Global Investing

Wages wag the tail of the DAX

This week, Germany celebrated its Tag der deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity) marking twenty-two years since the wall was torn down between East and West.

Back in the present, Frankfurt’s main share index, the DAX, has outperformed all of its European peers this year and in dollar terms has outshone almost every other global equity index. Re-unification has been painful, fostering social tensions and still huge disparities between east and west, but some analysts argue that it is precisely those disparities, not least in wages, which have underpinned the primacy of German stocks today.

There are other crucial factors of course. Germany’s high-value and high cost exports such as BMW cars are in high demand in countries such as China and India, all the more because of the weak euro.  And despite the outperformance, the market seems to price German stocks as bargains — they currently trade around 10 times forward earnings compared to over 12 times for the world index. According to fund managers at Baring Asset Management:

Overall, we continue to see a compelling earnings environment…, yet this is not necessarily being translated into higher equity valuations… We also believe another positive driver for equities is dividend yield in Germany, which remains supportive at around 3.5% after inflation.

They reckon that this makes German stocks a great bet, as long as PE valuations remain low and dividend yields competitive.

Obama better bet for US stocks?

The wealthy in the United States have a reputation for being firmly on the side of the Republican Party, but maybe they shouldn’t be for the November presidential election.

According to Tom Stevenson, investment director at asset manager Fidelity Worldwide Investments, past evidence points to Democrat Barack Obama as possibly the more lucrative bet for equity  investors.  He says:

Looking at stock market performance following the last 12 elections suggests that investors should, in the short term at least, be rooting for an Obama victory. History shows that markets tend to rally after a win for the incumbent party by more than 10% on average, but fall modestly if the challenger is successful.

No BRIC without China

Jim O’ Neill, creator of the BRIC investment concept, has been exasperated by repeated calls in the past to exclude one or another country from the quartet, based on either economic growth rates, equity performance or market structure. In the early years, Brazil’s eligibility for BRIC was often questioned due to its anaemic growth; then it was the turn of oil-dependent Russia. Over the past couple of years many turned their sights on India due to its reform stupor. They have suggested removing it and including Indonesia in its place.

All these detractors should focus on China.

China’s validity in BRIC has never been questioned. Aside from the fact that BRI does not really have a ring, that’s not surprising. China’s growth rates plus undoubted political and economic clout on the international stage put  it head and shoulders above the other three. And after all, it is Chinese demand which drives a large part of the Russian and Brazilian economies.

But its equity markets have not performed for years.

This year, Russian and Indian stocks are up around 20 percent in dollar terms while China has gained 9 percent and Brazil 3 percent. In local currency terms however China is among the worst performing emerging markets, down 5 percent. Brazil has risen 9 percent.

In India, no longer just who you know

It’s not what you know but who you know. There are few places where this tenet applies more than in India but of late being close to the powers in New Delhi does not seem to be paying off for many company bosses.

Look at this chart from specialist India-focused investor Ocean Dial. It shows that since mid-2011 companies perceived as politically well-connected have significantly underperformed the broader Mumbai index. The underperformance has intensified this year.

According to David Cornell, portfolio manager at the fund, this is down to several factors such as The Right to Information Act which has helped curb unfettered corruption as well as shifting political power away from the centre towards provincial governments.  He says:

from David Gaffen:

El-Erian’s Push-Pull Question

Investors have been forced to contend with a severe pullback in consumer demand and the panic that overtook the banking sector in late 2008.

Since March, stocks are up by nearly 50 percent and investors have shifted into riskier fixed-income assets as well, but whether these rallies continue will hinge on whether investors are drawn to those purchases, not whether they're forced into it because nothing else looks attractive.

That's how Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive at bond fund manager Pacific Investment Management Co., put it when speaking with Reuters Television earlier today. He noted that investors in longer-dated Treasuries were moving in that direction, in part because of the desire by authorities to move them away from short-dated risk.

from David Gaffen:

Earnings Coming Up Roses…Or Not

How do those green shoots look now?The market got all a-giddy last week after Intel (INTC.O) and Goldman Sachs (GS.N) (a barometer of nothing other than its own ability to navigate turbulent markets) posted better than expected earnings, but the latest round of earnings reports points mostly to the ability of companies to tighten their belts to anorexic levels.

The Street celebrated when Caterpillar (CAT.N) reported earnings Tuesday, but the euphoria leaked out of the early market rally when investors got a second glance. Sales looked terrible as demand has plunged. They, along with Intel, Coca-Cola (KO.N), UTX (UTX.N) and others, are all using China as a crutch right now, thanks to that country's massive stimulus package. But building earnings strength on hopes that governments will continue to spend money isn't a winning strategy for years to come.

Meanwhile, the second quarter is emerging as a repeat of the first - applause for better-than-expected results, even if the surprises mostly come as a result of cutting jobs. According to Brown Brothers Harriman, 105 S&P companies have reported earnings as of this morning. Just 27 have reported positive year-over-year revenue growth - but 36 have reported positive earnings growth. In addition, when financials are removed from the picture, companies, on the whole, are falling short of sales expectations, with an average miss of 0.9 percentage points, but beating earnings expectations by 9.2 percentage points.