Merk Market Outlook

By: Joseph Brusuelas | Fri, May 16, 2008
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The interesting and generally questionable conclusions in the April consumer price report provided a false sense of comfort in global financial markets that we believe will be temporary. The finding that the cost of domestic gasoline fell -2.0% month over month during a time when prices at the pump soared well above $4.0 per gallon in many areas was behind the modest official increase in the cost of living for the month. However, savvy market participants that follow the inflation data closely understand that the seasonal adjustments often tend to overshoot the true nature of the data and are prone to monthly revisions. We expect that the data in the coming months will be revised to reflect the reality of what is occurring in the price environment.

Perhaps more interesting and completely overlooked in the CPI data was the steady increase in the cost of food. In April the cost of food advanced 0.9% month over month and 5.1% year over year. This represented an eighteen-year high on both accounts and does put a very serious dent in the foundation of Fed assumptions regarding the evolution of inflation. For the past year the Fed has continuously made the case that since the government begin tracking food inflation that the cost of food has not increased in two consecutive years since the Great Depression. Thus, the central bank has been implying for several months that one of the two major drivers of headline inflation (the other being the cost of imported oil) will see declines during 2008.

Forgive us if we strenuously disagree. In our analysis the change in the pricing environment for commodities is the result of a significant and long lasting change in the composition of demand on a global basis for commodities and energy. As such, the relative change in pricing for energy and commodities will not be transitory and prove quite durable.

To put things in perspective, the wealth now being built in China, India and in many emerging markets has permanently altered the supply and demand equation. For the first time many individuals are wealthy enough to purchase protein and are now substituting the consumption of lower cost poultry for much more expensive beef. Why does this matter? According to the US Department of Agriculture it requires 700 calories worth of feed to produce 100 calories worth of beef. Thus, the change in dietary habits in the emerging world has stimulated a far-reaching increase in demand for grains. When one accounts for the policy changes (erroneous in our view) resulting in the move towards ethanol based gasoline and the development of $125 per barrel of oil this has produced a what looks to be a permanent change in the cost of living that will bleed through to the Fed's cherished core rate of inflation.

The result is that recent readings in inflation will prove transitory. Both headline and core rates of pricing will see moves well above what both the Fed, the market and the public will find tolerable. Given the unorthodox approach to dealing with the evolving credit crisis, even with a Fed on pause until after the election, the global system will continue to be flush with liquidity which will drive the dollar lower, the cost of energy and commodities towards the heavens and inflation much higher.

Date Data Consensus Merk Actual Previous
5/19/08 Leading Indicators -0.1 -0.1   0.1
5/20/08 PPI 0.4 0.5   1.1
5/20/08 PPI Ex F&E 0.2 0.2   0.2
5/21/08 FOMC Minutes n/a n/a   n/a
5/22/08 Initial Claims n/a 370   371
5/23/08 Existing Home Sales 4.85 4.82   4.93min
Market Consensus Obtained Via Bloomberg

 


 

Joseph Brusuelas

Author: Joseph Brusuelas

Joseph Brusuelas
Chief Economist
VP Global Strategy
Merk Investments LLC

Bridging academic rigor and communications, Joe Brusuelas provides the Merk team with significant experience in advanced research and analysis of macro-economic factors, as well as in identifying how economic trends impact investors. As Chief Economist and Global Strategist, he is responsible for heading Merk research and analysis and communicating the Merk Perspective to the markets.

Mr. Brusuelas holds an M.A and a B.A. in Political Science from San Diego State and is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Before joining Merk, Mr. Brusuelas was the chief US Economist at IDEAglobal in New York. Before that he spent 8 years in academia as a researcher and lecturer covering themes spanning macro- and microeconomics, money, banking and financial markets. In addition, he has worked at Citibank/Salomon Smith Barney, First Fidelity Bank and Great Western Investment Management.

Mr. Brusuelas lives in Connecticut with his wife and St. Bernard.

Merk Investments LLC is the manager of Merk Mutual Funds, including the Merk Asian Currency Fund and the Merk Hard Currency Fund. The Merk Asian Currency Fund invests in a basket of Asian currencies. Asian currencies the Fund may invest in include, but are not limited to, the currencies of China, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

The Merk Hard Currency Fund invests in a basket of hard currencies. Hard currencies are currencies backed by sound monetary policy; sound monetary policy focuses on price stability.

The Funds may be appropriate for you if you are pursuing a long-term goal with a hard or Asian currency component to your portfolio; are willing to tolerate the risks associated with investments in foreign currencies; or are looking for a way to potentially mitigate downside risk in or profit from a secular bear market. For more information on the Funds and to download a prospectus, please visit www.merkfund.com.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the Merk Funds carefully before investing. This and other information is in the prospectus, a copy of which may be obtained by visiting the Funds' website at www.merkfund.com or calling 866-MERK FUND. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

The Funds primarily invest in foreign currencies and as such, changes in currency exchange rates will affect the value of what the Funds own and the price of the Funds' shares. Investing in foreign instruments bears a greater risk than investing in domestic instruments for reasons such as volatility of currency exchange rates and, in some cases, limited geographic focus, political and economic instability, and relatively illiquid markets. The Funds are subject to interest rate risk which is the risk that debt securities in the Funds' portfolio will decline in value because of increases in market interest rates. The Funds may also invest in derivative securities which can be volatile and involve various types and degrees of risk. As a non-diversified fund, the Merk Hard Currency Fund will be subject to more investment risk and potential for volatility than a diversified fund because its portfolio may, at times, focus on a limited number of issuers. For a more complete discussion of these and other Fund risks please refer to the Funds' prospectuses.

This report was prepared by Merk Investments LLC, and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute investment advise nor a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any products or services. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, distributor.

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