Global Investing

Three snapshots for Tuesday

The euro zone just avoided recession in the first quarter of 2012 but the region’s debt crisis sapped the life out of the French and Italian economies and widened a split with paymaster Germany.

Click here for an interactive map showing which European Union countries are in recession.

The technology sector has been leading the way in the S&P 500 in performance terms so far this year with energy stocks at the bottom of the list. Since the start of this quarter financials have seen the largest reverse in performance.

Oil prices — Geopolitics or growth?

It’s the economy, stupid. Or isn’t it?

Brent crude has risen 15 percent since the end of last year, focusing people’s minds on the potential this has to choke off the recovery in world growth. But some reckon it is the recovery that’s at least partly responsible for the surging oil prices — economic data from United States and Germany has been strong of late. There are hopes that France and the United Kingdom may escape recession after all. And growth in the developing world has been robust.

Geopolitics of course is playing a role  as an increasing number of countries boycott Iranian oil and fret over a possible military strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear installations.  But Deutsche Bank analysts point out that world equity markets, an efficient real-time gauge of growth sentiment, have risen along with oil prices.

Their graphic (below) shows a remarkably close relationship between oil prices and the S&P 500. Click to enlarge

Hedge funds still lagging behind

How are hedgies performing this year?

The latest performance data from Nice-based business school EDHEC-Risk Institute shows various hedge funds strategies returned on average 1.46% in January, far behind the S&P 500 index which gained almost 4.5%. Hedge Fund Strategies Jan 2012 YTD* Annual Average Return since January 2001 Annual Std Dev since January 2001 Sharpe Ratio Convertible Arbitrage 2.22% 2.2% 6.5% 7.3% 0.34 CTA Global 0.49% 0.5% 6.6% 8.6% 0.30 Distressed Securities 3.28% 3.3% 10.3% 6.3% 1.00 Emerging Markets 4.55% 4.5% 10.5% 10.7% 0.61 Equity Market Neutral 1.01% 1.0% 4.5% 3.0% 0.16 Event Driven 2.95% 2.9% 7.8% 6.1% 0.62 Fixed Income Arbitrage 1.33% 1.3% 6.0% 4.4% 0.46 Global Macro 2.05% 2.1% 7.0% 4.5% 0.68 Long/Short Equity 3.36% 3.4% 5.3% 7.3% 0.17 Merger Arbitrage 1.03% 1.0% 5.4% 3.3% 0.43 Relative Value 1.95% 1.9% 6.4% 4.8% 0.51 Short Selling -6.85% -6.9% 0.3% 14.1% -0.26 Funds of Funds 1.65% 1.7% 3.6% 5.1% -0.07

 

Emerging markets strategy was the best performing, with gains of 4.55%. Interestingly, this is less than half of how the benchmark MSCI EM index performed (up more than 11 percent in the same period).

Base, worst and best case scenarios from Coutts

UK private bank Coutts (established in 1622, the year of the Glencore Massacre and two years before the Bank of England was founded) has been very bearish.

It still attaches a high, 25 percent chance to a partial or complete euro zone breakup and has been recommending its investors to position very defensively.

The chart below shows their base-case assumptions of S&P 500 index at 1,300 (about 3% below the current level), along with best and worst case scenarios.

Timing the next bull market in stocks

Markets are down again today (MSCI world index down 0.7 pct so far this morning) and the market overall is nearing a bear market territory again (from a three-year high hit in May).

But asset managers are starting to look forward.  JPMorgan Asset Management reckons that if one assumes the current bear market for most equity indices started in 2000 and that the the trend of the previous experiences is to be repeated, then the current environment should be ending around 2014 (By the way, those who predict stock market cycles with sunspots activity reckon the year 2012 or 2013 is the bottom, but that’s a different story.)

But 2014 does seem a long way off.

“While this may sound depressing from 2011, we hasten to add that we are not expecting the ongoing bear market to result in continued downside, but rather in persistence of broad range-trading prior to a sustained breakout to the upside,” Neil Nuttal of JPM AM writes.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Getting there from here

Depending on how you look at it, August may not have been as bad a month for stocks as advertised. For the month as a whole, the MSCI all-country world stock index  lost more than 7.5 percent.  This was the worst performance since May last year, and the worst August since 1998.

But if you had bought in at the low on August 9, you would have gained  healthy 8.5 percent or so.

In a similar vein, much is made of the fact that the S&P 500 index  ended 2009 below the level it started 2000, in other words, took a loss in the decade.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Don’t invest in gold?

Bit of fun, this -- and might raise some issues about returning to the Gold Standard. The S&P 500 stock index priced in gold (thanks to Reuters graphics whiz Scott Barber):

Equities - SP 500 priced in dollars and gold

The best stocks of 2010

For all the doom and gloom associated with the broader economy—historic unemployment in the United States, debt woes and mandated austerity in Europe—it’s been a remarkably positive year for the stock market. As we enter the last week of 2010, the S&P 500 index is up nearly 13 percent for the year. That’s far from a record (1954 witnessed a breakneck 45 percent rise), but at least the index this year climbed above the level hit before Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in September, 2008. The stock comeback story is not unique to America, either; this week, Korea’s stocks hit their highest level in more than three years.

At one time, the gurgling stock market would have been a fairly reliable predictor for a healthy economy in the near future—and who knows, that may still be the case. More bearish observers point to artificial stimulants, like an unsustainable commodity bubble and the Fed’s quantitative easing policy.

Regardless, a lot of equity holders will be popping Champagne (or prosecco) this week. Our chart below shows the top ten performers in the S&P 500 for the year—so what does it tell us? Well, the best-performing stock of the year is Cummins Inc., an Indiana-based company that makes power generators and diesel engines. Not surprisingly, its strong market performance this year is based on healthy sales abroad, particularly in emerging markets enjoying the rise in commodity prices. Another top performer has been AIG, the once-mighty insurer which lost nearly all of its value in 2009 but has made a strong comeback thanks to a massive taxpayer bailout. Two other financial firms that also flirted with the abyss made the top ten.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Wishful thinking on earnings?

The U.S. earnings season is over bar a handful of firms. It has been robust to say the least: Thomson Reuters Proprietary Research calculates that S&P 500 companies overall had second-quarter earnings growth of 38.4 percent. That was 11 percentage points higher than people had been expecting heading into the season.

There may be more surprises ahead -- although which sort, remains in question. The research suggests that analysts still expect solid growth in the coming quarters and that the decline in U.S. economic strength over the summer has not changed their minds much.

Third-quarter earnings growth is estimated at 24.9 percent, down slightly from July estimates but higher than earlier in the year. Fourth-quarter estimates are at 31.8 percent.

XL-sized gains for 2009′s best performing U.S. stock

The S&P 500 has closed out its first annual advance in two years, underpinned by strength in the technology and materials sectors on hopes that the economic recovery will spur a rebound in capital spending and fuel demand for natural resources.

The benchmark index ended 2009 up 23.5 percent on the year, reversing a slide of 38.5 percent in 2008. The S&P 500 is now off 28.8 percent from its October 2007 record close.

The run-up in sectors like technology underscores the extent of the damage done to financial stocks in the credit crisis of 2008. Financials were once the largest sector in the S&P 500, but tech is now the biggest. The top 10 S&P 500 stock performers of 2009 do not include a major U.S. bank. Heading the list is Bermuda-based insurer XL Capital.