EUROPE: MIND ON THE MARKET WHILE CHARTING A BETTER WAY FORWARD

Posted on April 12, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

In the immediate aftermath, by agreeing to buy Euro 60 billion worth of public and private securities on a monthly basis until September 2016, under its recently launched quantitative easing ( QE ) program, the European central bank (ECB)  has quite clearly distorted the market. Also the initiative has given once in a life time type opportunity to Euro area countries to get their fiscal house in order by borrowing for longer duration and at a record low cost without being able to provide  or required to provide any fundamental justification to the market. And also by showing a willingness to buy European governments debt as low as minus 20 basis points, the ECB is probably attempting to harmonise the cost of borrowing of the EU states. So as a consequence, we are now living in a reality, where Portuguese and Spanish 10 years sovereign bond has a lower yield  than a U.S. Treasury of the same duration.

While the benefits of the QE to the European governments can’t be understated, European financial institutions from the likes of an insurance companies or a pension fund etc, who rely on investment returns to keep their business model sustainable will most likely have to reassess, or redesign their investment model factoring the new reality of low and negative yielding sovereign debt.

The ECB is clearly aiming to push investors out of what is considered safe haven assets, but investors could also opt to very well sell the Euro denominated European sovereign bonds, and instead buy US treasuries as ECB has very limited control over how investors will allocate capital, and the overall directional flow of the capital. Non European companies with stronger balance sheet could also benefit immensely by borrowing at very low rates in Euros, and there are ample evidence of that happening already as more and more companies flock to Euro to raise capital. So there remains an inherent risk with the approach, and capital will likely flow into various asset class outside of the Euro area.

Also in the last couple of years, a sizeable portion of the profits made by euro area based banks came from their sovereign debt holdings, and in the current environment, it will be interesting to see what sort of impact the change in dynamics will have on banks profitability. Although the banks are comparatively in a much better shape than few years ago, they are still struggling to make good money from their traditional day-to-day business.

Going forward, the QE initiative of European Central Bank (ECB) should improve the overall economic dynamics of the Euro Zone, and the signs are that it is in some way or the other heading in that direction. But a QE coupled with ultra low interest rate environment over a longer than desired period  isn’t all NET positive for the general well-being  of the economy. A sustained ultra low interest rate environment over a long period of time can cause misallocation of capital, mis-pricing of risks, and can also easily become addictive without really creating a big jump in the overall economic activity of the real economy. And here is an interesting data that I believe provides an interesting perspective. Based on various reliable estimates, Japanese savers have over US$ 7.1 trillion stashed in cash, and roughly around US $ 300 billion of cash is believed to be literally stashed under the carpet  across Japanese households creating a situation where excessive savings is not being utilised by the real economy as average household aren’t able to get the return they would expect from traditional channels of investments.

There are still a large number of savers who believe in the good old savings model, where a bank provides an attractive return to its clients on deposits. Also more than half of the population of the developed as well as developing world does not actively invests on a regular basis in stocks or bonds so therefore they are unable to reap the benefits of a record high stock market. And their savings get eroded over time through low to almost negligible return on their deposits while a small percentage of sophisticated institutional investors make good money from record high stock markets mostly driven by the easy QE money, which distorts the connection between the financial markets and the real economy.

And even in an economy where a large percentage of the savings comes from the higher valuation of the house prices, if through traditional channels, a saver is not getting decent enough return from the banks, the overall confidence in the economy suffers, and it is one of the reason why the economic data remains somewhat confusion creating volatility in the financial markets.

There are limitations to what a central bank and monetary policy can deliver or achieve on their own without a sound business and investment friendly economic environment. And this is where Europe continues to struggle. Euro zone economy is showing some signs of improvement  but it still has a long away to go.

A Europe where an entrepreneur as a value creator with credible ideas or project  is able to access right capital and start the journey without getting stuck in bureaucratic red tape is still a bit far from becoming a reality. In general, the market is turning optimistic on Europe’s prospect, but the EU leaders as well as the bureaucrats will need to be focused on delivering the essential reforms in order to make sure Euro Zone as an economic growth engine starts to fire, to ensure it stays relevant and competes better. So the European policy makers will need to keep their mind on the market while charting a better way forward for Europe.

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Talking About The All Scary Emerging Market, Market Perception and Investing in General

Posted on January 26, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The markets are once again busy with chatter about Emerging Market ( EM ) and the sound of CHOAS seems to be re-emerging and many in the market are starting to wonder, what’s next ? A number of analysts have gone on record suggesting in their daily market commentary that emerging markets could now be a danger to global financial stability. No doubt, these are strong statements so it begs the obvious question, are we looking at another financial crisis, this time coming from the emerging markets ? And I do wonder if the fundamentals of EM have changed so dramatically leading some commentators to believe that a crisis is somehow imminent as evident from the way markets have reacted last week? Well, unlike our friends in the financial world, we ( I am referring to our group ) like many others who operate on a daily basis in the real economy can see and feel that the global economy is shaping up nicely and the IMF’s latest revised up global growth projection of 3.7% for 2014 and it’s growth expectation of around 5.1% for emerging markets from an earlier 4.7% GDP growth rate guidance, more or less reflects the ground the reality of the day.  So the obvious question, why this panic and uncertainty ?

Now one could rightly argue that the revised up guidance are just projections and the risks both known and unknown still remains. Also the recent volatility in the markets to a large extent has been driven by downward pressure on the Turkish LIRA as well as Argentine PESOS devaluation and the South African RAND, which is also come under a bit of pressure. And then there are obvious chatters around how good or bad China is doing and how will the leadership manage the US 4.8 trillion dollar worth ( estimated ) shadow banking system along with a relatively high local government debts, and then there are concerns about India as well as Brazil’s fundamentals. These are real and genuine concerns but having said that, I can’t help but wonder, how is all this a SURPRISE to anyone in the market ? For example most of us are aware of the ongoing political uncertainty in Turkey and based on our own common sense, we could safely conclude that if the political turmoil drags on then there will be consequences to the economy.

And also assuming the worst case scenario, one needs to ask and know, did the previous crises in Turkish and Argentine economy kill the overall emerging markets across the board ? the clear answer is NO, so in short it will be unwise to assume that Turkey will some how bring down the emerging markets of Asia, Africa or Latin America, the reality is a potential crisis in Turkey may be more damaging to developed European economies then China or India for that matter. Also it is important to emphasise that there is a crisis of leadership in Turkey today which is weighing down on the economy and a positive resolution could very easily change the overall dynamics of the economy. Now with regards to China, a US 9.4 trillion dollar economy growing at around 7.7% isn’t just going to fall off the cliff under the weight of its shadow banking system and the local government debt. Yes, there are real concerns about how the government may go about handling the whole situation but it will be unwise to assume that somehow the economy will implode bringing down the global economy. There are simply too many opinions on China both bearish and bullish but understanding the structure and behaviour of the overall Chinese economy is an extremely complex task and betting against the government’s ability to deliver on its set forth agenda never really works and this may be one of the reasons why foreign investors tend to struggle in China. And with regards to India, the Indian economy today is in a much better shape fundamentally than last year also the overall investors sentiment around India has improved significantly, the country’s real problem today is a lack of decisive leadership which will hopefully get resolved after the upcoming general election and also most CEOs representing both local and overseas companies are quite upbeat about India’s medium and long term growth prospect. The current government has also made a series of reform announcements aimed at opening up various parts of the economy to overseas investors.

So why then the market is projecting a risk of contagion and giving a sense that somehow an imminent crisis is brewing up in the Emerging market ? I must say, I do wonder if by holding an emerging market stock or bonds or taking up speculative positions in local currency an overseas investor is ever able to get the full picture and flavour of the overall economy ? And the answer is, most likely not because in reality most emerging markets are layered and quite different to each other and also it must be said that there is a reason why they come under the category of being classified as ” emerging markets ” but this is not to say that developed markets are somehow immune to crisis as evident from the financial crisis of 07/08.

In the big picture scenario understanding a market or an asset class isn’t just about reading opinions from various experts of the subject and one must not forget that even in good times people and companies do fail so yes some emerging markets may struggle but today the global economy is in a much better shape than it was few years ago and it is quite unlikely that from here on we are looking at an imminent collapse. However, the inherent risk in the global economic system as well as the financial markets by design still remains so the system isn’t CRISIS proof and never was. Also opinions and projections are part and parcel of how a markets operate but people do need to be rationale and honest because clearly there are those in the market who may prefer a free ride and to keep making  money on the back of easy money printed by the central bankers. This is not to suggest that the global economy has now reached a stage when all the loose monetary policy stimulus should be withdrawn right away, the tapering and tightening of traditional monetary policy tools will most likely be gradual.

But having said that the market will continue to make tapering related bets. Vanguard, PIMCO and BLACKROCK  lost roughly over 35% in value on their investment  in the last 6 months of 2013 by getting their inflation bet wrong on Treasury Inflation Protection Securities (TIPS ). These firms made bets on the assumption that Quantitative easing (QE ) will deliver inflation down the road and although it is quite evident that they got their bet wrong but we mustn’t  forget the fact that QE did in fact create Inflation in ASSET PRICING and also across various Emerging Markets, but obviously not where it was expected so clearly those who held a view that QE will create inflationary mayhem in the economy killing  the dollar down road most likely didn’t incorporate the fact that the economy of today works and behaves a bit differently. There  needs to be a realisation that too much money in the system and ultra lose monetary policy will not necessarily create an immediate spectacular growth trajectory especially when the economy is coming out of a MASSIVE HEART ATTACK. And there are clear evidence that QE has created ASSET pricing inflation through misallocation of capital and this may be what is eating up growth ( growth rate below market expectation ). Also while some managers did get their inflationary bet wrong they should also realise that central bank’s ability to create or control inflation in a 2014 world isn’t always guaranteed or straight forward but having said that inflation will slowly but surely show up in the real economy but most probably not tomorrow.

Investment is about taking risk by relying your own assessment of a specific risk and then taking a decision based on your own judgement. MARKETS OR COMPANIES are all run by Human ideas and thought process so the market or a company is only as good as people behind them. And without being philosophical, we all know that life comes with no guarantee so what do we do? well, we learn to take risks and the same goes for creating a business and how we invest. There are no guarantees and the guarantees you may have or seek could easily become worthless when the circumstances change. And whatever investment decision you make or take will always come with an inherent RISK so there is always a chance that it may or may not work out as planned. You can only make a decision based on what you can see and know today but there are always many unknowns that you may not be able to factor in and going forward  these unknowns may very well influence the outcome.

So investing in general isn’t all about following a trend or analysts reports or getting overwhelmed by the sound bites coming from various corners of the market or committing yourself to a fancy model. In most cases, a good investment is generally about following your own intuition or in other words your own inner radar just like many decisions we make or take in our lives and you can always use the information available in the market to make up your own mind in a similar way as you would seek advice from friends or family when taking an important decision in your life but always remember you will have to live with outcome and blaming others for an undesired outcome never helps although it might be quite tempting to play the game but if you do then you are denying yourself an IMPORTANT OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN and there is nothing scary about learning. So the all scary emerging market as projected by some in the market today in fact may not be that scary after all and remember a perception doesn’t always equal reality.

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