Opinion

James Saft

Time ripe for a new nifty fifty

Oct 20, 2011 21:31 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Tough times make dependable excellence even more valuable, which is why we just might see the rise of a new “Nifty Fifty” of elite shares.

During their heydey in the 1960s and early 1970s the Nifty Fifty were a group of U.S. large cap companies which managed a spectacular period of outperformance during a generally downbeat and low growth period.

Featuring such household names as IBM , Coca-Cola , Procter & Gamble and Disney , the Nifty Fifty delivered strong and dependable earnings and dividend growth during a period where those were in short supply.

They were rewarded by a fantastic run of outperformance and a dizzying re-rating, or expansion of price/earnings multiples, which eventually drove valuations well into bubble territory.

Similar to the 60s and 70s, the world is staring at structural problems that will make a recovery from the long secular bear market unlikely for quite a while.

Waiting for labor’s gains

Oct 4, 2011 21:51 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Right about now, even the most committed capitalist investor ought to be hoping for one thing: that labor soon has the upper hand.

That’s because the whole edifice: the global economy, the consumption-based developed economies and the share prices they power are crumbling because average workers simply haven’t got enough earning and buying power to play their central role.

Wages in the U.S., for example, have been stagnant for the best part of 40 years, during which time the consumption merry-go-round has only been kept spinning through a combination of artificially high asset prices and spending borrowed money.

3 numbers spell danger: $100, 3.44, 20

Feb 24, 2011 13:13 UTC

If you think the recovery is firm and the risk of deflation has vanished, look at the three following numbers: $100, 3.44 and 20.

The first, everyone knows, is the price that New York crude oil touched briefly on Wednesday, driven 14 percent higher in just five trading sessions by conflict in Libya and concern over the reliability of supply elsewhere.

The second is the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes, and if you are keeping score, they have dropped a rapid 28 basis points from early February, a drop that is telling you that bond investors do not believe the U.S. economy can easily withstand $100 oil.

The great bad news of housing reform

Feb 15, 2011 12:58 UTC

The reform of U.S. housing finance proposed by President Obama will drive the price of mortgages higher and be a disaster for house prices, construction and the real estate industry.

In other words, in helping to kill the illusion that a whole nation can grow rich by living in ever more expensive houses, it will be a very good thing.

The U.S. released a range of proposals for scaling back government involvement in housing last week, all of which are aimed at transforming a mortgage market in which 92 percent of new loans currently carry a government guarantee.

Good luck hedging against inflation

Feb 3, 2011 13:42 UTC

Looking to hedge against a spike in inflation? Equities may not be much help.

Neither, for that matter, will you do all that well over the longer haul with bonds, cash or even commodities, at least on the historical evidence. In short, when it comes to investing, inflation is a real drag.

It’s impossible to know if, much less when, the current very stimulative monetary policy in the developed world will spur inflation, but increasingly indicators are raising concerns. Emerging market economies show signs of overheating, while prices of food and many other commodities are surging.

The traditional view has been that equities are an effective hedge against inflation, in least over the long term, because companies will, all things being equal, eventually pass on inflation to their clients as higher prices.

UK austerity vs U.S. muddle

Jan 27, 2011 19:39 UTC

The trans-Atlantic economic contrast is shaping up as pitting British austerity against, not U.S. investment, but a do-little American muddle.

President Obama’s State of the Union Address offered him the opportunity to hold up a beacon of policy that invests for the future while taking credible steps to control future deficits.

Speaking not long after Britain, in the process of making severe cuts in spending, reported a shrinking economy in the fourth quarter of 2010, Obama instead delivered a vague mix of un-costed investments and symbolic cuts in discretionary spending.

Good-bye credit crunch, Hello slog

Jan 25, 2011 14:04 UTC

If you have forgotten the credit crunch it appears you have company: U.S. banks are lending again.

Bank earnings reports and data from the Federal Reserve confirm that, at long last, banks are beginning to step up lending, a much-needed ingredient for a stronger and more sustainable recovery.

The good news is that lending is growing to commercial and industrial companies — exactly where you want to see growth if the U.S. is going to address its unsustainable dependence on domestic consumption. That’s good so far as it goes, but with a fragile euro and an undervalued yuan the upside is decidedly limited.

Much depends on, gulp, German consumer

Jan 13, 2011 13:10 UTC

If the euro is going to survive without a Depression, German consumers are going to have to behave in ways that are, well, distinctly un-German.

While attention is focused on the suffering that the euro zone debt debacle is inflicting on the weak and the political anger the costs of bailouts are engendering among the strong, it is important to understand that the belt-tightening won’t just be a Gaelic and Mediterranean phenomenon.

German consumers will (rightly) regard events as likely to increase their taxes while doing precious little for their incomes and job prospects. If they react to this like Americans and spend like there is no tomorrow, well then, perhaps the euro zone can handle the local recessions in the Austerity Provinces. If, on the other hand, Germans behave anything like the way they have in the past, they will save more and only increase spending marginally, if at all.

Icelandic mulishness wins the day

Dec 9, 2010 19:45 UTC

Iceland’s remarkable return to growth shows once again that in this crisis the best policy is often the one that will make international partners most angry.

Having been reviled and chastised when it refused to make good the outsize debts of its banks, Iceland this week capped a striking turnaround when it announced that its economy expanded by 1.2 percent in real terms in the most recent quarter, its first such rise in two years.

This is in stark contrast to Ireland, whose pliability and inability as a member of the euro zone to act unilaterally leaves it with a still crashing economy which must service ever more debt by making ever deeper cuts to public spending.

Pension savers get the boot

Nov 30, 2010 15:04 UTC

From Dublin to Paris to Budapest to inside those brown UPS trucks delivering holiday packages, it has been a tough few weeks for savers and retirees.

Moves by the Irish, French and Hungarian governments, and by the famous delivery company, showed that in the post-crisis world retirees, present and future, will be paying much of the price and taking on more of the risk.

This goes beyond merely cutting back on pension benefits, rising to actual appropriation of supposedly long-term retirement assets to help fund short term emergencies.

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