Global Investing

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.

“Meaningful regularities” in language employed before the crash showed “progressively greater agreement” in “positive perceptions of the market”.

Financial commentaries from The Financial Times, the New York Times and the BBC as well as news wire services such as Reuters, for instance, deployed increasingly similar noun-phrases as the market overheated, possibly reflecting a “narrowing of reporting to a relatively smaller number of key events/companies.”

Venezuela — high risk, higher yield

Venezuela's Chavez with Lukashenko of Belarus

Which bond would you rather buy — one issued by a country with an unpredictable leader but huge oil reserves, or one with  a dictatorial president as well as empty coffers? The answer should be a no brainer. Not so. The countries are Venezuela and Belarus, and a basic comparison of their debt profiles shows how strangely risk can be priced in emerging markets.

Venezuela’s 2022 dollar bond yields 15.5 percent while the 2022 issue from state oil firm PDVSA trades at 17 percent yield. Venezuelan debt pays a 1200 basis point premium to U.S. Treasuries, according to the EMBI Global bond index.

Now check out Belarus. Dire public finances, a huge recent currency devaluation, and seeking an $8 billion bailout from the IMF, yet able to pay 11 percent on its 2018 issue. Its yield premium to Treasuries is 900 bps or three percentage points less than Venezuela.

The best stocks of 2010

For all the doom and gloom associated with the broader economy—historic unemployment in the United States, debt woes and mandated austerity in Europe—it’s been a remarkably positive year for the stock market. As we enter the last week of 2010, the S&P 500 index is up nearly 13 percent for the year. That’s far from a record (1954 witnessed a breakneck 45 percent rise), but at least the index this year climbed above the level hit before Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in September, 2008. The stock comeback story is not unique to America, either; this week, Korea’s stocks hit their highest level in more than three years.

At one time, the gurgling stock market would have been a fairly reliable predictor for a healthy economy in the near future—and who knows, that may still be the case. More bearish observers point to artificial stimulants, like an unsustainable commodity bubble and the Fed’s quantitative easing policy.

Regardless, a lot of equity holders will be popping Champagne (or prosecco) this week. Our chart below shows the top ten performers in the S&P 500 for the year—so what does it tell us? Well, the best-performing stock of the year is Cummins Inc., an Indiana-based company that makes power generators and diesel engines. Not surprisingly, its strong market performance this year is based on healthy sales abroad, particularly in emerging markets enjoying the rise in commodity prices. Another top performer has been AIG, the once-mighty insurer which lost nearly all of its value in 2009 but has made a strong comeback thanks to a massive taxpayer bailout. Two other financial firms that also flirted with the abyss made the top ten.

Equities — an ‘even years’ curse?

Are global equity markets under an ‘Even Years Curse’ that sees them underperform bonds in even-numbered years but beat fixed-income returns in odd-numbered ones? After some number-crunching, Fidelity International’s’ director of asset allocation Trevor Greetham suspects so.

“It’s not just hocus-pocus but to do with global inventory levels,” he explained at a forum organised by the London-based investment house.

The inventory cycle typically lasts about two years. ‘Up’ years are good for company profits and equity prices with the inverse true when inventory levels are being drawn down. And over the last decade, Greetham notes, the ‘stocking up’ years have been odd-numbered calendar years while inventory draw-down years have been even-numbered ones.

How do rich people get rich?

An upcoming book by Kaye Thomas explains in plain English the secret of succesful investing:  Turning money into more money.

 cashWhile everyone goes through good times and bad times, the 1980 Harvard Law School graduate suggests sticking to four main rules for success:

1) Create and maintain a regular programme of saving, in an amount that makes sense relative to your income level and financial goals.

from From Reuters.com:

Following the smart money

At least 20 of the 30 biggest hedge funds boosted their positions in financial institutions in the last quarter, a sign that Wall Street is ready to bet on more risky sectors in the hope of longer-term rewards.

The push into financials indicates fund managers including Steven Cohen and John Paulson -- closely watched as barometers of risk -- have shifted from routine merger arbitrage plays to directional bets with more reward potential.

More coverage analyzing the Smart Money:

Paulson's AngloGold bet points to inflation

Betting on a takeover of CF Industries Holdings

from David Gaffen:

El-Erian’s Push-Pull Question

Investors have been forced to contend with a severe pullback in consumer demand and the panic that overtook the banking sector in late 2008.

Since March, stocks are up by nearly 50 percent and investors have shifted into riskier fixed-income assets as well, but whether these rallies continue will hinge on whether investors are drawn to those purchases, not whether they're forced into it because nothing else looks attractive.

That's how Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive at bond fund manager Pacific Investment Management Co., put it when speaking with Reuters Television earlier today. He noted that investors in longer-dated Treasuries were moving in that direction, in part because of the desire by authorities to move them away from short-dated risk.

London taking AIM at smaller companies

As investors in London’s junior AIM market know only too well, high risk does not always mean high return. Now, more than ever, the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange needs to prove that it can offer investors high-quality companies.******The FTSE Small Cap index of smaller companies listed on the main London market has outperformed the AIM 100 index on the way down, and on the way back up. The FTSE Small Cap has gained almost 30 percent over the last couple of months, while the AIM 100 has risen 20 percent.******And that’s after the AIM 100 saw falls of over 50 percent in the past year, much more than the 27 percent posted by the FTSE Small Cap index.******While liquid companies like Advanced Medical Solutions and Cape typify the benefits of AIM, there are too many that have cut back so much that they are reduced to a CEO operating alone out of his spare bedroom.******AIM officials said on Friday that they thought the market has had its best month for a year, raising around 500 million pounds for companies, but this includes 220 million pounds raised by one company alone, Max Properties.******Fund managers say that they like some AIM companies that are making profits, or close to that point. However high-risk beta stocks that expect investors to hang around for five years or more should be happy that the winter weather has cleared, because they’re likely to spend most of their time with their caps in their hands.******If AIM wants to see its companies grow fruitfully as cash returns to the market, it will have to start out by sifting the chaff from the wheat.

More than a nice-to-have, buy-side considers its actions

More than a “nice to have,” investor sentiment is running heavily on the side of environment, social and governance (ESG) factors, according to the latest Thomson Reuters Perception Snapshot.

Feedback from 25 global buy-side investors found that 84 percent evaluate ESG criteria to some degree when making an investment decision.

The remaining 16 percent say ESG issues are not considered until a company’s ability to generate high returns is hindered by these factors.

The end of the end?

While nobody would be rash enough to predict the end of the economic downturn, there are certainly increasingly loud murmurs that the bottom of the stock market fall may have come.

Battered share prices have become so cheap that the pound signs are beginning to light up in the eyes of investors as they pile back in, and it’s smallcaps that are really shining. You only have to look at the numbers, companies like biotech firm Alizyme doubling at the end of last week and engineer White Young Green tripling.

What has happened of course is that as buyers come back to the market, they are finding a shortage of sellers, pushing up prices. Because the hardest hit shares are the ones that will bounce the hardest, it is the higher risk smaller end of the market that is seeing prices increase most steeply.