Global Investing

No Laughing Matter

The global financial crisis is no laughing matter for many people, but it has nonetheless laugh1.jpgresurrected some dreadful puns that were popular back during the Japanese banking fiasco in the 1990s. Doing the rounds by e-mail are the following:

Sumo Bank has gone belly up; Bonsai Bank is cutting its branches; Karaoke Bank is for sale and will go for a song; Samurai Bank islaugh32.jpg soldiering on; Ninja Bank is in the black; staff at Karate Bank have got the chop; and there is something fishy up at Sushi Bank.

The recent crisis has been less fruitful. Some people started cruelly referring to Northern Rock as Northern Wreck when the British laugh22.jpglender was nationalised and analysts have lately been toying with TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Plan. Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch both suggested that TARP could be a TRAP while Goldman Sachs suggested it had been TARPedoed by Congress.

Surely this crisis is big enough to get better than that? Your contributions welcome.

Going back to Quakers?

InvestorIn these troubled times, go back to basics.

Theo Zemek, AXA Investment Managers‘ global head of fixed income, says investors should adopt “Quaker investment policies” – sober and safe investment strategies that can be explained to their grandmothers.

“Anyone who utters the word ‘hedge’, after all these CDS (failures), ought to be taken out and be shot,” the 25-year markets veteran told a media briefing.

“This is the scariest market I’ve ever seen in 25 years. The world of complex instruments, credit guarantees… That world is very much an ancient history… It’s a darn tough market. Who is left standing among our counterparties?”

UK economy — too gloomy to chart?

During a briefing in the London office of Societe Generale this week, Alain Bokobza, head of European Equity and Cross Asset strategy, handed out a booklet containing series of charts and graphs to explain the bank’s latest multi asset portfolio for the fourth quarter.
Chart
As he explained the outlook for the UK economy, a chart on UK growth was discreetly missing from the booklet.

“There’s no chart. It’s too gloomy to print it,” Bokobza told the participants.

Societe Generale sees inflation shooting below the Bank of England’s target of 2 percent over the next two years and has a bullish call on UK stocks as it predicts benchmark interest rates to fall to 3.5 percent in a year’s time from the current 5.0 percent.

Last wisdom from Lehman Brothers

Lehman“Dear readers, let us begin this week’s missive by acknowledging its partial incompleteness. For understandable considerations, there are some capital market situations that we cannot discuss. We thank all our readers for their support and look forward to continuing to provide you with timely analysis.”

This is how Lehman Brothers’ strategists began their last ever weekly research note, published on Saturday – only two days before the U.S. investment bank collapsed.

In the 146-page research, Lehman strategists argued that bonds are performing well in September thanks to rising risk aversion and financial institution uncertainties.

Thou shalt invest wisely?

Bull markets are funMerrill Lynch is giving a refresher course on Ten Markets Rules to Remember, created by Bob Farrell, the bank’s former dean of research during his tenure from 1957-2001.

Below are  the original rules:

#1: Markets tend to return to the mean over time
#2: Excess in one direction will lead to an opposite excess in the other direction
#3: There are no new eras, excesses are never permanent
#4: Exponentially rapidly rising or falling markets usually go further than you think, but they do not correct by going sideways
#5: The public buys the most at the top, the least at the bottom
#6: Fear and greed are stronger than long-term resolve
#7: Markets are strongest when they are broad, and weakest when they narrow to a handful of blue-chip names
#8: Bear markets have three stages: sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend
#9: When all experts and forecasts agree, something else is going to happen
#10: Bull markets are more fun than bear markets

So what does this mean today? 

David Rosenberg, Merrill’s North American economist  says: ”Rule #4 could be about the sliding U.S. dollar, as it now revives in mean-reverting fashion (back to Rule #1) .”  

Rug pulled away on UK bank funding

rtx6jie.jpg Britain’s banks may have borrowed over 200 billion pounds from the Bank of England, four times the amount they were expected to take under an emergency liquidity scheme. It leaves them facing a sharp funding strain next month when the rug gets pulled away.

Alastair Ryan, analyst at UBS, reckons banks have taken over 200 billion pounds under the BoE’s Special Liquidity Scheme since it was offered in April. They had been expected to borrow about 50 billion pounds, although estimates were lifted to near 100 billion as wholesale markets stayed closed. The scheme allows banks to exchange hard-to-trade mortgage assets for government bills.

The problem is the BoE isn’t planning to extend the funding beyond a Oct. 20 deadline . If the borrowing from UK banks has been as high as Ryan estimates, it will have eased a short-term problem but shows how much the liquidity is needed. It also leaves even more medium and long-term funding that the banks will need to replace at some point.

Fannie, Freddie fanning fears

More stress on its balance sheets is just about the last thing that the banking sector needs. The subprime mortgage crisis has already battered banks, leading to huge losses, scrambles for funding and free-falling banking shares. The S&P index of financial stocks has lost more than 30 percent so far this year. At its worst, the index plunged around 55 percent between a high in May last year and a low in June this year.

S&P Financial StocksNow, after a brief respite, comes more bad news. First, hedge funds still seem to be wedded to betting on further losses. Laurence Fletcher, who writes about hedge funds here at Reuters, notes that more than 6 percent of British banks’ equity is on loan to short sellers.

More worrying yet for banks, however, may be their exposure to embattled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In a report, Societe Generale economists estimate that U.S. commercial banks hold about $1 trillion in Fannie and Freddie debt. That amounts to a whopping 9 percent of the commercial banks’ balance sheets.

Hedge funds hit more turbulence

Things are going from bad to worse for hedge funds.

Hedge funds were hit when their bets went wrong in JulyHaving only just clawed back their losses after a dreadful March, the closely-watched Credit Suisse/Tremont Hedge Fund Index shows hedge funds lost a hefty 2.61 percent in July after being hit by a double-whammy of market movements.

These freewheeling funds had been betting for some time that banks stocks would fall as the credit crisis ate into their profits, while also betting that commodities would rise as demand for oil, metals and food soared.

This had been working well, but in July banks bounced back because they looked so cheap to some investors, while commodities fell from some of the dizzying heights they had recently reached.

Phew! SocGen profits only slump 63%

socgen.jpgIt doesn’t seem much to cheer about but Societe Generale investors breathed a sigh of relief when second-quarter net profit only fell 63 percent.

The investment banking unit may have taken a 1.2 billion euro hit but higher profits from its international retail banking and consumer credit businesses offset the damage and kept the group in the black.

In today’s doom-laden markets that was something to celebrate – and the shares jumped more than 6 percent.

Did banks get wires crossed on EDF deal?

pylon.jpgThe last-minute collapse of the 12 billion pound sale of British Energy to EDF raises the question of how well banks behind the deal were plugged in with major shareholders, who ended up vetoing the acquisition.

Having worked on a sale for months, banks were told by private shareholders EDF’s bid of around 775 pence per share was too low. The news clearly left all the parties in disarray.

Such deals are always risky, but the withdrawal of major British Energy shareholders after months of haggling over the price suggests a full-blown row. After all, an indication of where the price was heading had been floating around for at least a week.