Global Investing

If China catches a cold…

China has defied predictions of a hard economic landing for some time now so it is somewhat unsettling to see  investors positioning for a sharp slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.

Over the last 10 years, the world has become accustomed to Chinese annual GDP growth of above 9 percent. A seemingly insatiable demand for commodities from soya beans to iron ore has catapulted the Asian giant to near the top of the global trade table. China is the biggest trading partner for countries on nearly every continent, from Angola to Australia.

But many are now fretting that an unhappy coincidence between stuttering global demand and domestic strains in the property and banking sectors could knock Chinese growth to below 7 percent (the level commonly identified as a ‘hard landing’), with grave implications for the rest of the world.

“It used to be the case that if the US sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. But with the US already confined to the emergency room since 2008 thequestion is what happens if China catches a cold,” says Citi in a recent report.

Many are now preparing for the first sneeze.

Commodity exporters are expected to bear the brunt of a sharp Chinese slowdown. Investors have pared back exposure to Brazil, Russia, Chile and South Africa, citing fears over China.

Emerging consumers’ pain to spell gains for stocks in staples

Food and electricity bills are high. The cost of filling up at the petrol station isn’t coming down much either. The U.S. economy is in trouble and suddenly the job isn’t as secure as it seemed. Maybe that designer handbag and new car aren’t such good ideas after all.

That’s the kind of decision millions of middle class consumers in developing countries are facing these days. That’s bad news for purveyors of everything from jeans to iphones  who have enjoyed double-digit profits thanks to booming sales in emerging markets.

Brazil is the best example of how emerging market consumers are tightening their belts. Thanks to their spending splurge earlier this decade, Brazilian consumers on average see a quarter of their income disappear these days on debt repayments. People’s credit card bills can carry interest rates of up to 45 percent. The central bank is so worried about the growth outlook it stunned markets with a cut in interest rates this week even though inflation is running well above target

from MacroScope:

The thin line between love and hate

The opinion on Turkey’s unorthodox monetary policy mix is turning as rapidly as global growth forecasts are being revised down.

Earlier this month, its central bank was the object of much finger-wagging after it defied market fears over an overheating economy by cutting its policy rate. It defended the move, arguing that weaker global demand posed a greater risk than inflationary pressures.

Investors were not persuaded. When I told one analyst about the Turkish rate move, he practically sputtered down the phone: "You're not kidding?!"

from MacroScope:

Brazil joins fellow-BRIC China in world’s Top 5

Volkswagen's Brazil car factory. Sales are booming as the economy roars ahead

Volkswagen's Brazil car factory. Sales are booming as the economy roars ahead

Distracted by the upheaval in the Middle East and $120 per barrel oil,  few noted Brazil's ascent last week to the ranks of the world's top five economies. Strange given that the move comes just months after China displaced Japan as the second-biggest economy in the world.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management head Jim O'Neill points out that  Brazil -- part of the BRIC group of big emerging economies -- grew 7.5 percent in 2010. By the end of last year the economy was valued around $2.2 trillion. That's next only to the United States, China, Japan and Germany. And bigger than France and Britain.

from Davos Notebook:

Will Goldman’s new BRICwork stand up?

RTXWLHHJim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist who coined the term BRICs back in 2001, is adding four new countries to the elite club of emerging market economies. But does his new edifice have the same solid foundations?

In future, the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, China and India will be merged with those of Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and South Korea under the banner “growth markets,” O'Neill told the Financial Times.

Hmmm.  Doesn't quite grab you like BRICs, does it? The Guardian helpfully offers an amended branding banner of  "Bric 'n Mitsk" (geddit?). But which ever way you cut it, it's hard to see a flood of investment conferences and funds floating off under the new moniker.

BRICs chipped

It may come as a bit of a surprise but in the end developed market stocks did quite well last year. For one thing, they outperformed the much-touted BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Here is the graphic to show it.

EM_BRICP1210

Which BRIC? Russia scores late goal for 2010

How quickly times change. Russia’s stock market, unloved for months, last week overtook India to be the best-performing of
the four BRICs.  The Moscow stock index jumped 5 percent last week, posting its biggest weekly rise in seven months, bringing
year-to-date gains to 17.5 percent. Fund managers such as Goldman Sach’s Jim O’Neill, creator of the BRICs term, are predicting it will lead the group next year too.

SOCCER-WORLD/

So what’s with the sudden burst of enthusiasm for Moscow? One catalyst is of course soccer body FIFA’s decision to award
the 2018 Soccer World cup to Russia. Investors are piling into infrastructure stocks, with steel producers especially tipped to
benefit as Russia starts building stadia, roads and hotels.  But the bigger factor, according to John Lomax, HSBC‘s head of emerging equity strategy, is the optimism that has started creeping in about U.S. — and world economic growth.

Some of that may have been dampened by Friday’s lacklustre U.S. jobs data. But overall, checks of U.S. economic vital signs show the economy looking sturdier than it was six months ago and most banks, including the pessimists at Goldman Sachs, have upped 2011 growth forecasts for the world’s biggest economy. And China and India are continuing to grow at rates close to 10 percent.  All that is great news for the commodity and oil stocks — the mainstay of the Russian market. Merrill Lynch, for instance, expects oil prices to be $10 higher by next December than now.

from Reuters Investigates:

Enter stage left — Brazil’s next president?

BRAZIL-ELECTION/ROUSSEFFNot every president has a police mugshot, but it's not so surprising in Latin America.

A special report out of Brazil today sheds new light on Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla leader who is likely to be elected the booming country's next president. She spent nearly three years in jail in the early 1970s and was tortured by her military captors. She's come a long way since then.

The product of more than a dozen interviews with Rousseff and her top advisers, the story gives a glimpse of how Rousseff could govern at the helm of a country that, with India, Russia and China, is among the worlds few economic bright spots.

Brazil-style tax may not work for South Africa

Traders in South African securities woke to a nasty surprise this morning — media reports that the ruling ANC party is considering slapping a tax on “short-term” financial market flows, possibly similar to the 2 percent tax Brazil brought in last October.  Luckily for them,  it may not happen.

Like Brazil, South Africa is worried about the strength of its currency, the rand, which rose almost 30 percent last year against the dollar and has firmed a further 1.5 percent this year to trade near 7.25 per dollar. Analysts like Elisabeth Gruie at BNP Paribas reckon fair value would be around 9 per dollar.  South Africa, like Brazil, is a commodity exporter so needs a fairly valued currency. Hence the call for capital controls to keep out foreign speculative cash.

But the similarities stop there.

Investors may not have cheered the Brazilian tax but few have pulled their cash from the country, betting the returns on offer make the 2 percent levy worthwhile. But South Africa may have a harder time.  Its economy may grow this year by 3 percent compared to Brazil’s 7.6 percent. Johannesburg stocks, especially those of multinational precious metals firms are attractive but they are not cheap — they trade at 11.5 times forward earnings while Brazil’s are at 10.6 times. And the domestic consumption story is still weak in South Africa which makes its companies more vulnerable to the global growth picture.

Shock! Emerging capital controls may just be working

Do capital controls work?  After years of telling us that they do not, the IMF and World Bank reluctantly conceded last year they may not be all that bad and indeed in some cases they may actually help keep away some of the speculators who have in recent years been pouring into emerging markets.

Developing countries for the most part like foreign capital, indeed they rely on it for development. What they don’t like is hot money — short-term speculative flows which are widely blamed for causing past emerging market crises. So starting from October last year several of them slapped controls on some of this cash. There are signs these may be working.

Take the experience of two large emerging markets, Brazil and Indonesia. Brazil shocked forBRAZIL-MARKETS/eign investors last October with a 2 percent tax on all flows to stocks and bonds. Nine months on, investors are still putting their cash there and Brazil has raked in millions of dollars thanks to the tax. But many fund managers, like HSBC’s Jose Cuervo, who runs a $6 billion portfolio of Brazilian stocks, are buying American Depositary Receipts (ADRS) of Brazilian firms rather than stocks listed in Sao Paulo.  Because ADRs are in dollars and listed in New York, investors are getting exposure to Brazil but sidestepping the tax.  Brazilian firms continue to receive investment but Brazil’s currency is not appreciating  like it was last year. A win-win all around.