Switzerland tops the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness league for the fourth year running, according to the latest survey out today, while the United States is slipping down the table because of political and economic problems.
More and more emerging central banks have been embarking on the policy easing path in recent weeks. But Chile and Turkey which hold rate-setting meetings this Thursday are not expected to emulate them. Both are expected to hold interest rates steady for now.
Israel’s financial markets had a torrid time on Monday as swirling rumours of an imminent air strike on Iran caused investors to flee. The shekel lost 1.4 percent, the Tel Aviv stock exchange fell 1.5 percent and credit default swaps, reflecting the cost of insuring exposure to a credit, surged almost 10 percent.
Given almost biblical gloom about the world economy at the moment, you really have to do a double take looking at Wall Street’s so-called “Fear Index”. The ViX , which is essentially the cost of options on S&P500 equities, acts as a geiger counter for both U.S. and global financial markets. Measuring implied volatility in the market, the index surges when the demand for options protection against sharp moves in stock prices is high and falls back when investors are sufficiently comfortable with prevailing trends to feel little need to hedge portfolios. In practice — at least over the past 10 years — high volatility typically means sharp market falls and so the ViX goes up when the market is falling and vice versa. And because it’s used in risk models the world over as a proxy for global financial risk, a rising ViX tends to shoo investors away from risky assets while a falling ViX pulls them in — feeding the metronomic risk on/risk off behaviour in world markets and, arguably, exaggerating dangerously pro-cyclical trading and investment strategies.
One of the stories of this year has been the stupendous rally on emerging local currency debt, fuelled in part by inflows from institutional investors tired of their zero or negative-return investments in Western debt. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund said last week for instance that it was dumping some European bonds and spending more of its $600 billion war chest in emerging markets.
The Olympic medals have all been handed out and the athletes are on their way home. Which countries surpassed expectations and which ones did worse than expected? And did this have anything to do with the state of their economies?
Lucky Australia. In a world of slowing economic growth its central bank today raised forecasts for 2012 GDP growth by a half point to 3.5 percent. That’s down to a mining boom, driven of course by China. But there’s a downside. Australia’s currency, the dollar (or affectionately, the Aussie), has steadily risen in recent years, and is up 3 percent versus the U.S. dollar this year. Unsurprisingly, the Reserve Bank of Australia tempered its good news on growth with a warning over the Aussie’s gains.
There’s little or nothing to put your money into in Iran or Syria, and countries like Egypt and Tunisia are struggling to win investors back after their Arab Spring uprisings last year. But geopolitical risk is also seeping into other countries in the Middle East.