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Warren Buffett’s annual letter may reveal more clues to whether a Canadian will probably be Berkshire’s next CEO




Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders is on its way Saturday, and it also is able to bring more clues concerning the 87-year-old billionaire’s succession plans at his conglomerate.

In item providing an update about the company he’s been building more than 50 years, Buffett will probably pack this year’s installment with financial wisdom and optimism about the U.S. economy, as well as the occasional risque joke.

Bloomberg’s Top Live blog will handle Berkshire’s annual report and letter starting at 7:40 a.m. in Big apple.

Themes Buffett may address, and also the company’s future leadership, add the recent U.S. tax overhaul, underwriting challenges affecting the business, plus the widely watched health initiative teaming Berkshire with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Inc. This is the glance:

Abel and Jain

In January, Buffett promoted two longtime executives — Ajit Jain and Greg Abel — to vice chairmen overseeing swaths of Berkshire’s business. Jain, 66, was invest management of insurance operations, while Abel, 55, who’s going to be a Canadian, accounts for all other subsidiaries. Both were also appointed on the board.

Jain and Abel were logical candidates to acquire expanded roles. They have built significant businesses for Buffett, winning the billionaire’s praise in the act. Jain has for years led Berkshire’s namesake reinsurer, while Abel oversaw a significant growth of the electricity business.

Buffett described the promotions as “element of a movement toward succession.” That either Abel or Jain could eventually be named CEO is no shock. Have made investors’ short lists for ages. Many shareholders are betting that Abel would be the likelier pick, partly considering that the energy executive one is the most compared to a decade younger. Abel’s promotion puts him accountable for a broader collection of businesses with a lot more employees.

Buffett claims there’s no “horse race” to succeed him. In spite of this, expect him to clarify a little more about the brand new arrangement along with what it implies for Berkshire’s future.

Tax Changes

The new U.S. tax law had been a windfall for Berkshire. Analysts at Barclays Plc noted the lower corporate rate probably added US$37 billion while in the fourth quarter to book value, an example of Buffett’s preferred yardsticks for measuring his performance as founder. The one-time increase will be a consequence of Berkshire lowering its tax liability on appreciated investments. Think: Coca-Cola Co. stock bought decades ago that’s soared in value.

In a long time, the implications on the tax law are less clear. Berkshire’s electric utilities find yourself passing on any savings to ratepayers since their returns are regulated. Though the conglomerate’s other manufacturers might even see significant gains. All depends on “competitive conditions,” Buffett said for the company’s annual meeting last May. Typically, businesses in cut-throat industries will end up passing numerous break through to customers than businesses with less competition. Morgan Stanley analysts estimate the tax cut could lift Berkshire’s operating earnings by 14 %.

Anticipation of these benefits was one reason the conglomerate’s shares soared recently, crossing US$300,000 the first time. Buffett may devote a portion of the letter for the new tax policy’s effect on Berkshire, and then he can also speak more broadly about what improvements mean for U.S. business and also the economy.

Underwriting Challenges

Buffett has often sung the praises of his company’s insurance operations, which include Geico and Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group. The premiums they collect present you with a steady stream of income obtain. For regarding green decade, they accomplished it with an underwriting profit.

Last year was different. A spate of natural disasters, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, pummeled that is a. Berkshire’s losses weren’t out-size. But its insurance division posted an underwriting loss with the first nine months of this year, putting the viewers on the right track to record its first red ink since 2002.

Expect Buffett to go into detail why he’s focused on the business nevertheless had comments hard year when its results overshadowed progress elsewhere.

Health Care

Buffett has long considered health-care costs a “tapeworm” around the U.S. economy. Now, Berkshire is trying to get rid of it. At the end of January, the conglomerate announced it had become teaming program JPMorgan and Amazon to form a new health-care company.

Not much is known about the venture, although it will probably be “devoid of profit-making incentives” and concentrate on using technology to raise transparency for workers and lower costs. But speculation by what the companies might try to do sent shock waves throughout the health-care industry.

Look for Buffett to talk about why he thinks healthcare is becoming a dilemma for your U.S. economy, otherwise divulge more specifics regarding the initiative. He’d also credit Berkshire investment manager Todd Combs for his help in moving the hassle forward.


New Fed chair Powell says U.S. economic outlook strong, signals gradual rate hikes in public areas debut





WASHINGTON — Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress Tuesday how the outlook for any U.S. economy “remains strong” regardless of the recent stock game turbulence, keeping the central bank on target to gradually raise mortgage rates.

Making his first public comments as leader of the nation’s central bank, Powell depicted an economy that was gaining strength and stressed that they intended to continue with the method of loan rates set by his predecessor, Janet Yellen. The Fed boosted its benchmark rate 3 x this past year and contains signalled that this expects to increase rates another 3 times in 2018.

In his statement, Powell praised Yellen with the important contributions she made during her four years when the first woman to have the Fed. He said the 2 main had worked together to be sure “an easy leadership transition and give for continuity in monetary policy.”

Referring to the wild swings during the stock trading game that occurred earlier this month, Powell said the Fed does “not see these developments as weighing heavily within the outlook for economic activity, the labour market and inflation.”

Powell, who took office on Feb. 5, was tapped last November since the new Fed leader after President Mr . trump thought we would against offering Yellen an extra term. Powell, a Republican, continues to be to the Fed’s seven-member board since 2012.

The Fed has raised its policy rate with a quarter-point 5 times starting December 2019. Before then, it had kept its policy rate at the record low near zero for seven years in an attempt to help the country pass though the deepest recession since 1930s. Despite the presence of the latest hikes, the interest rate remains on a still-low 1.25 per cent to just one.Half. But various market rates, including loan rates, have begun rising in anticipation of further Fed rate increases.

Many economists believe the Fed, which last raised rates in December, will hike again at its next meeting in March but some analysts think the Fed could hike a lot more than 3 times this year, determined by what inflation does.

Investors have started to worry how the Fed might accelerate the interest rate of their credit tightening if inflation, that has been dormant for ages, starts show signs of accelerating. Recent market turmoil was triggered by using a propose that wages to your Calendar year ending in January had climbed within the fastest pace in eight years, raising concerns that inflation pressures may be growing.

In his comments, Powell did not express worries how the economy was commencing to overheat, stressing instead several developments showing economic strength.

“The robust marketplace should keep support increase household incomes and consumer spending, solid economic growth among our trading partners should result in further gains in U.S. exports and upbeat business sentiment and strong sales growth will likely keep boost business investment,” Powell said.

Some economists have raised concerns that recent moves with the Trump administration and Congress to improve economic growth through $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and increased government spending may cause the Fed to concern yourself overheating and inflation.

But Powell declared that the government’s fiscal policy was now “more stimulative,” which may aid to boost inflation, that is chronically lower in the past several years. He stated that this Fed expected inflation to relocate up this holiday season after which stabilize throughout the Fed’s 2 per-cent target.

Powell was delivering the Fed’s semi-annual monetary report and testimony to Congress, appearing ahead of the House Financial Services Committee additionally, the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

During her four years as Fed leader, Yellen often received a bad reception from Republicans in the House who believed the Fed, throughout the extraordinary measures before combat the 2008 overall economy plus the deep recession to come, had grown too powerful and too independent. To impose more control, House GOP lawmakers pushed legislation that will demand Fed to follow along with a selected monetary rule in setting interest levels.

Yellen objected, arguing how the economy was too complicated try using a single rule to put loan rates. Powell in addition has voiced his opposition to your strict monetary rule nevertheless in his testimony he noted how the Fed “routinely consults monetary policy rules” for guidelines in setting policy.

“Personally, I’ve found these rule prescriptions helpful,” he explained, while noting that careful judgments were still necessary in assessing the variables who go to the various rules.

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Side accounts could bring two life assurance giants to their knees





In a time better mortgage rates inside late 1990s, two predecessor companies of commercial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc. and Manulife Financial Corp. issued life policies that allowed holders to purchase side accounts that guaranteed rates of as much as five percent and four percent, respectively.

These side accounts wouldn’t contain an explicit limit within the height and width of investment, meaning in today’s low-rate environment these are potentially lucrative for his or her holders and also a significant liability for that firms that wrote them.

At least three limited partnerships purchased such policies previously in Saskatchewan, one among only four Canadian provinces that let buying insurance policies off their original holders. These investors have been in court in Saskatoon to push the insurers to acknowledge their own.

If legal court decides in preference of the investors, two major Canadian insurance firms could incur significant costs and face “liquidation” in the worst-case scenario, in line with one expert witness.

The universal life plans you want were written in 1997 by Aetna Term life insurance Co. (subsequently acquired by Maritime Life Assurance Co., which, consequently, was acquired by Manulife in 2004) and 1999 by National Life Assurance Co. of Canada (acquired by Industrial Alliance in 2005).

Universal life policies give the twin important things about a death benefit as well as a methods for earn investment income for a tax-exempt basis while in the policy, thereby making a cash value that may be accessed before death, though Canada Revenue Agency imposes a restriction on the policy value to keep this tax-exempt status.

As it possibilities open to customers expanded to add in equity market-related index returns, the volatility with the policy values increased. This sometimes required insurers to send back funds to customers to stay within CRA limits, and then complete and ask the annual premium payment shortly thereafter.

The side account was introduced to be a means to fix this customer annoyance, according to company representatives inside their affidavits. Rather then sending cheques back and forth, the inside account acted to be a receptacle to the insurer to deposit excess funds in the evening CRA limit along with policyholders to prepay future premiums.

Most side accounts offered more limited investment options — frequently, for example, merely a daily interest account — as opposed to runners offered in the main policy account.

However, older policies from several insurers offered very attractive investment options inside side account, together with a renewable 10-year guaranteed investment account by using a fixed, unalterable rate significantly above home market rates.

That option caught the interest of Michael Hawkins, a self-described businessman, farmer and actuary exceeding 24 years of experience within the term life insurance industry, as well as officer within the general partner of Ituna Investment LP and Mosten Investment LP, the plaintiffs in case before the court.  

In 2007, shortly fater he began to consider policies, underwritten by credit-worthy insurers, that offered attractive guaranteed rates, no ability for the insurers to reduce them, without caps for the dimensions of permitted investment.

In 2009 and 2010, according to his affidavit, Hawkins brilliant partners found what they were seeking and Ituna and Mosten purchased the IA and Manulife policies.

Focusing their efforts over the most sought after IA policy, they gradually invested over $4 million (net of withdrawals) over 3 years, at close to five % (including bonus interest), before IA shut them down at the beginning of 2019 after an inside audit with the policy.

They were less successful with Manulife, which accepted only $10,000 in the side account in 2019 before returning their funds in 2019. After unsuccessful efforts to negotiate an “acceptable” degree of investment in the policies when using the insurers, Ituna and Mosten filed court applications last December to compel the insurers acknowledge their investments.

But company executives argue in affidavits that the side account can’t be used to hold funds that aren’t reasonably important for future life insurance premium payments, pointing to contract language that identifies balances as “premiums on deposit.”

Furthermore, they note, it had become never industry practice to the side account to be utilized for large investments, stating that commissions are not paid to brokers on balances inside the side account.

The investors counter that before choosing a policy the exact same enter in 2009, Ituna requested and received a schedule from IA illustrating a hypothetical $1-million investment in the inside account.

The insurers’ counsel in addition called on Nicholas Le Pan, occasion head with the Office from the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. In written testimony, he noted that if insurers were forced by way of the court’s decision to just accept large deposits in to the side account, they will contravene the Companies Act, which prohibits deposit taking.

However, reported by their own testimony, Industrial Alliance was missing measures in area to guard against deposit taking nor detect Ituna’s large investment.

Further, although the company’s automated system tracked and reported that this $4-million peak level represented almost 15,000 years’ in future premium payments over the underlying policy, its first transfer to manage the difficulty when detected in 2019 was not to come back the big deposit, but that will put additional deposits by Ituna towards a short-term, lower-rate option. All funds were eventually returned in September 2019 through IA’s counsel.

The third defence argument, furnished by an unbiased actuary, Oliver Wyman, asks the court to consider the system-wide impact with the court’s decision.

If investors are capable to place unlimited amounts earning five per cent, the insurers would, from a worst-case scenario, face unlimited and un-hedgable liabilities, are not ready to attract capital, and may also have to cease operations, which could obviously negatively impact other policyholders, insurers and society in particular.

Hawkins addressed that possibility in a affidavit, arguing that it wouldn’t be the better choice to be able to invest unlimited amounts because, “It may be in contrast to Ituna’s interests for Industrial Alliance in becoming insolvent or in any manner cannot pay its obligations …”

The cases raise interesting legal issues, particularly light of brand new Top court of Canada decisions in unrelated taxation cases.

In and both issued in 2019, a legal court severely limited the usage of “rectification” (termed “reformation” within the U.S.), an equitable remedy whereby a court orders a change in an itemized document to mirror exactly what it should have said to begin with.

Making the implied limit to the dimensions of investment in one side account actually explicit will be a loan application of your rectification remedy in this case. But which might be an even more remote possibility here.

“Normally the judge leans to your insured if you find any ambiguity inside the policy,” noted a Toronto-based lawyer not connected with the way it is who motivated to remain anonymous, for the reason that insurer has access to experts to help with drafting the policy and finished treating its contents.

A third insurer, BMO Life Assurance Co., is definitely the subject of a case in Estevan, Sask., stemmed from the identical investor group. Its policy carries a three percent guaranteed rate. However, because of the similarity in underlying issues, BMO Life will quickly join IA and ManuLife in seeking a common hearing on the three cases prior to when the Saskatoon court.

The Canadian Life and Medical care insurance Association in addition has weighed in, seeking intervenor status (recently granted) to bolster the arguments from the members, as well as clarify the deposit-taking legal problem for this is a.

A judge on Nov. 20 ruled the three cases will stay separate, but, given similarities in legalities, they will all be heard throughout the same five-day free trial in April 2018 by a common judge in Saskatoon.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs may have found a fresh way to obtain potential profits. They recently brought a second action against BMO Life and Manulife, contending the insurers happen to be utilizing the tax-exempt test of these contracts for the incorrect date, resulting in the policies being fully taxable. They conisder that this could hand them over the authority to invest large amounts mainly account also.

Not surprisingly, it options provide a lot more attractive terms as opposed to inside side be the reason for these policies.

Industrial Alliance and BMO both declined comment citing the court proceedings underway. Manulife declined detailed comments for a similar reason, but reiterated its primary defence it can not accept interpretations or uses of its items that are regardless of their intents and purposes.

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The excellent Bifurcation is coming to management and that's not so great for closet indexers





I don’t usually use such big words, nevertheless one fits nicely with what’s ahead within the investment world. I want to explain.

The wealth management publication rack large and highly competitive, so there will almost always be assets moving. Most significant transitions stands out as the redistribution products I call the “mushy middle.” Which is, funds that purport to be actively managed, but rather closely follow an index. On the market, they’re affectionately referred to as closet indexers or index huggers.

Indexing, however, is usually a perfectly good strategy. Its main advantage is inexpensive. Unfortunately, closet indexers usually are not affordable. It will cost a fee that means a dynamic endeavor to beat the index.

Why so mushy?

In Canada, there are many huge amounts of dollars with this category, which begs the question. How did we are here?

First of all, most closet indexers didn’t start out like this. We were looking at truly active funds, though success, they grew to some extent the spot that the manager had little choice. The greater the fund, the harder it is actually to look unique from the index. A lot of the true within the small Canadian market where managers have for liquidity excellent reasons to own the most important stocks within the index.

Some of your hugging has emanated from your institutional side of your business. Pension funds will often have consultants who monitor their investment managers. This constant scrutiny pushes managers on the middle because committees want index-beating returns with little deviation in the index (referred to as tracking error). The word what “overweight” and “underweight” are being used repeatedly to explain strategies for this index. “We’re overweight oils and underweight banks.”

The next factor pertains to tracking error. Like anyone, portfolio managers must manage their career risk. They can’t afford to lag past an acceptable limit behind the index or they’ll lose their job. The not-so-subtle message from management is, “don’t have a very really bad year and cripple our sales momentum.”

And finally, the emergence of your bank branch as a force in wealth management has fed the mushy middle. The large Five’s distribution network is indeed powerful, they don’t really need to get adventurous utilizing their products. Along the middle is just fine. And lastly, their managers likewise have the shape issue to handle. Most core bank funds have vast amounts of dollars in assets.

Game changer – cheap indexing

With the evolution of low-cost indexing via ETFs and the likely removal of trailer commissions, the mushy middle is going to undergo a bifurcation. I suspect most the assets will go the ETF route, as indexing has momentum behind it and it’s most the same as the mushy funds.

Some assets, however, is going the other way. Maybe it’s unrealistic (our firm is within the active side), even so believe many investors still here is a chance for beating the index as time passes. They’ll search for non-index means to suit your purposes.

Giving active a more rewarding shot

Beating low-cost index funds is tough. For fund managers to make it work, some changes have been in order.

First, they should be truly active, this means looking and behaving differently versus index.

Second, they must keep their fees manageable. There are numerous managers who add value on the “pre-fee” basis, yet not by enough to counterbalance the big cost with their funds. The fees charged by active funds must reflect the probability and magnitude of excess return.

Third, managers should tout the main advantages of their approach. In particular, active funds generally hold up better in down markets. For many individual investors, this smoother pattern of returns is a good match their objectives and personality.

And finally, active managers need to point advisers additionally, the media toward fairer performance comparisons. I believe that this considering that the often-quoted SPIVA survey (Standard & Poor’s Indexing versus Active) is seriously flawed. It compares mutual funds in any case fees (including trailers) to index returns without having any costs or tracking error. An apples-to-apples comparison will be ‘F’ series mutual funds (no trailer) and actual ETFs.

The amount of reckoning is arriving. If active managers aren’t ready to address these issues, they won’t survive the good Bifurcation.

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