Global Investing

from MacroScope:

What are the risks to growth?

Mike Dicks, chief economist and blogger at Barclays Wealth, has identified what he sees as the three biggest problems facing the global economy, and conveniently found that they are linked with three separate regions.

First, there is the risk that U.S., t consumers won't increase spending. Dicks notes that the increase in U.S. consumption has been "extremely moderate" and far less than after previous recessions. His firm has lowered is U.S. GDP forecast for 2011 to 2.7 percent from a bit over 3 percent.

Next comes the euro zone. While the wealth manager is not looking for any immediate collapse in EMU, Dicks reckons that without the ability to devalue, Greece and other struggling countries won't see any great improvement in competitiveness. Germany, in the meantime, has sped up plans to cut its own deficit.  It leaves the Barclays Wealth's euro zone GDP forecast at just 1 percent for next year.

Finally, Asian growth is under threat from tightening policies. Dicks says this is the least problem of the three, but there are indications that powerhouse China needs a period of slower growth to get things under control.

So,  there are three problems -- and a not very bright outlook. Are there any others? Or are these three all being overstated?

from MacroScope:

Are CDS markets the euro zone’s iceberg?

icebergIn an unfortunate turn of phrase at the height of his country's current debt crisis, Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Monday compared his government's Herculean task in slashing deficits and debts as akin to changing the course of the Titanic. Sadly, we all know where the great "unsinkable" ended up almost a century ago and I'm sure,  given the chance, Mr Papaconstantinou would have chosen another metaphor. But if the Greek economy (or perhaps the euro zone at large?) is to be cast as the Titanic, then what is its potential iceberg?

For some euro politicians, look no further than the sovereign Credit Default Swaps market. France's finance chief Christine Lagarde said as much last week when she questioned "the validity, solidity of CDSs on sovereign risk" and warned speculators to be careful as regulators took a "second look" at the market and European governments closed ranks. Lagarde, of course, is not alone.  You can be sure CDS are being examined long and hard by Spanish intelligence services investigating the "murky manoeuvres" in the debt markets.  But what is the exact charge against CDS?

CDS are ways to buy or sell insurance on the risk of debt defaults without needing to own the underlying bonds in the first place. It's a way of hedging your debts, if you like, without having to go through the often more complicated game of selling securities short (or selling borrowed paper). In essence, it allows you to take a bet on default without having to go to the trouble of owning the bonds you're insuring against.  Some critics, not unreasonably, would view this as the epitome of the casino capitalism that has elicited so much public outrage over the past three years . The fear is this market has become the tail wagging the dog.

The Big Five: Themes for the Week Ahead

Five things to think about this week:

CENTRAL BANKERS IN A HOLE
– The global economy and financial system appear on the road to recovery but that is in large part due to unprecedented official stimulus that will have to be withdrawn at some point – the questions investors want answered are when, and how.  Central bankers no longer appear to be quite as shoulder to shoulder with one another on coordinated policy as they were last year in the aftermath of Lehman’s collapse.
 

CHINA STOCK WATCHING
–  It is August, liquidity has dried up with the summer holiday season in full swing, and investors are palpably more cautious about the economic outlook now than they have been for months. It is against this backdrop that that the Chinese stock market is emerging as the focal point and driver of all other asset markets. The Shanghai Composite technically slipped into bear market territory earlier last week, shedding 20 percent in the two weeks from Aug. 4 to Aug. 19 on profit taking from the 90 percent surge this year. There is no major Chinese economic data scheduled for release this week, leaving thin markets at the whim of sentiment in what is a notoriously volatile stock market.
 

GROWTH FOUNDATIONS
– The United States, Britain and Germany unveil revised estimates of Q2 economic growth. Revised GDP figures rarely garner much attention but with initial estimates from Germany, France and Japan earlier this month all showing that these countries exited recession in the last quarter, investors will be looking for further evidence the world economy has turned the corner. The hard data is stronger now than it has been for some time but is the global economy building a solid base for recovery, or is it more likely to buckle were authorities to begin withdrawing the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus?
 

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.

from MacroScope:

Crisis reading: What’s in the book bag?

Readers of MacroScope who live in the northern hemisphere will be gearing up for some summer reading.

James Montier, the market psychologist who is also an equity analyst at Societe Generale, has come up with his annual recomendations of what to read. The full list is here, but for the current economic and market crisis he has this to offer:

My favourite book in this category is Bill Fleckenstein’s ‘Greenspan’s Bubbles’ -- an excellent exposé of incompetence during Alan Greenspan's tenure as Fed Chairman. The next choice in this group is Whitney Tilson and Glen Tongue’s ‘More Mortgage Meltdown’. This book explains clearly how we ended up in this mess (and is based on the authors -- real time experience), and an added bonus is the insight into Tilson's investment process provided by the case studies. My final choice in this section is Jim Grant’s ‘Mr. Market Miscalculates’. I've mentioned this excellent book before, and I believe it deserves a place on all investors' bookshelves.

from MacroScope:

How to calculate the decline of decline

Analysts and strategists assessing whether there’s an economic recovery on the way are increasingly referring to “second derivatives”. It usually means a measure, say production, has declined, but not by as much as it did last month, or quarter.

Are second derivatives a strong basis for optimism? If you have to perform differential calculus to make a point, it may be a sign of desperation.

Equities markets continue to factor in a recovery, with the FTSE 100 up about 30 percent from its six-year low of March 9.

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.

Morgan Stanley bales out

Say this for Morgan Stanley — it is not afraid to buck the trend. With world stocks up more than five percent in the few days that have been April trading and up 24 percent since hitting a low on March 9, the bank has decided bale out. In its latest strategy report, MS says it is moving 5 percent out of stocks to neutral. It likes cash.

This puts Morgan Stanley in the camp that sees the current stock rally as just part of a bear market. It says it is looking at fundamentals to get better before it will decide that trouble is past. 

“The three fundamentals we look at are : 1) earnings; 2) U.S. housing; and 3) banks’ balance sheets”,  it says.

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.

And the next Iceland is…

If there’s one thing you don’t want to be, it’s the next Iceland.

Since its currency, colossally indebted banking sector and economy collapsed in spectacular fashion in October, the country has become a byword for an economy that has truly hit the rocks.

Within weeks, banking problems and currency falls meant Hungary was being hyped as a “second Iceland”, at least until a joint International Monetary Fund and European Union rescue package restored some stability.