Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
Forget Ali – Frazier; ignore Santelli – Liesman; dismiss Yankees – Red Sox; never mind Silva – Sonnen; the new undisputed standard by which all showdowns will be judged happened in Spain over the weekend. During a debate on Europe’s crisis, Pedro Schwartz (a mild-mannered Spanish ‘Austrian’ economics professor) took on the heavyweight Paul ‘I coulda been a Fed Chair contender’ Krugman, and – in our humble opinion – wiped the floor with his Keynesian philosophy. From the medicinal use of more debt to fix too much debt, to the Japanization of world economies and the demand-side bias of every- and any-thing – interested only in the short-term economic growth; the gentlemanly Spaniard notes, with regard to the European crisis, the fact that “Keynesians got us into this mess and now we have to sacrifice our principals so that they can get us out of this mess”. Humble and generous in his praise – though definitively serious with his criticism – Schwartz opines: “Often Nobel prize winners are tempted to pontificate on matters that are outside the specialty in which they have excelled,” noting “the mantle of authority whereby what ever they say – whether sensible or not – is accepted with resignation from some and enthusiasm by others.” Krugman’s red-faced anger is evident at the conclusion as he even refused to shake Schwartz’s hand after the debate.
For 15 minutes of both education and entertainment – this is as good as it gets…
- Starting from around 35:00 the Spanish professor praises and criticizes in a thoughtful and gentle tone
- At around 39:00, he addresses the demand-side description of the world
- Krugman’s less-than-happy response (which sparks quite a rowdy argument) begins around 48:20
(h/t Jean Luis Martin of the Truman Factor)
Tags: Austrian Economics, Bias, Contender, Economic Growth, Economics Professor, Frazier, Gentle Tone, Japanization, Keynesians, Krugman, Mantle, Nobel Prize Winners, Opines, Pedro Schwartz, Principals, Red Sox, Resignation, Spanish Professor, Truman, World Economies
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Monday, July 9th, 2012
Among other things, the Libor scandal is the largest insider trading scandal of all time.
UC Berkeley economics professor and former Secretary of Labor – Robert Reich – explains today:
What’s the most basic service banks provide? Borrow money and lend it out. You put your savings in a bank to hold in trust, and the bank agrees to pay you interest on it. Or you borrow money from the bank and you agree to pay the bank interest.
How is this interest rate determined? We trust that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that guess is based, in turn, on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand for the dough.
But suppose our assumption is wrong. Suppose the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money you lend or repay them – bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting, which they’re not sharing with you.
That would be a mammoth violation of public trust. And it would amount to a rip-off of almost cosmic proportion – trillions of dollars that you and I and other average people would otherwise have received or saved on our lending and borrowing that have been going instead to the bankers. It would make the other abuses of trust we’ve witnessed look like child’s play by comparison.
Sad to say, there’s reason to believe this has been going on, or something very much like it. This is what the emerging scandal over “Libor” (short for “London interbank offered rate”) is all about.
This is insider trading on a gigantic scale. It makes the bankers winners and the rest of us – whose money they’ve used for to make their bets – losers and chumps.
The fact that the big banks have committed insider trading on their core function – setting rates based upon market demand for loans – is particularly damning given that traditional deposits and loans have become such a small part of their business. As we noted last week:
- The big banks no longer do very much traditional banking. Most of their business is from financial speculation. For example, less than 10% of Bank of America’s assets come from traditional banking deposits. Instead, they are mainly engaged in financial speculation and derivatives. (and see this)
- The big banks have slashed lending since they were bailed out by taxpayers … while smaller banks have increased lending. See this, this and this
- A huge portion of the banks’ profits comes from taxpayer bailouts. For example, 77% of JP Morgan’s net income comes from taxpayer subsidies
And Libor isn’t the only way in which the banks trade on inside information. As
Robert D. Auerbach – an economist with the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee for eleven years, assisting with oversight of the Federal Reserve, and nowy Professor of Public Affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin – provided points out:
Billions of dollars can be made from inside information leaks from the Fed’s monetary policy operations. One necessary step to stop leaks is to severely limit inside information on future Fed policy to a few Fed employees.
This has not happened. Congress received information in 1997 that non-Federal Reserve employees attended Federal Reserve meetings where inside information was discussed. Banking Committee Chairman/Ranking Member Henry B. Gonzalez (D, Texas) and Congressmen Maurice Hinchey (D, New York) asked Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan about the apparent leak of discount rate information. Greenspan admitted that non-Fed people including “central bankers from Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Russia” had attended Federal Reserve meetings where the Fed’s future interest rate policy was discussed. Greenspan’s letter (4/25/1997) contained a 23-page enclosure listing hundreds of employees at the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. and in the Federal Reserve Banks around the country who have access to at least some inside Fed policy information.
Senator Sanders also noted last October:
A new audit of the Federal Reserve released today detailed widespread conflicts of interest involving directors of its regional banks.
“The most powerful entity in the United States is riddled with conflicts of interest,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said after reviewing the Government Accountability Office report. The study required by a Sanders Amendment to last year’s Wall Street reform law examined Fed practices never before subjected to such independent, expert scrutiny.
The GAO detailed instance after instance of top executives of corporations and financial institutions using their influence as Federal Reserve directors to financially benefit their firms, and, in at least one instance, themselves. “Clearly it is unacceptable for so few people to wield so much unchecked power,” Sanders said. “Not only do they run the banks, they run the institutions that regulate the banks.”
The corporate affiliations of Fed directors from such banking and industry giants as General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, and Lehman Brothers pose “reputational risks” to the Federal Reserve System, the report said. Giving the banking industry the power to both elect and serve as Fed directors creates “an appearance of a conflict of interest,” the report added.
The 108-page report found that at least 18 specific current and former Fed board members were affiliated with banks and
companies that received emergency loans from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
[T]here are no restrictions in Fed rules on directors communicating concerns about their respective banks to the staff of the Federal Reserve. It also said many directors own stock or work directly for banks that are supervised and regulated by the Federal Reserve. The rules, which the Fed has kept secret, let directors tied to banks participate in decisions involving how much interest to charge financial institutions and how much credit to provide healthy banks and institutions in “hazardous” condition. Even when situations arise that run afoul of Fed’s conflict rules and waivers are granted, the GAO said the waivers are kept hidden from the public.
Whether you want to call it crony capitalism, socialism or fascism, one thing is for sure … this ain’t capitalism.
Postscript: Reich says that the only solution is to break up the big banks and reinstate the laws which separate traditional banking from speculation.
Tags: Bank Interest, Banking System, Best Guess, Borrowers, Chum, Economics Professor, George Washington, Gigantic Scale, Insider Trading, Labor Robert Reich, Libor, London Interbank Offered Rate, Market Predictions, Public Trust, Rotten To The Core, Secretary Of Labor, Service Banks, Supply And Demand, Trillions, Uc Berkeley
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Thursday, June 30th, 2011
Tracing America’s “Too Big To Fail” Crisis: An Infographic
Most call it one of the biggest financial crises in living memory. Others call it one great big Ponzi scheme. Whatever you want to call it, a bunch of people lost a bunch of money and the world of high finance may never be the same. But don’t worry – that doesn’t mean that we’ve fixed all these problems or punished the people responsible. It just means that next time you can’t get a loan or a higher credit limit, the banks will have an excuse.
Our “most unwanted” list includes guys like Martin Feldstein. He was an economics professor at a little school called Harvard (maybe you’ve heard of it) and served as Ronald Reagan’s Chief Economic Advisor. He was a major architect in Reagan’s deregulation scheme (which is either the best thing ever in the world to some political views, or the worst thing in the world to others).
Alan Greenspan is also responsible, some believe. He was paid $40,000 to testify on behalf of extreme bank looter Charles Keating. Greenspan spoke of his “sound business plans” and “expertise.” Of course, these kind words didn’t come for free.
Robert Rubin was the Treasury Secretary and also a former CEO of Goldman Sachs. He teamed with Larry Summers to get Congress to pass the “Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.” Whatever that did, he went and used it to make $126 million as Vice Chairman of CitiGroup.
Last up is Larry Summers, who also served as Treasury Secretary. Another Harvard economics professor (not looking good for that place). He was another key player in deregulation and also helped create derivatives, the trading of which was a major contributing factor to the financial collapse.
Companies and Their (Illegal) Activities
With all the time giant financial corporations spend doing shady and downright illegal things, it’s a wonder that they have any time left to do…whatever it is that they are actually supposed to do. Let’s take a look at some notable post-deregulation antics of those wacky corporations:
JP Morgan: Bribed government officials
Riggs: Laundered money for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (a military leader – for those who don’t know – who led a coup in Chile and was said to have brutally crushed, killed, and interred all who opposed his illegal regime)
Credit Suisse: Laundered money for Iran in violation of US sanctions
Freddie Mac: Accounting fraud
Fannie Mae: Accounting fraud (which, in this case, means overstating their earnings by 10 billion over ten years, which is NOT the same as slightly exaggerating your salary to impress someone at the bar)
ENRON: Fraud – Citibank, JP Morgan, and Merrill Lynch tried to help conceal the fraud
Of course, this is just the beginning. Review the infographic to see how, exactly, the economic crisis of 2008 occurred and you be the judge: who’s to blame? Are we out of the dark yet? And are we making the right choices now?
The views and opinions expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of AdvisorAnalyst.com
Tags: Alan Greenspan, Biggest Financial Crises, Charles Keating, Economic Advisor, Economics Professor, Financial Collapse, Financial Corporations, Goldman Sachs, Gramm Leach Bliley, Gramm Leach Bliley Act, Harvard Economics, High Finance, Infographic, Larry Summers, Living Memory, Martin Feldstein, Ponzi Scheme, Ronald Reagan, Sound Business Plans, Treasury Secretary
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Sunday, April 3rd, 2011
Paul Vieira of the National Post reports, Canada’s demographic time bomb (HT: Gary):
Lost in the political drama over the 2011 federal budget was a spending line item that starkly illustrates the fiscal squeeze posed by the aging population — an issue yet to be addressed during the 41st election campaign.
As laid out in the budget, government spending on elderly benefits is set to surge 30% from 2010-11 levels to 2015-16, with annual increases of between 4.9% and 5.8%, well above projected rates of Canadian economic growth.
Dig a bit deeper and the fiscal noose around Ottawa gets tighter. During the next five years it is expected the federal government, of whichever political stripe, will need to find an extra $2-billion each year either through program cuts or tax increases to finance payments through the Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement schemes. From 2015 to 2020, that figure climbs to $3-billion each and every year.
“That money has to come from somewhere,” says Kevin Milligan, economics professor at University of British Columbia, who did the shortfall calculations based on actuarial reports compiled by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.
But there has been little talk about this during the first week of the campaign. Instead, Canadians have been promised roughly $4-billion in annual goodies through income splitting, education and day care.
“By emptying the fridge with all of these current promises, it is going to make it harder for any future finance minister,” Prof. Milligan says.
The aging population is among the big issues that policymakers must confront, as the labour force shrinks, income tax receipts slow, and the pressure builds on governments to fund health care and benefits for the elderly who are living longer and longer. From here on, analysts warn, the government’s budget-making process will incorporate annual program and spending reviews, such as the one proposed in the 2011 federal budget, to find the needed money to pay for the rising price tag for elderly benefits, drugs and doctors. Program cuts, privatizations and outsourcing of back-office operations are all likely to be on the table.
That’s just the beginning. There’s also the issue of unfunded pension and benefits liabilities governments face from the wave of retiring Baby Boomers from the public service. The C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto think-tank, has warned the unfunded liability in the pension plan for federal public-service workers is actually $65-billion larger than what Ottawa has accounted for on its books.
Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, said the demographic shift represents a “game changer” for the Canadian economy, much like the soaring loonie has altered the industrial landscape, forcing companies that survive to ramp up capital spending and adjust production.
The greying of Canada means the country will go from a position of surplus labour to labour shortage.
“There is a huge debate coming,” Mr. Hodgson says. “Provincial governments are a little bit ahead of the game as they can see the consequences for health care. But at the federal level it hasn’t become an issue yet — but it is going to have to.”
He cited aggressive moves by Quebec, from spending cuts to a two-percentage-point jump in its provincial sales tax, aimed at balancing the budget in just over two years — faster than what the federal government is proposing. Demographics are a factor driving Quebec’s policy decisions, as projections indicate the province will be among the oldest in the industrialized world, with people 65 and older making up more than 25% of the population by 2031.
“Quebec knows that a revenue crunch is coming,” Mr. Hodgson said. “So now is the time to get back to balance because, if you don’t do it now, the province is going to be hard pressed to do it down the road.”
Under population scenarios developed by Statistics Canada, the Canadian population could exceed 40 million by 2036, with aging projected to “accelerate rapidly” as the entire Baby Boom generation turns 65 in this time frame. The data agency also warned that the number of senior citizens could more than double by 2031, outnumbering children for the first time.
In economic terms, this means slower potential economic growth in the years ahead, which will ultimately translate into slower growth in tax revenue for Ottawa — just as the provinces demand more in transfers to finance an already stretched health-care regime that has to tend to an increased elderly population.
Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget watchdog, has projected the economy’s potential output — the level of goods and services the economy can produce without triggering inflation pressures — will drop to 1.3% by 2020 from 2.1% in 2010 and 3.7% in 2000.
He has cited demographics as a key factor in sticking to his forecast for a $10-billion deficit in 2015, whereas Jim Flaherty, the Minister of Finance, expects a surplus.
In a paper published for Policy Options magazine, Christopher Ragan, economics professor at McGill University, said the Baby Boomers’ exit from the labour force would pose a “significant drag” on growth. Given population trends and assuming productivity growth of 1% to 2% a year, real GDP per capita is set to grow only 1% annually over the next three decades — half the pace recorded in the previous 40 years.
Such a scenario may explain why Bank of Canada officials, led by governor Mark Carney, have urged policymakers and the private sector to confront the country’s “abysmal” productivity record.
“The implications for government tax revenue are clear: in the absence of changes to the governments’ various tax rates, the slowing of the growth in per-capita income will lead to a slowing of Canadian governments’ per-capita tax revenue,” Mr. Ragan said.
Slowing revenue, meanwhile, is on a collision course with increased expenditures on health care and elderly benefits. Mr. Ragan’s calculates the increase in those costs between 2020 and 2040 as people age will be equivalent to 3.5% of Canada’s GDP on an annual basis — or $56-billion in today’s economy, or more than 10% of federal and provincial spending, combined.
“As population aging drives the increase in age-related spending, provinces will demand greater financial transfers from the federal government,” Mr. Ragan said. “Based on the past experience, these heightened demands will create significant political tensions, the resolution of which will depend on the personalities and the political landscape in the place at the time.”
That political battle will take shape when the federal government and the provinces, which are responsible for delivering medical services, begin renegotiating the health-care transfer deal that expires in 2014. The Canada Health Transfer is the single largest expense item on the government books, accounting for $27-billion this fiscal year and more than $30-billion by the time the federal-provincial deal runs out in 2014.
Under the last deal, negotiated in 2004, the provinces were guaranteed 6% annual increases in health transfers. The federal government has said there are no plans to cut transfer payments as part of its deficit-reduction effort, but experts suggest the increases in transfers may be limited to between 3% and 4%.
“What we have is a classic zero sum, in which the provinces, which are at the front-line of the demographic time bomb, will be seeking more money from the federal government, and the federal government seeking to reduce its liabilities,” said Joshua Hjartarson, policy director at the Mowat Centre, a Toronto think-tank.
His concern is that the future of health-care funding will garner little discussion on the election campaign, because of the difficult policy dilemma it raises. In addition, Mr. Hjartarson said, the political leaders may simply resort to the old debate about how much transfers should increase as opposed to looking at new and radical ideas to address the funding crunch that the aging population presents. Issues that should be up for discussion include possibly handing over a chunk of GST revenue to the provinces, and some form of “tax swap” that would give provinces additional capacity to raise revenue.
“It would be a shame if the election doesn’t begin to highlight the problems in the transfer system. If not, our heads are in the sands,” Mr. Hjartarson said.
Will the “greying of Canada” mean the country will suffer huge deficits as soon as 2015? I’m not so sure. When I read articles on “demographic time bombs,” I take them with a grain of salt. Why? First, more and more people are choosing to work past 65 years old. Why not? If they’re healthy enough to work, why retire early?
More importantly, it’s worth noting that Quebec’s recent budget introduced significant pension changes: larger penalties for workers who retire under age 65, but more generous pensions and tax breaks for those who continue working past that age (smart move). The province will also be hoping to collect from tax evaders. It has hired 1,000 more employees to crack down on such chronically problematic fields as illegal tobacco sales and the construction industry (when it comes to tax evasion, there are bigger fish to fry).
All this to say that while demographics will impact the country long-term, in the near-term, I’m more worried about bigger problems like Canada’s mortgage monster fueling the Canada bubble. When that pops — and it ultimately will burst — it will blow a massive hole in government revenues, forcing many Canadians to retire well past the age of 65.
Dan Braniff of CARP sent me these comments:
These scary numbers seem to ignore the reality that those over 50 hold 80% of the country’s wealth that is growing and subject to ever-increasing tax at all levels. Then there is the final tax of the estate.
The pundits seem to assume that seniors stop paying taxes, just using up air, food and water while blocking medical facilities and basking in government handouts.
At 80 I pay more tax than I ever did even in my final salary years.
How do these factors play in the projections of doom and gloom?
All excellent points that were not discussed in the article above.
Tags: Actuarial Reports, Aging Population, Canadian, Canadian Market, Demographic Time Bomb, Economics Professor, Elderly Benefits, Federal Budget, Fiscal Squeeze, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Income Splitting, Income Tax Receipts, Labour Force, Milligan, Next Five Years, Office Of The Superintendent, Office Of The Superintendent Of Financial Institutions, Old Age Security, Political Drama, Political Stripe, Superintendent Of Financial Institutions, University Of British Columbia
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Tuesday, March 16th, 2010
With the S&P 500 Index and a number of other benchmark stock market indices flirting with cycle highs, I will be monitoring things very closely over the next few days to see if the market’s overbought condition spells more downside potential than an expected consolidation. Or will the Index surprise us and fly trough the 1,151 area?
In addition to being overbought, the S&P 500 is also now expensively valued on a long-term cyclically adjusted PE (CAPE) basis, according to Robert Shiller, economics professor at Yale and author of, among others, Animal Spirits, Subprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance.
In order not to work with notoriously unreliable forward-looking earnings estimates, I have always preferred using Shiller’s CAPE methodology, or normalised earnings, as they average ten years of earnings. This measure provides a good picture of the market’s value regardless of where we are in the business cycle. I have therefore been updating a CAPE chart for a number of years. On this basis, the multiple has increased to 20.5 since the March low of 13.3, representing an overvaluation of 25.0% when compared to a long-term average of 16.4.
“Where breadth goes, the market usually follows,” goes an old market saying. Breadth indicators are useful tools to assess the inner workings of the market’s rallies or corrections, and are used to identify strength or weakness behind market moves, i.e. to assess how the bulls and the bears are exerting themselves.
One such measure is net new highs, calculated by subtracting the number of new 52-week lows from the number of new 52-week highs (see top pane in the chart below). This indicator often peaks before the price index, as was the case in November. It has also been falling sharply over the past few days. Is this again a precursor to a lower S&P 500 (bottom pane)?
I stand by my summary in my Words from the Wise review on Sunday: Although the fat lady has not yet made her appearance to signal the end of the bull cycle, the steepness of the nascent rally, together with resistance in the area of the January highs, could result in stock markets consolidating in order to work off a short-term overbought condition. On the fundamental front, tighter money does not necessarily spell a declining stock market, but turning off the “juice” will certainly remove a tailwind, making earnings growth the key determinant for generating further gains (especially in light of stretched valuations).
Tags: 52 Week Highs, 52 Week Lows, Animal Spirits, Bottom Pane, Breadth, Business Cycle, Earnings Estimates, Economics Professor, Inner Workings, Irrational Exuberance, Market Moves, New 52 Week Highs, New 52 Week Lows, New Highs, Normalised, Price Index, Robert Shiller, Stock Market Indices, Stock Market Valuation, Term Basis
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Thursday, January 14th, 2010
Source: CNBC, January 12, 2010.
Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
With the S&P 500 Index after yesterday’s surge again slightly above the “neckline” (of the head-and-shoulders formation referred in a post last week), I will be monitoring things very closely over the next day or two to see if the impressive bounce was just a one-day wonder or something more enduring.
Meanwhile, the S&P 500 is now fairly valued on a long-term cyclically adjusted P/E (CAPE) basis, according to Robert Shiller (as reported by Yahoo Finance, Tech Ticker). Shiller is economics professor at Yale and author of, among others, Animal Spirits, Subprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance.
In order not to work with notoriously unreliable forward-looking earnings estimates, I have always preferred using Shiller’s CAPE methodology, or normalised earnings, as they average ten years of earnings. This measure provides a good picture of the market’s value regardless of where we are in the business cycle. I have therefore been updating a CAPE chart for a number of years. On this basis, the multiple increased to 15.8 during the March-May rally, representing “neutral” value when compared to a long-term average of 16.3.
According to Yahoo Finance, Tech Ticker, Shiller is skeptical of the “green shoots” viewpoint and is of the opinion that it would take a considerable period of time for the economy to return to normal growth. Although the stock market’s neutral valuation implies a long-term average return of 7%, he is not forecasting that outcome due to the “precarious state” of the economy that could stumble anew and cause stocks to “go down a lot”.
As mentioned in my “Words from the Wise” post on Sunday, the stock market technicals undoubtedly look ugly and investors will now focus on the second-quarter earnings reports as a test of whether stock prices have run away from fundamental reality. While investors wait for Mr Market to show his hand, a cautious approach is warranted, but that should not preclude one from finding stocks that look cheap.
Click on the image below to view Aaron Task’s interview with the famed professor.
Source: Yahoo Finance, Tech Ticker, July 10, 2009.
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Tags: Animal Spirits, Business Cycle, Cautious Approach, Earnings Estimates, Earnings Reports, Economics Professor, Fundamental Reality, Head And Shoulders, Irrational Exuberance, Methodology, Neckline, Normalised, Period Of Time, Precarious State, Robert Shiller, Second Quarter Earnings, Stock Market, Stock Prices, Viewpoint, Yahoo Finance
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Friday, February 6th, 2009
“Stimulus” and “fixing the banks” are the key words dominating this week’s batch of video clips.
Although the mood is decidedly gloomy, if not outright doom, good viewing material was produced. A few of the more interesting clips are shared below, with the likes of Robert Arnott (whose Reseach Affiliates is a business partner), Frederic Mishkin, Julian Robertson, Paul Volcker, Carl Icahn, Nouriel Roubini, Martin Wolf, Ron Paul and Jim Rogers in attendance.
In lighter vein, this week’s compilation kicks off with Stephen Colbert stimulating the psyche in his own unique way.
Colbert Nation: The audacity of nope
“If Republicans can’t have a perfect bill to stimulate the economy, they’d rather have no economy at all.”
Source: Stephen Colbert, Colbert Nation, January 29, 2009.
Morningstar: Arnott – where the investment opportunities are
Source: Morningstar, February 3, 2009.
Bloomberg: Interview with Oppenheimer’s Meredith Whitney
Source: Bloomberg (via YouTube), February 4, 2009.
Bloomberg: Mishkin says US must fix banks for stimulus to succeed
“Former Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin talks with Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hays about the need to ‘fix’ the US financial system for President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package to succeed. Mishkin, an economics professor at Columbia University, also discusses the outlook for the US economy, proposals to rescue banks and Fed policy.”
Source: Bloomberg, February 3, 2009.
CNBC: Julian Robertson – how to fix the banking mess
“Hedge fund legend Julian Robertson, chairman of Tiger Management, and David Roche, of Independent Strategy, discuss the best ways to fix the banking mess.”
Source: CNBC, January 30, 2009.
CNBC: Volcker on regulation
“Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker tells the Senate Banking Committee what he believes needs to be done to modernize the financial regulatory system.”
Source: CNBC, February 4, 2009.
CNBC: Obama & Geithner on executive compensation
“President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Getihner discuss executive compensation limits for TARP recipients.”
Source: CNBC, February 4, 2009.
CNBC: Icahn on Wall Street pay caps
“President Obama unveiled new rules to curb executive pay at companies that accepted TARP money. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn and the Fast Money traders discuss.”
Source: CNBC, February 5, 2009.
Bloomberg: Roubini says ECB “wrong”, rate cuts too little, too late
“Nouriel Roubini, professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, talks with Bloomberg’s Ellen Pinchuk about the global economy and European Central Bank monetary policy.”
Source: Bloomberg, February 4, 2009.
Charlie Rose: A conversation about the World Economic Forum with Martin Wolf
Source: Charlie Rose, February 2, 2009.
Financial Times: Chris Giles on the gloomiest Davos in memory
“FT economic editor Chris Giles explains the lessons from this year’s annual WEF meeting in Davos.”
Source: Financial Times, January, 2009.
CNBC: Odey’s Carn – recession gets global
“Every country is in the same boat with the ongoing global recession and all will be affected, Nick Carn from Odey Asset Management told CNBC Tuesday.”
Source: CNBC, February 3, 2009.
YouTube: Ron Paul at Mises Institute on “End the Fed”
Source: YouTube, January 24, 2009.
CNBC: Blackrock’s Bob Doll on sectors to invest in
Source: CNBC, February 2, 2009.
Bespoke: Bespoke’s Hickey on the January effect
Source: Bespoke, January 30, 2009.
CNBC: Dr. Doom – Asian markets pay you to wait
“Marc Faber, Editor of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report, feels that the US market at current levels isn’t cheap. Asian markets, on the other hand, are much more value for money – there are stocks that pay you to wait out the recession. He shares his thoughts with CNBC’s Martin Soong.”
Source: CNBC, February 6, 2009.
Financial Times: Lionel Barber profiles Wen Jiabao
Lionel Barber discusses his in-depth interview with Wen Jiabao, dubbed the “mandarins” mandarin. He looks at the Chinese premier’s disagreement with the US over the renminbi, and his plans to boost China’s consumer speding.
Source: Financial Times, February 2, 2009.
CNBC: More stimulus measures for China?
“Following comments from China’s premier Wen Jiabao that more stimulus measures may be needed to boost the economy, Glenn Maguire, Asia Pacific chief economist at Societe Generale tells CNBC’s Martin Soong China’s efforts have so far helped to stabilize some sectors.”
Source: CNBC, February 2, 2009.
Bloomberg: Rogers says Russia may break up
“Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings, talks with Bloomberg’s Ellen Pinchuk about the outlook for the Russian economy, the ruble and his investment strategy. Rogers, speaking in Moscow, also discusses the outlook for oil prices and emerging markets.”
Source: Bloomberg, February 5, 2009.
Tags: Asia Pacific, Asia Pacific chief economist, Barack Obama, Blackrock, Bloomberg, Bob Doll, Carl Icahn, chairman, Charlie Rose, Chief Economist, China, Chris Giles, Colbert Nation, Columbia University, David Roche, Davos, Doom, economic editor, Economic Stimulus Package, Economics Professor, editor, Ellen Pinchuk, European Central Bank, Executive, Financial Regulatory System, Financial Times, Frederic Mishkin, Geithner, Glenn Maguire, Governor, Independent Strategy, Jim Rogers, Julian Robertson, Kathleen Hays, Lionel Barber, Marc Faber, Martin Soong, Martin Wolf, Meredith Whitney, Mises Institute, Moscow, New York University, New York University’s Stern School of Business, Nick Carn, Nouriel Roubini, Odey Asset Management, Oil Prices, Paul Volcker, Premier, president, professor, Reseach Affiliates, Robert Arnott, Rogers Holdings, Ron Paul, Russia, S Meredith, Senate Banking Committee, Societe Generale, Stephen Colbert, The Gloom, Tiger Management, Tim Getihner, Treasury Secretary, United States, Us Federal Reserve, Wen Jiabao, World Economic Forum, Youtube
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Sunday, February 1st, 2009
“Words from the Wise” this week comes to you in a shortened format as pressure from my “day job” precludes me from doing my customary commentary. However, a full dose of excerpts from interesting news items and quotes from market commentators is provided. (For more discussion about economies and financial markets, also see my post “Video-o-rama: Global economy – banked into submission“.)
Just a side note: As President Obama’s economic stimulus package makes its way to the US Senate and the government crafts plans to create a “bad bank”, the Chinese celebrated the Lunar New Year to usher in the Year of the Ox. According to Jim Trippon (China Stock Digest), the Chinese believe good and bad follow each other closely.
After a year of financial meltdowns in 2008, it is comforting to learn that the Year of the Ox is a sign of prosperity and has been very rewarding in the history of China. Are we unnecessarily concerned about the economic slowdown in China, and will the country’s vast foreign reserves come to the Western world’s rescue? If only hope were an investment strategy!
Why does the cartoon below remind me of Margaret Thatcher’s poignant observation: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”?
Bill King (The King Report) said: “The Paradox of Thrift (or saving) is a reductio ad absurdum by John Maynard Keynes that avers that if everyone saves, aggregate demand will decline, and this will imperil the economy. We’d like to contribute the ‘Paradox of Spending’ to Econ 101. This maxim holds that if everyone spends, there are no savings; debt surges and the implosion of that debt collapses an economy.”
Next, a tag cloud of the text of all the articles I have read during the past week. This is a way of visualizing word frequencies at a glance. As the saying goes: A picture paints a thousand words …
The US stock markets experienced their worst January in history, as seen from the movements of the major indices: Dow Jones Industrial Index -8.8%, S&P 500 Index -8.6%, Nasdaq Composite Index -6.4% and Russell 2000 Index -11.2%. This brings into question the January Barometer, stating “As January goes, so goes the year”.
Key resistance and support levels for the US indices are shown in the table below. The immediate upside target is the 50-day moving average, followed by the early-January highs. On the downside, the December 1 and all-important November 20 lows must hold in order to prevent considerable technical damage. As seen from the table, the Dow has already breached its January 2 low and closed the week only marginally above the roundophobia number of 8,000.
As far as the outlook for the stock market is concerned, I will suffice with a comment from Richard Russell (Dow Theory Letters): “The stock market often tries to confuse us by coming up with something new. Assuming that the Averages do better than their preceding January peaks, it would have occurred without the usual heavy buying on rising volume. It may be that the January peaks will have to be bettered before the ‘real’ volume comes in. … we will have to monitor the stock market action carefully, to make sure we are not being sucked in to a fake rally as was the case following the 1929 crash.”
Source: Yahoo Finance, January 30, 2009.
In addition to interest rate announcements by the Bank of England and the European Central Bank (Thursday, February 5), the US economic highlights for the week include the following:
Source: Northern Trust.
Click here for a summary of Wachovia’s weekly economic and financial commentary.
The performance chart obtained from the Wall Street Journal Online shows how different global markets performed during the past week.
Source: Wall Street Journal Online, January 30, 2009.
Caution should be exercised, since the economic and earnings background remains precarious. And do remember Charles Darwin’s words: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
That’s the way it looks from Cape Town.
NBR: Warren Buffett one on one
SUSIE GHARIB, ANCHOR, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT: Are we overly optimistic about what President Obama can do?
WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: Well I think if you think that he can turn things around in a month or three months or six months and there’s going to be some magical transformation since he took office on the 20th that can’t happen and wouldn’t happen. So you don’t want to get into Superman-type expectations. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s anybody better than you could have had; have in the presidency than Barack Obama at this time. He understands economics. He’s a very smart guy. He’s a cool rational-type thinker. He will work with the right kind of people. So you’ve got the right person in the operating room, but it doesn’t mean the patient is going to leave the hospital tomorrow.
SG: Mr. Buffett, I know that you’re close to President Obama, what are you advising him?
WB: Well I’m not advising him really, but if I were I wouldn’t be able to talk about it. I am available any time. But he’s got all kinds of talent right back there with him in Washington. Plus he’s a talent himself so if I never contributed anything for him, fine.
SG: But I know that during the election that you were one of his economic advisors, what were you telling him?
WB: I was telling him business was going to be awful during the election period and that we were coming up in November to a terrible economic scene which would be even worse probably when he got inaugurated. So far I’ve been either lucky or right on that. But he’s got the right ideas. He believes in the same things I believe in. America’s best days are ahead and that we’ve got a great economic machine, its sputtering now. And he believes there could be a more equitable job done in distributing the rewards of this great machine. But he doesn’t need my advice on anything.
Click here for the full article.
Source: Susie Gharib, NBR, January 22, 2009.
CNN Money: House passes $819 billion stimulus bill
“The House on Wednesday evening passed an $819 billion economic stimulus package on a party-line vote, despite President Obama’s efforts to achieve bipartisan support for the bill.
“The final vote was 244 to 188. No Republicans voted for the bill, while 11 Democrats voted against it.
“The Senate is likely to take up the bill next week.
“‘I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk,’ Obama said in a statement after the vote. ‘We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do.’
“‘One week and one day ago, our new President delivered a great inaugural address … which I believe is a great blueprint for the future,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. ‘With swift and bold action today, we are doing just that – with this vote today, we are taking America in a new direction.’
“Next week, the full Senate will vote on its version, which differs in some significant ways from the House bill. The two chambers will then need to reconcile their differences before each vote on the final version. To pass the package in the Senate, Democrats will need 60 votes – meaning at least two Republicans.
“Congress has put the legislation on a fast track, as many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that swift action is needed to help pull the economy out of a deep recession. Both Democratic and Republican leaders have said they aim to get the bill to Obama’s desk for him to sign before lawmakers’ Presidents Day recess in mid-February.”
Source: David Goldman, CNN Money, January 28, 2009.
CEP News: US Government plans to set up “bad bank” to buy toxic assets
“The US government is crafting plans to create a “bad bank” to purchase toxic assets from financial institutions and strengthen the balance sheets of financial institutions, according to a report from CNBC on Tuesday evening.
“The concept of a ‘bad bank’ is one which has been floated around by many countries across the globe as a means to add further stimulus to financial institutions and speed up market recovery. Nevertheless, the details of the plan have not been released.
“At the very least, CNBC quoted an unnamed Treasury official as saying that the government was planning a ‘major’ announcement next week.
“In the aftermath of the announcement, Bloomberg News cited ‘sources familiar with the matter’ that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) would be the likely candidate to run such an institution, arguing that Chairperson Sheila Bair has proposed issuing FDIC-backed debt to finance the project.
“Also on Tuesday, US Senator Chris Dodd, an active member in the crafting of recent financial legislation in the United States, said the creation of a ‘bad bank’ sounded like a good idea and confirmed that he is aware that the Obama administration is looking into such a matter.”
Source: CEP News, January 28, 2009.
CNBC: Plan for banks’ toxic debt may be unveiled next week
Click here for the article.
Source: CNBC, January 27, 2009.
Yahoo Finance: Good bank, bad bank or banana
“While the idea of the government becoming the de facto bad bank in a system-wide good bank-bad bank solution has some merit, there’s a big problem with the ‘aggregator bank’ idea that’s gaining momentum in Washington DC, says Lawrence J. White Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“‘Whether you call it a bad bank an aggregator bank or a banana doesn’t change the basic problem: You’ve got to figure out what price is going to get paid for the assets that leave the financial system and end up in this government entity,’ White says. ‘That’s the hard part.’”
Click here for the article.
Source: Yahoo Finance, January 27, 2009.
CNBC: Barry Ritholtz – suggestions on how to restructure banks
“1. Stop interfering with the markets!: Nationalizing banks isn’t market interference, keeping these mortally wounded banks alive is! Stop pussyfooting around and admit the truth. The market knows it, investors know it.
Let the FDIC do its job. That is:
2. Temporarily nationalize the banks: We know they are insolvent, and cannot survive without taxpayer money. Spending 150% of their market cap for an 8% share is absurd.
Wipe out the debt, liquidate bad common holders, fire the board and management, appoint new competent, risk sensitive management. They have six months to spin out a 10% stake in each of their holdings, followed by the rest within 5 years (10 at most).
3. Taxpayer owned: Once nationalized, that 10% spin out of the component parts would be in the form of preferred to taxpayers! For BAC, you would spin out Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, plus the ‘B/A Toxic Holdings I & II’. For Citi, it would be Travelers, Citi, Smith Barney, ‘Citi Toxic Holdings I & II’, etc.
4. Now recapitalize: With the toxic waste off of the books, you can easily recapitalize the banks. Give the old creditors a ‘sweetheart’ deal – they get a 10% stake also, but only if they buy a matching amount in the new bank.
5. Align compensation with long-term profitability: Stop rewarding traders for short term gains despite long term losses. Stop paying taxpayer monies out as dividends. Bonuses must be a function of the long term health of the company – not monthly volatility.”
David Fuller (Fullermoney): What to do with bad assets
“The question of what to do about the bad assets on bank balance sheets has been circulating for some time. No one has yet come up with a sound method of valuing these assets and until they do, the uncertainty surrounding the situation will remain acute.
“US Aggregate Reserves for Depository Institutions in Excess of Required Reserves continue to climb to levels massively in excess of what is needed. Banks are doing everything they can to shore up their balance sheets because they do not know how they will be called upon to meet their outstanding obligations. The inability to value their assets is at the root of this problem.
“The de facto guarantees that have been put behind the major players in the banking system have helped to bring the TED spread down to much more reasonable levels. However, the difference between AA Bank spreads and BBB Bank spreads imply that investors continue to bet that high numbers of lower rated banks will default at some stage. This would seem to be common sense. A less leveraged, slimmed down banking sector will have less members and those either ‘too big to fail’ or with the healthiest balance sheets are most likely to survive.
“Personally, I am in favour of a form of the ‘bad bank’ solution. However, I see recapitalisation and the valuing of suspect assets as separate issues. If a ‘bad bank’ takes possession of illiquid, hard-to-value assets, it should do so at prices well below what banks would deem as breakeven. This is the only fair way to make sure that the taxpayer is not paying up for duff assets. Recapitalisation should subsequently be considered only where any opacity in a firm’s balance sheet has been cleared out; so that taxpayers know exactly what they are putting their money into.
“We know that a large number of hard-to-value assets have deep intrinsic value, which is not readily available to assess in today’s conditions. Price discovery will only become apparent when an active secondary market for such assets is created. The ‘bad bank’ will be key to creating and managing such a pool of liquidity. If the value of the bad assets turns out to be more than a bank received in bailout funds, they would have a justifiable cause to seek redress but that would be an issue for the courts subsequent to the financial crisis and not for now.”
Source: David Fuller, Fullermoney, January 29, 2009.
The New York Times: Sweden’s fix for banks – nationalize them
“The Swedes have a simple message to the Americans: Bite the bullet and nationalize.
“With Sweden’s banks effectively bankrupt in the early 1990s, a center-right government pulled off a rapid recovery that led to taxpayers making money in the long run.
“Former government officials in Sweden, many of whom come from the market-oriented end of the political spectrum, say the only way to solve the crisis in the United States is for the government to be prepared to temporarily take full ownership of the banks.
“Sweden placed its banks with troubled assets into a so-called bad bank, where they could be held and then sold over time when market and economic conditions improved. In the meantime, it used taxpayer money to provide enough capital to allow banks to resume normal lending.
“In the process, Sweden wiped out existing shareholders.”
Source: Carter Dougherty, The New York Times, January 22, 2009.
Bloomberg: Fannie to tap US for as much as $16 billion in aid
“Fannie Mae, the largest source of home-loan money in the US, said it will need to tap as much as $16 billion in emergency funds from the US Treasury Department to stay afloat as deterioration in the housing market persists.
“Fannie’s planned request, announced today, follows Freddie Mac, which said on January 23 that it will need as much as $35 billion more in federal aid. Unprecedented mortgage losses drove the net worth of both companies below zero last quarter, they said in separate securities filings.
“This will be Washington-based Fannie’s first draw on a $200 billion emergency fund set up by Treasury in September to keep the government-sponsored enterprises solvent. Fannie said losses on mortgage loans and a decline in the market value of its assets accounted for the shortfall in the fourth quarter.
“Fannie’s Treasury request was “much worse” than expected, said Rajiv Setia, a fixed-income strategist at Barclays Capital in New York. Setia estimates taxpayers will have to shell out at least $50 billion for Fannie and $70 billion for Freddie this year. One or both, especially Freddie, may exceed the Treasury’s backstop this year, he said.”
Source: Dawn Kopecki, Bloomberg, January 26, 2009.
Daily Mail: Revealed – day the banks were just three hours from collapse
“Britain was just three hours away from going bust last year after a secret run on the banks, one of Gordon Brown’s Ministers has revealed.
“City Minister Paul Myners disclosed that on Friday, October 10, the country was ‘very close’ to a complete banking collapse after ‘major depositors’ attempted to withdraw their money en masse.
“The Mail on Sunday has been told that the Treasury was preparing for the banks to shut their doors to all customers, terminate electronic transfers and even block hole-in-the-wall cash withdrawals. Only frantic behind-the-scenes efforts averted financial meltdown.”
Source: Glen Owen, Daily Mail, January 24, 2009.
CEP News: IMF slashes global growth forecasts
“On the back of a $2.2 trillion loss on toxic US assets worldwide, the global economy is expected to contract in 2009 before recovering the following year, according to a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday.
“‘Unless stronger financial stains and uncertainties are forcefully addressed, the pernicious feedback loop between real activity and financial markets will intensify, leading to even more toxic effects on global growth,’ read the report, which urged governments to continue taking action to rescue the financial system.
“‘We now expect the global economy to come to a virtual halt,’ said IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard at a press conference.
“As a consequence, the global economy is expected to grow 0.5% in 2009 rather than by 2.2% as previously estimated, and expand by 3.0% in 2010.
“To address the situation, the IMF report voiced support for the so-called ‘bad bank’ approach where governments could set up a financial institution to purchase toxic assets, removing them from the balance sheets of banks.
“‘We think that more decisive action is needed now by both policy-makers and market participants, and with greater emphasis on balance sheet cleansing,’ said Jaime Caruana, financial counsellor of the IMF.”
Source: CEP News, January 28, 2009.
Bloomberg: Gloom deepens among world’s chief executives
“Gloom is deepening among business leaders, casting a pall over this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Just one in five of 1,124 chief executives in 50 nations said they were very confident about prospects for revenue growth in 2009, down from half last year, and more than a quarter said they were pessimistic, a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed. The sentiment was the worst since the accounting and consulting firm began tracking the CEO outlook in 2003.
“‘The speed and intensity of the recession has rocked the psyches of CEOs and created a global crisis of confidence,” Samuel DiPiazza, PWC’s New York-based CEO, said in a statement.
“Such concerns are virulent as executives from JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon to Stephen Green of HSBC Holdings join more than 2,500 counterparts, academics and policy makers in the ski resort for five days of soul-searching and deal-making. They meet as the world economy hurtles deeper into recession, banks add to more than a $1 trillion in writedowns and governments tighten their grip over the financial system.
“‘The outlook is pretty grim,’ said Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics and a former Bank of England policy maker who will be in Davos. ‘Things are not good and business surveys are coming out showing they’re getting even worse.’”
Source: Matthew Benjamin and Simon Kennedy, Bloomberg, January 28, 2009.
The Wall Street Journal: YouTubing in Davos with Huffington and Forbes
“YouTube’s Chad Hurley, Arianna Huffington and Steve Forbes share their views on Davos and the global economic crisis with WSJ’s Andy Jordan.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2009.
Bloomberg: Roubini – “nowhere to hide” from global slowdown
“‘There is nowhere to hide,’ Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business who predicted the financial crisis, said from Zurich in an interview with Bloomberg Television. ‘We have for the first time in decades a global synchronized recession. Markets have become perfectly correlated and economies are also becoming perfectly correlated. This is not your kind of traditional minor recession.’”
Click here for the article.
Source: Bloomberg, January 27, 2009.
Financial Times: Nations turn to barter deals to secure food
“Countries struggling to secure credit have resorted to barter and secretive government-to-government deals to buy food, with some contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“In a striking example of how the global financial crisis and high food prices have strained the finances of poor and middle-income nations, countries including Russia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Morocco say they have signed or are discussing inter-government and barter deals to import commodities from rice to vegetable oil.
“The revival of these trade practices, used rarely in the last 20 years and usually by nations subject to international embargoes and the old communist bloc, is a result of the countries’ failure to secure trade financing as bank lending has dried up.
“The countries have not disclosed the value of any deals, and some have refused even to confirm their existence. Officials estimated that they ranged from $5 million for smaller contracts to more than $500 million for the biggest.”
Source: Javier Blas, Financial Times, January 26, 2009.
Financial Times: Capital flows to developing world at risk
“Capital flows to emerging markets are in danger of collapsing this year as the financial crisis in advanced economies risks choking off the supply of credit to the developing world, an association of large banks warned on Tuesday.
“The Institute for International Finance forecasts net private sector capital flows to emerging markets will be no more than $165 billion this year, less than half the $466 billion inflow in 2008 and only one fifth of the amount sent in the peak year of 2007.
“The figures underscore the impact the banking crisis and risk-averse investors are having on emerging market economies, one of the central issues at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.
“Bill Rhodes, a senior Citigroup executive who is vice-chairman of the IIF, urged leading economies to co-operate with each other and the private sector to address the problem. ‘This is a worldwide recession the like of which we have not seen since World War II,’ he said. ‘There is no one country or group of countries that can do this on its own. The only way to solve it is co-ordination across the board.’
“Mr Rhodes also called on the International Monetary Fund to intensify its efforts to supply liquidity to emerging markets by extending the duration of the current facility from three months to more than a year. ‘The IMF’s resources need to be expanded and its approaches modified to provide financing to emerging markets that have been caught in a crisis not of their making.’”
Source: Peter Thal Larsen, Financial Times, January 27, 2009.
Paul Kedrosky (Infectious Greed): Fun with Fitch – sovereign hotspots
“Some slides from a useful new Fitch presentation on one of my favorite subjects: sovereign hotspots around the world.”
Source: Paul Kedrosky, Infectious Greed, January 29, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Fed reiterates support for credit markets
“The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) left the target federal funds rate unchanged at 0%-0.25%. Richmond Fed President Lacker cast the only dissenting vote as he would have preferred increasing the monetary base through purchases of Treasury securities rather than through the credit programs.
“The FOMC policy statement noted that the ‘Committee continues to anticipate that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time’. This part of the message is identical to the December 2008 statement.
“Overall, today’s [Wednesday] statement presented a broader picture of the economic situation and included some bullish expectations about the economy. By contrast, the December 16 policy statement focused largely on features of the Fed’s new regime. In particular, six aspects of the policy statement were different from the December 2008 announcement.
“First, significantly slowing global demand was mentioned versus the December statement that did not mention the global economy.
“Second, today’s statement noted that ‘conditions in some financial markets have improved, in part reflecting government efforts to provide liquidity and strengthen financial institutions.’
“Third, the FOMC predicts that ‘a gradual recovery in economic activity will begin later this year’, and the statement indicated that ‘the downside risks to that outlook are significant’.
“Fourth, in December, inflation was expected to ‘moderate in coming quarters’. There is notable departure from this view because the Fed now ‘expects that inflation pressures will remain subdued in coming quarters’.
“Fifth, the FOMC indicated that it ‘is prepared to purchase longer-term Treasury securities if evolving circumstances indicate that such transactions would be particularly effective in improving conditions in private credit markets’.
“Sixth, today’s statement has an explicit discussion about the Fed’s balance sheet. As expected the Fed reiterated support of credit markets.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 28, 2009.
BCA Research: US LEI – uptick unsustainable
“The Conference Board’s leading economic indicator (LEI) ticked up in December, but we do not view this as the beginning of a sustained economic recovery.
“The tick up in the LEI was mainly due to the large positive contribution from real money supply and the yield curve. Meanwhile, measures of the real economy continue to weaken: large declines occurred in building permits, employee hours worked, supplier deliveries, while initial unemployment claims are skyrocketing.
“It is still unclear that monetary and fiscal policy are effective (private sector borrowing rates have only marginally fallen) and the housing market is still very weak.
“True, existing home inventories fell in December, but seasonal factors played a large role (inventories always fall during the autumn and winter). Improved activity levels during the spring selling season, should they occur, would be a more accurate signal that the housing market is stabilizing.
“However, the unemployment rate is set to still rise sharply, which will further undermine consumer confidence and spending, particularly on big ticket items. Bottom line: Economic data will continue to be weak and the LEI will likely slide further before a sustainable bottom is made.”
Source: BCA Research, January 29, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Q4 GDP Report – gain in inventories masks true weakness
“Real gross domestic product (GDP) declined 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008, the minus sign for GDP growth was not a surprise but a larger decline was widely expected. The increase in inventories (+$6.2 billion versus -$29.6 billion in Q3), which was largely unexpected, offset the weakness in demand and trimmed down the headline reading.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 30, 2009.
Bespoke: GDP price index enters the deflation zone
“While the markets have been focused on the better than expected GDP report for the fourth quarter, the GDP price index was potentially even more notable. While economists were looking for a quarter/quarter annualized increase of 0.4%, the actual level was a decline of 0.1%. This negative print is only the seventh time since the end of WWII (and the first time since 1954) that prices decrease based on this measure. For now at least, the Fed’s view that ‘inflation pressures will remain subdued in coming quarters’ appears to be right on target.
Source: Bespoke, January 30, 2009.
Richard Russell (Dow Theory Letters): Is inflation creeping back?
“Below is my inflation/deflation chart. This is simply the long T-bond divided by gold. When the ratio rise in favor of bonds, it’s saying that the bonds are stronger than gold, which is deflationary. When the ratio declines in favor of gold, it tells us that gold is gaining in relative strength, and that’s inflationary. Note the head-and-shoulders pattern just before the plunge – the plunge took the ratio below the rising trendline. This is the chart Bernanke has been waiting for.”
Source: Richard Russell, Dow Theory Letters, January 27, 2009.
Standard & Poor’s: S&P/Case-Shiller – home price declines continue
“Data through November 2008, released today by Standard & Poor’s for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, shows continued broad based declines in the prices of existing single family homes across the United States, with 11 of the 20 metro areas showing record rates of annual decline, and 14 reporting declines in excess of 10% versus November 2007.
“‘The freefall in residential real estate continued through November 2008,’ says David Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s. ‘Since August 2006, the 10-City and 20-City Composites have declined every month – a total of 28 consecutive months.’”
Source: Standard & Poor’s, January 27, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Existing home sales – inventories remain at elevated levels
“Sales of existing homes rose 4.7% in December after two monthly declines, inventories remain at elevated levels, and the median price of an existing single-family home fell in December. The gain in home sales is noteworthy while other aspects of today’s report are much the same as we have seen for several months. The important take-away in this report is that inventories of unsold existing homes remain at elevated levels. Although mortgage rates have moved up slightly, they remain at significantly favorable levels.
“The seasonally adjusted inventory-sales ratio of existing single-family homes fell to a 9.6-month supply from an 11.4-month supply in November. This appears impressive at the outset, but digging deeper it appears that the November reading was probably an aberration because the quarterly averages for 2008 range between a 9.8-month supply and a 10.26-month mark. Inventories of unsold homes need to shrink considerably more for home prices to stabilize.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 26, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): New home sales plunge
“In December, sales of new homes declined, prices fell, and inventories were the highest on record. The main message from the December report is that homebuilders will continue to reduce production of new homes.
“The inventory of unsold new homes rose to a 12.9-month supply in December, the largest on record.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 29, 2009.
The Wall Street Journal: An upside to plunging home prices
“John Lonski, CEO of Moody’s Capital Markets Research Group, discusses the latest decline in home prices. He tells WSJ’s Kelly Evans that although it highlights plunging home prices and the deterioration of mortgage-backed securities, it’s promoting the stabilization of home sales.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Durable goods orders post sharp drop
“Orders and shipments of durable goods fell in 2.6% in December, after a downwardly revised 3.7% drop in November. The declines in orders of durable goods were widespread.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 29, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Consumer confidence posts new low
The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index fell to 37.7 in January from 38.6 in December. This is a new record low for the series which dates back to February 1967. The grim headlines and media coverage of the financial and economic turmoil and staggering layoff announcements justify the sober consumer outlook.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 27, 2009.
The Wall Street Journal: Lending drops at big US banks
“Lending at many of the nation’s largest banks fell in recent months, even after they received $148 billion in taxpayer capital that was intended to help the economy by making loans more readily available.
“Ten of the 13 big beneficiaries of the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, saw their outstanding loan balances decline by a total of about $46 billion, or 1.4%, between the third and fourth quarters of 2008, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of banks that recently announced their quarterly results.
“Those 13 banks have collected the lion’s share of the roughly $200 billion the government has doled out since TARP was launched last October to stabilize financial institutions. Banks reporting declines in outstanding loans range from giants Bank of America and Citigroup, each of which got $45 billion from the government; to smaller, regional institutions. Just three of the banks reported growth in their loan portfolios: US Bancorp, SunTrust Banks Inc. and BB&T Corp.
“The overall decline in loans on the 13 banks’ books – from about $3.36 trillion as of September 30 to $3.31 trillion at year’s end – raises fresh questions about TARP’s effectiveness at coaxing banks to reopen their lending spigots.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2009.
Richard Russell (Dow Theory Letters): Will new primary bull market be signalled?
“The Dow Theory to the fore. On January 20, the DJ Transportation Average broke below its November 20 bear market low of 2,988.99. The new low was not confirmed by the Industrial Average, which held above its own November 20 bear market low of 7,552.29. This non-confirmation set up the potential for a Dow Theory bull signal. If the Industrials and Transports can now muster the strength to rally above their preceding January peaks, (Industrials on January 6 at 9,015.10 and Transports at 3,717.26), a new primary bull market will be signaled.
“There are two concepts about this that bother me.
(1) If a new bull market is signaled, it would mean that the bear market of November 2007 to November 2008 ended in only one year. Since the preceding bull market (1982 to 2007) lasted 25 years, a one-year bear market (no matter how severe) seems too short in time to correct one of the greatest bull markets in history.
(2) Based on the Lowry’s figures, it appears that most of the upside progress since the November 20 bear market lows has been the result of a decline in selling pressure. Historically, the beginning of a new bull market has been characterized by not only a drastic drop in Lowry’s Selling Pressure Index, but also by heavy buying and strong upside volume (neither of which has been present).
“The stock market often tries to confuse us by coming up with something new. Assuming that the Averages do better their preceding January peaks, it would have occurred without the usual heavy buying on rising volume. It may be that the January 6 peaks will have to be bettered before the ‘real’ volume comes in. In other words, even if a new bull market is signaled in the weeks ahead, we will have to monitor the stock market action carefully, to make sure we are not being sucked in to a fake rally as was the case following the 1929 crash.”
Source: Richard Russell, Dow Theory Letters, January 29, 2009.
Bespoke: Fourth quarter earnings “beat rate” below 50%
“There’s still a long way to go before the fourth quarter earnings season comes to an end, but the first batch of reports indicate just how bad of a quarter it was. Since Alcoa kicked off earnings season earlier this month, only 45% of US companies have beaten analyst EPS estimates. As shown in the chart below, this would be the lowest reading since at least 1998. Even though analysts have been cutting estimates sharply over the past few months, companies still haven’t been able to beat at a better than 50% clip. Hopefully this ‘beat rate’ gets better as earnings season chugs along, but we wouldn’t count on it.”
Source: Bespoke, January 26, 2009.
Bloomberg: Earnings may slump 45%, Socgen says
“Analysts have cut their estimates for company earnings worldwide by $1 trillion since October, suggesting profits may tumble as much as 45% this year amid the global recession, according to Societe Generale SA.
“A profit slump of that magnitude would mean stocks are trading at 20 times future 12-month earnings, according to calculations by the quantitative analysis team at France’s third- largest bank, led by Andrew Lapthorne in London. The MSCI World Index currently trades at 10.7 times its members’ estimated earnings after plummeting 42% in 2008 and 11% so far this year, according to Bloomberg data.
“‘Global earnings forecasts are disintegrating as companies and analysts struggle to adjust to rapidly declining commodity prices, continuing financial sector losses and, of course, a crumbling global economy,’ wrote Lapthorne’s team in a report today. ‘There is little sign of this pace of downgrading abating. Equities will struggle.’”
“Analysts estimate companies on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index will report a 28% drop in fourth-quarter profits, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with a 55% increase forecast in March 2008. Analysts currently predict earnings will decline 2.3% in 2009, the data show.
“SocGen’s strategy team estimated the 45% profit decline by extrapolating the pace of downgrades to earnings predictions since October. The team was ranked first by investors in Europe this year, according to Thomson Reuters Plc’s Extel survey.”
Source: Alexis Xydias, Bloomberg, January 23, 2009.
Bespoke: Sector relative strength – financials still lagging
“In our relative strength charts, we highlight how each sector has performed versus the S&P 500 over the last year. For each sector, rising lines indicate the sector is outperforming the S&P 500, while falling lines indicate underperformance. In each chart, we also note each Fed meeting over the last year. Red dots indicate meetings where the Fed lowered rates, while black dots indicate meetings where the Fed left rates unchanged.
“While the Financial sector has led the recent rally, a look at the sector’s long-term relative strength shows that they are nowhere near breaking the downtrend they have been in for at least a year now.
“While everyone is focused on the Financials, the Energy sector has been enjoying its position out of the spotlight. While the sector was killed in the summer and fall when the decline in oil kicked into high gear, since then, energy stocks have been steadily outperforming even as oil remains near its lows. Just imagine what could happen if oil actually started to rally.”
Source: Bespoke, January 29, 2009.
Bespoke: 10-year Treasury yield reaches key juncture
“Even with the Fed’s reiteration that they were considering outright purchases of US Treasuries, the yield on the 10-year has been climbing steadily higher from its lows in December. At 2.77%, the 10-Year is approaching yields that it traded at before the bottom dropped out in early December. How we trade in the next few days will go a long way in determining whether the current sell-off is simply profit-taking after a massive rally, or the beginning of the end of the latest bubble in asset classes (stocks, real estate, commodities, etc.).”
Source: Bespoke, January 29, 2008.
David Fuller (Fullermoney): Treasuries – a dangerous game
“The promise (threat?) by the Fed to purchase US long-dated securities has deterred me from shorting them to date, despite some very good sell signals …
“However I have also described the Fed’s frequent hints of its apparent willingness to buy US debt as akin to a con artist’s shell game. However in the Fed’s version, instead of trying to guess under which of three rapidly moving cups the pea lurks, we are guessing how and when we might see their bond purchases.
“I do not question the Fed’s word that it would be prepared to buy Treasuries to keep long-term rates low, if necessary. Instead, my point is that they may hope to avoid purchases if they persuade the market to do their work for them. In other words, I wonder how many people, from hedge fund managers to foreign governments, have bought or at least retained their Treasuries, despite historically low yields and rapidly increasing supply.
“This is a dangerous game. Financial history is full of instances where investors have been persuaded to pay record high valuations for assets, usually because: ‘It is different this time.’ Perhaps … for a while, but the bubble always bursts in a mean reversion process which usually ends in an overshoot of its own.
“The only way I can envisage significantly lower long-term yields for US Treasury bonds, would be if the economy slid into a lengthy deflation, as we saw with Japan in the late 1990s and earlier this decade, causing real interest rates to rise. This is a risk, but one that the Bernanke Fed has vowed to avoid. It has the means to do so.
“At Fullermoney, we think gold is replacing US Treasuries as the safe haven investment.”
Source: David Fuller, Fullermoney, January 30, 2009.
Bespoke: Credit default risk down but still high
“Below we highlight a chart of an index that measures the default risk of investment grade credit in the US. Throughout the credit crisis, default risk has risen sharply, although it has ticked lower since peaking in December. Any decline in default risk is a good sign, but it needs to fall much more before anyone can make the claim that things are ‘settling down’. As shown, the index has still not broken below the bottom of its uptrend line that formed back in April 2008.”
Source: Bespoke, January 27, 2009.
Bloomberg: Soros stopped betting against pound
“Billionaire investor George Soros, who made $1 billion selling the pound in 1992, said he is no longer betting against the UK currency after it reached $1.40.
“‘I did actually foresee the fall in sterling and that was one of the positions we carried,’ he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Below $1.40 ‘it seemed to me the risk-reward was no longer clear’.
“Soros said today that he has made money from the financial crisis. The British government’s efforts to protect the banking system from the turmoil last week led to a drop in the pound to the lowest level against the dollar since 1985.
“‘We did have a short position in sterling, but it doesn’t mean I’m bearish on sterling today or bullish,’ Soros said. ‘It will continue to fluctuate.’
“Soros’s comments contrast with those of Jim Rogers, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with him and is now chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings. Rogers said on January 20 that the pound was ‘finished’ because of turmoil in the banking system and a decline in North Sea oil output.”
Source: Simon Kennedy, Bloomberg, January 28, 2009.
Bespoke: Russian troubles
“Russia’s currency made news today for having its biggest two-day decline versus the dollar in a decade. For those interested, below we provide a long-term chart of the Russian ruble versus the US dollar. As shown, the amount of rubles that one dollar will get you has spiked significantly in recent months, going from about 23 rubles per dollar last May to its current level of 34.84 rubles per dollar.”
Source: Bespoke, January 29, 2009.
BBC News: Zimbabwe abandons its currency
“Zimbabweans will be allowed to conduct business in other currencies, alongside the Zimbabwe dollar, in an effort to stem the country’s runaway inflation.”
Source: BBC News, January 29, 2009.
Financial Times: Gold pushes above $900 in buying spree
“Strong investor buying on Monday pushed the price of gold above $900 a troy ounce, hitting a 3½-month high in dollar terms and posting all-time highs in euro and sterling, in a stark sign of money seeking refuge from equities and bond markets.
“Traders said that investors, particularly in continental Europe and the UK, were pouring money into gold exchange-traded funds – a popular way to gain access to the metal – and also noted strong buying of physical gold, from coins to bars.
“Edel Tully at Mitsui & Co Precious Metals in London said gold was the ‘obvious shelter’ for safe-haven investors.
“The total amount of gold held by the world’s gold ETFs last week rose for the first time above the 40 million ounce level. Together, such investment vehicles are now the largest holders of physical gold after the official reserves of the US, Germany, the International Monetary Fund, France and Italy.
“In the short term, traders said gold was likely to consolidate above $900 an ounce this week and could test the $930 an ounce level previously touched in October.”
Source: Javier Blas, Financial Times, January 26, 2009.
Bespoke: Will gold break its downtrend?
“After briefly piercing the $1,000 level in March of last year, the price of gold went into a long-term downtrend with a series of lower highs and lower lows. However, since bottoming out at $681 in October, gold has rallied to over $900 per ounce. This has brought the commodity right to the top of its downtrend line from the March 2008 high. While the current rally in gold has been attributed to fears over competitive currency devaluations across the globe, how the commodity acts in the coming days will go a long way in determining how valid those fears are.”
Source: Bespoke, January 26, 2009.
Richard Russell (Dow Theory Letters): Gold benefits from devaluations
“The world battle for exports, with the help of cheap currencies is on. They call it competitive devaluations, and the whole picture is not lost on gold. The move is starting – to move to hard assets. The hardest of all assets is gold. Gold, in case you forget, is pure wealth, it’s the only money with no debt against it or without a counter-partner. Gold needs no nation or central bank to attest, by fiat – that it’s money.”
Source: Richard Russell, Dow Theory Letters, January 26, 2009.
Bloomberg: StockCharts’s Murphy sees gold at $1,000 by year end
“John Murphy, chief technical analyst at StockCharts.com, talks with Bloomberg’s Brennan Lothery about the outlook for the gold price in 2009. Murphy also discusses commodity prices, the US equity market and investment strategy.”
Source: Bloomberg, January 27, 2009.
Bespoke: Baltic Dry Index up seven days in a row
“The Baltic Dry Index gained another 1% today, which makes seven up days in a row. Since bottoming in December, the Index has formed a nice uptrend, gaining over 50%. Longer term, however, the Index’s highs from last Spring are still a long way off. While the Index bottomed on December 5 with a 94.4% decline from its all-time high of 11,793, at its current level of 1,014, it is still down 91.4% from its May 20 high. In order to get back to those highs, the index would have to rally an additional 1,063%. Hey, you have to start somewhere.”
Source: Bespoke, January 28, 2009.
CNBC: Oil move to $20?
“Crude oil may fall to $20 this year, says Joe Petrowksi, Gulf Oil and Cumberland Farms CEO.”
Source: CNBC, January 27, 2009.
Victoria Marklew (Northern Trust): Eurozone – is that light at the end of the tunnel?
“Today’s [Tuesday] Ifo and last week’s Belgian leading indicator offer the tantalizing hope that the economic downturn across the Eurozone is starting to bottom out – but one month is not enough to call a trend, and the ‘zone’ in general, and Germany in particular, are still likely in for a rough first quarter of 2009.
“First, the Ifo index in Germany. The headline business climate index edged upward from 82.7 in December to 83.0 in January, the first improvement in eight months. Nevertheless, the difference between the current conditions and expectations indices remains wide, suggesting that the economy will contract again in Q1 2009 and that the government’s latest forecast of -2.25% real GDP growth this year is about right.
“Which takes us to our favorite Eurozone leading indicator, the Belgian National Bank’s (BNB) business confidence indicator. As we’ve noted before, thanks to Belgium’s strong trade ties with its neighbors (about 80% of Belgium’s manufacturing output is sold abroad, mostly to fellow EU members), the BNB’s business confidence index is a reliable leading indicator – about six months out – for GDP growth in the Eurozone as a whole.
“The Belgian and German data imply that the Eurozone as a whole will see a marked contraction in Q4 2008 and Q1 2009, flat-to-negative growth in the middle of the year, and a sustained improvement finally underway by Q4.”
Source: Victoria Marklew, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 27, 2009.
CEP News: Spain is officially in a recession, says Central Bank
“With GDP contracting for two quarters in a row, the Spanish economy has officially entered into a technical recession, the Bank of Spain said in its quarterly GDP report released on Wednesday.
“According to the central bank, the Spanish economy contracted by 1.1% to Q4 from Q3, when output had fallen 0.2%. On an annualized basis, the economy declined 0.8% in Q4, down from Q3’s 0.9% increase. The Bank of Spain also reported that for 2008 as a whole, the economy grew at 1.1%, down from 2007’s 3.7% print.
“With the economy expected to decline 1.6% in 2009, the government is looking to spend upwards of €90 billion in stimulus measures. As a result of the pressures on public finances, Standard & Poor’s had reduced Spain’s sovereign credit rating from AAA to AA+ earlier in the month.”
Source: CEP News, January 28, 2009.
BCA Research: UK economy – in a deep recession
“The UK economy is the epicenter of the global housing/credit crisis and will need substantially more support from policymakers.
“Last week’s release highlighted that the UK economy contracted again in Q4 by more than expected to -1.8% YoY. More importantly, the outlook is grim given that the collapse in both commercial and residential real estate prices is still gaining momentum, banks have shut off the credit taps, and business sentiment surveys indicate that activity has ground to a halt.
“UK households face dramatic headwinds from plunging home prices and rapidly rising unemployment. Correspondingly, our models warn that retail sales growth will contract later this year, causing deflationary pressure to build further.
“Bottom line: In order to prevent debt-deflation from gaining further momentum, UK policymakers will need to continue stimulating aggressively (using both conventional and unconventional measures). While the collapse in the pound is helping ease overall monetary conditions, the lack of global trade limits the positive impact for the economy.”
Source: BCA Research, January 26, 2009.
US Global Investors: China – threat of capital flight
“While China’s capital outflow during the fourth quarter is only 2% of the country’s formidable foreign exchange reserve, the specter of liquidity fleeing China may continue to haunt investors as the worst-case scenario if the government’s policy efforts fail to revive the economy.”
Source: US Global Investors – Weekly Investor Alert, January 30, 2009.
Financial Times: Japan’s production falls record 9.6%
“Japanese industrial production fell a record 9.6% in December, while core annual inflation almost evaporated, reinforcing expectations of a record economic contraction as the global financial crisis worsens.
“Unemployment hit a three-year high, household spending dipped, and manufacturers saw no quick turnaround in the outlook for industry – the main driver of the world’s second-biggest economy – as inventories hit record highs despite factory closures and lay-offs.
“Subsiding inflation and worsening economic conditions are also stoking deflation worries, as in other major economies, which may prompt more central bank steps to support the staggering economy and free up frozen credit markets that are starving key companies of cash.
“Economists said fourth-quarter GDP figures, due out in February, would show Japan’s economy shrinking at a double-digit annual rate, and Tatsushi Shikano, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, said early 2009 also looked bleak.”
Source: Reuters, Financial Times, January 30, 2009.
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Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Fears about the intensity of the global recession and renewed skepticism regarding the beleaguered financial sector fueled a flight to safety during the past holiday-shortened trading week. President Obama’s inauguration offered only a brief respite from the dreadful economic and earnings data and pounding of the stock markets.
Commentators were in agreement that Mr O commenced his tenure against the worst economic background in living memory and had his work cut out to resurrect America from its economic morass. I wish him well with this daunting task.
As investors piled into the perceived safety of gold (+6.9%), the US dollar (+1.8% in the case of the US Dollar Index) and the Japanese yen (+2.1% against the US dollar), global stock markets recorded a third straight week of losses. West Texas Intermediate Crude (+9.2%) also ended higher, joining a broader rally in commodities (+2.1% in the case of the Reuters/Jeffries CRB Index).
The MSCI World Index and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index declined by 4.7% (YTD -10.3%) and 5.7% (YTD -10.5%) respectively. Bucking the downtrend, the Shanghai Composite Index rose by 1.9% over the week and, with a gain of 9.3%, is also the best-performing global stock market since the start of 2009.
Elsewhere, the yields of long-dated government bonds in the US, UK and Eurozone rose sharply as large issuances of sovereign debt looms. For example, the yield of the US ten-year Treasury Note jumped by 28 basis points to 2.62% and that of the 30-year Treasury Bond by 40 basis points to 3.32% – the highest weekly points rise since April 1987. On the other hand, short-dated yields in a number of European countries declined as a result of expectations of further rate cuts.
The UK was a case in point with the two-year Gilt declining by 12 basis points to 1.0% on doubts about the government’s new rescue plan for the banking system and a deterioration in the country’s public finances. The pound crumbled to a 23-year low against the greenback and an all-time low against the yen.
The financial turmoil and the various actions by central banks reminded me of a quote from 1867 by Karl Marx: “Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.”
“TARP has been an abject failure,” said Thomas Barrack Jr, billionaire and founder of Colony Capital, in BusinessWeek. “I compare the situation to a fire on a Savannah plain: Let it rip and burn, and the market will rejuvenate so much faster – try to control or impede it, and there will be more and longer suffering before renewal. Japan experienced two decades of economic paralysis by experimenting with fire control of a similar unproductive sort.”
And here is Peter Schiff’s (Euro Pacific Capital) prescription for how the US can dig itself out of the current mess, as reported by Fortune Magazine: “Shrink the government radically, cancel all bailouts immediately, take plenty of tough medicine, and let the free market do its job – however harsh it may be for, say, autoworkers in the meantime.”
According to Sheila Bair of the FDIC, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, there will soon be a new government banking agency, the Aggregator Bank, to buy troubled assets from financial institutions. For a bit of fun, I tried to register this domain last week. Alas, another aspirant banker pipped me to the post. His reselling price? $100,000! Needless to say, I swiftly terminated the negotiations.
Next, a tag cloud of my week’s reading. This is a way of visualizing word frequencies at a glance. Key words such as “bank”, “government”, “economy”, “market”, “financial”, debt” and “crisis” topped the list.
The graph below shows the performance of various S&P sector SPDRs for the year to date. With Financials having declined by 28.2%, the market’s weakness was quite strongly concentrated in one sector. In addition to Financials, only Industrials (-11.9%) and Consumer Discretionary (-8.8%) have underperformed the S&P 500 Index (-7.9%) since the beginning of the year.
“During prior declines during this bear, losses were broad based and once they become more concentrated (as they are now), it’s a sign that the market is beginning to separate the eventual winners from the losers,” said Bespoke.
Considering the outlook for the stock market, Richard Russell, 84-year-old author of the Dow Theory Letters, said: “Recently, the Transports broke below their November 20 bear market low. The Industrials have refused (so far) to confirm the Transports. Will the Industrials break down and confirm?
“No one can possibly know. But the longer the time elapses that the Industrials refuse to confirm, the more hopeful the situation. As a rule, the closer in time the two Averages, Transports and Industrials, break through preceding levels, the more authoritative the signal. The Transports broke to new lows on January 20. The longer Industrials hold above their November 20 low of 7,552, the better the odds that they will not confirm.”
Key resistance and support levels for the major US indices are shown in the table below. The immediate upside target is the 50-day moving average, followed by the early January highs. On the downside, the December 1 and all-important November 20 lows must hold in order to prevent considerable technical damage.
A number of global stock markets – Germany, France, Belgium, Finland, Ireland and Venezuela – have actually already broken below their November 20 lows. Although a retest of the lows is often a feature of base formation development, it can also be a harbinger of the resumption of a downtrend.
Donning his customary bearish outfit, Albert Edwards of Société Générale, a favorite market strategist among Investment Postcards’ readers, said: “After increasing our equity exposure at the end of October we believe that the market is set to quickly slide sharply towards our 500 target for the S&P 500.
“While economic data in developed economies increasingly reflect depression rather than a deep recession, the real surprise in 2009 may lie elsewhere. It is becoming clear that the Chinese economy is imploding and this raises the possibility of regime change. To prevent this, the authorities would likely devalue the yuan. A subsequent trade war could see a re-run of the Great Depression.”
According to Jeffrey Hirsch (Stock Trader’s Almanac), the December Low Indicator says that should the Dow Jones Industrial Index close below its December low anytime during the first quarter, it is frequently an excellent warning sign. This came to pass on Tuesday when the Dow closed below its December low of 8,149 (recorded on December 1).
Also of concern to Hirsch is the January Barometer, stating “As January goes, so goes the year”. Every down January since 1950 has been followed by a new or continuing bear market or a flat year. On Friday the S&P 500 closed at 832, 7.9% lower than the December 31 close.
From across the pond David Fuller (Fullermoney) commented that one could not rule out an overcorrection by the S&P 500 to 600 (as suggested by Jeremy Grantham in his latest quarterly newsletter), “although the downside move to date is still quite overstretched relative to the 200-day moving average. Fundamentals will not determine the actual low, in my opinion, whether already seen or pending. That will be determined by sentiment and liquidity, as always. Currently, sentiment is diabolical but liquidity is increasingly abundant.
“From an investment perspective, my preferred strategy would be to nibble on high-quality equities with decent and well-covered yields.”
On the back of the bullion price increasing by 6.9%, the Gold Bugs Index (+10.6%) was one of the top-performing industry groups for the week. The venerable Richard Russell said: “The [gold] market always does what it’s supposed to, but never when. Is it ‘when time’ for gold? It looks like the long erratic correction in gold is over.
“Gold is pushing up consistently now – the first upside target is to better the 900 level which will take gold above the two preceding peaks. If gold can move above the 900 level (we’re close), I think there is a good chance it will test the highs. Up until now, gold’s progress has been halted, every advance corrected. Gold appears to advance more easily now and the gold stocks are going along with the bullion.”
According to US Global Investors – Weekly Investor Alert, David Rosenberg of Merrill Lynch on Friday sent out a research note titled “The case for gold”, explaining that gold’s value is enhanced by declining bullion supply and increasing money supply.
James Montier of Société Générale added: “Gold kind of scares me because very often the people involved with it seem to be slightly insane. My other problem is I don’t know how to value it. That said, I can certainly see why gold could be considered somewhat of an insurance policy, if not an investment in its own right. Any kind of systemic economic turmoil is likely to drive gold prices higher.”
For more discussion about the direction of stock markets, also see my post “Video-o-rama: Wishing you well, Mr O“.
“Global businesses remain darkly pessimistic. Sentiment was at its worst in mid-December, but has improved only marginally since then,” said the latest Survey of Business Confidence of the World conducted by Moody’s Economy.com. “European and South American businesses are most worried, followed by North America; Asian companies are negative but less so. Pricing power has collapsed, suggesting that deflation is increasingly likely.”
The latest US economic reports also indicate that the intensity of the economic downturn shows no sign of letting up. Homebuilding descended to an unprecedented post-war low, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) housing market index again reached a new low, and the ABC/Washington Post Consumer Confidence Index remained near its all-time lows. Interestingly, no president has entered office with such a poor level of consumer confidence since the beginning of the Survey in 1985.
Regarding the meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on January 27 and 28, Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust) said: “The policy statement will be the first following the zero interest rate policy adopted at the last meeting. The explicit hint about the Fed’s future course of action in the December 16, 2008 policy statement read as follows:
‘The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability. In particular, the Committee anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.’
“We will be paying close attention to whether the Fed will retain or rephrase this part of the policy statement. With regard to the Fed’s views about economic growth and inflation … we do not expect radical modifications of the entire policy statement.”
Elsewhere in the world, evidence mounted that the recession was spreading and deepening.
- The UK’s real GDP contracted by 1.5% in the fourth quarter, following a 0.6% decline in the third quarter. The data confirmed the first UK recession since 1991.
- China’s real GDP declined by 6.8% year on year in the fourth quarter. However, when recalculating China’s growth rate on a quarter-on-quarter annualized basis, like most other countries do, commentators are of the opinion that the Chinese economy might already be contracting.
- Japan recorded a fifth consecutive monthly trade deficit in December, marking the worst year for exports on record. Exports contracted by 35% year on year, compared with a 16% expansion as recently as July.
Summarizing the economic situation, Nouriel Roubini (RGE Monitor) said: “The US economy is, at best, halfway through a recession that began in December 2007 and will prove the longest and most severe of the post-war period. Credit losses of close to $3 trillion are leaving the US banking and financial system insolvent. And the credit crunch will persist as households, financial firms and corporations with high debt ratios and solvency problems undergo a sharp deleveraging process.
“Worse, all of the world’s advanced economies are in recession. Many emerging markets, including China, face the threat of a hard landing. Some fear that these conditions will produce a dangerous spike in inflation, but the greater risk is for a kind of global ‘stag-deflation’. We’re likely to see vulnerable European markets (Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria), key Latin American markets (Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador and Mexico), Asian countries (Pakistan, Indonesia and South Korea), and countries like Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states facing severe financial pressure.
“The world’s first global recession is just getting started.”
Source: Yahoo Finance, January 23, 2009.
In addition to the interest rate announcement by the FOMC (Wednesday, January 28), the US economic highlights for the week, courtesy of Northern Trust, include the following:
1. Leading Indicators (January 26): Consensus: -0.3% versus -0.4% in November.
2. Existing Sales (January 26): Consensus: 4.40 million versus 4.49 million in November.
3. New Home Sales (January 29): Consensus: 400,000 versus 407,000 in November.
4. Durable Goods Orders (January 29): Consensus: -2.0% versus -1.5% in November.
5. Real GDP (January 30): Northern Trust: -4.5% Consensus: -5.4% versus -0.5 in Q3.
6. Other reports: Consumer Confidence (January 27); Consumer Sentiment Index and Employment Cost Index (January 30).
Click here for a summary of Wachovia’s weekly economic and financial commentary.
The performance chart obtained from the Wall Street Journal Online shows how different global markets performed during the past week.
Source: Wall Street Journal Online, January 23, 2009.
Bernard Baruch said: “If you get all the facts, your judgment can be right; if you don’t get all the facts, it can’t be right.” Hopefully the “Words from the Wise” reviews offer assistance to Investment Postcards‘ readers in compiling the facts.
That’s the way it looks from Cape Town.
Bespoke: Interesting prediction market contracts
“Prediction market website Intrade has some interesting finance-related contracts trading at the moment, and below we highlight charts of them. The first contract is whether Apple CEO Steve Jobs will depart as CEO by the end of 2009. As shown, the contract peaked when the company announced Mr. Jobs’ leave of absence earlier this month, but it has since declined a bit to its current level of 60% (traders are putting the odds at 60%).
“The second contract is whether the unemployment rate in the US will be higher than 8.5% by December 2009. The unemployment rate is currently at 7.2%, and the odds for it to be higher than 8.5% by year end are at 55%.
“Intrade also has a contract on whether the US will default on its debt on or before 12/31/09. Traders are currently putting the odds of this occurring at 3.5% on Intrade, which seems low, but is actually pretty high considering what the implications would be if this happened.
“And back in early December, Intrade traders were putting the odds of a GM bankruptcy before the end of Q1 ‘09 at greater than 60%. After government intervention for the automakers happened a few weeks later, those odds dropped sharply and now stand at just 10%.
“Liquidity in these markets is low, so making big bets is hard to do, but analyzing these contracts gives some unique insight into what some people think will or will not happen in the near future.”
Source: Bespoke, January 22, 2009.
CNBC: Barack Obama will help the economy, but don’t expect miracles
Click here for the article.
Source: CNBC, January 18, 2009.
Reuters: Soros – US stimulus not enough, TARP bailout misused
“The stimulus plan the US government is currently considering is necessary to help American citizens, but it will likely not reverse the country’s economic decline, hedge fund manager and billionaire philanthropist George Soros said on Monday.
“‘It is not enough to turn the situation around,’ Soros told the US Conference of Mayors about the $850 billion proposal to increase spending and cut taxes.
“The plan, which was introduced in the US House of Representatives last week and will likely be passed by next month, will help state and local governments balance their budgets and preserve important social services, Soros said.
“At the same time, the $700 billion financial bailout known as TARP for Troubled Assets Relief Program had been carried out in a ‘haphazard and capricious way’ and ‘without proper planning’, he said.
“‘Unfortunately it was misused and the way it was done has poisoned the well. It has created tremendous ill will toward putting up more money,’ Soros said.”
Source: Lisa Lambert, Reuters, January 19, 2009.
Casey’s Charts: What the banks did with the latest bailout
“The red line in the graph below shows that, since August, banks have built their cash position in the form of Treasuries, agencies and deposits at the Fed by $865 billion, while their loans and leases have increased by only $325 billion.
“In other words, rather than lending the billions of dollars received from the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), as was originally intended, the recipient banks have squirreled away the bailout funds in order to shore up their balance sheets.
“Concurrently, the Federal Reserve is exchanging its excess reserves for toxic waste from the financial institutions.
“The combined affect is a ‘circular bailout’ with the Treasury borrowing … in order to lend money to banks … that then lend it back by purchasing more Treasuries. Of course, the expense of this entire bailout scheme ultimately falls onto the back of the tax-paying public.”
Source: Casey’s Charts, January 20, 2009.
Reuters: US and UK on brink of debt disaster
“The United States and the United Kingdom stand on the brink of the largest debt crisis in history. While both governments experiment with quantitative easing, bad banks to absorb non-performing loans, and state guarantees to restart bank lending, the only real way out is some combination of widespread corporate default, debt write-downs and inflation to reduce the burden of debt.
“To understand the scale of the problem, and why it leaves so few options for policymakers, take a look at the chart below which shows the growth in the real economy (measured by nominal GDP) and the financial sector (measured by total credit market instruments outstanding) since 1952.
“The solution must be some combination of policies to reduce the level of debt or raise nominal GDP. The simplest way to reduce debt is through bankruptcy, in which some or all of debts are deemed unrecoverable and are simply extinguished, ceasing to exist.
“But widespread bankruptcies are probably socially and politically unacceptable. The alternative is some mechanism for refinancing debt on terms which are more favorable to borrowers (replacing short term debt at higher rates with longer-dated paper at lower ones).
“The remaining option is to tolerate, even encourage, a faster rate of inflation to improve debt-service capacity. Even more than debt nationalization, inflation is the ultimate way to spread the costs of debt workout across the widest possible section of the population.”
Source: John Kemp, Reuters, January 21, 2009.
Financial Times: Winter bites in EU but with some bright spots
“Wintry conditions are gripping Europe’s economies as the biting winds caused by financial market storms lead to deep and protracted recessions, but regional variations are still distinguishable.
“The latest Financial Times economic weather map for Europe shows a further substantial deterioration since it was last published in October, when the devastating impact on the global economy of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the investment bank, was only just becoming apparent.
“European industrial production collapsed in November, data this month have shown, and business confidence surveys suggest the bottom of the recession – set to be among the worst since the second world war – has not yet been reached.”
Source: Ralph Atkins and Ben Hall, Financial Times, January 19, 2009.
CNBC: Buffett & Brokaw
“Insight on the financial and economic turmoil, with Warren Buffett, Tom Brokaw, NBC News special correspondent, and CNBC’s Erin Burnett and Mark Haines.”
Source: CNBC, January 19, 2009.
RGE Monitor: Estimated $3.6 trillion loan and securities losses in US
“Nouriel Roubini and Elisa Parisi-Capone of RGE Monitor released new estimates for expected loan losses and writedowns on US originated securitizations.
“Loan losses on a total of $12.37 trillion unsecuritized loans are expected to reach $1.6 trillion. Of these, US banks and brokers are expected to incur $1.1 trillion.
“Mark-to-market writedowns based on derivatives prices and cash bond indices on a further $10.84 trillion in securities reached about $2 trillion. About 40% of these securities (and losses) are held abroad according to flow-of-funds data. US banks and broker dealers are assumed to incur a share of 30-35%, or $600-700 billion in securities writedowns.
“Total loan losses and securities writedowns on US originated assets are expected to reach about $3.6 trillion. The US banking sector is exposed to half of this figure, or $1.8 trillion (i.e. $1.1 trillion loan losses + $700 billion writedowns.)
“FDIC-insured banks’ capitalization is $1.3 trillion as of Q3 2008; investment banks had $110 billion in equity capital as of Q3 2008. Past recapitalization via TARP 1 funds of $230 billion and private capital of $200 billion still leaves the US banking system borderline insolvent if our loss estimates materialize.
“In order to restore safe lending, additional private and/or public capital in the order of $1 – 1.4 trillion is needed. This magnitude calls for a comprehensive solution along the lines of a ‘bad bank’ as proposed by policy makers or an outright restructuring through a new RTC.
“Back in September, Nouriel Roubini proposed a solution for the banking crisis that also addresses the root causes of the financial turmoil in the housing and the household sectors. The HOME (Home Owners’ Mortgage Enterprise) program combines a RTC to deal with toxic assets, a HOLC to reduce homeowers’ debt, and a RFC to recapitalize viable banks.”
Source: RGE Monitor, January 22, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Home building activity posts new low
“Starts of new homes fell 15.5% in December to an annual rate of 550,000. The annual average of new homes started in 2008 is 902,000, the lowest on record. Starts of new single-family homes dropped 13.5% to an annual rate of 398,000, the lowest on record.
“The peak-to-trough decline in housing starts, both total and single-family, is the largest on record since record keeping began for these series in 1959 (see table 1). The duration of the weakness in home construction (peak was in January 2006) is also the longest on record.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 22, 2009.
Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Housing Market Index spells more gloom
“The Housing Market Index (HMI) of the National Association of Home Builders fell to 8.0 in January 2009 from 9.0 in December 2008. Before the onset of the current recession, the record low for the HMI was 20.0 during the 1990-91 recession. The question now is: What is the low for the HMI? The answer is unknown, but we can say that the severity of the housing market situation grows in leaps and bounds everyday.
“The HMI is strongly correlated with sales of new single-family homes. Based on this historical relationship, it appears that a pickup in new sales in the near term is unlikely.”
Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 21, 2009.
Shadowstats: Decline in retail sales worst since World War II
“Annual real retail sales fell by 9.09% in December, versus a 9.11% contraction in November, the steepest annual declines since 1952. On a three-month moving-average basis the December and November declines were 8.88% and 7.87%, respectively. The December annual moving-average decline was the deepest in the history of the two most recent retail series, making the results the worst of the post-World War II era. The annualized real contraction for fourth-quarter 2008 retail sales was 17.1%.”
Source: Shadowstats, January 2009.
BCA Research: US deflation – this time it’s for real
“Annual US headline CPI dipped to zero in December. Core CPI is still positive (1.7% annual growth), albeit is falling steadily.
“The decline in headline inflation is due largely to sharply falling energy (and food) prices. Underlying inflation moves with the business cycle, though it lags economic growth by several quarters. The economy decelerated steadily last year before imploding in the autumn. Thus, core CPI is on track to fall further as economic slack builds. Already, retail prices are falling.
“The current deflationary threat is much more serious than the previous episode in 2002, given the speed and magnitude of the credit and economic crunch. Thus, policymakers will need to work hard to anchor inflation expectations in positive territory, and ensure that a deflationary mindset among consumers and businesses does not set in.”
Source: BCA Research, January 19, 2009.
Paul Kedrosky (Infectious Greed): Banks are just a circle of their former selves
“Nice graphic of how the major banks are just a fraction of their former selves, at least as measured by market value.”
Click on the image below for a larger graph.
Source: Paul Kedrosky, Infectious Greed, January 21, 2009
Bespoke: Long-term charts of the financial sector
“A look at long-term charts of the S&P 500 Financial sector is downright depressing. The first chart below dates back to 1990, and as shown, the sector closed at its lowest level since March 1995 yesterday. The sector is now down 79% from its highs in 2007. A chart of the sector all the way back to 1940 shows just how much the sector has fallen in such a short period of time.”
Source: Bespoke, January 21, 2009.
Eoin Treacy (Fullermoney): Will bank indices be leading indicators?
“The downward breaks experienced by a number of Western banking indices over the last week are significant and suggest we can expect further moves by the respective governments to shore up their financial sectors. This relative weakness poses a headwind for their wider markets.
“When bank indices began to underperform in 2007, they had an incredibly large weighting in most country indices. The performance of bank shares was important both in terms of their high relative weightings and because of their status as lead indicators. However, bank sectors are now a considerably smaller weighting in most indices. This lessens the intrinsic importance of the banks sector to the performance of the wider market, but the psychological impact is undiminished.
“The performance of bank sectors is a major drag on sentiment. Dividends are being eliminated and a process of nationalisation is underway in a number of Western countries. However, one should not forget that many other companies will not need government support, will not eliminate their dividend and as such are likely to be relative performers in this environment.
“In addition, an interesting dichotomy exists between markets where banks are underperforming and where they are outperforming. Bank indices in the USA (S&P500 Banks, Philadelphia Banks, Regional Banks), Europe (DJ Euro Stoxx Banks), the UK, France, Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Italy and Ireland all made new lows in the last week. Internationally, the Chinese bank index is closest to the upper side of its range. No other bank index, I know of, is showing such relative strength. All Asian bank indices remain within their ranges. The marked underperformance of the USA and much of Europe is a clear indication that this is where the bulk of financial risk is focused.”
Source: Eoin Treacy, Fullermoney, January 20, 2009.
Brian Belski (Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch): Liquidity is key
“US equity investors should concentrate on companies, industries and sectors that have the means to fund themselves, says Brian Belski, strategist at Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch.
“He notes that areas in the market exhibiting strength recently have been dominated by low-quality companies with higher debt levels. But he says fundamental conditions do not support a move to low quality. ‘If 2008 taught us anything, attempts to get ahead of an eventual stock market and economic recovery were premature and misguided.’
“He acknowledges that credit market conditions have improved but is not convinced the worst is over. ‘Remember, even though credit spreads have narrowed, they still remain considerably above the peaks exhibited during prior credit cycles which we believe is a consequence of the loss of confidence both from investors and lenders.
“‘This is particularly troubling to us because we expect US corporate bond issuance to decline in 2009, yet a significant amount of bonds are expected to mature for S&P 500 companies. As a result, areas within the market that rely on leverage to fund operations are likely to struggle in the coming year and the trajectory of corporate bankruptcy filings over the past several years certainly appears to support this notion. Therefore, investors should continue to focus on areas demonstrating strong liquidity in the form of high cash balances and free cash flow.’”
Source: Brian Belski, Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch (via Financial Times), January 20, 2009.
Bespoke: Volatility Index shows more complacency
“Below we highlight a chart of the VIX volatility index along with the S&P 500. One difference between the current decline and the declines in October and November is that the VIX has not spiked nearly as much. Many think of the VIX as an indication of fear in the market, and whether it’s good or bad, there seems to be more complacency during the most recent downturn.”
Source: Bespoke, January 23, 2008.
Bloomberg: Roubini, Edwards predict slump in S&P 500 on China
“Stocks will retreat around the world because of shrinking demand from China as growth in the third- biggest economy slows, said Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who predicted last year’s financial crisis.
“Global equities will fall 20% this year from current levels as China, which contributed 19.5% to total growth in 2007, contends with its slowest expansion in seven years, he said. Wall Street strategists predict the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, down 8.4% so far, will rise 17% in 2009.
“Roubini, an economics professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, said China already is in a ‘recession’ despite government data showing a 6.8% fourth-quarter growth rate, as power output declines and manufacturing shrinks.
“‘Demand is falling in China, they’re over-invested in capacity and there’s a global supply glut,’ Roubini said in a telephone interview. ‘It has very, very important implications.’
“Roubini’s view is shared by Societe Generale global strategist Albert Edwards, who was correct in forecasting in March that a US contraction would spur a bear market in equities. Edwards says the China slowdown will reduce earnings at industrial, energy and raw-materials companies, sparking a selloff in emerging and developed-market stocks that may send the S&P 500 down 40% to 500.
“‘People should be thinking really hard about this rather than sticking their heads in the sand,’ said Edwards, a London-based strategist and member of the top-ranked global investment strategy team in Thomson Extel’s surveys the past three years. ‘We’re just pointing out when the emperor doesn’t have any clothes on.’”
Source: Michael Patterson and Adam Haigh, Bloomberg, January 23 2009.
Bloomberg: Mobius to invest more in China, emerging markets
“Mark Mobius, who oversees about $26 billion in emerging-market stocks at Templeton Asset Management, said he plans to buy more shares of consumer and commodities companies in emerging markets.
“‘Valuations are attractive,’ Mobius, Templeton’s executive chairman, said at a briefing in Kuala Lumpur today. ‘We feel that this year would be a year of recovery of the stock markets in the emerging markets.’
“Mobius said rising income in China, India and other parts of Asia will spur spending on consumer goods, while commodity prices are now ‘too low’. The two nations, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey offer best investment opportunities, he said.
“‘There is an incredible build-up of foreign reserves in the emerging markets, and the increase in money supply is quite dramatic,’ the executive chairman said. ‘We’ve seen a very big increase of money coming into markets.’
“The emerging-markets gauge trades at 8.2 times its companies’ reported earnings, 36% cheaper than its average valuation last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The developed measure trades for 10.8 times profit.
“The US economy and other economies will rebound in 2010, said Mobius, whose biggest holdings are in Asia.”
Source: Soraya Permatasari, Bloomberg, January 17, 2009.
Bespoke: S&P 500 Q4 ‘08 earnings now expected to fall 28.2%
“At the start of the fourth quarter, analysts were expecting S&P 500 earnings to grow by 30% versus Q4 ‘07. While this seems outlandish now, remember that growth in Q4 ‘07 was extremely poor as well, and analysts thought many companies would begin to turn the corner by Q4 ‘08. As we all know, the economy pretty much came to a halt last October. As a result, analysts quickly began to cut growth estimates for the fourth quarter after it became apparent that things weren’t going to get better anytime soon.
“Fast forward a few months, and now analysts are expecting those same Q4 ‘08 earnings to be 28% weaker than the fourth quarter of 2007. With the direction that these estimates have been heading, when all is said and done, it’s likely that this number will get even worse.”
Source: Bespoke, January 21 2009.
Bespoke: Pick your poison – stocks or bonds
“While we all know that investing in stocks has been painful, some readers may be surprised to learn that Treasuries haven’t provided a much better alternative. While the S&P 500 is down 8% so far this year, long-term Treasuries (as measured by the US Long Bond future) are down almost 6%. With the recent break below their 50-day moving average, bonds are hardly looking like a ‘safe’ alternative in the current environment.”
Source: Bespoke, January 22, 2009.
Financial Times: Barclays Capital’s Larry Kantor says keep assets liquid
“The situation in many markets and economies is so tenuous now because we don’t know what the policies are going to be. The next month or two are critical. Investors should keep an ‘arsenal of liquid assets to deploy’, at some point it is possible that there could be a very big upswing in the economy and in equities, which investors should be ready for.
“In the meantime, debt of strong companies appears to be a good investment, especially as the Federal Reserve is considering buying corporate debt, together with other assets it is already buying, such as commercial real-estate backed bonds.”
Source: Financial Times, January 18, 2009.
Bloomberg: “Time to sell” Treasuries, biggest Korean fund says
“A rally that sent US Treasuries to their best year since 1995 is coming to an end, South Korea’s National Pension Service, the country’s biggest investor, said.
“US government efforts to combat the recession will prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year, said Kim Heeseok, who oversees $160 billion as head of global investments for the service in Seoul. The decline would snap a surge that sent the securities up 14% last year, according to Merrill Lynch & Co.’s US Treasury Master index, as investors sought the relative safety of debt.
“‘It’s time to sell US Treasuries,’ said Kim, who took over as head of investments at the start of the year. ‘The stimulus plan may cause inflation. The US will raise the benchmark interest rate.’”
Source: Wes Goodman, Bloomberg, January 19, 2009.
John Hussman (Hussman Funds): The case for TIPS
“The way to think about the relationship between TIPS yields and straight Treasury yields is that the nominal yield on a security is equal to the ‘real’ yield plus expected inflation. At present, we have extraordinarily depressed nominal yields, but relatively high real yields, which means that the inflation rate implied in TIPS is extraordinarily low. Indeed, in order for TIPS to achieve the same total return as straight Treasuries over the next decade, we would need to observe a slight but sustained deflation over that period.
“My impression is that we are not near the point where there is any real risk of inflation, and we may very well observe negative near-term inflation rates (which is why it is important to be careful with TIPS that trade at a substantial premium to par, since the apparently high ‘real’ yields on near-term TIPS can be eroded by deflation). TIPS can’t mature at less than par, but if there is a deflation, the accrued inflation adjustment on these securities can be whittled down.
“Suffice it to say that we are holding TIPS not because we anticipate a near-term resurgence of inflation, but because the real, inflation-adjusted yields available over the next decade are quite high on a historical basis, and will adequately provide for the maintenance and growth of purchasing power over time, regardless of the near-term course of consumer prices.”
Source: John Hussman, Hussman Funds, January 19, 2009.
Steve Barrow (Standard Bank): Dollar honeymoon won’t last
“The arrival of a new US president often sees an initial rise in the dollar – although the honeymoon does not always last long and it is doubtful whether this time will be different, says Steve Barrow, currency strategist at Standard Bank.
“He says it is possible that the market might buy into new hope offered by an incoming president.
“‘There’s little doubt that Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to bring new hope to the American people. It is also possible that the Democrats’ strong position in Congress will give Mr Obama more scope to impose his will than President Bush did.’
“But Mr Barrow doubts any early dollar strength in Mr Obama’s presidency will last. He says the US budget deficit is set to balloon due to the recession and likely $775 billion stimulus plan and notes that the last president to oversee such huge deficit expansion was Ronald Reagan in 1980-1988.
“‘Dollar strength at the start of Mr Reagan’s term gave way to a downtrend that lasted until 1995. The Reagan camp initiated this weakness with dollar sales in 1985. We doubt Mr Obama will do the same, but in one respect, the new president will be seeking a weaker dollar.
“‘The Chinese renminbi remains a thorn in the side of the US trade balance. Mr Obama has vowed to continue the fight for flexibility – and hence strength – in the renminbi as initiated by President Bush. In order to see the dollar weaken against the renminbi, the dollar may have to fall elsewhere.’”
Source: Steve Barrow, Standard Bank (via Financial Times), January 19, 2009.
Jim Rogers: Sterling in peril
“The pound is a currency with no underpinning and should fall against the dollar and the euro, says Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings and co-founder of the Quantum Fund with George Soros.
“He says his view reflects the UK’s dire economic situation: ‘It’s simple, the UK has nothing to sell.’
“Mr Rogers says the two main pillars of support for sterling have been North Sea oil and the strength of the UK financial services sector, in particular, the City of London’s role.
“But Mr Rogers says just as North Sea oil is running out, so London’s standing as a major financial centre is set to suffer.
“‘I don’t think there is a sound UK bank now, at least, if there is one I don’t know about it,’ he says.
“‘The City of London is finished, the financial centre of the world is moving east. All the money is in Asia. Why would it go back to the West? You don’t need London,’ says Mr Rogers.
“Mr Rogers thinks the pound is more vulnerable than the dollar or the euro. He says the UK housing market is arguably in a worse state than that of the US, given pockets of strength in the US and prices that are sliding across the board in the UK.
“Meanwhile, he says, the UK is in worse shape economically than the eurozone, where most countries are not big debtors and do not run huge trade deficits. ‘If the UK discovers more North Sea oil, I might change this view,’ he says. ‘But I don’t see that happening.’”
Source: Jim Rogers (via Financial Times), January 21, 2009.
Bespoke: British pound crumbles
“The US dollar is clearly back in rally mode after suffering a setback in December. As shown in the first chart below, the Dollar Index has now broken well above its 50-day moving average and appears to be heading back to its November highs. Unfortunately, rallies in the dollar have recently coincided with declines in riskier assets like equities.
“But the bigger news in currencies is the dramatic fall that the British pound has recently experienced. Today the pound is suffering another big drop, and as shown in the first chart below, the currency broke below recent support levels as well as the $1.40 mark. And the bottom chart shows just how much the pound has fallen in such a short period of time. In late 2007, the pound was trading at record highs versus the US dollar. Now it is trading very close to its lowest level since 1991. Anyone in the US that has the money to go to England can stay there on the cheapest tab in decades.”
Source: Bespoke, January 20, 2009.
Eoin Treacy (Fullermoney): Testing times for euro
“All countries in the Eurozone are now seeing their government bond spreads widen relative to German yields. This is an indication that all countries took part in the access to abundant credit made possible by the launch of the Euro and are now suffering the consequences.
“Some are being more affected than others. Spreads for Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland have expanded most. These were some of the countries where borrowing costs had fallen most in order to join the Euro and where most use was made of the ability to access cheap credit. Without the single currency they would never have been able to borrow at such low rates, but they are now constricted by being unable to devalue their currencies in order to help them through the crisis.
“This is the first real test for the single currency. If it can survive the credit / solvency crisis without seeing some countries dropping out or its efficacy being called into question; then it stands a good chance of surviving for the longer-term as a viable entity. This may well depend on how long the crisis drags on.
“Spreads of more than 250 basis points over Bunds, for Greek government bonds are not encouraging for its long-term participation. Investors will no doubt remember there were significant questions about the Greek government’s financial probity in the figures submitted to the European Commission prior to its entry into the single currency. Time will tell, but it will be a worthwhile exercise to monitor these spreads going forward.
“It is also interesting to see that in the UK, where control of interest rates is maintained by the BOE, that the brunt of the country’s risk reassessment has been borne by the pound rather than government bonds. The spread over Bunds has been in a volatile downtrend since late 2005 and tested parity recently. The government bond spread has been contracting in line with the pound’s decline against the Euro; both appear to have turned around the same time.”
Source: Eoin Treacy, Fullermoney, January 19, 2009.
CEP News: Treasury Secretary Geithner takes hardline stance on China
“In tune with the ‘change’ mantra heard throughout the US Presidential campaign, the Obama administration signalled a new stance on China. But given the economic climate, analysts question the strategy of adopting a hardline position with the biggest purchaser of US debt.
“In comments to the Senate Finance Committee released Thursday, newly-confirmed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, ‘President Obama – backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists – believes that China is manipulating its currency.’ He added later that Obama will aggressively push the Asian country to change its policies on foreign exchange.
“‘The comments from the new administration suggest a more robust position on China than the former administration,’ said Shaun Osborne, chief currency strategist at TD Securities. ‘It remains to be seen what China’s response will be, but the US is in a very delicate position at the moment.’
“In September, China overtook Japan as the largest foreign holder of US debt, but that appetite may shrink as China’s growth has slowed dramatically in the global recession.”
Source: Patrick McGee, CEP News, January 22, 2009.
John Authers (Financial Times): Currency interventions looming
“Unprecendented shifts in forex markets last year is fueling rumors of currency interventions in the coming weeks.”
Click here for the article.
Source: John Authers, Financial Times, January 22, 2009.
US Global Investors: Rosenberg – the case for gold
“Gold was, of course, one of the investment world’s few bright spots in 2008, and after a slow start in 2009, it began a rally that climbed above $900 an ounce on Friday. This is gold’s highest price since early October.
“David Rosenberg at Merrill Lynch sent out a short but useful research note Friday titled ‘The Case for Gold’ that explains that gold’s value is enhanced by declining bullion supply and increasing money supply.
“‘It’s the only currency not going up in supply. Pretty simple. South African gold output declined 14% last year in the steepest decline since 1901. US production was down 2%. The leading producer in terms of growth last year was China at +3% (and global central bank selling activity dropped 42% in 2008 to 279+ tons, the lowest since 1996).
“‘Meanwhile, money supply is up more than 10% YoY in the USA (M2); +16% in Australia (M3); almost 11% in Germany (M2); 18% in the UK (M2); almost 9% in Italy (M2); 13% in Canada (M2); 14% in Korea (M2); 18% in India (M2); 12% in Singapore; and 18% in China (M2).
“‘Outside of gold, the only country where money is not being poured into the financial system as if it was water from the tap is Japan, where trends in the monetary aggregates are flat-to-negative. Be that as it may, and in view of all the problems in the US banking sector, we think the dollar is unlikely to lose its reserve currency status any time soon … Confidence in the ability of European governments to service their sovereign debt is being called into question in the debt markets (‘in the land of the blind …’ ).’”
Source: US Global Investors – Weekly Investor Alert, January 23, 2009.
Richard Russell (Dow Theory Letters): Gold – very bullish action
“During the great gold bull markets of the 1970s to 1980, gold topped out at a price of 850 per ounce. For months now, gold has been ‘testing’ the 850 level, first rallying above 850 and then sliding below 850. Currently, February gold is trading at 891. I consider this to be very bullish action. The current gold action is taking place in the second phase of the new gold bull market. The second phase has seen many hedge funds and a small segments of the public become interested in gold.
“I believe the third speculative phase of the current gold bull market lies ahead. This is the phase where the public jumps wholesale into the market. It’s the phase where I expect to see a much higher, even frenzied, gold price. This final phase of the gold bull market will be accompanied by international doubt regarding the value and viability of fiat currency.
“Fiat money is being created in great quantities by almost every central bank in the world. Imagine, the foolishness of trying to ward off insolvency by creating ever-larger quantities of paper money. The worse off the economies of the world, the more fiat currency will be created.”
Source: Richard Russell, Dow Theory Letters, January 23, 2009.
Financial Times: UK move to boost cash supply
“Britain paved the way towards unconventional monetary policy in Europe on Monday when the government gave the Bank of England authority to create money and buy a variety of private sector assets.
“Although there is no sign the Bank’s monetary policy committee wants to introduce US-style quantitative easing immediately, it now has the power to buy assets ranging from corporate bonds to asset-backed securities with newly created money.
“The policy, if introduced, seeks to ease the flow of finance to companies, driving down company borrowing costs and boosting the supply of cash in the economy. The Federal Reserve prefers the term ‘credit easing’ to describe similar moves.
“The decision comes as part of a package designed to ease pressure on lending in the UK economy and put a brake on deepening recession. On Monday, the European Commission said Britain had one of the most exposed economies in the world to the global recession, predicting its economy would contract by 2.8% this year with stagnation continuing in 2010.
“Other elements of the package were heavily trailed. An insurance scheme stands at its heart, designed to restore some certainty to banks’ finances by providing cover against catastrophic losses. This will be implemented from February on a case-by-case basis.
“From April, the government will provide guarantees to wrap around simple asset-backed securities issued by banks containing high-quality mortgage and corporate assets. Subject to state aid approval from the European Commission, it is also planning to extend its current guarantee of short-term funding for banks to the end of the year.
“For the first time since the crisis began, the Bank of England will also explicitly accept corporate credit risk when it begins a $74 billion programme of asset purchases from the private sector in return for government paper in February.”
Source: Chris Giles, Financial Times, January 19, 2009.
Financial Times: UK tries to break recessionary dynamic
“The government on Monday launched its second bank rescue package, injecting billions of pounds more of the taxpayer’s money into saving Britain’s banks. Chris Giles, FT’s economics editor, tells Daniel Garrahan that the new bank rescue package is designed to rescue the economy as well as the banks.”
Source: Financial Times, January 19, 2009.
BCA Research: Last chance for UK banks
“Measures by UK authorities to shore up the banking system brings the prospect of full scale nationalization one step closer if they fail to re-ignite lending.
“The BoE’s ability to purchase assets outright will effectively help in recapitalizing the banking system and should also provide a valuable fillip to the corporate debt market. For now, the Treasury has stopped short of setting up a ‘bad bank’ to coral all the poor quality assets, probably for fear of what this might mean for the UK’s beleaguered public finances in the event of default. Based on current government estimates the deficit will stay above 3% of GDP until the middle of the next decade.
“Bottom line: At this stage, policymakers are limiting their actions to ‘quality assets’. However, it is probable that the next step is a ‘bad bank’ and full scale nationalization, given that output is forecast to fall this year at the fastest pace since 1946 and lending is likely to stay weak for a prolonged period.”
Source: BCA Research, January 21, 2009.
James Pressler (Northern Trust): Japan – no sale!
“Two items of significance regarding the Japanese market hit the wire this morning – the end-year trade balance and the Bank of Japan (BoJ) policy meeting announcement. With the overnight call rate already down to 0.10%, another rate cut would hardly be a news-maker, but the state of Japan’s exports usually makes the front page. And unfortunately, the news was not good.
“Nobody expected the export market to make a miraculous turnaround, but some hope existed for less erosion in overseas sales or fewer imports, thereby supporting net exports. Neither occurred. December imports contracted by 21.5% on the year and were up by 7.9% for 2008 as a whole, but exports fared much worse, posting respective changes of -35.0% and -3.4%. This dragged the annual trade balance down to $20.4 billion, a level not seen since 1983 and a far cry from the 2007 tally of $92.1 billion.
“We have said it before and we will say it again – our official forecast for Q4 GDP in Japan is ‘abysmal’.”
Source: James Pressler, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 22, 2009.
Societe Generale: Japanese exports fall 35%
“Strikingly, Japanese exports to the US were down some 37% yoy. But we cannot highlight strongly enough how truly mindboggling Japan’s collapse in exports to China are. Last July they were expanding at a 16% yoy pace. Now they are contracting at a 35% yoy rate! This is a phenomenon throughout the region. Hence despite the notoriously manipulated Chinese GDP data showing a shocking slowdown in GDP growth to 6.8% yoy. I would eat my hat if the Chinese economy was doing anything other than contracting right now.”
Source: Societe Generale, January 2009.
Nouriel Roubini (RGE Monitor): China – why 0% growth is the new size 6.8%
“The Chinese came out today with their 6.8% estimate of Q4 2008 growth. China publishes its quarterly GDP figure on a year over year basis, differently from the US and most other countries that publish their GDP growth figure on a quarter on quarter annualized seasonally adjusted (SAAR) basis.
“When growth is slowing down sharply the Chinese way to measure GDP is highly misleading as quarter on quarter growth may be negative while the year over year figure is positive and high because of the momentum of the previous quarters’ positive growth.
“Indeed if one were to convert the 6.8% y-o-y figure in the more standard quarter over quarter annualized figure Chinese growth in Q4 would be close to zero if not negative.
“Other data confirm that China was in a borderline recession in Q4 and that it may be in an outright recession in Q1: production of electricity plunged 7.9% in y-o-y basis; the Chinese PMI has been below 50 and close to 40 for five months now.
“And with manufacturing being about 40% of GDP , manufacturing is certainly in a sharp recession (negative growth) and the overall economy may be close to a recession
“So the 6.8% growth was actually a 0% growth – or possibly negative growth – in Q4; and the Q1 figures look even worse. So China is in a recession regardless of what the highly massaged official numbers claim.”
Source: Nouriel Roubini, RGE Monitor, January 22, 2009.
Bryan Crowe (Northern Trust): Brazil – 100 is the new 75
“In a surprise to the majority of forecasters, Brazil’s central bank lowered its benchmark rate by a larger-than-expected 100bps on Wednesday after an official vote of 5-3 (the three voted for a 75 bp cut), bringing the overnight Selic rate down to 12.75%. This move was justified after a subdued inflation reading for December, but the committee’s main reason for the move was a significant deterioration in domestic conditions.”
Source: Bryan Crowe, Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, January 22, 2009.
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