Global Investing

Three snapshots for Monday

China’s trade balance plunged $31.5 billion into the red in February as imports swamped exports.  It followed reports on Friday that inflation cooled in February while retail sales and industrial output fell below forecast, all pointing to a gradual cooling.

Investors ploughed more money into hedge funds over the past month as performance has picked up after last year’s losses.

Final Q4 Italian GDP growth came in at -0.7%q/q. This chart showing GDP vs the Markit purchasing managers’ index shows the current recession may continue into this year.

 

 

Oil prices — Geopolitics or growth?

It’s the economy, stupid. Or isn’t it?

Brent crude has risen 15 percent since the end of last year, focusing people’s minds on the potential this has to choke off the recovery in world growth. But some reckon it is the recovery that’s at least partly responsible for the surging oil prices — economic data from United States and Germany has been strong of late. There are hopes that France and the United Kingdom may escape recession after all. And growth in the developing world has been robust.

Geopolitics of course is playing a role  as an increasing number of countries boycott Iranian oil and fret over a possible military strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear installations.  But Deutsche Bank analysts point out that world equity markets, an efficient real-time gauge of growth sentiment, have risen along with oil prices.

Their graphic (below) shows a remarkably close relationship between oil prices and the S&P 500. Click to enlarge

The missing barrels of oil

Where are the missing barrels of oil, asks Barclays Capital.

Oil inventories in the United States rose sharply last week, with demand for oil products  such as gasoline at the lowest in 15 years and crude stockpiles at the highest since last September. Americans, pinched in the wallet, are clearly cutting back on fuel use.

But worldwide, the inventories picture is different – Barclays calculates in  fact that oil stocks are around 50 million barrels below the seasonal average. And sustainable spare capacity in the market is less than 2 million barrels per day. What that means is that the world has “extremely limited buffers to absorb any one of the series of potential geopolitical mishaps.” (Barclays writes)

A big difference from the picture at the start of 2012. With the global economy weak, analysts predicted OPEC would need to pump 29.7 million barrels per day in the first quarter, more than a million barrels below what the group was actually pumping. Logic dictates inventories would have started to build.

Being chic and not saving

Japanese people are generally regarded as saving a lot and not spending much, but in olden times when Tokyo was called Edo (until the mid-19th century), it was considered iki (chic or sophisticated) not to keep one’s earnings overnight.

The latest survey from the Central Council for Financial Services Information (part of the Bank of Japan) may suggest that people are going back to that tradition — although perhaps not for style reasons.

The survey, only available in Japanese so far, showed more than one in four households (consisting of at least two people) said they have no savings, the highest level since the survey started in 1963.

Beneath the Greek bailout hopes…

Who’s tired of the ”Markets up on Greece, markets down on Greece” headlines of the past few weeks? (I am.)

Today it’s an up day, with world stocks hitting a six-month peak on hopes that Greece will secure a second bailout package next week (finally, really).

But beneath the optimism lies a dire Greek economic and fiscal situation.

The Greek economy slumped 7 percent in the last quarter of 2011, with the rate of contraction since Q4 2008 reaching a whopping 16 percent in cumulative, real GDP terms.

A scar on Bahrain’s financial marketplace

Bahrain’s civil unrest — which had a one-year anniversary this week — has taken a toll on the local economy and left a deep scar on the Gulf state’s aspiration to become an international financial hub.

A new paper from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative, a research programme at Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME) at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, examines how the political instability of 2011 is threatening Bahrain’s efforts in the past 30 years to diversify its economy and develop the financial centre.

Asim Ali from University of Western Ontario and Shatha Al-Aswad, assistant vice president at State Street, argue in the paper that even before the revolt, Bahrain lagged in building the foundations of a truly international hub in the face of competition from Dubai and Qatar.

Euro periphery: Lehman-type shock still on cards

The passing of Greek austerity measures is fuelling a rally in peripheral debt today with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese yields falling across the curve.

However, one should not forget that peripheral economies are still under considerable risk of becoming the next Greece — rising debt and weak economic growth pushing the country to seek a bailout — as a result of tighter financial conditions.

Take this warning from JP Morgan:

Financial conditions have deteriorated far more in peripheral Europe than in the core. The drag from this on peripheral GDP is akin to that seen following the Lehman crisis.

Facial, massage, dating… In search of recession-proof industries

Facial, massage and dating… what do they have in common?

These are the industries which seem to be recession-proof and saw improved sales and revenues in recent months.

The Professional Beauty Association says its main tracking indexes for the salon and spa industry all posted a rise in the fourth quarter of 2011, driven by stronger sales, traffic levels and a more optimistic outlook for the economy.

The Salon & Spa Performance Index, which is the main index of the three, is a quarterly composite index that tracks the health and outlook of the U.S. salon/spa industry.  It rose  1% from the third quarter of 2011 to stand at 102.9 in the fourth quarter. A base level measurement of 100 is used, with values above considered positive.

Iran looms larger on Gulf radar screens

Tensions over Iran may be helping to push up oil prices as traders worry about a widespread embargo on the country’s crude oil but markets in neighbouring Gulf energy-rich economies are not benefiting.

One year after the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, investors remain sensitive to political risk in the Middle East.

Debt insurance costs have risen sharply this month for gas exporter Qatar and oil giant Saudi Arabia, just as global worries appear to be easing about the euro zone crisis.

from MacroScope:

Are Treasuries the new JGBs?

Anemic economic growth in the United States has sparked fears the country was entering a Japan-style “lost decade.” The comparison also has implications for government bond markets. Some traders see the U.S. Treasury market’s new, lower-yielding structure as eerily reminiscent of trading patterns seen in JGBs (Japanese government bonds). Says George Goncalves at Nomura:

There has been much debate since the start of the '08 credit crisis over whether the US is turning into Japan and if so how to trade it. We have spent a fair deal of time over the last two years developing a framework for how US rates investors can leverage these insights to "Trading USTs like JGBs.” […] One thing is clear: momentum trading starts to wane and narrower ranges will become the norm in a low yielding world with the Fed on perma hold meanwhile a lack of alternative fixed income products is still forcing investors to buy USTs.

This does not mean that investors can remain permanently bullish on Treasuries, however, Goncalves warns.