Global Investing

It’s the exit, stupid

Ghoul

Anyone wondering what ghoul is most haunting investors at the moment could see it clearly on Tuesday — it is the exit strategy from the past few years’ central bank liquidity-fest.

Germany came out with a quite positive business sentiment indicator, relief was still there that Greece had managed to sell some debt a day before, and Britain formally left recession – albeit in a limp kind of way.

But what was the main global market mover? It was China implementing a previously announced clampdown on lending.

Doesn’t bode well for when the euro zone stops lending banks low-interest money, Britain stops buyng gilts and the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

from MacroScope:

Britain heading for rude awakening?

 UK_DFTEZ0110

 

There is a divisive election ahead for Britain, the threat of a ratings downgrade on its sovereign debt and a deficit that has ballooned into the largest by percentage of any major economy.  UK stocks, bonds and sterling, however, are trundling along as if all were well. What gives?

For a fuller discussion on the issue click here, but the gist is that all three asset classes  are being support by factors that may be masking the danger of a broad reversal. UK equities have been driven higher by the improving global economy, bonds held up by the Bank of England's huge buying programme and sterling by valuation and the distress of others.

But with the Bank of England's buying spree due to end soon and the possibility that UK voters won't give a clear victory to either the Conservatives or Labour, meaning political stalemate, is this set to change?

Global FTSE 100 shrugs off parochial UK GDP data

Britain’s FTSE 100 seems to be almost impervious to any bad data that can be thrown at it. GDP data shocked the market showing the UK unexpectedly contracted in the third quarter.

Sterling tumbled more than a cent against the greenbackand gilts jumped while the FTSEurofirst 300 pan-European equity index trimmed gains considerably.

But Britain’s FTSE shrugged it off, hugging its 1 percent gains in the face of data which shows the UK economy is still ailing badly.

Pity Poor Pound

Britain’s pound has long been the whipping boy of notoriously fickle currency markets, but there are worrying signs that it’s not just hedge funds and speculators who have lost faith in sterling. Reuters FX columnist Neal Kimberley neatly illustrated yesterday just how poor sentiment toward sterling in the dealing rooms has become and the graphic below (on the sharp buildup of speculative ‘short’ positsions seen in U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data) shows how deeply that negative view has become entrenched.              

 While the pound’s inexorable grind down to parity with the euro captures the popular headlines, the Bank of England’s index of sterling against a trade-weighted basket of world currencies shows that weakness is pervasive. The index has lost more than a quarter of its value in little over two years — by far the worst of the G4 (dollar, euro, sterling and yen) currencies over the financial crisis. The dollar’s equivalent index has shed only about a third of the pound’s losses since mid-2007, while the euro’s has jumped about 10% and the yen’s approximately 20% over that period.

There’s no shortage of negatives — Britain’s deep recession, recent housing bust, near zero interest rates and money printing, soaring government budget deficit (forecast at more than 12% pf GDP next year, it’s the highest of the G20) and looming general election in early 2010. In the relative world of currency traders, not all of these are necessarily bad for the pound — the country is emerging tentatively from recession, the dominant financial services sector is recovering rapidly and  short-term interest rates (3-month Libor at least) do offer better returns than the dollar, yen, Swiss franc or Canadian dollar. 

from FaithWorld:

France courts Islamic finance, as long as it’s not too obvious

eiffel-towerIn researching an article on what lay behind government plans to develop France as a European hub for Islamic finance, I was struck by the uneasy atmosphere surrounding the subject. On the one hand, the government sees it as a way to attract Middle Eastern money and wants to push the idea. But on the other, there is a clear sense of apprehension over how Islamic finance would fit into French society, where the policy of laïcité -- the strict separation of church and state -- tries to keep anything religious out of the public sphere as much as possible. (Photo: Eiffel Tower in Paris, 20 Nov 2007/Mal Langsdon)

The bankers, lawyers, government officials and Islamic finance specialists trying to get Islamic finance off the ground in France speak publicly about the bright prospects they see for the market. France has the biggest Muslim population in Europe at over five million. The government is pushing the idea hard. There is a huge need for financing of future projects.

But privately, many admit that French companies and banks may hesitate to do anything that uses the label Islamic as this could highlight sensitivities over social and cultural divides. Ever since the French Revolution, France has upheld the idea that its people are all individual and equal citizens and not members of regional, ethnic or religious minorities. Stressing membership in a sub-group is considered divisive. The French frequently point to the multicultural approach taken in Britain and the United States as the source of political and social problems -- such as ethnic or religious "ghettoisation" and "identity politics" -- that they want to avoid.

Crowing about good earnings

Investors have been cock-a-hoop about the latest earnings season — and probably with some reason. There has been positive surprise after positive surprise, particularly in America. Thomson Reuters latest research shows that of the 337 companies in the S&P 500 that had reported through Friday, 74 percent came in above analysts expectations.

A wag might suggest that this only means that analysts are not very good. Chances are, however, that it reflects that they overshot in their pessimism, a not unusual factor. Are they now being overly optimistic?

Investors are now buying away and putting bad news to one side. Consider as one example how the ballooning of bad debts in European banks have not stopped the sector from rallying sharply.

Is it time for a Scottish wealth fund?

Oxford SWF Project, a university think tank on sovereign wealth funds, is looking at reports that the latest entry in the field could be Scotland. The project has a new post about the Scottish government floating the idea of an oil stabilisation fund to use oil and gas revenues.  It cites Scottish cabinet secretary for finance John Swinney looking abroad gleefully:

“We want to harness the benefit of oil revenues now for future years. An oil fund can provide greater stability, protect our economy and support the transition to a low carbon economy. Norway’s oil fund is worth over £200 billion – despite the first instalment being made as recently as the mid 1990s – and Alaska’s oil fund even gives money back to its citizens every year.”

The SWF project reckons the idea is a good one, but wonders if something other than meets the eye is at play. It had two questions.

from MacroScope:

UK heading for second downturn?

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Julian Chillingworth. Chillingworth is chief investment officer of UK investor Rathbones. He questions here whether Britain will face a second downturn shortly after struggling out of recession.

Are we likely to witness a two-tier recession in the UK?  Perhaps not a recession but certainly a secondary downturn. A vast number of people have enjoyed lower mortgage payments and a level of job security, but will this last?

The UK is in somewhat of a unique position in so far as it faces a regime change, with some obvious ramifications for policy.  However, whoever takes the seat (most likely the Tories) must still cut back public expenditure and raise taxation, both within the context of high unemployment.

from Global News Journal:

Germany’s Finance Minister takes aim at the City

Has German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck finally said what many world leaders think but are afraid to say? That the British government won't sign up to meaningful reform of financial markets because it is too worried about what it would mean for the country’s most famous cash cow, the City of London.

 

The City, which accounts for around 35 percent of global foreign exchange turnover, has been a popular target for critics of capitalism for years. But it has rarely been singled out so bluntly as a problem by one of Britain’s close allies.

 

Even for a man not known for holding his tongue, Steinbrueck’s remark on Wednesday that Downing Street was impeding reform because it had “practically aligned” its interests with the City, was unusually undiplomatic. Just days before global leaders meet at a Group of Eight summit in Italy, Steinbrueck suggested the British government was plotting a “restoration” of the pre-crisis order to protect its own interests. The United States, by contrast, was now open to reform, he said.

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

EARNINGS DELUGE
– A heavy U.S. earnings week looms and the European reporting calendar is picking up. While more banks and financials will be reporting (e.g. Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Credit Suisse and a trading update due from Barclays), results will start flowing from a wider range of sectors in both the U.S. and Europe (ranging from Apple and IBM to Glaxo SmithKline, Du Pont, Coca Cola). Health of the broader economy on display.

MACRO SIGNALS
– The more mixed signals that earnings send, the more investors are likely to look to macro and other indicators as a cross-check of whether the stock market rebound is sustainable and whether the economy is anywhere near an inflexion point. Flash PMIs and Ifo for April will give an early indication of how economic activity was faring as Q2 got underway. Trade data from Japan is also due for release.

FISCAL HELP
 – The UK budget on April 22 is expected to issue grim forecasts and extend a helping hand to some sectors, such as autos. The fiscal presentation will keep the spotlight on the limited room for budgetary manoeuvre in Britain and elsewhere with past bailouts and support measures leaving tough decisions to be made on public spending, taxes, etc.