Global Investing

Devil and the deep blue sea

Ok, it’s a big policy week and of course it could either way for markets. An awful lot of ECB and Fed easing expectations may well be in the price already, so some delivery would appear to be important especially now that ECB chief Mario Draghi has set everyone up for fireworks in Frankfurt.

But if it’s even possible to look beyond the meetings for a moment, it’s interesting to see how the other forces are stacked up.

Perhaps the least obvious market statistic as July draws to a close is that, with gains of more than 10 percent, Wall St equities have so far had their best year-to-date since 2003. Who would have thunk it in a summer of market doom and despair.  Now that could be a blessing or a curse for those trying to parse the remainder of the year. Gloomy chartists and uber-bears such as SocGen’s Albert Edwards warn variously of either hyper-negative chart signals on the S&P500, such as the “Ultimate Death Cross”, or claims that the U.S. has already entered recession in the third quarter.

On the other hand, the economic data isn’t playing ball with doomsters, as can be seen in Thursday’s latest U.S. consumer and business confidence readings as well as the latest house price data. What’s more, the closely watched Citigroup Economic Surprise index, though still in negative territory, is turning higher again as a result amid some hopes for at least a midyear fillip in manufacturing worldwide. Of course surprises are only relative to expectations. But then sufficiently lowered expectations are no bad thing in a marketplace attempting to discount all available information. It’s true too of the ongoing U.S. earnings season, where there had been a sharp downgrade of forecasts in the weeks leading up the corporate reports.  Thomson Reuters data shows that of the 303 firms in the S&P500 who have already reported Q2 earnings, some 66 percent are above analysts expectations — just shy of the average of of the past four quarters of 68 percent.

There is the hoary old argument that lukewarm economic signals will prevent the Fed from moving soon again on QE3, in part because the bar may be higher in an election year. But that just throws us back to the policy arena yet again and we promised to step aside from that for now!

Market exhaustion?

It’s curious to see so many asset managers reaffirm their faith in a bullish 2012 for world markets just as a buzzing first quarter comes to a close on Friday with hefty gains in equities and risk assets.  Whether or not there is a mechanical review of portfolios at quarter end, it’s certainly a reasonable time for review. The euro zone crisis has of course eased, the ECB has pumped the banks full of cash and the U.S. recovery continues.  So, no impending disaster then (unless you subscribe to the increasingly-prevalent hard-landing fears in China). But after 11+ percent gains in world equities in just three months on the back of all this information, you have to wonder where the “new news” is going to come from here. The surprise factor looks over and we’re highly unlikely to get 10%+ gains in global stocks every quarter this year.  So, is it time for tired markets to sober up for a while or maybe even reconsider the risk of reversal again? Strategists at JPMorgan Asset Management, at least, reckon the economic news has just lost its oomph.

There are broad signs of exhaustion in markets, which is coinciding with a softening in the data, suggesting that in the short term the moderation in the “risk on” environment may continue.

JPMAM cite the rollover in the Citigroup economic surprises indices, shown below, and also say their own propietary Risk Measurement index — a 39-factor model built on data from money markets, equities, economic data, commodities etc — is flagging more caution.

The Great Switchback and the ERP?

The risk of a whiplash-inducing switchback from core AAA bonds to equity and risk — now that euro/banking systemic fears have eased and a global economic stabilisation seems to be underway — is suddenly top of most investors’ agendas.  Last week’s surge in U.S. Treasury, German bund and British gilt yields as global stocks caught a fresh updraft saw U.S. equity outperform bonds by almost 5 percent, according to Societe Generale. While not historically shocking in itself, SG reckons the cumulative weight of several weeks of this may well be having its impact on asset managers as the Q1 comes to an end.

Coming on the back on several weeks of equity outperformance, those remaining overweight bonds will be finding life particularly uncomfortable right now.

The question for most strategists is whether this is start of a wholesale rebasing of portfolios that could see dramatic asset allocation shifts over the coming quarters.

from Global News Journal:

‘Stop me before I bet again in Singapore’

A performer holds over-sized deck cards in front of the Resorts World Sentosa casino Feb. 14 (REUTERS/Pablo Sanchez)

SINGAPORE-CASINO/At least 264 people in Singapore have asked to be put on a list that would prevent them from entering the city state's newly opened casino. Except for nine housewives and 19 unemployed people, the rest had jobs and probably families that they did not want to hurt with a gambling problem. Family members who think a relative might have a gambling problem can also apply to have them banned.

 The $4.7 billion Resorts World Sentosa opened on Feb. 14, Valentines Day and the first day of the Chinese New Year, which was considered auspicious. It is the first of two casinos resorts (and a Universal Studios theme park) that is meant to help transform Singapore from a manufacturing and shipping center to a global hub city built on financial services and a playground for wealthy visitors. This is quite a change for a country often called the "nanny state" because of its many prescriptions and prohibitions, famously for instance, banning chewing gum for its irksome tendency to land up on sidewalks and onto people's shoes.

from Summit Notebook:

Time private bankers got professional

It's hard to imagine that a banker who represents multimillionaires would be anything but professional - but a top executive at a leading global bank thinks that's precisely the wealth management industry's problem.

"There is so much mediocrity in the industry we have to raise the bar here," said Gerard Aquilina, vice chairman of Barclays Wealth, at the Reuters Global Wealth Management Summit in Geneva.

    To Aquilina's way of thinking, private bankers need the same "institutional rigor" as investment bankers in the way they operate. To this end the bank is looking to pursue only top-quality hires.

from Summit Notebook:

Tax evaders on the run

  By Neil Chatterjee
    The U.S. has promised it will hunt down tax evaders.
    And it seems tax evaders are on the run.
    DBS bank, based in the growing offshore financial centre of
Singapore, told Reuters it had been approached by U.S. citizens
asking for its private banking services. But when told they would
have to sign U.S. tax declaration forms, the potential clients
disappeared.  
    Swiss banks also approached DBS on the hope they could
offload troublesome U.S. clients to a location that so far has
not been reached by the strong arms of Washington or Brussels.
    DBS said no thanks. In fact many private banks and boutique
advisors now seem to be avoiding U.S. clients.
    Will this spread to other nationalities, as governments
invest in tax spies and tax havens invest in white paint?
    Is this the end of offshore private private banking?

from Summit Notebook:

Private bankers chanting new mantra

Private bankers still getting their ears bashed from clients enraged about massive portfolio losses now are chanting a new mantra.

    Murmur along with me, those seeking inner peace and appeased clients: the word is “holistic".

Three years ago, before Lehman and Madoff shattered clients’ confidence, the soothing formula might have been "absolute returns" or "structured products". No longer. 

from Summit Notebook:

Geneva is for wealth management

Even for an American who's not wealthy, Geneva has a reputation as a global centre for wealth management - the place the world's rich come to stash their money and (they hope) make it grow.

    But you don't necessarily expect it to be so aggressive -- after all, the rich tend to be demure when it comes to their banking.

    Imagine one reporter's surprise, then, on arriving in the airport in Geneva and seeing bank ads everywhere. Think of the casino adds in Las Vegas's McCarron Airport or the technology ads in San Jose's Mineta Airport: it's the exactly the same in Geneva, only with wealth managers.

from DealZone:

Goldman’s Viniar: Why pay twice?

HEALTHFOOD-ASIA/Turns out Goldman Sachs is a staunch advocate of going organic -- when it comes to the money management business.

As Barclays auctioned off its Barclays Global Investors unit this year, Goldman was widely seen as a likely acquirer. That is until Blackrock In under Larry Fink emerged as the buyer with a $13.5 billion deal.

Lots of other money managers are expected to be sold, as the industry consolidates and cash-strapped banks look for valuables to pawn. But Viniar told analysts Goldman's preference is to grow the business without deals, and appeared to question the very idea of money manager deals.

from Alexander Smith:

Is Jefferies right to be bullish on M&A in AM?

A bull(ish) note from growing investment banking group Jefferies Putnam Lovell predicting "a steady flow of M&A activity in the global asset management industry" for the second half of 2009.

Jefferies is basing its view on the following factors:

    divestitures by larger financial groups shoring up their capital base  pure-play asset managers looking to bulk up private equity firms drawn not least by lower capital requirements

And the firm is putting its money where its mouth is. It has recently been hiring scores of senior bankers from rival firms as it seeks to build itself a major presence.

This hasn't been without its problems. UBS filed a claim against Jefferies after the mid-sized investment bank lured away nearly three dozen of the Swiss bank's healthcare bankers.