? The economy's changed a lot over the years and I think there's a lot of companies that don’t necessarily offer target date funds or a worker that doesn't have access to a good retirement plan. And I think your report actually maybe even touches on it and shares some data on this, but what does that person do? Like how do they get set up for success if they don't have access to all the wonderful, 'we'll do it for you' sort of features that you've talked about?

    Anne Ackerley: So, this is a great question, and it is something I'm extremely passionate about. It goes without saying that all these good things that I've talked about, all the innovation, is only available if you, in fact, have access to a workplace plan where you work.

    And today, 57 million Americans do not have access to a workplace plan. That's about 48 percent of private sector workers, so think about that, almost half of the people who work in the private sector don't have access to a workplace plan. Now a lot of that is small to medium sized businesses. Historically, small business has found it costly, hard to administer. they may not have HR departments who are able to do this. And so, the industry has really tried to work on how can we get more people plans, because we know that when you get, a plan at work, you're 15 to 20 times more likely to save.

    You ask me, what do people do if they don't? They've got to go and probably set up some kind of IRA. And then they have to remember to take money out of their paycheck and invest. They've got to figure out their investments. And it's just shown that people will save 15 to 20 times more if they have access at their workplace plan.

    And so, the industry's been focused on how do you increase access. And one of the things that has really changed over the last few years is technology. Technology is making it easier and simpler and cheaper for small businesses to offer plans. Today there are companies where in two clicks, an employer can sign up, and in two more clicks, an employee can sign up. And so, technology, I think, is going to help. there's some policy that's helping, in a policy called Secure 2. 0. There are tax credits available to businesses to try to encourage them to offer the plans. And then finally, some states have gotten involved. I think it's about 12 states have said if you work in this state, the company needs to provide a plan.

     So, we've got a whole bunch of different things working to try to increase the number of people, in the United States who have access, because there is no, federal requirement that a company provide these benefits.

    Oscar Pulido: I'm almost thinking if a company has a gym in their building, you probably get more of the employees that exercise versus if a company doesn't. and therefore, the statistic around 15 to 20 times. more likely to save if there's a workplace plan. it makes sense. It's the people who don't have access to the workplace plan are also busy, and therefore, if it requires extra work for them to find how to do it, it's going to be more challenging.

    Anne Ackerley: For sure.

    Oscar Pulido:  That 57 million, those people who don't have access to that workplace plan, talk a little bit more about that. I think there's also some demographics, challenges in, in, in terms of what we see, access to retirement, the retirement outcomes that we see among different genders and demographics that I know you've done some work on that is, is interesting to touch on.

    Anne Ackerley: The who doesn't have access are, people who tend to work in, certain sectors, the retail sector, maybe the hospitality sector.

    I'd also say, gig workers don't. People who work for smaller businesses often don't. this might be surprising, there's 600,000 401k plans in the United States, but there's 6 million employers who have more than one employee.

    So, there's a lot of plans, but then there's a lot of companies that don't offer it. And women and people of color disproportionately are affected by the lack of access. It's the sectors they work in. It might be part time workers, particularly for women. Often part time workers are not eligible to participate in plans. And the ultimate impact on retirement savings if we look at women, what we find is that women's balances at retirement are often 30 percent less than men's. This is in part due to access; they often don't have access. it's also due to the gender pay gap, the fact that women make 84 cents on the dollar. even if they're saving the same amount as men.

    It's less amount of money, and that less amount of money compounds over time. Women are often, I think they provide almost, 80 percent of caregiving in the United States, whether that's childcare or elder care, and are often in and out of the workplace, which, again, impacts, their ability to save.

    And for women of color, these numbers are even far, far greater. And again, I think the impact, is pretty devastating on people who don’t have access. and again, particularly women and people of color.

    Oscar Pulido: So, this is a topic that I imagine we're going to be talking about for some time, but I get the sense that there's a lot of positive trends in the retirement space, particularly, I keep coming back to the person who's busy and how the ecosystem around them is developing to try and put in some good behaviors. There's still those 57 million Americans, though, that lack access that we need to help. we will probably have you on more than a few more times, Anne, to hear about how we're trying to close that gap. I want to thank you, though, for joining us today on the Bid.

    Anne Ackerley: Thank you so much for having me.

    if you've enjoyed today's episode, check out 'How to Solve the Emergency Savings Crisis', where I speak to Claire Chamberlain, BlackRock's Global Head of Social Impact, about what both the private and public sector is doing and what more still needs to be done to help resolve this crisis. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH1023U/M-3146522

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Artificial intelligence can be described as the simulation of human intelligence by machines. As we heard in the previous episode in this two-part look at AI, we heard how AI has been evolving for decades. Today we're going to take a look at the implications of AI for the investing landscape. Here with me today is Brad Betts, global equity researcher for BlackRock Systematic, an investment team that emphasizes the use of data-driven insights and cutting-edge technology in their approach.

    Brad focuses his research efforts on using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing to generate alpha. In other words, he uses AI to attempt to outperform the markets, and he's been researching these technologies for decades from his time as a scientist at NASA to the pivotal role he's played in bringing AI innovations to BlackRock. Brad will help us understand what AI means for investing and the opportunities that lie ahead.

    Brad thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Brad Betts: Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Brad AI is seemingly everywhere right now. We're hearing about it on company earnings calls. We're hearing about it in news headlines, but you've been researching and using these technologies, really throughout your career. So, I'd love to hear more about the evolution of AI in terms of how you've seen it and how it pertains to the investment management industry.

    Brad Betts: Yeah, my pleasure. I was an intern in the summer of 1989. I was working in a military research lab and one of the senior members of the lab had gone to a conference and came back and gave us all a briefing, and it was the first time that I had heard about artificial neural networks. And these neural networks are the key architecture behind things like ChatGPT. it was a particular demonstration. of a truck, a big rig, you know, an 18-wheeler being backed up.

    Here I was seeing a computer learning how to do it. It wasn't being instructed explicitly by humans. It was learning how to do it, and this fascinated me. and it could do it even from a position that you called jackknifing a big rig, which is a really tricky position to get a truck out of. And it was riveting and so that was my first exposure.

    Back in those days, we had nowhere near the computing power, nowhere near the volume of data, nowhere near the accelerated computing hardware that we have now, and nowhere near the sophistication of the algorithms. But it captivated me and it in no small part led to the great fortune I had in that next step of my career, which was to do my doctorate in something called the information systems lab at Stanford.

    That lab was buzzing with ideas of information theory and signal processing, and cryptography and optimization and compression and medical imaging. It was just a wonderful time and there were giants of the 20th century, that were there. But there was another powerful force in this information Systems lab at Stanford, and it was a gentleman named Bernie Widrow - Bernard Widrow. And Bernie Widrow, had developed the first practical use of a neural network. If you made a phone call for many decades in the US you were using artificial neural networks, it was being used behind the scenes to do things like cancel echoes on the line.

    Anybody that remembers older phone calls and you could sometimes get a really annoying echo. Well, that was technology that had been developed by Professor Widrow and others, something called Adeline. Professor Widrow, and others, built Adeline in 1960 before I was born, so that history of this goes well back into the 1950s. And it was the first practical use of a neural network. And again, these neural networks are what are underpinning so much of the progress and excitement.

    I then had the good fortune to use what I had been trained and taught at places like NASA, at startups in Silicon Valley, and then close to 16 years ago now at BlackRock. The evolution has been for me, one of extraordinary excitement and privilege to see the changes in these technologies, to see the advent of more data, of more computation, of increased sophistication and algorithms, has led to this remarkable excitement that we're seeing now.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, it's interesting because for many of us, common folk we think of AI as a recent development but I think you started your story with an internship back in 1989, this really has been an evolution over multiple decades, and you mentioned a couple terms, by the way, you mentioned neural networks, machine learning. I know we talk about like large language models, natural language processing, how do you think about those terms? What do they mean? How do they apply to the investment industry? Maybe we can go there.

    Brad Betts: The field is definitely filled with jargon acronyms and terminology. Artificial intelligence, is a very broad and ambitious field of endeavor, which is obviously looking to try to mimic human levels of intelligence.

    Machine learning is another term, and you can think of it perhaps as a sort of a subset of artificial intelligence. that tends to be more focused on performing a particular task. It's using computers to learn from historical data to take advantage of a historical data to make predictions about the future. That's a common use of machine learning. And its roots are in the signal processing and computer science and applied mathematics, the applied mathematics of optimization community.

    You mentioned natural language processing, another term that people will use for that is also 'text analysis' but text analysis, natural language processing, NLP, is trying to have computers understand and take advantage to perform some task, human speech, human writing.

    You mentioned large language models, ChatGPT is an example of a large language model. We call them large language models because they as rule of thumb, are trained with large amounts of text data, and also they have a very large number of parameters. you can just think of them as dials. you have one dial on your thermostat at home, imagine having billions of dials. So how you set those dials is critically important. The last one, you asked about, Neural networks, the, maybe the slightly more correct people usually just shorten it to neural network. we really say artificial neural network to distinguish it from the biological neural networks in our own human brains. These artificial neural networks we're meant to be very crude, of approximations of our human brains, of the neurons and synaptic connections and it turns out that these techniques pioneered by people like Bernie Widrow and many others have proven, over many decades now to be staggeringly successful.

    Under all of those terms you've mentioned, natural language processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, large language models. Under all of it is large amounts of data. Large amounts of computing power to take advantage of that data. And then also this accelerated computing. It's not just the standard computers people tend to have at home. There's specialized hardware that is well-suited to machine learning, natural language processing, artificial intelligence tasks in particular. It actually grew out of graphics processing, but it turns out it was well suited to the mathematics of this of this area.  So, I hope that gives a flavor and we've only touched some of it.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, one of the added terms that comes to mind when you think of Ai, and you mentioned it, one of the most widely publicized headlines around AI when ChatGPT was released at the end of 2022, and I think you put it in the category of Large Language Models. So how does the large language model that ChatGPT uses compare to what you would use in investment analysis?

    Brad Betts: We use large language models for investment at BlackRock, but we use them very differently. So, we take these large language models and we tune them to make forecasts for the returns that companies will generate in their stock. So, in effect, you can think of this model being tuned and becoming a real specialist. This a big piece of computer code powered by massive amounts of data and computation and becomes a specialist in making forecasts of, what will the return be to Apple over the next week, over the next quarter, over the next month.

    And the process by which we do that is one called fine tuning. So, when people are interfacing with something like ChatGPT, they tend to be putting in text and they get out text. Whereas when we use them for investment, we tend to be putting in lots of text, and what comes out are numbers, forecasts of returns, and we use those forecasts of returns to conduct trading.

    Oscar Pulido: Brad, one of the criticisms perhaps of ChatGPT is you put in text and. The text, you get back may or may not be accurate, it might have provided a lot of convenience, there's a bit of like, how do we know what it's telling me is true?

    How do you then, assess that with the fine tuning that you described when you put in text and it gives you numbers, and do you know how believable that data is in order to make your forecast?

    Brad Betts: You put your finger, of course, on a very difficult and challenging part of our job, which is exactly what you said. how do you trust, how do you tune the neural network properly, appropriately to do what it is that you want it to do?

    So, this fine tuning process, think of it as, as, picking up an initial base model, that sort of understands a language, say English, it understands English very well. It can generate tokens, maybe not quite as well as ChatGPT but it can do it pretty well.

    And then what we do is we feed in new text and we give this text a label. And this label is used by the neural net to understand if it's done something well or poorly.

    Say you take the transcript of an earnings call, or say you take a broker report from some sell-side firm, this is the phase where you're training your neural net, then you're going to use the neural net for new data. But initially what you're doing during this fine tuning is using history to make the net much more specialized. And so you put in a piece of text and you give it this label. you can use the future returns that a company will receive over some horizon.

    Then the neural net takes that information, feeds it forward through its architecture, and it produces a forecast of what the return it thinks will be achieved. We reward or penalize the neural network on how well it does. And then the neural network, the algorithm I'm describing it so I'm personifying it, of course it's just math and code, computer code, but what happens is the neural network then adjusts its weights.

    I mentioned earlier that notion of like maybe having a billion dials, how do you set those? This part of the algorithm is now called back-propagating. The neural net says, 'okay, I took that piece of text. I think that the firm in the future, over the next say month or so, isn't going to do very well. Oh, but you're actually telling me it did do very well. Thanks for giving me that feedback via that label. I'm now going to go and adjust my weight slightly to try to close that gap.'

    But you're doing this with huge amounts of information and you're doing it very rapidly. And it's not just one piece of text. It's taking in billions of these items and it becomes very skilled at matching what happened. And now what you can do once you have trained it in this fashion now you can use new pieces of information that it hasn't seen, so nobody knows because now you're talking about a real prediction, you're talking about the future, the neural net can take that piece of text and say, based on everything that I've learned, that I've been trained with, I think that this firm is going to do well. and again, it's not using any one piece of text.

    By the way, Oscar, one of the things that allows us to do this fine tuning so powerfully is a brilliant algorithm called ADMM, the alternating direction method of multipliers. Under the covers, a lot of this comes down to doing optimization well, and this ADMM technique, was brilliant. And we have developed and tuned an ADMM implementation for so many years. that under the covers allows us to do this fine tuning because I described it as it's just matching returns. we actually get it to match exactly the investment problem or as close as we can make it to what we are really going to do.

    So that is to say we want the neural network to learn to maximize returns while minimizing risk and minimizing transaction costs and minimizing borrow costs. And we're able to do this because of the brilliance of ADMM.

    Oscar Pulido: Can I go back to something you mentioned, and that was fascinating how you painted that, image of the neural network learning being given feedback. Isn't the data that you are providing, historical data, and we're in a new investment regime, the great moderation is over, that period of low interest rates and low inflation and growth being more stable and predictable. Well, now we're in a new investment regime, of more volatility, so how do you think about the predictive nature of these models when maybe we're at an inflection point and some of the real-time data that you are feeding, it, it might not be trained for that. or does the data go back so far that it has plenty of history to have picked up on various economic cycles?

    Brad Betts: Yeah, a huge change was the pandemic. As humans, we hadn't roughly seen a pandemic at this scale for, around a hundred years. Think back to March of 2020, how many of us really predicted how sharp the rebound would be in markets. And whether you are a computer, Or whether you're a human, A shift of that kind of magnitude is an incredible challenge.

    The markets are a very dynamic system. And the nature of a dynamic system is It keeps changing. it will continue to be true. algorithms, humans have to be nimble, they have to be able to take advantage of what information they have available to do the best job that they can for prediction.

    And we'll see, it is a fascinating time to, to be alive, to see, who is able to adapt more effectively to these changes that that will always be there in the markets.

    Oscar Pulido: That race between man and machine, brings up something that we touched on in our previous episode, which are some of the ethical concerns, that arise from artificial intelligence, and what the impact is going to be on industries and society. And there seems to be two, schools of thought here. One is very fearful about the rise of these technologies and there's another side of the camp that's a little bit more I reverent. So, what's your view in terms of the business impact, the impact on society from artificial intelligence?

    Brad Betts: It's my life's work. I don't go to bed worrying at night around a machine takeover. The opposite for me. I'm excited by the opportunities that these present the opportunities. You know, I,I feel that sometimes the conversation gets a bit focused on the risk and that's human. but sometimes it misses the extraordinary opportunity, the opportunity that will come, you look at algorithms like alpha fold. a neural network that learned the 3D folding structure of proteins, the opportunity that will afford for drug discovery is wonderful.

    I fall in the camp of being more excited. I think that the impact businesses will see is around, automation. I think a lot of the ways initially and unsurprisingly businesses will see these impact will be, in productivity enhancing tools, for example, on things like email, in code generation, in the translation of old computer code into more modern languages to reduce operational risks, to put them into a more modern, framework.

    How many of us really go to bed at night achieving inbox zero? Imagine if you had an agent that was sitting there that was summarizing the emails for you, was summarizing presentations, was drawing your attention over time to the ones that it's starting to learn, that you're more interested in that it feels are more worthy of your attention, that are able to summarize.

    I think that is a way, and firms like Microsoft are working very hard and highly incentivized, of course to bring those kind of capabilities, to many enterprises. So I think these opportunities for automation are a path where we're going to see, a flurry of activity around the adoption of these technologies.

    Oscar Pulido: I think the term inbox zero would resonate with a lot of people. I know it resonates with me. It seems like an impossibility unless I delete everything and then surely I'll have missed a lot of important things. But while you work in the investment industry, it sounds like a lot of the examples you gave were actually just about productivity, automation you mentioned healthcare as well. Are there other opportunities for artificial intelligence in in other industries or other, just, parts of our life that we're not thinking about, that you think about when it comes to artificial intelligence?

    Brad Betts: You see them more and more in things like, chip design, the layout of chips on silicon, on car aircraft, spacecraft design, improvements in advancements in simulation, environments that, that come from these technologies.

    There's a lot. And I don't want to give short shrift to investment, my goodness, there's so much opportunity that we have taken advantage of at BlackRock and will continue to take advantage of at BlackRock through these technologies. Our allegiance, Oscar, is to whatever is efficacious. Our mission at BlackRock is to do right by our clients. It's to do right and to bring them those investment results that they want and need.

     What it really excites me, the opportunity for these technologies in an investment context is that opportunity to continue to improve the outcome ultimately for our clients to execute the mission.

    And also quickly, I mentioned that it feels very personal for me. my mom grew up one of seven kids. They were of modest means and she put herself through high school and she put herself through nursing school and. And she raised three boys. And she and my dad built a home for us and, saved their money and bought me and my brothers, our first computer, a Commodore 64 that took savings from them, that took effort. And I've been obsessed with computers and math since I was a little boy. And Oscar, if II can put, my life's study of math and computer science, if I can put that to use, to help our clients to, then for me that's a life well lived. That, that idea that maybe I can try to help a family that has never had a vacation. there's an extra basketball. It as a birthday gift or something, all the things that, that my mom never had. and for me that's, that's a life well lived.

    Oscar Pulido: I love that story. I'm sure a lot of our listeners will say the same. Brad, I know you're based in San Francisco. I'm just thinking about your comments. I've been through the office but there's a quote somewhere that says something like 'the art of investing has become the science of investing.' I'm wondering whether you put that up there when you first joined?

    Brad Betts: Well done, Oscar. Good for you for remembering. That comes from one of the most brilliant, researchers I've had the privilege to work with, Ron and Richard Grinold.

    Oscar Pulido: Brad, thanks for all the insights and, most importantly, thanks for joining us on The Bid.

    Brad Betts: Thanks for having me, Oscar. It was a real privilege.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out part one where we took a look into AI's history and its inflection points for investing. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0923U/M-3069965

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Artificial intelligence, or AI, is more than just a buzzword. It's a transformative force that has revolutionized industries and reshaped the way we live, work, and interact with technology. But before the age of self-driving cars, virtual assistants and smart homes, there is a fascinating history of research, trials and tribulations that laid the foundation for the AI driven world we inhabit today.

    In this episode, we'll delve deep into the origins of AI, tracing back to its theoretical beginnings and early aspirations. We'll uncover the pivotal moments that triggered significant shifts in investment sentiment, and we'll analyze the turning points in AI's history that propelled the technology from mere possibilities to tangible investment realities.

    Here with me today is Jeff Shen Co-CIO, and Co-head of Systematic Active Equity at BlackRock, an investment team that emphasizes the use of data-driven insights and cutting-edge technology in their approach. Jeff and his team have been at the forefront of innovation in AI for decades from their role in helping to start BlackRock's AI labs several years ago to the strides that his team is making in leveraging the latest AI advancements in their investment process today.

    Jeff, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Jeff Shen: Thanks for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Jeff, I'd like to start by asking you to talk a little bit how you got started in this field of systematic investing and then what is your interpretation of some of the most recent developments in artificial intelligence?

    Jeff Shen: Absolutely. So, I started in graduate school, got a PhD in finance and had been in the investment world for the last, 25- 30 years. I'll say that it's certainly been extraordinarily exciting to see some of the most recent developments. Some people like to call it the age of AI, the age of big data, the age of machine learning, and we're going to get into a little bit of what all of these things mean. I'll say, given what's going on in the world, this is certainly a bit of a golden age. We've also never seen so many developments in different algorithms to interpret this interesting data. And then eventually relative to the investors I think the most important thing is how do you make sense of all of this data and what you can do with this data and eventually lead to a better investment outcome?

    Clearly, we're going to get into Generative AI, large language models, If I have to step back a little bit, we've been looking at numbers for the last 40, 50 years. And large language model or natural language processing in general certainly allows us to be really smart readers of any of the texts out there. Whether it's earning transcript, whether it's a broker calls, whether it's news articles. Now we can read smartly as an investor. And I think that's a revolutionary step that can impact how AI can be applied in the investment world.

    Oscar Pulido: And that's interesting that you use the term, golden age for data, for technology and how it's maybe helping you do your job. But maybe if we could just, take a step back and tell us a little bit about maybe some of the technology milestones that led to the development of artificial intelligence. Just wind the clock back and help us understand where we've come from.

    Jeff Shen: Now we can wind back the clock a lot if we want, because when you think about artificial intelligence it is really a field that encompasses many different subfields, if you go back to logic, go back to Aristotle, or if you go back to normal distribution, At the same time, the artificial intelligence field as we know it today probably can date Back a bit around 1940s and about 80 plus years of research and development. When we think about in 1969, Marvin Minsky and John McCarthy were given Turin award. A big part of it is actually about how do we think about representation? How do we think about reasoning in a machine intelligence way? And when we say machine intelligence, essentially you can really think about an intelligent agent would get a bunch of inputs and then the agent would go through a rational set of calculation- what we call algorithm. And the output will be a set of rational actions and behaviors that is actually desirable in a particular type of environment or context.

    The development here is about better input, meaning better representation, better sensing technology, better algorithm, how do you process this information better? And also, how you measure the success is really to think about the output or the behavior coming from this kind of, intelligent agent, whether that can learn in a new environment, whether it can adapt to a new environment, so how good the output is. So, it is really about better sensing, better processing, or better algorithm, and then eventually leading to better output.

    Oscar Pulido: I didn't realize you would take us back to Greek philosophers in winding the clock back, but you also made the point that a lot of the research and development has been taking place over the last 80 years. Certainly, a long period of time there've been advancements in this field. Have there been certain breakthroughs or milestones that triggered a shift in the investment trends in artificial intelligence where it started to get the attention of those who wanted to again, invest in this field and weren't just observing it from afar.

    Jeff Shen: Yeah, I think the investors', attitude towards this field certainly have gone through I call it a potential three phases. Initially, there's always a sense of skepticism. How can an intelligent system be better than humans in behaving or delivering certain output?

    So, there's a certainly a phase of skepticism, which is normal for any type of new technology. Then I think it can go through a bit of a period of hype. There's a lot of excitement, maybe sometimes too much excitement, and then that may eventually lead to a bit of a crash of excitement in any type of new technology.

    And I think for AI, I'll say that back in 1950 s, there was a prediction that AI system would beat the world champion in chess in about 10 years. So, you're thinking late 1970s AI would be able to beat the world champion. That did not happen until 30 years later. we all know the story of Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov in 1997.

    So initially there was certainly a bit of hype then in the 1980s there was certainly a bit of an AI winter and that caused a lack of enthusiasm in the sector. And then clearly, given some of the latest development, I think right now we're certainly seeing quite a bit of excitement, quite a bit of hype. So, I think, from an investment perspective I would like to think a thoughtful approach in any of these technologies, it's important, because there could be hype, there could be skepticism, there could be crash. It's always important to think about what is really going to impact, the future, what is really going to survive some of the hype, and I think the thoughtful approach is certainly an approach that BlackRock likes to take.

    Oscar Pulido: And presumably this cycle that you highlighted, and I'd never heard the term AI winter, but I get the sense, of course those are periods where there was more pessimism towards this technology, but a lot of technology goes through that cycle, perhaps that you've described the hype, the pessimism so with respect to artificial intelligence, why is it that it has reemerged as a viable investment opportunity? I think it's safe to say we're out of an AI winter.

    Jeff Shen: Yes, the 1980s is quite behind us. I want to take us back a little bit to think about some of the games that AI has actually delivered. I talked about the 1997 chess match. Deep Blue won over Gary Kasparov the World Champion back in that day. People also may remember that 2011, the IBM Watson system actually end up winning Jeopardy. and we thought Jeopardy's a very human type of endeavor and, for folks in Asia, the game Go has been around for a couple thousand years.

    And the Google DeepMind developed this algorithm called AlphaGo. And that essentially, it is an AI system, that actually defeated Lee Sedol who was the world champion back in 2016.

    If you don't know what the game Go is, it's a game with a board and you put black and white pebbles on top of it. And the whole objective of the game is to occupy as much territory on the board as possible. The difficulty of the game is that the number of possibilities of the moves is more than the atoms in the universe.

    What Google DeepMind did was trying to use essentially what we call is machine learning. It is actually learning, along the way. So to a certain extent, the chess, what they did was a bit of a brute force. They imagined all the possibilities and they went for it. The game of goal, the issue is that you cannot get to the end by imagining all the possibilities.

    The beautiful thing here is really that the machine came out with some of the moves that the human Lee Sedol in particular thought was pretty dumb moves, but it turned out to be brilliant moves10 minutes into the game. so, that was a surprise in a sense that it won without mimicking human. It won because it went with a machine way of thinking about what's most rational move under the circumstance and it was adaptive along the way. So, I think that was probably the most surprising part when we see artificial intelligence, that was probably the manifestation of the artificial intelligence because it had nothing to do with human intelligence.

    Just to dwell on this, they developed another system called Alpha Zero, which did not even know the rules of the game and essentially self-simulated, so it was playing against itself try to learn the game. That was a major breakthrough because it did not rely on any of the prior human knowledge and it basically self-simulated, so played against itself such that it knows the objective eventually want to occupy as much territory as possible. Other than that, it did not know anything and, it ends up actually winning, against some of the world champions. so that's the part that's most exciting.

    So, I would say that some of these big triumphs of AI systems that actually defeat, human or world champion in particular games certainly has been an extraordinary excitement, both in terms of thinking not only what AI can do, but also, the potential for AI system to surpass human capabilities.

    That's certainly creates a lot of excitement, but also creates some level of anxiety. And I would say that leads both towards potential opportunities, but also there's quite a bit of a risk that people are considering.

    Oscar Pulido: And so just bringing it back to the investment landscape, what are some of the types of companies in the AI space that are attracting the attention of investors?

    Jeff Shen: I think, right now generative AI, especially, related to large language model is certainly all the excitement. Language is so central to our civilization, to our culture, and if you have a AI system that can have language, essentially at its own disposal and being able to not only mimic a human, but also, in a lot of tests, you can see that it's actually, whether it's a AP test for some of the high school graduates or some of the GMAT or GRE type of test, it certainly has demonstrated very strong capabilities. That part is actually generating a lot of excitement.

    I think the second part is also if you're providing tools for the AI revolution whether it's chips or whether it's systems, whether it's cloud computing. So, the tools companies are also benefiting, from this overall AI trend.

    That's probably the two big ones. Clearly, the outlook for this space is there will be certainly a few winners, but I think there's also could be quite a few losers because this is a very competitive space.

    Oscar Pulido: And on the generative AI, side of it that you mentioned, as artificial intelligence becomes more mainstream and more people talking about it, one of the things that gets raised, and I think you touched on this, there's ethical concerns, there's questions around the biases that might exist in the data that AI is processing, there's data privacy concerns. So how do you see these generative AI companies dealing with those issues, or are they waiting for public policy to step in and regulate this in their own way?

    Jeff Shen: Yeah, I'll come back. regulation second. I think just looking at the state of the world I’ll make a couple of observations.

    One is that biased data will lead to biased output. Data integrity is very important and making sure that the data is covering all different aspects of the world so that we can get a more balanced output. So, I think the integrity of data is certainly critical for the success of the AI system.

    The second part is some of these algorithms that's been run are extraordinarily powerful. Millions and billions of parameters that's actually being put into the system. The challenge there is really that the transparency aspect of it is actually very difficult to achieve just given how complex these systems can be. Probably some people may have heard about the neuro network that is underlying a lot of these generative AI systems. When you get into the billions of parameters, it's very difficult to figure out how the decisions is actually being made, that level of transparency can be of concern.

    So come to the regulation. I think this is also the field that the industry, the technology is certainly ahead of where the government policies are. And this is actually where education for the policy makers, making sure that people really understand not only the power, but also the risk associated with the systems are very critical.

    I think it's also a competitive game whether it's a competition within the industry, competition around the globe, it’s also forcing industry to need to go very fast. On one hand, this is a very powerful tool that can be transformational in a lot of industries, certainly in the investment industry. At the same time, the regulation is one or two steps behind, so I think that's the conundrum that we face.

    Oscar Pulido: And so, Jeff, you took us back many years in terms of the history and some of the milestones that we've seen that have helped the development of artificial intelligence. You're using this in your day-to-day job as a systematic investor in present day. So, take us forward into the future. What are some of the developments that you see happening in AI and what are the investment opportunities for investors?

    Jeff Shen: I would call out three things that I think for people to think about. I'll say that big data. Big model and big crowd on the big data front there's certainly a lot more data available and from an investment perspective, this is certainly about how do you take as much data as possible in your decision making. And it's a scale game, it's a bit of a race, on how much data you can absorb, how much data you can process. But I think the race is on, and I think that's also where the excitement can be because if you can measure things, you can make better decisions. And data is really the new oil for the AI system.

    On the big model front, we talk about generative AI, we talk about large language model. These models are getting to be more and more powerful, also more and more flexible. I'll give you one specific example today we can measure many things; we can also combine them in a way that is actually optimal. So, it is not only about measure many different things in the economy in the world, but it's also combining them so that you can form a holistic decision through a big model by combining features together. So, I think from that perspective the big model not only allows you to combine different things in efficient fashion, but also allow you to tackle multiple objectives. You may care about, the investment outcome you may care about, draw down characteristics. You may care about the climate impact. So, this kind of big model really allows you to combine things in efficient way, but also allow for considering different objectives.

    And the big crowd aspect of it. If you think about how generative AI is actually coming from. The human input is becoming more and more important in getting the AI system to be better. So, it is interesting that even though we call it artificial intelligence, human intelligence is actually quite important element of artificial intelligence. So, I think this idea of human in the loop is certainly something that I think is here to stay. We are making the system better and to allow the system to produce more rational response.

    The new world it's not only about generating new ideas, we can see that from a generative AI perspective we can generate a lot more. But I think the human input here is also really allows us to think about how we judge these things. How do we discriminate the good output in relation to mediocre output? So, I think the human, aspect of it is actually also evolved from going from purely at a job of generating things to one that's also about discriminating different outcome. So, I'll see that big data, big model, and big crowd, are some of the exciting things as we look forward.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, that's an easy way to remember your outlook and that last point, is a good example of just as technology evolves and it appears to be displacing humans in, what they do, humans adapt and humans contribute to that technology and work alongside, that technology. So, I'm going to go out on a limb, Jeff, and say, this is not the last time we're going to talk about artificial intelligence on the podcast. So, we look forward to having you back at some point in the future. And thanks so much for joining us today.

    Jeff Shen: Thank you so much, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to check back next week for part two of our deep dive into AI, where I chat with Brad Betts, former NASA scientist and global equity researcher for BlackRock's systematic investment team, where we look to the future of this technology and explore the potential applications for AI in the investment world.

    Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.


    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

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    MKTGSH0923U/M-3103566

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Neurological diseases and disorders are among the world's most prevalent health conditions. The need to address them is mounting amid an aging global population and as the world grapples with mental health challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic. A combination of public and private investments, government grants and charitable donations are helping accelerate a wave of advancements and opportunities in the field of neuroscience.

    Recent clinical trial success for the second significant disease modifying drug to treat Alzheimer's is a critical milestone and a positive sign for the future of neuroscience. So, what does this mean for the healthcare investment landscape?

    Jeff Spiegel, US Head of BlackRock, Megatrend International and Sector ETFs, joins me to talk about these latest breakthroughs in neuroscience and why it demands a closer look when considering healthcare opportunities in your portfolio.

    Jeff, welcome back to The Bid.

    Jeff Spiegel: Thanks for having me back.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Jeff, today we're talking about the brain, and I'm not a neuroscientist or a neurologist, but I do know that it is a very important organ and I also know that it's a bit of a mystery. I don't think there's been much progress in terms of treating neurological issues. So, what are some of the catalysts that are now bringing neuroscience to center stage?

    Jeff Spiegel: So, I'm not a neuroscientist either, I just get to play one on The Bid. my wife though, actually is both a neurologist and a psychiatrist, so we had a little bit of a conversation about this last night, and she was very excited to hear today's discussion once it comes out.

    The fundamental issue when I think about neuroscience is aging populations. And really, I think about this as an issue for lots of areas of medical innovation and medical breakthrough. Just to throw a couple of stats out there, I'll start maybe with my favorite, by the end of this decade, there'll be more grandparents than grandchildren in this country.1 So that's more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 18. And about five years or so after that, the same phenomenon will be true all around the world.2

    And there's some things we can predict as a result of that. We know that older populations are much more likely to suffer from a range of neurodegenerative conditions, in particular like Alzheimer's, which is a subset of dementia The good news about this is obviously people are living longer, the challenge is on us to make those years more fulfilling, more productive and healthier. Again, good news over the last 20 years we made more progress in genomics than anyone could have ever imagined. 20 years ago, we had a very limited understanding of the human genome, I would say today we seem to have a very limited understanding of the brain, and the next 20 years are going to be the story of us really getting that understanding and big leaps forward in mental health and in neuroscience. And just to set the stage, there's really three main areas that are relevant.

    The first is neurodegenerative, things like dementia. The second is neuro traumatic, think traumatic brain injuries, there's a physical issue, or moment that's involved. And then traditional mental health, a lot of the conditions that affect so many people around the world, like depression, anxiety, and all of this fits into this bucket, of neurology, of neuroscience and I'm incredibly excited about the progress that we're seeing.

    Oscar Pulido: Let's talk about that progress. We have seen some treatments for neurological diseases and disorders. In fact, there's been a few FDA approvals recently. So, can you go into a little bit more detail about what some of these advances are?

    Jeff Spiegel: Sure. So, we have read about that and it's incredibly heartening, to see the amount of progress that we're making, especially because there's been virtually no progress over the course of the last 20 or 30 years. Consistently for a long time, we've been using cholinesterase inhibitors. These effectively are a performance booster for the brain, they're chemicals that allow the transmission of thoughts across neurons and we can use them to amp up the brain's capabilities in the short term, but we're not actually warding off the sort of degeneration that happens over time from some of these conditions.

    But a lot of what you've read about, and it's so exciting in the field, is monoclonal antibodies. A lot of people first heard about these during the covid pandemic, and effectively what you're talking about is taking antibodies that exist within us, to fight various conditions, and inserting them from the outside. So, inserting very powerful antibodies that can come from you, that can come from another person who has particularly strong antibodies, and they're designed to fight particular issues in the body. One of the issues with Alzheimer's specifically is a form of dementia is we know that plaque, otherwise known as beta amyloid, builds up in the brain. Two drugs that have recently gotten approvals, Aducanumab and Leqembi, are monoclonal antibody treatments.

    You can think of them as almost preventing and cleaning off this plaque that we see in Alzheimer's, they can slow the decline of the condition of Alzheimer's by about 35%.3 So, if you think about the expected survival rate of someone who's diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it's about eight years.

    If you can get two or three more years that are really high quality with your family, where you're getting to engage and have that end of life, even if ultimately this condition is going to be a part of the rest of your life, if we can stretch out that period where you're still really engaged in the world, that's a game changer. Not just for the people who are afflicted, but really for their families. Because we know it's such a difficult disease, for loved ones.

    So, if we think more broadly beyond just Alzheimer's, there are about 50 phase two drugs looking at neurodegenerative conditions.4 There's about a hundred phase three drugs.5 And think about across things like ALS, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis and what's also heartening that we haven't made quite enough progress here yet, I think it bodes really well.

    About 70% of cases of a lot of these conditions are linked to genetic factors.6 So, to go back to where I started the last 20 years of amazing breakthroughs in areas like genomics, that's also going to pay off as we can use some of that to better understand these neurogenerative conditions. And to give you a sense of the size of the market, it's about $40 billion in sales of these sorts of drugs today.7 That's a lot. It's expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.5% a year until 2031.8 So, this is a big market with a lot of hope ahead.

    Oscar Pulido: You've mentioned Alzheimer's and you touched on this term neurodegenerative. So, these are afflictions of the brain that are more progressive and more chronic. But then you also said, something around neuro traumatic, conditions for the brain, which I think is more something caused by a trauma event, an impact. So, are there similar advances in treatments for those types of conditions?

    Jeff Spiegel: Different advances, but no less exciting. This has gotten a lot of press recently in places like the NFL or children's sports, where we're hearing about so much more care and focus than there used to be around things like concussions.

    I got a concussion when I was a kid playing sports, and I was basically just sent home and told to rest. That is not how we think of these conditions today, we think of them as very serious, we think of them as potentially having long-term devastating consequences. It doesn't just have to be a physical hit of the type you might get in sports- blood clots, strokes- these things can all cause brain injury. And interestingly, brain injuries are one of the leading deaths of young people. Diseases don't tend to afflict younger people in as great a portion, but traumatic injuries do because they're more active, sports obviously being a big part of that.

    What can this cause? It can cause diminished cognitive capabilities, diminished motor capabilities, behavioral problems, sometimes things like paralysis, and a lot of secondary conditions that come on later or eventually like dementia, like depression.

    And here one of the most important areas of breakthrough is actually less on the treatment and more in the diagnostics. Better, more advanced CT scanners and MRI machines so that immediately after a trauma we can have a much better sense of what's going on and be a lot more active in diagnosing some of these conditions.

    Beyond that, when you think about the treatment, there's a lot of new tools, minimally invasive cranial surgeries, spinal tools that allow us to get in there with that better understanding from better diagnostics and actually have more of an impact on preventing bad outcomes.

    And then a little further ahead, but we're starting to see it already, things like robotic neurosurgery, computers and monitoring, and I think we'll talk about AI a little bit later, but this is also playing a role here. And the last category that's exciting, is digital stimulation. So, if you're paralyzed, being able to control your limbs through digital stimulation even if you can't get back the traditional motion and regenerative cell therapies. So actually, getting to regenerate parts of the body that are impacted by these conditions. just to put some numbers around it, we think this is a $200 billion market by roughly 2029.9

    Oscar Pulido: There was a third category which was mental health. I can't help but just think back through the pandemic this is a topic that, really seemed to rise in prominence in people discussing it and really trying to de-stigmatize it. You see a lot of companies that are making mental health treatment a comprehensive part of the benefits that they offer to their employees. So how is the healthcare industry trying to address it, and then how does it impact the investment landscape?

    Jeff Spiegel: So, there's estimated to be about a billion people in the world who live with mental health challenges.10 And actually, one of the reasons I'm proud to work at BlackRock, is that is a big focus of our benefits, and the firm does take it really seriously.

    I'm actually a mental health ambassador, here at the firm, which is a program that we have so that you have people to talk to. and a lot of that is about de-stigmatizing, to your point, I think a lot of companies are really starting to take this a lot more seriously, but stigma is a huge piece of it.

    There was so much sudden onset of issues like depression and anxiety during the pandemic that it was more talked about. A lot of celebrities came out and really talked extensively, about their challenges in this space. One of the things that's different from the two areas we were talking about before that gives me a lot of hope, is more people seeking treatment period.

    Treatment with a lot of existing drugs, existing antidepressants, existing anti-anxiety drugs. A lot of them were very effective, but people just hadn't been getting them because they weren't willing to come out and have this conversation. Look, this is true in developed markets, it's even more true in a lot of emerging markets, where the stigma is even larger. So, this market for these sorts of drugs and the ability of people to get help is really going to grow significantly.

    One drug that I think is really interesting on a forward-looking basis is zuranolone.11 so new generations of antidepressants tend to just be minor adjustments. And those minor adjustments are usually focused on side effects. This is really a new class of antidepressants, we're already in phase three trials, and the really interesting innovation is for anyone who's taken antidepressant drugs, you get told, okay, you've been diagnosed, here's a pill, in four to six weeks, it'll start to have an impact. That's a long time. This drug actually has shown to reduce symptoms of depression in a matter of days. That's a massive breakthrough especially if you think about the very strong link between depression and other behaviors, be it drug and alcohol use, be it suicide, being able to have a faster intervention, is really going to be a huge differentiator.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you've highlighted across a number of these different dimensions of neurodegenerative disease, neuro traumatic, mental health. There's a lot of progress being made. I have to ask you about artificial intelligence, partly because you came on The Bid early in the year and were telling us about how you used ChatGPT over the holidays and now artificial intelligence is everything we talk about. How is AI advancing the neuroscience field, if at all?

    Jeff Spiegel: AI is advancing so many fields, and I think a lot of investors have focused to begin with, on tools like ChatGPT these large language models, on the benefits to software companies that produce them, to semiconductor companies responsible for the hardware that goes into enabling them. But when you start to think about the downstream implications, there's a lot of industries that are impacted. And healthcare, I would argue, in an incredibly positive way.

    It's not just that, artificial intelligence is helping us do better research on the brain, the way that artificial intelligence is developing is actually teaching us directly about the brain. So, what exactly do I mean by that, because it's a little bit hard to unpack.

    Artificial neural networks, the way that they interpret visual stimuli, neuron by neuron, works very much the same way that humans do it. you've got something in front of you and I start to think about the shapes in my brain, then the colors, and I could piece it together until eventually I say, okay, that's a car. That's a dog or that's a banana. Interestingly though, these artificial neural networks aren't designed to mimic the brain, they follow that same sequential process, which is fascinating because we're actually learning about how there are some natural ways that neurons process that information is processed, they're actually being replicated by artificial intelligence without any input in that way. I would also note that, maybe that makes things a little less scary. AI kind of thinks like we do. Hopefully that's a good sign for us getting along well into the future. But even on how artificial intelligence works itself and how it's evolving and developing, we're learning more about how our own brains work.

    Let me give you another example, smarter drug discovery and development. A lot of drug discovery is fundamentally trial and error. Machine learning is way faster at assessing that trial-and-error process that's going to allow people to move forward much faster with various drugs.

    Also, one thing that's great about modern AI is it's great at spotting patterns. In particular, it's better than people at spotting patterns, so being able to look at a large set of sample data and have artificial intelligence analyze it for those patterns and what's actually happening to people who are being monitored for underlying conditions, also going to be a really significant push forward, We estimate that it's possible that the artificial intelligence application in medical innovation writ large, this isn't specific to neuroscience, could reduce time to drug discovery by roughly 90%. And I started with this idea of how little we know about the brain to begin with. Part of the reason we know so little about the brain is just because it's incredibly complicated. Again, the modeling and the mapping capabilities of artificial intelligence are going to help us improve that understanding.

    Actually, mass General Hospital up in Boston has been using artificial intelligence in MRIs to spot Alzheimer's. So, to sort of look for those telltale signs in the brain like plaque and successfully identify it, which can be challenging, especially in early cases. The AI is 90% accurate at this, approaching the success rate of humans and it's only going to get better.

    So, drug discovery, better monitoring, just a better fundamental understanding of how the brain works through modeling, is really going to be a major push forward in how fast we can bring drugs to market, how fast we can do the research.

    Oscar Pulido: And the important thing is it's not only helping get the right drugs to market, or better drugs to market. You mentioned the trial-and-error element, being able to be done quicker, more efficiently, but it’s helping doctors understand this very complicated organ in a way that humans alone can't do.

    Jeff Spiegel: Exactly.

    Oscar Pulido: Jeff, you’ve mentioned there's a number of really positive advancements going on in this space, but when you look ahead, what's your near term and longer-term outlook on this space?

    Jeff Spiegel: Bullish, would be to put it mildly. I'm thinking specifically about areas like biopharmaceuticals and medical devices. Aside from everything we've discussed, there's just a lot of great tailwinds that are happening. And again, to go back to this fundamental problem of how we're going to treat and care for aging populations in which we know what diseases are going to be more prevalent. Faster approval of drugs this is actually a positive legacy of the COVID 19 pandemic. The idea that for drugs in which there really is no better solution, getting earlier in the phase trial process that available to people, 65% of novel drugs are actually taking advantage of FDA programs to do exactly that.12

    So, you're going to see things getting to market more quickly, you're going to see those faster approvals. And then, from a market's perspective, just thinking about performance, everyone has been focused on how do you capitalize on this artificial intelligence opportunity in your portfolios? And I talked about some of the traditional software and hardware that's really been the focus of that conversation. But again, these second order beneficiaries just aren't being recognized. If you look at themes like neuroscience, themes like genomics this year, biotechnology, the performance has massively lagged technology and even massively lagged the broader market. I think investors really should be focused on where are these major breakthroughs going to come from? What's AI going to enable? And I actually think that neuroscience is going to be one of the most exciting spaces for that.

    Oscar Pulido: Jeff, as usual, you've come on and enlightened us on a topic that I thought I knew a little bit about, but you've made me realize I actually didn't know that much. You get an A plus from me. I think your toughest critic is going to be your wife who you said is a neurologist. So let us know how she grades you.

    Jeff Spiegel: Hopefully gently, but she's a trained mental health professional, so I'm sure she can deliver whatever the news is appropriately.

    Oscar Pulido: Great. And thank you again for joining us on The Bid.

    Jeff Spiegel: Thanks. Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out last year's episode on healthcare investing featuring MIT Professor Andrew Lo, discussing the funding of new drug development as he works to accelerate the pace of change in biomedicine.

    And don't forget to subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Sources

    1 United States Census Bureau, Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in U.S. History, March 13, 2018.
    2 United Nations, 2022 Revision of World Population Prospects, 2022. 
    3 Eli Lilly, Lilly's Donanemab Significantly Slowed Cognitive and Functional Decline in Phase 3 Study of Early Alzheimer's Disease, May 3, 2023.
    4 FactSet, Springer Adis Insight, 2022; BlackRock analysis.
    5 Ibid.
    6 Alzheimer’s Association, 2023 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures, April 19, 2023.
    7 Allied Market Research, 2023 Neurodegenerative Drugs Market, March 2023. 
    8 Ibid.
    9 Data Bridge Market Research, Global Traumatic Brain Injuries Treatment Market – Industry Trends and Forecast to 2029, February 2022.
    10 Kuehn, Bridget M. WHO: Pandemic Sparked a Push for Global Mental Health Transformation. JAMA 328.1 (2022): 5-7.
    11 Biogen, FDA Approves ZURZUVAE™ (zuranolone), the First and Only Oral Treatment Approved for Women with Postpartum Depression, and Issues a Complete Response Letter for Major Depressive Disorder, August 4, 2023.
    12 U.S. Food and Drug Administration, New Drug Therapy Approvals 2022, January 2023.

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0823U/M-3056188

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Private debt, private credit, direct lending. Why are these asset classes capturing investors' imaginations around the world? Are they a viable option for individual investors or restricted only to the large institutional investors?

    In this episode. I'm joined by Jimmy Keenan, chief Investment Officer and global head of private debt for BlackRock. We'll dive into the enigmatic world of private debt. Ask why it's having a resurgence in these particular market conditions and explore the risks and opportunities that are inherent from this alternative asset class. Jimmy, welcome to The Bid.

    Jimmy Keenan: Thanks for having me, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Jimmy, we're here to talk about, private credit and I'd like to hear more about what is this asset class, but also private credit, private debt, sometimes I hear the term direct lending. Are these all different asset classes or are they the same thing?

    Jimmy Keenan: Thanks Oscar. Yeah, I would say when you think about private debt in general, it’s as simple as it is. They are debt instruments that are done in the private market and most of the world is used to seeing the public equity markets or, public debt. Think about Investment grade market or the broadly syndicated loans or the high yield market, those are all securities or loans that trade publicly, and dynamically where you can get information on those borrowers.

    The private market is really just referring to a similar type of loan or risk, but it is done in, I would call it more of a bilateral private negotiation between one or a few lenders, with a borrower.

    So, the terms of that contract or that loan may not be available to the broad public, as well as the information of that borrower or company may not be as public. And so that is a private, negotiation with that, and that's essentially all that means. The evolution of the private debt space, is continuing to grow and I would say it incorporates a lot, but it’s as simple as that - it's a loan that is done that is not done through a bank, and the information associated to it is privately placed and not well known.

    Oscar Pulido: So, the information is known by fewer parties. that's one difference. The similarity is that it's a loan, in this case less a bank involved and more a private lender. And so, it sounds like there's, a premium that is earned by that lender. And so, talk a little bit about like the risks and return differences with this asset class.

    Jimmy Keenan: If you think about it, if you're a company, if you are a real estate developer, you're going to look and say, how do I finance my company? Or how do I finance this building? And there are different ways you can do that. You can go to a bank and the bank may. put together a financing package, and they may go to the public markets to syndicate that out. And that's typically what you see in the public markets.

    The borrower may look at that and say there are positives associated to that but in many cases, they may look at it and say, what are my other options? And they may seek out a private debt provider as somebody like a BlackRock that might step in and say we'll offer you directly something that will give you a different package, meaning a different way to finance that real estate project or a different way to finance that company.

    In that situation, that borrower or that corporate may opt in to having a direct relationship with BlackRock or any other private debt and provider, as opposed to going through a bank which might get syndicated out and there might be 50, a hundred plus people that are in that capital structure. And so there are a lot of different reasons why a borrower might choose one or the other it's just a marketplace that exists.

    Oscar Pulido: I think it used to be, and correct me if I'm wrong, but particularly maybe before 2008, banks were the primary lender, right? But then the financial crisis hit, and I'm also thinking about even more recently, some of the recent bank failures that we've seen in the US and abroad that, that this development of the private debt ecosystem has been going on for a number of years, but that 2008 was an inflection point. Is that the right way to think about why this market has grown?

    Jimmy Keenan: Absolutely. and that's a well-known fact and quantitatively you can look through that just with regards to the size of the banking systems. And even today, you mentioned it before with regards to some of the bank volatility, you've seen deposit flights of up to a trillion dollars coming out of the banking system. You're seeing risk management change, in which case it's reducing the size and scope of the banks that's changing regulatory environments, risk management and so, for a company or a real estate developer or an infrastructure project, finance, that doesn't mean that they don't need the capital.

    It just might mean that their traditional lender or somebody at the bank, that relationship they might have, might not be there. So, what you said back in 2008, we saw a huge gap in financing post

    the Lehman crisis, in which case credit dried up completely. And so, if you are a corporation, a middle market company, a real estate developer, like your ability to access capital, dried up.

    That ultimately built in the fact that the ecosystem changed, I would call it private debt providers started to build infrastructure on how to face sponsors, corporates in a different way, directly. In the same way most of them set up shops that they can call it up. So instead of in the early two thousands, if you wanted to borrow money for an M&A deal or making an acquisition, you generally called the bank that you had that relationship with. Now you might look at a handful of options It doesn't mean that banks aren't significant and probably the biggest providers of capital and credit, but it means there are other options that you can look through and again, goes back to, the last comment, the reason somebody might, do a floating rate loan or a public high yield bond or private, direct loan may vary based off of the situations and circumstances, both for that company, but also where we are in the

    Oscar Pulido: And maybe you can expand on that a little bit. You've alluded to where the financing might be utilized for, you mentioned like a toll road and real estate, but who are these borrowers? and what are the trade-offs they're evaluating between whether to use the public markets or whether to go through the private markets?

    Jimmy Keenan: And it's not just price, right? often you can sit and say, why would somebody pay a higher price? At the end of the day in some cases, pricing looks fairly similar, right? And some of the premium that you get in the private market is reducing the fees that might be paid, if going through a bank process and ultimately syndicating it out, so that is generally an earned premium that private debt investors might get. But there are a lot of other reasons why, if you're a middle market company, in order to think about operating their business, dealing with a publicly syndicated loan or a high yield bond, means that you have to engage with a variety of different investors that are in your capital stack. And in some cases, if there are periods of volatility or you're going to be active with acquisitions that may be more complex in managing your business.

    And those small companies typically have smaller teams, and so in some ways that might be easier and better for them from a long-term perspective to have a single or handful of lenders that might be in that capital structure.

    Another example might be companies that are going through transition. they might be in a late-stage development project that have yet to kind of see more stable earnings. They might be transitioning different contracts or parts of their businesses, in which case they prefer to either have, show that concentration or that shift in the private markets as opposed to in the public domain.

    So are strategic reasons beyond. I would call it pricing or structural reasons, in order to do that. And so, the bigger companies, you'll see more of that opportunity where sometimes they might issue a public deal and then, yeah, at other times they might move that and shift that to the private market. And you've seen more larger capitalized companies that might either go public and private and there'll be some pretty big headlines this year on that.

    Oscar Pulido: Okay, so you've defined the asset class a bit and we've talked a little bit about, why it's come of age, particularly over the last sort of 15 years post 2008. You've talked about some of the different types of borrowers. But in your position, you're sort of the lender, right? You're the one

    providing the capital and you're the investor. So where do you see the best opportunities? Is it across the entire asset class or there are subsets of the asset class that you find interesting?

    Jimmy Keenan: I think all investors should look at it, at the end of the day, every investor's going to be a little bit different between how they think about their own risk reward and that includes liquidity.

    But you think about the private debt markets as a whole, this is something that, for all the reasons that we just talked about, was not necessarily as broadly available of an asset class to invest as somebody might want to build their portfolio.

    And now that for all those reasons, that supply that's been unlocked and based off of what's gone on this year, is only going to grow substantially over the next several years is going to provide an opportunity for people to build their portfolios in a different way. And you think about the risk reward or even the risk characteristics of some of these and how they fit in somebody's personal strategy, that they should be looking across all of this, because it is something that they can get a premium.

    I think there are a couple things that are really interesting today because of the supply dynamic. Obviously, that banking system turmoil was met with some policy response in there and liquidity that was provided.

    And so, there's not a fire sale per se that is going on, but you do have a shift in how those regulatory and risk management have. And so, over the next several years, you're going to see balance sheet downsizing, and we see a significant amount in the trillions of assets that are going to have to be reduced from the banking system.

    And what that means is, as that balance sheet is reduced. There are really good deals that are coming at a very nice spread per unit of risk, meaning the yield that you can get relative to that underlying risk is going to look very attractive. And so, the stable income type products based off of that supply dynamic, I think are really interesting across the entire ecosystem.

    Oscar Pulido: Right. So, some of the investment opportunities are because of regulatory shifts that impact the banks and therefore mean, some of what's coming off of their balance sheet is now available to investors like you. And then some of it is just the last 12, 18 months of interest rate increases have exposed some companies.

    You touched on institutional investors and also individual investors now both have ways to access this private debt market, but there's probably a lot of investors who are approaching this for the first time. So, what are the things they need to know?

    Jimmy Keenan: Private debt is a very wide-ranging term, when you're entering the space or even viewing the public and private markets where are you trying to anchor your risk? What types of risk you're looking for? And if you think about. private debt being a core part of your portfolio. Then you have to think about any private assets, which is what's your ability, to have illiquidity in your portfolio?

    How much illiquidity are you willing to have in order to garner those either differentiated risks or that extra premium that you might get in the private market. And then you go to the private debt strategies of which one do I want which one fits in?

    So, liquidity is a big portion of that again, balancing what you need and what you're trying to accomplish with what is the strategy? And then what's the vehicle.

    That's probably the first thing somebody should be looking for of matching what they're trying to accomplish and what they're ultimately doing. I think the other things then fall down into those strategies of what are you trying to accomplish in that?

    Then you start to realize, okay, alright. I'm going to look for the certain product, now I got to look for the manager. There's a lot of different products, there's a lot of different managers. But trying to find a product that you can kind of look through that it has a history, you want to look through that track record of that team, that product, to understand, has this historically acted in the manner that I'm thinking about investing or underwriting to and is the future of that consistent with how I want to invest?

    Because at the end of the day, like if you're going to make that investment, you're in that product or in that manager you want that output to have a similar, return profile and potentially volatility profile that you're looking for in your portfolio. So those are like the two main things that I would recommend people try to dive into.

    Oscar Pulido: Jimmy, you've been associated with the fixed income markets, your whole career and, particularly in credit and both public and private markets. you've, you're obviously very excited about the opportunity in private markets. So, take us five years ahead. What is, what does this space look like or beyond, maybe, if you can see that part? ahead?

    Jimmy Keenan: I think it's something that has become far more of a common name associated to how people think about it, private equity 30, 40 years ago might not have been thought of the same way it is today.

    So, I think, five years from now, people are just going to view this as part of their allocation in the institutional and the retail markets. I think from today's standpoint, like 2008. It's hard not to get excited, at the end of the day you have both a supply, a significant supply shift that is going on because of what's happened and what we just talked about in the banks, where trillions are going to come out, and a lot of those trillions are actually good deals, but the funding source of that from a banking system is changed, in which case they're now going to make their way to probably both the public and the private markets. That's a huge supply that it's going to ultimately come. That's going to grow demand, right? At the end of the day, it's going to create capital formation because you'll step into good deals and good financing and stuff like that.

    So, from a business perspective, this is a huge opportunity that is going to be multi-years. and I think that because policy shifted, and we've seen this since the financial crisis where most central banks and governments around the world are acting quickly to try to continue to mitigate that risk of a significant credit crunch that dries up in economic activity.

    So, I view this as something that is going to be significant for our clients and our investors, it's an opportunity to grow a strategy that they can ultimately get outsized returns relative to the risk profile. So, it's hard not to get excited about.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, it's been a couple years since we had you on the podcast. We'll try to, not have it be that long of a gap this next time and that way we can. See whether your predictions are coming true So Jimmy, thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Jimmy Keenan: Thanks for having me, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out the episode, 'Are you leaving Cash on the table?' Featuring Beccy Milchem, where she provides the top three things to consider when thinking about cash and volatile markets. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.


    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0823U/M-3067972

  • Claire Chamberlain: 39% of all Americans could not afford a $400 unexpected emergency expense and when you break it down further by gender and by racial demographics. The numbers are even more stark.

    Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host Oscar Pulido. In an era of economic challenges and uncertainties, having an emergency savings fund is a financial lifeline that can provide peace of mind. During turbulent times, yet statistics reveal a startling reality.

    66% of the US population lives paycheck to paycheck. And lacks adequate savings to weather, unexpected storms. The problem is not limited to the US, and it seems to only be getting worse. Is there light at the end of the tunnel to find out the answer to that question and how both the private and public sectors are trying to resolve the lack of emergency savings?

    I'm pleased to welcome Claire Chamberlain, global Head of Social Impact at BlackRock. Claire, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Claire Chamberlain: I am delighted to be here, Oscar, it is a pleasure.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, Claire, in your role as Global Head of Social Impact at BlackRock, you come across a wide range of social and economic issues. So, tell us why emergency savings is so important to you.

    Claire Chamberlain: Well, when we think about our work, we start with the core purpose of BlackRock, which as you know, is to help people build financial wellbeing and security over a lifetime. And with that as the going in philosophy, we said to ourselves, how can we advance that purpose? And building financial wellbeing is aspirational for far too many people because if you're living day to day paycheck to paycheck, that is something that is very hard to come by.

    And so, in thinking about how do we help people get closer to that aspiration, emergency savings is a topic and a focus that really has emerged over the last couple of years.

    Oscar Pulido: How big of a problem is this or are there any numbers that would allow us to quantify when we think of what an emergency savings pot looks like?

    Claire Chamberlain: So, in 2017, for the first time, the Federal Reserve published a report which outlined the financial precarity of American households. In that report there was a statistic that was really a wakeup call for many people. And the statistic was 39% of all Americans could not afford a $400 unexpected emergency expense.

    And that was not just people living under the poverty line, but all Americans. And in fact, that number, when you break out people living on low and moderate incomes was 58%. It's a big number affecting a lot of working families and it was much larger than people anticipated.

    Unfortunately, while there had certainly been improvements in the labor markets since 2017, there was a report released this past May where the number showed some improvement, now 37%, but again, this is of all Americans and when you break it down further by gender and by racial demographics.

    The numbers are even more stark. for low- and middle-income families, who are Hispanic is over 70%. And for black families it's 72%.

    Oscar Pulido: So, the numbers are surprising because the percentages are high, covers a pretty meaningful part of the population, but also the emergency expense that you outline $400. It doesn't feel like a lot has to go wrong for all of a sudden somebody to have a $400 bill. So now what is the impact on individuals, businesses and then the economy? because it's not just affecting the individual who has that unexpected expense, it must reverberate even broader?

    Claire Chamberlain: Absolutely. You can think about it top down or bottom up and either way it's, currently a pretty grim situation. $400 is not a lot for a hiccup, an unexpected expense, whether it's a car breaking down, an unexpected medical bill, increasingly in our country, natural disasters and when you don't have that cash cushion readily accessible on the sidelines, you have to resort to really costly alternatives like payday loans, or even dipping into your 401K retirement account.

    And we know that not only comes with penalties, but it means then you've diminished the body of investible assets, which hits you down the road as well as in the near term.

    That's the individual level, in addition to families it also impacts employers. And we know that the productivity loss due to financial stress is as much as 15 hours per week per employee, which turns out to be an estimated $5 billion to employers in this country on a weekly basis.

    So, the numbers are big and they're numbers, frankly, that employers have started to acknowledge and take action to try and remediate.

    Oscar Pulido: And I know BlackRock has been doing some research on this topic, maybe you could share a little bit of what are the findings of that research?

    Claire Chamberlain: So, the BlackRock Foundation, is focused on, financial security. During COVID there was a pretty unique opportunity to study the impact of that material economic disruption on individuals and families. So, working with one of our nonprofit partners, Commonwealth, we were able to do some research around how did having liquid savings, impact your ability to weather the disruption of the pandemic? One of the findings that emerged is that people that had less than $2,000 of liquid savings available to them were twice as likely to tap into their retirement account prematurely. So that described a pretty direct connection between liquidity and being able to build for the long term.

    Oscar Pulido: And you've mentioned that twice now it's an important thing, which is people have the money to draw now, but they're now foregoing a more comfortable retirement so they're just trading off one problem for the next. Is this a US issue only then? Because as you're describing this, I'm wondering if there are other countries that are also experiencing something similar with a lack of emergency savings.

    Claire Chamberlain: Well, I'd love to tell you this is isolated to the United States. It is not. And in fact, we have been working with partners in the UK, Nest Insight in particular, which is the research arm of the Nest Pension Scheme, which is Britain's Public Pension Program and the stats over in the UK in some ways are starker than the stats here, Nest Insight did research that showed one in four citizens in the UK could not come up with a hundred pounds fund for an unexpected expense. So, the UK and the US among the wealthiest countries in the world, there was further research done again coming out of Covid that has shown that countries that are lower- and middle-income countries, the implications of economic disruption of interruption in wages, for instance, people have far less to fall back on. And so, the problem we've described here in this country is by no means unique.

    Oscar Pulido: That's interesting, you said a hundred pounds or a hundred sterling. That's a lot less than even $400, which you mentioned in the US. So, the bar's even lower to an individual in the UK for, that lack of emergency savings to really hit them.

    You've painted this problem that is clearly prevalent in some pretty major economies. When you look ahead, what's that light at the end of the tunnel that you're seeing?

    Claire Chamberlain: Well, there is light at the end of the tunnel, because there is an endless amount of innovation that as humans that we are capable of and it's happening, in trying to address, this financial precarity. One of the things that we found, with our research and with the people who were interested in partnering with us, is that the workplace was a very receptive arena for exploring how do we address this financial stress and vulnerability that workers feel. And employers and those that support them, like record keepers and payroll providers and other financial institutions, they have a lot to gain from trying to crack this I mentioned $5 billion a week in lost productivity, well that turns out to over 250 billion a year.

    So, the incentive to try and not just chip away, but to pivot in a meaningful way is definitely there. And shortly after those early Fed numbers were published, BlackRock founded the BlackRock Emergency Savings Initiative to try to begin to address the problem and to encourage and spur innovation. And we really wanted that innovation to take place across channels, meaning we wanted to see it with large scale employers and with record keepers, fintechs and payroll providers because we didn't know enough to pick the horse but we thought our hypothesis was the more demonstrations and pilots we could get out into the marketplace with workers, the greater our chances of making a difference and taking friction out of that effort to build short-term savings.

    Oscar Pulido: And this BlackRock initiative that you mentioned, the emergency, savings initiative was 2019, I think is when it started. It's four years later we've lived through a pandemic during that period. So how would you say it's going, and can you give some examples? You said a couple of things, record keepers, payroll providers. Are there some examples of some of these stakeholders that you've worked with and things that they're doing?

    Claire Chamberlain: So, a couple of things. The initiative, at the end of last year marked its completion of phase one, and we published a learnings report in June of this year. I'll share a little bit more about that later. but in the report we do highlight case studies of partners that we worked with among them are Voya, who was the first record keeper to join the BlackRock Emergency Savings Initiative, and they were working on making available an after tax liquid savings account that people could, when they set up their retirement plan contributions, could also indicate that they wanted to build some short term savings where they could, access it whenever they wanted to without penalty.

    UPS also came on board, and they did a whole internal marketing refresh on their emergency savings account and as a result of that using some insights that we have gathered from behavioral economists, they were able to increase usage by 40% of people who were offered that opportunity to build short-term savings.

    Another key partner, ADP is a payroll provider, they provide payroll services for one in six Americans, and they created a savings sleeve on their pay card app and that resulted in $1.5 billion dollars of new savings, so pretty significant adjustment to an existing product that had meaningful uptake.

    And then finally, another partner was AutoNation which employs over 20,000 people across the country. As an employer, they recognized they have a very diverse workforce they didn't want to just put one offering in front of their employees so they are in the process of testing three different offerings you could do a split deposit right from your paycheck. Or you could build this liquid savings on a payroll card, or you could do the savings sleeve that's adjacent to the retirement product.

    They're going to let you decide as an employee and you could pick some or all of those offerings. We've really had the privilege to see this take hold directly with workers, but as provided by employers or, companies that support those employers.

    Oscar Pulido: And all these examples you mentioned. It's not that people can't save, but sometimes you just have to make it easy for them. You have to provide some convenient method to do it. We all have good intentions, but sometimes we just need somebody to point us in the right direction. And that, that seemed to be like a commonality and all these examples that you just discussed.

    Claire Chamberlain: Absolutely. Ideally, it's set it and forget it, or it's have it set for you and forget it and watch it build. But that's exactly right. One of the key learnings from the Emergency savings Initiative is that people even, who are living on low and moderate incomes they can save if you give them the right tools at the right time, like the point of payroll, they can save money and that even saving small dollar amounts can have really significant benefits for individuals and families. And that kind of goes back to that notion of, gosh, if you only had $400 more and you need a car repair so that you can keep going to work so you can keep earning money because you're an hourly worker, it's that either virtuous or counterproductive cycle. And building up that small dollar savings is super important to people.

    Oscar Pulido: And that story you just gave is very real, the hourly worker whose car breaks down. And boy, you said if they just have that $400, it really changes their day-to-day pretty significantly.

    Claire Chamberlain: And probably the child that they're dropping off at daycare as well.

    Oscar Pulido: Voya, ADP, you mentioned some of these partners along the way with the Emergency Savings Initiative. Those are private sector companies, but let's talk about the public sector. In the US there's been some legislation, the Secure 2.0 Act, how does that influence this emergency savings topic that we've been talking about?

    Claire Chamberlain: The legislation secured 2.0 that you mentioned was passed in December with bipartisan support which is terrific. The thrust, the primary thrust of Secure 2.0 is to encourage more and more employers to offer retirement plan programs to their employees and to encourage employees to take advantage of those programs. As relevant to the conversation that we're having here today, there are provisions in Secure 2.0 to make it easier for employers to offer an emergency savings options to their employees.

    So, there are two non-mandated options that employers now have to help employees build emergency savings. The first is a $1,000 emergency withdrawal that they can make in a year from their 401K or equivalent retirement account, and they can make this without penalty. The second option is a $2,500 emergency savings account, which is linked to the retirement account and has automatic enrollment option, meaning the employer can set that up so it just automatically funds from payroll go into this $2,500 emergency savings account, which then sits alongside the retirement account.

    The auto enrollment feature is the first time we've seen this in use with respect to this liquid savings, and we think it really has, a lot of incredible upsides because we know from auto enrollment participation that we've seen with retirement accounts it makes all the difference in terms of, really amplifying usage among participants.

    Oscar Pulido: And it just goes back to encouraging good behavior, people want to do it, but you need to almost set it up and then we're off to the races,

    Claire Chamberlain: And just let it build. And then, having this account that you can use as necessary without penalty. And that's really the secret here. We think there is a lot more innovation still to be done because Secure 2.0 is set up with this account being in plan, meaning it's linked to the retirement plan, but we know that there's an opportunity down the road to set up something similar for employees that are not saving in their retirement account but still have those needs to build emergency savings.

    Oscar Pulido: So that'll be one of the many next steps that is coming from this. So, you've touched on the private sector, now the public sector in terms of how it's trying to address the issue. How should an investor be thinking about this issue when it relates to their portfolio and they're putting money to work in the market?

    Claire Chamberlain: I think one of the things that's been so exciting about this work are the results but through, our partners we're able to reach 10 million Americans and build $2 billion in incremental new liquid savings which is a fairly unprecedented impact metrics from a philanthropic endeavor and so we're very proud of that.

    But back to your question, I think what that shows is there's real appetite for building liquid savings and there is real ability to do that if employees are offered, back to right product at the right time. And as an investor, I would think about, are the companies I'm investing in, what kind of prioritization are they making of the financial health of their employees, and emergency savings is a part of that. So, if you're an employer like AutoNation really thinking in a very 360 way about your commitment to your workforce, that’s the way I would take this perspective and translate it to my portfolio.

    Oscar Pulido: All else equal, a happier workforce is more productive, more productive business is more profitable, and you can then put yourself in the mind of that investor. And I want to be invested in companies like that.

    Claire Chamberlain: And sustainable over time!

    Oscar Pulido: Claire, what brought you into this field of social impact? Hearing you talk about this topic, it's obviously a passion of yours, but where did this passion start?

    Claire Chamberlain: I have always, gravitated towards important work, and I've always gravitated towards organizations that I think have the standing in our world to really drive important work.

    I first started my career in finance and over time, had opportunities to get involved in philanthropy and into venture philanthropy and from that came, here to BlackRock and have been involved in the setup of our strategic philanthropy commitments and program and how we support our employees and how we show up in our communities. So, I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I've had.

    Oscar Pulido: well, we're, fortunate to have learned a lot about emergency savings, the issue that it is, and how we're trying to fix it. Thank you for joining us on The. Bid.

    Claire Chamberlain: Thank you, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out our retirement miniseries featuring Anne Ackerley, discussing how to plan your roadmap to retirement. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.


    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

     

    MKTGSH0823U/M-3056091

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    When big events happen in the markets, or even in history, analysts, economists and journalists set out to discover what led to those events, often working backwards, organizing a chain of events into a logical timeline. But on the flip side, accurate forecasting is a far harder skill to master, and our guest today suggests that the same deciding factors we see so easily in hindsight could in fact be easier to see in the present if only we looked through the right lens.

    Peter Atwater is a behavioral economics pioneer and professor of confidence driven decision making at William and Mary and the University of Delaware. His latest book, the Confidence Map examines the hidden role of confidence in the choices we make and why events described as being unprecedented are often entirely predictable.

    Peter, welcome to The Bid.

    Peter Atwater: Thanks so much, Oscar. Glad to be here.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Peter, congratulations on publishing your book, the Confidence Map. It's your second book, if I'm not mistaken. So, in this book you mentioned control and certainty as these two variables and you describe a visual graph of four different sectors, so can you walk us through what that graph is and what it's intended to show?

    Peter Atwater: As I was trying to write this book on confidence, I discovered that to most people they know what confidence looks like when they see it, but they have a hard time explaining it, and it becomes this random word cloud.

    And as I did more research, what I found was that the feelings of certainty and control that we have are really what drive our behavior. That confidence is how we see ourselves faring in the future, we need there to be a sense of predictability and certainty to what's ahead, and we need to have a feeling that we're prepared for it, that we have a sense of control. What I did was to develop a relatively simple framework, it's a two-by-two box chart, a quadrant that looks at the different, magnitudes of certainty and control that we experience. So, the four boxes, there's the comfort zone where we have both certainty and control and the stress center where we lack both of them. And those are what we think of when we think about confidence.

    The other boxes are hybrid environments. you'd be familiar with what I call the passenger seat, where we have certainty, but no control. Anytime we're on an airplane or in a cab that's the environment that we're in. And then the fourth environment is what I call the launchpad. Where we have control, but the outcome's unclear to us and in the world of financial services, every decision that we make, whether it's to lend, to borrow, to invest, are all made in that environment where we have to imagine what's ahead as we're making the choice today to enter into a transaction.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, I'm taking an airplane later this week so I, I will definitely be in that passenger seat part of the quadrant. But maybe as you describe those four quadrants, how do people make decisions when they're in each one of those quadrants? You described it well but take us through the decision-making process for individuals in those four boxes.

    Peter Atwater: So, no matter what box we're in, we have to recognize that we're making decisions where we're imagining the future and that imagination becomes critical. It involves the stories we tell and then the outcomes that we imagine based on the choices that we're making.

    When we're in the stress center though, where we have a sense of vulnerability, and we don't think of it this way, but vulnerability is the opposite of confidence. We crave familiarity, we need things to be certain. When we feel vulnerable, something's wrong.

    And so, what happens in that lower left box where we are in the stress center, is that our decision making takes a very narrow focus. I focus on myself. I focus on right here, and I focus on right now. I don't care about the future, I don't care about others, and I don't care about the places that are distant from me. If there's turbulence on your airplane flight later this week, the only person you're going to care about is you in that moment.

    And this has a big bearing then on the choices we make, we see this in the investment world where people out of nowhere suddenly decide they want to hoard cash. They're craving that certainty. We saw the same thing during the early days of Covid where people were hoarding water and wipes and the things that we needed to address the, the vulnerability that we were experiencing. And so that focus alters what we want and in turn what we do.

    At the other end of the spectrum, we're a very different person. There we tend to be focused on, what I say is 'us, everywhere, forever'. Where we're generous, we're cooperative, we explore, we're interested in the future, and we're planning for the future. And you can see this in the investment world with the kinds of things that we invest in when confidence is really high, they’re oozing with abstraction. We saw this in 2021 with the whole focus on eVs, space and, NFTs and crypto.

    And today I think we're seeing a similar phenomenon with AI where we're so interested in opportunity and that's the antithesis of what we think about in terms of possibility versus familiarity.

    Oscar Pulido: That stress zone you described certainly sounds like not a great place to be in, at least not for an extended period of time. But I can't help but think that if you're in that upper right quadrant, that high confidence, high certainty, it sounds really compelling, but could you be overconfident? Isn't there something healthy about, maybe a little bit of uncertainty that keeps you somewhat cynical, keeps you asking questions, keeps you intensely curious. How do you think about that upper right quadrant not becoming also a hindrance to the decision maker?

    Peter Atwater: So, when we're in that upper right-hand box, we forget that scrutiny and confidence are inversely related. The more confident we are, the less we pay attention because we don't think we have to. And so, our cognitive processes are inherently lazy, and that laziness is a disservice to us when we're really confident because we're not paying the kind of attention that we should be. The result is that we take too much risk in too great a size while at the same time paying the least amount of attention. And as you imagine, those three things together often are what precipitate a crisis that then follows.

    Oscar Pulido: So how does somebody then, who finds themself in a certain quadrant, what changes do they need to make in their decision making to migrate from one box to the next or what have been your observations of how people adeptly move across these four quadrants?

    Peter Atwater: The first thing is to recognize that confidence isn't a one and done experience. The self-help world would like you to believe that once you have confidence, you're going to always have it. And so, we're constantly moving around, and I think it's always helpful for us to pause before we're making a decision to step back and say, so where am I?

    Am I feeling certain and in control, am I feeling vulnerable? Because that's then going to give me clues in terms of what things I should do better. For example, in the stress center, we're as likely to be under confident there as we are overconfident in the comfort zone, and so we need to be careful and to take more risk rather than less risk when we are feeling vulnerable.

    And that's very counterintuitive, that really fights against our gut, particularly in the finance world. But panic tends to be an experience that should lead us to be more optimistic than we are. Panic tends to be a behavior that reflects that the worst is behind us, not ahead of us like we imagine it to be. So that's one of the things we need to do.

    In the launchpad, we need to be careful about our imagination of the future because if I have control, but no uncertainty, I'm likely to make a choice based on what I imagine. And particularly in the finance world, we need to be open to both sides of the potential outcome that's ahead.

    And if you are certain of an outcome, that's God's way of telling you, you're either being too pessimistic or too optimistic about what's ahead.

    Oscar Pulido: When you think about like high performing individuals or some of the people that you've come across, do they rotate across all four of these quadrants and that's okay. or do like high performing individuals, people in leadership positions, whether that's in the public or private sector, do they typically operate in only one or two of these?

    Peter Atwater: No, so what I find is people who are resilient recognize that all four of these boxes are going to happen. So, it's not about avoiding a box, it's more about recognizing that I'm going to be in the stress center, I'm going to be in the passenger seat, I'm going to be in the launchpad. That those are a natural part of a business cycle of a life experience.

    And so, their focus isn't on avoiding those, but getting comfortable in those boxes. And to appreciate that they're not going to be there forever. I think one of the mistakes a lot of inexperienced leaders make is that they get themselves in the stress center and they become paralyzed, they feel like it's never going to end.

    Somebody who's resilient recognizes as oh no, this is today. and what I'm going to do when I'm in that box, and this is where the high performers, I think really differentiate themselves is that they pause to say, what can I do, what must I do to regain certainty and control? Both of those are very actionable and interestingly, one of the best things people can do is to ask for help. Asking for help isn't weakness, it's actually taking control of the situation.

    Oscar Pulido: Right, and that leader who finds themselves in the stress center and knows how to cope with it, it's almost going back to an earlier question, right? The leader who's in the comfort zone, perhaps the really good leader recognizes that now is a good time to ask questions of what could go wrong or what am I missing, and to not develop overconfidence, but to be almost like a healthy paranoia, I think is how I'm picturing somebody who knows how to properly, navigate being in that box.

    Peter Atwater: Yeah, they're never complacent, they're always anticipating something that could go wrong and they're not of it. They're not being doomsday about it it's a much greater awareness of the fact that conditions change.

    I think about at the other end of the spectrum, some of the most interesting conversations I've had have been with, emergency room doctors. The stress center is their day, and they spend their day going back and forth and back and forth, and their behavior in the stress center is so different from what particularly in corporate leadership. If you listen to emergency room teams, they're talking candidly about what's wrong. they're sharing information. They're not focused on what happened as much as what is, so there's never a concern about blame or shame.

    It's like, look, this is where we are, and all of the energy is focused on resolving not only the problem, but the vulnerability arising from the problem. In the medical world, the difference between curing a patient and healing a patient is the restoration of confidence, the elimination of the vulnerability that patients feel. And I think sometimes leaders get themselves so focused on the problem, what's broken, what's crashed, what's burned, and they forget that what makes something a crisis isn't the problem, but the feelings that arise from the problem and that as much attention needs to be given to those feelings as to the situation itself - because the crisis won't be done until those feelings are restored.

    Oscar Pulido: And an emergency room doctor, certainly emotions run high in a hospital or any sort of medical setting. Maybe bringing it back to markets because emotions can run high with markets as well, and you talked about Covid and some of the behaviors that we saw during the Covid era, or you talked about hoarding cash, especially in stressful periods for markets where investors, don't want to lose money. When you think, about some of the recent market shifts in history, how do you apply this frame, these four boxes, to how investors react?

    Peter Atwater: So, if we look at what happened with the regional banks earlier this year, you could see that sense of panic people moving rapidly into the stress center. And I think one of the things Oscar, that's so unique about today is the speed and scale at which groups can mobilize and translate changes in sentiment into action. Between social media and online trading, what we're seeing is these microbursts of energy and I think that in investors today need to appreciate that the speed at which markets are moving up and down, arguably meme stocks represent the behavior at the other extreme, is that we're seeing this highly impulsive, highly emotional behavior at both ends of the spectrum. and to not fall victim to it. As I've said, panic is a sign that we're approaching the

    lows in confidence. It's not a time to be afraid, but a time to be preparing for a turn that's likely to happen imminently, and the same things with manias. Don't become seduced by the siren song.

    Oscar Pulido: And it makes sense and I think about Warren Buffet and be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful. It's kind of what, you're touching on, being sometimes a contrarian, you know, Hopefully the emergency room analogy that person is a well-trained, professional who knows how to control their emotions. But it seems like in markets people have trouble controlling those or have you witnessed something differently?

    Peter Atwater: So, what I found is that individuals may have a hard time controlling their own emotions. It's very helpful for them to use the framework that I have to identify where is the crowd today, where are others? And it's remarkable to me how quickly we can spot where the crowd is on this quadrant. And just being able to objectively say the crowd is panicking allows you to take what would otherwise be a highly subjective and emotional phenomenon and look at it almost clinically. And that then allows you to make decisions in a much more really decisive and definitive way that allows you to have distance between, your own emotion and actions.

    Oscar Pulido: And that then speaks to how investors can use those insights, knowing where the crowd is in those four quadrants is what allows you to make that, forward looking decision in your portfolio. That is what sets you apart from the crowd. And if you do that, that's usually where you generate better performance.

    Peter Atwater: Yeah, and there are three dimensions that are easy to identify because at all locations. Our confidence, those feelings of certainty and control, our actions and our stories exist in equilibrium. So, I can look at where the crowd is in three different ways. What are the headlines that we're seeing in financial television and or, what are the actions that we're seeing people buy? As an economist, we talk a lot about elasticity. I think we overlook something called confidence elasticity, which is to say, how does confidence drive the choices we're making? And there's a high confidence elasticity for cash, for example, when confidence is low, that's when we demand it most.

    And just knowing that the range of investments that we're going to buy is a function of our level of confidence allows me at all times to spot where the crowd is. Because what's hot in the minds of investors is revealing their level of confidence. Are they stampeding into cryptocurrencies or are they stampeding into cash? Those are things that I see at the two ends of the confidence spectrum.

    Oscar Pulido: Peter, when I think about investors, I'm thinking about mom and pop and the individual investor, but have you worked with what I'll call professional investors, portfolio managers, people who do this for a living, who wake up every day and are thinking about what stocks or bonds to buy, and if you've worked with those folks, how do they think about this confidence map, the four quadrants, and what do you observe in these individuals?

    Peter Atwater: So, most of my clients are institutional investors, and in the same way that they're looking at economic data, they're looking at, industry data. They're using sentiment as another overlay. And so, what they're interested in is that the indicators of sentiment that I identify as being representative of things that might be important to them in their portfolios.

    So, for example, looking at the behavior in luxury today and the excesses that we're seeing there and how is that different maybe from what we saw a year or two years ago? Because, cultural trends,

    from the music we listened to, to the TV shows that we watch have a bearing on our behavior and they reflect how we feel. The media is an enormous mirror of our mood.

    Oscar Pulido: And Peter, just taking a step back, maybe I should have asked you this at the beginning, but why is this topic of confidence something that you have dedicated So, much time to? Just curious as to what is it that got you interested in either this particular topic or maybe even just behavioral economics, in the first place?

    Peter Atwater: As somebody who spent the first part of his career in financial services, I had never really considered the role that emotions play in the choices that investors make. I sort of missed the forest for the trees. During the financial crisis, it became clear to me that we made a series of choices to borrow, to lend to buy homes that were in characteristics completely different in 2007 from 2009. And so, what I wanted to do was to understand why did we make those decisions? Were there characteristics that were universal? That while the means may change, what are we doing differently and consistently from crisis to crisis, from euphoria to euphoria. Twain says, history rhymes and I wanted to know why. And what I found was that the behaviors that we exhibit all act in a very consistent way based on our level of confidence, and this is something that exists not just in the markets, but outside of the markets. The trends in fashion, repeat the trends in architecture, repeat the trends in politics, repeat. There's so many different ways that confidence sets up what we're doing outside of the markets that then become useful to investors in the markets.

    Oscar Pulido: So, some of that you had real world experience, working in financial services and now when you stepped out into academia, you had an opportunity to just see the role that emotion plays in markets. And I think for certain, anybody who's watched the markets this year, or even over a longer period of time, could attest to the fact that it is an emotional, exercise investing and those who can control it probably do a better job in the long term. Peter, we appreciate you joining us and sharing with us your framework. congratulations again on your second book, the Confidence Map. And thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Peter Atwater: Thank you so much, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Bid. Subscribe to the bid wherever you get your podcasts.


    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    For more information go https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/compliance/bid-disclosures

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

     

    MKTGSH0823U/M-3026434

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido. Today we continue our best of summer series, which means I'm joined by our Bid producer, Stevie Manns. Stevie, this is becoming a nice little pattern, having you on the podcast.

    Stevie Manns: It's fun. I'm enjoying my Bid debuts.

    Oscar Pulido: So let's keep going through some of our favorite episodes, of this year and I think it's my turn.

    Stevie Manns: It is your turn, and this is the final one.

    Oscar Pulido: Okay. I was thinking back to earlier in the year in March when a seemingly quiet week in the markets turned into a lot of headlines around Silicon Valley Bank, a bank that I had not really paid a lot of attention to in the past, and it was a reminder that markets are stable until they're not, and all of a sudden we have a lot of volatility to talk about.

    And we had to spring into action to record an episode with one of our favorite guests, Alex Brazier. Alex is the deputy head of the BlackRock Investment Institute, and Alex came on to talk to us about why these events that were occurring at the time in March were not like 2008, because I think a lot of us feared that it was a repeat of the global financial crisis.

    Stevie Manns: Yes, we had to spring into action, like you said, we're speaking about it on Monday, we recorded it Tuesday and we put it out Wednesday. And to your point, there was a lot of panic about are these events the start of another 2008 crisis? What's going to happen next? Is this just limited to the us? Is this going to happen across the globe? And as you say, the market panic seemed to be everywhere.

    Oscar Pulido: Exactly, and having lived through the 2008 financial crisis, I was reminded of how there are probably a lot of people who don't really understand how a bank works until it fails, and it really is, the banking model is all built on confidence and Silicon Valley Bank.

    And we subsequently recorded a few more episodes in the weeks ahead, but Alex's was really the first one that reminded people that a bank is built on confidence and when, depositors deposit their money with a bank and the bank goes out and, invests it in an asset, when that asset,

    underperforms, when it behaves a certain way, it can be difficult for that bank or perhaps impossible for them to pay their depositors who want their money back the next day.

    And so to me it was like people, they walk by a bank, they drive by one, they go in one. Probably pretty frequently or they interact with one, but do they really know how it works? And this crisis reminds people just like the basic functioning of a bank.

    Stevie Manns: And the way technology has changed, now that you're able to access your funds and your money so much quicker, and to some extent that exacerbated some of these circumstances. It was unprecedented in some ways and no one really knew how this would play out.

    Oscar Pulido: And let's be honest, Alex is one of our favorite guests. You and I talk about this pretty often. I think maybe he's only made one mistake ever when he did a recording for us. He's very eloquent. Everything he describes makes a lot of sense, he can take very complex topics and make it easy for people to understand. So anytime we have Alex in the studio, it's just always a pleasure to listen to him.

    Stevie Manns: Fabulous storyteller. And you're right, a one take wonder!

    Oscar Pulido: Well, you get to hear his voice again. Here's Alex Brazier.

    Oscar Pulido: Alex, we're both sitting here, it's Thursday, March 16th, financial markets have been spooked by events, in the banking industry on both sides of the Atlantic. so, can you just explain what's happening and what led to this crisis?

    Alex Brazier: It's been, an eventful week, I suppose. The story goes back some way, but before we look in depth at the last week, I think it's useful to remind our listeners that really what's happening here is that the fastest rate hiking cycle since the 1980s was clear that was always going to cause some economic damage and expose some cracks in the financial system.

    And what we've seen in the last week is those cracks actually beginning to appear and as we'll come on to discuss, that means more of the economic damage is yet to come.

    So that's really the scene setter, the sharpest fastest rate hiking cycle since the 1980s. But then what actually happened over the last week, well, really useful to talk about three things that have happened.

    The first is what happened with, Silicon Valley Bank and US regional banks. Then what did the authorities do? And perhaps, the third thing, bringing us up to date is how it's rippled across the Atlantic to European banks.

    And starting with the first of those, US regional banks. What really happened at Silicon Valley Bank, well, it was a bit of an outlier in two important respects. The first is that it had a very large share of its deposits, greater than USD250,000. So, they're uninsured deposits, and those are typically more flighty and more likely to, be withdrawn in stress than insured deposits. And the second thing it had in which it was an outlier, was that it had a very large book of US treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. And of course, as interest rates have gone up a lot over the last year, the market value of those securities has fallen a lot.

    Now, Silicon Valley Bank hoped that it wouldn't have to sell these securities. It hoped to just hold them until they matured. But to link these two outlying characteristics together, a lot of its depositors were spooked and asked to withdraw their money, and as a result, it was forced to sell some of these securities at today's market prices and realize some of the losses. That meant that more depositors withdrew their money as the bank realized some losses. and so, it entered this kind of spiral, downward and the authorities then stepped in to take control of what was at that stage, a failing bank. The issue of course, then prompted depositors, particularly uninsured depositors, to withdraw money from other regional banks like Signature Bank, and the authorities stepped in there, as well.

    So, what did the authorities do when they stepped in? Well, they've seized control of these banks written down the equity, and they've protected the insured deposits as they normally would. But very importantly in these cases, they've also used what's called a systemic risk exemption, which allows them to protect the uninsured deposits as well.

    So, these banks failed, over the weekend and on Monday morning, all the depositors. Whether their deposits were insured or previously uninsured had access to their money on Monday morning. So, the authorities have dealt with these banks not by giving a bailout to the shareholders. This isn't shareholder friendly, but by protecting, the depositors in those banks, so that was the US authorities.

    And then the third aspect really of what's happened in the last week is that the crisis has rippled across the Atlantic. And it's not that European banks have in any way the same underlying issue as these regional US banks. And they're not directly connected either, but there is a channel of contagion, which is that following what happened in the United States. Markets are now applying greater scrutiny to banks around the world, including in Europe, and they're applying greater scrutiny to banks that have challenges or even where those challenges have been going on for years.

    And as a result, we've seen market confidence and volatility in Europe, we've seen the Swiss National Bank step in with liquidity support for one of its banks, Credit Suisse, and so we see how this evolves from here.

    But it's important to note that we don't have the kind of contagion channels that we had in 2008, but there is still this contagion channel across the Atlantic where markets are now looking at banks differently even where they don't have new challenges.

    But I just go back to the root cause of all of this, which is the fastest rate hiking cycle since the 1980s, which was always going to cause some degree of damage and expose some financial cracks. And that's really the underlying root cause of everything that's gone on in the last week.

    Oscar Pulido: Alex, you mentioned 2008, which is hard to believe it's a decade and a half ago, but the headlines of the past week, for those of us who lived through 2008 and that crisis, it's hard to not try and draw comparisons, and during that financial crisis, you were part of the team concerned with financial stability at the Bank of England, so you were in the thick of it then. How do you see what's gone on over the past week compared to what happened in 2008?

    Alex Brazier: There are uncomfortable echoes of course, anytime you get any sort of problem in the financial system but there are some really important differences this time, which mean it's not quite the same.

    The first really important difference going to what's happened in the US is that, back in 2008, the issue was really exposures on banks, balance sheets, subprime mortgage exposures that were really opaque, really difficult to find where they were, figure out how much they were worth... and so there was a lot of uncertainty across the banking system about who was holding the problem assets. And so, the contagion spread through the system as people lost confidence in all banks.

    And the only way to solve it was effectively to dig into banks’ balance sheets with the stress tests at the time, and provide state recapitalization, taxpayers money, into banks that it was found had a hole in the value of their assets.

    I think what's different this time in an important respect is that the assets at the heart of this in the US banking system, far from being opaque are actually the most transparent and easy to value of the lot. It's US treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. And so, it's very clear to assess where the losses are on those assets and who's holding them.

    And that makes it very different in an important respect. And it's clear when you do that, that Silicon Valley Bank, for example, was a very big outlier. Relative to the whole of the banking system. So that's a big difference from 2008, we've gone from opaque losses. To very transparent, losses on some of these really transparent securities.

    I think the other thing that's really different is where the system starts the banking system in particular, in terms of how much capital it's got, and that capital's there to absorb losses while protecting the deposits. So, we've started in a position where banks have lots more of their own shareholders money on the line than they did back in 2008.

    And so even though pretty much all US banks hold US treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, and so they will have incurred some mark to market losses as interest rates have gone up over the last year.

    The losses over the system as a whole are significant, but eminently manageable within the capital base that US banks have now got. So unlike 2008, this isn't a problem with asset values, that's going to overwhelm the kind of capital base of the whole banking system.

    So those are two big differences, from 2008. And I think the third big difference is that the authorities now have more tools to deal with this.

    We saw last weekend the Fed stepped in very quickly. I think because it was able to assess the problem and mark down assets and figure out who had the issues.

    The Fed came in very quickly with a new lending facility, the bank term lending facility, to effectively support banks that were experiencing a withdrawal of deposits. So, where this had a knock-on effect from Silicon Valley Bank to some of the other regional banks, people with withdrawing their deposits to put them into bigger banks. The Fed was able to launch a facility to basically make that process run much more smoothly and stop regional banks needing to undertake forced sales of some of these securities like US treasuries and mortgage-backed bonds.

    So, the authorities have more tools, they also now have more to deal with banks when they fail in a way, they didn't in 2008, when they faced a kind of invidious choice between bankruptcy, which of course means depositors money is locked up, and bailout.

    This time they've got so-called resolution tools to deal with failing banks. So, in those three important respects, transparency of where the problem is, the ability to use the tools they've now got and a bigger capital base in the banking system. That makes this a very different proposition,

    Oscar Pulido: And maybe specifically on that third point that you mentioned central banks and the toolkit that they have now, which is partly a learning from 2008. So, you've mentioned the Federal Reserve, putting that toolkit to use. You also mentioned the Swiss National Bank, which is acted as a backstop to one of their important financial institutions.

    So, are we okay now or does this have ripple effects from a macroeconomic perspective going forward?

    Alex Brazier: Yeah. I think despite this being different and despite all the tools at their disposal, this will have ripple effects for the economy, in the US and in Europe actually. And why is that when we're in this different situation? Firstly, in the US regional banks are still under pressure and they'll be under pressure for two reasons.

    The first is that despite the way these failing banks were resolved over last weekend, Depositors are still withdrawing their money, in some cases, to place it with some of the bigger banks. So regional banks are finding it more difficult to raise deposits and fund their lending.

    Now, as I said, because the Fed has launched this, bank term lending facility, that process can be much smoother than it might otherwise have been but nevertheless, what we're going to see is some of the regional banks need to adjust their businesses, shrink their balance sheets, and that means. Tightening their, credit supply conditions, the loan officers at these banks won't be extending lots of credit now, and that means for the economy as a whole, a tightening in credit supply means less credit available.

    Now, that's going to have an economic effect. It's going to tighten financial conditions for businesses and households and that's going to help to slow the economy in the way the Fed's rate hikes were actually designed to do.

    That's one ripple effect onto the economy and I think in Europe, a similar thing's going to happen. So even though it wasn't the same underlying problem, because of this contagion channel where markets are applying more scrutiny to banks, it is more costly for banks to raise equity, to issue debt. And that's going to be passed on to lending conditions to the broader economy.

    And it's also going to tighten conditions in financial markets because those banks are going to be less willing to make markets, and act as dealers in those markets.

    So financial conditions for the economy are going to tighten, not on the scale that, they did in 2008. And in a way, what we're seeing here is just the normal response to a rise in interest rates. It's happening through some sudden channels, but I go back to this point that the ripple effects here are really the effects of the sharpest rate hiking cycle since the 1980s, but it is going to affect economic activity through these channels.

    Oscar Pulido: And so that fastest rate hiking campaign that we're seeing since the 1980s, what do central banks do now? Do they take a, pause, with hiking rates and remain in this, whatever it takes type of mode to backstop financial institutions?

    Or do they continue with hiking rates to combat what has been a, an inflationary background, really globally?

    Alex Brazier: This is a very different episode to 2008 in one other respect as well, which is that we go into this with central banks facing an inflation problem. Both the Fed and the ECB have got the problem of stubbornly high core inflation.

    So, inflation's come off its highs, but it's still not on track either side of the Atlantic, to actually come down and settle close to their 2% targets. So, they were needing to raise rates, slow their economies probably generate recessions if they wanted to get inflation all the way back down to their targets, and that's a very different situation to the one we were in 2008 and the one we've been in every kind of financial wobble over the last 30 or 40 years, in fact.

    So, the playbook where central banks respond both with tools to address financial problems like lending facilities like we've seen this week, and rate cuts isn't on the table this time. What we think they'll try and do, to the extent they can, is effectively separate two issues separate.

    On the one hand, maintaining financial stability, where they'll be using lending facilities in the way they've done over the last week, and monetary policy, interest rates, where they'll be looking to deal with their inflation problem.

    And in a way what the Bank of England did last September is a good model for this, a good guide for this, faced with problems in the UK gilt market, it launched one operation, some temporary purchases, of gilts to deal with that financial problem, whilst at the same time raising interest rates to deal with its inflation problem.

    And that is the playbook we're more likely to see here at this stage, central banks using lending operations to deal with financial issues whilst using interest rates to continue to deal with their inflation issues.

    Now that's very different, and we've seen actually the ECB just before we've recorded this, go through with its earlier guidance that it would raise interest rates by 50 basis points. this month it's gone through with that suggesting its use of interest rates isn't being diverted to addressing other issues in the banking system. That said, with credit conditions tightening as a result of these issues in the banking system, that's effectively going to do some of central bank's work for them. It's going to tighten credit conditions; it's going to slow the economy. Central banks won't need to raise interest rates as much as they otherwise would've done to deliver the economic outcome they're looking for- which is a recession and getting inflation down.

    So, they're going to do a bit less than they would otherwise have done. So, more rate hikes, but not as many as we might have seen. But the big point here is that they won't be coming to the rescue of markets, in our view, with aggressive rate cuts because of the inflation issue, that they're facing and that's a big difference, I think to the past.

    Markets have priced in now some big rate cuts over the course of the year, but as it stands, they're likely to try and maintain this clear separation of two sets of tools, two targets, lending facilities for maintaining financial stability and interest rates and monetary policy for dealing with inflation.

    Oscar Pulido: The scenario you're describing sounds like central banks are going to be multitasking for the foreseeable future. Alex, I know you've had a busy week, thank you for spending part of it with us here on The Bid

    Alex Brazier: Thanks Oscar for having me.

    <<MUSIC>>

    Stevie Manns: So Oscar, we talked earlier about how banking is all about confidence. Did you feel more confident about how things were going to progress and a few months later, what are your thoughts in terms of hindsight?

    Oscar Pulido: Well, I think whenever you hear Alex you're talking to somebody who has many years of experience in the financial sector, and in this case, he has worked in the halls of monetary policy, in England someone who's speaking with credibility. So you immediately, are listening to him and thinking this is somebody with a credible opinion. But at the same time, in the midst of this market crisis and market volatility, living one day to the next.

    And now that we can fast forward five months, and the banking crisis was relatively confined- it did not spread more broadly, we did not see another 2008. Actually markets have ground higher, over the course of the last few months. Stock markets are higher, inflation is starting to come down and so we're almost not even talking about this anymore, we're resurfacing this episode because we remember in the thick of the moment what it was like. But I did come out of that feeling more confident after listening to Alex and now five months later, a lot of what he said has really come true.

    Stevie Manns: It must be great being Alex and you can be right about a lot of things.

    Oscar Pulido: That's why we have him on as a frequent guest.

    Stevie Manns: Definitely. Well, Oscar, it's been so fun reliving some of our favorite episodes for this summer series. Perhaps we can do it again sometime?

    Oscar Pulido: That'd be great. Let's do this Best of summer series maybe every year. And for those of you that are listening, thank you for listening to The Bid. And don't forget to subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

    MKTGSH0823U/M-3041417

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido. Today we continue our Best of Summer series, which means I'm joined by a guest, Stevie Manns, our producer of The Bid podcast.

    Hi Stevie.

    Stevie Manns: Hey, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: So you and I have both picked one of our favorite episodes that we've done this year, and hopefully our audience has enjoyed re-listening to it or maybe listened to it for the first time. It's now your turn to pick one of your favorite episodes again. Which one is it?

    Stevie Manns: It's the Art of Negotiation. How to ask for more with Professor Alex Carter. Norm Shah, was the host of this episode. you weren't here because it was women's history Month and sorry, Oscar, but that's not you.

    Oscar Pulido: I understand.

    Stevie Manns: So during the month of March we had senior leadership from around BlackRock interview women from the world of business and beyond, inspirational leaders that they look up to. And Alex Carter came in to talk about negotiation. She is a professor at Columbia Law School. She's written a book asking for more. It's and I love this episode. I think this is something that I will listen to at least once a year.

    So many people think that negotiation is something that perhaps you do at work or it's always something where someone loses out on something and it's this idea that she talks about of steering, we are always negotiating to get to where we want to go, and it doesn't have to just be in a difficult conversation or situation.

    Oscar Pulido: That's right. And I, recall as well from the episode that, there was a point in her life where she realized she needed to start putting into practice some of the things that she was telling people to do. So sort of following her own advice, and there was this moment of hesitancy, but she powered through and ultimately now following her own advice.

    Stevie Manns: Absolutely. And there was something that Normandy said about the steering thing, and she, she said, um, she loved that metaphor you are steering and she said that she'll use it, going forward and every day.

    And I checked in with her this morning. I said, Hey, Nirmitee, do you remember talking about this and saying that you were going to use it? How is that working out for you? And she said, Oh my God. It is so ingrained in everything that I do now, I almost forgot where it came from. And I love that, and it's so fun when you listen to an episode or a podcast and there's something that you take away and you really implement that. This podcast has been something that I've taken away and implemented. I even read Alex's book, she was kind enough to give me a copy, I think it's such a fabulous episode to re-listen to. There aren't that many episodes that I would do that for.

    Oscar Pulido: Great. Well let's re-listen to this one again.

    <<MUSIC>>

    Nirmitee: Alex, welcome.

    Alex Carter: Thanks, Nirmitee I'm happy to be here.

    Nirmitee: So, let's start with the first question. Who is Alex Carter?

    Alex Carter: Big question. I was born in Brooklyn. I am a lifelong New Yorker who made a 17-year temporary pit stop in New Jersey for the sake of my marriage. I am somebody who loves to learn. and now I'm really fortunate to be a person who is in her dream job.

    By day, I'm a professor at Columbia Law School. I teach conflict resolution. I help people work out their problems, and I help students to step into their futures. And then outside of that, I'm a published author and a keynote speaker, a mom of a 12-year-old girl and a wife.

    Between your tenure at Columbia and the book and motherhood and other things, when did you realize it was your Ah-ha moment that this is what you were meant to do?

    Nirmitee, I'm a lawyer, so when you ask me for one aha moment, I'm going to give you two.

    Nirmitee: Okay. Buy one, get one free. Indeed. Yes.

    Alex Carter: The first moment was this. You know, I think a lot of people look at my CV and they assume that I always knew where I was going in life, and that couldn't have been further from the case.

    I went into law school. I had absolutely zero idea of what I could do after graduation, and it wasn't until my last year there that I took the course that would change my whole professional life. The reason I took it is a friend of mine pulled me aside and she said, Hey, I just took this class. It involves a lot of talking. I think you'd be great at it.

    So, shade aside, I enrolled in the class and this was mediation. And mediation is the art or science. We'll get to it of helping people work out a dispute, helping people negotiate. And the first time I stepped into this dingy room in the New York City courthouse and helped these people work out a dispute, it was as though I heard Morgan Freeman's voice coming down saying, Alex, this is it. This is what you should do for the rest of your life.

    But here was the second moment, because you see after that, I grew really comfortable helping other people negotiate. I was really good at it. Then came the moment where for the first time, I had to negotiate for myself.

    Early on in my career, I was in these jobs that were all lockstep. You walked in, the comp was but then I had to finally put on my power suit and my tall heels. That was my thirties back when I was wearing heels, walk into the office, and I got a good offer, and inside I had a crisis. Why? Because I realized that I thought I had to just accept the first offer I was given.

    I realized that I had absorbed this message, that negotiation was something I could do for other people. But if I did it for myself, I wasn't collaborative, I wasn't going to be liked or worse, I would leave less for other people. But I had just enough on the ball to call a senior woman in my field, and I asked her, What should I do?

    And she said, I'm going to tell you what to do, Alex. You're going to get back in there and you're going to ask for more. And here's why. Because when you teach someone how to value you, you are teaching him how to value all of us, meaning all women. So, if you're not going to go in there and do it for yourself, I want you to do it for the next woman who's coming after you, do it for the sisterhood.

    That was the moment I realized I don't just have to do this for other people. I am worthy of applying my own skills to myself, and in fact, it doesn't leave other people with less. It builds a bigger table for other people to sit.

    Nirmitee: I just want to comment on the fact that you make the table bigger, I agree with you 100%. But let's go back to the first point you made which was around art or science. So, what is negotiation?

    Alex Carter: Well, it's interesting art and science are actually much closer than we think. They're just two different ways of trying to understand humanity, who we are, and to make sense of our world.

    And negotiation, therefore, is both. There are observable phenomena that have been documented in research, and that's part of the science. But then you sit down at the table and it's two human beings or maybe more human beings looking at each other and talking, and that's nothing but art. Because I may go in with all of the research, but then in the moment I'm relating to another human being.

    So, it's interesting because there have been all sorts of technological advances even when we think of negotiation, programs that can simulate bargaining, but in the end, unless the negotiators themselves are replaced by machines, we have to have some creativity, some differentiation, some sense of, the art, the creativity, the imagination behind negotiation.

    Nirmitee I agree with you. So ChatGPT, everyone's talking about it! So, what happened is someone from BlackRock went to ChatGPT And said okay, create a portfolio that will be the market for the next 10 years. And ChatGPT instead of creating a portfolio actually created a disclaimer saying that you cannot beat the markets with predictability. But I feel like that's the machine versus human, that humans transcend logic sometimes or fall apart in face of logic. And that's what might make a negotiation more interesting

    Alex Carter: Oh, we are, predictably irrational. In fact, Nirmitee, I start a lot of my negotiation classes by setting up a simulation.

    Here it is. I set people into teams of two. and I tell them, each team, one person needs to raise their hand and volunteer for something. The person who raises their hand, I say, I've just handed you $20 and here's what you're going to do. You have one chance to turn to your partner and make an offer for how much of the $20 you'd be willing to split with them.

    Here's the catch one offer. Accept or reject if your partner accepts you keep the $20 in the proportion that you propose. If they reject the $20 comes back to me. Do you know what happens, a lot of times, especially in shared groups? People offer $10. They might offer eight. They might

    Nirmitee: I was thinking I would offer 10

    Alex Carter: Okay. And why would you offer 10?

    Nirmitee: Because it seems fair, and the chances of them wanting to split are higher. Maybe I would offer nine. But not more than that. Like I wouldn't go to eight. I would feel like maybe 11 bucks for me, nine bucks for them. Maybe a good offer and then that way we both get to keep some money.

    Alex Carter: Yeah, because you took the risk, you raised your hand. So maybe you apply a little premium Yes. To the $10 to get a little extra, right? Yes. Okay. But you're thinking about risk.

    Here's the thing. The economically rational thing to do, is if you're offering me to offer me one penny, and the economically rational thing for me to do would be to accept that penny

    Nirmitee: Because you're better off with that one penny than you were a minute ago when you didn't have the penny.

    Alex Carter: Correct.

    Nirmitee: This reminds me of, Daniel Kahneman's experiments in behavioral finance.

    Alex Carter: Absolutely. And I love his work, I'm always thinking about whether my brain is in system one or system two. But here's the thing, human beings don't act rationally when it comes to economics. And you see this play out all the time. You get a monetary offer. Maybe it's a deal you're striking with a client. Maybe it's for salary. And yes, you're thinking about, I want to be better off financially. But the money also means something, doesn't it? It stands for something. It stands for fairness. It stands for achievement. It stands for recognition. And so, we have to be aware that even though at the table there could be a Pareto optimal outcome, we're almost never going to be there because of the human beings at the table, who value sometimes things more than rationality.

    Nirmitee: So, coming back to the art versus science have you seen a change in the last 20 years in terms of how people approach some of these negotiations, has the general level of understanding of negotiations improved?

    Alex Carter: So yes and no. I will say when I look now at popular media, movies, tv. You remember that Show Entourage, right? You would see these high stakes negotiations all the time, and so I think in general public awareness has been raised about negotiation but not always accurately.

    And that's part of the reason I wanted to write a book, because I felt like I was seeing depictions of negotiation everywhere that didn't mirror what I knew negotiation to be. If you look at Succession, for example, or Entourage, you're going to see a negotiation that means the following, it cuts to us. And actually, then we would be two guys in suits.

    If you look up negotiation on Google and you go to the image search, I've done it. It's a lot of white men in suits. So that's part of the depiction we get about negotiation. And it's part of the reason I think that I've read a lot of negotiation literature and I didn't see myself in any of that.

     It was tough for me to pick up a book and to find something that I thought, yes, I can actually use this with my friends and colleagues and family. So, there's definitely a representation element to it, but there's also a substantive element in which I felt popular portrayals were falling short. They show the last couple rounds of a heated monetary negotiation to get to an agreement. And most people, in fact are taught negotiation is a back and forth over money to get to some kind of compromise.

    Nirmitee: Yeah, when everybody loses, I'm so everybody loses right? There is no win-win in negotiation.

    Alex Carter: And I reject that on a number of fronts. First of all, negotiation is not just about money. I actually learned what negotiation was on my honeymoon. And it's not just because I married another lawyer, okay? But picture this, we're in Hawaii. The two of us are in a kayak on the Waialua River, and our guide up ahead turns back and says, all right folks, let's negotiate these things to the left because we're going to hit that beach up there.

    And I gotta tell you, everybody else was enjoying the scenery and my brain, love of learning was immediately somewhere else because of all places in the world a kayak in Hawaii was where I learned what negotiation really means because I thought, that's right, if I'm negotiating my kayak toward a beach, what am I doing? I'm steering.

    And what if negotiation wasn't haggling over money? What if it was just the process, like a kayak of steering my relationships in the direction I wanted to go? And with that in mind, I went back to the office the following week and I saw opportunities to negotiate everywhere because it wasn't just about asking for salary once a year. It wasn't just about the twice a year I would sit down with a client and say, let's hammer out this retainer agreement.

    I could be proactively calling and saying, tell me What's happening in the company? What's keeping you up at night?

    And all of a sudden, we were negotiating, and our relationship grew closer. And then when I do have to deliver difficult news, when we do have to have a monetary conversation, we are in such a better place than we would be if I was in a kayak, and I just took my hands off the paddle.

    Nirmitee: Steering, there is a part of me, the bossy part of me, which feels like I'm going to now use this as a metaphor for pretty much everything I do in my personal and my professional life. That was very insightful, but you started off your conversation with the space you wanted to create, so a woman not being represented, and as a woman, you wanted to make the pie bigger. So, what's the purpose? What drives you and what do you want to accomplish?

    Alex Carter: Do you know the reason I'm sitting here with you today, and the reason I have a book published at all is that six years ago, a student of mine who had graduated and was now in law practice asked me to go to coffee. And we went to coffee, and I thought we were there to discuss some career advice for her.

    And instead, she said to me, you've had such a profound effect on my life. I want to help you achieve your legacy. What do you see as your legacy on this earth? Her name's Kristen Ferguson. I was floored. And in that moment, I answered instinctively, and I said, my mission on this earth is to hold up a mirror so that every single person who comes to me, whether it's as a student in my course, somebody I'm training in negotiation.

    And when I go into large companies, it's just a bunch of individual relationships. I see each person in that room in this way. I want them to hold up a mirror and see their highest and best and then I want to help them open up a window between them and somebody else to be able to resolve conflict, see the other person better, and see situations more clearly.

    Nirmitee: And then if somebody asked you, somebody told you, where do I start? Besides reading your book, how does one start down this journey of steering and or looking at the world in a way where you create these situations for everyone around you to be better?

    Alex Carter: The place you start is where every negotiation starts, and that's with yourself. If negotiation is about steering relationships, the most important, the most central relationship of your entire life, will be the one you have with yourself. And so, it starts with self-knowledge.

    People ask me all the time, what's the source of my power in negotiation? I think they think it's how much you can go in and physically fill up a room and I'm five two in sneakers.

    Okay? I will never be the biggest person in any room. But the expert negotiators are the people with the most knowledge, they understand themselves extremely well. They understand the situation extremely well, and then from that stable base, they're able to get to the table, listen minutely to every word the other person says, and by doing so, crawl up inside that other person's brain space and get to know them better than they know themselves.

    That's how you become an expert negotiator.

    Nirmitee: So, Alex, in your Wall Street Journal bestseller, Ask For More 10 questions to Negotiate Anything, what are the two or three most important questions? What's the distillation there?

    Alex Carter: Back when Ask For More came out, I spoke to the Wall Street Journal and they asked me, Alex, where should everybody start in negotiation? And I said, you should start here, what's the problem I want to solve?

    Most of your negotiation success, and if you're at a company, most of your company's innovation success will rise or fall on whether you are solving the right problem. That's number one.

    A question I love for people to ask is, What do I need? And making a complete list in a negotiation of the tangibles and the intangibles. The tangibles spring to mind immediately, right? It could be money, a particular role, headcount, resources, but the intangibles are really important.

    People might say, I need autonomy in this role. recognition. respect, and then I want you to ask, what does that look like for me? Because Recognition, respect, autonomy, can look totally different for you than for somebody else. So that's really important.

    And then when you're talking to somebody else, I can't tell you how many teams I train, where people come into a business development meeting, and they start with a pitch. Hi, I'm Alex. Here's what we do. Here's what we can offer.

    I tell people to walk in and ask what I call my magic question. Two words. Tell me about your business. Tell me what success would look like for you. here Tell me what's keeping you up at night? Tell me, if we were to work together and we had a phenomenal result, what would that look like in your business a year from now?

    But it doesn't matter, whether you're asking that question in a business development meeting or you're asking it of your 16-year-old when they come home from school instead of “how was your day? tell me about your day. It is the broadest possible prompt. It gives you the most information, it creates the most trust, it is the number one question that you should ask in any scenario.

    Nirmitee: Nice. I'm going to go and ask my 16-year-old “tell me how your day was instead of how was your day? Where I get meh and her staring into her phone, as most 16-year-olds do these days.

    Alex Carter: Do you know why your 16-year-old doesn't respond when you say, how was your day?

    Nirmitee: No, I wish I did

    Alex Carter: It's because how was your day is not a real question. It's a social script. It's what we do when we are sitting down together. How are you today, Nirmitee? I'm great. How are you? How was your weekend? Wonderful. How was yours? It means let's get through this so that then we can discuss the real thing we're here to talk about. And nobody recognizes a fake question more than children. They smell it and they will not answer it.

    And so, I started pivoting and I would ask my daughter, tell me about art class today. Tell me who got in trouble. Tell me the silliest thing somebody did today. And then I allowed for lots of silence and all of a sudden, we start rolling.

    Nirmitee: Nice. So, I have homework. This is awesome. Alex, thank you for your time today.

    Alex Carter: Thanks for having me.

    << MUSIC>>

    Stevie Manns: So Oscar, I know you weren't part of that conversation, but listening back, How has that made you reflect on some of the conversations or negotiations that perhaps you may have in your everyday life?

    Oscar Pulido: I think it goes back to something you said at the intro, which is that negotiation isn't just something that takes place in the workplace, that it's ongoing in our lives. And I actually like the part where Alex says, her job and her mission and her passion is resolving conflicts and helping people resolve their conflicts.

    And, that has applicability in so many parts of your life. And frankly, if we did a little bit better job at that across the world, I think we'd be in a better place.

    Stevie Manns: this was super fun. Thank you very much for going through this with me, and I look forward to your final pick next week.

    Oscar Pulido: Sounds good. We'll keep you in suspense until then.

    Stevie Manns: Okay.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. We'll be back next week with our final best of Summer series episodes. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

    <<THEME MUSIC>>

     


    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    And today we continue our best of summer series, which means I'm joined by Stevie Manns, our Bid producer. Hi Stevie.

    Stevie Manns: Hi Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: So, I think it's my turn to pick another one of my favorite episodes, and I'm going to pick the one on geospatial data and how it can impact investing. I thought this was a really fascinating episode that had an interesting personal story attached to it that I didn't anticipate. You might remember Josh and Mike joined us to talk about how they're processing all of these, I think they used the word petabytes of data, that was the quantity that they about.

    Stevie Manns: Yes, and we had to figure out how much a petabyte actually was!

    Oscar Pulido: Yeah, I don't think I had heard that term maybe before they mentioned it, but the personal story was interesting because Josh talked about a set of friends that he had living in California who were constantly having to move due to wildfires. And it was that impact that wildfires had on California families that led him down this path of wanting to understand weather patterns and one thing led to the next then all of a sudden, they're processing all these different types of data points to think about the next investment decision.

    Stevie Manns: Yes, and to be someone who's able to see something out in the wild and then bring it in and have it inform something that you do in your day job that's able to help clients, that's able to help other people. I thought that was really cool and impactful and I've found the whole conversation really insightful.

    Oscar Pulido: it also made me think that I'm just a walking data point. I'm constantly leaving some sort of trail, whether I'm at an airport, if I'm checking into a hotel. and it's not just me, all individuals have a data trail that they leave, and businesses leave data trails. And he talked about alpha hiding in plain sight and for those in the investment industry, alpha's really hard to generate. it is what you're going after, excess return versus the market. So, the fact that he painted this picture of, well, it's actually right in front of you, you need to know how to put it together and where to look was an interesting visual.

    Stevie Manns: I completely agree.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, with that, why don't we give it a listen?

    Stevie Manns: Let's do it.

    <<PREVIOUSLY APPROVED EPISODE RO 2856997 PLAYS>>

    Stevie Manns: So, Oscar, I know you work with Josh and Mike. Was there anything from that episode that perhaps you didn't know? Was there something new that you learned? What were your thoughts coming out of that discussion?

    Oscar Pulido: I think it was just a reminder of how modernized investing is becoming how much almost science there is behind it. When you think about the quantity of data, when I went to business school and was taking finance classes, we were kind of digging through a balance sheet, trying to understand the financials of a company, and that still happens, but 20 plus years later since I've graduated, there are folks processing, petabytes of data. And so, I think for me it was just a reminder of how modernized investing has become and how much you have to stay ahead of the game if you really want to truly outperform the market or try and outperform the market.

    Stevie Manns: Absolutely. And I think we're going to see AI allow for much more of that data analysis and will, I'm sure take this technology forward and take investing forward so it's an exciting space to watch.

    Oscar Pulido: I agree. And I also thought, I'm glad Josh and Mike are doing this, because I certainly couldn't!

    Stevie Manns: Oscar, this was fun. I think next time I'm going to pick the next episode.

    Oscar Pulido: Indeed. Well, thank you for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you've enjoyed The Bid so far, do subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosure

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.​

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.​

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded.

    ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.​

  • Oscar: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm Oscar Pulido.

    Today I'm pleased to welcome a co-host, Stevie Manns, The Bid's producer. Welcome, Stevie.

    Stevie: Thank you, Oscar. It's lovely to be here.

    Oscar: Stevie. I'm just the voice, but it turns out you're the mastermind behind the production of the podcast, so it's great to have you on the microphone.

    Stevie: Well, thank you Oscar, and if I may say, I think you're the host of the most!

    Oscar: I appreciate that. So, Stevie, as we wind down our production for summer, we thought we'd take a look back at some of our favorite episodes so far this year in case our audience has missed any of them. And so, you and I are each going to pick two of our favorite episodes and talk a little bit about what made them stand out for us. So, you're going to kick us off for this summer series. What's your first pick for us?

    Stevie: I'm really excited about this. So, my first pick is the Metaverse episode we did with CEO of Magic Leap, Peggy Johnson. I just loved this conversation, I loved her insights, it was such a visual episode. I loved picturing all of these future devices that we're going to be wearing, imagining what the future's going to look like. And you know what, it just brought me back to being a kid, watching the Back To The Future of Trilogy.

    Oscar: That is also one of my favorite trilogies of all time. I have the music going through my head right now.

    Stevie: Huey Lewis and The News?

    Oscar: That is definitely one of the classics. And I love the scene where he's also judging the band early in the movie, which is like a nice irony that maybe the younger generations don't fully appreciate right now.

    Stevie: I never got that until I watched it much later. I was like, that's Huey Lewis!

    Oscar: Exactly.

    Stevie: I'm a huge Star Trek fan as well so it really tickles me to see this come to life. Peggy mentioned these devices that we would be wearing, we only did this a few months ago and Apple has already come out with this new, very expensive device and that's what she threw forward to, that these devices are going to be so expensive when they come to end-consumer initially. What was it like for you to record this episode because you didn't know what she was going to say, so how did it feel to be interviewing Peggy?

    Oscar: I didn't know what she was going to say and that's probably what made it very interesting, the visual that she painted. And I was picturing myself wearing these, augmented reality glasses walking down the street, thinking about how they would help me get to the location that I need to get to. So, it did feel futuristic, but also that it wasn't that far into the future.

    Stevie: It's here. I don't know if it's here with Apple now, but it will certainly be in the next few years, I would think.

    Oscar: So, let's take a listen to the episode.

    Stevie: Let's do it.

     

    Oscar: So, Stevie, what was one of the key takeaways as you listen to that episode again?

    Stevie: I thought the stat about reducing training costs by 80% was astounding. And what that's going to give businesses the ability to do and the capacity and all the, all of those efficiencies. I think that's incredible. What about you? Was there anything else you took from that episode?

    Yeah, I think going back to the visual nature of her discussion, just the comment around the factory worker. Learning how to use a piece of machinery in a very digital format, that really resonated with me as opposed to having to leaf through a very lengthy manual of instruction. I think we've all been in a job where we've been given a manual or a handbook or a guidebook and wish that there had been a much simpler way to do it. So, I hear you there.

    Oscar: Sounds more fun. So, I think this is usually where I do the outro, but I'm going to let you do this part now.

    Stevie: Ooh. Okay. I thought you would never ask! Next up on The Bid, we’re continuing to introduce a new short-form series from the BlackRock Investment Institute on Mondays, and then it's Oscar's turn to pick his favorite Bid episode as we continue our “best of” summer series. Thank you for listening to The Bid. I'm Stevie Manns.

    Oscar: And I'm Oscar Pulido.

    Stevie: Make sure you subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosures

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. 

    For Investors in Switzerland: This document is marketing material.

    In South Africa: Please be advised that BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is an authorised Financial Services provider with the South African Financial Services Board, FSP No. 43288.

     ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    The first half of 2023 has seen its fair share of headlines and volatility across global markets, including higher interest rates, bank failures, and a dramatic US debt ceiling moment.

    As we look ahead to the second half of 2023, what are the emerging trends investors should be watching and what opportunities might these factors present?

    I'm pleased to welcome back Alex Brazier, Deputy Head of the BlackRock Investment Institute to help us look ahead to the rest of the year. Alex, welcome to The Bid.

    Alex Brazier: Thanks Oscar for having me back.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, Alex, you are back. In fact the last time we talked, we were discussing the relief that markets were feeling from the U.S. Debt ceiling agreement, and you mentioned that there was an upcoming investor Outlook forum taking place at BlackRock's headquarters in London. So perhaps, we can start with some takeaways from that forum.

    Alex Brazier: Yeah thanks, it's been a busy few weeks and as you say, we did assemble, BlackRock's most senior investors, in London two weeks ago now for two days of intense discussion. And really I think the top line conclusion I took from that is a wide acceptance that we're in a new regime, a new macro and market regime, that brings new and different investment opportunities. So this new regime is something we've been talking about for a long time, it's actually playing out now. We had 30 years of stability where central banks always came to the rescue whenever anything looked to be heading south in our economies, and we had sustained bull markets. And now we've seen major developed markets flirt with recession, and yet central banks have raising rates and certainly holding tight with their policies.

    So that's the new regime playing out from a macro perspective, but that's really not a council of despair. And the thing I took away from our meetings in London the other week is that, far from it, the opportunities may be different, but they are no less than they used to be. So, sure, this is an environment where, simple static portfolios at the broad asset class level won't any longer be the best you can do, and it's not an environment really for taking big macro risks when central banks aren't coming to the rescue.

    The opportunities now come from zooming in being precise, finding the disconnects in the way markets are pricing some of the volatility, finding relative value, and also from harnessing some of the mega forces- the big tectonic shifts in our economies that are playing out now.

    So yeah, I took away it's a new regime. It's a different regime. It's playing out but actually that means there are new and exciting opportunities that are different from the past, but no less than the past.

    Oscar Pulido: I love some of these terms that you mentioned, Alex. "Zooming in, being more precise." I think you said "mega forces" and tectonic shifts. So it sounds like it was a lively debate in London to say the least. And we've talked about this new investment regime with your colleague Wei Lee a little bit earlier in the year.

    So maybe just go into a little bit more detail about what we think this looks like when we say new investment regime and how this is playing out?

    Alex Brazier: The big shift here as I say, is we're going from a world in which most major economies, their supply capacity was just growing steadily over time. And so the job of central banks was really just to keep stoking up growth and come to the rescue whenever growth threatened to head south. And that's the way they achieved their inflation targets.

    So they had a structural easing bias. Rates were always below their neutral level. Central banks were always stoking things up, now we're moving to the opposite. And as I say, in develop developed markets, we've seen growth stall, Europe's had a recession as the energy shock has squeezed incomes. The US even on some measures, may have just about had one too, if you look at measures like gross domestic income alongside measures like gross domestic product.

    And all of this is before the full effect of central bank actions come through- tightening financial conditions, tightening credit conditions- and yet central banks are not coming to the rescue with rate cuts. In fact, they're signaling further increases. Why is that? Well, it's cuz their economies are basically overheating despite having had recessions. And that's because economies aren't able to produce as much now without generating inflation because of things like labor supply problems and energy supply problems.

    So central banks have gone from, having this sort of structural easing bias to having a structural tightening bias. They're constantly trying to hold back growth in order to get inflation down to their targets. So they're, they're holding tight, they're holding policy tight, and markets have been gradually adjusting to this. We've seen it in fixed income markets, for example, as bond markets have started to price in that, central banks won't be cutting rates this year, even as growth slows, they'll actually be keeping rates pretty high. The U.S. two year yields now up pretty significantly, and that's the market adjusting to the fact that central banks aren't coming to the rescue.

    That does create challenges for risk assets. It means more volatility, means more growth, volatility, it means more earnings volatility means more equity volatility, and risk asset volatility, but... does also mean serious opportunities for income from particularly short dated bonds where yields have risen pretty sharply and increasingly emerging opportunities to lock in some of that income with longer duration too.

    So this is a regime where there are challenges, sure, the macro regime creates more volatility, but also, central banks holding tight means higher yields means real opportunity for income in portfolios as well.

    Oscar Pulido: Yeah, and it's interesting to hear the side by side. On the one hand you're saying there are big parts of the world that might be in recession, maybe you have to look closely at the data to really see it but by textbook definitionthey're experiencing a recession or certainly a slower growth environment.

    You're saying there's gonna be more volatility, central banks are not coming to the rescue as they have in the past. But despite all of that you mentioned the opportunities are there. They're different, but they're no less. So where can investors look for those investment opportunities?

    Alex Brazier: I think this is actually the big thing coming out of our discussions in London the other week. So the first is obviously that income is back with yields, higher central banks holding tight, there are opportunities now in portfolios to lock in some of that income.

    Now, it's not a great environment for overweighting risk assets as a broad category in a portfolio, but nor is it an environment to bunker down and wait.

    Partly because in this new regime, macro volatility is just something that's here to stay. It's a fact of the regime, so it's something to adjust to rather than wait to pass. The big thing is that we're not taking big macro risks in portfolios. We're just taking different risks in portfolios. and let me, give an example of a few here.

    The first is that zooming in, within equities, there's an increasing population of stocks where investors are now compensated for some of the risks in the macro environment. And US equities, for example, remain the lion's share of our baseline portfolio. But there's also opportunity in zooming in further within developed market equities to tilt portfolios because we see opportunities, for example, in tilting equity exposures to towards Japan, where the macro pictures quite different to other developed markets.

    The Bank of Japan is still in the business of ensuring inflation that actually gets up to its target rather than trying to squeeze it down like other developed market central banks. That means growth prospects are somewhat stronger there. We also see opportunities outside developed markets, tilting portfolios towards emerging market equities where many of the macro risks are actually better reflected in market prices.

    And there's opportunities from zooming in within fixed income exposures as well. For example, towards US inflation linked bonds and away from European inflation linked bonds, given the ECBs even greater determination, we think, than the Fed to get inflation down to its 2% target. Now. All of that is just examples of how broad asset class exposures might not be the way to generate additional return in this environment, but by being precise, by zooming in to find these relative value opportunities within asset classes, actually there's real opportunities In the old regime where central banks were coming to the rescue, you didn't need to be particularly precise- broad macro exposures did the job as well as anything else in terms of generating investment return.

    But now you can do a lot better by being precise and finding some of these relative value opportunities within the asset classes.

    Oscar Pulido: And it's interesting you said don't wait for macro volatility to pass. it's here to stay, so adjust to it. And that gets me thinking that maybe investors tend to wanna wait for the coast to be

    clear and everything is calm and then they start looking for those investment opportunities but maybe by then it might be too late and markets have moved and you've highlighted some of the areas that they should be identifying. You also mentioned mega forces. How many are there and why are these important?

    Alex Brazier: we're highlighting five,in our outlook. what do we mean by megaforce? we mean these sort of big tectonic shifts in the way the world economy works and the way economies work that are gonna have a big effect, not just at the macro level but also on which companies win out relative to others, so they're gonna be a big driver of returns. And again, this is part of the general theme of focusing less on the macro picture and more on what are the underlying forces and what winners are they gonna create? So a good example of that's in the first half of this year. Where one of these big forces, these mega forces, turned out to be as important as the Federal Reserve in driving the SNP 500. And that is, the growth of artificial intelligence.

    Over the first half of the year, much of the US equity performance has been driven by a handful of stocks reflecting the realization, I think, of the potential of some forms of AI and in particular the need for semiconductors and other chips to enable that to happen. So it's a real example of how even in a difficult macro situation, some of these mega forces, these themes, can be much more important as a driver of return. And actually, as we say in the Outlook document, we think that artificial intelligence theme could actually have further to run too, because looking carefully at it, there's not just opportunities in some of the chip needs but also in the needs for data to actually really exploit the power of AI.

    So people who are involved in putting data sets together, cleaning data, making it able to be accessed for large language models, for example, stand to gain from this trend. And it's not the only mega force in town either. As I say, we've got five of them in the report, it's not just the growth of artificial intelligence, it's also aging populations.

    It's also a rewiring of globalization, of course, the transition to a lower carbon economy, and also a reshaping of the financial system as well. So these are big mega forces, big drivers of relative returns, and as we say in our outlook, things to be harnessed, opportunities to be gained to increase returns in this new regime.

    Oscar Pulido: And these mega forces feel like they have a long-term nature to them. but you mentioned that they've also impacted year to date returns with artificial intelligence being just as important as what Jay Powell was saying at the Fed. And you see that in the performance of markets, but AI gets a lot of attention so maybe talk about a few of these other, mega forces in more detail. You mentioned aging population, the rewiring of the global economy, I think is how you phrased it. Why are these important?

    Alex Brazier: Well, it's not just that they'll shape the macro picture looking ahead. The forces we're looking at here, unlike AI actually are all things that will limit the capacity of economies to supply goods and services, at least for a period. Take aging populations, for example, as we age,as a collectively age at least, dependency ratios go up, there are more older people relative to people in the working age population. That means economies produce less, but they don't, in and of themselves demand less. The mix of spending in economies shifts towards things like healthcare, and that means they're generally inflationary. Central banks face a challenge. They have to, as we were saying in this new regime, hold tight to try and keep inflation down towards their targets, but

    they don't just affect the macro picture. Because they change the mix of spending towards things like healthcare, they actually changed the mix of, earnings in the economy as well.

    And so looking for opportunities where the aging of populations isn't really fully reflected in company growth expectations in things like healthcare or elderly care. It potentially creates interesting investment opportunities.

    The other around, the rewiring of globalization is really the ongoing fragmentation of the global economy. We've been through a very long period where the only thing guiding supply chain construction was economic efficiency. We're now entering a period where it's not all about efficiency, it's about geopolitics as well. That's gonna reduce the efficiency of supply chains. It's gonna, again, hold back the supply capacity of economies, it's gonna shape the macro picture, but potentially creates really interesting investment opportunities as those supply chains rewire.

    So where will new industrial capacity be built as supply chains are rewired? Is that reflected in pricing of securities in those geographies? Those are interesting questions to us for harnessing this particular megatrend, which sounds like it's a negative. And maybe is at the macro level, but actually creates interesting opportunities at the sector or company level.

    And then of course, there's the transition to a lower carbon economy, which to us is being driven by policy, by technology, by changes in consumer preferences. And we're trying to assess how are those things changing? How is it gonna shape company earnings over time? And is that reflected again in, in market prices?

    So to us we treat all of these mega forces in the same way as we treat Jay Powell. We ask, what does it mean for where the economy is heading? Is that reflected in prices and where it's not? That creates interesting investment opportunities.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Alex, if I were to summarize a lot of what you mentioned, there's a lot happening. The new investment regime that you and colleagues from the BlackRock Investment Institute have mentioned. It's playing out, it's here to stay. And the investment opportunities are there. They might be different than what they've been in prior regimes, but they exist.

    Alex Brazier: Absolutely right.Not the same opportunities, but lots of new opportunities.

    Oscar Pulido: And Alex, maybe just a final question, which is when you describe this investor forum in London, is it a pretty cordial discussion or is it some good debate between the investors.

    Alex Brazier: Yeah, it's, it's always pretty cordial, but, pretty healthy debate, I would say, especially in something like a new regime where we're collectively getting to grips with what the new dynamics are and where the new opportunities are. But I think everyone feels this is an exciting time. It's a new regime with a new playbook and new things to figure out, and that's a real opportunity for us to help our clients.

    Oscar Pulido: All right, we'll look forward to hearing more c color commentary the next time one of these investor forms takes place. And Alex, as always, thank you for joining us on The.

    Alex Brazier: Thank you.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode, or The, Bid. Next up on The Bid. we're introducing our new weekly short form series from the BlackRock Investment Institute called Market Take.

    Market. Take is a quick digest of what's driving markets and will be available as its own podcast where you can subscribe. You'll be able to hear the first three episodes right here on The Bid for the next few weeks on Mondays. So look out for our new market take series starting in July.

     

    Disclosures

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. 

    For Investors in Switzerland: This document is marketing material.

    In South Africa: Please be advised that BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is an authorised Financial Services provider with the South African Financial Services Board, FSP No. 43288.

     ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.

     

  • Mark Wiedman: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Mark Wiedman. Today we're talking about food: from the farm to your fork, to your recycling or compost bin. I'm pleased to welcome Mark Schneider, the CEO of Nestle. Nestle is the world's largest food and beverage company1 with more than 2000 brands and products in 188 countries. What does Nestle have to do with the transition? Well, the processing, the packaging, the distribution and the consumption of food actually produces about a third of human greenhouse gas emissions2. In this episode, we're going to talk about why and how Nestle is transforming their value chain in the transition to a low carbon economy. Mark, welcome to The Bid.

     

    Mark Schneider: Thanks for having me.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Why don't we start by talking about Nestle and your business?

     

    Mark Schneider: To a US audience, Nestle is mainly known as a chocolate maker, but of course we do cover wide range of food and beverage products. In fact, we're the world's largest food and beverage company with about 94 billion Swiss francs of revenue in 2022. And we cover all the main categories in food and beverage from coffee to pet care, to medical nutrition, infant nutrition, and of course, the chocolate that we're so well known for. And, that also means, we are exposed to a wide number of agricultural commodities that are needed to make these products.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Let's talk about Nestle and carbon emissions and start by why does it matter to Nestle what your carbon emissions are?

     

    Mark Schneider: It matters to Nestle because when people think about greenhouse gas emissions, what comes to mind first is: air travel, automotive, energy generation, a heavy industry. But in fact, food production around the world is very much linked to greenhouse gas emissions. So depending on what study you look at, between a quarter and a third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are caused by agriculture, so food and beverage production, and unlike many other activities, eating and drinking is not something that we can go without. As the leading company in this space, we feel an obligation to do something, and I believe this is part of future proofing the business. Just like you futureproof the business through convincing research and development and new products. So one additional feature that you want to work for is a better greenhouse gas footprint.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What is your roadmap layout in a few simple bullets, and how are you tracking?

     

    Mark Schneider: So minus 20% by 2025. This is judging from 2018 levels and it's regardless of the growth we achieve in between and it's the totality of all greenhouse gases, so not just co2. So that means we also need to tackle methane, which in some cases is trickier than co2. It's minus 50% by 2030. then it's that famous net zero by 2050.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What are you most concerned about in terms of achieving your 2030 objective? What's the biggest obstacle?

     

    Mark Schneider: There's a set of pretty steep mountains to climb. There's not just one individual obstacle here, but, clearly, we all had to run these projects. Some of them have tremendous lead time, so something you're doing now may give your results two or three years down the road only. And so learning how to try that to be sure that there is consistent improvement over time. I think that's also something that we had to train the organization on because, we had not done it before.

     

     

    Mark Wiedman: Could you explain how food and the production of food and its disposal emits carbon? How does that work?

     

    Mark Schneider: There's of course the carbon footprint of our operations. Some of the operations in our factories, the logistics both inbound in factories and outbound. All the things you would associate with the company's operations, including travel. That is the easiest part. And that's the part where we are already picking a lot of low-hanging fruit. And then there is about more than two-thirds that really sit in our agricultural supply chain. So this is the greenhouse gas emissions that come about as the key commodity ingredients that we use for our products are produced. And that's the hardest part, and that's the steepest hill to climb.

     

    Mark Wiedman: So what produces those carbon emissions in the chain from planting food to getting it into your factories?

     

    Mark Schneider: Well, It depends on the ingredient. But the key greenhouse gas emissions are related to everything associated with livestock. Think about dairy production. Think about meat. So there you have to first of all generate the food. And then, cattle in particular, you have methane emissions that come from the digestion and so it all adds up to a very powerful mix of CO2 emissions, methane emissions, that are very significant and a lot higher than with plant-based products.

     

    Mark Wiedman: So animals, especially cows, lead to lots of carbon emissions, but there's also carbon emissions even with producing plants and vegetables, and other ingredients that feed into your food. Where does that carbon get emitted?

     

    Mark Schneider: So a lot there has to do with the way we do our farming. In some cases, unfortunately there's deforestation to begin with, to create farmable land. Then the way we look after our soil, we tend to deplete the soil and that of course leads to a lot of, CO2 release from that soil into the atmosphere. It also leads to degradation of the quality of soil over time. So clearly changing our methods of farming and switching to either conservation agriculture or regenerative agriculture is a key unlock when it comes to improving the greenhouse gas footprint.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What is regenerative agriculture?

     

    Mark Schneider: Some of the common themes as part of regenerative agriculture are taking good care of the soil, keeping it covered at all times, having cover crops, having intermittent cropping minimum or low tillage. And just trying to keep the water management of the soil at its optimum. This way over time, not only do you avoid the depletion of the soil, but you can also in fact add to it and capture some additional carbon. There's also conservation agriculture. All of them are a material improvement over some of the traditional agricultural methods that are being used widespread today.

     

    Mark Wiedman: So how are you working with your supply chain? How do you work with farmers?

     

    Mark Schneider: So this is the key challenge. In addition to intermediate suppliers, commodity exchanges, we're dealing with six to 700,000 farmers directly around the world, or in some cases cooperatives. And, you can't just throw your weight around and tell them how to do it in a different manner the next day. You have to give them help. They're the most exposed part of the supply chain. They're immediately exposed to the maladies of the climate and weather, their capital cushion is a lot lower than many of the other businesses in the supply chain. And so this is where we need to give a helping hand. We call that concept a just transition. So it's about giving technological help. It's about also giving some of the micro lending and, financial support or paying a premium for products that are made according to these practices.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Mark, give us some concrete examples.

     

    Mark Schneider: So a good example is in cocoa farming where independent of the size of the farm, we are paying for a number of practices that we consider to be important for the long-term success of the farm, and also for preserving human rights and avoiding child labor , for example. So independent of the size of the farm, if you send your kids to school, we pay premium for that. If you're pruning your trees we pay premium for that. And if you fulfill all of the requirements, we pay some additional premium on top of that. And so this way, we're helping the farmers switch to more regenerative practices at the same time avoid issues such as, child labor and lead to higher farmer incomes.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What's the biggest resistance that you hear from farmers?

     

    Mark Schneider: The initial conversion from that traditional industrial agriculture to regenerative agriculture, day one requires some additional investment, and usually comes with a period of 2, 3, 4, 5 years of reduced outputs. So literally it's investing more and earning less, which of course, to anyone around the world, would not be an attractive proposition. And so people are reluctant to do this. You also then have to provide that safety net that people can make it through that period, and without too much of a financial disadvantage.

     

    Mark Wiedman: How much of a production loss might that experience during those first few years?

     

    Mark Schneider: Very much depends on the location of the crop, and this is another thing we have to do, it's not about basically writing one set of guidelines and then, one size fits all, rolling it out. You really have to work on that location specific solution. But it depends a lot on the specific circumstance.

     

    Mark Wiedman: At Nestle, you touch farming, packaging, the production of actual food, logistics, recycling. Across that whole chain, where do you see the most promise for decarbonization?

     

    Mark Schneider: Clearly in the supply chain, and unfortunately, that is the hardest part. And of course, you're literally removing greenhouse gas emissions, one kilogram, one ton at a time in so many places around the world. So there's not one factory that you switch around and turn around and then all of a sudden problem solved. It's an incredibly decentralized job that is why it takes some time to be effective.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What about the product itself? Is there low carbon product?

     

    Mark Schneider: I think there are products that by design have a lower greenhouse gas footprint, and so any plant-based alternative compared to a meat based one, for example, has that and consumers like that feature, in addition to any potential health benefits.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What are you hearing from customers about their willingness to shift to plant-based alternatives from traditional cow-based production?

     

    Mark Schneider: I think there is significant interest out there and for a number of different reasons. So clearly, environmental concerns are one. Animal cruelty, especially among the youngest of consumers, that's another key reason to switch to those products. And then for quite a few middle-aged consumers, there is an interest in switching to plant-based, simply due to health considerations, because quite often, we're offering a similar amount of protein with lower amounts of saturated fat and lower total calories.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Many of your products are sold to supermarkets. How do the prices compare for low carbon versus high carbon food?

     

    Mark Schneider: So in the case of plant-based initially they were more expensive and they still are more expensive. Some of that is simply the fact that they were positioned as more premium products. Some of it is the fact that, some key ingredients such as, soy isolates, pea isolates were initially in short demand. I think over time this will even out. And there is no reason why, in the long term, these products should be more expensive, because, when you look at the way they're being made, it's so much simpler to just basically have the crop and turn it into a product, as opposed to, having a crop, feeding an animal, and then making the product from that.

     

    Mark Wiedman: I think a lot of our listeners understand decarbonization in the automotive sector. What's the biggest opportunity for making consumers more aware of the carbon impact of what they eat?

     

    Mark Schneider: I think, some sort of standardized consumer facing labeling would certainly be helpful. Because right now everyone is using their own terminology. So I could easily envision a world where, in addition to some basic nutritional information, there would also be another label that gives basic environmental information, but gives it in a way that is standardized and harmonized across the industry. And then when it comes to the companies, I think, a pretty harmonized carbon disclosure is also very helpful so that investors and other stakeholders can basically form their own opinion.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Where do you look to for having standardized disclosures for customers and shareholders?

     

    Mark Schneider: Well, I think for the customers, it tends to be pretty much a country by country approach. It's the same for nutritional values so this is where you have to respect, you know, sovereignty and people taking care of their consumers within their jurisdiction. When it comes to, the corporate disclosures, I think there you have a better angle when it comes to international standards. You know, it could be under some of the disclosure rules, it could be under international agreements. There has been, for example, a very promising project led by

    the World Economic Forum, trying to harmonize some of those. And obviously the audit firms also have an interest in agreeing on harmonized standards here.

     

    Mark Wiedman: From a policy perspective, it may not be a straight line, but from consumer demand, is it a straight line? Are we seeing continuous demand increasing for decarbonized product?

     

    Mark Schneider: So generally it was, then came COVID and then came the inflation wave. And so currently we're also dealing with affordability issues. Understandably when these products are more expensive, that diminishes some of the growth expectations short term. But I would be very surprised if, longer term you wouldn't see a resurgence of interest because the interest in the environment, interest in animal rights, I think all of those are on the rise.

     

    Mark Wiedman: As a CEO, you have to disclose your carbon footprint. What are the biggest barriers for Nestle? What are the biggest obstacles to an efficient, clean, clear disclosures?

     

    Mark Schneider: I mean, the key problem is, I don't have to disclose it as a CEO, and so people don't. And we do, we're quite committed to this, and every year you can see our progress. And in fact, we're one of the few companies where, in spite of our growth, the greenhouse gas emissions are already below our 2018 baseline and year after year, you'll be able to track our progress and you'll be able to judge whether we are in line with that net zero roadmap that we issued. But many companies don't bother to disclose. You have no idea where they are. And of course, you have to assume that it's not a priority, and that to me creates an uneven playing field and something that needs fixing.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Mark, you joined Nestle six and a half years ago. How has your vision of decarbonization and your Nestle strategy changed during that period?

     

    Mark Schneider: I think it gathered intensity, and to me, the key starting shot was that we were taking that pledge, according to the science based targets in 2019, that we were basically managing our greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and that means limiting the rise of temperatures to one and a half degrees over pre-industrialized levels. And under those rules, then once you take that pledge, which of course is a highly public thing, within two years, you're required to issue a set of, time-bound intermediate targets and also specific steps on how to get there. That's our net zero roadmap, which we issued within one year of taking the pledge. Cause frankly, one of the reasons we had here was we, didn't wanna wait two years, this is an urgent matter and clearly plans rarely get better in the second years of their making. And so, when that came out, it was seen as the gold standard in how to do it in food and beverage, and that really gave incredible clarity to the organization and what they had to do and what the levers were, and it really galvanized the entire firm and added a lot of intensity.

     

    Mark Wiedman: When you look at what Nestle needs to learn from other sectors, other industries, and what other industries can learn from Nestle, what would you highlight?

     

    Mark Schneider: I think on the inside of the firm, our operations, this is where we do a lot of benchmarking with other industries, to see what the best practice is and, uh, what we can do, where we have no role model to look to is when we look upstream in our supply chain. This is where everyone is learning with us. And so this is literally learning by doing. And sometimes you make mistakes. You find a dead end that's not giving you the results you want. You have to give up on that, and then double down on something else that gives you better results. So this is a lot of trial and error. But of course at the same time, you have to work fast because, if you want to meet the first intermediate goal, which is a minus 20 percent by 2025, there's not a lot of time left.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What's the number one criticism you receive either at Nestle or in your industry that you think is fair?

     

    Mark Schneider: I do think in addition to the greenhouse gas footprint, the one other key concern that is highly visible is plastic spillage into the environment as a result of packaging being discarded. And so plastic has a lot of advantages when it comes to product safety and shelf life and avoiding food loss. But obviously, we have to work on better recycling systems. We have to work the spillage of plastic into the environment, and that one is highly visible. Unlike carbon, which is not visible, the plastic bottle on the beach somewhere that is highly visible and so consumers are quite concerned rightfully so.

     

    Mark Wiedman: What's the most important thing to get the world to net zero?

     

    Mark Schneider: I think consistent effort. That to me is key. And not just in our industry, but also elsewhere. If regulators and the public sort of fade in and out of this, nothing will get done because whether it's our industry over industries, I think all of this is long-term effort and, step by step we can get there.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Mark, thank you for being so generous with your time and your thoughts.

     

    Mark Schneider: Thanks for having me.

     

    Mark Wiedman: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. Make sure you subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

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  • Oscar: Welcome to The Bid where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    As we approach the midway point of 2023, the economy has had a turbulent ride thus far. This year, we've seen bank failures across the globe, a debt ceiling showdown in the US, high inflation and central banks raising interest rates to their highest rates in over a decade.

    The typical 60:40 portfolio. needed an overhaul after a rocky 2022, and investors are looking for a new balance. But during that reassessment, one asset class seems to be having a standout moment among investors That asset class is gold. In this episode, we will take a look into the history of this commodity and what investors should consider when allocating to gold in their portfolios.

    I'm pleased to welcome back Gargi Pal Chaudhuri, Head of iShare's Investment Strategy, to help us take another look at why gold is having its moment to shine.

    Gargi: Gargi, welcome to The Bid. Oscar, it's wonderful to be here.

    Oscar: You have a special seat, on The Bid podcast Gargi, you're a frequent guest. And today we're talking about gold, which is having a bit of a moment, and I think when a lot of people think about gold, they think about the gold rush of the 1800s or maybe a piece of jewelry, or maybe the color of the sky in New York in recent periods. But we're actually talking about gold as an investment. So, tell us a little bit about the history of gold as an investment in a portfolio.

    Gargi: So, you ask an important question around the history of gold and thinking back, 2-3 thousand years ago, gold was still very much a medium of exchange.

    It was a store of value and artifact of beauty. I think more recently, if you look back to about 700 BC, that's when we were really thinking about gold as a medium of exchange, a medium of payment. If you think about what happened in the 1790s with the Mint And Coinage Act US Congress passed that act putting a fixed price on gold with parity to the dollar.

    And more recently, in 1971 when we broke the gold connection with the dollar, I think all of this was the period where, Gold came to the forefront as an investment as that second thing that we were talking about, which is around the medium of exchange and a store of value.

    And I think it's important to think about why we as investors gravitate towards gold, and I'm sure we're going to talk more about it, but why is it gold? Why isn't it something else? When we are talking about precious commodities, and I'm Indian, as you can hear from the voice.

    And obviously historically my family, has invested in gold. But why? And if you think about the periodic table and you look at all the elements and you take out the ones that are reactive to air or react with water or rust

    too easily, you're left with very few that can actually stand the test of time, that can be stored without getting rusted, that are ductile and malleable.

    That is why it has, held its value held its status as something that can be a source of investment and also be all of those other things like a medium of exchange and of course, artifact of beauty.

    Oscar: So, you took us back to 700 BC, so you went way back in the history books to start to tell us a little bit about gold as an investment, but why is it having a moment right now if it's been around for so long? What is it about this particular period that is bringing it back into the spotlight?

    Gargi: A few things. So, number one, there is a lot of concern around economic growth and historically we have found when there are periods of concern around the future of global growth, investors have turned to assets like gold, which are likely to be a good diversifier to traditional investments such as equities, such as bonds. So, number one, there is some concern right now around the growth dynamic globally of the US. So that's one reason. Number two, I think geopolitical fragmentation, geopolitical risks. Especially when you think back to just last year with the war in Europe, with Russia, Ukraine, that led to a lot of angst. Again, if we thought about what were some of the concerns you had for 2021, none of us put war in the forefront in 2021, for 22. So, I do think this geopolitical risk that arose and actually frankly concerns around more geopolitical political risks that might be abound is another reason that investors are thinking about gold as an alternative.

    Another reason, and I think this is a very interesting and important one, is the path of interest rates and the part of the US dollar. And we talk about the path of interest rates, and particularly it's the path of real interest rates, so inflation adjusted interest rates. Remembering that while gold bangles are beautiful, and while gold can be stored in a vault for centuries, it still doesn't have a yield. So, when you buy a bond, you have an income associated with it, you have a coupon associated with it. When you buy a stock, you might earn some dividends associated with it. Gold does not have that. It's a non-yielding asset. So, in a world if interest rates are moving higher, you can gravitate towards the bond markets to earn that higher interest rates. You might not be as attracted to gold.

    But in a world where you expect interest rates to move lower or remain stable, if you expect real interest rates, so that inflation adjusted interest rates to move lower, I think investors could find gold, more attractive in those moments. And I certainly think that's happening right now.

    And then another one, we talked about the dollar, but I do think, historically the dollar and the gold has had a negative correlation. So again, if your expectation is for the dollar to decline or even just not to increase anymore, that could be another powerful dynamic for adding gold to a portfolio.

    But for all of the things that I mentioned, I think two that are probably in the forefront of investors' minds right now, are number one this diversification away from the dollar, and we've seen many central banks, especially in the emerging markets, we've seen central banks such as China, India, Russia, that have been adding to their gold reserves to diversify away from the dollar. So that is something that's happening. It's been happening for a few years now, but certainly has been pretty profound in the last couple of months. And then the second one is this fear of a geopolitical event or a global growth slowdown that is driving this current moment and this current price action.

    Oscar: So, you mentioned a number of things that impact the price of gold. But maybe just to go back to interest rates for a quick second- because it feels like that's always something that we're talking about, especially when we have you on The Bid- which is on interest rates if they're high, that all else equal doesn't make gold that appealing. But you're saying that it's not just the level of interest rates, but what they look like adjusted for inflation, and if those are headed lower, then that might provide a little bit of demand for gold in the market.

    Gargi: So, it's a very good clarification, Oscar. We have to remember that markets are forward looking, so it is what investors expect interest rates to do. So, if I own a real rate, so if I own an inflation linked bond, for example, and I expect that real interest rate that I'm earning by owning that bond to go lower in the next six months or next year. Those are the two options, you own the bond that real interest rates that you're earning right now, it could go lower, or you could own that, and you expect that real interest rate on that inflation like bond could go higher.

    So, in each of those scenarios, you are still earning a coupon on your inflation-linked bond. When your expectation is that real interest rates can either remain here or actually real interest rates are so low and remember in the US that real interest rates were zero or negative for a long period of time, then you might think that you could own a non-yielding asset, which might give you a better outcome.

    But if real interest rates are you hold them, you expect them to remain pretty steady and you don't expect them to go lower in the near term, that's when you might want to gravitate towards gold. So, it's that relationship between real interest rates falling in a falling real rate environment you might want to gravitate towards gold as opposed to in a rising real rate environment where you might want to think about waiting to buy the real rates. Does that make sense?

    Oscar: It does make sense? And I think another reason that investors look at gold is the belief that it's a hedge against inflation. is that a correct assumption for investors to make?

    Gargi: Yeah, a lot of times, I have clients that talk to me about inflation and they're looking for that ultimate inflation hedge and investors turn to gold.

    Historically, if you look at price performance, there was one period of time in the seventies, very, specifically in the early seventies where inflation, as we know, was in the double digits, and when gold was a hedge. Outside of that though no other period of high or very high inflation has actually resulted in gold being a good hedge.

    So, outside of that very early 1971-1974 period we haven't found gold to be a good inflation hedge. What it has been is a good geopolitical hedge. What it has been is not so much an inflation hedge, but a hedge where more of a stagflation hedge actually, where again, if you expect real interest rates to go lower, which you would in a stagflationary environment, that's when it has actually worked as a better hedge.

    So, I think it's a little bit of a misconception. And when you look at the performance of gold, it's been more mixed in inflationary or very high inflationary periods outside of that one time that I mentioned, but when we expect real rates to move lower- and by the way right now, I do expect real rates will stay at current levels for some time and then eventually by the end of this year or next year, start moving lower- I think that could be one catalyst for gold to remain in the forefront of investors' minds.

    Oscar: You also mentioned the periodic table, I must admit I pulled it up, a couple days ago, but partly in anticipation that you and I would be speaking and actually, do you remember the symbol for gold on the periodic table.

    Gargi: Come on! Au!

    Oscar: Okay. Okay I remembered it too, but I needed to look at the periodic table and you touched on that there are other metals That have similar characteristics, there's not many, but there's things like silver, platinum, palladium,

    Gargi: Rhodium, palladium,

    Oscar: Very good, so now, why are those, not benefiting from this moment that gold is having? Or are they?

    Gargi: Historically gold has been this really respected, metal, right? I would classify gold and silver in the same bucket. Obviously silver, not as much as gold. Rhodium and palladium were discovered much later, centuries later, we weren't reading about them in the time of the Egyptians and Bhagavad Gita and the Iliad and Odyssey, which all mentioned gold actually. So, they weren't around because they just weren't discovered. Platinum has a very high melting point, which again, you couldn't use that, especially in the olden days, you couldn't use that to build gold blocks or gold nuggets, et cetera. You couldn't use that melted down to create jewelry, now you can because modern technology- high temperature furnace- but you couldn't back in the day.

    So today silver certainly can have its moment, but this risk of hedge characteristic, so all the things that I talked about earlier when it pertains to, geopolitical risk, that certainly resides more with gold. And that's because gold has, historically, we went back and talked about the 700 BC, the form of payment the 1792 Coinage Act, if you look forward 1934 Act, historically there has been a lot of correlation of gold as currency, gold as method of payment. Until 1971 you had to have your currency backed by gold, and then of course, in 1971 that was, dismissed. But silver and platinum never had that. So now, even though we don't live in a world when any currency globally is backed by gold anymore, those other elements just don't have that same cash to them, if you will.

    I'll also add that when we think about silver or when we think about, any other precious metals, we always think about what are the users of it. So, silver does have many other users, obviously, in addition to being used for jewelry, you can use it for, other purposes, which gold can't be. So, I, I think depending on what you are looking for as an investor, Silver can be a very good addition to your portfolio, but it might not have the same risk of geopolitical risk, hedge diversifier for your US dollar reserve that gold does.

    Oscar: Essentially gold just has a longer history and sort of unique aspects to its story of why it serves as an investment in a portfolio. And I think for much of that history, only until maybe recently, buying gold was a clunky exercise, literally buying gold bars, which are heavy, and you've stored them somewhere, in a personal safe. But that's changed dramatically over the last 15 or 20 years, right? So maybe talk a little bit about how investing in gold has modernized.

    Gargi: So, to your point, you could invest in gold as a form of jewelry, but if you invested in gold bar form then there was the cost of storage, not only is it finding a place to store but the cost of that storage, not everybody has the capability of renting out space in a huge vault to store their gold bars. Or even if they do, I think that that's an expensive proposition. I think what we have seen in modern days today if you're an investor looking to invest in gold, there are a few ways to do it.

    Obviously, you can participate in the futures market that's the right or the option to buy gold in the futures market - that's not actually gold. What many investors, especially those that are truly worried about a geopolitical risk event or a massive global growth shock, you actually want to see that asset that you own, and I think the rise of gold ETFs where when you buy that ETF you know that your ETF is backed by gold, which is in a vault in New York or London.

    That has risen in the past few decades and that has given everyone, you don't have to be a rich billionaire with a home in Switzerland and a vault to have access to storing gold. You can, buy an ETF that gives you access to gold and do it in a very liquid and very efficient manner.

    Oscar: I'm laughing a bit because I think about some of the recent episodes we've done, which hopefully you've listened to as well, and we talk about things like artificial intelligence, we've talked about digitization, and here we are talking about gold, which, feels like a bit of a relic in investment market. So how is it that gold has endured during this digital age?

    Gargi: Sure. the risk of sounding like a relic, which I don't want to, I will say that gold has survived because it can be a diversifier in your portfolio. It gives you that ballast, and it can be tactically an opportunity for investors looking to invest in the face of slowing a growth shock or geopolitical tensions. And that has held through many business cycles. I'll also say another big reason that we're talking about gold now is that historically for institutions looking to trade gold, it has been a pretty expensive venture. We talked about that, the storage costs and things like that.

    ETFs now more recently have helped and accomplish the digitization, for gold for every type of investor. For more sophisticated clients using technology such as blockchain ledger, having a digital gold currency could help institutions trade even more efficiently.

    So, we have alleviated some of the issues that may have existed a few decades ago with digitization. And the main reason that we are still talking about gold is some of the drivers of gold that existed a hundred years ago. And what we talked about when we started the show in terms of holding its value, being a medium of exchange and being an artifact of beauty. Many of those things still hold, and that's why we are here talking about it. But the good news is it has entered the digitized age with ETFs, allowing every type of investor to have gold backed, ETFs in their portfolio.

    Oscar: Gargi, you've given us a great history lesson. You also wore a piece of gold jewelry today that I noticed, and I think there's a little bit of a story behind it.

    Gargi: I did. So, I got married 15 years ago, and as I mentioned, I'm Indian, so for many of you who don't know this, Indians are actually the largest buyers of gold for wedding jewelry purposes. And I wore my wedding jewelry for this podcast to bring home that point. And there is such a thing as wedding season demand. So, every year in September, August or September, October, you'll hear people in the western world talk about demand for gold coming from Indian wedding season. And it's so exciting whenever I hear someone random talking about it! And based on what I'm wearing, in my hands right now, it is factually correct. Lot of Indian wedding gold demand.

    Oscar: Well, thank you for bringing that special token to today's podcast. And thank you again for joining us on The Bid.

    Gargi: Thank you for having me.

    Oscar: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. Don't miss the next episode featuring our midyear outlook. And subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosures

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. 

    For Investors in Switzerland: This document is marketing material.

    In South Africa: Please be advised that BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is an authorised Financial Services provider with the South African Financial Services Board, FSP No. 43288.

     ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Historically, cash has often been seen as a temporary parking place for funds or as a means to bridge the gap between investment opportunities. However, with higher interest rates in effect and global economic uncertainties looming, cash has emerged as an asset class that demands another look. So how might investors consider cash as an asset class right now?

    I'm pleased to welcome Beccy Milchem, Head of International Cash Management at BlackRock. Becky will join us to talk about the role of central banks and their recent rate announcements, how technology might impact the future of the asset class, and the top three things investors should consider when it comes to cash in uncertain market conditions.

    Becky, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Beccy Milchem: Thank you for having me, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Becky, today we're talking about cash, which I have to imagine is a topic that is of interest to a lot of people. but when I think about cash, I think about currency and bills in my hand. But when you think about it from the context of an investor's portfolio, I think it means more than that. So maybe you can help elaborate on that a bit.

    Beccy Milchem: Yeah, and I think it's a really good point. The term cash can mean different things to different investors. From readily available overnight cash, which could be held in a bank deposit or an overnight money market fund to cash and cash equivalents, which could encompass things that term out a little bit more, typically out to three months. Or even anything out as far as 12 months to two years and physical, money market securities that are held within a portfolio.

    Oscar Pulido: And I think of the. phrase "cash is king" that seems to be something that gets said once in a while, but actually for many years, over the last 10 or so, with interest rates so low, it was quite punitive, I think, to have cash- you weren't earning much of a rate of interest. Now we're going through a cycle where central banks have been hiking interest rates quite aggressively, so how does that impact now the way in which investors are thinking about their cash allocation and their portfolios?

    Beccy Milchem: Yeah, and I've always preferred the term Cash Is Queen! I think we went through a long period of time where people really didn't focus on it. As the world went into lockdowns, central banks were responding quickly to help economies, and many reacted by taking interest rates down to near zero or maintaining negative rates. These lower base rates were intended to feed through to lower borrowing costs for businesses and households so that lending didn't grind to halt and that people were able to keep spending.

    As an investor of cash through our money market funds, we really had to be focused on client needs through those initial lockdown periods, and the reactions to problems that we all faced and what that meant for clients’ liquidity needs. In times of market volatility, we know that liquidity is a priority for all types of clients, and we will typically hold much higher levels of overnight and weekly liquidity in the money market funds that, that we manage. The aftereffects of the pandemic though and how central banks are reacting now is also having a very direct effect on cash investors. Global shutdowns meant that we have experienced a huge global supply shock with certain parts and goods very limited in availability, which has had a knock-on effect on prices increasing as demand has outweighed supply, and the war in the Ukraine has further compounded this issue but also not helped investor confidence levels. While some of those higher cash balances that people had through the peak of the pandemic are being spent down as a necessity.

    What we're finding is investors are still really cautious about dipping a toe back in and taking more risks, so actually there are a lot of people still holding higher levels of cash.

    From late 2021, we saw the Bank of England make the step to increase interest rates, and they have been followed by the Fed in March 2022 and the ECB, which moved its deposit rate back to zero in July last year, having maintained a negative deposit rate since 2014. Each central bank is attempting to combat rising prices by slowing demand, and we have seen a steady pace of increases up to this point.

    From a cash perspective, we've gone from an environment where the opportunity costs of returns, to your point around different cash investment options was really low, and thus cash probably became a bit of an afterthought within portfolios. And what we've seen in the last few months is that with interest rates constantly moving higher, a more proactive approach to managing cash is definitely warranted.

    One of the reasons that many investors have turned to money market funds is to help them proactively manage duration, risk, and effectively outsource this to a team of portfolio managers whose job is dedicated to the cash investment options available through money markets. Typically, money market funds will position themselves extremely short in duration ahead of expected central bank hikes that the fund has dry powder to deploy post the rate increase and will quickly reflect a prevailing market rate.

    Oscar Pulido: I think we're used to seeing sort of volatility in the stock markets, and for that matter, we've seen a lot of volatility in the bond markets, but you've also highlighted that there's just a lot going on in the cash markets with changes in interest rates across the world. Now this also reminds me, I've heard you say that not all liquidity is created equal. So, what do you mean exactly by that?

    Beccy Milchem: So, one thing that I think tends to be common amongst cash investors is that when you have a need for cash, you want to make sure you have access to it and a reasonable amount of certainty as to what you have to hand.

    Now, for us and for many investors, the ultimate liquidity is that overnight cash bucket, because you know you've got it there when you need it. And as I touched on earlier, one observation I would make about the last year is that coming out of near zero or negative interest rates into an extremely dynamic interest rate environment has meant that it has been very challenging to make the right call if you are terming out your cash investments beyond overnight.

    When you've been at zero and suddenly there is something on the table, it's quite easy to have that bit of a magpie moment of something bright and shiny that's not zero and jump straight in. And what we've seen is a lot of investors locking up money for a few months or even a year, which might have looked really attractive at first, but when you consider how far central banks have moved, The Bank of England, has moved, 12 times in between that December 2021 and May this year. So many of the term exposures that clients may have invested in might not have paid off through the duration of that investment. We often hear of term deposits with banks being self-liquidating, which is true if you don't need the cash until maturity, but it's definitely not the case if you need it before. Term bank deposits are typically unbreakable, meaning that you have to pay a penalty if cash is accessed early. And similarly, if you need to

    raise cash by selling direct investments in money market securities, there will be a price to pay if that instrument is not offering the prevailing rate.

    Now, the case in point here has really been the short-term US T-Mobile market. In the run up to the debt ceiling debate, so highly rated short-term government bills typically offer significant liquidity in that they are easy to sell if you need to raise cash. But spreads on these exposures have been more volatile as investors have been avoiding holding positions with maturities close to the X-date, which is the date that would potentially mark the treasury running out of funds.

    And to give you a live example, the yield on a US T-bill maturing on the 1st of June has at times been trading 200 basis points higher than a bill maturing at the end of May. That's a huge difference if you are a forced seller in this market, which is why we think that money market funds or liquidity funds make so much sense for investors.

    They give you access to a sizeable pool of readily available cash, as well as portfolios of very high-quality holdings that evolve as the circumstances change. Now, we love T-bills for the liquidity that they would typically offer but what we typically do in this kind of scenario is rotate portfolios proactively in a way that as an investor, if you're not focused on the cash markets, you might not be able to do readily yourself.

    Oscar Pulido: And you highlighted an example about investors who, as interest rates were going up, started to allocate to instruments that offered them a higher interest rate, but also locked them in at that interest rate and therefore they missed out as central banks continued to hike interest rates. And so therefore, as much as that is cash, it wasn't as liquid as they wanted it to be.

    Beccy Milchem: Exactly, it's still cash and if you know you can hold that investment for the duration, it's fine. You're going to get your cash when you need it,

    but sometimes those unforeseen expenditures can come and hit us at a personal level or even at the institutional level, and so that's where liquidity and it not all being equal comes into it.

    Oscar Pulido: You've touched on central banks, you've mentioned the Bank of England, the Fed, the ECB, all have embarked on one of the fastest rate hiking cycles that we've seen in a few decades. As we're appearing to reach the cycle where maybe those rate hikes are going to slow or potentially even pause, what does that mean for some of those cash markets that you've been talking about?

    Beccy Milchem: Yeah, central banks have a really difficult battle on their hands. They're continuing to grapple with bringing inflation down when economic growth is also perceived to be in a very delicate balance.

    The recent May meeting saw a further 25 basis points increase from the three majors you mentioned, but it's definitely slowing the paces as we look forward, and we're probably close to the peak, but with a huge amount of uncertainty around inflation, numbers still running so high, and the added overlay of politics in each domestic market and at the global level, I think there's still a bit of an uncertain path ahead. Central banks themselves are now much more data dependent than they were a few months back with a growing awareness that the lag of transmission of previous hikes still has to catch up with within consumers. Now markets themselves are predicting that many central banks will go too far increasing rates and thus need to bring them back down a bit within the next sort of six to 12 months depending on which currency you are looking at.

    This means investors are facing a yield curve that includes market pricing of those rate cuts, and in some cases has become inverted in that timeframe. So as a cash investor, you may plan your strategy based around when you have a known cash need and have different buckets for everyday use. A big expenditure for you and I might hopefully be something like a holiday, a car, or a house purchase, for institutional investors, that might be like a known acquisition or a transaction from a portfolio positioning taking

    place, in a few months. But from a practical perspective, an inverted yield curve in short term markets means you're probably not going to get compensated appropriately for the risk of locking up your cash for say, six months or a year. There is also still a lot of risk in turning out your cash if markets have got it wrong and rates stay where they are or perhaps even move higher still.

    So, the way our portfolio managers are thinking about this is that throughout most of this hiking cycle, the market has underpriced the level at which rates will be moved to by central banks. So, unless you're looking at the markets all day, every day, that's a really difficult thing to keep on top of.

    And at the end of the day, an investment strategy comes down to tolerance and appetite for risk. But if you are a cash investor with daily or short-term need for cash, there are not too many downsides to staying short at the moment. So, options that give you daily or next day access to your cash will allow you to be nimble, but you do still need to make sure those options are reflective of where interest rates are, as with inflation running where it is right now every basis point earned on cash is also critical.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Becky, one of the underlying themes that you've touched on is, being nimble, and being active and flexible with your cash portfolio, which is again, I think an area of the market that many people don't realize you need to be as nimble in. You've also touched on a number of things that have clients concerned, and perhaps one of the reasons why they continue to maintain a higher cash allocation. It's things like inflation, you touched on the war in Ukraine, you touched on the debt ceiling. What are some of the other concerns that clients are raising?

    Beccy Milchem: The cash investors, are typically concerned about whether they're going to be able to get access to their cash when they need it. And the mantra that most cash investors live by including ourselves, comes under a three-pillar approach.

    So, the first being safety or capital preservation, knowing what you're going to get back, the second being liquidity and knowing you've got access to it when you need it. And the third being yield. And when it comes to concerns or things being raised by clients at the moment, they've typically fallen under one of those pillars.

    Firstly, the vulnerabilities in the banking sector this year have highlighted concerns of having all of your eggs in one basket, both from a capital preservation perspective, but also about always having that timely access to cash. As we talked about earlier, investors might be more defensively positioned than usual, given broader market sentiments. The level of cash they have may be much more than they are used to holding. Now in the past this may not have warranted too much thought, but now they may be thinking they need to practically diversify their exposures. Individual investors may have some level of government protection on bank deposit products, but investors with much larger cash balance, particularly on the institutional side, will need to think about how they prudently diversify their risk to individual counterparties and monitor their exposures.

    Again, outsourcing the diversification and credit monitoring to dedicated products such as money market funds with their dedicated resources looking at this on a daily basis might be the most efficient way to manage those risks. Secondly, and as I've already mentioned, most investors are concerned about having access to their cash when they need it, and their liquidity and the debate around the US debt ceiling has prompted investors to be cautious around exposures in US T bills that may have some risk of delayed payments.

    Now, I would hope by the time this recording goes out that we may have a resolution on the debt ceiling. But having been here before, this feels like a world trodden path for dedicated money market portfolio managers who will typically naturally rotate out of maturities in that X date window. And where investment guidelines allow, they'll rotate into overnight repurchase agreements.

    They're collateralized by US government debt to give that portfolio the resiliency it needs. Now. Finally, my third pillar was yield, and the return on cash investments has also been much more in focus, in part spurred on by media coverage, prompting investors to review what their cash is earning. But cash has really gone from being the afterthought thought to being the asset class that many conversations are focused on as investors survey the options available.

    Oscar Pulido: Beccy if we can switch gears a little bit and talk about technology. We hear a lot about artificial intelligence and how it's affecting virtually every industry, including asset management. How do you see the role of technology impacting the cash industry?

    Beccy Milchem: So, in response to the US Regional Bank challenges, it's been widely reported that cash moved much more quickly in 2023 than it did during the global financial crisis.

    Now, I think that is partly down to how quickly digital media spread the news of troubles in regional banks, but it is also down to the fact that physically moving cash can be a lot easier via technology today. We see a lot more of our investors accessing our money market funds through some kind of platform which can offer trading efficiencies and straight through processing, all enabled through the technology that exists today that didn't in 2008.

    Similarly, a lot of the technology that helps companies look at things like cash flow forecasting means that a lot of institutional investors simply have a better line of sight on what cash they have available to invest today. Now we are seeing a lot of asset managers and banks investing in cash investment technology, and we're starting to see some of the functionality that we are used to in our personal lives through banking and investment applications on our smartphones be rolled out on institutional cash trading platforms.

    I'm not quite sure it's in the realms of AI, but a big thing for investors is the level of automation that can be driven and across certain institutional investors, we see a lot of demand for sweep technology whereby the investment platform can simply take the level of excess cash determined by an underlying client and efficiently sweep this into their chosen investment products such as a money market fund.

    And I think the other area that's really moved along is that technology can really help with all of the important reporting elements. And so, we look at the ways that clients interact with the technology, and they're looking at things like simplifying and automating things such as positions reporting, or what aggregate exposure is across a number of credits across their overall portfolio, even down to the cash.

    Oscar Pulido: So maybe just looking ahead, you've touched on a lot of different aspects around the market environment right now, but what are two or three things investors should be thinking about with respect to their cash allocation as they look forward?

    Beccy Milchem: So hopefully it's come through today, but I think cash is most definitely an asset class you need to think proactively about, and I think it comes back to that mantra that we live by capital preservation, liquidity, and yield, but maybe put slightly differently, know where your cash is, know how quickly you can access it and what it is earning.

    Most of us don't have time or dedicated people in our teams to look at this all day, every day, so think about the tools you can use to more efficiently help you manage your cash and whether it's right to outsource it. And similarly in these uncertain times, which I don't think are going away, navigating terming out cash investments will continue to be challenging, but there are dedicated products that will continue to help proactively manage these risks. And my advice would be really to talk to an asset manager who has a specialty in this space.

    Oscar Pulido: Well, Beccy, thank you so much for shining a spotlight on an area of the market that, maybe doesn't always get the attention that it needs. And thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Beccy Milchem: Thank you so much for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Bid. Next week on The Bid, Mark Wiedman talks to Mark Schneider, CEO of Nestle, on the role of food in the transition to a low carbon economy. Subscribe to the bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosures

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. 

    For Investors in Switzerland: This document is marketing material.

    In South Africa: Please be advised that BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is an authorised Financial Services provider with the South African Financial Services Board, FSP No. 43288.

     ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido. Today is Thursday, June 1st.

    The debt ceiling has been capturing headlines for weeks now. And the recent vote in US Congress has drawn a line under the drama on Capitol Hill for the next two years. But what does this mean for markets and are investors feeling reassured?

    In this special episode of The Bid, I'll be speaking to Alex Brazier, Deputy Head of the BlackRock Investment Institute to look at what happened, how markets are reacting, and what investors can expect going forward now that the debt ceiling crisis is behind us.

    Alex, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Alex Brazier: Oscar, thanks very much for having me again.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Alex, we're talking about the debt ceiling, which has been in the headlines for some time now, and I wonder if you can just take a step back and fill us in around, what has happened and where are we now?

    Alex Brazier: Well, yeah, it's been front and center for the last few weeks really what happened is that the US government reached its debt ceiling, which is a level of debt set by Congress that it can't go beyond, and that limit was $31.4 trillion. And given the US government's spending and tax plans, it needed that to be lifted. But of course, its opponents wanted it to change its plans in return for lifting the ceiling. Now, importantly, without an agreement, US government would've basically run out of money to pay its bills. The US Treasury estimated that it would've run out of money on the 5th of June, so that would obviously have been hugely disruptive, both for the economy directly, but also for the financial system with the US government unable to pay interest on or make scheduled repayments on existing debt.

    It would've been in default. And that's absolutely critical because the financial system relies on the US government and its securities as ultra-safe, reliable assets, hence the real focus on all these negotiations in Congress. But now, an agreement has been reached at the 11th hour, and it's been passed by the US Congress.

    Now the debt ceiling limit has been suspended until 2025. And in return for that, the US government has moderated some of its spending plans. That means markets are breathing a sigh of relief now. But that just means really attention is shifting back to the underlying economic situation in the

    United States, which hasn't really changed very much while everyone's been focusing on the debt ceiling.

    Very sticky inflation, very tight labor markets, US economy is, effectively overheating. And the question that markets and policy makers are grappling with is, what will it take to bring inflation down? And that took a backseat for a while, that really important question, while everyone's focus was on the debt ceiling, but now that's coming back front and center.

    Oscar Pulido: Alex, you said $31.4 trillion, which is a big number even for an economy as big as the us. Can you help clarify some terminology though? We talked about the debt ceiling, you mentioned default, and then we also were hearing about a government shutdown. How do those three things interrelate to each other?

    Alex Brazier: So, the debt ceiling, as I say, is set by Congress and it limits the amount of debt that the US government can have issued at any one time. So, as I say, that's 31.4 trillion, even as you say, relative to the size of the economy, that's 120% of US GDP. So, it's a big number. Now default is a situation where the borrower, in this case, the US government, can't service the debt, that it has in issue, so it can't make scheduled interest payments, it can't make scheduled repayments of that debt. And the risk here was that because it was going to hit the ceiling and not be able to issue more debt, the US government would've had a cash flow problem. and been unable to make some of those payments, and therefore it would've been in default on its existing debt.

    Now, a shutdown is also what happens if the government doesn't have the cash to run its operations and to pay its employees. And we've seen that in previous debt ceiling, episodes. And all these things are linked because if the government hits the debt ceiling and has a cash shortage, it effectively needs to shut down its functions.

    It needs to stop paying its employees, furlough its employees, and it risks not being able to make payments on its debt and therefore it would be in default. So, the debt ceiling, the risk of default and the risk of a shutdown of its operations are all inextricably linked.

    Oscar Pulido: It makes sense. And curious then, how has this impacted markets now that the risk of a default seems to have passed, I think that risk is now firmly off the table, if I'm not mistaken?

    Alex Brazier: That's right. I think that the immediate risk is off the table. The debt ceiling itself has been suspended for two years now until 2025. But I think what's really critical, is that this doesn't mean we can just move on and forget this ever happened. We can't forget US fiscal policy, the tax and spend policy.

    And this episode, this, negotiation will actually have a bit of a hangover on US economy and markets in two respects, really. Both of which will add to volatility in bond markets, in fixed income markets.

    The first is that the position of US fiscal policy, by which I mean the government's tax and spending plans, is still pretty challenging. The agreement doesn't change those plans very much. the congressional budget office yesterday estimated that spending's going to be about 65 billion lower next year as a result of this agreement. But that's just 0.3% of the US economy. And you set that against a deficit, which is how much higher spending is than tax revenues, of around seven and a half percent of GDP at the moment, and you can see that actually the impact of this on the overall tax

    and spend position is actually pretty small. Now. That deficit, that seven and a half percent of GDP deficit is higher than any time outside the second World War post the global financial crisis and the Covid crisis.

    And it's happening at a time when the US economy is actually overheating. So, the US fiscal position is actually in a pretty challenging place and stabilizing government debt in the United States, in a situation where we've got higher interest rates, a big deficit actually means that tax and spending plans need to adjust quite a lot over time.

    And in our view, market attention will increasingly focus on that over time, rather than on the kind of immediate debt ceiling risks. And that will add to, volatility in bond markets.

    The second hangover, I think, is that we're going to see now a burst of issuance by the US government in coming months to effectively replenish its bank account. So, we're going to see issuance, particularly of short-dated treasury bills, all of this at a time when the Federal Reserve isn't buying US government debt through quantitative easing, but actually running down its holdings of government debt through so-called quantitative tightening. So that second hangover too, is going to contribute probably to some volatility, in fixed income markets. So, the immediate risk is off the table, but some of these important hangover effects are going to increasingly come into focus particularly in bond markets.

    Oscar Pulido: And Alex, what about. Equity markets. You mentioned that there's going to be volatility in bond markets and sometimes that then unnerves the stock market investor, but perhaps the stock market investor is now saying, we have this headline behind us and time to take risk, or how do you think about that situation?

    Alex Brazier: I think the equity market, a bit like the rest of us, will be breathing a sigh of relief that this agreement has been reached, but also focusing back on the underlying economic picture, which as I say is one of really sticky core inflation evidence of a tight labor market and rising wages and an overheating economy really, that presents real challenges for the Federal Reserve. And that's where the equity market, we think will turn its attention back to, and it's where it was before the debt ceiling episode, but that too was going to contribute to volatility, I think.

    Oscar Pulido: And Alex, as we approach the mid-year point, what are you focusing on for the second half of the year?

    Alex Brazier: Well, now that we've moved on from the debt ceiling issue, we are focused on this underlying economic situation of sticky inflation, tight labor market. And there are really two important macroeconomic questions in the United States now.

    The first is how material and economic slowdown is needed to deal with that inflation? The Fed itself thinks a recession might be needed to do that. And the second is, how high will interest rates need to go to do what the Fed wants to do? Recent developments in the labor market and inflation actually suggests there's a real possibility now of more rate hikes over coming months.

    And we're also focused on some of the longer-term trends, like how AI, demographic shifts, geopolitics and the energy transition will actually affect the economy and markets. It's difficult to lose sight of those, even amid some of this volatility around the debt ceiling.

    So next week, BlackRock's assembling a hundred senior portfolio managers in London to debate many of these issues. I expect it to be pretty lively with some fierce exchanges. I mean, we’re pretty passionate about these issues because this is a new macro environment, it's really difficult. This inflationary environment's very different to anything we've had for the last 30 years.

    And we are totally focused now on how we can unlock the investment opportunities in this new regime for our clients. And that's what we'll be debating fiercely, next week. And I hope you have us back to discuss some of our conclusions,

    Oscar Pulido: We will absolutely have you back, Alex, thank you for providing us this update and we look forward to having you back to hear more about that convening that is taking place in London. Thanks for joining us on The Bid.

    Alex Brazier: Thanks, Oscar.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to The Bid. Don't miss the upcoming episode on our mid-year outlook later this month. Subscribe to The Bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

    Disclosures

    This material is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any securities, funds or strategies to any person in any jurisdiction in which an offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are as of the date of publication and are subject to change without notice. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investing involves risks. BlackRock does and may seek to do business with companies covered in this podcast. As a result, readers should be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this podcast.

    In the UK and Non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries: this is Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 12 Throgmorton Avenue, London, EC2N 2DL. Tel:+ 44 (0)20 7743 3000. Registered in England and Wales No. 02020394. For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. Please refer to the Financial Conduct Authority website for a list of authorised activities conducted by BlackRock.

    In the European Economic Area (EEA): this is Issued by BlackRock (Netherlands) B.V. is authorised and regulated by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. Registered office Amstelplein 1, 1096 HA, Amsterdam, Tel: 020 – 549 5200, Tel: 31-20- 549-5200. Trade Register No. 17068311 For your protection telephone calls are usually recorded. 

    For Investors in Switzerland: This document is marketing material.

    In South Africa: Please be advised that BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited is an authorised Financial Services provider with the South African Financial Services Board, FSP No. 43288.

     ©2023 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are those of their respective owners.

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    What's the difference between developed, emerging and frontier markets? How do differences in per capita wealth, technological advancement, and liquidity affect the investment opportunities across these various economies?

    Here to shed some light on this topic is Emily Fletcher, portfolio manager from BlackRock's Fundamental Equities business. Emily will highlight some of the risks and opportunities that emerging markets present and provide her observations as an investor who is meeting with companies and handpicking stocks across the world's developing economies.

    Emily, welcome to the bid.

    Emily Fletcher: Thanks so much for having me, Oscar. It's great to be here.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Emily, maybe we could start with a simple definition, emerging markets and developed markets, we hear these terms a lot in investing, what's the difference between the two and then why is it so different to be investing in emerging markets?

    Emily Fletcher: I think there's a bit of a misperception around emerging markets that they're countries that are less economically developed and poorer than developed markets. And whilst that is true for some countries such as your India or your Indonesia, which do have a much lower GDP per capita, it's not at all true of countries such as Qatar and the UAE, which are some of the richest in the world. It's also not really about level of technological development. Korea, for example, is extremely developed from a technological perspective.

    Actually, definition of emerging markets is all about the level of development of the stock market, its settlement custodian, currency trading systems. Countries are analyzed and they're split into two buckets. Those that have the most developed systems in place, classified as developed markets, and those with less comprehensive trading systems classified as emerging markets.

    Also, I think in the majority of cases, there tends to be a difference in the level of institutional development between emerging and developed markets with the institutional frameworks stronger within developed countries. In terms of what really sets apart emerging markets from developed markets, I think it’s the complexity, the volatility, and the dispersion that we see across the universe.

    In terms of complexity, we're talking about 25 countries, each of their own political and economic cycles. They all have their own currency and bond markets. In aggregate the markets trade for 20 plus hours a day over six days a week, whereas developed markets tend to have harmonized economic cycles. In terms of volatility, emerging market index has had a peak to trough move of more than 20% in 19 in the last 20 years. And on top of these index level moves, we see huge dispersion between stock performance. Typically, two thirds of the stocks with emerging markets move more than 40% in each year. So, this makes it a really fantastic place to be an active investor because you'll get an opportunity to buy most companies at some point during each year.

    I think there's a perception that high volatility is a negative feature for emerging markets. The historic emerging market narrative was that countries would grow faster than in developed markets and given how deeply cyclical all of the emerging markets are individually I think this illusion of smooth growth was never an accurate portrayal. Instead, what we really have is a wild, exciting, volatile hunting ground for active investors who can benefit from the complexity of 25 nonsynchronous markets, offering 4,000 highly diverse stock opportunities.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you mentioned a few things there, and maybe just to recap, while the term emerging markets is one terminology to describe all these different countries, they can be very different. Some on a per capita basis are poorer, some are actually quite rich. The stock markets could behave very different from the economies. There's a lot of volatility, which I think for you as an investor represents good opportunity. We've heard from Wei Lee, our Chief Investment Strategist at the BlackRock Investment Institute, she's talked about how emerging markets are an interesting, investment opportunity, part of the reason being that coming out of the pandemic, the central banks in these countries were quick to raise interest rates and perhaps they're towards the end of that rate hiking cycle. So, talk a little bit more about what other reasons are there that excite you about emerging markets?

    Emily Fletcher: Yeah. First to just follow up on Wei Lee, was saying, I agree. Inflation did start to rise in emerging markets and developed markets about the same time, so beginning of 2021. But interestingly at this point, the emerging markets generally started to hike interest rates, but in developed markets, we didn't see them start to hike until about a year later, so early 2022. And emerging markets have generally continued to hike interest rates since then. So as a result, for most of the countries in emerging markets, interest rates are now higher than inflation. Most of them have a positive real interest rate. And this early increase in those rates has meant that in some countries, particularly those in South America, we have seen an economic impact already feeding into the economies. And we've seen that slowdown in economic activity already happen in these countries, as we are perhaps worried about in more of the developed markets now.

    When we went through Covid, developed markets such as the US the governments were able to give their population some handouts. And that was something that we didn't see in emerging markets to the same extent. They just didn't have the same capability to replicate that and in a way that has some benefits for emerging market now, because we are seeing lower second round impacts going into inflation to the point where we think inflation has fairly clearly peaked across the majority of emerging markets.

     

    So emerging markets, they started raising interest rates first, and they're likely to be the first to cut interest rates. And as those interest rates come down, then we should see consumers and

    companies that will end up with more money in their pockets as the cost of debt becomes cheaper and we should then see growth accelerate across emerging markets. And that turning point is normally a time when emerging market, equity markets, start to do quite well. And it's a good time to think about investing into these countries on the back of that cyclical activity pickup. I think another area to comment on would just be the huge credit expansion we've seen in China year to date. So, in the first quarter, China added total social financing of about $2.1 trillion, and that's something like adding the entire Indonesian banking system every month in terms of size. We did see significant slowdown in Chinese economy last year as they battled covid but with this credit extension, and we think we, that should really drive significant benefits with reopening, particularly with this liquidity we're expecting transaction volumes and values in the property market to pick up, and then as consumers feel wealthier for that wealth effect to then trickle down into growth in a lot of Chinese consumer areas.

    I think another area is just around margins, so emerging markets have really progressed from copying to innovating to in some areas now actually being global leaders such as electric vehicles or leading-edge chip manufacturing. And these are areas where we now see higher margins in emerging market corporates versus their developed market peers.

    So far, this isn't the predominance of emerging market investing and the aggregate margin difference across emerging and developed markets still remains high, but it would be really interesting if we could see any closure of this gap in the future, which would then mean that emerging markets, which are currently trading on trough from very low earnings, could arguably look really interesting from a valuation perspective.

    Finally, I think it's just important to think about liquidity. For the majority of my career, emerging markets have been fairly out of favor, and as a result of that, I think we have seen liquidity come down in terms of the volumes that are traded on emerging markets, stock markets. There's a lot of commentary at the moment that, investors are looking for the Fed to stop hiking, looking for a pivot, and post that, they'll start looking at emerging markets, but I think we do need to remember that liquidity is low in these markets and sometimes it's actually hard to buy post-event when everyone is trying to move in the same direction.

    Oscar Pulido: So, Emily, you've painted a really interesting background of the opportunities in emerging markets. I heard you mention profit margins are lower than in some of the developed markets, like the US, you’ve talked about companies that are, becoming innovators and leaders in their space. You also mentioned China. I think the amount of stimulus that China has enacted being the equivalent of the banking system of Indonesia, it feels like you could spend all your time just looking at investment opportunities in China as the largest emerging market but talk about maybe what other countries are of interest to you.

    Emily Fletcher: Yeah, I wanted to pull out a couple of opportunities here actually. And the first one of them would just be Indonesia, which is a country that we think has seen a fairly substantial improvement in its economic outlook over the last few years. Indonesia's the world's largest exporter of nickel. Historically, nickel was predominantly used to make stainless steel, but by 2030, we think nickel will predominantly be used to make batteries for EV cars. So, Indonesia in 2020 exported nickel to the of about 12 billion. by 2025, that'll be $45 billion, already a pretty substantial growth. Now it's a country that historically has borrowed from abroad, it's run a current account deficit to finance its domestic growth. But the size of the increase

    we're seeing in those nickel exports is such that that structural current account deficit was about 3% of GDP pre-covid. It's already shrunk by about one to one and a half percent of GDP. And we think it will do the same again over the next couple of years. So that should have the benefit of making Indonesia much less reliant on borrowing from abroad and needing to attract foreign capital. And that should result in improved domestic liquidity in higher domestic economic growth. The cost of borrowing in Indonesia should come down slightly, and the volatility and currency movements in Indonesia should reduce a bit, and that should make Indonesia a much more attractive investment destination.

    And another country I'll pull out is very much a cyclical opportunity. But I think Brazil stands out at the moment. It's a country in the world, with the highest real interest rates. So, interest rates are very high, despite the fact inflation peaked in March, the economy at the moment has slowed. Brazilian companies and consumers have struggled with that really high cost of debt. And part of the reason that rates have been so high is that investors have been concerned, post the election of Lula as President in Q3 last year, that his administration would pursue very expansionary fiscal policies, but this really hasn't been the case to date. And as we go into the second half of this year, Brazil's likely to be in a position where the central bank could cut interest rates. As they do the pressure on companies and consumers will ease and we should see an acceleration of growth and that is a market that's currently trading around historic trough valuations, so I think potentially a cyclical opportunity there.

    Oscar Pulido: When you talk about some of these individual countries you've mentioned the exports of nickel will be very helpful to Indonesia, so does that help every single company that's trading in Indonesia or does the economic backdrop in Brazil help every single company? Or do you then have to dig in and really sort of identify the winners and losers from that economic backdrop?

    Emily Fletcher: Mm, so emerging markets is really about pulling together all the sources of information. So, what is happening in a country, those trends I talked about in Indonesia and Brazil are really important in kind of setting the backdrop for where you should be looking for stock opportunities. Then it's about digging in, as I said, it's about 4,000 different stocks within emerging markets that will all have their own specific company drivers. and all trade again with additional dispersion on top of that. So, you can see that that is just a huge amount of information to pull together, and you really want all of it to be pulling favorably, to be finding the best opportunities, so to be a great company, a great stock in a great market, and to pick it just before the turning point and then you can do really well. And that need to have all of those boxes ticked, I think is again, what makes emerging markets so interesting from an active perspective that you can, really find some interesting opportunities in and amongst.

    Oscar Pulido: And Emily, it turns out you have a special expertise in frontier markets, so help us understand what is the difference between an emerging market and a frontier market?

    Emily Fletcher: So, I really see Frontier markets as a sub-category within emerging markets. If we go back to thinking about the difference between emerging markets and developed markets, being around the level of development of the equity markets, frontier markets is really just a step down from that. It's the set of markets that are even less technologically developed than emerging markets, or it can be the set of markets, that trade with lower liquidity than emerging markets, so where you see a much smaller volume of trades executed over any given year. And actually, what's been interesting over the last 10 years since I started looking at frontier markets is that we have seen quite substantial technological advancements in a number of stock markets, that would've

    historically been considered frontier markets such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar, and very much now promoted to become emerging markets.

    Oscar Pulido: I think there's a reputation amongst these emerging and frontier markets of high volatility and in fact, you touched on it in some earlier comments about these big swings in stock markets that you see. How do investors manage these dramatic ups and downs?

    Emily Fletcher: I think that's a very fair point to pull out and especially in some of these smaller markets in and of themselves they can be inherently and deeply risky and volatile.

    But one of the really interesting things about these smaller markets particularly is that if you create aa basket of them put together a portfolio of them, you actually generally end up with something that in aggregate is much less volatile than if you were to look at emerging market indices at that level.

    And it's a really interesting one, but they actually are still places in the world where you can find diversification. In these smaller markets and tends to be the smaller you, get with markets, the more there's a dominance of local political and economic events, and those events tend to impact performance more.

    There are generally minimal trade flows between smaller, emerging and frontier countries, so problems in the real estate market in Vietnam will tend to have no impact on the level of oil production in Argentina. Recent election in Thailand had no impact on the subsequent Greek election. Constitutional change in Chile won't impact interest rate movements in Saudi Arabia. So, it's very interesting that you still have huge benefits of diversification from looking at some of these smaller markets.

    Oscar Pulido: So, you, mentioned that you're an active investor, which means you're picking individual companies in each of these emerging and frontier markets and part of being an active investor, I imagine, is you're visiting these countries to be on the ground to understand what's going on in, the local economy. So, what are some of these countries you've visited and any good stories about some of your recent visits?

    Emily Fletcher: So, I've been to about 35 emerging market countries now. Actually, I always find it rather unnerving traveling with security. I think it's having grown up in the UK I'm not used to seeing guns around at all. Luckily all the guns I've seen on my travels have been those held by my security detail. But there was one time in Nigeria where I was followed by Security on a track with, probably the largest sort of sub-machine guns I've ever seen that I did find a little bit unnerving.

    I did get the opportunity once to visit the Zimbabwean Stock exchange while it was still using an open outcry system, which was absolutely fascinating to see but is now transitioned to a fully electronic system. Otherwise, I reckon I probably could have a successful second career as a travel agent. I would highly recommend visiting the mountains in Oman, the Polo Club in Lahore, Pakistan, the dead cow oil fields in Argentina, and there's some fantastic palm trees inside the Central Bank of Kuwait. My favorite food comes from Vietnam, but the best meal I've ever eaten was in Mexico.

    Oscar Pulido: I thought I had some interesting stamps in my passport, but I'm realizing that it probably pales in comparison to yours. Emily, thank you for giving us this tour of, emerging and frontier markets and thank you for joining us on The Bid.

    Emily Fletcher: Thank you. It's great to be here.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. On the next episode, we will consider the world of cash investing and the opportunity for investors in an environment of higher interest rates. Make sure you subscribe to the bid wherever you get your podcasts.

     

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  • Oscar Pulido: Another month, another Fed meeting, and yet another increase in interest rates. For the first time since 2007, the federal funds rate in the US is above 5%. Where does the Fed go from here? Have we reached a peak in inflation? Here to help answer these questions. Here to help answer these questions, I'm pleased to welcome Gargi Chaudhuri, Head of iShare's Investment strategy. Gargi will help us make sense of today's market environment and the investment opportunities that lie ahead.

    Gargi, thank you so much for joining us on The, Bid.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: It's great to be here. Thank you for having me.

    Oscar Pulido: Gargi, it's May, the Fed has just raised rates for the 10th straight meeting. We're above 5% on Fed funds rate for the first time since 2007. Inflation is still a problem. The markets are volatile, and we've had the collapse of another bank this time, First Republic, getting taken over by JP Morgan. So with all of those concerns that, you're hearing, what are clients saying right now and how are you responding to them?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: So to your point, we've had the fastest rate rising cycle with 500 basis points of rate hikes in a course of 14 months. It's hard to believe now that in the beginning of last year, rates were still at zero. the big thing that clients are reiterating over and over again to us is the need. To be flexible in this time, the need to be nimble in moving around portfolios because the story keeps shifting, right?

    So, if we look back to the first quarter of 2023, when you came into January was actually a pretty good month. Remember, that was when the reopening of China story came about. Then you had February, not such a great month, then March, nobody saw the bank turmoil coming about, but that happened.

    April comparatively was a lower volatile month, but of course you had some idiosyncratic risks and now we're sitting at May with what we think is the final rate hike for this cycle. So I think there's a huge amount of discussion around nimbleness in portfolios. That's one thing. And the second thing that we're talking a lot to clients about is really the return of income.

    Clients are so excited that you can actually earn some income, especially in fixed income and where they should do that, how they should do that, and how they can reallocate back to the fixed income market. So that's been very topical for us. And this is across clients in the us LatAm and Canada, and globally,

    Oscar Pulido: As you mentioned, every month has been different in 2023, so there's been no consistent pattern. Tell us a little bit about, the three P’s framework that, I know you've been talking to clients about. What are the three Ps?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: One of the things that we discuss when we talk about markets is, what are the important things that clients should remember as they're thinking about asset allocation? What will drive markets right now for the next quarter, for the next few months, and at this juncture.

    Those are number one. The Pause, that's the first P. Number two, profitability, and the number three, portfolios. So if we look at each of these individually and why they matter now. The first one is really about the pause, which is that the Fed has raised rates by 500 basis points, over 10 rate rising cycles over 14 months, and now, they pause.

    The Pause is not the same as the other P word, which is pivot, which many investors expect. Actually, the market expects the Fed to cut rates. We don't think that's going to happen. And why not another P for you? Prices! Inflation remains pretty high, much above the Fed's target, which is 2%. As of right now, we're sitting in May, when we last looked at inflation numbers, they were closer to 5% than to 2%. So, all of this allows for the Fed to pause, but not pivot, not to cut. So that's the first P.

    Also we're talking a lot about profitability, which is actually related to one of the, Ps, which is prices in a world where prices are going up, where inflation has been a consistent problem over the last 18 months.

    Looking at companies that have the ability to pass on prices, that have the ability to have margin resiliency, to be able to be profitable, even in a period of slowing growth is really important. Finding those companies, finding those sectors that have pricing power, that have profitability, which have earnings growth, which have a strong balance sheet.

    Those are really important. And then we'll move to the third P that we spend a lot of time talking about. As I mentioned earlier, which is around portfolios and specifically the role of fixed income in portfolios. How at this juncture with the Fed Funds rate being a little bit over 5% allows for investors to earn a lot of income in very high-quality parts of the market. So, you can sit in treasuries, which are backed by the faith and credit of the US government and earn 5% in certain parts of the treasury market. You can earn close to 6% in certain parts of the very high-quality corporate credit market. So again, thinking about the portfolio construction in this environment is really exciting.

    Oscar Pulido: You mentioned Pause, and that's your view that the Fed is going to, take a chance to kind of just assess what they've done over the last 10 meetings for the camp that's out there that thinks that they will pivot, that they will cut rates. What's their argument as to why they think that will happen?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: So, I'll talk a little bit about why we're in the pause camp, and then talk a little bit about the Pivot camp.

    So, the Pause camp is entirely because of inflation, Congress has given the Fed two mandates. The first mandate is to have prices be stable which is defined by the Fed as 2% on PCE. The second mandate is having the job market remain pretty resilient.

    Now they are doing very well on the job market front, unemployment rates as of right now, are sitting at close to 50-year lows. We haven't seen a labor market this strong in a very long time. But on the inflation side of the mandate, they are actually not getting to that 2% level that is their target. So, they don't necessarily need to raise rates higher at this juncture, 5% is a pretty high and a pretty restrictive level of interest rates, at the same time, they don't really need to cut rates either because they're so far away from their inflation target and the labor market remains strong.

    The question is why then is there so much discussion and debate around whether the Fed should cut rates? There have been some financial cracks that have emerged more recently, as you pointed out earlier, was in the banking sectors where, especially for the small and medium sized banks, they have begun to come under a meaningful amount of pressure and the fear that pressure continuing would mean that credit will continue to tighten.

    Small and medium sized banks are a big resort for small businesses for loans. If you're a small business in this country, you are responsible for a majority of the jobs of this country. So, if small and medium sized businesses are unable to get the credit that they need from the small banks, that becomes a problem for the entire economy in the US. So, investors and the market actually, that is now pricing in that 'pivot narrative' that is pricing in rate cuts by the end of 2023 is actually foreseeing this credit tightening becoming a larger issue as time goes on and the Fed needing to cut rates to stimulate growth as a result.

    I'll also say that certain interest rate sensitive parts of the economy have already begun to show some slowing. You've seen that in the housing data, you've seen that in the auto sector. So there have been certain manufacturing components that have begun to slow down. there is the senior loan officer survey we were talking about earlier, Oscar, the Slews that's become a very common or very hip data point to look at these days because the Fed has popularized it and talked about it quite a bit.

    All of that is showing a little bit of credit tightening in the economy as well. So those investors that are thinking about rate cuts for the remainder of this year are thinking about that because of the slowdown that is already emanating and expectations of more slowdown because of the impact on small and medium sized banks and the ramification that would have on the small businesses.

    Oscar Pulido: So, can we go back then to profitability? Now you talked about quality companies and what does that mean? Are there particular sectors or industries that when we talk about quality, that tend to come to mind more than others?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: So, when we say quality companies, what we really mean is a group of companies or certain sectors, that have really strong fundamentals. And what do we mean by those strong fundamentals? We talked a little bit about the ability to be profitable. It's really important for them to have low debt, especially in a world where interest rates are higher, where debt servicing costs can be going up, having that low leverage ratio can be important, and having free cash flow. That

    ability to weather slowing economic periods and having the cash flow that allows them to do so. And all of that can be manifested in companies that are higher quality companies, so they have stronger balance sheets. Now, in a world, if interest rates were back to being zero, let's say we were back in 2020 and it rates were at zero.

    I think in those environments that resiliency of balance sheet isn't as important because rates are at zero and companies, are not paying as much for the financing of their debt. Real rates were actually negative instead of, the very positive, amounts they're at now.

    A lot more could be done in a zero real rate environment if you were a company that wasn't as profitable because you didn't have that debt burden or that debt financing burden. Right now though, we are in the camp of higher for longer. We've reached that higher part. We've gotten to above 5%, we haven't reached that longer part. So, the longer is going to happen for the remainder of the year, and in that environment of staying higher for longer, we think that quality characteristic really comes to head in both the equity as well as the bond markets. So, looking at sectors like energy, technology a lot of free cash flow, strong balance sheets. And frankly, those are the parts of the market, that have done very well. people have gravitated towards those very strong companies with strong balance sheets that have cash flow and are profitable and have earnings growth power.

    Oscar Pulido: And then maybe to go to portfolios, you touched on there's income in the market now with interest rates having gone up, the investments in one's portfolio are generating more cash flow. You look a lot at flows. Where are people, what are they buying? What are they selling? what are you seeing are investors allocating away from stocks into bonds because of that income that they can generate? Or are they moving out of cash or is a little bit of all the above?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: So first of all, last year, as we all know, and experienced, 2022 was just a rough one for investors, whether or not you were in the safest parts of the, market, which is, which tends to be bonds or if you were in the equity market, which tends to have a little bit higher volatility, you had a pretty rough, investment period for at least 20, 22.

    Many investors had they chosen to be in cash, would have actually had a safer outcome. This year though, what has happened is quite the reverse. Both equity markets and bond markets have done well, but many investors because they had this negative experience last year have chosen to remain in cash. So, one of the things,

    we are seeing investors do is actually step out of cash for the first quarter of this year, we saw them step out of cash to the very front end of the fixed income market, so to treasuries and investment grade credit in the front end, so you could earn a lot of income, but not take a lot of interest rate.

    And more recently, in April and May, we're actually seeing investors taking a little bit more interest rate risk in the fixed income markets, but still remaining high quality. Still looking at companies or sectors that are most highly rated within the fixed income market, so whether that be treasury bonds, or whether it's very strong companies like investment grade credit rated companies. So, we are seeing those flows gravitate towards the fixed income markets.

    The other thing that I would say that has been more of a recent phenomenon is actually investors moving away more from the value like stories. And when you think about the different types of, investments there are there's value and growth. Value of course tends to do well and the part of the business cycle where the growth is beginning to take off and now when there's some fear or

    expectation of a slowdown, growth is where people are allocating capital to. Our research shows that growth does make sense, but allocating to those areas of the growth companies that are still fairly priced, so growth at a reasonable price.

    And again, energy sector and certain areas of tech sectors could be things that investors could consider. The last thing that we are looking at or that we have found interesting in flows is gravitation towards gold, which is interesting. you have the trifecta of real rates that are moving lower remaining constant, you have a little bit of a fear, a flight to quality, if you will. And you also have, investors are, that are worried about a growth slowdown. And all of that has pointed to investors moving towards gold. So that's something, it's a pretty recent phenomenon, not something we often talk about, but certainly gold has, begun to shine again, to use, a very overused expression, but certainly seeing, some flows there.

    Oscar Pulido: As you point out, last year was such a difficult year that investors are saying, if I had been in cash, I would've been fine. And so maybe I should do that again in, in 2023. But you've highlighted a number of different investment opportunities that have presented themselves this year and that you think are still very worthwhile going forward.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Yeah, look, if you need the cash for liquidity reasons, of course holding cash, especially, depending on how you're holding it, you can be something that is absolutely needed in your portfolio for liquidity reasons, and that makes sense.

    But if you're holding it for fear reasons, if you're holding it because you expect an exact repeat of 2022, what I would say is the valuations have changed meaningfully, especially in the fixed income market. And this is where earning some yield in the fixed income markets and having that ability to make some total return in the fixed income markets, that opportunity has now risen because the Fed had not raised by 500 basis points this time last year.

    Oscar Pulido: I'm just curious, you speak to a lot of clients and investors around the world, whether it's in the US and Latin America, Europe, you name it. And so, is there a common question or concern that you hear from them?

    Gargi Chaudhuri: There’s a couple. One that comes up a lot is around the fears of a global recession. Interestingly, that was something that was coming up a lot towards the end of last year. There was a huge fear of a stagflation, so an environment where growth is slowing down, but inflation's remaining high. That slowed down pretty meaningfully in January, and perhaps some of that was because in Europe the winter wasn't as bad. China had the reopening. There was some sense of optimism, so that slowed down.

    But more recently, I would say over the last three or four weeks, the questions around a recession have come back. They're not around a stagflation this time around, they're much more around a recession. If that's going to happen in the US if we expect that in Europe, so that's something that's definitely top of mind. And what should investors do in a recessionary environment? Where should they turn to in a recessionary environment? Especially because last year fixed income wasn't that appropriate allocation. So having that conversation around where in fixed income and why this time is different because of course we talked about, the US but globally, many other central banks like the Bank of Canada, for example, done with their hiking cycle. If you look at, Bank of England, they're closer to being done than not. And ECB probably still has some more rate hikes to go, but again, many of them have moved a lot further on that hiking process.

    And then the second thing for the first time in a long time, US investors are asking about emerging markets as an option. So, I think that's interesting because I hear from for example, investors in the LatAm or investors in Europe who have historically been allocated to the emerging markets, especially in the equity space, but in the US this is the first time that we are seeing US investors ask about emerging market debt, local currency, emerging market debt, and single countries within emerging markets.

    So not viewing emerging markets as a monolith, but a view around should we be allocating to India because they've heard about India now being larger in population than China, or thinking about China because of the reopening or thinking about Mexico because of friend- shoring.

    So, the view of US investors thinking about, different emerging market countries has been really exciting and something that's new and hopefully will continue for some time.

    Oscar Pulido: I'm listening to the comments that you're making and the statement that, or the phrase that comes into my mind is, it's a marathon, not a sprint. When you think about the discipline that you need to exhibit with long-term investing, and speaking of marathons, one thing I learned about you recently is that you've run 25 of them, in your life. So talk to us a little bit about the parallel between the marathons that you've run and what it is that your day-to-day looks like working in iShares investment strategy.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Thank you. Love this question. I want to write a book about this one day. So a couple of things immediately come to mind, when you train for a marathon, you have to put in the work, You have to go for your long training runs, and I think the work that we're doing with our clients and helping them understand the markets, and invest accordingly.

    The other one I would say is, and I often don't do this, but I should, and after 25 marathons, I've learned the lesson is start slow and then get comfortable because it is a long run. And similarly, to running, I would say the same for investing.

    Start slow. If all you can do is take a small amount and put that away in a diversified fashion. And that's all you can do. And you don't have to get too crazy. Don't have to listen to every earnings call of every company. You don't have to do that. Later, once you've gotten used to the investing lifestyle, once you've gotten used to looking at data or earnings or any kind of economic indicators, you can become a more sophisticated investor.

    But start slow. The last thing, I guess I would say, and I use this for markets, but also for people's careers, run your own race. When you're running a race, you might be on mile 20 dying and someone might pass you by running seven minute miles. They are having another race. You are not running their race.

    Similarly in investments, if you have a friend that's invested in something very cool and something very esoteric, that might be amazing for them. But you think about your own portfolio and what it needs. So run your own race in the markets in your career, but certainly in the investing landscape.

    Oscar Pulido: It's great insight and we wish you luck on your 26th marathon whenever that takes place. Gargi, thank you so much for joining us on The Bid.

    Gargi Chaudhuri: Thank you.

    Oscar Pulido: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you enjoyed this episode, check out our recent episode with Way Lee on the new investment playbook in action.

    Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. On next week's episode, I'll be talking to Emily Fletcher for a Stock Picker's Guide to Emerging Markets.

     

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  • Mark Wiedman: Welcome to The Bid where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Mark Wiedman. Today we are going to India. You know that India has the biggest population in the world, but what you probably don't know is that it is leading the world in digital payments.

    The man inspiring this leap forward is Nandan Nilekani. He is the co-founder of Infosys, the digital services firm and for 14 years he's dedicated himself to the digital transformation of India. I met with Nandan in Mumbai this year and invited him to share his story at our new Hudson Yards office in New York. In this episode, you'll hear about how Nandan landed the job to create this digital ID system. Why India has been able to leapfrog technologies and how building a digital public infrastructure has brought a new model of economic growth to India. Welcome Nandan. Nice to see you.

    Nandan Nilekani: Thanks Mark. Thank you for having me here.

    Mark Wiedman: The building out of Infosys. What was the founding vision and what is it today?

    Nandan Nilekani: Well, the idea of Infosys was to create a globally respected technology company and it took us a long time because we began in 1981. And, uh, that was an India that was very different. There was no economic reforms. It was difficult to do business. But I think come the nineties when India had the first wave of liberalization we were able to grow very rapidly. And we set many, many records. We were the first Indian company to list in the U.S. We listed in NASDAQ in 99. We are among the first to deal with foreign investors so we introduced a lot of sort of cutting-edge reforms in the way capital markets work in India and set the bar for corporate governance and so on. And we have 1700 clients around the world. And, it's been a very successful 40-year journey.

    Mark Wiedman: What was your contribution as a leader for the many years you were with Infosys full-time?

    Nandan Nilekani: Well, I was primarily on the business side. I was looking at global sales, global marketing. And I was also the CEO for five years from 2002 to 2007.

    Mark Wiedman: So we get into the mid-2000s, you're CEO. Take us on your personal journey from there to when you started embarking on the transformation of your country.

    Nandan Nilekani: So I stepped down as CEO, I was the co-chairman. I also wrote a book in 2008, called Imagining India. It's a broad sweeping book about many ideas - why urbanization didn't happen, why education didn't happen, why something else happened, and so on. And one of the ideas was, let's also look at having a Digital ID and use technology to make a difference. So that was embedded in that book somewhere.

    And then I got a call from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to implement this idea. And he said, we have this project for giving everybody an ID. At that time it was not a digital ID, it was just an ID. It had to be unique and unique meant that Mark gets only one number in this system. And why did we need this ID? The two reasons.

    First was India was building its welfare state and was going to be sending money to people and wanted to make sure it reached the right person. Because without an ID, you can't do that. The second reason was that India didn't really have a very robust birth registration system in those days, and many births were not registered because the birth happened in the village far away from the district, you couldn't get a birth certificate. So, in some states, more than half the babies born did not have birth certificates. Again, that did not matter when they lived their entire life in the village, but the moment they started migrating without ID, they couldn't get anything done. They couldn't board a train. They couldn't get a job, they couldn't open a bank account. They couldn't explain to the cop who stopped them. So ID became an essential you know, asset for people. So both the inclusion of getting everybody into an ID system and the efficiency of giving money directly to them, drove the government to think of the ID project. It had actually begun conceptually in 2006 by the time I came on the scene in 2009, it was ready to roll and I stepped into that job.

    Mark Wiedman: So that was the genesis, the birth moment. What was the founding set of actions you took in 2009?

    Nandan Nilekani: So I brought a bunch of very good bureaucrats from the permanent bureaucracy, but I also needed deep technologists. I assembled a bunch of technologists from all over the world who all volunteered to make this happen. And then I brought this group together and they were from two different cultures. So I didn't want internecine warfare. So I set such an audacious goal that they forgot about the differences and focused on the job.

    Mark Wiedman: And your big audacious goal was what?

    Nandan Nilekani: I'll just take one intervening point. I served in the government from 2009 to 2014 and when I began my term, I had made a public statement that I, I would deliver 600 million IDs and then step down, which I did.

    Mark Wiedman: So zero in 2009. 600 million by 2014. When was your first ID issued?

    Nandan Nilekani: September 30th, 2010. Peak was one and a half million a day.

    Mark Wiedman: I think something the, particularly the U.S. audience might not fully appreciate is that when you started, you had a huge portions of the population that had no formal other than the voting booth had no real actual status in the eyes of the government.

    Nandan Nilekani: Yeah, exactly. Because the lack of birth certificates. In the U.S., maybe 98% of births are registered. So a birth certificate becomes your root document based on which you vote or whatever, decide your age. But if you don't have a root document, then how do you take a few hundred million people and give them an ID and they have no id. That was the challenge we had, and the only way we could do that was a very complicated technological thing called biometric de-duplication, where we took each person who enrolled and compared them to all the people we had in the database to see whether the person was duplicate or not. So if we had 500 million people in the database and a million people enrolled, we do 500 trillion matches every day to eliminate duplicates, very sophisticated technology wise, but the politics was more difficult than the technology.

    Mark Wiedman: India is famously decentralized so getting all those individual states to sign up, how did you get it done?

    Nandan Nilekani: First of all, I made it non-threatening because what happens in any organization and in the government is if we come with a new idea, they would've said, what do they do to me? So I had to prove to people that this was not in any way affecting anybody. All I was saying, John is John, Ashok is Ashok, Mohammad is Mohammad. Whether John deserves a passport, the passport guys will decide. Whether John deserves a driver's license. So I said, I'm not taking away your power or agency, I'm just helping you do your job better. So the moment you position this as something enabling them to do the job better, and you don't take away any of their power, they're fine with it. So I had to do that with all these players.

    Mark Wiedman: So you get to 600 million, where are we today?

    Nandan Nilekani: Now we are at 1.3 billion people have the ID.

    Mark Wiedman: So right now, 1.3 billion. . Indians have the id. How do they use the id? What are the applications?

    Nandan Nilekani: They use it in two ways. They use it to authenticate themselves so wherever they have to prove who they are, they can do an online identification verification, and that does about 80 million transactions a day. And you can also use that to do what's called as a ‘know your customer.’ It's called electronic KYC, and it's used to get a new mobile connection or to open a new bank account and so on. and that is about five to 7 million a day. One of the big use cases is what we call as micro-ATMs, is how, how do you get people to be able to withdraw money easily from the bank account? In the old model, you have to go all the way to the city to the branch. You have to go to an expensive atm. A micro-ATM is nothing but a small mobile phone, smartphone, with maybe a base app on it. So that is there with people around the country, in grocery stores and so on. And if I want to withdraw money from my bank account, I just go to the neighborhood grocery store, authenticate that I am X and I want to withdraw five hundred rupees from a bank account and he gives you five hundred from his drawer and on the system your account gets debited and his account gets credited, so it's all settled. So he becomes an atm, a manned ATM, and now we have a few hundred thousand of these micro-ATMs around. Suddenly you are made cash in, cash out, accessible to a billion people. So that's an example.

    Mark Wiedman: Okay, so 2014 rolls along and shockingly you've hit 600 million. you step down. What'd you decide to do then?

    Nandan Nilekani: Well then I also had a small detour and I stood for election and I lost the election. Okay, why was this crazy guy standing for election? So I felt I want to get more things done, and I thought if I'm inside the system as a politician, I can get more things done. That was my plot logic. Anyway, so that didn't work.

    Mark Wiedman: So that was almost nine years ago, when you stepped down, went for the by-election for the world. May not have been great for you, but the election results were great for the universe because you just took on your next chapter. What was the next chapter and how did you continue?

    Nandan Nilekani: See around that time, in the ID days, I built the direct benefit transfer platform with the NPCI, which is a National Payment Corporation of India, which is a nonprofit that does all payments in India. So I knew them very well and we started thinking about how to do a real-time mobile payment system. And that's what led to a new product we designed in 2013 called UPI. Unified payment interface.

    Mark Wiedman: And this is where the world actually starts to pay attention.

    Nandan Nilekani: We designed a payment system, real time payments, small value, small transaction fee between any bank account to any bank account from any consumer app to any consumer app. So this is what you call it, a four-party system. For example, I'm using Google and my bank account is State Bank of India, you're using phone pay your bank on HDFC Bank. You can seamlessly transact. So this was ahead of the curve in terms of thinking through how payment should be done, and we launched that in May of 2016 with the idea to create this kind of payment system.

    Mark Wiedman: Before we go to the astounding results, what was the core kind of intellectual architecture connecting the unique ID to payments that you were able to unlock and create that system launching in ‘16?

    Nandan Nilekani: So unique ID not only gave ID, it gave electronic KYC, and electronic KYC reduced customer acquisition costs for newcomers in markets like banking and mobile phones. So essentially, KYC reduced costs of customer acquisition and therefore allowed new newcomers to come and compete in markets. Then we felt that unless we make payments ubiquitous and cheap, you can't really create a transaction economy, and it had to be.

    Mark Wiedman: When you say that, what's a non-transaction economy? What do you mean?

    Nandan Nilekani: I mean, the way the West evolved the internet was, it was a advertising-led economy. Because in the, in the U.S. you spend $700 per person on advertising. And then that money was earlier spent on television and print. So what happened was that money migrated to the internet with digital advertising, with all the big, big tech companies. In India, there's no money in advertising, but people don't have that money to spend. So we had, we said, if you really want to create a flourishing internet economy, it has to be based off transactions. But then to make a transaction economy, you need to make them very efficient, low cost, and very small value. So that led us to the conclusion that you need a very fast real-time payment system.

    Mark Wiedman: So the founding vision was, if we're going to make the internet a reality in Indian lives, we're going to actually need to create a real-time digital payment system because without it, we'll just never get there and, the internet will pass us by. So you launch in May 2016, what did it allow somebody to do?

    Nandan Nilekani: It allowed somebody to make payments from any app to any app, from any bank account, but it was very small scale. We wanted to tackle person to person payments and person to merchant payments. By October of 2016, we were doing a hundred thousand transactions a month.

    Mark Wiedman: Okay, so the vision is basically exploding these level of transactions directly, a hundred thousand in October ‘16. Then what happens?

    Nandan Nilekani: Then in the month of November, on November 8th, 2016, India demonetized its currency. Essentially,we drew currency notes from the economy and said, we'll put in new currency notes, but then people could, didn't have money to pay.

    Mark Wiedman: There was uproar everywhere. They're taking away the currency. Some people thought it was a bungled rollout, but it actually created a catalyst moment for you.

    Nandan Nilekani: Yes, because, suddenly people said, can we do digital payments? And fortunately we had something to do digital payments and, and that's how the BHIM application was launched by the Prime Minister and then after all these other applications came. And so basically the payment boom was driven by two things. One was the demonetization stuff and the second was Covid. Because Covid again gave a big boost to contactless payments. So both these things gave the sort of tailwinds for the growth of digital payments.

    Mark Wiedman: Where are we today in digital payments in India?

    Nandan Nilekani: Today we have, last month was 8.7 billion digital payments. 300 million people use it and 50 million merchants have QR codes at which you can make these payments.

    Mark Wiedman: So you walk into a small shop, a Kirana, there will be a little QR thing.

    Nandan Nilekani: I mean, a guy on the street selling coconuts will have a QR code on his cycle. He'll give you a coconut, drop it out there and you make the payment.

    Mark Wiedman: So, in New York, sometimes on the street, the vendors, they don't have a way of taking digital payments. You're saying basically anywhere except for maybe deep, deep, deep farmland, that person will be prepared to take the digital payments. How is that changing people's lives?

    Nandan Nilekani: Well, it's increasing their efficiency. They're doing more transactions. It's improving the safety. Because if you are a woman selling vegetables on the street, if you take only cash by the end of the day, you have lots of cash and then you're eligible to extortion or theft. Now it's all going into the bank account. She doesn't have to go and deposit the money, it's all in the bank account. And they're also going new innovations, for one, is the payment speaks, it's a sound box. It's important because if I'm running you know, we have India, these restaurants where they make everything, dosas and whatnot, and he has no time to give the dosa and take the money and give a change. Now he has a small audio box there with a QR code, so he gives the dosa and tells the guy to go there. He go there, pays, and the sound box says, received 75 rupees. So he is using his audio hearing so he can deliver more dosa, his hands are free, no payments required. Millions of shops where they have these devices. Lots of innovation.

    Mark Wiedman: So India today where is it going to be in five years regarding this ecosystem you're creating?

    Nandan Nilekani: Well, first of all, you are going to have financial inclusion with everybody having a bank account. With mobile prices dropping, mobiles are going to be ubiquitous. Everybody already has the ID. UPI is expected to go to 1 billion transactions a day, from about 300 million now. We, we think we are halfway on this digital transformation journey. So there are three, four big ideas that are in the works. The first is democratizing credit because we think that if data can be, people can be empowered with their own. Then they can use it to improve their lives. So if a small business can use his bank details or his tax payment details or whatever and securely give to a lender and get credit, then he is using his information collateral to get credit. So we think that'll democratize credit to millions and millions of businesses who didn't get access to credit. So that's going to lead to broad-based economic growth. The small businesses can now get access to credit. So that's the one big idea.

    Mark Wiedman: When you look around the world, where else do you see innovation around ID and payments?

    Nandan Nilekani: Like this? Nowhere. I think that for example Brazil has a very good payment system called Pix, which has done extremely well. But it's only within the banks. I met the governor recently and I think it's doing a great job. It's a bank-to-bank real-time payment system that does high volume transactions.

    Mark Wiedman: What was interesting is in Brazil, they started off the payment system because you have people in the Favellas who are very poor, much more dangerous than Indian equivalents who were being mugged and have all their cash taken. And so you had the urgency of getting cash out of the hands of a single woman or man walking home from his job and actually into the computer systems. Even though it's, you can obviously still there are ways of getting money from people, it's much harder.

    Nandan Nilekani: That's right.

    Mark Wiedman: So that same innovation, why have we not seen this level of innovation in the West?

    Nandan Nilekani: So, it's actually a broader point, which is interestingly, countries that come later to technology can leapfrog.

    Mark Wiedman: This is real leapfrogging. As somebody who's leapfrogged in a couple of ways already in your career, you've leapfrogged technologies more than once.

    Nandan Nilekani: So we did well with ID, we did that with payments. We are doing that with democratizing credit and putting data in the hands of people. We are building a new infrastructure for open digital commerce, which allows everyone to join a grid of payments and grid of commerce. So, any small shop can become a supplier on this. So, it's gonna lead to a lot of hyper-local commerce. Unlike in the West where you have only large-organized trade, or you have e-commerce. India has millions and millions of small businesses, which is common by the way, many countries. So how do these small, millions of small guys, how do they participate in e-commerce? So, we are creating the pipes for that. And then we are also doing a lot of work on logistical improvements because India was a single market for service, because of the fact that our telecom banking regulations are national. So, it's a single market for services, but it was a fractured market for goods. So now with the government of India reforms in GST, putting in a single tax system, making all tax payments, digital, road tolling all that stuff, but much better versions. Making markets more efficient, creating a single market for products and services, enabling millions of small businesses to participate in commerce. And the basic thesis, Mark, is if the, if the world is going to be a digitally intensive economy, the architecture of that is very important.

    Mark Wiedman: What would be your message to us, all of the listeners here around the world, about how to bring the kind of thinking and innovation you've brought to India, to the rest of the world?

    Nandan Nilekani: Well, I think you know, now we call all these things, we call them as digital public infrastructure. And we think that this is an idea whose time has come. And we are happy to see that many countries are saying we want to adopt some of this around the world. We think there'll be about 50 countries who are looking at some, not the whole thing we did, because that's quite big, but, you know, pieces of this, like ID. Philippines is implementing ID similar to this, Morocco is implementing an ID. Some people are looking at payments, so I think you will see countries saying, oh, look, there seems to be a way of doing things which will actually benefit us. I mean, to go back to my point, the pandemic showed us that our lives were digitally intense. We are entwined, you know, we ordered our goods online, we ordered our food online, we did our learning online, we had our meetings online, we had relationships online. So if an economy and society is going be so heavily entwined with digital stuff, you have to think of the architecture of that in a way that's, that you have more economic growth. So our whole thesis is that actually a new model of economic growth, which is more democratic, more inclusive, and which is better for society. I think this is a great time to be doing these things. I think we have seen that you can bring massive change if you want to, and anybody can do it. It's not like, it's not the privilege of a few. So I think every one of these people here can change the world.

    Mark Wiedman: You know, Nandan, it is a time in which ideas have a potential to reach scale like never before in human history.

    Nandan Nilekani: That's right.

    Mark Wiedman: Nandan Nilekani, thank you for joining us.

    Nandan Nilekani: Thank you, Mark.

  • Alex Craddock: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Alex Craddock, Global Chief Marketing Officer at BlackRock.

    The rise of the internet and social media has heralded in a new age of information, but also of misinformation in today's highly competitive market. Building and maintaining brand trust is essential for the long term and can make or break a company's reputation and bottom line. So how can businesses and brands protect their reputations, and how much does it matter to investors here to help us look to the future of brand trust?

    I am really pleased to welcome Lex Suvanto, CEO of Edelman Smithfield, a specialized financial communications boutique within the global PR firm Edelman. Lex brings two decades of experience in PR with a focus on formulating compelling messaging to win support from investors and key stakeholders.

    Lex, welcome to The. Bid.

    Lex Suvanto: Thank you, Alex.

    Alex Craddock: Great to have you here, Lex. So, look, to start, it would be really great to understand how do you define and measure trust?

    Lex Suvanto: Why don't I provide a little background on the trust barometer? So, we've studied trust for, 20 years at this point. The latest survey, 28 countries surveying 30, 32,000 people. It's safe to say it's the defining research on a topic of trust and reputation.

    If you think about it, trust is a forward-looking metric, a projection into the future, a willingness to accept uncertainty. People only, ex people only invest. If they believe in the future. So, after two decades of researching trust, we break it down into four dimensions: ability, dependability, integrity, and purpose.

    Trust defines an organization's license to operate. Every year we conduct the research, and we find important and provocative insights about people about the world. For example, in recent years, it's become clear that trust has gone from being top down. To being conveyed locally, peer to peer.

    Interestingly, people around the world view a coworker, someone like you, people like us as more credible than a CEO, more trustworthy than a politician.

    Alex Craddock: Wow, thanks Lex. It sounds like you are measuring the ultimate currency in a relationship.

    You just wrapped up your latest trust barometer in what has been a turbulent start to an economic year. What are some of the key trends that you are seeing, and are there any emerging trends that are important for us all to be aware of?

    Lex Suvanto: A really important takeaway that's useful and important for the audience to understand. In recent years, a major insight is that business is now the only trusted institution. The business sector has a lead of more than 10 points versus government and media. On the other hand, governments are seen as a source of false and misleading information by almost half of respondents around the world.

    Compare that, though, to my employer's newsletter, the newsletter that we get inside of our companies, that's considered by people around the world as the most trusted source of information. More broadly, more than half of people around the world say their countries are more divided. Today, economic optimism has decreased.

    In 24 of 28 countries, we're seeing all-time lows in economic optimism. Personal anxieties are increasing, fear of job loss, inflation, climate change, nuclear war, and there's also a mass class divide. People in the top quartile of income brackets are more trusting than people in lower incomes. So, it's no surprise that respondents report that social fabric has weakened Amid this division, we also found that a person's ideology has become their identity.

    Here's an interesting view of that. Only 30% of people say they would help a person in need if they strongly disagree with their point of view. Only 20% of people say they would work with somebody who has a strong different point of view. In this environment, survey respondents say they want the business sector to do more, regardless of political affiliation.

    More than half want to see business doing more, collaborating more, to address societal issues such as climate change, economic equality, healthcare. But, at the same time, business can appear politicized when addressing these societal issues.

    Alex Craddock: So, it sounds like there's been a lot of change over the last few years. So, let's go a little deeper. What are you seeing in the latest trust barometer findings that are specific to the financial services industry?

    Lex Suvanto: So, low levels of trust clearly played a role in the recent banking crisis. Just this week in banking earnings, we saw one of the biggest regional banks lose a hundred billion in deposits.

    We saw UBS gaining billions in deposits. Clearly, there's a difference of trust playing out right before our eyes. In the research over several years, financial services is among the least trusted sectors, second only to social media. That was an outcome of the great recession. It has gotten better over the last few years, but only 38% say financial firms serve the interests of everyone equally and fairly.

    Central banks at the center of the recent crisis are not trusted. In four of the five global financial markets. But here's an interesting fact, again, back to my employer. Employees working inside of financial services companies trust their own employer more than in any other industrial sector that we survey.

    This means that we've got brand ambassadors, anyone working inside of a financial services firm, we've got brand ambassadors that are ready to speak out on our behalf.

    Alex Craddock: You just referred to the difficult and challenging start we've had to the year, um, global economy has been under stress.

    The financial industry in particular with the collapse of several regional banks in the US and the acquisition of Credit Suisse by UBS, has really had a tough start to the year. In all cases, these fractures across the financial services industry happened fast, and the shocks have rippled around the world causing a huge amount of market volatility and stress. What are the implications of these recent events on trust in the financial services industry?

    Lex Suvanto: So, a lot's happened in the last couple of months. We actually went back into the field in April. The earlier research I was citing was from a few months ago. But given the significance of the recent cycle, we went back into the field in April to measure any differences.

    No surprise that in April, the research showed an increase in economic anxiety for people, which then translated into concerns about the health of their own bank. A majority of people are concerned that the recent disruptions will impact their own bank, 22%. Small but meaningful say that they would look for an alternative bank to place their deposits that's meaningful.

    There have been notable declines in two areas that are worth mentioning. There was a drop in people saying that financial services has a vision for the future that they can believe in. There was also a drop in people saying that financial services serves the interest of everyone equally and fairly, a drop in number of people that say that.

    But I refer back to Larry Fink's annual letter. And I quote, Long-term investing requires trust in the financial system, and a fundamental belief that tomorrow will be better than today. We need leaders today who will give people reason to be hopeful, who can articulate a vision for a brighter future.

    Unfortunately, given after the recent cycle, the numbers are going in the opposite direction. So that's an opportunity for all of us to think about.

    Also, the regional banking crisis highlighted the role of social media. Through the crisis in Silicon Valley Bank. There were thousands of tweets saying run on the bank with pictures of people lining up at the bank doors.

    Clearly this added to the chaos and panic. Um, the crisis was then compounded by people having access to their deposits, being able to move their money at the push of a button. So that creates a new risk that anyone in this, uh, sector needs to think about a new risk for banking institutions. And one could easily argue that maintaining trust with consumers is getting even more important, the relationship, the communications, the marketing, given the fact that people can change their financial provider and partner with the push of a button.

    Alex Craddock: So, talking about new risks and having seen how social media has disrupted trust, especially in the last few months, I can't help but think about the potential disruption from artificial intelligence we're all talking about it. Would love to hear your thoughts around AI and its implications for trust.

    Lex Suvanto: Many may have read CEOs of large technology companies are referring to AI as terrifying. One CEO referred to AI as potentially leading to civilization destruction. So, the question of trust is a prominent part of the AI discourse happening right now.

    The issue is that none of us really understand AI, and there's a rising concern about accuracy and bias. Even the CEO of Google recently pointed to hallucinations observed in the output of AI systems. Lack of transparency is a big part of that. Recent research found that 72% of people say that knowing a company's AI policies is important before making a buying decision.

    So, here's the question. Do you understand your firm's AI policies? More than half of millennials and Gen Z say they will consider switching brands. If data policies, including AI, are not clear. So, brands and companies need to demonstrate responsible use of AI. Companies will need to be prepared to explain decisions made by those systems.

    We've all read that AI increases the potential for bias, depending on who created the algorithm. One hurdle is that there's no agreed upon definition of fairness. So, the problem is there's no universally accepted fairness definition that can be programmed into ai. It begs the question. Whose values do we use in AI?

    Then there's the question of accountability. If an AI system is wrong, who's accountable? When you call a customer service hotline, you can ask to speak to the manager, but if an AI system gives you an answer you don't like, who do you ask? What manager do you speak to? Ultimately, AI systems will need to be able to explain.

    The system itself will need to be able to explain why it's giving you the answer that it's giving. Businesses will need to produce AI responsibility reports just like ESG reports. In the recent research we conducted in April, we asked consumers how they feel about AI and financial services products. We were encouraged to learn that two and five Americans believe AI will improve financial services.

    Some say it already is, it already has started to improve these systems, so that's a good start. Our job as professionals and leaders in this sector is to maintain and build on that trust that will require building principles, fostering transparency, and helping people know how to use AI and the technology ourselves.

    Alex Craddock: That's really interesting and it's great to hear that the ongoing theme for us all is this need for greater transparency and really helping our customers understand how AI is helping them and how we're using the data to help them.

    Lex Suvanto: That's right.

    Alex Craddock: So, it sounds like there's a potential opportunity there, which is great.

    I think one of, one of the more exciting trends around the world, that we're seeing in investment management is the rapid emergence of a new generation of younger investor, think young millennials, older Gen Z, under the age of 35, could you tell me about the key characteristics of this generation in terms of building trust and how should they be treated differently than other generations?

    Lex Suvanto: So, the gen Z generation is already one of the largest segments in the US- between millennials and Gen Z, it may very well be the largest already. Definitely poised to reshape consumer economic and political trends. But a major finding, and this cuts through all aspects of marketing to this generation, a major finding, is the emergence of what we call belief driven buying.

    Nearly two out of three consumers today buy or advocate for brands based on their values. Gen Z is leading that trend. Here's some characteristics about Gen Z.

    Gen Z consumers feel the need to take action and fight for their future given the issues that they see in the decades ahead.

    They unite around causes such as sustainability, educational access, equality, mental health. This influences where they shop, where they buy, who they will vote for. They live and build relationships through technology; they control information flow through social media. As a result of all of this, gen Z is turning corporate marketing upside down.

    Nine and 10. Gen Z-ers want the brands and services they buy to get involved in causes that they care about. They have a strong belief in the influence of experts and believe in influencers. They buy on their beliefs and want to work with brands that stand with them on the issues that they care about.

    I was recently teaching a class to a group of Gen Z-ers from all around the country. One student from the Southwest said, when I see a brand that's getting involved in global and societal issues, it gives me hope. It gives me hope.

    I share that anecdote because that statement isn't about politics. That statement is more about their view of the viability, their view of the health of the future. So, to build trust with Gen Z, corporate leaders need to ask themselves a few simple questions.

    Are your products and services tailored to Gen Z? What do your products stand for? Are your technologies and social media meeting the expectations of Gen Z and how they use it.

    Alex Craddock: So, there's a few things that we're going to have to think about as we want to engage this younger audience of investors and how we build trust with them, but I think it's such an exciting opportunity for our industry.

    You've shared a lot of great insight about trust from the latest trust barometer study. Bringing all of these things together, what are the two or three key insights that investors should take away and what should they do differently to build trust with our customers based on your insights?

    Lex Suvanto: Absolutely. I can offer a few high-level takeaways and then a few tactical takeaways. So, the first one is, business needs to business as the most trusted institution needs to work on helping to break the current cycle of anxiety. And division and polarization in our world as the most trusted institution, the business sector must help restore economic optimism.

    Businesses must help temper polarization by investing in fair compensation training, focusing on local communities to address the mass class divide, businesses and government must work together to build consensus and collaboration on policies and standards and businesses must help advocate for the truth.

    To be a reliable source of information to promote fair discourse. A few tactical considerations in this fast-paced environment. Just on the heels of the regional banking crisis, it's clear that it's important to over-communicate, make information easy for stakeholders to understand and access. Establish what we would call push channels.

    Be prepared with communications tools that reach your audiences where they are quickly and easily. And action pack your narrative. What we mean by that is emphasize the actions you are taking to stabilize your company, to strengthen your position, even to stabilize the environment and the industry. And lastly, don't underestimate the importance, the growing role of the Gen Z generation.

    If you can build trust and advocacy among Gen Z, they will become fierce advocates for your products and your brands.

    Alex Craddock: Sounds like a great set of takeaways for us all and I think within that a lot of opportunity for us. So, look, Lex, thank you so much as always, I mean I love the trust barometer. It's just a great insight for us. We are in a time of change, there's a lot of market stress, but I always sort of look back over history and go, look, you know, in these times of change and these times of stress, actually there's a lot of opportunity. And I think, what you've given me, and hopefully everybody here is a lot of hope that there's a lot that we can actually do to build trust, especially with this new generation of younger investor that's embracing a highly digitized way of engaging with us.

    We need to think differently and approach the experience differently. But I think ultimately, we're going to get the best reward of all, which is the trust of our customers and our clients.

    So, Lex, thank you very much for joining me today on The Bid. I appreciate it and um, speak to you very soon.

    Lex Suvanto: Thanks, Alex.

    THEME MUSIC

    Alex Craddock: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bid. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, rate and leave us a review.

  • Oscar Pulido: Welcome to The Bid, where we break down what's happening in the markets and explore the forces changing the economy and finance. I'm your host, Oscar Pulido.

    Have you ever wondered if the weather can impact your investment decisions? What if we could map the impact natural disasters have on economies, or immediately understand the impact of a geopolitical conflict on your portfolio?

    Geospatial data provides information on the physical location and characteristics of assets, infrastructure, and resources. This data has the potential to revolutionize investment decision making by providing investors with insights into the spatial dynamics of different markets and assets.

    To help us gain a better understanding of this new and cutting-edge investment trend and how this information is gathered and used, I'm pleased to welcome Joshua Kazdin and Mike Pensky, who are both part of BlackRock's active investment business. And we have spent the last several years developing a geospatial investment capability and bringing these insights into active investment portfolios.

    Josh, Mike, welcome to The Bid.

    Mike Pensky: Thanks for having us.

    Josh Kazdin: Glad to be here!

    Oscar Pulido: Mike and Josh, you both work in the active investment business, which I think of as you're trying to outperform the market, and in order to do that, you have to have really unique information and insights that allow you to do that.

    I think historically, you're meeting with company managements, you're analyzing the financial statements of companies in order to develop those insights, and I think some of this still happens, but another way that you can do it - and that you guys have pioneered - is this thing called “geospatial data”. So, what is geospatial data and how did you start on this project?

    Mike Pensky: So, Oscar, the way to think about geospatial data, is it's just data that's all around us. It can be objects or events or really anything that has a location associated with it near the surface of

    the earth. Right now, you're sitting in the world somewhere, right now you're sitting here with us. Outside it might be really hot. People might be walking around the commercial district, the airport at the local city might have a lot of activity, there are a lot of hotels that might be booked in the area. All of these are concepts that are geospatial in nature, they're associated with location. And so, what are the data that are associated with it that we can measure?

    We can measure the extremity of temperatures; we can understand the foot traffic around various stores and retail locations. We can understand what hotel bookings look like. We can measure the GPS traces on trucks as they're moving around the city.

    All of these happen in certain locations, and they have investment implications associated with them that we can actually leverage in our portfolios. Ultimately, to us, geospatial data is about getting information that's more timely, that's different than what you can get from other data, and it really is associated with actual real human economic activity happening in real time.

    Oscar Pulido: Maybe Josh, touch on why did the two of you partner up on this initiative?

    Josh Kazdin: Part of the reason why, honestly, was I had a couple of friends in San Francisco who wanted to start a family, and usually when you start a family, you move out of the city and you go out into the suburb somewhere, maybe someplace that has a little bit more room to move. You have a yard for your kid to run in, there are schools. And every year after they moved out of San Francisco, they had to pack up their home and get into a car and drive away because there were wildfires. In California, you fear wildfire season every year. That cost on a family, on a community is really hard to quantify. We wanted to better understand how extreme weather events were ultimately impacting households, businesses, and the markets.

    A couple of years ago, Mike and I decided to explore what were the effects of FEMA disaster declarations on economic activity at the county level in the United States. By the time we got comfortable trying to understand that relationship, the pandemic hit. And that became an entire geospatial problem in and of itself. Social distancing data started to get released both in the United States, in Europe, and across the world. And our group started to pull in that data and use it to forecast which areas were going to have a government shutdown, which businesses were going to be impacted, and how that was going to ultimately impact our portfolios.

    The minute that we got comfortable with that, Russia invaded Ukraine. And in the horror of that atrocity, we immediately sprung into action to try to understand how the war was ultimately going to impact our client's portfolios. Where were the investments themselves and ultimately, which companies were likely going to be impacted?

    Certainly, stranded assets during that time were much more about a McDonald's in Moscow than it was anything buried under the ground. Across each one of these areas, geospatial became a really critical piece to understanding either a risk or an opportunity that would impact our client's capital.

    Oscar Pulido: You've both painted this really interesting picture, this sort of lens on the world that you are uniquely seeing with all these data points. You talked about airport activity and talked about social distancing activity and the insights that provided. But I can't help but think about the sheer quantity of all the data points that you're looking at. How should people think about what you're doing in the geospatial realm with this term big data that gets talked about a lot?

    Josh Kazdin: So, our team's motto is that we turn data into alpha. Usually that data can come in three different ways. People think either it's traditional, it's big, or it's alternative. Let's just give a quick overview of each one of those.

    Traditional data is the usual suspects of financial information that people have been using over the last century to try to understand markets.

    This can be everything from, financial statements to the SEC, macroeconomic releases, industry reports, analyst ratings even returns themselves. Those are just the traditional data sets that we use to think about markets. Usually, you can put it into a nice spreadsheet, load it up on your computer and make a decision about what you want to invest in.

    The bigness of data, however, covers both the size as well as the computing resources that you need to explore that information effectively. We're not talking about the megabytes of a PDF that you might download, or the gigabytes of an update to your iPhone, we're talking about terabytes or petabytes of data that require a huge amount of computing power to be able to understand.

    Alternative data can be big or small, but usually it's strange, unstructured, not mapped to an investment that you're trying to analyze. So, if you are thinking about what people are searching for online in terms of a product that they might want to buy, or as Mike mentioned before, the GPS trace in trucks as they're moving through a supply chain or news that is coming out halfway across the world in a different language. What topics are they talking about? What is the sentiment? What companies are implicated by that? Al