Phew! Emerging from euro fog

October 27, 2011

Holding your breath for instant and comprehensive European Union policies solutions has never been terribly wise.  And, as the past three months of summit-ology around the euro sovereign debt crisis attests, you’d be just a little blue in the face waiting for the ‘big bazooka’. And, no doubt, there will still be elements of this latest plan knocking around a year or more from now. Yet, the history of euro decision making also shows that Europe tends to deliver some sort of solution eventually and it typically has the firepower if not the automatic will to prevent systemic collapse.
And here’s where most global investors stand following the “framework” euro stabilisation agreement reached late on Wednesday. It had the basic ingredients, even if the precise recipe still needs to be nailed down. The headline, box-ticking numbers — a 50% Greek debt writedown, agreement to leverage the euro rescue fund to more than a trillion euros and provisions for bank recapitalisation of more than 100 billion euros — were broadly what was called for, if not the “shock and awe” some demanded.  Financial markets, who had fretted about the “tail risk” of a dysfunctional euro zone meltdown by yearend, have breathed a sigh of relief and equity and risk markets rose on Thursday. European bank stocks gained almost 6%, world equity indices and euro climbed to their highest in almost two months in an audible “Phew!”.

Credit Suisse economists gave a qualified but positive spin to the deal in a note to clients this morning:

It would be clearly premature to declare the euro crisis as fully resolved. Nevertheless, it is our impression that EU leaders have made significant progress on all fronts. This suggests that the rebound in risk assets that has been underway in recent days may well continue for some time.

So what exactly have investors and been doing while waiting for the fog to clear in Brussels?  The truth on most benchmark prices and indices is “not very much” — at least not since world markets got the collywobbles in early August about US downgrades and debt ceilings, euro sovereign debt angst and double dip recession. Yet, since the European stocks nadir in late September prodded the Franco-German alliance into more serious action, there has been some impressive market gains of between 10 and 20% across most equity sectors and national indices. More broadly, after a year of intense political and financial turmoil across the globe, developed market equities are only down about 4% year-to-date — a 10 point outperformance on emerging markets, for example.

And the clearing of the euro fog now allows investors to start looking beyond the Brussels cauldron and review how the rest of the world is shaping up. What they find, surprisingly for those drowning in disaster commentaries, is‘not all that bad – especially, but not exclusively in the United States. There’s been a string of more positive economic data releases throughout October and these have continued through the back end of last week and early this week. The bellwether Philadelphia Fed industrial index rose to its highest in six months; U.S. durable goods orders (excluding volatile aircraft orders) rose at their fastest pace in six months in September; U.S. new home sales rose at their fastest in five months; business surveys show Chinese manufacturing is back expanding again in October for the first time in three months; U.S. power firms are reporting a pickup in industrial activity in H2, Ford has increased fourth quarter forecast for North American vehicle production. The U.S. Q3 earnings season hasn’t been half bad either – with a third of the S&P500 reported, some 70 percent beat forecasts and the main strength was in the industrial world. What’s more for markets, seasonal equity flows are typically in an updraft for the rest of the year, all things being equal. Fund managers already started rebuilding equity positions in September.

European business and consumer sentiment surveys have continued to push lower through the policy logjam, unsurprisingly, even if real data contradicts some of that anecdotal ‘evidence’. And this may well translate into the wider investment theme as the euro crisis ebbs. Europe may agree to adapt grudgingly to solve its immediate problem but tyhen pay the price in economic growth because it’s less worse than the alternative of financial chaos.

On the more immediate horizon, there may be groans  from those hoping to escape summit mania as G20 leaders are set to meet in Cannes next Thursday and Friday — with a hoped-for endorsement of the euro plan and a specific interest in the EFSF/IMF/SPV idea that seems to be courting sovereign wealth funds from China and other emerging giants from the BRICs to use a special conduit to buy euro sovereign bonds. ECB rate cuts too may be firmly back in the frame on Thursday as Mario Draghi takes the helm of the central bank for the first time. The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee gives us its latest decision on Wednesday. US payrolls looms large on Friday, with a heavy European earnings sked including Barclays, BMW, ING, BNPP, Unilever, CS, ArcelorMittal, RBS, Commerzbank, and many more.


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