Introduction of a new employee pension savings scheme in Poland and its impact on the Warsaw Stock Exchange

02/08/2019

In November 2018, the new Act on Employee Capital Plans (ECPs) was signed and in January 2019 implemented to the Polish legal system. The new regulations are coming into force in tranches starting from July 2019. Firstly, the biggest enterprises (employing >250 workers) are encompassed with the new system. Eventually, starting from January 2021, ECP will cover all employees between 19 and 55 years of age (workers between 55 and 70 years can join voluntarily), hired in accordance with the Labor Code (c. 11.5m Poles according to the Polish Statistical Office GUS).

The scheme is based on an auto-enrollment mechanism with a possible opt-out. Contributions to the system will be financed by employers, employees and the state budget and will consist of a mandatory stake of at least 3.5% of employee’s gross salary with an optional additional contribution of up to 4.5% of salary. Additional funds will be provided by the state’s budget entity, Labor Fund – an introductory payment of PLN 250 and an annual contribution of PLN 240 for those contributing above the mandatory required amount. ECPs are run by investment funds, pension funds, insurance companies and employee pension funds for a fee of up to 0.6% depending on the portfolio performance. Currently, c. 60 investment companies fulfill the requirements but as of 1 August 2019 19 companies registered for running ECPs.

The reasons for the reform were the Open Pension Fund liquidation reform in 2014, considerably low level of retirement savings (only c. 20% of workers in Poland save for their retirement themselves according to Aegon), and growing number of retirees after a reduction of the retirement age for men (67 to 65 year old) and women (65 to 60 year old) in 2017, which will likely lead to lower state pensions in the future.

From the stock market perspective, the reform means capital inflow as the institutions entitled to run ECPs will be obliged to invest a significant share of the accumulated funds on the Polish capital market. Therefore, we see the new regulations as a positive stimulus for the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE). The ECPs investment policy assumes allocating at least 40% of assets in shares and share-based instruments (i.e. futures, options) listed in the blue chip WIG20 index, including assets where the index is the underlying instrument, and no more than 30% of assets in other WSE-listed companies. It is worth mentioning that ECPs are allowed to invest in the alternative NewConnect segment, where pension funds have legally been banned from since 2014. Taking all ECP investment policy restrictions together, around 70% of the assets eligible for share-based instruments will be invested on the WSE. The total cash inflow, which will support the Polish capital market in the coming years, is estimated between PLN 6bn/EUR 1.4bn and PLN 15bn/ EUR 3.5bn per year.

As offerings similar to ECP have already been established by the biggest corporations (i.e. Citibank Europe), c. 30% of the biggest companies in Poland will not provide ECPs (Source: Gazeta Prawna). This means that the expected funds that e.g. will support the Warsaw Stock Exchange may be lower than expected. Secondly, press’ and NGO’s opinions on the new scheme is far from being positive. Various think tanks and newspapers stress the fiscal burden of the government’s co-payments formula, which may require higher taxes in the coming years. According to GRAPE, the cost of the state’s contribution is estimated at 0.7% of currently collected VAT tax amount. In addition, the cost of the reform will be co-financed by those who will not benefit from it – i.e. entrepreneurs (>2m Poles).

Romania – the EU’s Cinderella

21/11/2017

With around 20m inhabitants, Romania is the second largest of the ex-communist countries that have joined the European Union since 2004. Though, comparing to other Eastern European states, Romania fell behind in the reform process in the 1990s, nowadays it is one of the fastest developing economies in the EU. Since 2007, the yearly GDP has averaged 2.5% (3rd best growth rate among the Eastern European EU countries), while disposable incomes have increased by 8.8% y-o-y. Based on Berenberg‘s calculations, Romania will remain the fastest-growing European economy over the next two years. According to the latest estimate of the National Statistics Institute (INS), the GDP growth accelerated to 8.8% in Q3 2017, which was the fastest rate in the EU.

The Bucharest Stock Exchange (BVB)

The Bucharest Stock Exchange was launched in 1995 and has been growing dynamically with 386 companies currently quoted in the main and AeRO segments. BVB is also close to meet the criteria of an Emerging Market in the FTSE Russell ranking.

As of the end of October 2017, the market capitalization of the Romanian companies was EUR 19.5bn, while the capitalization of all the companies listed on the BVB’s Main Market (currently 88) accounted for EUR 35.5bn. (EUR 36.7bn together with AeRO segment). In 2016, Romania’s main stock market index, BET, was paying a dividend yield of 7.9%. All of the companies in the BET index have dividend yields of more than 6%, thereof some >10% (i.e. Transgaz -15.5% , Romgaz – 18%, Transelectrica – 16%).

A good place to invest

The Romanian government is creating a pro-investment environment. Since 2007 (EU accession date), several major global companies (Siemens, Ford, Bosch) have set up or expanded operations in Romania. In 2016, the VAT rate was reduced from 24% to 20% and to 19% in 2017, which was a very strong stimulus for consumption. However, it caused the rise of government deficit from 0.8% in 2015 up to 3% in 2016. From a capital gains perspective, Romania also has a relatively small dividend tax – 5% (i.e. in Poland – 19%).

Tech-savvy society

Due to the communist legacy of excellence in science, Romanians are founders of successful tech companies – they can boast about domestic companies taken over by international giants (RAV Antivirus sold to Microsoft in 2003; Clever Taxi accquired by Daimler in 2016). Though the Venture Capital environment is improving, it’s still in its infancy: overall VC investments equal 0.001% of GDP, compared to the EU’s average of 0.027% (data for 2016). We believe that the Romanian’s under-developed and fragmented funding environment should change due to the new EU budget 2014-20 (EUR 40bn in total for Romania, thereof >3 bn for innovative projects).

Overall, from a political and economical perspective, Romania is a safe country to invest. Considering the stable macroeconomic situation (inflation c. 2%, public debt c. 38% GDP, basic interest rate at 1.75% and a relatively stable exchange rate), Romanian economy is an interesting and profitable place to allocate assets.

Most important questions relating to “issuer-sponsored research”

21/11/2017

As a non-bank research house, East Value Research offers both free and paid research, which can be sponsored either by investors, companies, brokerage houses or IR/PR agencies. Below are the most important questions relating to „paid-for equity research”:

(1) Why does paid research exist?

Paid research was created in order to fill the information gap in the area of small- and very small companies (so-called small-, micro- and nanocaps). As their main revenue source are commissions from buying and selling securities, typical brokerage houses concentrate on the analysis of the largest and most liquid companies. Small-, micro- and nanocaps are not very interesting for brokers as they are not able to cover their operating costs with them.

Paid research can help smaller listed companies to increase trading volume, visibility on the capital market and to access new investor groups.   

(2) Does research “for money” also exist on markets outside CEE and how is it regarded?

Sponsored research has been present in Western Europe and North America for many years. First companies started to offer this kind of service in the 1990s. In Germany alone, there are currently c. 13 providers of sponsored research. New research houses are being founded as investment banks are reducing staff in their research departments.

Most international investors do not see a difference between typical “sell side” reports and sponsored research, but conflicts of interest have to be clearly described. Many portfolio managers appreciate the fact that sponsored research presents companies, which are “below the radar” of investment banks. Moreover, even if they have coverage “for free”, listed companies often continue their co-operation with providers of sponsored research due to their knowledge about the specific company/sector and access to investors, which investment banks do not service.

(3) Can paid research be objective?

Similar to research that is provided by investment banks, sponsored research is subject to conflicts of interest. Thus, it is crucial that both the company, which orders a report, and the analyst understand that it is in their both interest that the report will be well-received by the market.

In our daily work, we follow CFA Institute’s rules in order to guarantee that our paid research is objective and the assumptions/estimates are as realistic as possible. For example, before signing research contracts we always conduct a due diligence of companies, which have ordered coverage, and are remunerated before the preparation of the report, which is to ensure that the client does not “buy a BUY rating”. In addition, we only make available to companies the draft of the report without valuation and rating and try to persuade our clients that from the investor’s perspective it is important that the research coverage covers at least 12 months.

(4) Why research in English and international distribution is important for CEE-listed companies?

Since its foundation, East Value Research has only been preparing research reports in English and distributing them worldwide. In our view, despite the fact that the capital markets in CEE are relatively small, they are still rather closed, although nowadays investors are looking for investment opportunities around the world. Moreover, we strongly believe that international distribution can help smaller CEE-based companies, which increasingly focus on exports, to gain not just new investors but also clients.

Why you should invest in Polish smallcaps, microcaps and nanocaps

09/10/2017

With around 38m inhabitants, Poland is the largest of the ex-communist countries that since 2004 have joined the European Union. Its economic transformation has been one of the most successful in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Since 2004, the yearly GDP growth has averaged 3.9%, while disposable incomes have increased by 4.8% y-o-y on average. The Polish population is very entrepreneurial and well-educated, with >40% of 30-34 year olds having completed higher education. In a recent study by EF Education First, Poles ranked 8th worldwide (out of 60 countries) when it comes to English language skills.
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