February 1, 2010

Global Market Comments

February 1, 2010


1) Beware of Greeks bearing bonds. That is the message the markets screamed at us this week, when yields on the sovereign debt issued by the home of Plato and Socrates rose a gut-wrenching 400 basis points against German bunds. The move is welcome news to the big hedge funds that piled into the Piigs trade over the New Year in expectation of the worsening of the credit worthiness of Europe's weakest members. To the uninitiated, this is where you go long the debt of German government agencies, a country that has passed a constitutional amendment to balance the budget by 2016. (Hellooooooo! Is anyone in Washington listening?). You then short in equal value amounts the debt of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain. This trade already delivered a home run in a matter of weeks, and could have more to go. I managed to catch this indirectly in my January 4 Annual Asset Allocation Review by warning that the dollar haters had become too numerous and were about to get a severe spanking, getting whacked mercilessly by a greenback punching through to the $1.30's initially, and eventually to the $1.20's. This was predictable because the dire straights of the EC's weakest members are certain to prolong the European Central Bank's zero interest rate regime far longer than ours. The debt levels in some of these countries make America look like a paragon of fiscal integrity. Some analysts are predicting that the Euro itself might not even survive the crisis. How long can a sober, conservative German grandfather be expected to indulge the disgraceful habits of its party animal, thrill seeking, drug addicted grandchildren? I fear not long.

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2)Whenever I am confronted with non believers in gold, I love to pull out the chart below, showing the Dow Jones priced in the barbaric relic and smack them across the face with it. A 20 year bull market in the yellow metal took the stock index from 1.4 ounces in 1980 to a 40 ounce peak at the top of the dotcom bubble in 2000. It has been falling ever since, dropping to a mere 8 ounces by the end of last year. Today it is hovering at 9.2 ounces, but is definitely looking very heavy. When was the prior stock peak? In 1971, when massive deficit spending, spawned by the Vietnam War, forced the Nixon Shock, which freed gold to float from $34/ounce, sending the Dow fleeing from a 30 ounce valuation.  Do you see any parallels with today? Iraq and Afghanistan maybe? If we return to the 1980 ratio, the Dow Jones has to either fall 85% to 1,540, or gold has to rocket 6.6 times to $7,300/ounce. With the printing presses in Washington running so loudly that my teeth are starting to chatter, I vote for the latter. The most likely outcome is some combination of the two, where we see stagnant or falling stock prices and rising gold. Do I hear $5,000/ounce anyone? My own $2,300 forecast, the old inflation adjusted all time high, is looking more conservative by the day. Me, conservative? Perish the thought!

DowGold.gif picture by madhedge

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3) Hail to the Stock-Promoter-in-Chief! Given the spectacular performance of the stock market since Obama's inauguration, you might be forgiven for thinking that this was the best record in history. But you would be wrong by a big margin. A bounce back from the 1929 crash delivered an unbelievable 96.5% jump for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the year leading up to March 4, 1933. He is followed by a postwar boom induced 30.9% appreciation that Harry S. Truman ushered in to January, 1946, the first time the Dow index recovered the 200 level in 17 years. Obama only comes in third with a relatively modest 29.5% pop since his inauguration a year ago. Who brought in the worst return? Jimmy Carter suffered a 19.6% fall during the chronic stagflation of the late seventies. The Vietnam War did likewise to Richard Nixon, with a 17% decline in 1969. Warning to Obama: after FDR's fabulous first year gains, the market struggled for eight more years, until an expected WWII win sent it on a long term upward trajectory. If this president thing doesn't work out for Obama, I guess he can always pursue a career as a Wall Street lawyer.

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'By 2014, the GDP of emerging economies will surpass that of developed economies'¦.The most attractive place in the world to invest right now is China' said David Rubenstein, CEO of the Carlyle Group.

Rubenstein-1.jpg picture by madhedge