There is definite proof that sustainability-focused funds are outperforming their conventional counterparts. But some experts believe the traditional explanations for this are wrong.
Societe Generale, however, has just launched a structured note in Hong Kong that captures one of the hottest themes of the moment û agriculture û and overlays it with some French jiggery pokery. The Booster Notes are linked to a basket of stocks and have a quarterly potential coupon subject to a so-called booster mechanism that can pay out a maximum of 10% a year. The notes also offer quarterly early redemption and 100% principal protection at maturity.
The agriculture theme is a well-told story by now. As people in the emerging economies get richer, they start to eat a more varied diet. They drink more milk and eat more meat, for example, both of which take up far more land than is needed to grow cereals. They also consume more in absolute terms. In the West, well-intended efforts to improve our climate by converting crops into fuel have taken more food off the world's table. All of this conspires to drive the current food price inflation and sustain high prices into the future.
The Booster Notes tap into this trend with a basket of five global agriculture-related companies. Bunge and Deere & Co are both listed in New York and are, respectively, the world's largest oilseed processor and the world's largest maker of farm equipment. Canada's straightforwardly named Potash Corp of Saskatchewan is the world's largest maker of crop nutrients. Switzerland's Syngenta is the world's largest maker of agricultural chemicals and Singapore's Wilmar International is the world's largest palm oil trader.
So that's the story, now for the jiggery pokery. The booster kicks in at 92% of each stock's starting price. So long as a stock is trading above that level on the quarterly observation date, it gets a 10% booster performance. For stocks that are below the 92% barrier, the booster performance is equivalent to the negative percentage fall from their starting price. The overall basket booster is derived by totalling the booster performance of all five stocks, calculating the average and dividing it by four.
In other words, if all the stocks get the 10% booster, the average is clearly 10%. Dividing by four gives a maximum quarterly coupon of 2.5% û or 10% a year.
On a simpler note, the structure will redeem early if all of the stocks in the basket are above their starting price on any given observation date.
Even when described in plain English the whole thing sounds kind of complicated. But the marketing flyer explains it with an equation that is surely unfathomable to the retail investors this note targets û the minimum investment amount is just $3,000.
Hong Kong regulators don't let banks produce back-tested results for structured products, but anyone with access to the share price histories and a computer can run the analysis themselves. By doing so, they would see that if they had bought a structure like this three years ago it would have early-redeemed after 21 months and paid a total coupon of about 4.5% (roughly equivalent to a 2.5% annual return). By contrast, if they had bought it one year ago it would have redeemed after just three months and paid the maximum 2.5% (or 10% annual return). Starting three months ago, it would still be alive and would have just paid a 1.45% coupon.
The notes have a three-year maturity and are on offer until July 17, with an expected trade date of July 18.
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