MacroScope

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.

“This projection would put the size of a united Korea in 2050 firmly on a par with, or in excess of, that of most G7 countries, except for the U.S.

Readers of Global Investing may be aware that there are investors who are already looking at North Korea’s potential.

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.

Gold to go

Automatic teller machines (ATMs) — 500 of them — dispensing pieces of gold will be available around Germany, Switzerland and Austria by the end of this year.

That at least is the plan of German precious metals online trading company TG-Gold-Super-Markt.de. The ATMs, to be located at airports, railway stations and shopping malls, are intended to accustom ordinary people to the idea of investing in a physical asset such as gold, the thinking goes.
 
Thomas Geissler, the company’s chief executive, said the gold ATMs might even improve relations between the sexes.
 
“I have yet to meet a woman who does not like a gift of gold. It’s better than flowers. Flowers are more expensive. They wilt and you (as a man) don’t get as many points at home as if you bring gold,” he said.
 
A prototype ATM on display for a one-day marketing test at the main railway station in Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital, did indeed reward your correspondent with a 1-gramme (0.0353 ounce) piece of gold.
 
It cost the equivalent of $42.25 — a 30 percent premium over the spot market price.

from Global Investing:

How to Spend It – for sovereign wealth funds

As dust settles and investor morale improves, sovereign wealth funds are slowly coming back to the market.


But they are not going to simply repeat what they've done in the past few years -- hunting bargains in everything from property to banks. They are likely to carefully balance out the temptation for higher returns and the need to invest in strategic assets which benefit their own economies.

The so-called "south-south" trade is set to gather pace, providing much-needed capital inflows to emerging markets.

from Global Investing:

Who gets the last laugh?

Public critisicm may be heating up against banking executives being rewarded with huge bonuses despite taking too much risk (especially ex Merill Lynch head John Thain who requested a bonus and spent $1,405 on a garbage pail during a $1.22 million renovation of his office).

However, there are smaller fish who are being rewarded after doing something similar -- taking too much risk and choosing the wrong bank in which to put their deposit. We're talking about those who deposited in the collapsed Icelandic bank Landsbanki.

Around 300,000 British savers had accounts worth some 4 billion pounds in Landsbanki's online savings provider Icesave, which offered competitive interest rates of up to 7-plus percent.

from Africa News blog:

A tale of two Africas

Good news and bad news for Africa from the latest take on global risks from the World Economic Forum. Not much danger for most of the continent, it says, from an asset bubble burst. That's the good. The bad, of course, is that this is because there are not many financial assets to bubble. In fact, it deems the overall exposure even to economic risks is small because African economies are not particularly tied in to global markets.

Actually, the report shows that there are two Africas. Mapped by their susceptibility for economic and asset bubble trouble, most African countries are bunched together in a low risk range. But another, smaller cluster, including Nigeria and South Africa, finds itself in much more peril and shares space on the WEF risk map with Western and Eastern Europe.

Good news, in a contradictory sort of way.

from Global Investing:

What a web we’ve woven

Thanks are due to the World Economic Forum for clearly  explaining the interlinked web of misery currently facing the world.  Make what you will of the details in the graphic below -- and if you can, please do let us know! -- but the overall impact really does spell it all out.

This Vonnegutesque cat's cradle, incidently, comes from the forum's new report, Global Risks 2009, released ahead of its annual meeting in Davos between January 28 and February 1. It shows an interlinked world facing a monumental series of interlinked risk, some of which  investors are having to confront for the first time.  Sheana Tambourgi, head of WEF's global risk network, explains the report in this video:

 

from Global Investing:

No black tulip bulbs, no black swans

The world has experienced many crises in the past.


In 1636, during the Dutch Tulip Bulb Bubble, the quest for a perfect black bulb had inflated the price of a black bulb by many hundreds. In a different crisis in 1866, a London wholesale bank Overend, Gurney & Co collapsed with a massive debt, after expanding its investment portfolio beyond its means.

What is common in these events and the present crisis is that investors borrowed and levered themselves, and the eventual bubble burst prompted massive deleveraging and contagion, according to Julian Chillingworth, chief investment officer at London-based asset management firm Rathbones (established in 1742 – 22 years after the South Sea Bubble).

“It’s greed, it’s fear and it’s leverage,” Chillingworth told a group of journalists at a breakfast briefing. He says all the risky and highly leveraged assets were dressed up with “pseudo finance” and the likelihood of contagion and volatility was characterised as a “black swan” event – originally a metaphor for something that could not exist.

from Davos Notebook:

Bankers – Ever thought about working for Big Pharma?

    Are you an out-of-work banker looking for a new job with
some stability? Considered the drugs industry?

    Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Swiss pharmaceuticals
company Novartis, reckons his sector is a pretty good place
to work when compared to "mercenary" banking.

    "We are not in a banking industry, where they fire a
thousand investment bankers
and then a year after they hire
a thousand investment bankers," Vasella told Reuters.