Global Investing

Devil and the deep blue sea

Ok, it’s a big policy week and of course it could either way for markets. An awful lot of ECB and Fed easing expectations may well be in the price already, so some delivery would appear to be important especially now that ECB chief Mario Draghi has set everyone up for fireworks in Frankfurt.

But if it’s even possible to look beyond the meetings for a moment, it’s interesting to see how the other forces are stacked up.

Perhaps the least obvious market statistic as July draws to a close is that, with gains of more than 10 percent, Wall St equities have so far had their best year-to-date since 2003. Who would have thunk it in a summer of market doom and despair.  Now that could be a blessing or a curse for those trying to parse the remainder of the year. Gloomy chartists and uber-bears such as SocGen’s Albert Edwards warn variously of either hyper-negative chart signals on the S&P500, such as the “Ultimate Death Cross”, or claims that the U.S. has already entered recession in the third quarter.

On the other hand, the economic data isn’t playing ball with doomsters, as can be seen in Thursday’s latest U.S. consumer and business confidence readings as well as the latest house price data. What’s more, the closely watched Citigroup Economic Surprise index, though still in negative territory, is turning higher again as a result amid some hopes for at least a midyear fillip in manufacturing worldwide. Of course surprises are only relative to expectations. But then sufficiently lowered expectations are no bad thing in a marketplace attempting to discount all available information. It’s true too of the ongoing U.S. earnings season, where there had been a sharp downgrade of forecasts in the weeks leading up the corporate reports.  Thomson Reuters data shows that of the 303 firms in the S&P500 who have already reported Q2 earnings, some 66 percent are above analysts expectations — just shy of the average of of the past four quarters of 68 percent.

There is the hoary old argument that lukewarm economic signals will prevent the Fed from moving soon again on QE3, in part because the bar may be higher in an election year. But that just throws us back to the policy arena yet again and we promised to step aside from that for now!

XL-sized gains for 2009′s best performing U.S. stock

The S&P 500 has closed out its first annual advance in two years, underpinned by strength in the technology and materials sectors on hopes that the economic recovery will spur a rebound in capital spending and fuel demand for natural resources.

The benchmark index ended 2009 up 23.5 percent on the year, reversing a slide of 38.5 percent in 2008. The S&P 500 is now off 28.8 percent from its October 2007 record close.

The run-up in sectors like technology underscores the extent of the damage done to financial stocks in the credit crisis of 2008. Financials were once the largest sector in the S&P 500, but tech is now the biggest. The top 10 S&P 500 stock performers of 2009 do not include a major U.S. bank. Heading the list is Bermuda-based insurer XL Capital.

from DealZone:

R.I.P. Salomon Brothers

It's official: Salomon Brothers has been completely picked apart.

Citigroup's agreement to sell Phibro, its profitable but controversial commodity trading business, to Occidental Petroleum today puts the finishing touches on a slow erosion of a once-dominant bond trading and investment banking firm.

When Sandy Weill (pictured left) staged his 1998 coup -- combining Citicorp and Travelers, Salomon Brothers was a strong albeit humbled investment banking and trading force. Yet little by little, a succession of financial crises, Wall Street fashion and regulatory intervention has whittled away at the once-dominant firm.

Not long after the Citigroup was formed, proprietary fixed income trading --  once the domain of John Meriwether, was shut down after the Asian debt crisis fueled losses that Weill could not stomach.

from DealZone:

Stress-Test Expertise

NEWYORK-SPITZER/It seemed only a bit odd that media star Arianna Huffington was the guest host on CNBC the day the all-important stress test results were due. Not to play down her credentials in media or commentary circles, but where were the celebrated bank analysts, the corporate chieftains and the investment gurus who so routinely enjoy a dose of the limelight on America's Business Channel?

Wasn't this the perfect day for a newsmaker rather than a news talker? The Huffington Post founder has been a good reality check on market cheerleaders who live on CNBC, but on Stress-Test Thursday, the less-than-casual viewer expects insiders with insight. It tasted like something strange and exotic had made its way into the DealZone coffee machine.

Then disgraced former New York Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer joined the fray, and the slightly odd became surreal. Spitzer, who casually noted he was invited to the show (hint, hint), gave a spirited view from the nosebleed seats, far back from the federal policymakers' bench.

from DealZone:

Uncertainty principles

DEALS/Faced with a $34 billion hole uncovered in the stress test, Bank of America might have little choice but to dump its investment in China Construction Bank, China's second-largest bank. That would give it about a quarter of the $34 billion of additional capital we are told it needs to fill a yawning gap in its foundation. A lock-up on a portion of the stake ends tomorrow, and the opportunity may be too good for embattled CEO Ken Lewis to pass up, though the bank has plenty of incentive to hold onto the stake.

Citigroup's Keith Horowitz raised his price target on the bank, citing the end of uncertainty. He also says the total need at the 19 stress-tested banks will be $75 billion, with Bank of America accounting for the lion's share.

At this point, with hundreds of billions of public dollars having been heaved at the likes of AIG, Citi, Bank of America, automakers, auto suppliers, life insurers, etc. that number is hardly shocking. And with the S&P having recovered 25 percent of its recession-fueled losses, is it time to expect investors to become more aggressively exposed to the end of uncertainty?

Bank stocks’ best day in 23 years

The U.S. Treasury’s unveiling of its toxic asset plan sent stocks soaring on Monday, and none more so than in the banking sector. The KBW Bank index rose 18.6 percent, its best one day gain since at least 1993, driven by a 26 percent gain in Bank of America, a 25 percent advance in JPMorgan Chase and a 20 percent gain in Citigroup.