Global Investing

from MacroScope:

Sssh. Don’t say stimulus

William Safire, the language maven whose musings on how we use words have graced The New York Times and other newspapers for decades, has discovered something about the current crisis. Not for the first time, politicians are scrambling to avoid using common words that might get too close to the truth.

This time the target is the economy, specifically what needs to be done about it. In a column, Safire notes that some Democrats, notably the incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, are steering away from using the world "stimulus" when referring to efforts to, er, stimulate the economy. "Recovery" is being used instead. As in, recovery plan.

Who could argue with that? Republicans, apparently. According to Safire, they are favouring "spending", presumably as in spend, spend, tax, tax etc.

 Let's think up some more. How about the "defibrillation" plan?

Robin Hood in reverse?

Thirty-first U.S. President Herbert Clark Hoover once said: “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”

Governments around the world are borrowing heavily to finance their fiscal expansion – unprecedented in size and scale – to prevent severe economic downturn.

However, outspoken independent economist Roger Nightingale thinks fiscal stimulus will not work.

To spend, or not to spend?

A day after Britain unveiled a multi-billion-pound fiscal stimulus package to spend its way out of recession, market analysts have been busy figuring out what it all means, in the context of a sharply slowing economy.

Nick Parsons, head of market strategy at nabCapital, has come to this conclusion:

“People need to spend less, not more, and though little Johnny’s Xbox is indeed 4 quid cheaper, his Dad’s house is worth £3.97 less every hour,”he wrote in his daily note.

Are you revolted yet?

Financial markets might be in distress and stocks are falling through the floor, but according to James Montier, global strategist at Societe Generale, we are not in the final stage of bubble burst yet. For one thing, the Financial Times is still too big.

At a fund managers conference in London today, Montier — a renowned bear — noted a thesis by economists Hyman Minsky and Charles Kindleberger that bubbles go through five stages — displacement, credit creation, euphoria, critical stage/financial distress and revulsion.

Currently, he says, financial markets are going through the critical/distress stage but we are not in revulsion yet.

“In revulsion, the Financial Times will be three pages long and we will all be ashamed to be working in finance. Stocks will be unambiguously cheap,” he told a group of financial professionals.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“Plan C” – Pakistan turns to the IMF.

Pakistan has agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a $7.6 billion emergency loan to stave off a balance of payments crisis. 

Shaukat Tarin, economic adviser to the prime minister, said the IMF had endorsed Pakistan's own strategy to bring about structural adjustments. The agreement is expected to encourage other potential donors, who are gathering in Abu Dhabi on Monday for a "Friends of Pakistan" conference.

The government had long delayed announcing its plans to turn to the IMF for help and President Asif Ali Zardari said in September the country did not want to seek IMF assistance. Tarin said in October that going to the IMF was "Plan C" if other lenders failed to come through.  "If we want to go to the IMF, we can ... but only as a backup," he said.

A riot of a recession

Every month, the financial services company State Street studies the trillions of dollars in institutional investor money it looks after as custodian and tries to gauge where things stand. Over the years, it has come up with a map consisting of five different regimes, or moods, to reflect this. They range from the bullish “Liquidity Abounds” in which investors buy equities and focus on growth, to the uber-risk averse “Riot Point”.

Guess what? Investors moved into “Riot Point” last month after flipping about for four months in the slightly less bearish but still risk averse “Safety First” regime. This essentially means that they gave up in October – which is not a particularly stunning finding given that many stock markets had their worst performance in decades.

So now comes the bad news. In the 11 years State Street has been drawing its map, the longest period of risk aversion as measured by investors being in “Riot Point” or “Safety First” was the nine months between February and October 2001. This almost exactly coincided with the then-U.S. recession.

Some shock, horror numbers from global stocks

Some mind-boggling numbers from the MSCI all-country world stock index, which is one of the broadest measures of how equity markets are doing and is a benchmark for many institutional investors. The index has some 2,500 companies in it from 48 developed and emerging economies.

First off, it has lost around $15 trillion in value since the end of October last year (graph below). That is more than 21 times the $700 billion U.S. bank rescue plan. It also more than graph.jpgthe annual gross domestic product of the United States. It is more than three time Japan’s annual output and more than four times that of Germany.

Secondly, the speed with which this fall has taken place has been breathtaking by investment standards. It took companies that make up the index about four years to gain the $15 trillion in share value before hitting an all-time peak last November. About a third of the losses since hitting that peak came in a free fall from mid-September to mid-October this year.

Tick, tock to global recession?

Every month, Merrill Lynch asks a few hundred fund managers around the world what they think of the state of things. Not surprisingly, this month’s survey is probably the gloomiest yet. Everyone, says Gary Baker, the strategist charged with explaining the poll, is a macro bear suffering from hyper risk-aversion.

Of particular note for readers of Macroscope this time is the finding that 84 percent of fund managers, more than four in five, say it is likely that the global economy will experience recession over the next 12 clock.jpgmonths. It is actually possible that the figure is greater than that, given the question’s definition of recession as two quarters of negative real GDP growth. That definition is fine for countries, but for the global economy it is a bit nebulous.

At least one should hope so. According to the International Monetary Fund, global GDP should end up having grown 3.9 percent at the end of this year and drop to 3.0 percent in 2009. Blistering growth in places like China may cool, but is still likely to keep the world economy in growth. So many fund managers may have been considering a less specific definition of global recession. The IMF informally used to think of it as below 3 percent growth, for example, but is not so keen on this now.

Investing with Dante

You know things are bad on financial markets when an investment research note starts talking about Dante‘s visit to the nine circles of Hell with tormented lustful souls and gluttons living in filthy slush.

In the case of State Street Global Markets’ latest report, however, there is a more direct link than simple hyperbole about the way investors are feeling. The firm recently had a chat with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers who defined what he saw as the five viciousrtx8t2k.jpg circles of the current financial crisis.

It goes like this:

Circle One: House prices fall in value, putting some people into negative equity and leading some to default on mortgages. Foreclosures further erode asset values.

Iceland for sale — collect in person

Iceland for saleIceland is for sale — on ebay.

It has great scenery and wildlife but the financial situation is in need of repair and a buyer must collect in person.

Bidding started at 99 pence but had reached 10 million pounds ($17.28 million) by mid-morning on Friday.

Globally renowned singer Bjork was “not included” in the sale, according to the notice, but there were nonetheless 26 anonymous bidders and 84 bids.