Global Investing

Jean-Claude Trichet, EM c.bankers’ new friend

What a friend emerging central bankers have in Jean-Claude Trichet. Last month the ECB boss stopped euro bears in their tracks by unexpectedly signalling concern over inflation in the euro zone. Since then the euro has pushed steadily higher  — against the dollar of course, but also against emerging currencies. The bet now is that interest rates – and the yield on euro investments — will start rising some time this year, possibly as early as this summer.

That’s ptrichetrovided some relief to central banks in the developing world who have struggled for months to stem the relentless rise in their currencies.

Being short euro versus emerging currencies was a popular investment theme at the start of 2011, partly because of EM strength but also because of the euro zone debt crisis. “What that also means is that people who were short euro against emerging currencies had to get out of those positions really fast,” says Manik Narain, a strategist at investment bank UBS. Check out the Turkish lira — that’s fallen around 5 percent against the euro since Trichet’s Jan 13 comments and is at the highest in over a year. South Africa’s rand is down 6 percent too. Moves in other crosses have been less dramatic but the euro’s star is definitely in the ascendant. The short EM trade versus the euro  has more room to run, Narain reckons.

But emerging central bankers can take some of the credit for their currencies’ recent weakness. Many have dragged their feet on tightening monetary policy – Indonesia, Chile and Russia were among those that surprised markets last month by not raising interest rates; Turkey went a step further and cut rates. To some extent that has worked — fears of an inflation spiral are pushing cash out of emerging stock and bond markets.

Expectations are Trichet will retain his hawkish tone at this Thursday’s ECB meeting. Emerging central bankers will certainly be hoping that he does.

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.

BRICs chipped

It may come as a bit of a surprise but in the end developed market stocks did quite well last year. For one thing, they outperformed the much-touted BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Here is the graphic to show it.

EM_BRICP1210

Which BRIC? Russia scores late goal for 2010

How quickly times change. Russia’s stock market, unloved for months, last week overtook India to be the best-performing of
the four BRICs.  The Moscow stock index jumped 5 percent last week, posting its biggest weekly rise in seven months, bringing
year-to-date gains to 17.5 percent. Fund managers such as Goldman Sach’s Jim O’Neill, creator of the BRICs term, are predicting it will lead the group next year too.

SOCCER-WORLD/

So what’s with the sudden burst of enthusiasm for Moscow? One catalyst is of course soccer body FIFA’s decision to award
the 2018 Soccer World cup to Russia. Investors are piling into infrastructure stocks, with steel producers especially tipped to
benefit as Russia starts building stadia, roads and hotels.  But the bigger factor, according to John Lomax, HSBC‘s head of emerging equity strategy, is the optimism that has started creeping in about U.S. — and world economic growth.

Some of that may have been dampened by Friday’s lacklustre U.S. jobs data. But overall, checks of U.S. economic vital signs show the economy looking sturdier than it was six months ago and most banks, including the pessimists at Goldman Sachs, have upped 2011 growth forecasts for the world’s biggest economy. And China and India are continuing to grow at rates close to 10 percent.  All that is great news for the commodity and oil stocks — the mainstay of the Russian market. Merrill Lynch, for instance, expects oil prices to be $10 higher by next December than now.

from Reuters Investigates:

Oil under ice

Still there

Still there

BP's Macondo Gulf spill would be nothing compared to the effect of a drilling accident in the Arctic, Jessica Bachman reports from "the foulest place in all of Russia."  Scientists and Russian officials are just starting to wake up to the fact that "if something happens on the Arctic Barents Sea in November it would be, 'OK, we'll come back for you in March,'" Jessica says.

But quite what Russia would do about that is not at all clear. The Russian government gets more than 50 percent of its revenues from oil and gas and Prime Minister Putin's stated aim is to keep producing more than 10 billion barrels a day through 2020. Environmentalists aren't the only ones who are worried.

from MacroScope:

Argentina set for wheat windfall

Not everyone is upset about the 50 percent surge in wheat prices over the past month.

Wheat's rise to 2-year highs was caused first by heavy rains in Canada and now by a Russian export ban that was triggered by its worst drought in decades. There are floods in Pakistan, another major wheat grower. But while the wheat market shenanigans are triggering much hand-wringing across developing nations, Argentina, one of the world's top seven wheat exporters, may be set for a windfall.

Farmers there are increasing wheat plantings, the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange says. The South American country is expected to export around 8 million tonnes of wheat in the 2010-2011 year. With wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade at around $8 a bushel, a very simple calculation shows export revenues are going to very significant.

What worries the BRICs

Some fascinating data about the growing power of emerging markets, particularly the BRICs, was on display at the OECD‘s annual investment conference in Paris this week. Not the least of it came from MIGA, the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which tries to help protect foreign direct investors from various forms of political risk.

MIGA has mainly focused on encouraging investment into developing countries, but a lot of its latest work is about investment from emerging economies.

This has been exploding over the past decade. Net outward investment from developing countries reached $198 billion in 2008 from around $20 billion in 2000. The 2008 figure was only 10.8 percent of global FDI, but it was just 1.4 percent in 2000.

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.

from MacroScope:

Emerging Europe property revival

People packing their bags and flying out to St Petersburg, Warsaw, and Prague this summer may not just be seeking an exotic vacation spot.

International property investors are inching back to emerging Europe, lured by prospects of higher returns in markets such as Poland, whose economy has held up relatively well in a global downturn, and Russia, which is bolstered by rising crude oil prices.

After posting strong growth for over 5 years, commercial real estate investments in emerging Europe had been a washout after Lehman Brothers’ collapse in Sept ‘08, with first quarter sales hitting a record low.

Britain and Russia share wisdom

As London slowly got back to work after the heaviest snow in nearly two decades paralysed the capital’s transport system, the Lord Mayor of London thanked Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin for his perseverance of having to trek to the Guildhall in the snow on Wednesday.

“One of the things London can learn from Russia is how not to be disrupted when there is snowfall,” the Lord Mayor — whose role is to support the City of London as one of the world’s leading international finance centres — told a news conference.

Later, Kudrin — who had a marathon four-hour speaking engagement — cited Russia footballer Andrei Arshavin as an example of the skills Russia (St Petersburg) can offer to London.