Global Investing

from MacroScope:

Give me liberty and give me cash!

Come back Mr Fukuyama, all is forgiven.

In his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man", American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that all states were moving inexorably towards liberal democracy. His thesis that democracy is the pinnacle of political evolution has since been challenged by the violent eruption of radical Islam as well as the economic success of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.

Now a study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital into the link between economic wealth and democracy seems to back Fukuyama.

Looking at 150 countries and over 60 years of history, RenCap found that countries are likely to become more democratic as they enjoyed rising levels of income with democracy virtually 'immortal' in countries with a GDP per capita above $10,000.

" Only five democracies above the $6,000 income level have died. Even democracies above the $6,000 level have a 99 percent chance of sustaining their political system each year. The only exceptions were the military coups in Greece in 1967 ($9,800), Argentina in 1976 ($8,180) and Thailand in 2006 ($7,440), and the events in Venezuela in 2009 ($9,115), as well as Iran in 2004 ($8,475)," RenCap global chief economist Charles Robertson writes.

The $6,000 per capita GDP seems to be a crucial level, marking the point where a country is likely to shift to democracy. Tunisia, which early this year triggered the wave of uprisings against autocracy across the Arab world, recently crossed that threshold.

Indian stocks — buyers trickling back?

Last week snapped a three-week winning streak for Indian stocks — the first since last September for this year’s emerging markets laggard.  India,  an oil importer and a domestic demand play with high inflation, has languished this year in comparison with fellow-BRIC Russia which has returnedBRICS-TRADE/SUMMIT 14 percent so far, thanks to the $125/barrel oil price. But could the market be turning? Indian stocks, down 20 percent at one point in February, have cut their losses to 6 percent so far this year. And there are signs fund managers are piling back in.

ING Investment Management started buying Indian equities earlier this month for the first time since mid-2010. Inflation may have peaked and with state elections out of the way, politics may be less of an issue, they say. And Indian valuations, always expensive, are back in line with long term averages,  the fund’s strategist Maarten-Jan Bakkum notes. He is overweight Russia too but says that is driven by a tactical play on the oil price rather than any long-term conviction.

HSBC‘s head of emerging equities, John Lomax, says commodity and food price inflation may have peaked after a massive run and sees that leading to a change of tone within emerging markets. “We want to be a less exposed to the commodity themes now so we are less positive on Russia. But we like Turkey and we recently upgraded India and China, which are domestic demand plays.”

Russia’s babushka time-bomb

The babushka, that embodiment of Russian grandmotherly goodness that has spawned iconic dolls and inspired a Kate Bush song, poses one of the gravest threat to the Russian economy.

Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital also expects this segment of the demography to spur politically risky pension reforms.

Russia’s pension system is coming under increasing strain thanks to growing life expectancy — particularly among women — and a shrinking labour force due to the collapse in birth rates in the 1990s.

from MacroScope:

Brazil joins fellow-BRIC China in world’s Top 5

Volkswagen's Brazil car factory. Sales are booming as the economy roars ahead

Volkswagen's Brazil car factory. Sales are booming as the economy roars ahead

Distracted by the upheaval in the Middle East and $120 per barrel oil,  few noted Brazil's ascent last week to the ranks of the world's top five economies. Strange given that the move comes just months after China displaced Japan as the second-biggest economy in the world.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management head Jim O'Neill points out that  Brazil -- part of the BRIC group of big emerging economies -- grew 7.5 percent in 2010. By the end of last year the economy was valued around $2.2 trillion. That's next only to the United States, China, Japan and Germany. And bigger than France and Britain.

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.

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.