Global Investing

We’re all in the same boat

The withering complexity of a four-year-old global financial crisis — in the euro zone, United States or increasingly in China and across the faster-growing developing world — is now stretching the minds and patience of even the most clued-in experts and commentators. Unsurprisingly, the average householder is perplexed, increasingly anxious and keen on a simpler narrative they can rally around or rail against. It’s fast becoming a fertile environment for half-baked conspiracy theories, apocalypse preaching and no little political opportunism. And, as ever, a tempting electoral ploy is to convince the public there’s some magic national solution to problems way beyond borders.

For a populace fearful of seemingly inextricable connections to a wider world they can’t control, it’s not difficult to see the lure of petty nationalism, protectionism and isolationism. Just witness national debates on the crisis in Britain, Germany, Greece or Ireland and they are all starting to tilt toward some idea that everyone may be better off on their own — outside a flawed single currency in the case of Germany, Greece and Ireland and even outside the European Union in the case of some lobby groups in Britain. But it’s not just a debate about a European future, the U.S.  Senate next week plans to vote on legisation to crack down on Chinese trade due to currency pegging despite the interdependency of the two economies.  And there’s no shortage of voices saying China should somehow stand aloof from the Western financial crisis, even though its spectacular economic ascent over the past decade was gained largely on the back of U.S. and European demand.

Despite all the nationalist rumbling, the crisis illustrates one thing pretty clearly – the world is massively integrated and interdependent in a way never seen before in history. And globalised trade and finance drove much of that over the past 20 years. However desireable you may think it is in the long run, unwinding that now could well be catastrophic. A financial crisis in one small part of the globe will now quickly affect another through a blizzard of systematic banking and cross-border trade links systemic links.

Just take the euro zone for a start. HSBC economists on Friday said the costs of a euro zone breakup would be “a disaster, threatening another Great Depression” and far outweighed the costs of repairing the flawed fiscal backstops to the monetary union — especially given the wealthier creditor countries within the union tend to ignore the benefits they’ve reaped from the euro over the past 12 years. Aided by the “entangling effects” of the euro, it showing that cross-border holdings of capital have exploded from about 20% of world GDP in 1980 to stand at more than 100% now (global GDP was estimated by the IMF to be about $62 trillion last year). By contrast, the first wave of globalisation in the late 19th and early 20th century saw cross-border holdings peak at 20% of world GDP before WW1 reversed everything.

“A euro break-up would be a disaster, threatening another Great Depression,” wrote HSBC chief economist Stephen King and economist Janet Henry. ” Cross-border holdings of assets and liabilities within the eurozone have risen dramatically, leading to a tangled web of mutual financial dependency. With the re-introduction of national currencies, disentanglement would proceed at a rate of knots, undermining financial systems, generating massive currency moves, threatening hyper-inflation in the periphery and triggering economic collapse in the core.”

Clinging to hope in bear-bitten Russia

Poor Russia. After spending six months as the world’s best performing emerging market, the Moscow bourse  has been the big loser of this month’s rout – year-to-date returns of over 10 percent until mid-July have since dissolved in a sea of red, with a plunge of over 20 percent since the start of August. As oil prices fell and the outlook for U.S. and European growth darkened, overweight positions in Russia halved versus July, a survey by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch showed this week.

But get this — Russia remains among investors’ main emerging market punts and only Indonesia is more favoured, according to the BoA/ML poll. The reason is that fund managers are still clinging to hopes that an increasingly wealthy Russian consumer will save the day. Unfortunately those hopes are yet to materialise. Returns on domestic demand-based stocks such as Sberbank, carmaker Avtovaz and supermarket chain Magnit have been even more disappointing this year than the broader Moscow market.

Even the staunchest Russia bull will have been disappointed with data showing Russia’s economy grew at just 3.4 percent in the second quarter of the year.  That proves the economy was running out of steam even before the August oil price fall and suggests that the Russian consumer is not yet stepping up to the mark. Retail data since then have been more heartening — annual sales rose 5.6 percent in July from 3 percent in June.

from MacroScope:

The thin line between love and hate

The opinion on Turkey’s unorthodox monetary policy mix is turning as rapidly as global growth forecasts are being revised down.

Earlier this month, its central bank was the object of much finger-wagging after it defied market fears over an overheating economy by cutting its policy rate. It defended the move, arguing that weaker global demand posed a greater risk than inflationary pressures.

Investors were not persuaded. When I told one analyst about the Turkish rate move, he practically sputtered down the phone: "You're not kidding?!"

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.

from MacroScope:

What are the risks to growth?

Mike Dicks, chief economist and blogger at Barclays Wealth, has identified what he sees as the three biggest problems facing the global economy, and conveniently found that they are linked with three separate regions.

First, there is the risk that U.S., t consumers won't increase spending. Dicks notes that the increase in U.S. consumption has been "extremely moderate" and far less than after previous recessions. His firm has lowered is U.S. GDP forecast for 2011 to 2.7 percent from a bit over 3 percent.

Next comes the euro zone. While the wealth manager is not looking for any immediate collapse in EMU, Dicks reckons that without the ability to devalue, Greece and other struggling countries won't see any great improvement in competitiveness. Germany, in the meantime, has sped up plans to cut its own deficit.  It leaves the Barclays Wealth's euro zone GDP forecast at just 1 percent for next year.

from MacroScope:

Unlocking the Yuan

Reuters's top news and innovation teams have put together a web site on the yuan and the debate over its revaluation. Particularly worth a look after the weekend's statement by China that it would allow more flexibility in its currency exchange. You can access it here, but it looks like this:

Yuan2

from MacroScope:

Spend Save Man Woman

Far from being lauded as a virtue, China's high savings rate has been blamed for the economic imbalances underlying the global financial crisis. The criticism being that the Chinese spend too little and rely too much on exporting to Western consumers.

The IMF and World Bank have long called for Beijing to ramp up social spending so its citizens will feel less need to save for a rainy day and instead consume more.

But in their intriguingly named paper,  'A Sexually Unbalanced Model of Current Account Imbalances', New York-based researchers Du Qingyuan and Wei Shang-Jin suggest China's gender imbalance could also be a significant factor in the persistence of its high savings rate. spendsavemanwoman

Scrambling for debt

Developing countries must be eyeing with alarm the vast amounts of bonds that the euro zone and the United States are planning to sell this year and for years to come. Having borrowed large sums, starting a couple of years back to fund the bailout of  U.S. and European banks, developed economies must now raise the cash to repay the holders of those old bonds  – in market parlance, they need to roll over the debt.

The prospect of rolling such vast sums continuously in the current fragile market must be unnerving to say the least. But what about other countries who too have creditors to pay off — emerging markets in particular?  How will their deals fare if  U.S. and European bonds, seen usually as safer assets,  flood the market and drive up yields?

Not too badly, it would seem. The first reason is a simple matter of numbers. The United States needs to roll over one-fifth of all  its outstanding bills in 2010, — a whopping $1.6 trillion. The euro zone must find 1.3 trillion euros in the coming year — more than the recent Greek aid deal that took them so much time and hand-wringing to finalise.   Emerging markets’ needs are tiny in comparison.  ING Bank reckons they need as little as $75 billion to service their hard currency debt in 2010 and half of this has already been raised.  Should not be a problem, then.

Poor investor confidence – or is it?

The latest State Street investor confidence index bears some scrutiny. The overall index dropped in February which would seem to be in line with other sentiment indicators such as The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index and the German Ifo on business thinking.

But the State Street  fall was entirely due to bearish Asian sentiment. There were gains in the North American and European regional calculations. Also the overall, North American and European indices all came in above 100 — which means that sentiment remains on the bullish side.

It begs the question of whether Asia is a) lagging b) leading or c) just out there on its own.

RIP 2008-2009

It was down, down, down in 2008 and up, up , up in 2009. So what will 2010 bring?

Year