MacroScope

Banking on a Portuguese bailout?

portgualprotest.jpgReuters polls of economists over the last few weeks have come up with some pretty firm conclusions about both Ireland and Portugal needing a bailout from the European Union.

Portuguese 10-year government bond yields have hovered stubbornly above 7 percent since the Irish bailout announcement, hitting a euro-lifetime high and giving ammunition to those who say Lisbon will be forced into a bailout.

And of those who hold that view, it’s clear that bank economists have been most vocal in expecting Ireland and Portugal to seek outside help.

Take last week’s poll in which economists said Portugal would follow Ireland in applying for EU funds. Bank-based economists who expected a Portuguese bailout outnumbered those who didn’t almost three-to-one. For non-bank economists – those working at research houses, brokers and wealth management firms – the margin was only two-to-one.

This division was even more marked in the Irish bailout poll we ran three weeks ago. Bank-based economists expecting an Irish bailout outnumbered those who didn’t more than two-to-one. Our sample of non-bank economists were split almost evenly on the subject.

from Global Investing:

Solar activities and market cycles

Can nature's cycles enrich our finance and market theories?

Market predictions based on the alignment of the sun, moon and the earth and other cycles could help investors stay disciplined and profit in economic storms, says Daniel Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management.

SPACE/SUN

Shaffer writes that sunspot activities show that the sun has an approximate 11-year cycle and as of March 31, 2009, sunspot activity has reached a 100-year low (this, interestingly, coincides with a cycle low in equity markets, reached sometime mid-March in 2009).

But a low in solar activity seems to be followed by a high. Scientists are predicting a solar maximum of activity in sunspots in 2012 that could e the strongest in modern times, according to Shaffer.

from Global Investing:

Bad economic data, please

Interesting twist at the moment - how are financial markets going to view not-so-bad or good data out of the United States in the run-up to the next Federal Reserve meeting.

Investors have been pricing in a chunky operation by the Fed to feed the markets with cheap cash – look at the gold, silver, the Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar. Bad data from the United States will keep investors confident of such Fed action and support the flows into high yielding assets.

But any data showing the pace of recovery in the world’s largest economy is not in such a bad shape. Investors will adjust their expectations and positions, causing a sell-off in equities, speculative-grade credit and high-yielding currencies.

The end of capitalism

Hard to imagine with financial markets still buoyant and newspapers full of tales of bonus greed, but there is still the possibility that captialism will end.  At least there is according to prestigious investment consultants Watson Wyatt in their latest study called “Extreme Risks“.

The firm listed the demise of the system of private ownership as one of 15 threats to investors and the global economy that probably won’t happen but which it reckons are worth worrying about anyway. The idea behind the report is that such things as climate change, the break up of the euro zone and war are always worth being included in an investment risk management process.

As for the future of capitalism:

In our view, the most likely scenario is moving along from one end of a spectrum where market is king (minimum regulation) towards the other end, where we could see more onerous regulations and government intervention in, and control of, the economy. The extreme risk, however, is the demise of the capitalist system and the end of the market as the primary means of resource allocation.

Former Head of U.S. Mint Goes for Gold

You know the American dollar is in trouble when… 
There is plenty of discussion about the fate of the U.S. greenback these days, what with multi-trillion dollar rescues still flowing through the financial system. But dollar bulls might feel just a little trepidation to see Jay Johnson, former head of the U.S. mint — the folks that print the stuff — become a spokesperson for gold. Johnson actually passed away last month, but he can still be seen on TV infomercials, singing gold’s praises.  

Gold this week rallied to a new record high above $1100 an ounce, even as the dollar sank to a 15-month low against a basket of major currencies. 

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said this week he was mindful of the possibility that the central bank’s pledge to keep interest rates at rock-bottom lows for an “extended period” might be fueling the carry trade. That’s when investors use a “cheap” low-yielding currency to fund trades on riskier assets with loftier returns.

Africa alone

The good news for Africa when the global financial meltdown began was that its financial markets were generally so far behind the rest of the world that groups such as the World Economic Forum reckoned that there was little or no danger. A new paper, posted on the economic research website VoxEU, suggests that that might be a bit too optimistic.

Tilburg University economist and former World Bank official Thorsten Beck – along with the World Bank’s Michael Fuchs and Marilou Uy —  write that despite shallow financial markets, sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to escape the repercussions of the financial crisis.

Indeed, they argue that the crisis is threatening what little progress has been made to reverse what they call the alarming superficiality of African finance.

from Global Investing:

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

VALUATIONS
- The MSCI world stocks index has rebounded 37 percent since March, the VIX fear gauge has hit its lowest level since September 2008, and positive earnings surprises in Europe are marginally outstripping negative ones. But there are serious questions over the equity market's ability to sustain its rise.

MACRO SIGNALS
- Trade data from the U.S., Canada and the UK, all out in this week, will be combed for signs of any recovery in global commerce. Also due are flash GDP data from the euro zone, industry output for the U.S., France, Italy, the euro zone and the UK, and Japan machinery orders.  
  
QUANTITATIVE EASING
- The ECB has finally shown willingness to deploy unconventional easing measures but it's hard to judge the success of such steps. Narrowing credit spreads, stock markets' bounce and gains in emerging market assets all show efforts to restore confidence in the financial system are having an effect. But if getting and keeping bond yields down is the yardstick for success, it's unfortunate that 10-year UK and U.S. government bond yields are back up to levels seen before the announcement of quantitative easing in those countries. And diminishing returns on further balance sheet expansion raise questions over how much more money central banks can print before inflation fears start to preoccupy policymakers and markets.
  
COMMODITIES
- Confusion over the reasons for the commodities rally has reduced the usefulness of commodities prices as indicators of the industrial outlook. An apparent economic recovery in China has helped to boost the CRB commodities index by 21 percent from February's lows. But how much does the rise reflect a change in supply/demand for commodities, and how much is it simply due to idle money flooding back to unstable markets? Similarly, why has spot gold remained strong above $900 as jitters over the financial system decrease? Gold could be reflecting expectations that recovering economies will boost physical demand for the metal, but it may also be responding to fears of currency debasement after central banks' radical monetary easing.

EMERGING MARKETS 
- Rising commodity prices and an easing dollar have offered a perfect environment to re-enter emerging markets. The coming week's  EBRD meeting will focus attention on central and eastern Europe and how it is coping with a nasty period of refinancing (albeit less dire than the IMF initially estimated).

Springing back to life

The steady stream of less-bad-than-expected economic data has evidently been working as a builder of optimism. Confidence in improved economies and financlal market conditions is growing.

One of the biggest surprises has been Germany’s ZEW economic sentiment survey — which polls analysts and economists in Europe’s largest economy. Not only did the index jump this month, it entered positive territory for the first time since July 2007. That was before the credit crisis hit.

U.S. financial services firm State Street also reports that the mood among institutional investors in North America, Europe and Asia is at a nine month high. The main point about this survey is that it is extraplolated from the actual buying and selling patterns within $12 trillion that State Street holds for investors as a custodian.

Meet Macroscope …

The financial system is in the grips of its most violent
upheaval since the 1930s. A staggering amount of wealth has been
destroyed this year — $11 trillion wiped out from world stock
markets in the past nine months. The damage already is spilling
into the real economy, and fears are spreading among investors
of a deep and damaging downturn.

Macroscope is a new blog where Reuters journalists from
around the world look behind the headlines, the speeches and the
economic reports to bring you a fresh look at the factors
driving the world economy, and the people making the decisions that affect
your household budget.

It will look at the policymakers who are ripping up the rule books
in a desperate search for ways to get cash pumping through the seized-up money markets,
stabilise banks, revive stock markets and prevent the credit
crisis from turning an economic downturn in the United States
and Europe into a deeply damaging global recession.