June 8, 2009

Global Market Comments
June 8, 2009

Featured Trades: (VIETNAM), (BIDU), (SOHU), (NTES), (SINA), (GOLD)

1) If you think that the place where China does its offshoring would be a great investment, you'd be right. Vietnam has been one of the top performing stock markets this year, its index rising by an amazing 85%.  It was a real basket case last year, when zero growth and a 25% inflation rate took it down 78% from 1,160 to 250. This is definitely your E-ticket ride. Vietnam is a classic emerging market play with a turbocharger. It offers lower labor costs than China, a growing middle class, and has been the target of large scale foreign direct investment. General Electric (GE) recently built a wind turbine factory there. You always want to follow the big, smart money. Its new membership in the World Trade Organization is definitely going to be a help. Remember what happened when China joined the WTO? Until now, the only way to get involved with this country was to go through the tedious process of opening a local currency brokerage account, or buy a region sub emerging market ETF. But now there is a vehicle to get in and out of this ultra emerging market easily, through the London listed Vietnam Opportunities Fund (VOF.LN), run by Vena Capital Management. I still set off metal detectors and my scars itch at night when the weather is turning, thanks to my last encounter with the Vietnamese, so it is with some trepidation that I revisit this enigmatic country. Throw this one into the hopper of ten year long plays you only buy on big dips, and go there on vacation in the meantime.

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2) After nearly four decades in the industry, I can tell you that stocks can be snarly, bad tempered beasts that would as soon as bite you as give you rabies. So it is a rare pleasure when I get to trade securities like the Chinese Internet companies, which have been purring away like a domesticated kitten. If you need further proof of where the future growth in the global economy is coming from, take a look at Bidu (BIDU), the Google of China, which I strongly recommended on March 6. It has jumped 280% from the lows to $280, and has been one of my better calls of the year. In the meantime, our Google (GOOG) rose by only 48% to $435, just 8% more than the S&P 500. These hedge fund darlings are best of breed companies, but the Chinese one outperformed the American counterpart by a factor of 6:1. This is the consequence of the US economy making a permanent shift from a 5% growth rate to 1.5%-2%, and is a pattern you can expect to see repeated around the world for the next decade. The cruel truth here is that American companies, with the drag of a mature economy, will never command the same multiples of Chinese ones. When looking for long equity exposure, always look for Chinese ones first. Expect huge growth of the four horsemen of the Chinese Internet sector-Netease (NTES), Sina (SINA), and Sohu (SOHU), and BIDU- who are going to eat our lunch.

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3) Brace yourself for the impending gold shortage. Gold shortage? Yup. Last year, South Africa suffered its steepest decline in gold production since 1901, falling 14%, to a mere 232 tons. It now ranks only third in global production of the yellow metal, after China and the US. Severe electricity rationing, a shortage of skilled workers, and more stringent mine safety regulations have been blamed. Choked off credit has frozen the development of new capital intensive deep mines, as it has for everybody else. Rising production costs have driven the global breakeven cost of new gold production up to $500 an ounce. In the meantime, the financial crisis has driven flight to safety demand for gold bars and coins to all time highs. Last year, the US Treasury ran out of one ounce $50 American Gold Eagle coins, now worth about $980. Competitive devaluations by almost every central bank, except Japan, mean that currencies are not performing as the hedge that many had hoped. It all has the makings of a serious gold shortage for the future. Could last year's downturn be a blip in the eight year bull market? When we break $1,000, which could happen any day now, watch out above!

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4) The sushi market has crashed. Premium blue fin tuna for sale at Tokyo's Tsukuji fish market, where I once lived next door, have seen prices drop 30% in the past year. The monster 500 pound frozen fish, which in better times fetched as much as $60,000 each in open outcry auctions, have gone out of favor. A Q1 GDP of -4.0% and a 5% unemployment rate have brought cutbacks in Japanese business entertainment spending as well as supermarket purchases of luxury items. This is despite a rising shortage of the best grade catches that has driven fishermen as far away as Antarctica. I'll let you know when prices start to tick up, as it could be a great leading indicator for the Japanese stock market.

Tsukuji1.jpg picture by sbronte


'The fall of a great nation is always a suicide,' said the great British historian Arnold Toynbee.

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