Global Investing

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.

That said, when it came to the burning issue of the moment -- whether Greece's deepening government debt crisis sounds a death knell for Europe's single currency -- they were poles apart. Maskin reckoned markets were correct to question the euro's future; Spence felt "creative solutions" would be found to see monetary union muddle through.

But if you're wondering why markets seem to have got the heebeegeebees about the global economic recovery all of a sudden this year, Bob Merton -- no stranger to markets doing the unexpected in his 1998 role as a director of failed hedge fund Long Term Capital Management -- captured it best.

Who were the investment winners and losers in 2009?

Let’s not beat about the bush: the winners in this year’s investment stakes were those who cashed out early in the financial crisis, looked at hugely oversold stock markets in March and jumped back in. The losers were those who spent too much time thinking about it or, worse, thought it was a good idea to put all their money in Dubai stocks and  Greek government debt.

For the winners, it all had to do with market timing. Buying MSCI’s emerging market stock index at its March 3 low brought gains of close to 110 percent.  It was “only” a bit above 72 percent for the full year. World stocks as a whole gained around 30 percent for the year and nearly 75 percent from the March low.

Gold bugs grabbed a bit of the spotlight because of the record nominal highs for the metal. But with a gain for spot gold of around 24 percent, you would have done much better buying oil, which gained more than 75 percent.

Can the euro zone survive Greece?

Wolfgang Munchau, co-founder and president of Eurointelligence, has raised an uncomfortable prospect for investors in Greece. In a Financial Times column today, the long-time Europe commentator argues that Brussels may not be willing to bail Greece out if it were to default on its debt à la all-but sovereign Dubai World is about to.

The EU’s authorities, rightly or wrongly, are more afraid of the moral hazard of a bail-out than the possible spillover effect of a hypothetical Greek default to other eurozone countries. If faced with a choice between preserving the integrity of the stability pact and the integrity of Greece, they are currently minded to choose the former.

Munchau reckons that outright default is unlikely, but wonders whether the current spread between Greek and benchmark German bonds really reflects the risk that investors are taking.  It is currently around 178 basis points after recovering from a blow out on Dubai worries last week.

from MacroScope:

Falling out of the euro zone?

The periphery economies of the euro zone are suddenly in the spotlight.  Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has cut its outlook on Ireland's sovereign debt to negative. It worries that fiscal measures to recapitalise banks and boost the economy might not improve competitiveness, diversity and growth -- all making it harder to manage debt.

Next came Greece. S&P basically put the country on watch with a negative bias. The global financial crisis has increased the risk of a difficult and long-lasting struggle to keep the Greek economy on track, it said.

All this is a long, long way from the unravelling of the euro zone -- it just got a new member, Slovakia, after all. But the subject has been raised. Gary Dugan, chief investment officer of Merrill Lynch's wealth management arm, told a group of reporters in London recently that he expected political calls to quit the currency to be heard in some member countries as the global recession bites. He added that it wouldn't happen, but that the talk could weaken the euro.

from MacroScope:

Political poster child?

George Alogoskoufis is a hardly a household name outside Greece and EU financial circles. But the newly sacked Greek finance minister could yet become a poster child for politicans struggling to fight off economic decline and banking industry collapse. His demise was in large part due to a public perception that he was helping out the banks but ignoring rising joblessness.

Greece, of course, is a special case at the moment, still recovering from riots over the police shooting of a teenager. But finance ministers, central bankers and other responsibles are probably not immune from Alogoskoufis Syndrome. Balancing the need to bail out the finance industry with rising economic misery among everyday people is not easy. Fat cats are not exactly in favour at the moment.

This could, indeed, come to a head later in the year. Investment cycles tend to recover before economic ones. So what happens when Wall Street, the City and the like start bringing in the money again just as unemployment lines start getting even longer?