Global Investing

from MacroScope:

Springing back to life

The steady stream of less-bad-than-expected economic data has evidently been working as a builder of optimism. Confidence in improved economies and financlal market conditions is growing.

One of the biggest surprises has been Germany's ZEW economic sentiment survey -- which polls analysts and economists in Europe's largest economy. Not only did the index jump this month, it entered positive territory for the first time since July 2007. That was before the credit crisis hit.

U.S. financial services firm State Street also reports that the mood among institutional investors in North America, Europe and Asia is at a nine month high. The main point about this survey is that it is extraplolated from the actual buying and selling patterns within $12 trillion that State Street holds for investors as a custodian.

So, things are on the up. But would that not be expected given the huge amount of money being pumped into the world economy by governments and central banks? Or after global stocks have risen close to 30 percent on a period of about six weeks?

What is always unclear when it comes to sentiment indicators is whether they point to someting new or just reflect exisiting circumstances.

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

EARNINGS DELUGE
– A heavy U.S. earnings week looms and the European reporting calendar is picking up. While more banks and financials will be reporting (e.g. Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Credit Suisse and a trading update due from Barclays), results will start flowing from a wider range of sectors in both the U.S. and Europe (ranging from Apple and IBM to Glaxo SmithKline, Du Pont, Coca Cola). Health of the broader economy on display.

MACRO SIGNALS
– The more mixed signals that earnings send, the more investors are likely to look to macro and other indicators as a cross-check of whether the stock market rebound is sustainable and whether the economy is anywhere near an inflexion point. Flash PMIs and Ifo for April will give an early indication of how economic activity was faring as Q2 got underway. Trade data from Japan is also due for release.

FISCAL HELP
 – The UK budget on April 22 is expected to issue grim forecasts and extend a helping hand to some sectors, such as autos. The fiscal presentation will keep the spotlight on the limited room for budgetary manoeuvre in Britain and elsewhere with past bailouts and support measures leaving tough decisions to be made on public spending, taxes, etc.

Bubble and Beauty

Is beauty a defensive sector? Swiss bank UBS surveyed 4,000 women in Western Europe and the United States about their use and purchasing of skin and hair care products — capturing 15 percent of the total global personal care market.

The findings paint a gloomy picture, consistent with the current economic climate. There is a marked rise in de-stocking as more consumers opt to buy new products only when the old ones run out; value for money is at the forefront of purchasing decisions as is promotional activity; advertising is playing a smaller role as impulse buying becomes less frequent.

Interestingly, however, more than 50 percent of the respondents answered this question by saying that the economic environment plays no role in their use/purchase decision.

from MacroScope:

Canada dresses up for bears

For all the designer drinks and gourmet foods - from raw oysters to sushi, and the sea of men in expensive suits and bejeweled women in elegant gowns, the setting seemed fit only for celebration.

But dressed as they were to the nines, investors attending "A Night with the Bears" at Toronto's upscale Elgin Theatre, were eager to hear the worst, on the edges of plush seats amid predictions of market doom from some of the continent's savviest
financial minds.

"I only wish we'd sold tickets," said a smiling Eric Sprott, arguably Canada's best known hedge fund manager and chairman at Sprott Asset Management Inc, as he looked out at the 1,500 or so crowd.

The wealth effect in reverse

This chart shows losses in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index since October 2007. Joseph Brusuelas, a director at Moody’s Economy.com, said from the 2007 peak to the first quarter of 2009, U.S. stock holdings fell $7.6 trillion in real terms. “Our estimate suggests that through the end of March, U.S. stock wealth will have fallen by $66,000 per household,” he said.

- Emily Kaiser

from Raw Japan:

Whither the yen — a withering yen?

The yen's fall against the dollar the past few weeks has been remarkably fast, and calculated from where it is now around 97.70 yen, the dollar has jumped nearly 9 percent this month, on track for its biggest such gain since August 1995.

The yen surged last year as the worsening financial crisis forced investors to unwind risky carry trades - meaning they had to buy lots of yen - under the belief that Japan's economy and banks were holding up through the storm.

Only last month, the yen hit an over-13-year high of 87.10 per dollar. So why has the Japanese currency fallen so fast?

Moldova — ultimate crisis-proof country?

It’s the poorest country in Europe and its main export is alcohol but it can still beat the world’s largest economy when it comes to financial muscle. Yes you’ve guessed it, Moldova trumps the United States in the Banker magazine’s 2009 World Financial Health Index.

Caution is the watchword of the magazine’s latest index, which is careful not to reward financial risk-taking. According to the Banker’s new model, Moldova, Chile, Bolivia and Peru are less likely to be affected by the global financial storm than the U.S., UK or Japan.

Small is beautiful when it comes to debts and that’s where Moldova wins. Its debt is $763 per capita, compared with the UK’s $171,000. Its banks have only extended loans worth 35 percent of GDP, while in the mighty U.S., the figure’s 230 percent.

from James Saft:

Balance of power upended at Davos

So, back we go next week to Davos for the World Economic Forum 2009, titled this year "Shaping the post-crisis world."

Except the crisis ain't over yet and shaping the world while it is happening is proving to be about as easy as tying your shoes while riding a bicycle.

Let's dial back briefly to those more innocent days in 2008 and remember what was being discussed at Davos then.

The end of the Bush stock market

Today marks the end of the Bush stock market.

He has presided over the evisceration of more than $4.6 trillion of U.S. stock market wealth as measured by the S&P 500.

By comparison, the S&P 500 gained more than $9 trillion in value under the eight years of Bill Clinton’s administration.

Watch the bezzle

  Who is next? After the Madoff and Satyam scandals, rattled investors are looking anxiously over their shoulders for the next big financial fraud.   It is generally assumed that the downturn will expose more wrongdoings - but that doesn’t mean people become more dishonest when the economy is sick. In fact, quite the opposite, according to John Kenneth Galbraith’s definitive 1954 work “The Great Crash, 1929.”   When it comes to embezzlement, it’s all a question of how visible the “bezzle” is, he argues.   Galbraith’s 200-page history of the world’s biggest boom-and-bust has stormed back into the bestseller lists in recent months, giving modern-day readers a glimpse of how speculative markets became divorced from reality 80 years ago and the hazards this created.   His words are as relevant as ever:   At any given time there exists an inventory of undiscovered embezzlement in – or more precisely not in – the country’s businesses and banks. This inventory – it should perhaps be called the bezzle – amounts at any moment to many millions of dollars. It also varies in size with the business cycle. In good times people are relaxed, trusting, and money is plentiful. But even though money is plentiful, there are always many people who need more. Under these circumstances the rate of embezzlement grows, the rate of discovery falls off, and the bezzle increases rapidly. In depression all this is reversed. Money is watched with a narrow, suspicious eye. The man who handles it is assumed to be dishonest until he proves himself otherwise. Audits are penetrating and meticulous. Commercial morality is enormously improved. The bezzle shrinks.   (Reuters photo: Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff is escorted by police as he departs U.S. Federal Court after a hearing in New York, January 5, 2009)