Global Investing

from MacroScope:

Europe’s over-achievers and their fall from grace

Ireland's fall from grace has been rapid and far worse than that of its counterparts, even Greece. But life in the euro zone has still been one of profound growth, as it has for most of the other peripheral economies.

Take a look first at the progress of  PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) GDP since 2007 when the global financial crisis took hold. In straight comparisons (ie, rebased to the  same point) Ireland is far and away the biggest loser. Portugal is basically where it was.

Scary

But now take the rebasing back to roughly the time that the euro zone came together.  First, it shows that Ireland's fall is from a very high place. The decade has still been one of profound improvement in cumulative GDP even with the last few years' misery. But it is front loaded.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is what the second graph (courtesy Reuters' Scott Barber) says about the PIGS and the euro experiment.  Despite major financial and market crises, Greece, Spain and Ireland have all seen their economies accumulate at a higher rate than the euro zone average.  Only Portugal has been below average -- a perennial slow grower.

Could any of this outperformance  have been attained outside the euro zone? Probably not. But the question now is whether the current troubles are going to wipe out everything that has been achieved.

The best of all worlds for investors?

Could it be that equity and bond investors are living in the best of all worlds at the moment?

Tim Bond, head of global asset allocation at Barclays Capital, has hinted that they might be. He says that history shows current conditions to be the best for both assets.

 Since 1925, we find that in those years in which GDP was above trend and inflation below trend, U.S. equities have delivered an average 10.6 percent real return, with 20-year Treasuries delivering a 5.2 percent real return. 

Something to show off

Top Chinese officials were busy showing off warships and submarines to celebrate the 60-year anniversary of their navy today, but they have something to boast about when it comes to their economy too.  It is, after all,  the world’s third largest.

China’s economy grew 6.1 percent in the first quarter, lower than expected but still far outpacing its G20 peers, many of which are stuck in recession.

Goldman Sachs has just upgraded its forecast for China, expecting 8.3% growth in 2009 (up from 6%) and 10.9% (from 9%).

from MacroScope:

Small credit for big depression

It took some time, and a lot of downward corrections to IMF GDP forecasts, before the current global economic downturn won the title of 'worst since the Great Depression'.

Why settle for second worst though?

This one is in at least three ways just as bad if not even worse than 1929-30, economists Barry Eichengreen (University of California, Berkeley) and Kevin O'Rourke (Trinity College,
Dublin) argue

Look at global industrial output, world stock markets, and global trade volumes. Map the nine months after April 2008 against the period following June 1929 and the story you see is the following:

from Raw Japan:

Whither the yen — a withering yen?

The yen's fall against the dollar the past few weeks has been remarkably fast, and calculated from where it is now around 97.70 yen, the dollar has jumped nearly 9 percent this month, on track for its biggest such gain since August 1995.

The yen surged last year as the worsening financial crisis forced investors to unwind risky carry trades - meaning they had to buy lots of yen - under the belief that Japan's economy and banks were holding up through the storm.

Only last month, the yen hit an over-13-year high of 87.10 per dollar. So why has the Japanese currency fallen so fast?

A riot of a recession

Every month, the financial services company State Street studies the trillions of dollars in institutional investor money it looks after as custodian and tries to gauge where things stand. Over the years, it has come up with a map consisting of five different regimes, or moods, to reflect this. They range from the bullish “Liquidity Abounds” in which investors buy equities and focus on growth, to the uber-risk averse “Riot Point”.

Guess what? Investors moved into “Riot Point” last month after flipping about for four months in the slightly less bearish but still risk averse “Safety First” regime. This essentially means that they gave up in October – which is not a particularly stunning finding given that many stock markets had their worst performance in decades.

So now comes the bad news. In the 11 years State Street has been drawing its map, the longest period of risk aversion as measured by investors being in “Riot Point” or “Safety First” was the nine months between February and October 2001. This almost exactly coincided with the then-U.S. recession.

Some shock, horror numbers from global stocks

Some mind-boggling numbers from the MSCI all-country world stock index, which is one of the broadest measures of how equity markets are doing and is a benchmark for many institutional investors. The index has some 2,500 companies in it from 48 developed and emerging economies.

First off, it has lost around $15 trillion in value since the end of October last year (graph below). That is more than 21 times the $700 billion U.S. bank rescue plan. It also more than graph.jpgthe annual gross domestic product of the United States. It is more than three time Japan’s annual output and more than four times that of Germany.

Secondly, the speed with which this fall has taken place has been breathtaking by investment standards. It took companies that make up the index about four years to gain the $15 trillion in share value before hitting an all-time peak last November. About a third of the losses since hitting that peak came in a free fall from mid-September to mid-October this year.

Tick, tock to global recession?

Every month, Merrill Lynch asks a few hundred fund managers around the world what they think of the state of things. Not surprisingly, this month’s survey is probably the gloomiest yet. Everyone, says Gary Baker, the strategist charged with explaining the poll, is a macro bear suffering from hyper risk-aversion.

Of particular note for readers of Macroscope this time is the finding that 84 percent of fund managers, more than four in five, say it is likely that the global economy will experience recession over the next 12 clock.jpgmonths. It is actually possible that the figure is greater than that, given the question’s definition of recession as two quarters of negative real GDP growth. That definition is fine for countries, but for the global economy it is a bit nebulous.

At least one should hope so. According to the International Monetary Fund, global GDP should end up having grown 3.9 percent at the end of this year and drop to 3.0 percent in 2009. Blistering growth in places like China may cool, but is still likely to keep the world economy in growth. So many fund managers may have been considering a less specific definition of global recession. The IMF informally used to think of it as below 3 percent growth, for example, but is not so keen on this now.

UK economy — too gloomy to chart?

During a briefing in the London office of Societe Generale this week, Alain Bokobza, head of European Equity and Cross Asset strategy, handed out a booklet containing series of charts and graphs to explain the bank’s latest multi asset portfolio for the fourth quarter.
Chart
As he explained the outlook for the UK economy, a chart on UK growth was discreetly missing from the booklet.

“There’s no chart. It’s too gloomy to print it,” Bokobza told the participants.

Societe Generale sees inflation shooting below the Bank of England’s target of 2 percent over the next two years and has a bullish call on UK stocks as it predicts benchmark interest rates to fall to 3.5 percent in a year’s time from the current 5.0 percent.

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).