MacroScope

from Global Investing:

A shoe, a song and the promise of the West

I found myself at Selfridges this week, specifically in what the London retailer says is the world's largest shoe department.

Slightly dazed by cornucopia of women's shoes on slick display, I was roused only when the haze of muzak wafting over the PA system was suddenly dispersed by the jaunty strains of the Chinese New Year ditty 'Gongxi Gongxi'.

A 1946 composition from Shanghai, the song has gone from classic to kitsch, evolving to become the most popular festive song in the Chinese-speaking world. Its ubiquity rests on the many -- for me at least -- teeth-grindingly cloying versions played all over shops and markets in Asia. (Click here for example and don't say I didn't warn you)

I was somewhat surprised by the song's appearance in the British retail icon -- not least because it's still some ways off the Year of the Dragon. But then looking at the shoppers around me it all made sense.

Mainland Chinese travellers spent some £200 million on Bond Street last year. That's a 155 percent surge from 2009, according to an association of luxury retailers in the London thoroughfare.

from Global Investing:

Emerging consumers’ pain to spell gains for stocks in staples

Food and electricity bills are high. The cost of filling up at the petrol station isn't coming down much either. The U.S. economy is in trouble and suddenly the job isn't as secure as it seemed. Maybe that designer handbag and new car aren't such good ideas after all.

That's the kind of decision millions of middle class consumers in developing countries are facing these days. That's bad news for purveyors of everything from jeans to iphones  who have enjoyed double-digit profits thanks to booming sales in emerging markets.

Brazil is the best example of how emerging market consumers are tightening their belts. Thanks to their spending splurge earlier this decade, Brazilian consumers on average see a quarter of their income disappear these days on debt repayments. People's credit card bills can carry interest rates of up to 45 percent. The central bank is so worried about the growth outlook it stunned markets with a cut in interest rates this week even though inflation is running well above target

from Nick Vinocur:

Negative rates: why not?

Here’s a tip for anyone curious to know where the next generation of monetary policy tools is being dreamt up: Look north.

Sweden’s central bank – which brought us the world’s first official negative rate in July – took another swipe at economic groupthink this week in a paper that argued against a core principle of interest rate theory.

To wit: that savers would rather stuff cash under the mattress than place it in a loss-making bank account.

from Global Investing:

Another nail in the Malthusian coffin?

All the talk of addressing the global imbalances throws a spotlight on contrasting demographic trends in the world's two most populous nations -- China and India.

Prior to the financial crisis, India's annual growth rate of about 9 percent seemed positively moribund next to China's double-digit economic expansion. But purely on demographics, the dimming power of the US consumer could give India an edge over its neighbour in the longer run.

That's what India's trade minister Anand Sharma seemed to suggest last week when he reminded the audience at a London conference that the country had "20 percent of the world's children":

from Global Investing:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

APPETITE TO CHASE? 
- Equity bulls have managed to retain the upper hand so far and the MSCI world index is up almost 50 percent from its March lows. However, earnings may need to show signs of rebounding for the rally's momentum to be sustained. Even those looking for further equity gains think the rise in stock prices will lag that in earnings once the earnings recovery gets underway, as was the case in past cycles. The symmetry/asymmetry of market reaction to data this week -- as much from China as from the major developed economies -- will show how much appetite there is to keep chasing the rally higher. 

TAKING CONSUMERS' PULSE 
- A better picture of the health of the consumer will emerge this week as U.S. retailers' earnings coincides with the release of U.S. July retail sales data and the UK BRC retail survey comes out on the other side of the Atlantic. With joblessness still rising, the reports will show how willing households are to spend and whether deep discounts, which eat into retailers' profit margins, are the only thing that will tempt them to shop -- both key issues for the macroeconomic and corporate outlook. 

CENTRAL BANK WATCH 
- After last week's Bank of England surprise, all eyes turn to what sort of signals the U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan will send on the outlook for their respective economies and QE programmes. After the BOE's expansion of its QE programme the short sterling strip repriced how soon UK rates would rise. But the broader trend recently in the U.S., euro zone and the UK has been to discount rate rises in 2010 -- and possibly as soon as this year in Australia. Benchmark interbank euro rates have risen for the first time in two months, and central bankers everywhere, including China, face the delicate balancing act of managing monetary tightening expectations in the months ahead. 

Crouching Buyer, Hidden Bargain

The terrible U.S. retail sales  racked up in December — called a “horror show” by ING — were all the more gruesome because of the sales on offer to customers in the run up to Christmas. Shops weren’t exactly giving things away, but their generosity knew few bounds.

Consider the experience of one visitor to a heaving handbag department in a Maryland Macy’s.
 
    Customer: “I would like to buy this handbag please. Oh dear, it appears to be the only one that is not on sale.”
    Salesman: “So it is. Tell you what, sir, I’ll give you 15 percent off anyway.”

Happy customer, happy new handbag recipient, unhappy sales figures.