Global Investing

Who gets the last laugh?

Public critisicm may be heating up against banking executives being rewarded with huge bonuses despite taking too much risk (especially ex Merill Lynch head John Thain who requested a bonus and spent $1,405 on a garbage pail during a $1.22 million renovation of his office).

However, there are smaller fish who are being rewarded after doing something similar — taking too much risk and choosing the wrong bank in which to put their deposit. We’re talking about those who deposited in the collapsed Icelandic bank Landsbanki.

Around 300,000 British savers had accounts worth some 4 billion pounds in Landsbanki’s online savings provider Icesave, which offered competitive interest rates of up to 7-plus percent.

Britain has promised domestic Icesave savers would get all their money back via Britain’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme, a statutory body that acts as a fund of last resort.

FSCC offered depositors options of getting all their money back or leaving fixed term savings until maturity.

Dead cat bounce?

New year can get in the way of understanding what is happening on financial markets. Just because humans measure the year in 12 month tranches, it does not necessarily follow that markets do. Consider world stocks, for example. MSCI’s all-country world stock index is often cited as having fallen 43.5 percent in 2008. In fact, long-term investors’ losses were a lot worse. From an all-time high on November 1, 2007, to a low on November 28, 2008, the index fell 56.2 percent.

Something similar is happening at the moment. Investors might be focusing on year-to-date losses of around 5.7 percent for the index, but they are doing better than that. The index has gained 14.5 percent from that November 28 low last year.

What is your interpretation? 1) The credit crunch crash lasted for 12 months, hit bottom on November 28 and stocks are now recovering or 2) We have just had a dead cat bounce.

What a web we’ve woven

Thanks are due to the World Economic Forum for clearly  explaining the interlinked web of misery currently facing the world.  Make what you will of the details in the graphic below – and if you can, please do let us know! — but the overall impact really does spell it all out.

This Vonnegutesque cat’s cradle, incidently, comes from the forum’s new report, Global Risks 2009, released ahead of its annual meeting in Davos between January 28 and February 1. It shows an interlinked world facing a monumental series of interlinked risk, some of which  investors are having to confront for the first time.  Sheana Tambourgi, head of WEF’s global risk network, explains the report in this video:

 

from Africa News blog:

Forgiveness in paradise?

If you lived on an archipelago that defined paradise with palm-fringed white sand beaches and emerald green waters, you would expect a relaxed, lazy pace of life.

Lazy would be a generous description of the Seychellois soldier’s wave at the entrance to State House as I arrived with my local colleague George Thande - who is admittedly a regular visitor here.

The Seychelles were ruled by the French before the British and State House in the capital Victoria is every bit the luxurious colonial mansion: a lush garden exploding with tropical colours; an oil painting of Britain's Queen Victoria hangs in the wood-panelled reception room close to a portrait of Castor, a runaway slave from the 19th century with a fearsome reputation; a Daimler and Rolls Royce are parked on the forecourt.

A lot of witches but no more crises?

As financial markets wrap up the final full trading week of 2008, investors are contending with “quadruple witchings”, that is the day on which stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures all expire.

French investment bank Calyon says that in addition the U.S. Treasury debt future also expires on Friday. “More witches than a Hallowe’en party,” the bank said in a note to clients.

“It is Friday, six days before Christmas in the middle of a credit crunch and this will only amplify the movements.”

No black tulip bulbs, no black swans

The world has experienced many crises in the past.


In 1636, during the Dutch Tulip Bulb Bubble, the quest for a perfect black bulb had inflated the price of a black bulb by many hundreds. In a different crisis in 1866, a London wholesale bank Overend, Gurney & Co collapsed with a massive debt, after expanding its investment portfolio beyond its means.

What is common in these events and the present crisis is that investors borrowed and levered themselves, and the eventual bubble burst prompted massive deleveraging and contagion, according to Julian Chillingworth, chief investment officer at London-based asset management firm Rathbones (established in 1742 – 22 years after the South Sea Bubble).

“It’s greed, it’s fear and it’s leverage,” Chillingworth told a group of journalists at a breakfast briefing. He says all the risky and highly leveraged assets were dressed up with “pseudo finance” and the likelihood of contagion and volatility was characterised as a “black swan” event – originally a metaphor for something that could not exist.

from Davos Notebook:

Bankers – Ever thought about working for Big Pharma?

    Are you an out-of-work banker looking for a new job with
some stability? Considered the drugs industry?

    Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Swiss pharmaceuticals
company Novartis, reckons his sector is a pretty good place
to work when compared to "mercenary" banking.

    "We are not in a banking industry, where they fire a
thousand investment bankers
and then a year after they hire
a thousand investment bankers," Vasella told Reuters.

Recession is no secret

Mike Trudel, U.S.-based managing director and senior product specialist at BlackRock, has become convinced the economic recession really has arrived.

When he checked into London’s hip upmarket hotel Sanderson earlier this week, the staff uniform caught his eye.

Hotel staff were wearing black T-shirts, with RECESSION written in big letters in front. They highlighted SI in red – like this:

Not going back to platform days

Deflation seems to have replaced inflation as the public enemy No.1 these days.

This might give relief to quite a number of people, including those who thought the resurgence of inflation could take us back to the 1970s.


“We thought we would be wearing platform shoes again, like in the 1970s,” says Philip Saunders, head of investment strategy at Investec Asset Management.

“A potential return of inflation is not something people are worried about but maybe that’s what people should be worried about,” he told participants at an investment outlook briefing in London.

The Wrong Lesson

 

Investors learned the wrong lesson from the dotcom bubble, and ended up blowing another. 

 

That’s the view put forward at the CFA Institute’s conference in Amsterdam by Ben Inker, head of asset allocation at GMO. He believes investors became so enamoured of diversification – which seemed to work like a charm for the large US university endowment schemes – that they ran headlong into risk asset classes and blew a giant risk bubble. 

 

Inker argues that because investors rushed into risk asset classes indiscriminately, they ended up paying for the privilege of taking risk.