Global Investing

from David Gaffen:

Hair of the Dog Rally

The old lore about the best way to cure a hangover is with a few more nips of whatever it was you were imbibing the previous evening, commonly known as "hair of the dog."

The extension of this rally in stocks and just about every other asset identified with risk feels like a hair-of-the-dog situation. Between 2003 and mid-2008, easy flow of capital facilitated revelry in stocks, emerging markets, real estate, bonds, and high-yielding currencies.

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

When investors invariably lost interest in an asset class where valuations could no longer be denied, they flocked to another - witness $150-a-barrel oil, $1,000 gold prices, and crazy gyrations in wheat and soybeans, of all things.

Then the hangover came. Major stock indexes were cut in half. Oil went to $30 a barrel, and investors fled for cover in the dollar and the safety of Treasury bonds.

With U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks cutting rates to nothing, money worked its way back into the markets, though.

from David Gaffen:

Can Stocks and Bonds Celebrate Together?

So who is right and who is wrong?The stock market has rallied by more than 50 percent in the last five months. But bond market yields currently hover around 3.4%, and while that's nowhere near close to the crisis-induced record low reached at the end of 2008, a graph of the 10-year note's yield shows that it remains lower than almost any point other than when prices spiked in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse.

Ten-year yields remain in a tight range.

Ten-year yields remain in a tight range.

Equity investors would rightly point to better housing data and stronger economic indicators as a sign that things are looking up. The bond market, meanwhile, continues to worry that the outlook remains grim. Yields have been bound in a range between 3.4% and 4% since late May, despite the dark warnings from those "bond vigilantes" that believe crushing U.S. debt will turn off our major foreign benefactors.

But a rally in both the bond and stock markets was a fixture of the financial scene for a number of years. Strong growth coupled with low inflation created the so-called Goldilocks scenario, where bond yields could rally, and stocks flourished in part due to lower borrowing costs.

from David Gaffen:

Citigroup Is the Economy

It used to be that Citigroup was one of the market's most important stocks, if not the most important. At the nexus of the banking, securities and lending industries that benefited most from the easy-credit boom of the middle of the decade, its success as a stock mirrored the market and the economy.Somewhere around 2006, when people started to call for a breakup of the company, it was supplanted by a company even more tied to the derivative-fueled mess that masked the holes in the economic landscape - Goldman Sachs.

But Goldman continued to earn massive profits while Citigroup nearly died a painful death. Shares eventually fell to less than $1 a share, it was kicked out of the Dow and investors started to view other consumer banks as better indicators of the market's health.

Still, there's a chance that Citigroup may become more important once again, provided it survives (with substantial help from the government). Kevin Depew, recently writing on Minyanville.com, noted that most of Citigroup's short-term debt has returned to spreads present before the blowup of Lehman Brothers, suggesting that bond investors believe the debt crisis has receded. He notes (using a bit of technical analysis) that "Citigroup right now might again be The Most Important Stock in the Universe."

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

GOOD RUN 
-  Stocks have managed to extend their rally but potential hurdles, such as this week’s U.S. non-farm payrolls, could prove increasingly hard to leap given valuations — European stocks are trading at their highest multiples of earnings since May 2008 while the multiple for the S&P is the highest since mid-September 2008. If investors are to boost equity holdings — which Reuters polls show already back to pre-Lehman levels — it may require more concrete evidence of economic expansion, rather than just economic stabilisation, and signs that profit margins will be supported by revenue growth, rather than cost cutting. 

BOE – HANGING IN THE BALANCE
- The Bank of England will have to decide this week whether to end its asset-buying programme or extend it. Concern about potential longer-term inflation implications will have to be weighed against the signs of economic weakness still manifest in recent Q2 GDP data. With economists split on the outcome, markets look set for volatility, not least as the MPC’s decision is likely to be viewed as a indication of when other central banks could start to halt/unwind their credit easing strategy. 

SQUARING CIRCLES
- The dexterity with which China can manage surging lending and potential price pressures without unsettling markets with any rapid reversal of stimulative policy is increasingly in focus and will have financial market and macroeconomic repercussions well beyond its borders and Asia, as last week showed. Australia, which felt the spillover effect of the China jitters, has its own policy dilemma as the RBA is trying to push back against its currency’s appreciation while giving markets another reason to buy A$ by its more upbeat view on the domestic economic outlook. The RBA policy meeting this week will give the central bank a chance to show how it squares this circle. 

Crowing about good earnings

Investors have been cock-a-hoop about the latest earnings season — and probably with some reason. There has been positive surprise after positive surprise, particularly in America. Thomson Reuters latest research shows that of the 337 companies in the S&P 500 that had reported through Friday, 74 percent came in above analysts expectations.

A wag might suggest that this only means that analysts are not very good. Chances are, however, that it reflects that they overshot in their pessimism, a not unusual factor. Are they now being overly optimistic?

Investors are now buying away and putting bad news to one side. Consider as one example how the ballooning of bad debts in European banks have not stopped the sector from rallying sharply.

Milestone mania

The S&P 500 index is approaching 1,000, Nasdaq is nearing 2,000, the Nikkei is above 10,000 and Dow could surpass 10,000 soon.

Welcome to the world of milestone mania, where investors give emphasis on nice round numbers.

U.S.-based wealth management firm Fisher Investments give a few thoughts on the milestones and the danger of having blind faith in them.

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.

from David Gaffen:

Goldman Sachs Does Not Consume Diesel Fuel

Sure, things look rosy for Goldman Sachs (GS.N), but the firm hardly represents the broad U.S. economic situation, as investors are looking over a mélange of lousy data, with dribs and drabs of mildly encouraging information in the mix. Goldman Sachs headquarters building in New York. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson Goldman Sachs headquarters building in New York. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Tuesday's retail sales figures weren't all that great - the strength comes from auto sales and rising gasoline prices (and rising gas prices aren't exactly great for consumers) - and Wednesday's data on capacity utilization and energy inventories are likely to confirm the ongoing slack in the economy.

So what to make of the statements from CSX Corp. (CSX.N) chief executive Michael Ward, who told Reuters the worst of the recession has been seen? Data on capacity utilization doesn't suggest a pick-up in demand, and the giant inventories of distillate products in various parts of the country also suggest the economy is sputtering, not chugging.

Full of Sound and Fury: Earnings Arrives

On some level, every quarter is a make-or-break earnings season, and maybe that’s particularly true for the midsummer earnings season, as it comes at an otherwise quiet time for the broader markets.

 

But as investors get ready for Alcoa’s ‘kick-off’ of earnings season (and really, Alcoa serves as a nice beginning more for its symbol’s position in the alphabet than as any barometer for earnings), there may be something to all of the fretting this time around. After all, investors endured an awful fourth quarter, where the entire S&P collectively managed to lose money on an operating basis (thanks, AIG, and Citigroup, and GM, and, um…), and a first quarter mostly notable for a slightly better performance than expected – even though earnings were down 36% from the previous year.

 

It’s still hard to see where the improvement is going to be, however. Earnings are expected to fall about 36% once again, and investors in recent weeks have finally cottoned to the idea that vaulting over low bars really isn’t much to get optimistic about. If the market is truly going to turn higher, it will depend on the quality of earnings, and there, some aren’t so optimistic. Mike Lewitt, president of Harch Capital Management, said, “I don’t think there’s a lot of revenue growth, just shrinkage – basically everybody is shrinking across the board and that’s what we’re seeing.”

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

Q3 – CLUES AND CUES
- Global equity markets started the quarter positioned for economic stabilisation after a strong Q2 performance but, even so, EPFR data shows less than a third of the cash that flooded into money market funds in 2008 has exited in the year to date. The Q2 reporting season, which is about to kick off (Alcoa out this week), will show whether there are reasons for investors to draw down their cash holdings further. The U.S. data that came out before the long July 4 weekend held more negative surprises than positive ones, and macroeconomic confirmation of recovery will be needed to tempt more wary investors into equities.

BOND YIELDS
- Benchmark U.S. and euro zone bond yields broke lower after the U.S. non-farm payroll data but the VIX hit some of its lowest levels post-Lehman and a recent compression of intra-euro zone spreads has yet to go markedly into reverse. Which of these trends turns out to be sustainable will become more evident in the next few weeks, particularly as U.S. supply resumes this week with TIPS, 3, 10, and 30 year auctions.

L’AQUILA SUMMIT
- The slow-burning international reserve currency debate could pop up at the G8/G8+5 big emerging powers summit in Italy this week. China’s public stance is that it is not pushing the issue but Beijing also reckons a debate on this would be normal at such a forum. It is unclear if any final statement will mention it in a way that would rattle FX markets. But sideline comments on the debate will be closely watched and particular focus will be on which countries, if any, would be willing to join China, Brazil and Russia in their commitment to buying the IMF SDR notes — for which crucial groundwork was laid down this week.