Global Investing

Is end-game approaching for Turkey’s policy experiment?

In less than two months, Turkey will mark the first anniversary of the start of an unusual monetary policy experiment, and it may well do so by calling it off.  The experiment hinged on cutting interest rates while raising banks’ reserve ratio requirements, and as recently as August, the central bank was hoping  it would be able to slow a local credit boom a bit but still protect exports by keeping the currency cheap.  Instead, an investor exodus from emerging markets has put the lira to the sword, fuelling at one point a 20 percent collapse in its value against the dollar.  That has forced the central bank to roll back some of the reserve ratio hikes and last week it jacked up overnight lending rates in an attempt to boost the currency. It has also sold vast quantities of dollars and is promising  to unveil more  measures on Wednesday.

But what the market really wants to see is an increase in Turkey’s main interest rate.  ”Not sure that ‘measures’ short of rate hikes will help,” RBS analyst Tim Ash writes.

Given Turkey’s massive current account deficit of almost 10 percent of GDP, an interest rate of 5.75 percent will provide little protection to the lira if emerging markets come under serious pressure again. Even if the lira stabilises at current levels, an inflation spike to double-digits looks inevitable.  Meanwhile the central bank’s hard currency reserves are vanishing at an alarming rate — just last week it spent $2.7 billion. That’s a lot given Turkish reserves are just $86 billion, or  four months of imports.  Current central bank policy is  ”an open door to reserve depletion,” Societe Generale strategist Guillaume Salomon says,  noting that despite the massive dollar sales,  the lira is not far off record lows hit earlier this month.

Undoubtedly, the central bank’s misfortunes have a lot to do with global sentiment. But the overall verdict on its policies is negative – analysts point out that annual credit growth still close to 40 percent, the current account gap is narrowing far too slowly and inflation is spiralling. Some even predict a recession next year. Ash of RBS argues that a modest half point rate increase now is the way to go and could save Turkey from much bigger rate rises  in coming months.

Many saw last week’s increase to overnight lending rates as a step back towards policymaking orthodoxy.  “The end-game could be higher policy rates going forward,” SocGen’s Salomon says, though he expects the central bank to try a while longer before it throws in the towel on its experiment.

Avoid financial meltdown – use a thesaurus

So it’s not just investors who are guilty of moving in a herd-like fashion.

Financial journalists use the same verbs and nouns with greater frequency as stock markets overheat but display more variety in their phraseology after the bubble bursts, a study by Irish computer scientists has shown.

Trawling through nearly 18,000 on-line news articles that mention the Dow Jones, FTSE and Nikkei stock indices between 2006 and 2010, Aaron Gerow of Trinity College Dublin and Mark Keane of University College Dublin found that the language used by the writers had become more similar in the run-up to the global financial crisis.

from MacroScope:

Economic Ties?

Ties

As rare as it is to get any two economists to agree, the chances are even slimmer of hearing three Nobel economics laureates concur.

And so it was that each of the award winning economists -- Eric Maskin (2007), Michael Spence (2001) and Robert Merton(1997) -- all had their own take on the legacy of three years of financial and economic crises when they spoke to a conference organised by Pioneer Investments  in London last week.

 To be fair, they broadly coagulated around the inevitability of greater regulation of banking and finance and also on the enormity of China's now imposing position in world economic affairs.

Bosch Boss Bashes Bloated Bank Bonuses

Bosch CEO Franz Fehrenbach

Bosch CEO Franz Fehrenbach

Everyone complains about fat banker bonuses, but Bosch Chief Executive Franz Fehrenbach is taking the debate to a new level. The head of the world’s biggest car parts maker is going to review ties with its financiers and may break off business with those that pay excessive bonuses, he told reporters. “We find it irresponsible if some big banks more or less go back to business as usual before the crisis despite what we have gone through,” he said.  He cited HSBC and JP Morgan as positive examples of good corporate behaviour. Of course it’s easier to be picky when you are unlisted and generate huge cash flow.

I blame the fund managers

I’ve been building up a couple of dummy funds on Reuters’ new Portfolio tool. Not only is it a welcome diversion from actual work, but it allows me to test the mettle of the fund managers we speak to, and check out the guidance offered by the Lipper Leader fund rankings.

One of my portfolios uses the stock picks and short ideas offered up by the managers we interview for the many FUND VIEW stories which dot the Reuters wire. The other simply picks some of the funds which score highest across the Lipper fund sectors.

In theory, it gives me ample room to lay blame elsewhere when the dummy funds inevitably go belly up and I’m forced into a fire sale of assets to repay my dummy investors with dummy money. In truth though, I’m going to set the asset weightings and decide when to buy and sell so any abject failures will be more fairly laid at my door.

Another nail in the Malthusian coffin?

All the talk of addressing the global imbalances throws a spotlight on contrasting demographic trends in the world’s two most populous nations — China and India.

Prior to the financial crisis, India’s annual growth rate of about 9 percent seemed positively moribund next to China’s double-digit economic expansion. But purely on demographics, the dimming power of the US consumer could give India an edge over its neighbour in the longer run.

That’s what India’s trade minister Anand Sharma seemed to suggest last week when he reminded the audience at a London conference that the country had “20 percent of the world’s children”:

Rebasing investors’ confidence

Interesting change by State Street in its monthly sounding of its institutional investor clients. The firm has gone back over all its data and rebased it in order to get an indicator that not only marks up and down changes in investor confidence but also suggests what regime investors are in. Ken Froot, the Harvard professor who co-developed the index, describes the move thus:

“We have revised the Investor Confidence Index to provide a better guide as to the level of risk tolerance. Specifically, we have rebased the index so that a level of 100 is ‘neutral’: readings above this level tell us that institutional investors are increasing their allocations to risky assets, while readings below 100 indicate that institutional investors are reducing such allocations.”

So what does this month tell us? The global index is now at a 10-month high, having risen every month since December.  But according to the new rebased reading, it has only been in territory that indicates the buying of risky assets for the past two months.

More auto worker protests over Bush concessions

Around 200 union workers and some local politicians protested wage cuts and other givebacks required by the Bush administration’s bailout of General Motors and Chrysler.
    
“The call for wage cuts is an attack on the middle class,” said Rex Lux, a truck driver at Chrysler who said he had come to the rally to show his support for organized labor. “The middle class send their kids to college, they buy cars and they keep the American economy going.”
    
“Why break the middle class?” he asked.
 
The protest in Warren, Michigan, came two days after a smaller rally (pictured above) outside the Detroit auto show by members of the United Auto Workers union.
 
The $17.4 billion federal bailout for the U.S. automakers includes concession targets such as making union-represented workers’ wages competitive with foreign manufacturers by December 2009 and eliminating the union jobs banks, which pays laid-off workers.

(Photo/Reuters)

Sen. Corker to Chrysler: best hope is merger

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (right, in the driver’s seat next to Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas), who pushed for tough conditions on the $17.4 billion U.S. government bailout for General Motors and Chrysler, said at the Detroit auto show that he hoped Chrysler would find a merger partner to survive.

“Chrysler probably needs to merge with somebody, not necessarily disappear from the standpoint of existence,” said Corker, who added the automaker owned by Cerberus Capital Management was not making the needed investment to remain competitive. He spoke to reporters as he toured the show before meeting with executives for GM, Chrysler and Ford.

Corker, whose home state includes the U.S. headquarters for Japan’s Nissan, also said he felt GM’s debt load was too heavy and it may not meet the restructuring targets set out under the $13.4 billion loan granted to the company by the Bush administration.

German, Swiss governments kinder than U.S. to GM execs

This post was written by colleague Christiaan Hetzner.

Listening to GM Europe CEO Carl-Peter Forster (right), there is a big side benefit of having the thankless job of running a business in danger of being dragged under by its foundering parent
 
For one, you are not publicly humiliated by lawmakers with an ax to grind the next time you try and hit them up for aid.
 
Whereas U.S. congressmen eager to score points with taxpayers were just itching to take turns tag-teaming his boss Rick Wagoner, Forster said he is treated with far more respect and understanding by the German and Swedish governments when he participates in discussions over receiving billions in state loan guarantees. GM is looking to sell its Saab brand in Sweden.
 
Asked at the Detroit auto show whether the talks were considered in Europe to be as controversial as those in Washington, Forster replied: “Interestingly enough, the Europeans take a very, very different approach. Much less hostile, virtually not hostile at all, seeing the automotive industry as a very important industry.”
 
GM Europe has a funding requirement peaking this year, in part due to this year’s roll-out of the new Opel Astra and Saab 9-5 cars, key models for both brands.
 
 ”They (state officials) understand the extraordinary circumstances in Europe — by the way, the circumstances in the U.S. are even more extraordinary than in Europe. They know how important the industry is for the European economy and particularly for certain member states like Germany, France, Italy, the UK and so on. Absolutely no hostility, very open, understand the situation and try to come up with a solution.”
 
Perhaps lawmakers in the more socialist governments across the Atlantic better realize what would happen if Opel or Saab cannot get the loan guarantees needed to access to the European Investment Bank’s 16 billion-euro fund for the European auto industry, which is only open to companies with an investment grade rating. 
 
(Photo/Reuters)