Global Investing

Zeitgeist check

Some more bits and bobs to capture the current mood among investors.

–  So far, 2009 is worse than 2008 for stock investors. MSCI‘s main world index is down around 17 percent in January and February.  A year ago, it had lost around 8 percent.

– Eastern and central Europe are the new worries because of bank exposure to troubled economies.  ”The travails in the east, like the vampires of folklore, are sucking the lifeblood from European markets and investor sentiment,” State Street suggests.

– Cross-border flows into the euro zone hit record lows in February,  the same firm says.

– Denmark and Sweden join the gloomy gang. Year-on-year Swedish GDP lost 4.9 percent in Q4 2008 and Denmark’s was down 3.9 percent.

– We have just had the worst month ever for global corporate earnings revisions, according to Societe Generale number maestro Andrew Lapthorne. “Earnings estimates for 2009 saw a 14 percent cut last month, a rate of downgrades twice that seen during the worst moments of the early 1990s recession,” he says.

Bowling for Whistleblowers

Attention Wall Street whistleblowers: your banking job might be at risk, but here’s your shot at Hollywood stardom.


The Academy Award-winning filmmaker is looking for “brave” financial industry insiders to help him make his next film which will focus on the financial crisis – or what Moore calls “the biggest swindle in American history.”

“Based on those who have already contacted me, I believe there are a number of you who know “the real deal” about the abuses that have been happening. You have information that the American people need to hear, “ Moore said on his website.

Careful what you say

Bank executives beware. Turn your microphones off during what are likely to be stormy shareholder meetings this year.

Insults are likely to fly at many bank AGMs this year from shareholders angry at their board for losing billions, sending shares crashing, making ill-advised purchases or for their role in the global economic crisis. Bankers are unpopular after more than a year of grim news.

But an unnamed director at Santander lacked humility this week.  After heated questions from the floor about the Spanish bank’s purchase of U.S. lender Sovereign and its exposure to the alleged Bernie Madoff fraud, some shareholders applauded a critical comment.

Moldova — ultimate crisis-proof country?

It’s the poorest country in Europe and its main export is alcohol but it can still beat the world’s largest economy when it comes to financial muscle. Yes you’ve guessed it, Moldova trumps the United States in the Banker magazine’s 2009 World Financial Health Index.

Caution is the watchword of the magazine’s latest index, which is careful not to reward financial risk-taking. According to the Banker’s new model, Moldova, Chile, Bolivia and Peru are less likely to be affected by the global financial storm than the U.S., UK or Japan.

Small is beautiful when it comes to debts and that’s where Moldova wins. Its debt is $763 per capita, compared with the UK’s $171,000. Its banks have only extended loans worth 35 percent of GDP, while in the mighty U.S., the figure’s 230 percent.

And the next Iceland is…

If there’s one thing you don’t want to be, it’s the next Iceland.

Since its currency, colossally indebted banking sector and economy collapsed in spectacular fashion in October, the country has become a byword for an economy that has truly hit the rocks.

Within weeks, banking problems and currency falls meant Hungary was being hyped as a “second Iceland”, at least until a joint International Monetary Fund and European Union rescue package restored some stability.

from Davos Notebook:

Bankers – Ever thought about working for Big Pharma?

    Are you an out-of-work banker looking for a new job with
some stability? Considered the drugs industry?

    Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Swiss pharmaceuticals
company Novartis, reckons his sector is a pretty good place
to work when compared to "mercenary" banking.

    "We are not in a banking industry, where they fire a
thousand investment bankers
and then a year after they hire
a thousand investment bankers," Vasella told Reuters.

Bankers’ ball binned, a step towards appeasement?

The storm raging through financial markets has already cost bankers much of their business, bonuses and public esteem. But now they won’t even be able to drown their sorrows in their usual glass of bubbly at one of the most cherished events in Frankfurt’s social calendar.

The glitzy, champagne-laden black-tie gala that usually closes Frankfurt’s annual Euro Finance Week and hosts the VIPs of Europe’s banking and insurance industry, has been cancelled.

Top German banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank and Dresdner Bank concluded that such a show of opulence was not “suitable for the times”, writes Spiegel magazine.

It’s nickel and dime time for banks

Belt-tightening measuresIt’s nickel and dime time for banks as they come under pressure to cut costs in order to survive the worst financial crisis in 80 years.

According to banking sources, a U.S. bank in Canary Wharf has banned colour printing and has asked employees in the back office to chip in 25 pounds each for the office Christmas party.

A bank in Mayfair has told its employees to only hail cabs on the street instead of booking on the phone. Another bank in the City has pushed back the time employees can take taxis home to 9.30pm from 8.30pm previously.

Investing with Dante

You know things are bad on financial markets when an investment research note starts talking about Dante‘s visit to the nine circles of Hell with tormented lustful souls and gluttons living in filthy slush.

In the case of State Street Global Markets’ latest report, however, there is a more direct link than simple hyperbole about the way investors are feeling. The firm recently had a chat with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers who defined what he saw as the five viciousrtx8t2k.jpg circles of the current financial crisis.

It goes like this:

Circle One: House prices fall in value, putting some people into negative equity and leading some to default on mortgages. Foreclosures further erode asset values.

Iceland for sale — collect in person

Iceland for saleIceland is for sale — on ebay.

It has great scenery and wildlife but the financial situation is in need of repair and a buyer must collect in person.

Bidding started at 99 pence but had reached 10 million pounds ($17.28 million) by mid-morning on Friday.

Globally renowned singer Bjork was “not included” in the sale, according to the notice, but there were nonetheless 26 anonymous bidders and 84 bids.