Global Investing

from MacroScope:

Big five

Five things to think about this week:

-- IS RATE OF ECONOMIC CONTRACTION SLOWING?
Some economic reports have been pointing to a slowdown in the pace at which economic conditions are deteriorating -- eg U.S. home sales data; auto sales data; PMIs; UK lenders seeing improved credit availability in Q2, and PMI data. While job destruction is continuing apace, signs that inventories are being drawn down leave room for hope for those inclined to look for the silver lining, or even seek a bottom to the current downturn.

-- REBOUND MOMENTUM
Investors are wondering whether equity markets can extend a solid Q2 start now that major fiscal stimulus announcements, rate cuts, QE  (in most developed economies), the London G20 meeting, and other big milestones are largely behind them. A sustained narrowing of corporate spreads, the VIX clearly breaking out of ranges that have held post-Lehman, and any shift out of defensive stocks are just some of the signals that would suggest that the rebound has legs.

-- QE CLUB
The European Central Bank opted to wait another month before deciding on whether to join the QE club and unexpectedly left itself room for a further refi cut. By contrast, curveballs are unlikely from Bank of England and Bank of Japan policy meetings given their quantitative easings are under way. The relative performance of their respective sovereign debt markets is in focus as a result, as are the inflation outlooks being priced in by index-linked paper at a time when some are pondering the longer-term fallout of QE policy. The Reserve Bank of Ausstralia also meets this week week but markets finding it tough to call the outcome.

-- EMERGING
The MSCI emerging market index's year-to-date performance is in positive territory and investors' willingness to venture further into these waters could rise given the International Monetary Fund is ready for new business with a hefty increase in resources and has found its first client for the new credit line that doesn't impose conditionality for those strong economic track records. Just knowing such a backstop is there could foster confidence in well-run emerging economies and see their outperformance against less well-thought-of peers become even more pronounced.

-- FIXING BANK BALANCE SHEETS
A drive to improve health of financial sector balance sheets is being pursued at regulatory/industry/firm levels. M&A activity, rights issues, and bond buybacks or exchanges are being deployed to improve health of bank capital. Relaxation of mark-to-market rules in the U.S. is expected to flatter Q1 earnings results -- and has already helped U.S. financials. Interest in how many U.S. banks plump for the option given not all European banks moved away from market-to-market rules when given the choice in 2008. Stock markets look more inclined to hope for a break in financial sector gloom.

Zeitgeist check

Some more bits and bobs to capture the current mood among investors.

–  So far, 2009 is worse than 2008 for stock investors. MSCI‘s main world index is down around 17 percent in January and February.  A year ago, it had lost around 8 percent.

– Eastern and central Europe are the new worries because of bank exposure to troubled economies.  ”The travails in the east, like the vampires of folklore, are sucking the lifeblood from European markets and investor sentiment,” State Street suggests.

– Cross-border flows into the euro zone hit record lows in February,  the same firm says.

Slip slidin’ away

Thomson Reuters Research and Estimates finds that the blended growth rate for S&P 500 companies for the fourth quarter of 2008 now stands at -28.1 percent.  The blended growth rate combines actual earnings reported with estimates of those yet to come. What a decline.  On July 1st, the estimated growth rate for Q4 2008 was 59.3 percent; on October 1st, the estimated growth rate for Q4 2008 was 46.7 percent; and on January 1st, the estimated growth rate for Q4 2008 was -1.2 percent. If the final growth rate for Q4 2008 is -28.1 percent, it will mark the first time the S&P 500 has recorded six straight quarters of loss since Thomson Reuters began tracking earnings growth rates in 1998.

Zeitgeist check

Some more bits and bobs to capture the current mood among investors:

– Some stock indexes have started to fall below their 2008 lows, meaning the turn-of-the-year rally has petered out. Dead cat bounce?

– Analysts are becoming increasingly downbeat about corporate earnings. Seven of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 are looking at a year-on-year decline in earnings, according to Thomson Reuters proprietary research. That’s the highest number of sectors in negative territory since Q4 2001.

– UBS economists have sharply revised down estimates for 2009 growth in Japan, China, much of the rest of Asia, and the euro zone. They now expect world GDP to grow a paltry 0.4 percent this year.

Zeitgeist check

– The estimated earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 for Q4 2008 currently stands at -1.2 percent. Six months ago, this was estimated at 59.3 percent.

– The price of oil was $37.71 at the close on December 26, the last formal price before Israel began its bombardment of Gaza. It has since risen close to 25 percent.

– A standout winner among investments last year was German stock volatility. The DAX New Volatility index rose more than 139 percent in 2008.

EarningsOutlook: If estimates hold, Q3 could see first earnings growth since Q2 2007

earnings_growth1.jpg

At this time, the estimated growth rate for the third quarter 2008 stands at 0.8%. On April 1, the estimated growth rate for third quarter 2008 was 17.3%. On July 1, the estimated growth rate was 12.6%.

If the final growth rate for third quarter 2008 is 0.8%, it will mark the first quarter the S&P 500 has recorded earnings growth since the second quarter of 2007 (7.7%).

Since the start of the quarter, most of the decrease in the third quarter 2008 growth rate (to 0.8% from 12.6%) can be attributed to downward estimate revisions in the Financials sector.