Global Investing

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:

RECESSION

“It read as recession is on. If folks in Sanderson know about it, it’s no secret anywhere else. That’s how awful it is,” he told a group of journalists at BlackRock’s London office.

However, Trudel thinks it’s time to get back into stocks. BlackRock’s Global Funds in which he is involved are overweight on stocks at 63 percent of the portfolio, underweight bonds at 29 percent and overweight on cash at 8 percent.

Robin Hood in reverse?

Thirty-first U.S. President Herbert Clark Hoover once said: “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”

Governments around the world are borrowing heavily to finance their fiscal expansion – unprecedented in size and scale – to prevent severe economic downturn.

However, outspoken independent economist Roger Nightingale thinks fiscal stimulus will not work.

To spend, or not to spend?

A day after Britain unveiled a multi-billion-pound fiscal stimulus package to spend its way out of recession, market analysts have been busy figuring out what it all means, in the context of a sharply slowing economy.

Nick Parsons, head of market strategy at nabCapital, has come to this conclusion:

“People need to spend less, not more, and though little Johnny’s Xbox is indeed 4 quid cheaper, his Dad’s house is worth £3.97 less every hour,”he wrote in his daily note.

Are you revolted yet?

Financial markets might be in distress and stocks are falling through the floor, but according to James Montier, global strategist at Societe Generale, we are not in the final stage of bubble burst yet. For one thing, the Financial Times is still too big.

At a fund managers conference in London today, Montier — a renowned bear — noted a thesis by economists Hyman Minsky and Charles Kindleberger that bubbles go through five stages — displacement, credit creation, euphoria, critical stage/financial distress and revulsion.

Currently, he says, financial markets are going through the critical/distress stage but we are not in revulsion yet.

“In revulsion, the Financial Times will be three pages long and we will all be ashamed to be working in finance. Stocks will be unambiguously cheap,” he told a group of financial professionals.

Never Mind The Bankers

Malcolm McLaren, the man who gave us The Sex Pistols, has found the real punks — bankers. In an interview with Britain’s The Observer, he says punk was not just about spiky hair and ripped t-shirts.

“It was all about destruction, and the creative potential within that. It turns out that the bankers may have been the biggest punks of all.”

McLaren says we are now at a transformative moment.

“We’re at the end of the culture of desires; we may be going back to a culture of necessity.”

A riot of a recession

Every month, the financial services company State Street studies the trillions of dollars in institutional investor money it looks after as custodian and tries to gauge where things stand. Over the years, it has come up with a map consisting of five different regimes, or moods, to reflect this. They range from the bullish “Liquidity Abounds” in which investors buy equities and focus on growth, to the uber-risk averse “Riot Point”.

Guess what? Investors moved into “Riot Point” last month after flipping about for four months in the slightly less bearish but still risk averse “Safety First” regime. This essentially means that they gave up in October – which is not a particularly stunning finding given that many stock markets had their worst performance in decades.

So now comes the bad news. In the 11 years State Street has been drawing its map, the longest period of risk aversion as measured by investors being in “Riot Point” or “Safety First” was the nine months between February and October 2001. This almost exactly coincided with the then-U.S. recession.

Some shock, horror numbers from global stocks

Some mind-boggling numbers from the MSCI all-country world stock index, which is one of the broadest measures of how equity markets are doing and is a benchmark for many institutional investors. The index has some 2,500 companies in it from 48 developed and emerging economies.

First off, it has lost around $15 trillion in value since the end of October last year (graph below). That is more than 21 times the $700 billion U.S. bank rescue plan. It also more than graph.jpgthe annual gross domestic product of the United States. It is more than three time Japan’s annual output and more than four times that of Germany.

Secondly, the speed with which this fall has taken place has been breathtaking by investment standards. It took companies that make up the index about four years to gain the $15 trillion in share value before hitting an all-time peak last November. About a third of the losses since hitting that peak came in a free fall from mid-September to mid-October this year.

Tick, tock to global recession?

Every month, Merrill Lynch asks a few hundred fund managers around the world what they think of the state of things. Not surprisingly, this month’s survey is probably the gloomiest yet. Everyone, says Gary Baker, the strategist charged with explaining the poll, is a macro bear suffering from hyper risk-aversion.

Of particular note for readers of Macroscope this time is the finding that 84 percent of fund managers, more than four in five, say it is likely that the global economy will experience recession over the next 12 clock.jpgmonths. It is actually possible that the figure is greater than that, given the question’s definition of recession as two quarters of negative real GDP growth. That definition is fine for countries, but for the global economy it is a bit nebulous.

At least one should hope so. According to the International Monetary Fund, global GDP should end up having grown 3.9 percent at the end of this year and drop to 3.0 percent in 2009. Blistering growth in places like China may cool, but is still likely to keep the world economy in growth. So many fund managers may have been considering a less specific definition of global recession. The IMF informally used to think of it as below 3 percent growth, for example, but is not so keen on this now.

Forecaster sees more Fed cuts, higher U.S. unemployment

Macroeconomic Advisers tells clients this morning they expect “weaker growth in Q3, a deeper decline in Q4 than we previously expected, and a weak rebound in Q1 of next year will now qualify this period formally as a recession.”

U.S. unemployment rate “could well reach 7%,” the forecasting firm says, as it projects a 50 to 75 basis point easing by the Federal Reserve to address the weakening data as well as financial conditions.

Using terrorism to gauge oil’s impact

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Do oil price spikes cause recessions? It is a controversial question and one that is very much a propos. It is all very chicken-and-egg, of course. If oil is soaring because of overheating economic demand, is it the demand or the ensuing rise in oil prices that causes the crash?

 oil1.jpg

Britain’s Centre for Economic Policy Research has had a go at trying to answer this with a report written by Natalie Chen and Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick and Liam Graham from University College London. The twist was that the academics used terrorist incidents as an instrumental variable. Roughly, they looked at the impact of a sharp rise in oil prices on the profitability of various industries. By using terrorist events, they stripped out macroeconomic drivers and focused on something that was separate from the business cycle.