Global Investing

Election test for Venezuela bond fans

Investors who have been buying up Venezuelan bonds in hopes of an opposition victory in this weekend’s presidential election will be heartened by the results of a poll from Consultores 21 which shows Henrique Capriles having the edge on incumbent Hugo Chavez.  The survey shows the pro-market Capriles with 51.8 percent support among likely voters, an increase of 5.6 percentage points since a mid-September poll.

Venezuelan bonds have rallied hard ever since it became evident a few months back that Chavez, a socialist seeking a new six-year term, would face the toughest election battle of his 14-year rule. Year-to-date returns on Venezuelan debt are over 20 percent, or double the gains on the underlying bond index, JP Morgan’s EMBI Global. And the rally has taken yields on Venezuela’s most-traded 2027 dollar bond to around 10.5 percent, a drop of 250 basis points since the start of the year.

But Barclays analysts are advising clients to load up further by picking up long-tenor 2031 sovereign bonds or 2035 bonds issued by state oil firm PDVSA:

Our opinion has been that the market has been underestimating the chances of an opposition victory. We believe an opposition victory could be a positive surprise for the market that could push Venezuelan assets to levels not seen in the past five years.

What if Chavez wins after all? That would mean another six years of the Bolivarian Revolution and Chavismo (Chavez’s leftist social and political movements, the former named after  the country’s 19th century liberation hero Simon Bolivar). But it would not be such a disaster. After all despite his fiery rhetoric, he has never shirked paying creditors, and with oil prices well above $100 a barrel he can well afford to do so. Moreover many reckon he will has been weakened by cancer and a recurrence of his illness will weaken his leadership.According to Greg Saichin, head of emerging debt at Pioneer Investments

Three snapshots for Monday

The euro zone’s business slump deepened at a far faster pace than expected in April, suggesting the economy will stay in recession at least until the second half of the year. The euro zone’s manufacturing PMI came in below all forecasts from a Reuters poll of  economists, plumbing 46.0 in April – its lowest reading since June 2009. Weak PMI numbers are a bad sign for economic growth (see chart) but also for earnings:

Reuters reports that the Dutch government will resign on Monday in a crisis over budget cuts, spelling the end of a coalition which has strongly backed a European Union fiscal treaty and lectured Greece on getting its finances in order. As this overview shows the Dutch economy looks in better shape than many in the euro zone but is still finding austerity measures difficult to pass.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy appealed directly to far right voters on Monday with pledges to get tough on immigration and security, after a record showing in a first round election by the National Front made them potential kingmakers. See how the votes may transfer from 1st to 2nd round in this interactive calculator (click here).

What chances true democracy in oil-rich Iran?

Truly, oil can be a curse. Having it may enrich a country (more likely its rulers) but it does not seem condusive to democracy. And the more oil a country produces, the less likely it is to make the transition to democracy, according to research from investment bank Renaisssance Capital.

So as Iran goes to the polls today, what are the chances it will become a democracy? (Iran itself could argue, reasonably enough, that it is the most democratic country in the region — everyone over the age of 18, including women, are allowed to vote, though the choice of candidates is restricted)

Surprisingly, the Renaissance report’s author Charles Robertson concludes, Iran does have a chance to achieve democracy, though probably not this year. He says no oil exporting country that produces more than 150,000 barrels per day of oil per million of population has ever achieved a transition to democracy (note Norway was already a democracy before it found oil). But others which produce less oil have done so, notably Algeria, Gabon, Congo Indonesia, Nigeria and Ecuador (Some of these democracies are clearly flawed). Robertson writes:

Discovering the pleasure of dividends in Russia

American financier J.D. Rockefeller said watching dividends rolling in was the only thing that gave him pleasure. But it is a pleasure which until now has largely bypassed shareholders in most big Russian companies. That might be about to change.

Russian firms,  especially the big commodity producers, are generally seen as poor dividend payers. So dividend yields, the ratio of dividends to the share price,  have been unattractive.

On a trailing 5-year period, the average dividend yield in Russia was 1.8 percent compared to 2.5 percent for emerging markets, notes Soren Beck-Petersen, investment director for emerging markets at HSBC Global Asset Management. That absence of positive cash flow from companies is one reason why Russia has always traded so cheap relative to other emerging markets, he says.

Money in containers. Many see big bucks in Russia’s infrastructure push

A lot of things are wrong with Russia, one of them being its rickety infrastructure.

Many see this as an investment opportunity, however, reckoning the planned $1 trillion infrastructure upgrade plan will get going, especially with the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 soccer World Cup looming. Bets on infrastructure have also gathered pace as the Kremlin, seeking to placate a mutinous populace, has pledged reforms, privatisations and a general push to reduce Russia’s dependence on oil exports.

Takouhi Tchertchian at asset managers Renaissance says one sector – shipping containers — reflects the potential for gains from infrastructure improvements. Such containers, usually made of steel, can be loaded and transported over long distances, and transferred easily and cheaply from sea to road to rail.  But Russia has among the lowest levels of containerisation in the world, at around 4 percent compared to the emerging markets average of 15 percent, Tchertchian says. Even in India, almost 3o percent of goods travel by container while in a developed country like Britain, the figure is 40 percent.

from Reuters Investigates:

Enter stage left — Brazil’s next president?

BRAZIL-ELECTION/ROUSSEFFNot every president has a police mugshot, but it's not so surprising in Latin America.

A special report out of Brazil today sheds new light on Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla leader who is likely to be elected the booming country's next president. She spent nearly three years in jail in the early 1970s and was tortured by her military captors. She's come a long way since then.

The product of more than a dozen interviews with Rousseff and her top advisers, the story gives a glimpse of how Rousseff could govern at the helm of a country that, with India, Russia and China, is among the worlds few economic bright spots.

from MacroScope:

Britain heading for rude awakening?

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There is a divisive election ahead for Britain, the threat of a ratings downgrade on its sovereign debt and a deficit that has ballooned into the largest by percentage of any major economy.  UK stocks, bonds and sterling, however, are trundling along as if all were well. What gives?

For a fuller discussion on the issue click here, but the gist is that all three asset classes  are being support by factors that may be masking the danger of a broad reversal. UK equities have been driven higher by the improving global economy, bonds held up by the Bank of England's huge buying programme and sterling by valuation and the distress of others.

But with the Bank of England's buying spree due to end soon and the possibility that UK voters won't give a clear victory to either the Conservatives or Labour, meaning political stalemate, is this set to change?

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.

from Global News Journal:

Argentina’s Kirchner shows softer side on campaign trail

Argentina's Nestor Kirchner developed a reputation as a sharp-tongued leader who did not hesitate to upbraid company executives, opposition leaders and journalists as president.

Now, he's looking to showcase a softer side as he returns to the campaign trail -- this time as a candidate for Congress.

His high-profile candidacy has taken center stage in Argentina's June 28th congressional elections.

What about the Whigs?

pols.jpgAs Democrats and Republicans kick off the final countdown to the Nov. 4 election, strategists at U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers have done some interesting data mining.

Figures looking back economic conditions in 1948-2007 show the economy under Democrats enjoyed a higher GDP growth rate (4.2 percent vs 2.8 percent for Republican adminsitrations) and a lower average unemployment rate (5.1 percent vs 5.9 percent).

Looking at a longer timeframe since 1828, however, Lehman strategists found that government and corporate bonds fared better when a Republican occupied the White  House (it excluded Whigs).