Global Investing

from MacroScope:

Spend Save Man Woman

Far from being lauded as a virtue, China's high savings rate has been blamed for the economic imbalances underlying the global financial crisis. The criticism being that the Chinese spend too little and rely too much on exporting to Western consumers.

The IMF and World Bank have long called for Beijing to ramp up social spending so its citizens will feel less need to save for a rainy day and instead consume more.

But in their intriguingly named paper,  'A Sexually Unbalanced Model of Current Account Imbalances', New York-based researchers Du Qingyuan and Wei Shang-Jin suggest China's gender imbalance could also be a significant factor in the persistence of its high savings rate. spendsavemanwoman

The pair argue that intensifying competition in the Chinese marriage market is causing men -- or indeed parents with sons -- to raise their savings rates to improve their relative allure among a shrinking pool of potential brides.

A draconian one-child policy, coupled with a traditional preference for male offspring and the availability of selective-sex abortion, has left the country of 1.3 billion facing its most serious demographic crisis.

from MacroScope:

Germany 1919, Greece 2010

Greece's decision to ask for help from its European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund has triggered a new wave of notes on where the country's debt crisis stands and what will happen next. For the most part, they have managed to avoid groan-inducing headlines referencing marathons, tragedies, Hellas having no fury or even Big Fat Greek Defaults.

Perhaps this is because the latest reports are pointed. They focus on the need to solve the Greek debt crisis before it spreads to bring down others and even shake Europe's monetary framework loose.

Barclays Capital reckons the 45 billion euros or so of aid Greece is being promised is a drop in the bucket and that twice that will be needed in a multi-year package. JPMorgan Asset Management, meanwhile, says that to bring its 130 percent debt to GDP ratio under control Greece will need the largest three-year fiscal adjustment in recent history.

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.

What’s on your reading list?

If anyone needed a reminder that Christmas and NewYear holidays are almost here, Societe Generale has provided it. Analyst Dylan Grice has picked up the mantle of the departed James Montier to offer a seasonal reading list for those with a fixation about investment and economics.

True, some people might prefer to immerse themselves in a rollicking sea tale from Patrick O’Brian or a good old  Sookie Stackhouse vampire mystery. But we know that Reuters blogs’ readers are a discriminating lot with a keen understanding of and passion for finance. So here is Dylan’s list of six must-reads:

1. Manias, Panics and Crashes, by Charles P. Kindleberger;
2. The Essays of Warren Buffet, edited by Richard Cunningham;
3. Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, by Edwin Lefevre;
4. Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Taleb;
5. The Case against the Fed, by Murray Rothbard;
6. Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, eds Kahneman, Slovic and
Tversky.

Time to kick Russia out of the BRICs?

It may end up sounding like a famous ball-point pen maker, but an argument is being made that Goldman Sach’s famous marketing device, the BRICs, should really be the BICs. Does Russia really deserve to be a BRIC, asks Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an article for Foreign Policy.

Åslund, who is also co-author with Andrew Kuchins of “The Russian Balance Sheet”, reckons the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is just not worthy of inclusion alongside Brazil, India and China  in the list of blue-chip economic powerhouses. He writes:

The country’s economic performance has plummeted to such a dismal level that one must ask whether it is entitled to have any say at all on the global economy, compared with the other, more functional members of its cohort.

Good news and bad in investor confidence data

Good news and bad in the latest  investor confidence sounding from State Street. The overall index took a dive again — third month in a row — and is now barely above neutral. That’s the bad news if you are keen to see risk assets do well.

The good news is that despite three months of falling the index is still above 100, showing that risk appetite remains present among the U.S. financial services firm’s institutional investor cllients, albeit only just.

But add to that State Street’s findings that the fall in its global index was almost entirely due to Asian investors. The regional indices for North America and Europe both rose.

from MacroScope:

The end of capitalism

Hard to imagine with financial markets still buoyant and newspapers full of tales of bonus greed, but there is still the possibility that captialism will end.  At least there is according to prestigious investment consultants Watson Wyatt in their latest study called "Extreme Risks".

The firm listed the demise of the system of private ownership as one of 15 threats to investors and the global economy that probably won't happen but which it reckons are worth worrying about anyway. The idea behind the report is that such things as climate change, the break up of the euro zone and war are always worth being included in an investment risk management process.

As for the future of capitalism:

In our view, the most likely scenario is moving along from one end of a spectrum where market is king (minimum regulation) towards the other end, where we could see more onerous regulations and government intervention in, and control of, the economy. The extreme risk, however, is the demise of the capitalist system and the end of the market as the primary means of resource allocation.

from MacroScope:

G20 dilemmas amongst the golf balls

Interesting dilemmas facing G20 countries as their finance ministers and central bankers get together on the golf ball strewn Scottish coast ( a meeting in St Andrews we will be Live Blogging on MacroScope, by the way).

First, you have the Brazilians who are worried about hot money and have already slapped a tax on foreign investments in domestic bonds and stocks in order to cool down capital inflows.  They want the G20 to take action against what their central bank chief calls "imbalance- and bubble-building".

Next you have the Americans and other big economies who know that the huge amounts of stimulus they have put into the world economy have to be removed eventually. They are not ready to do it yet, but expect the G20 countries to discuss how they are going to "sequence" the great unwinding.

Pity Poor Pound

Britain’s pound has long been the whipping boy of notoriously fickle currency markets, but there are worrying signs that it’s not just hedge funds and speculators who have lost faith in sterling. Reuters FX columnist Neal Kimberley neatly illustrated yesterday just how poor sentiment toward sterling in the dealing rooms has become and the graphic below (on the sharp buildup of speculative ‘short’ positsions seen in U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data) shows how deeply that negative view has become entrenched.              

 While the pound’s inexorable grind down to parity with the euro captures the popular headlines, the Bank of England’s index of sterling against a trade-weighted basket of world currencies shows that weakness is pervasive. The index has lost more than a quarter of its value in little over two years — by far the worst of the G4 (dollar, euro, sterling and yen) currencies over the financial crisis. The dollar’s equivalent index has shed only about a third of the pound’s losses since mid-2007, while the euro’s has jumped about 10% and the yen’s approximately 20% over that period.

There’s no shortage of negatives — Britain’s deep recession, recent housing bust, near zero interest rates and money printing, soaring government budget deficit (forecast at more than 12% pf GDP next year, it’s the highest of the G20) and looming general election in early 2010. In the relative world of currency traders, not all of these are necessarily bad for the pound — the country is emerging tentatively from recession, the dominant financial services sector is recovering rapidly and  short-term interest rates (3-month Libor at least) do offer better returns than the dollar, yen, Swiss franc or Canadian dollar. 

The best of all worlds for investors?

Could it be that equity and bond investors are living in the best of all worlds at the moment?

Tim Bond, head of global asset allocation at Barclays Capital, has hinted that they might be. He says that history shows current conditions to be the best for both assets.

 Since 1925, we find that in those years in which GDP was above trend and inflation below trend, U.S. equities have delivered an average 10.6 percent real return, with 20-year Treasuries delivering a 5.2 percent real return.