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.

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.

What a web we’ve woven

Thanks are due to the World Economic Forum for clearly  explaining the interlinked web of misery currently facing the world.  Make what you will of the details in the graphic below – and if you can, please do let us know! — but the overall impact really does spell it all out.

This Vonnegutesque cat’s cradle, incidently, comes from the forum’s new report, Global Risks 2009, released ahead of its annual meeting in Davos between January 28 and February 1. It shows an interlinked world facing a monumental series of interlinked risk, some of which  investors are having to confront for the first time.  Sheana Tambourgi, head of WEF’s global risk network, explains the report in this video:

 

from MacroScope:

Falling out of the euro zone?

The periphery economies of the euro zone are suddenly in the spotlight.  Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has cut its outlook on Ireland's sovereign debt to negative. It worries that fiscal measures to recapitalise banks and boost the economy might not improve competitiveness, diversity and growth -- all making it harder to manage debt.

Next came Greece. S&P basically put the country on watch with a negative bias. The global financial crisis has increased the risk of a difficult and long-lasting struggle to keep the Greek economy on track, it said.

All this is a long, long way from the unravelling of the euro zone -- it just got a new member, Slovakia, after all. But the subject has been raised. Gary Dugan, chief investment officer of Merrill Lynch's wealth management arm, told a group of reporters in London recently that he expected political calls to quit the currency to be heard in some member countries as the global recession bites. He added that it wouldn't happen, but that the talk could weaken the euro.

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.”