Global Investing

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appear on the road to recovery but that is in large part due to unprecedented official stimulus that will have to be withdrawn at some point – the questions investors want answered are when, and how.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?
 

ABNORMALLY NORMAL MONEY MARKETS
– A veil of normality continues to cloak interbank money markets, with Libor at record lows and some closely-watched measures of money market health like Libor/OIS spreads and the TED spread almost back to levels seen before August, 2007. But that is only thanks to authorities’ liquidity injections, guarantees and asset purchases worth trillions.  Banks have hoovered up this free or ultra-cheap money but still are not feeding it into the real economy, with lending to business and households still patchy at best. Euro zone M3 money supply figures for July are expected to show another slowdown in the rate of growth, to 3.3 percent on the year from 3.5 percent in June.
 
SAFE AS HOUSES?
– Figures will show how the U.S. housing market, the epicentre of the global financial crisis, is faring four and a half years on from its peak. The Case/Shiller house price index is expected to show the annual pace of price declines slowed again in June, fuelling the belief that the market has bottomed.  But the number of foreclosures is high as the U.S. labour market remains weak, and the national housing market stock remains high by historical standards. Economists say there will be no sustainable recovery of the financial system and economy without a durable recovery in the US housing market.

from David Gaffen:

El-Erian’s Push-Pull Question

Investors have been forced to contend with a severe pullback in consumer demand and the panic that overtook the banking sector in late 2008.

Since March, stocks are up by nearly 50 percent and investors have shifted into riskier fixed-income assets as well, but whether these rallies continue will hinge on whether investors are drawn to those purchases, not whether they're forced into it because nothing else looks attractive.

That's how Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive at bond fund manager Pacific Investment Management Co., put it when speaking with Reuters Television earlier today. He noted that investors in longer-dated Treasuries were moving in that direction, in part because of the desire by authorities to move them away from short-dated risk.

from David Gaffen:

Citigroup Is the Economy

It used to be that Citigroup was one of the market's most important stocks, if not the most important. At the nexus of the banking, securities and lending industries that benefited most from the easy-credit boom of the middle of the decade, its success as a stock mirrored the market and the economy.Somewhere around 2006, when people started to call for a breakup of the company, it was supplanted by a company even more tied to the derivative-fueled mess that masked the holes in the economic landscape - Goldman Sachs.

But Goldman continued to earn massive profits while Citigroup nearly died a painful death. Shares eventually fell to less than $1 a share, it was kicked out of the Dow and investors started to view other consumer banks as better indicators of the market's health.

Still, there's a chance that Citigroup may become more important once again, provided it survives (with substantial help from the government). Kevin Depew, recently writing on Minyanville.com, noted that most of Citigroup's short-term debt has returned to spreads present before the blowup of Lehman Brothers, suggesting that bond investors believe the debt crisis has receded. He notes (using a bit of technical analysis) that "Citigroup right now might again be The Most Important Stock in the Universe."

Swine flu shakes Spanish property bargain hunters

It must be tough to be a Spanish homeseller right now.

 

Just as investors pluck up the courage to once again dip a toe in the Mediterranean housing market, along comes a killer flu pandemic that keeps bargain-hunting foreigners thousands of miles from a purchase.

 

Earlier this week, Palma Property Auctions – one of Spain’s biggest holiday home auctioneers – said rising swine flu fears among clients had forced it to shelve its eagerly-awaited summer sale.

 

 “We had nine concrete cases of people who called us to say they wanted to have a look at a property and possibly take part in the auction, but they were not going to because of swine flu,” Daniel Westerlund, a spokesman for Palma Property Auctions, told Reuters.

from MacroScope:

UK heading for second downturn?

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Julian Chillingworth. Chillingworth is chief investment officer of UK investor Rathbones. He questions here whether Britain will face a second downturn shortly after struggling out of recession.

Are we likely to witness a two-tier recession in the UK?  Perhaps not a recession but certainly a secondary downturn. A vast number of people have enjoyed lower mortgage payments and a level of job security, but will this last?

The UK is in somewhat of a unique position in so far as it faces a regime change, with some obvious ramifications for policy.  However, whoever takes the seat (most likely the Tories) must still cut back public expenditure and raise taxation, both within the context of high unemployment.

from David Gaffen:

Goldman Sachs Does Not Consume Diesel Fuel

Sure, things look rosy for Goldman Sachs (GS.N), but the firm hardly represents the broad U.S. economic situation, as investors are looking over a mélange of lousy data, with dribs and drabs of mildly encouraging information in the mix. Goldman Sachs headquarters building in New York. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson Goldman Sachs headquarters building in New York. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Tuesday's retail sales figures weren't all that great - the strength comes from auto sales and rising gasoline prices (and rising gas prices aren't exactly great for consumers) - and Wednesday's data on capacity utilization and energy inventories are likely to confirm the ongoing slack in the economy.

So what to make of the statements from CSX Corp. (CSX.N) chief executive Michael Ward, who told Reuters the worst of the recession has been seen? Data on capacity utilization doesn't suggest a pick-up in demand, and the giant inventories of distillate products in various parts of the country also suggest the economy is sputtering, not chugging.

from FaithWorld:

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

popePope Benedict issued an ambitious call to reform the way the world works on Tuesday shortly before its most powerful leaders meet at the G8 summit in Italy. His latest encyclical, entitled "Charity in Truth," presents a long list of steps he thinks are needed to overcome the financial crisis and shift economic activity from the profit motive to a goal of solidarity of all people.

Following are some of his proposals. The italics are from the original text. Do you think they are realistic food for thought or idealistic notions with no hope of being put into practice?

    "There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration... such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights." The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly - not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred..." "Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another." "Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value... there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference... What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development." "One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State."
(Photo: Pope Bendict, 1 July 2009/Tony Gentile)

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from Global News Journal:

Back to the future in Malaysia with Anwar sodomy trial II

By Barani Krishnan

A decade ago, Malaysia's former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was on trial for sodomy and corruption in a trial that exposed the seamy side of Malaysian justice and the anxieties of a young country grappling with a crushing financial crisis and civil unrest.

Anwar is Malaysia's best known political figure, courted in the U.S. and Europe and probably the only man who can topple the government that has led this Southeast Asian country for the past 51 years. Photo: Anwar Ibrahim, with a bruised eye, at court on Sept 30, 1998 during his his first trial. REUTERS/David Loh Now the leader of the opposition, will go on trial next week again charged with sodomising a 23-year old male aide. The trial once again looks likely to provide gory evidence and bringing some unwanted attention from the world's media on this Southeast Asian country of 27 million people. It could also embarrass the government and draw international criticism.

Anwar vowed in a recent interview to fight what he says are trumped up charges.

More than a nice-to-have, buy-side considers its actions

More than a “nice to have,” investor sentiment is running heavily on the side of environment, social and governance (ESG) factors, according to the latest Thomson Reuters Perception Snapshot.

Feedback from 25 global buy-side investors found that 84 percent evaluate ESG criteria to some degree when making an investment decision.

The remaining 16 percent say ESG issues are not considered until a company’s ability to generate high returns is hindered by these factors.

from Commodity Corner:

Correlation Between Oil and Equities Markets

oil-vs-stock-market

Oil prices have been trading in an unusually strong positive correlation with equities markets over the past few months on hopes that signs of an economic recovery could mean a boost for energy demand.

But with oil and product inventories swelling and little sign of demand improving in the United States and other big developed economies, analysts warn that the linkage may be hard to maintain, especially if U.S. motorists cut back on vacations this summer.