MacroScope

from Global Investing:

What’s on your reading list?

If anyone needed a reminder that Christmas and NewYear holidays are almost here, Societe Generale has provided it. Analyst Dylan Grice has picked up the mantle of the departed James Montier to offer a seasonal reading list for those with a fixation about investment and economics.

True, some people might prefer to immerse themselves in a rollicking sea tale from Patrick O'Brian or a good old  Sookie Stackhouse vampire mystery. But we know that Reuters blogs' readers are a discriminating lot with a keen understanding of and passion for finance. So here is Dylan's list of six must-reads:

1. Manias, Panics and Crashes, by Charles P. Kindleberger;
2. The Essays of Warren Buffet, edited by Richard Cunningham;
3. Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, by Edwin Lefevre;
4. Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Taleb;
5. The Case against the Fed, by Murray Rothbard;
6. Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, eds Kahneman, Slovic and
Tversky.

So what is your reading list? Tell us what you would include  and why.

from Global Investing:

What worries the BRICs

Some fascinating data about the growing power of emerging markets, particularly the BRICs, was on display at the OECD's annual investment conference in Paris this week. Not the least of it came from MIGA, the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which tries to help protect foreign direct investors from various forms of political risk.

MIGA has mainly focused on encouraging investment into developing countries, but a lot of its latest work is about investment from emerging economies.

This has been exploding over the past decade. Net outward investment from developing countries reached $198 billion in 2008 from around $20 billion in 2000. The 2008 figure was only 10.8 percent of global FDI, but it was just 1.4 percent in 2000.

from Global Investing:

Time to kick Russia out of the BRICs?

It may end up sounding like a famous ball-point pen maker, but an argument is being made that Goldman Sach's famous marketing device, the BRICs, should really be the BICs. Does Russia really deserve to be a BRIC, asks Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an article for Foreign Policy.

Åslund, who is also co-author with Andrew Kuchins of "The Russian Balance Sheet", reckons the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is just not worthy of inclusion alongside Brazil, India and China  in the list of blue-chip economic powerhouses. He writes:

The country's economic performance has plummeted to such a dismal level that one must ask whether it is entitled to have any say at all on the global economy, compared with the other, more functional members of its cohort.

Big ambition for Equatorial Guinea

This week has seen a rush of key policymakers and business executives from Africa flocking to London. Apart from Sierra Leone, oil and gas executives have been discussing the outlook for Equatorial Guinea, a small central African state rich in oil.

Equatorial Guinea made a relatively rare foray into the global news earlier this month for a presidential pardon of  former British army officer Simon Mann, who was serving a 34-year prison sentence in the country for his role in a failed coup d’etat in 2004.

Gabriel Obiang Lima, vice minister of mines, industry and energy, was in London to talk about his ambition for the country. “Our aim is not to be the Kuwait of the region. It’s to be the Singapore of the region,” he told dozens of business executives in a conference in London on Wednesday.

from Global Investing:

Pity Poor Pound

Britain's pound has long been the whipping boy of notoriously fickle currency markets, but there are worrying signs that it's not just hedge funds and speculators who have lost faith in sterling. Reuters FX columnist Neal Kimberley neatly illustrated yesterday just how poor sentiment toward sterling in the dealing rooms has become and the graphic below (on the sharp buildup of speculative 'short' positsions seen in U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data) shows how deeply that negative view has become entrenched.              

 While the pound's inexorable grind down to parity with the euro captures the popular headlines, the Bank of England's index of sterling against a trade-weighted basket of world currencies shows that weakness is pervasive. The index has lost more than a quarter of its value in little over two years -- by far the worst of the G4 (dollar, euro, sterling and yen) currencies over the financial crisis. The dollar's equivalent index has shed only about a third of the pound's losses since mid-2007, while the euro's has jumped about 10% and the yen's approximately 20% over that period.

There's no shortage of negatives -- Britain's deep recession, recent housing bust, near zero interest rates and money printing, soaring government budget deficit (forecast at more than 12% pf GDP next year, it's the highest of the G20) and looming general election in early 2010. In the relative world of currency traders, not all of these are necessarily bad for the pound -- the country is emerging tentatively from recession, the dominant financial services sector is recovering rapidly and  short-term interest rates (3-month Libor at least) do offer better returns than the dollar, yen, Swiss franc or Canadian dollar. 

SWFs by the Caspian

The world’s leading sovereign wealth funds are gathering in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, for a two-day inaugural meeting which ends on Friday.

A year after adopting the Santiago Principles of best practice guidelines, they are meeting next to the Caspian sea to review investment activities and assess how regulation and efforts to open up are helping them gain wider acceptance in a still-sceptical world.

The participants include SWFs from China, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Australia, Libya, Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand. The meeting is hosted by the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan – which made a record (and rare for SWFs) profit last year thanks to a conservative investment strategy.  The $11-billion fund, which made a record profit of around $300 million, or 3.7-3.8 percent in 2008, has said it wants to add riskier assets back onto the portfolio gradually.

from Global Investing:

Sustainable investing and SWFs

Government-owned institutions are becoming big drivers of sustainable investing -- or buying firms which are socially and environmentally responsible, or sectors which tackle climate change or resource scarcity.

Norway's $400-billion-plus sovereign wealth fund, which is the world's second largest, is a big advocate of "green" investing, naming and shaming companies which do not fit the investment guidelines set by the government.

The guidelines rule out holding investments in certain firms,  for instance those that produce nuclear arms or cluster munitions, or that damage the environment or abuse human rights.

United Korea: bigger than Japan?

North Korea, one of former President George Bush’s “axis of evil” countries and one of the few remaining Stalinist states, deserves to be re-evaluated given the prospect of a power succession and the changing economic landscape in the region, according to Goldman Sachs.

Apart from the robust military establishment (absorbing at least 20-30% of GDP vs 3% of GDP in South Korea),  Goldman says North Korea has large untapped potential, including rich human capital, abundant mineral resources (valued at around 140 times 2008 GDP) and significant room for productivity gains.

“We project that the GDP of a united Korea in dollar terms could exceed that of France, Germany and possibly Japan in 30-40 years, should the growth potential of North Korea, notably its rich mineral wealth, be realised,” the bank’s economist Goohoon Kwon says in a paper.

Sovereign wealth and transparency

It was less than two years ago that French President Nicholas Sarkozy hit out at sovereign wealth funds, saying “We’ve decided not to let ourselves be sold down the river by speculative funds, by unscrupulous attitudes which do not meet the transparency criteria one is entitled to expect in a civilised world. It’s unacceptable and we have decided not to accept it.”

Now Western politicians have got what they wanted. SWFs have formed a working group, set out best practices under the Santiago Principles, started to meet regularly, and many of them are publishing performance reports (see examples of Mubadala, Temasek, and CIC)  – all helping to enhance transparency in the often opaque industry.

But too much transparency might not be all good. As discussed here, pressure to open up and prove their performance to the general public might lead them to prefer instruments which are certain to give returns — such as fixed income securities, rather than equity stake building that may take years to yield fruit.

Running out of resources

Oil prices are more than double the December-February troughs and commodity prices generally are going up as the market cheers signs of an economic recovery.

Jeremy Grantham, chairman of U.S.-based money monager GMO, warns that the world is running out of resources in the long run yet is not correctly pricing the fact.

“We are simply running out of everything at a dangerous rate… As we move through our remarkable and irreplaceable hydrocarbon reserves, the price will, of course, rise remorselessly to ration supplies. We need, it seems, the shock of a Pearl Harbor to really gear up and make sacrifices,” he says.