Global Investing

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Why is the euro still strong?

One of the more bizarre aspects of the euro zone crisis is that the currency in question -- the euro -- has actually not had that bad a year, certainly against the dollar. Even with Greece on the brink and Italy sending ripples of fear across financial markets, the single currency is still up  1.4 percent against the greenback for the year to date.

There are lots of reasons for this. The dollar is subject to its country's own debt crisis, negligible interest rates and various forms of quantitative easing money printing -- all of which weaken FX demand. There is also some evidence that euro investors are bring their money home, as the super-low yields on 10-year German bonds attest.

Finally -- and this is a bit of a stretch -- some investors reckon that if a hard core euro emerges from the current debacle, it could be a buy. Thanos Papasavvas, head of currency management at Investec Asset Management, says:

Let's assume there is some sort of breakup ... if the euro is the currency of a potentially core set of economies, then it would be an incredibly strong currency

Of course, there is the question of whether $1.36 or thereabouts represents a strong euro against the dollar.  Lots of people, for example, tend to judge it by the $1.17 rate at which the euro was introduced.  But the following graph suggests that if you give the euro a longer historical life, it is not all that much above its average value. Still higher than some might have expected give the crisis that is threatening it entire survival.

Phew! Emerging from euro fog

Holding your breath for instant and comprehensive European Union policies solutions has never been terribly wise.  And, as the past three months of summit-ology around the euro sovereign debt crisis attests, you’d be just a little blue in the face waiting for the ‘big bazooka’. And, no doubt, there will still be elements of this latest plan knocking around a year or more from now. Yet, the history of euro decision making also shows that Europe tends to deliver some sort of solution eventually and it typically has the firepower if not the automatic will to prevent systemic collapse.
And here’s where most global investors stand following the “framework” euro stabilisation agreement reached late on Wednesday. It had the basic ingredients, even if the precise recipe still needs to be nailed down. The headline, box-ticking numbers — a 50% Greek debt writedown, agreement to leverage the euro rescue fund to more than a trillion euros and provisions for bank recapitalisation of more than 100 billion euros — were broadly what was called for, if not the “shock and awe” some demanded.  Financial markets, who had fretted about the “tail risk” of a dysfunctional euro zone meltdown by yearend, have breathed a sigh of relief and equity and risk markets rose on Thursday. European bank stocks gained almost 6%, world equity indices and euro climbed to their highest in almost two months in an audible “Phew!”.

Credit Suisse economists gave a qualified but positive spin to the deal in a note to clients this morning:

It would be clearly premature to declare the euro crisis as fully resolved. Nevertheless, it is our impression that EU leaders have made significant progress on all fronts. This suggests that the rebound in risk assets that has been underway in recent days may well continue for some time.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Getting there from here

Depending on how you look at it, August may not have been as bad a month for stocks as advertised. For the month as a whole, the MSCI all-country world stock index  lost more than 7.5 percent.  This was the worst performance since May last year, and the worst August since 1998.

But if you had bought in at the low on August 9, you would have gained  healthy 8.5 percent or so.

In a similar vein, much is made of the fact that the S&P 500 index  ended 2009 below the level it started 2000, in other words, took a loss in the decade.

from MacroScope:

The thin line between love and hate

The opinion on Turkey’s unorthodox monetary policy mix is turning as rapidly as global growth forecasts are being revised down.

Earlier this month, its central bank was the object of much finger-wagging after it defied market fears over an overheating economy by cutting its policy rate. It defended the move, arguing that weaker global demand posed a greater risk than inflationary pressures.

Investors were not persuaded. When I told one analyst about the Turkish rate move, he practically sputtered down the phone: "You're not kidding?!"

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:

Give me liberty and give me cash!

Come back Mr Fukuyama, all is forgiven.

In his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man", American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that all states were moving inexorably towards liberal democracy. His thesis that democracy is the pinnacle of political evolution has since been challenged by the violent eruption of radical Islam as well as the economic success of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.

Now a study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital into the link between economic wealth and democracy seems to back Fukuyama.

Looking at 150 countries and over 60 years of history, RenCap found that countries are likely to become more democratic as they enjoyed rising levels of income with democracy virtually 'immortal' in countries with a GDP per capita above $10,000.

Indian stocks — buyers trickling back?

Last week snapped a three-week winning streak for Indian stocks — the first since last September for this year’s emerging markets laggard.  India,  an oil importer and a domestic demand play with high inflation, has languished this year in comparison with fellow-BRIC Russia which has returnedBRICS-TRADE/SUMMIT 14 percent so far, thanks to the $125/barrel oil price. But could the market be turning? Indian stocks, down 20 percent at one point in February, have cut their losses to 6 percent so far this year. And there are signs fund managers are piling back in.

ING Investment Management started buying Indian equities earlier this month for the first time since mid-2010. Inflation may have peaked and with state elections out of the way, politics may be less of an issue, they say. And Indian valuations, always expensive, are back in line with long term averages,  the fund’s strategist Maarten-Jan Bakkum notes. He is overweight Russia too but says that is driven by a tactical play on the oil price rather than any long-term conviction.

HSBC‘s head of emerging equities, John Lomax, says commodity and food price inflation may have peaked after a massive run and sees that leading to a change of tone within emerging markets. “We want to be a less exposed to the commodity themes now so we are less positive on Russia. But we like Turkey and we recently upgraded India and China, which are domestic demand plays.”

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Don’t invest in gold?

Bit of fun, this -- and might raise some issues about returning to the Gold Standard. The S&P 500 stock index priced in gold (thanks to Reuters graphics whiz Scott Barber):

Equities - SP 500 priced in dollars and gold

Tunisia-driven ructions in Cairo markets

Traders at the Cairo stock exchangeWhat a week it has been for Egypt.  All the regional political upheaval  happened in Tunisia, half a continent away, but most of the pain has been felt on Cairo’s financial markets. The Egyptian stock market has fallen almost 8 percent and the Egyptian pound is languishing near seven-year lows to the dollar. The cost of insuring exposure to Egyptian debt has risen to 18-month highs.

So are investors preparing for a Tunisia-style popular uprising in Egypt? Or is it that its market, more sophisticated than Tunisia’s, is bearing the brunt of investors’ increasing bearishness on the North African region? Probably a bit of both.

Egypt faces elections later this year and 82-year old Hosni Mubarak, president for almost 30 years, is likely to run again. Just like much of North Africa and the Middle East, inflation, especially food inflation is high while youth unemployment rates are higher than most of the developing world. Risks of uprisings are seen highest in Egypt and Jordan, where there is relatively more political freedom than, say Libya, but leaders lack the oil wealth cushion that the Gulf states or Libya boast. Given Egypt’s “youth bulge” — the proportion of the population comprised of young men aged 15-34 –regime change is a risk, reckons Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital.

from Davos Notebook:

Will Goldman’s new BRICwork stand up?

RTXWLHHJim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist who coined the term BRICs back in 2001, is adding four new countries to the elite club of emerging market economies. But does his new edifice have the same solid foundations?

In future, the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, China and India will be merged with those of Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and South Korea under the banner “growth markets,” O'Neill told the Financial Times.

Hmmm.  Doesn't quite grab you like BRICs, does it? The Guardian helpfully offers an amended branding banner of  "Bric 'n Mitsk" (geddit?). But which ever way you cut it, it's hard to see a flood of investment conferences and funds floating off under the new moniker.