Global Investing

Three snapshots for Wednesday

Euro zone factories sank further into decline last month but manufacturers in Asia upped their tempo to meet growing demand from the United States and China, exposing a widening gulf between Europe and the rest of the world.

Unemployment in the euro zone rose to a 15-year high of 10.9 percent in March – as this chart shows the level of youth unemployment paints a worrying picture:

U.S. private employers hired a far fewer than expected 119,000 people in April, the smallest gain since September 2011, a report showed on Wednesday, adding to concerns that the economy has lost some of its momentum. This chart shows the relationship between the first release of ADP figures and non-farm payrolls which are released on Friday.

from MacroScope:

Netherlands at core of the crisis

The Netherlands has become the latest country to come into the firing line of the euro zone crisis.

The cost of insuring five-year Dutch debt against default jumped to its highest since January as the government's failure to agree on budget cuts spiraled into a political crisis and cast doubt over its support for future euro zone measures.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte offered to resign on Monday, creating a political vacuum in a country which strongly backed an EU fiscal treaty.

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).

Three snapshots for Friday

Although the focus has been on Spanish debt auctions this week as this chart shows Italy has much further to go in meeting this year’s funding needs.

German business sentiment rose unexpectedly for the fifth month in a row in March, moving in the opposite direction to the composite PMI:

Greg Harrison points out 82% of S&P 500 companies have beaten their Q1 earnings estimates so far. It  is early days but it it continues that would be the highest for at least five years. Is this a sign that the strength in corporate earnings in continuing? The chart below suggests as least part may be due to falling expectations coming into earnings season.

Hair of the dog? Citi says more LTROs in store

Just as global markets nurse a hangover from their Q1 binge on cheap ECB lending — a circa 1 trillion euro flood of 1%, 3-year loans to euro zone banks in December and February (anodynely dubbed a Long-Term Refinancing Operation) — there’s every chance they may get, or at least need, a proverbial hair of the dog.

At least that’s what Citi chief economist Willem Buiter and team think despite regular insistence from ECB top brass that the recent two-legged LTRO was likely a one off.

Even though Citi late Wednesday nudged up its world growth forecast for a third month running, in keeping with Tuesday’s IMF’s upgrade , it remains significantly more bearish on headline numbers and sees PPP-weighted global growth this  year and next at 3.1% and 3.5% compared with the Fund’s call of 3.5% and 4.1%.

March bulls give way to April bears in emerging markets

The dust has settled on a scintillating first quarter for emerging markets but the cross-asset rally of the first three months has already run out of steam. A survey by Societe Generale of 69 EM investors shows that over half are bearish — at least for the near-term.

This marks quite a turn-around from the March survey, when 80 percent of investors declared themselves bullish on emerging markets. What’s more, investors are currently running very little risk and 47 percent of hedge fund respondents (these make up half the survey) feel they are over-invested in EM.  (The following graphic shows the findings — click on it to enlarge)

Almost a quarter of the hedge fund and real money investors are neutral tactically on the market, compared to just 4.5 percent last month. Serious optimism has dried up, SocGen commented:

Three snapshots for Tuesday

Italy and Spain are back in focus as bond yields and spreads start rising again.

The latest Sentix euro zone investor sentiment index also seemed to confirm the feeling that crisis worries are back falling to -14.7 in April.

U.S. small business confidence dropped in March for the first time in six months:

Is Ireland back on track?

In a week in which euro zone debt fears returned in earnest for the first time in 2012, a positive investment tip about one of the three bailed out peripheral euro economies was eye-catching in its timing. RBS on Thursday issued a recommendation to its clients to buy the bonds of one of Ireland’s main commercial banks Bank of Ireland.

Now, financial markets have for some time priced Irish government debt more positively that either Greece or Portugal, in large part due to the country’s superior private sector growth prospects and the government’s seeming acceptance of and adherence to the austerity targets demanded in return for European bailout funds.  That said, there is little end in sight to problem of banks bad debts and mounting mortgage arrears and few signs of recovery in a housing market where prices are down some 50 percent from pre-crisis peaks. Moreover, Ireland has scheduled a referendum on the new euro fiscal pact for May 31 and, if it’s rejected, the country could lose access to future euro emergency funds.

But, in a note entitled “The Celtic Tiger is coming back on track”, RBS credit strategists  Alberto Gallo and Phoenix Kalen took a positive tilt on developments and recommended investors snap up the 8.45% yield available on the senior unsecured bonds of  ailing, government-backed Bank of Ireland — the country’s “main viable bank”. The bonds mature in 2013 and had an original coupon of 4.625%.

Japanization of euro zone bonds?

Fear of many years of stagnation in the major western economies has everyone fretting about a repeat of  the “lost decades” that Japan suffered after its banking and real estate bubble burst in the early 1990s. Indeed HSBC economists were recently keen to point out that U.S. per capita growth over the noughties was already actually weaker than either of Japan’s lost decades.

But in a detailed presentation on the impact of two years of soveriegn debt crisis on euro zone government bond holdings, Barclays  economist Laurent Fransolet asks whether that market too is turning into the Japanese government bond market — where years of slow growth, zero interest rates, current account surpluses and captive local buyers have depressed borrowing rates for years and turned JGBs into an increasingly domestic market dominated by local banks, pension funds and insurers. Non-residents hold less than 10 percent of JGBs, compared to more than 50 percent for the EGB as a whole, and Japanese banks hold up to 35 percent of their own government bond market.

But is the euro government market heading in that direction after successive crises have seen foreign investors flee many of the peripheral markets of Greece, Portugal, Ireland and even Italy and Spain? Fransolet argues that the seniority of substantial European Central Bank holdings built up in the interim (now about 15 percent of each of the five peripheral markets) may be one reason why these foreign investors will be wary of returning. Meantime, euro zone banks, who have traditionally held a high 20-25 percentage point share of euro government markets, withdrew sharply late last year amid balance sheet repair pressures but have  rebuilt holdings again sharply in early 2012 after the ECB’s liquidity injections — particularly in Italy and Spain.

Yield-hungry tilt to equity from credit

For income-focused investors, the choice between stocks and corporate bonds has been a no-brainer in recent years. In a volatile world, corporate debt tends to be less sensitive to market gyrations and also has offered better yields – last year non-financial European corporate bonds provided a yield pickup of  73 basis points above stocks, Morgan Stanley calculates.

But, long a fan of credit over equity, MS reckons the picture may now be changing and points out that European equities are offering better yields than credit for the first time in over a decade. (The graphic below compares dividend yields on non-financial euro STOXX index with the IBOXX European non-financial corporate bond index. The former narrowly wins.)

The extra yield available on equities, coupled with perceptions of a more stable macro backdrop, may encourage income-oriented investors back into stocks.