Words from the (Investment) Wise for the Week That Was (November 17 - 23, 2008): Part II

By: Prieur du Plessis | Sun, Nov 23, 2008
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Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Consumer Price Index plunges
"Today the BLS reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell by 1.0% both seasonally adjusted as well as unadjusted. On an unadjusted basis, this was the largest monthly decline in the CPI since January 1938."

Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, November 19, 2008.

BCA Research: Heading for deflation?
"A deflation scare will grip the developed world over the next 12 to 24 months.

"Our research on past real estate bear markets and subsequent banking sector stress (throughout Europe, the US and Japan) highlights that these episodes always lead to a recession, followed by a multi-year period of sub-par growth (i.e. negative output gap). In turn, excess supply helps dramatically drive down core CPI inflation in the years that follow. Granted, it could be argued that the previous episodes occurred during a period of strong structural disinflationary trends, thereby amplifying the magnitude and duration of the decline in price pressures.

"Nonetheless, core CPI inflation is likely to drop sharply throughout the G7 over the next 12 to 24 months, to lows at least comparable to the 2003 deflation scare. In turn, it is likely that the US prints very low positive or even mildly negative headline CPI numbers, given the drag resulting from the recent plunge in food and energy prices.

"Headline inflation is less likely to turn negative in Europe given the rigidity of the price structure but a deflation scare similar to the US earlier this decade is likely. The implication is that policymakers will continue to ease aggressively and then stay on hold for an extended period, benefiting our long duration call. "While the longer-term consequences of such actions may be inflationary, government bond yields will adjust lower in the near term."

Source: BCA Research, November 17, 2008.

Bloomberg: Bond-market yields signal deflation worldwide
"Bonds worldwide are showing that investors are betting that slumping economic growth will lead to deflation in every major economy. Britain's five-year breakeven rate went negative Tuesday for the first time since Bloomberg records began in 1996."

Source: Bloomberg, November 19, 2008.

Financial Times: In a weird world, yields on Tips point to deflation
"Would you believe that we shall actually have significant deflation in the US next year? And the year after that? And flat consumer prices for the year following? That's happened only once in a developed country since the 1930s - when Japan recorded a negative 1.6% consumer price index for 2002.

"Yet, if you believe the yields on US Treasury inflation protected bonds, or Tips, we shall have a 2.2% fall in prices in 2009, a 2.5% decline in 2010 and only flat prices in 2011. If that turns out to be true, the real interest rate burden on even the highest-rated borrowers will be extremely hard to bear."

Source: John Dizard, Financial Times, November 18, 2008.

John Davies (WestLB): Buy German bunds
"The 10-year German Bund yield could fall to a record-equalling 3 per cent in the months to come in response to worries about the eurozone economy, believes John Davies, bond analyst at WestLB.

"'Given the contracting economy and mounting threat of deflation, we now expect the European Central Bank to cut rates to 1.5% by the summer [from 3.25% now], which is lower than the market expects,' he says.

"Mr Davies notes that the rapid steepening of the spread between two-year and 10-year German yields, which started in September, has slowed as the market moves to price in rates of 2% by the spring.

"But he says: 'Given our forecast of a more aggressive ECB rate cut cycle, we fully expect the curve-steepening trend to remain safely intact.'

"While the steepening will primarily be driven by moves at the short end of the curve, long-end yields will fall as recession fears overshadow a jump in new issuance, Mr Davies says.

"'We expect the 10-year yield to fall from 3.6% to 3.25% within the next three-to-six months, and even test the 3% record low set in September 2005. It is only the rise in supply next year that stops us projecting a sub-3% yield.'"

Source: John Davies, WestLB (via Financial Times), November 18, 2008.

Bloomberg: China passes Japan as biggest US Treasuries holder
"China surpassed Japan in September to become the biggest foreign holder of US Treasuries, as foreign investors sought the relative safety of government debt as stocks plunged 9.1% that month.

"Total net purchases of long-term equities, notes and bonds increased a net $66.2 billion in September from $21 billion the previous month, the Treasury said today in Washington. Including short-term securities such as stock swaps, foreigners bought a net $143.4 billion, compared with net buying of $21.4 billion the month before.

"China led all foreign official investors in September by posting a net increase in US Treasuries for the sixth month in the past seven, bringing its total ownership close to $600 billion. Japan was a net seller of Treasuries for the fourth month in the past six.

"'The details of the report paint a much more positive picture of cross-border investments than expected,' said Michael Woolfolk, a senior currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. 'China, along with others, is showing more demand than anticipated for US assets.'"

Source: John Brinsley and Rebecca Christie, Bloomberg, November 18, 2008.

Bespoke: High yield spreads - no slowdown in sight
"If you're looking for signs of stabilization in the credit markets, the high yield market is not a good place to start. Based on data from Merrill Lynch, high yield bonds are yielding nearly 1,800 basis points more than comparable Treasuries. In the last month alone, spreads have risen by more than 200 basis points, and since bottoming in the Summer of 2007 at 241 basis points, they are up 645%. To put this in perspective, with the 10-year US Treasury now yielding 3.4%, a high-yield borrower would need to pay roughly 21.4% per year to take out a ten-year loan. With terms like these, who needs loan sharks?"

Source: Bespoke, November 19, 2008.

Bespoke: Financial weapons of mass destruction aimed at Omaha
"Warren Buffett is credited with coining the phrase 'financial weapons of mass destruction' with respect to derivatives. However, after some big unrealized losses on index options that Berkshire has written in the last couple of years, it now appears as though the derivative market is taking aim at Omaha. Over the last eight days, the cost to insure debt of Berkshire Hathaway has risen to 475 basis points per year. To put this into perspective, Morgan Stanley's credit default swaps are currently trading at 456 basis points, and that is the highest of the big global banks and brokers. Berkshire Hathaway has long been considered one of the safest of the safest financial companies, but if Black October 2008 has taught us anything, it's that nothing is safe."

Source: Bespoke, November 20, 2008.

Bespoke: S&P 500 200-day moving average spread at -32%
"Multiple market pundits have recently mentioned that the S&P 500 is trading the furthest below its 200-day moving average since the Great Depression. Below we have plotted the 200-day spread indicator going back to 1927. The index is currently trading 32% below its 200-day moving average, which is indeed the most negative spread since 1937. While the spread can remain negative for quite some time, the reaction to the upside has been extreme once the market turns. In the 1930s, and even following the big declines in the 70s, 80s, and early 2000s, the spread turned violently positive in the months following the ultimate low in the 200-day spread. Unfortunately, nobody knows when that low will be."

Source: Bespoke, November 17, 2008.

Barron's: Reversal of fortunes between stocks and bonds
"... the dividend yield on the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index touched 3.57% at 1:13 PM Eastern time [on Tuesday], exceeding the 3.54% yield on the benchmark Treasury 10-year note, according to Bloomberg News. That's something that hadn't happened since 1958.

"I was aware that there was a time when equities provided more income than bonds, but that belonged to a long-gone era. That was a time I knew of only from old movies, yellowed newspaper clippings and stacks of old Life magazines. It was when gentlemen wore suits and fedoras, not just to work but even to the ballpark; when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn; a bygone era already a half century ago.

"To contemporary market observers, it's more than nostalgia. For the S&P 500 to yield more than Treasuries suggests the market is very cheap by historical standards, says Jack Ablin, portfolio strategist for Harris Private Bank. 'Dividend yield, like price-to-sales, is one of those persistent metrics. We can all quibble about earnings, but dividends, particularly those of the entire S&P 500, are remarkably consistent,' he adds.

"'You can fake earnings through account hanky-panky, but you cannot fake dividends,' agrees Barry Ritholtz, chief executive of Fusion IQ. So after a 47% drop, stocks look relatively cheap for the first time in a long time, he adds.

"Scott Minerd, chief investment officer for Guggenheim Partners, calls the drop in Treasury yields below the S&P 500 dividend yield a 'straw in the wind' that the stock market may be bottoming. Still, he thinks the market is signaling that dividend cuts are in the offing, but this recessionary trend also will push Treasury yields still lower."

Click here for the full article.

Source: Barron's, November 19, 2008.

John Authers (Financial Times): US stocks fall on deflation fears

Click here for the article.

Source: John Authers, Financial Times, November 19, 2008.

Frank Holmes (US Global Investors): An emotionally impaired market
"Global equities are now trading on their lowest valuations since the early 1980s. History says we should expect stock prices to turn up before earnings do. A recovery in earnings, when it happens, has previously been a robust second leg for more significant price appreciation. The second leg will take place when the earnings recession ends and profits begin to recover. Investment research based on historical patterns by Citigroup suggests the second leg is about 12 months away. With this in mind, we're nibbling on stocks we believe are undervalued based on fundamental screens and have been hit the hardest as candidates for price appreciation.

"Weak earnings and expectations of more bad news to come have weighed heavily on stock prices. The global equity market trades on 10 times trailing earnings and over 15 times expected trough earnings. The 40-year average global price-to-earnings ratio is 17 times. Citigroup's research demonstrates that the global equity market is extremely undervalued, but valuations could continue to fall through year end.

"We believe the market and economy are now being emotionally impaired due to the cascading negative news by unbalanced media. Today [Friday] is the first day this week without negative grandstanding politicians on TV and the market was up. Stocks are so oversold and markets, as we have commented in the past, are due for a substantial rally. We believe the market is looking for certainty that President-elect Obama and his team are not going to raise taxes in this economic environment. If the new administration reverses course and denounces tax hikes for two years and proposes a budget to rebuild our infrastructure, then this week could have been the bottom for the market."

Click here for article by Robert Buckland, Citigroup's Chief Global Equity Strategist.

Source: Frank Holmes, US Global Investors - Weekly Investor Alert, November 21, 2008.

Bespoke: Trailing 12-month P/E ratios are low
"The S&P 500 Financial, Consumer Discretionary, and Telecom sectors currently have negative P/E ratios, which makes the overall index's P/E high at 18.41. Sectors whose P/Es aren't negative have very low trailing P/Es versus historical readings. The Energy sector currently has the lowest P/E at 6.55. The second lowest is Materials at 9.14, followed closely by Industrials at 9.44. And the Technology sector, which usually has a relatively high P/E, currently has a P/E of just 12.49."

Source: Bespoke, November 17, 2008.

Bloomberg: Mobius says he's buying China, India, South Africa
"Mark Mobius said he's 'aggressively' buying consumer stocks, including cell-phone companies, retailers, banks and furniture makers, as faster economic growth in China, India, South Africa and Turkey offsets sagging demand from developed nations.

"'We see a consumer boom in all of those countries,' Mobius, who oversaw more than $24 billion in emerging-market stocks on September 30 as executive chairman at Templeton Asset Management, said in a Bloomberg Television interview from Johannesburg. 'Per-capita income is growing at a very rapid pace in these countries.'

"China announced a $586 billion stimulus plan on November 9 after its gross domestic product grew 9% in the third quarter, the slowest pace in five years. India's central bank estimates growth will slow to 7.5% this year and next, from an annual average of 8.9% in the past four years. Emerging markets will expand at an average of 5% in 2009, compared with 1% in developed countries, Mobius forecast on October 21.

"The global economic downturn may not be as long or severe as expected because of the coordinated fiscal and monetary stimulus put forth by policy makers worldwide, the 72-year-old investor said today.

"The slowdown 'will be rather short-lived and, of course, the markets will anticipate this', Singapore-based Mobius said. 'There will be some deceleration, but these are still fast- growing countries.'"

Source: Fabio Alves and Monica Bertran, Bloomberg, November 17, 2008.

David Powell (Bank of America): Is the dollar's recent rally coming to an end?
"David Powell, currency strategist at Bank of America, believes the dollar has lost several important sources of support.

"The global shortage of dollar liquidity - one of the primary reasons for the US currency's strength as the financial crisis escalated in September - has been sharply reduced by the extraordinary measures introduced by central banks to ease money market stress, he says.

"Furthermore, the repatriation of the dollar, which prevented its retracement as tensions in the wholesale funding markets were reduced, may no longer provide the currency with much support moving forward. Private sector flow data indicate the repatriation of foreign investments to the US is slowing sharply, Mr Powell says.

"'A third factor behind the resilience of the dollar seems to have been the steady return offered by longer-dated US Treasuries, when compared with the sharp drop in German Bund yields. However, the fall in the euro against the dollar appears excessive even when compared to drop in the 10-year Bund-Treasury yield spread.

"'In addition, a dollar retracement is likely to gain momentum from the pattern of seasonal weakness normally seen in December. As such, we affirm our year-end euro/dollar forecast of $1.38 and outlook for a return to $1.44 by the first quarter of 2009 before the pair resumes a more gradual sell-off.'"

Source: David Powell, Bank of America (via Financial Times), November 19, 2008.

Financial Times: Jim Rogers - the dollar is a flawed currency
The following is an excerpt from an online interview with Jim Rogers.

"FT: It's a year since we last interviewed you. You were aggressively bearish about the dollar, but you thought there would probably be a rebound and you would take that as an opportunity to further get out of the dollar. Have you made a further exit from the dollar?

"JR: Not yet, no. And the reason I haven't is because we're in a period of forced liquidation of everything. We've only had eight or nine periods like this in the past 150 years, where everybody has to reverse their positions on everything. There is a gigantic short position in the dollar and they're all having to cover as they reverse their positions, so this rout is going to go on much further than I would have expected, to my delight, because then I'll get to sell at higher prices. I don't know whether I'll get out this month or this year even, maybe next year, but I do plan to get out of the rest of my US dollars, because this is an artificial rally caused purely by short covering.

"FT: How will you tell when that deleveraging is finally over?

"JR: I'm sure I won't get it right, but I do hope that when there's a lot of euphoria about the dollar and everybody's saying, well, see, there's no problem with the dollar ... I hope I'm smart enough to recognise it and finally get out of the dollar, because it is a flawed and maybe, even, doomed currency.

"FT: Do you see the sell-offs we've seen in commodities as a drastic correction?

"JR: Well, we're in a period of forced liquidation of all assets ... we're getting the business cycle effect on demand right now, certainly, but unless the world's in perpetual economic decline, commodities are the only thing going to come out of this okay.

"FT: Does this mean you're actually buying back into commodities at the moment, or is this an area you're standing clear of?

"JR: No, no. In October when I started covering my shorts in the US stock market, I started buying Chinese shares, Taiwan shares, I started buying commodities again. No, no, I've added to those positions.

"FT: What's your strategy towards emerging market stocks?

"JR: My hope is that I'm smart enough and brave enough at some point along the line to buy some of them back. But I'm not even thinking about it right now ... The world's financial situation is in a mess, and there are a lot of people who have to liquidate. I mean, we must have had 30,000 MBAs flying around the world looking for emerging markets. All of that money has got to come home.

"FT: How do you think the world should go about redesigning the regulatory system, and are you worried that we're going to end up with a swing towards over-regulation?

"JR: Well, we probably will, The problem is that people like Alan Greenspan would never let the market work ... For 15 years, under Greenspan, and now Bernanke, they would not let the market work. Had they let Long-Term Capital Management fail back in 1998, we wouldn't have these problems now, I assure you. Lehman Brothers would have been smashed. Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, would have been smashed. We wouldn't have these problems now. That only happened because every time they turned around they propped these guys up, gave them more money, and that's why we have the problem ... But now, of course, they're going to blame it on other people and cause more regulations.

"FT: You're arguing we need to allow some more big institutions to fail?

"JR: One failed. Why didn't they let Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? I mean, I was short Fannie Mae, and they should have let it fail, go to zero. AIG, they should have let it fail, they should have let all of these guys fail, and we would clean out the system ... What they're doing is they're taking the assets away from the competent people, giving them to the incompetent people and saying to the incompetent: 'Okay, now you can compete with the competent people, with their money.' I mean this is terrible economics. This is outrageous economics."

Source: Jim Rogers, Financial Times, November 17, 2008.

Bloomberg: China should buy gold for reserves, Association says
"China, the second-biggest overseas holder of US Treasuries, should increase its bullion holding to diversify its reserves because the dollar may decline, the country's gold association said.

"'China should have at least several thousand tons of gold in its reserves, five to six times the officially announced 600 tons,' Hou Huimin, vice chairman of the China Gold Association said from Beijing. The group represents producers, traders and retailers.

"The US budget deficit climbed to a record in October, and some investors are betting the dollar may weaken as the Treasury would need to sell more debt to finance its $700 billion financial-rescue package. Gold has tumbled 29% from its March record.

"'There's no doubt that gold would be attractive, as US debt is likely to swell,' said Kenichiro Ikezawa, who oversees about $3 billion as a fund manager at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo. 'In the long term, both the dollar and Treasuries will probably weaken. It's possible that China will buy more gold, though the country is likely to do so gradually.'"

Source: Xiao Yu and Ron Harui, Bloomberg, November 14, 2008.

Reuters: Iran switches reserves to gold
"Iran has converted financial reserves into gold to avoid future problems, an adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in comments published on Saturday, after the price of oil fell more than 60% from a peak in July.

"Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, is under UN and US sanctions over its disputed nuclear programme and is now also facing declining revenue from its oil exports after crude prices tumbled.

"'With the plans of the presidency ... the country's money reserves were changed into gold so that we wouldn't be faced with many problems in the future,' presidential adviser Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi was quoted as saying by business daily Poul.

"Iranian officials in July denied reports that Iranian banks were moving funds from Europe, with one report suggesting as much as $75 billion had been withdrawn and converted into gold or placed in Asian banks, because of a threat of tightening sanctions."

Source: Zahra Hosseinian, Reuters, November 15, 2008.

The New York Post: Global run on gold coins
"There's a worldwide run on gold coins. Even as the price of the precious metal itself comes under pressure along with commodities like oil and copper, people around the world are demanding so many of the valuable coins that government mints are having difficulty filling orders.

"A spokesperson for the US Mint tells me that gold coins in this country, for the past month, 'are being allocated because of an increased demand'.

"And the price that the government charges coin dealers has recently been increased by as much as 10% for a 10-ounce coin.

"And even when gold coins are available, dealers report that customers are paying a bigger premium than they would have just a few months ago.

"In one sense, the attraction for gold coins isn't surprising. Since ancient times, gold has been considered the safest investment to hold in times of uncertainty.

"With fears of future inflation rising and concern about the value of paper currency and government-debt increasing with each new recovery plan announced in Washington and in foreign capitals, the desire to hold gold grows.

"That part makes perfect sense. But there's another more puzzling aspect to the recent gold rush. Even as the demand for gold coins such as the Canadian Maple Leaf or the Krugerrand of South Africa has grown, the market price of the precious metal itself is off its highs.

"Bill Murphy, chairman of the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee, says the price of spot gold is even more perplexing given the demand for coins and the fact that central banks in Europe have stopped selling gold into the open market.

"'Gold should be moving up,' Murphy says. 'How could there be such a dichotomy between the historic high premium for coins all over the world and the low Comex price?'

"His answer? 'Today the public is buying gold like crazy, but the US government and the banks that hold bullion are intentionally keeping the price down.'"

Source: John Crudele, New York Post, November 18, 2008.

James Pressler (Northern Trust): Japan enters first recession in 7 years
"Today's indicators out of Japan confirmed what we had expected - that Japan is in recession, though the consensus believed there were enough one-offs to growth to keep the headline figure on the positive side of zero. Real GDP contracted by 0.1% from the previous quarter after a sharper fall of 0.9% in Q2 (originally -0.7%), with Q3 consumption rising by 0.3% after a fall of 0.6%. True, there were factors that perked up private consumption, but they were not enough to overcome a weak net exports figure that will only get worse in the coming quarters."

Source: James Pressler, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, November 17, 2008.

YouTube: Bloomberg Voices - Japan enters recession

Source: YouTube, November 17, 2008.

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Back to Part I



Prieur du Plessis

Author: Prieur du Plessis

Dr Prieur du Plessis

Dr Prieur du Plessis

With 25 years' experience in investment research and portfolio management, Dr Prieur du Plessis is one of the most experienced and well-known investment professionals in South Africa. More than 1 000 of his articles on investment-related topics have been published in various regular newspaper, journal and Internet columns. He also published a book, Financial Basics: Investment, in 2002.

He holds the following degrees: BSc (Quantity Surveying) (Cape Town), HonsB (B & A) (cum laude) (Stellenbosch), MBA (cum laude) (Stellenbosch); and DBA (Doctor of Financial Management) (Stellenbosch).

Prieur is chairman of the Plexus group of companies, which he founded in 1995. Previously he was general manager: portfolio management at Sanlam, responsible for the management of investment portfolios with total assets in excess of $5 billion.

Plexus is a pioneer in the mutual fund industry and has achieved a number of firsts under Prieur's leadership. These include the authoritative Plexus Survey, a quarterly analysis of the consistency of the performance of unit trust management companies, the Plexus Offshore Survey, the Plexus Unit Trust Indices, and the PlexCrown Fund Ratings.

Plexus is the South African partner of John Mauldin, American author of the most widely distributed investment newsletter in the world, and also has an exclusive licensing agreement with California-based Research Affiliates for managing and distributing its enhanced Fundamental Index™ methodology in the Pan-African area.

In 2001 Prieur received the Santam/AHI Business Leader of the Year award for corporate leadership, business acumen and entrepreneurial flair. He was also profiled in the book South Africa's Leading Managers (2006). Plexus received the AHI/Old Mutual Enterprise of the Year award in 1997 and was also included in the book South Africa's Most Promising Companies (2005).

Prieur is 52 years old and lives with his wife, TV producer and presenter Isabel Verwey, and two children in Welgemoed, Cape Town. His recreational activities include long-distance running, motor cycling and reading. He belongs to the Cape Town Club, Johannesburg Country Club, Gordon's Bay Yacht Club and Swiss Social & Sports Club.

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