Columbia Threadneedle’s women investors on global markets and female models

As part of the International Women’s Day, Columbia Threadneedle’s women investors share their views on global markets and highlight their female role models.

Ann Steele (pictured), senior portfolio manager, European equities

“This has been the worst start for European equities in 40 years. The reasons have been the continued slowdown in China, destocking in industrials, and collapsing oil and other commodity prices.

Other worries include lower global growth than we have been used to in the last 15 years, which is not a good environment for the banks as bad debts worsen.

Sustained periods of negative interest rates polarise economies, and central banks – along with governments – should look for other stimulating policies (ideally fiscal).

Luckily – on the bright side – as a stock picker Europe’s world-class quality growth companies have become a bit cheaper and those with strong balance sheets and cash flow with high dividends look very attractive (companies such as Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Sika, Ryanair, BT, Amadeus, to name a few). Active investors have the opportunity of buying these at low prices.

Who is your female role model?

There are many groundbreaking and inspirational women in history from Cleopatra to Rosa Parks and Emmeline Pankhurst, Anne Frank, Queen Elizabeth II or JK Rowling.

Throughout history women have fought courageously and tirelessly to assert themselves as individuals in their field. Eleanor Roosevelt once challenged us all to “do one thing every day that scares you”.

In October 2012 a gunman boarded a school bus in Pakistan, asked a girl her name and what she was doing there, then shot her three times in the head.

Her crime? Speaking out about education for girls. On her recovery, Malala Yousafzai said: “I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who was shot. I want to be remembered as the girl who stood up” – what a role model in today’s difficult world.

I have worked hard to ensure my children have a good education that will allow them to reach their full potential, and I hope they too will make a difference.

Diane Sobin, head of US equities

After a sharp correction in the S&P500, valuation is the bright spot in the US market.

Our outlook on earnings is muted in a low inflation, modest GDP growth world; but the valuations seem to be reflecting the current bearish expectations.

The US consumer is in good shape with employment improved and consumer spending rising modestly, in part benefiting from low gasoline prices.

Who is your female role model?

I was fortunate to have two female role models in the asset management industry early in my career. When I was at university in New York City, I had the opportunity to work in a support role with Webster Management, a division of Kidder Peabody.

I had the honour of working with a senior portfolio manager, Kathy Flynn, who worked as a co-manager with a man.

Both were leaders and research innovators in equity fund management and she was a chartered financial analyst. Seeing the way they worked together and achieved performance through rigorous debate and mutual respect inspired me to pursue my career path in fund management. Being exposed to a diverse team (although not thinking about it at the time) seemed a natural environment to me.

Although in a different role from our business, but an impressive leader all the same, is Bridget Macaskill, then CEO of Oppenheimer funds when I joined in 1995.

Bridget brought the skills of a consumer industry executive to the financial services world and was instrumental in the rebranding at the company (which has endured to today). Despite several male colleagues who challenged Bridget on this campaign, she reigned successful in the launch.

I always admired her creativity and client focus and, in particular, launching a program on engaging women in investing, far before it was in vogue. She was a true executive champion for women in our industry.

Cathrine de Coninck-Lopez, sustainable and responsible investment officer

Responsible investing continues to grow with our clients and the wider stakeholder group becoming increasingly aware of the ability to incorporate principles of social and environmental value creation with financial returns.

While I am very positive about 2016 (post the Paris climate agreement), I worry about whether investment opportunities that deliver both of these elements continue to grow.

I am encouraged by the success of both the ethical UK equity and the UK social bond strategies we run to date, and I am looking forward to building on this in 2016.

Who is your female role model?

My female role model is Meg Whitman. I saw an interview with her once about how she managed to come back from running for Governor of California to be the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I thought she had a pretty impressive humility about what that took, with the emphasis on equal opportunity.

Maya Bhandari, portfolio manager, multi asset allocation

I manage and co-manage a range of Columbia Threadneedle multi asset portfolios, so all global asset markets are relevant to me.

Market volatility looks poised to rise this year, leaving Sharpe or volatility-adjusted returns quite meaningfully below total returns across the piste.

What drives this view?

Simply put, four big medium forces appear to be colliding at present: the supply-driven shock in oil prices, with a powerful impact on oil producers and corporate bond markets; the Fed (rightly) tightening its monetary belt, as the US economy runs out of spare capacity; a global manufacturing/industrial profits recession; and the rebalancing underway in the Chinese economy, away from exports and investment and towards domestic demand, which continues to reverberate through commodity markets where China has been the dominant source of global demand.

The devaluation of the Chinese yuan last year was the spark that ignited these four forces – and, with the yuan (very) richly valued, the potential for liquidation from the world’s largest creditor persists.

The world I have described challenges naïve diversification; certainly, the need for active and dynamic asset allocation is more important than ever. The “bright spot” as such is the opportunity to help clients navigate choppy waters.

At present, from a multi asset perspective, equities and property remain more attractive than core government bonds, with credit markets, commodities, and cash sitting somewhere in between.

Who is your female role model?

Role models mean different things to different people. For me, a role model is someone who inspires, motivates and challenges me – and on International Women’s Day, I am fortunate to have many women who have done, and continue to do, just that.

From female family members (my mother and grandmother), to successful women in finance (including several here at Columbia Threadneedle), to policymakers (16 central bank governors are women on the latest count), leading economists, authors, and some of the greatest humanitarians of our time, I have found inspiration, motivation and challenge from a wide range of women models.

Sarah Williams, portfolio manager, Japanese equities

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Japanese equities have started this year very poorly. However, we still expect a positive return in 2016, although perhaps not so emphatically as last year when they were the best performing major market.

It’s true that the currency may turn out to be a headwind but many input costs are low and a tight labour market is inspiring a wave of innovation. The market’s valuation is extremely supportive at these levels.

The bright spots are actually very bright. Shareholder returns are rising extremely strongly, whether dividends or share buy backs.

And I believe the corporate governance revolution is passing a tipping point, evidenced by a variety of measures including the appointment of external directors, the introduction of merit-based pay and promotion, explicit targeting of ROE as a benchmark, the publication of corporate governance codes, and an increased level of shareholder engagement.  I’m in Japan and I can see it.

Who is your female role model?

This may be unfashionable but my answer is Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

I was 11 when she became leader of the opposition and 15 when she won her first election to be the UK’s Prime Minister. For the whole of my teenage and adult life I have known a woman could do anything she wanted.

Maybe Hillary Clinton can also do it in the US nearly 40 years on.

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