Global Investing

Weekly Radar: Cyprus hogs the headlines but contagion fears limited

CYPRUS BRINKMANSHIP/BERNANKE IN LONDON/BRICS SUMMIT/MARCH CONSUMER SENTIMENT IN EUROPE/JAPAN INFLATION-JOBS-PRODUCTION/US-UK Q4 GDP REVISIONS

Cyprus has hogged the headlines since Friday, with bank closures now extended to a full week as they try to sort out a very messy bailout - made worse by domestic policy missteps over taxing bank deposits. As with Italy’s elections, the saga certainly challenges any market assumption that the euro crisis had abated for good and it’s also loaded with a series of potential precedents – not least the biggest taboo of them all, a euro exit. This is where the politics, brinkmanship and smoke-filled-rooms come in.  Yet as Cyprus is so small and its banks in such a peculiar setup – given the scale of Russian and other foreign depositors – the euro group, ECB and IMF appear determined not to be pressured into a bailout above the already gigantic 60 percent of GDP.

And, as with Greece last year, they will likely stand firm and leave any decision to exit up to the Cypriots themselves. You can’t rule out that they may choose to go and regional risks rise somewhat as a result. But if the islanders are genuinely worried about a 6-10% tax on deposits, they may also think long and hard about the chance those deposits would be redenominated into a heavily devalued Cypriot pound. Just ask the Argentinians what that feels like. A deposit haircut may seem a like a half-decent deal by comparison if some other mix of Russian loans, pension raids or securitised future gas revenues doesn’t stack up.

So, the small scale of Cyprus, a lack of direct systemic banking or sovereign debt linkages and the likelihood of some sort of political deal eventually emerging have all served to limit the fallout from the drama on world markets – rightly or wrongly.   World equities have been knocked back a bit, but remain up 5.75% year-to-date. The VIX popped higher, but remains super-low under 13%. Italian stocks are back to where they were on Friday afternoon, while the more telling Italian and Spanish 10-yr bond yields have even nudged lower. A successful Spanish government bond auction on Thursday, where yields across all maturities fell from the previous auctions in February, showed just how limited any Cyprus contagion has been so far at least.

So, unjustifiably complacent? Perhaps – there are certainly lots of bogeymen in this story. But let’s be clear about the “shock factor”. Back on Jan 1, the year kicked off with several “known knowns” ahead that everybody already knew would be messy – the US fiscal cliff, the Italian elections and the Cyprus bailout. And they all proved exactly that – messy. But few investors anywhere could claim to have not been braced for these. To be sure, all could blow up into something worse still, but none yet amounts to an investment ‘game changer’. Radars are up, however, and funds polled by BoAMerrill reckon the euro crisis has moved back to the top of their list of tail risks for the first time since August. We shall see if they continue to hold their nerve as the first quarter closes next week. More worrying for investors in Europe has been the continued funk in business sentiment in March and the Cyprus ructions won’t have helped that much since. Patience in waiting for some broad-based European economic recovery may be more limited than the seeming tolerance of  noisy Cyprus bailout. 

Three snapshots for Friday

Although the focus has been on Spanish debt auctions this week as this chart shows Italy has much further to go in meeting this year’s funding needs.

German business sentiment rose unexpectedly for the fifth month in a row in March, moving in the opposite direction to the composite PMI:

Greg Harrison points out 82% of S&P 500 companies have beaten their Q1 earnings estimates so far. It  is early days but it it continues that would be the highest for at least five years. Is this a sign that the strength in corporate earnings in continuing? The chart below suggests as least part may be due to falling expectations coming into earnings season.

Three snapshots for Tuesday

Argentina’s debt insurance costs rose after the country moved to seize control of leading energy company YPF on Monday,  Madrid called the move on YPF, controlled by Spanish company Repsol, a hostile decision and vowed “clear and strong” measures, while the EU’s executive European Commission warned that an expropriation would send a very negative signal to investors. Of the countries in the MSCI Frontier equities universe Argentinian equities are the worst performer this year.

German analyst and investor sentiment rose unexpectedly in April. The Mannheim-based ZEW economic think tank’s monthly poll of economic sentiment rose to 23.4 from 22.3 in March, beating a consensus forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts for a fall to 20.0.

India’s first interest rate cut in three years may be its last for a while. The central bank cut rates on Tuesday by an unexpectedly sharp 50 basis points to boost the sagging economy, but warned there was limited scope for more cuts, with inflation likely to remain elevated and growth on track to pick up, albeit modestly.

More than a nice-to-have, buy-side considers its actions

More than a “nice to have,” investor sentiment is running heavily on the side of environment, social and governance (ESG) factors, according to the latest Thomson Reuters Perception Snapshot.

Feedback from 25 global buy-side investors found that 84 percent evaluate ESG criteria to some degree when making an investment decision.

The remaining 16 percent say ESG issues are not considered until a company’s ability to generate high returns is hindered by these factors.

from MacroScope:

Springing back to life

The steady stream of less-bad-than-expected economic data has evidently been working as a builder of optimism. Confidence in improved economies and financlal market conditions is growing.

One of the biggest surprises has been Germany's ZEW economic sentiment survey -- which polls analysts and economists in Europe's largest economy. Not only did the index jump this month, it entered positive territory for the first time since July 2007. That was before the credit crisis hit.

U.S. financial services firm State Street also reports that the mood among institutional investors in North America, Europe and Asia is at a nine month high. The main point about this survey is that it is extraplolated from the actual buying and selling patterns within $12 trillion that State Street holds for investors as a custodian.