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):
What 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.
Jim 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.
Can nature’s cycles enrich our finance and market theories?
Market predictions based on the alignment of the sun, moon and the earth and other cycles could help investors stay disciplined and profit in economic storms, says Daniel Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management.
Shaffer writes that sunspot activities show that the sun has an approximate 11-year cycle and as of March 31, 2009, sunspot activity has reached a 100-year low (this, interestingly, coincides with a cycle low in equity markets, reached sometime mid-March in 2009).
But a low in solar activity seems to be followed by a high. Scientists are predicting a solar maximum of activity in sunspots in 2012 that could e the strongest in modern times, according to Shaffer.
“Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria. The time of maximum pessimism is the best time to buy, and the time of maximum optimism is the best time to sell,” wrote late billionaire investor and philanthropist John Templeton in 1994.
Investors might have done exactly that. After hitting a trough in March 2009, world stocks have gained 83 percent, with many analysts and investors saying that the rally may have further to run.
But with valuations becoming less attractive compared with the absolute trough last year, what should investors buy now?
No question that investors are in the throes of passion over emerging markets. The latest Reuters asset allocation polls show investors pouring money into Asian and Latin American stocks in October to the detriment of U.S. and euro zone equities. Exposure to equities in emerging Europe, Asia ex-Japan, Latin America and Africa/Middle East rose to 15.6 percent of a typical stock portfolio from 14.3 percent a month earlier.
In Mongolia's South Gobi desert lies Oyu Tolgoi, touted as having the world's largest untapped copper and gold deposits. Little wonder then that this "El Dorado" has become a boardroom battleground between the relatively unknown Ivanhoe Mines and its biggest shareholder, the giant Australian mining company, Rio Tinto.
Our attempts to get near this mine or elicit any comment from Ivanhoe were about as fruitless as the Spanish conquistadors attempts to find the legendary "El Dorado", or "Lost City of Gold" in the 16th century. Twice Ivanhoe stopped our reporters from visiting the mine with delegations from the investment community, saying reporters were not allowed to mingle with bankers on visits to the mine. We don't know why that would be. We mingle with them pretty often in other contexts and usually find each other's company amusing and mutually informative.
Perhaps that's the point of Ivanhoe's policy. The company and its executive chairman, Robert Friedland, do not seem to trust the media much. They maintain a robust website, http://www.ivanhoemines.com/s/The_Facts.asp., that pretty much takes issue with every story written about them. Friedland is legendary in the business for spinning a story and trying to control the narrative.
If the life settlements market seems ghoulish, here’s a British scandal which isn’t doing the image of the business any favours. It’s one of the worst the country’s seen.
Around 30,000 mainly elderly investors in the UK put their money into a company called Keydata, hoping to make a little extra cash to fund their own retirement with the promise of a healthy return.
What they were buying sounded kosher, even if it did depend on how fast their wealthy American counterparts were dying. Of course, the investors may not have known that.
Do capital controls work? After years of telling us that they do not, the IMF and World Bank reluctantly conceded last year they may not be all that bad and indeed in some cases they may actually help keep away some of the speculators who have in recent years been pouring into emerging markets.
Developing countries for the most part like foreign capital, indeed they rely on it for development. What they don’t like is hot money — short-term speculative flows which are widely blamed for causing past emerging market crises. So starting from October last year several of them slapped controls on some of this cash. There are signs these may be working.
Take the experience of two large emerging markets, Brazil and Indonesia. Brazil shocked foreign investors last October with a 2 percent tax on all flows to stocks and bonds. Nine months on, investors are still putting their cash there and Brazil has raked in millions of dollars thanks to the tax. But many fund managers, like HSBC’s Jose Cuervo, who runs a $6 billion portfolio of Brazilian stocks, are buying American Depositary Receipts (ADRS) of Brazilian firms rather than stocks listed in Sao Paulo. Because ADRs are in dollars and listed in New York, investors are getting exposure to Brazil but sidestepping the tax. Brazilian firms continue to receive investment but Brazil’s currency is not appreciating like it was last year. A win-win all around.