Global Investing

from Global Markets Forum Dashboard:

More volatility expected as Fed rate rise looms – Cumberland Advisors’ David Kotok

David Kotok, Cumberland Advisors

David Kotok, Cumberland Advisors

A healthy dose of fear has re-entered financial markets in the final three months of the year. The Chicago Board Options Exchange VIX, a widely tracked measure of market volatility, rose to a two-month high on Wednesday.

Varying news reports offered threats from the Ebola virus and a stagnating European economy as tangential reasons. Perhaps another point is many investors view the U.S. Federal Reserve’s pending decision to raise interest rates as a rumbling train far off in the distance that they now hear headed their way. Closer to the horizon are headlines that can no longer lean on “Fed easing” to explain away rising asset prices and a rising stock market.

“We are in a new period of volatility and it's been developing for the last two or three months,” David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer of investment advisory firm Cumberland Advisors told the Global Markets Forum on Wednesday. “When you suppress all interest rates to zero you dampen volatility and you distort asset pricing. Now the outlook for interest rates is changing so we are restoring volatility.”

The changes, he said, are evident in a rising U.S. dollar, falling commodity prices and the spread between the high yield and U.S. bond markets.

“These are examples of how things change when you return to more normal volatility and extract and stop monetary stimulus,” Kotok said.

Norwegians piling into Korean bonds

One of the stories of this year has been the stupendous rally on emerging local currency debt, fuelled in part by inflows from institutional investors tired of their zero or negative-return investments in Western debt.  Norway’s sovereign wealth fund said last week for instance that it was dumping some European bonds and spending more of its $600 billion war chest in emerging markets.

Quite a bit of that cash is going to South Korea. Regulators in Seoul recently reported a hefty rise in foreigners’ bond holdings (see here for the Reuters story) and  Societe Generale has a note out dissecting the data, which shows that total foreign holdings of Korean bonds are now worth around $79 billion — back at levels seen last July.  Norwegians emerged as the biggest buyers last month,  picking up bonds worth 1.5 trillion won ($1.3 billion) , almost double what they purchased in the entire first half of 2012. Norway’s holdings of Korean Treasuries now total 2.29 trillion won, up from just 190 billion won at the end of 2011.

The growing interest from overseas investors would seem logical — South Korea stands on the cusp between emerging and developed markets, with sound policies, a current account surplus and huge currency reserves. And Socgen analyst Wee-Khoon Chong says the Norwegian crown’s recent strength against other currencies makes such overseas trades more attractive (the crown is up 6 percent versus the euro this year and has gained 5.3 percent to the Korean won). “Norwegians are the newbies into the KTB market,” Chong says. “They are probably recycling their FX reserves.”

Three snapshots for Wednesday

Markets starting to worry about an end to QE/LTRO liquidity?

 

Forward looking PMI data is starting to show a divergence between the UK and the euro zone:

German factory orders, which tend to lead GDP growth, fell 6.1% in February from the previous year.

Three snapshots for Wednesday

Spanish stocks jump out as the only only major equity market to miss out on the strong first quarter:

Euro zone money supply growth picked up in February but growth in private sector loans dipped.

The UK faces bigger hill to climb after fourth quarter GDP cut.

Bullish Barclays says to buy Portuguese debt

Some bets are not for the faint-hearted. Risky punts are even less so following a sovereign debt crisis, one that has riddled European debt markets for two years. Barclays Capital, however, recommends a particularly unusual bet, one that your parents might baulk at.

It will be of little surprise that Barcap is bullish on the year, advising towards assets that will perform well in an environment of US-led global growth, easy monetary policy and tight oil supplies following reduced tail-risks in Europe curbed by cheap money from the European Central Bank.

Now that the rush of the addictive LTRO money is over and the dust is settling on central banks’ balance sheets, Barcap is brave enough to recommend an unlikely candidate and one of the recent targets of financial markets — Portugal.

Contemplating Italian debt restructuring

This week’s evaporation of confidence in the euro zone’s biggest government debt market — Italy’s 1.6 trillion euros of bonds and bills and the world’s third biggest — has opened a Pandora’s Box that may now force  investors to consider the possibility of a mega sovereign debt default or writedown and, or maybe as a result of,  a euro zone collapse.

Given the dynamics and politics of the euro zone, this is a chicken-or-egg situation where it’s not clear which would necessarily come first. Greece has already shown it’s possible for a “voluntary” creditor writedown of  the country’s debts to the tune of 50 percent without — immediately at least — a euro exit. On the other hand, leaving the euro and absorbing a maxi devaluation of a newly-minted domestic currency would instantly render most country’s euro-denominated debts unpayable in full.

But if a mega government default is now a realistic risk, the numbers on the “ifs” and “buts” are being being crunched.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Democracy and Chaos are both Greek

It seems as if almost everyone was surprised by Prime Minister George Papandreou's decision to hold a referendum on the euro zone's bailout package for his country. At the very least, it can probably be said that he is weary of being hammered from all sides --  his own party, the opposition, the people on the street, Germany, the tabloid press, you name it.

A lot will obviously depend on what question is asked. Do you want an end to austerity, would get a clear yes vote. Do you want to leave the euro zone -- perhaps not.

Financial markets, however, do not initially appear content to wait.  Talk of an end-of-year rally is off the table (at least for now).  It's not exactly χάος (chaos) out there, but Papandreou's  experiment  in δημοκρατία (democracy) has sent the whole euro zone project into a new, risky phase.