uncertainty

From Rome With Love? The 3 Issues To Watch For Italy & Global Markets

This article made the Front Page of the Huffington Post Business

Political uncertainty in Italy could impact global markets, but provide a “fantastic buying opportunity.”

cnbc squawk

Like Jennifer Lawrence’s fall at the Oscars, unexpected but a chance to shine ‘comedically‘, Italy’s elections have shocked investors but provided attractive entry points to strong international firms, insulated from domestic woes (as well as offer up some funny one-liners from candidates). The possible loss of eagerly anticipated labour reforms, financial restrictions and market contagion provide shorter term sources of turmoil. However, existing reforms are likely to continue, market retrenchment is healthy and to be exploited for longer term opportunities.

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The ‘Surprises’ of the Japanese Crisis and the Investment Lessons to Learn

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts – Sir Winston Churchill

The human suffering of the earthquake and following tsunami in Japan is well documented. Exceeding the magnitude of Kobe both in strength and structural damage, the final cost is unknown and the aftershock which occurred yesterday did nothing to abate the concern. Surprise consequences have revealed significant weaknesses in both the word of politics and business and from an investment point of view, there are lessons we can learn…

A Political Surprise – Germany

The ruling party in Germany was voted out of office in one of its most prosperous states after almost 58 unbroken years in power. If they lose one more state election in September, Merkel could face a “blocking majority”. Despite voter concerns over the EU rescue fund (which they see as a potential ‘bottomless pit’) and claims leaders are out of touch with business, the surprise came as instead the loss was blames on Japan. After extending the life of 17 nuclear power stations and then calling a 3 month ‘thinking period’, politicians claimed the nuclear crisis swayed voters towards a Green anti-nuclear coalition.

 

A Business Surprise – Car Makers

The other surprise came to the heads of car making companies. Reliant on tight inventory management and a high proportion of electrical components, the supply chain interruptions from suffering Japanese suppliers hit these firms hard. What surprised them the most was the fact that a lot of these electrical components came from a single source. Since these were often parts sold to previous firms to be built into other parts then sold onto car makers, this concentration risk was not identified. In reaction Peugeot, Europe’s second largest auto maker by volume was forced to slow production at 7 plants in France and Spain. Japan’s Nissan saw the affects lasting for at least a month and started importing engines from their US plants – a reversal of a trend.

 

Source: Bloomberg – Since March 11 2011, the date of the earthquake, Peugeot (white) has caught up with the MSCI Wold Index (yellow) whereas Nissan (orange) is still struggling at a 13% lower level – all performance normalised.

The ‘Crisis Effect’– Luxury Goods

In reaction to the devastation, many in Japan are spurning conspicuous spending. Tiffany lowered their earnings expectations and expects Japanese sales (a fifth of their total) to fall by 15% in Q1 against retail demand rising 11% on average across the rest of the globe. Bulgari has now re-opened all but one of their 40 stores but, as one of their biggest markets, sees sales remaining weak for at least 6 months. This 6 month figure may have been derived from a comparison with the Great Hanshin earthquake, Kobe, back in 1995 where the after-effects were felt for approximately this length of time. However, this time around there have power cuts affecting populous areas, supporting concerns this is over-optimistic.

 

Source: Bloomberg – Bulgari (orange) hardly moved post-earthquake despite earnings concerns whereas Tiffany (yellow) was hit hard (-11%) but has also staged an impressive recovery (+11%)

The Bottom Line – Heightened Uncertainty

What this all highlights is the heightened level of uncertainty we are dealing with. There remains the potential for events few of us could predict, with consequences which come as a surprise and, those that are temporary, with a hard-to-forecast end date.

 

Investment Insight: The Lessons we can Learn

There are clear lessons we can learn. With a global recovery still open to macro shocks, it is prudent to remain active with an ability to protect your portfolio, whether through managers that can reduce their net exposure to markets or otherwise. And from a more stock specific point of view, know companies in which you invest well, including the full length of their supply chain and the true resilience of their client base. It’s true that crucial, often overlooked details are often only realised during times of stress, and this is by far one of the most tragic. Never stop learning.

European “Financial Mechanisms” – Can they solve the EU’s problems? And how can I make money from the concern?

World unity is the wish of the hopeful, the goal of the idealist and the dream of the romantic. Yet it is folly to the realist and a lie to the innocent – Don Williams, Jr  (American , b.1968)

There has been much in the news lately on the outlook for the European Union. In May, Greece was offered €120bn in EU government and IMF loans over 3 years to replace the need for new borrowing at exorbitant market rates – the “first bailout of a Eurozone country and the biggest bailout of any country”.  Just last month Ireland joined the queue and received a €85bn injection plan. The flame of contagion was burning bright as investors worried Spain, Portugal and Italy were to follow suit quickly (The other members of the PIIGS acronym – and we’ve been advised what risks lie in an acronym!). Then just as markets calmed after the ECB staged their largest intervention and purchased mainly Portuguese and Irish bonds on Friday, the rating agency Moody’s announced it was downgrading Hungary’s debt by not one but two notches!  This country isn’t even in the periphery of the EU, it’s outside of it entirely… and so the contagion spreads….

Source: Bloomberg. The premium investors demand for investing in Irish government bonds over German bunds remains elevated (indicating a perceived heightened risk)

Why won’t the EU bailouts solve everything?

1. FLAWED LOGIC: attempting to solve the problem of debt with more debt

2. NOT SOLVING PROBLEM: without growth, the debt burden as a share of GDP will continue to rise. The latest European Financial Mechanism only covers maters until 2013,  if Debt/GDP has not reduced significantly then bond holders start sharing the pain

3. UNCERTAINTY: ministers keep changing their minds! (“no bail out” to “bailout”, “no pain for creditors” to “sharing the burden”) – markets don’t like uncertainty!

The key discrepancy –

What the ECB wants EU countries to do: Be prepared to increase the size of emergency bailouts, consolidate budgets and reform (implement austerity measures and assume national responsibility so the ECB can avoid being a bailout tool)

What EU country economies need: COMPETITIVENESS AND GROWTH

Market Impacts

  • YIELDS may have fallen sharply for some periphery debt but as the chart before shows, they remain at elevated levels.
  • FORCED SELLING – Pension funds, insurance cos and ETFs which are focused on matching the liabilities to their assets may have to sell certain debt when its credit rating is cut

How can you exploit this?

“Europe is difficult to understand for markets. They work in an irrational way sometimes,” Christine Lagarde, French economy minister

  1. Companies located in an EU periphery country, with strong balance sheets and demand insulated from worries about their homeland (i.e. international exposure and demand for their products from the east etc) making it a sound investment choice, may suffer from illogical moves in the markets that punish anything connected to the country regardless. This debt can be picked up cheaply.
  2. In addition, a downgrade in a country’s government debt may trigger a wave of forced sellers (the pension funds etc. mentioned above) that are restricted in holding this level of debt. If this is just an automatic trade, these distressed sellers may be exploited with the purchasing power in your hands

With algo’ trading and the weight of passive “on-off” money in the markets, how can judgmentally driven hedge fund managers compete? Radio Clip

“We will never have all the facts to make a perfect judgement, but with the aid of basic experience we must leap bravely into the future” – Russell R McIntyre

Click to listen to a ~1 minute clip of my views from the “N@ked Short Club”, Resonance Fm… The main points are highlighted below.

CONTEXT – A MARKET TREND

  • 1w late May this year ~60% of trades on NYSE were down to high frequency and algorithmic traders
  • Beginning of this month the ISE announced: opening up to algorithmic trading
  • Result – will account for an increasing share of trading volumes on EM exchanges & beyond

ASSESSING THE DISTINCTION – Algo trading vs. judgement driven

  • Humans are responsible for writing the code that identifies anomalies in stock prices
  • Based on assumptions about what a hypothetical efficient market should look like
  • Still at risk of errors – bugs in these systems – Flash Crash – May 6, 2010 when the markets crashed by 573bps in 5mins (a large order by broker via algo program was identified as the probable tipping point) but recovered fairly quickly- CFTC*/SEC says that early sell pressure was absorbed by algorithmic and high frequency traders – evidence of adding significant liquidity – beneficial (*Commodity futures trading commission)

AT RISK OF TRADING RESTRICTIONS? JUST THE REVERSE!

  • The SEC is considering a requirement that high-frequency traders keep buying and selling shares during periods of stress, instead of abandoning the market.

BOTTOM LINE – Judgment driven strategies retain their use.

  • NOT ENOUGH TO MAKE MARKET EFFICIENTstill opportunities / inefficiencies to exploit.
  • TRENDS BREAKDOWN – when do – it’s opportunistic players w uncorrelated returns that save a portfolio.
  • UNCERTAIN TIMES the flexible players willing to adapt to their judgment calls benefit