Global Investing

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

GOOD RUN 
-  Stocks have managed to extend their rally but potential hurdles, such as this week’s U.S. non-farm payrolls, could prove increasingly hard to leap given valuations — European stocks are trading at their highest multiples of earnings since May 2008 while the multiple for the S&P is the highest since mid-September 2008. If investors are to boost equity holdings — which Reuters polls show already back to pre-Lehman levels — it may require more concrete evidence of economic expansion, rather than just economic stabilisation, and signs that profit margins will be supported by revenue growth, rather than cost cutting. 

BOE – HANGING IN THE BALANCE
- The Bank of England will have to decide this week whether to end its asset-buying programme or extend it. Concern about potential longer-term inflation implications will have to be weighed against the signs of economic weakness still manifest in recent Q2 GDP data. With economists split on the outcome, markets look set for volatility, not least as the MPC’s decision is likely to be viewed as a indication of when other central banks could start to halt/unwind their credit easing strategy. 

SQUARING CIRCLES
- The dexterity with which China can manage surging lending and potential price pressures without unsettling markets with any rapid reversal of stimulative policy is increasingly in focus and will have financial market and macroeconomic repercussions well beyond its borders and Asia, as last week showed. Australia, which felt the spillover effect of the China jitters, has its own policy dilemma as the RBA is trying to push back against its currency’s appreciation while giving markets another reason to buy A$ by its more upbeat view on the domestic economic outlook. The RBA policy meeting this week will give the central bank a chance to show how it squares this circle. 

INVENTORIES AND EXPORTS 
- Detailed PMI data and UK, Italy industrial output reports will be scanned for signs of whether the inventory decline that accompanied a rise in Japanese industrial output is being seen elsewhere, with the inventory-shipments, inventory-orders ratios remaining firmly in focus as key signals for the outlook for production. The extent to which Asian economic activity is helping trade flows will also be flagged by German and French June trade data (all the more interesting given May exports rose in both countries, despite their differing export specialisations.

LOAN PROVISIONS 
- European banks reporting this week will be closely watched for the extent to which they follow in Deutsche Bank’s footsteps by making higher loan loss provisions. The ECB’s latest lending survey shows euro zone banks’ expect to continue to tighten credit conditions in the coming months, albeit at a slower pace; heftier loan provisions will make this all but guaranteed.

Slow and steady wins the race: Malkiel

Investment guru Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, has revealed at a briefing that Chinese equities form the largest part of his personal satellite portfolio, although the core remains in low-cost index funds.

Malkiel, in town to beat the drum for Vanguard’s index funds, argued that China will be the biggest economy in the world in 20 years’ time, but most investors are underweight the emerging giant. “I’m a real expert on China – I’ve been there five times,” he joked, but made the serious point that most investors have a home bias.

“In general, people are inadequately diversified,” he said. “When people ask me how much international diversification they should have, I say: A lot more!” He conceded that asset class diversification had not been much help last year when markets collapsed in a great unwinding, but added that gold and US Treasuries had provided some relief.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

HOLDING UP — FOR NOW 
- A good run in equities has so far been helped rather than hindered by U.S. company results. Some are questioning how long the upward momentum can be sustained given cost-cutting rather than improved revenue streams flattered profit margins. The European earnings season, which cranks up a gear this week, and the release of U.S. Q2 GDP data could be potential triggers for a pullback, but the sensitivity to bad news may depend on how much money is chasing the latest push higher. 
    

EARNINGS 
- European earnings flooding out in the coming weeks may paint a less rosy picture of the banking sector than seen on the other side of the Atlantic. While investment and trading activities should be supportive, bad loan provisions will be particularly closely scrutinised, as will the central and eastern Europe exposure of the likes of Erste. The supply/demand outlook for key commodities plans will also be in the limelight given the battery of oil and chemical firms reporting in Europe and the U.S. 

CORRELATIONS 
- There are signs of some breakdown in the lockstep moves that financial markets had become accustomed to seeing in FX/stocks or stocks/bonds. Calyon research shows correlation between the bank’s proprietary risk aversion barometer and exchange rates has been less robust in the past month. While this correlation nevertheless remains stronger than that between FX and interest rate differentials, the markets’ thoughts are turning to new linkages that might prove better trading guides. 

from Commentaries:

Is China after the secret of Guinness?

DIAGEO/Is Beijing trying to get its hands on the secret brewing recipe for Guinness?

China's sovereign wealth fund has bought a 1.1 percent stake -- worth around 240 million pounds -- in drinks group Diageo, which owns the legendary Irish stout.

China isn't yet among the top five markets for Guinness -- although Johnnie Walker whisky is apparently a favourite -- but the stout does already feature among Diageo's top brands in South East Asia and Japan.

Officials at China Investment Corp (CIC) probably felt like a stiff drink or a long pint of Guinness after the roasting the fund got for the performance of its investments in Blackstone and Morgan Stanley.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week

TUSSLE FOR DIRECTION
- The tussle between bullish and bearish inclinations — with bears gaining a bit of ground so far this month — is being played out over both earnings and economic data. Alcoa got the U.S. earnings season off to a good start but a heavier results week lies ahead and could toss some banana skins into the market’s path. Key financials, technology bellwethers (IBM, Google, Intel), as well as big names like GE, Nokia, Johnson and Johnson will offer more food for thought for those looking past the simple defensive versus cyclical split to choices between early cylicals, such as consumer discretionaries, and late cyclicals, such as industrials, based on the short-term earnings momentum. Macroeconomic data will need to confirm the picture painted by last week’s unexpectedly German strong orders and production figures to give bulls the upper hand.

FINANCIAL FOCUS
- The heavy financial results slate (Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citi) will show the extent to which balance sheets are being cleansed of toxic assets and the health of, and outlook for margins, trading revenues, etc. The relative performance of the firms reporting could put the spotlight on the split between investment banking and retail exposure. In Europe, Swedbank’s results will be watched for Baltic exposure while clarity is still being sought on what banks plan to do with the large chunk of ECB one-year money which they continue to park back at the ECB in the form of overnight deposits.

JAPANESE DILEMMA
- The BOJ’s policy meeting poses thorny questions on quantitative easing (QE), with the policy debate complicated by sharp gains in the yen. The yen has risen as much as 10.5 percent in three months against the dollar and is nearing the 90 threshold which is viewed by the foreign exchanges as the point at which the Japanese authorities start ratcheting up the rhetoric. Further sustained yen gains will fuel market debate about the fallout for carry trades and for exporters — and by extension economic activity.

from Alexander Smith:

Beijing’s Rio talks must avoid iron fist

Chinese anger at Rio Tinto for reneging on a deal with aluminium group Chinalco and opting instead for an iron ore joint venture with BHP Billiton last month was understandable. Indeed, China has good reason to question the Rio-BHP JV on competition grounds.

But the detention of four Rio Tinto employees -- on suspicion of espionage according to Australia's foreign minister -- bang in the middle of sensitive negotiations on iron ore exports to China is a
dangerous step in the wrong direction. Beijing must either justify the arrests publicly or release the Rio staff immediately.

Rio is locked in tough negotiations with China's massive steel sector following its refusal to agree to Chinese demands for a bigger cut in contract prices. As a result, Rio is for now at least charging its Chinese customers spot market prices, which are considerably higher.

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

REBOUND
- The global stock market has lost some of its spring, although it still managed a seventh straight  week of gains last week. A serious pullback has yet to be seen and the VIX is managing to hold fairly close to the sub-40 lows. Faced with a deluge of earnings, investors are picking their way through a mass of mixed earnings news and forecasts and displaying a more symmetric reaction to good/bad news than in past months.

STRESSES
- The U.S. financial stress testing timeline will put the focus back on the health of financials. Results, which are expected to point out banks’ varying ability to cope with a severe recession, are due out on May 4 and the financial industry is already flagging the risks of failing to spell out what would happen to the weaker links in the chain. Stress test results and any rumours or leaks before publication could prompt volatility.

DATA FLOW
- The release of advance Q1 U.S. GDP will offer investors a clearer sense of whether worst is in the past and could point way to what might feed any eventual “green shoots” of recovery. In the euro zone, national and regional sentiment indicators will point the way to firms’ and consumers’ mood at the start of Q2.

Something to show off

Top Chinese officials were busy showing off warships and submarines to celebrate the 60-year anniversary of their navy today, but they have something to boast about when it comes to their economy too.  It is, after all,  the world’s third largest.

China’s economy grew 6.1 percent in the first quarter, lower than expected but still far outpacing its G20 peers, many of which are stuck in recession.

Goldman Sachs has just upgraded its forecast for China, expecting 8.3% growth in 2009 (up from 6%) and 10.9% (from 9%).

Top Gun economics

It’s not often that economists turn their attention to military hardware, but Deutsche Bank has done just that in its latest world outlook. The subject is aircraft carriers and what it sees as the strange desire among a number of countries to build them.

Russia has suggested it may build up to six carriers, DB notes, while China plans one and Britain and France three between them. Like the true economists they are, DB first questions the need, saying such boats are vulnerable, make no sense for coastal defence and are for projecting offensive power over long distances. Then comes the cost:
  

To build a serious aircraft carrier costs well above $5 billion. But then you need to build half a dozen escort vessels and the aircraft to produce a battle unit that will require upwards of 10,000 sailors. Since it is for distant power projection, to keep a single aircraft carrier group on constant deployment requires at least two and more likely three groups.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“Plan C” – Pakistan turns to the IMF.

Pakistan has agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a $7.6 billion emergency loan to stave off a balance of payments crisis. 

Shaukat Tarin, economic adviser to the prime minister, said the IMF had endorsed Pakistan's own strategy to bring about structural adjustments. The agreement is expected to encourage other potential donors, who are gathering in Abu Dhabi on Monday for a "Friends of Pakistan" conference.

The government had long delayed announcing its plans to turn to the IMF for help and President Asif Ali Zardari said in September the country did not want to seek IMF assistance. Tarin said in October that going to the IMF was "Plan C" if other lenders failed to come through.  "If we want to go to the IMF, we can ... but only as a backup," he said.