Words from the (Investment) Wise for the Week That Was (January 5 - 11, 2009): Part II

By: Prieur du Plessis | Sun, Jan 11, 2009
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John Authers (Financial Times): A bond bubble?

Source: John Authers, Financial Times, January 6, 2009.

Bloomberg: Treasury bond market not a bubble, Goldman Sachs says
"Goldman Sachs Group said the US Treasury market hasn't turned into an asset bubble even as investors debate the wisdom of buying government bonds with yields near record lows.

"The US economy is likely to expand below its potential for the next six to eight quarters, resulting in lower 'core' inflation, according to a report released today by the New York- based firm. Inflation erodes the fixed payments of bonds.

"'By mapping one-year ahead macro expectations to long-dated government yields through our Sudoku framework we find that global bonds are, in the aggregate, currently trading close to the model's measure of fair value,' Francesco Garzarelli, chief interest-rate strategist at Goldman Sachs in London, wrote in a research note.

"As the year progresses and investors' focus shifts to the prospects for recovery into 2010, yields will likely drift higher, though in line with Goldman Sachs' forecasts, Gazarelli wrote. Treasury 10-year note yields will likely trade at 3% to 3.25% by year-end, he said. During the current quarter, yields will trade in a 2.50% to 2.75% range, Goldman Sachs' predicts."

Source: Liz Capo McCormick, Bloomberg, January 8, 2009.

Financial Times: German bond sale's fate signals trouble ahead
"A German sovereign bond auction failed on Wednesday as investors shunned one of the most liquid and safe assets in the world in a warning for governments seeking to raise record amounts of debt to stimulate slowing economies.

"The fate of the first eurozone bond auction of 2009 signals trouble ahead as governments around the world hope to issue an estimated $3,000 billion in debt this year, three times more than in 2008.

"The 10-year bonds failed to attract enough bids to reach the €6 billion the German government wanted. Bids of €5.24 billion, a cover of only 87%, amounted to the second worst auction on record in terms of demand.

"Analysts said the vast amount of supply is deterring investors and a growing number of countries, including those with deep and mature bond markets, such as Germany, the UK and Italy, are struggling to attract buyers."

Source: David Oakley, Financial Times, January 7, 2009.

Financial Times: Asset managers turn to corporate bonds
"High-grade corporate bonds are set to outperform other asset classes in 2009, fund managers and market strategists surveyed by the Financial Times have forecast.

"More than half those surveyed said high-quality corporate credit was trading at cheap levels and that this was the asset class most likely to see a rally in 2009.

"In contrast, government bonds were the least-favoured asset class, with many of the 30 leading asset managers and strategists surveyed arguing that yields had plummeted too far in 2008, prompting talk of a possible price bubble.

"A majority of those polled said high-quality corporate bonds had been oversold after investors had abandoned corporate credit of all grades over the past year in favour of the safest and most liquid assets, such as government bonds and gold.

"Tim Bond, global head of asset allocation at Barclays Capital, said: 'I like credit as an asset class the best. Investment-grade corporate bond spreads are at levels last seen in 1932, which happened to be an excellent point to buy credit - even though it was the middle of the Great Depression.'

"John Paul Smith at Pictet Asset Management said corporate credit offered the best potential returns while the severe global recession continued. 'While we don't anticipate any immediate improvement in the economic outlook, with corporate credit yields currently at unprecedented levels, investors are being paid to wait.'

"Credit market prices are consistent with an unprecedented risk of default, even for the highest quality corporate bonds.

"US investment-grade corporate bond prices, for example, imply a cumulative default rate of 36% over five years, assuming a typical recovery of 40 cents in the dollar, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. This is more than 7.5 times higher than the worst default rate in any previous five-year period."

Source: Esther Bintliff, Financial Times, January 5, 2009.

Bespoke: High yield spreads narrow for 13th straight day
"High yield bond spreads (based on Merrill Lynch indices) narrowed for the 13th straight trading day on Monday. This marks the longest streak of declines since April 2003, and the second longest streak since the series began in 1997.

"At a current level of 1,744 basis points above Treasuries, high yield spreads are now down 20% from their peak level from December 15 (2,182 basis points) and back to levels we saw before the election and the run on Citibank.

"Make no mistake that at current levels high yield spreads are still extremely high, but given the widespread view that the market cannot stage a meaningful rally until spreads begin to narrow, the current move is a step in the right direction."

Source: Bespoke, January 6, 2009.

Edmund Conway (The Telegraph): Willem Buiter warns of massive dollar collapse
"The long-held assumption that US assets - particularly government bonds - are a safe haven will soon be overturned as investors lose their patience with the world's biggest economy, according to Willem Buiter.

"Professor Buiter, a former Monetary Policy Committee member who is now at the London School of Economics, said this increasing disenchantment would result in an exodus of foreign cash from the US.

"The warning comes despite the dollar having strengthened significantly against other major currencies, including sterling and the euro, after hitting historic lows last year. It will reignite fears about the currency's prospects, as well as sparking fears about the sustainability of President-Elect Barack Obama's mooted plans for a Keynesian-style increase in public spending to pull the US out of recession.

"Writing on his blog, Prof Buiter said: 'There will, before long (my best guess is between two and five years from now) be a global dumping of US dollar assets, including US government assets. Old habits die hard. The US dollar and US Treasury bills and bonds are still viewed as a safe haven by many. But learning takes place.'"

Source: Edmund Conway, The Telegraph, January 06, 2009.

FT Alphaville: Beware, commodity index rebalancing ahead
"The major commodity indices rebalance their respective asset weightings once a year (or occasionally more) - and with that comes a mass dose of buying and selling. The 2009 rebalancing is expected to start sometime this week.

"Luckily, JP Morgan has produced its best guess of how the 2009 reweightings of the DJ AIGCI and the S&P GSCI indices will impact the market.

"The weightings for both indices are released ahead of time, but begin to kick in the first few working days of the new year. In the case of the DJ-AIGCI - which JP Morgan estimates has $25 billion in funds tracking it - the new weightings come into force during the roll period that begins January 9. The S&P GSCI index weightings kick-in after its January roll which commences January 8. JP Morgan estimates about $50 billion of investment into that index.

"JP Morgan see the most significant change coming in the DJ-AIGCI rebalance. Here the market weight of crude oil is expected to increase from 9.6% to 13.8%, gold from 10.8% to 7.9%, copper (COMEX) from 4.5% to 7.3%, live cattle from 6.4% to 4.3% and sugar from 4.7% to 3.0%. Meanwhile, S&P GSCI crude oil weight will go from 32% to 33.8%".

Source: Izabella Kaminska, FT Alphaville, January 5, 2009.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Telegraph): Merrill Lynch says rich turning to gold bars for safety
"Merrill Lynch has revealed that some of its richest clients are so alarmed by the state of the financial system and signs of political instability around the world that they are now insisting on the purchase of gold bars, shunning derivatives or 'paper' proxies.

"Gary Dugan, the chief investment officer for the US bank, said there has been a remarkable change in sentiment. 'People are genuinely worried about what the world is going to look like in 2009. It is amazing how many clients want physical gold, not ETFs,' he said, referring to exchange trade funds listed in London, New York, and other bourses.

"'They are so worried they want a portable asset in their house. I never thought I would be getting calls from clients saying they want a box of Krugerrands,' he said.

"Merrill predicted that gold would soon blast through its all time-high of $1,030 an ounce, and would hit $1,150 by June."

Source: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph, January 9, 2009.

Reuters: Pickens - oil prices to top $100 by end of 2010
"Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens said on Tuesday that oil prices will rise above $100 a barrel by the end of 2010 as the global economy recovers.

"Oil prices in the $40 a barrel range are 'not going to be around much longer,' Pickens told a gathering at Rice University in Houston.

"Oil prices have tumbled from over $147 a barrel in July to about $48 a barrel on Tuesday as demand in the United States and other developed countries slows due to the global economic crisis.

"By late 2010, Pickens sees a rebound in oil demand sparked by a global recovery, pushing prices higher. If the US continues to rely on imported oil for 70% or more of its supply, prices could reach $200 to $300 per barrel in another decade, Pickens said.

"As an investor, Pickens said he remains 'on the sidelines', with just 10% of his BP Capital hedge fund invested in energy. The fund lost $2 billion last year before shifting to cash as energy prices and stocks declined."

Source: Reuters, January 6, 2009.

Bespoke: New bull market for oil
"Based on the standard bull/bear market move of 20%, oil is already well into a new bull market with its move of 44.7% since its closing low of $33.87 on December 19. Since 2000, the average oil bull market has seen the commodity rise 89%, while the average bear has seen oil decline by 39%.

"The 88-day decline in oil from 9/22 to 12/19 of 72% was by far the steepest drop the commodity has ever seen without a 20% rally. The last four bull and bear markets in oil have all come within 6 months, highlighting the extreme volatility in the commodities market.

"As shown in the bottom chart, the number of days that the last four market cycles have lasted has been much lower than normal. It's likely that we'll continue to see these big swings in short periods of time until the financial markets cool down."

Source: Bespoke, January 6, 2009.

CEP News: Euro zone services PMI falls to series low in December
"Following the release of Italian purchasing managers index figures, along with final estimates on both the French and German services PMIs, Markit Economics reported that the services sector in the euro zone continued to deteriorate as the services PMI fell to a series low in December with a revision to 42.1 from the original estimate of 42.0.

"December's reading is much lower than November's 42.5 print.

"'The final euro zone PMI indicates a 0.6% fall in GDP in the fourth quarter. Although some encouraging - but only tentative - signs of a bottoming-out were evident in Spain and Italy, the downturn gathered momentum in Germany and France,' said Markit Economics chief economist Chris Williamson."

Source: CEP News, January 6, 2009.

Financial Times: Alistair Darling on the economy
"UK chancellor Alistair Darling talks to Chris Giles about the outook for the UK economy and what can be done by global governments."

Source: Financial Times, January 6, 2009.

Victoria Marklew (Northern Trust): UK - record low repo rate
"As widely expected, the Bank of England (BoE) cut its repo rate another 50bps today [Thursday], taking it to a record low 1.50%. In its rather terse statement, the bank noted that output is likely to keep falling sharply in the first half of this year, but also cited a 'substantial' decline in the pound as helping to offset the impact of a slower global economy. There was no obvious commitment to cut again at the February 5 Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting, which probably explains the small bounce in sterling this morning.

"Today's policy statement from the BoE said that 'further measures' are needed to increase lending to business and consumers, but it did not specify what, and nor did it include any comment on quantitative easing. Boosting money supply would require the approval of the government but Chancellor Darling has dismissed the idea, telling reporters that 'nobody is talking about printing money'."

Source: Victoria Marklew, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, January 8, 2009.

Bloomberg: Is China's economy crisis-bound?
"Anyone who said a year ago that China's economy was crisis-bound was dismissed out of hand. Today, skeptics have lots of company.

"'This year is going to be characterized by much, much weaker growth in China than I think people are anticipating,' says Jim Walker, chief economist at Asianomics in Hong Kong.

"That may be news to the World Bank, which forecasts China will expand 7.5% in 2009. The government is targeting 8% growth, believing the $586 billion stimulus package it announced in November will boost the world's fourth-biggest economy.

"Citigroup agrees. 'The most important reason supporting our confidence about 8% growth is the government's will and ability,' says Huang Yiping, the bank's chief Asia-Pacific economist in Hong Kong.

"That's the problem. Chinese officials have done a masterful job generating growth, creating jobs and reducing poverty. They have done so with impressive regularity and earned the trust of many economists and investors. It's important to remember, though, that external trends made China's success possible.

"There's no doubt that China's leaders have the will to support growth. The question is their ability to do so while all of the world's economic engines sputter. Yes, all."

Source: William Pesek, Bloomberg, January 7, 2009.

US Global Investors: Below-trend economic growth in store for China
"2008 could register the first below-trend economic growth for China after five straight years of supernormal expansion. Based on China's post-reform history, however, a cyclical downturn would typically last more than four years on average, which means a potential, multiyear cycle of growth moderation has yet to arrive."

Source: US Global Investors - Weekly Investor Alert, January 9, 2009.

Reuters: What is Russia's end-game in gas row?
"Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin raised the stakes in his gas conflict with Ukraine by slashing supplies to Europe, a measure that has left some EU states struggling to heat homes in sub-zero temperatures.

"Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom said it was forced to take that step because Ukraine - locked in a dispute with Moscow over gas pricing - was stealing gas being pumped across its territory for customers in Europe.

"What was Putin seeking to achieve by reacting in this way? There is so far no consensus among diplomats and analysts about what Russia's end-game is.

"The Kremlin started out with the modest aim of persuading Ukraine to pay closer to market prices for its gas, but has now been out-manoeuvred by Kiev.

"'Russia and Gazprom have walked into a trap,' said Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

"He said Ukraine - desperate not to pay more for its gas because of the fragile state of its economy - seized the initiative from Moscow by endangering exports to Europe.

"'They are calculating, and I think not without basis, that the longer this drags on the more the blame will be laid at Moscow's door,' said Lukyanov.

"He said Gazprom, under pressure from a Europe angry its supplies are being disrupted and fearful for its reputation as an energy supplier, will now be forced to cut the price it is demanding Ukraine pay for its gas. 'Ukraine wants to go back to the negotiations from a position of strength ... And it is working,' he said."

Source: Reuters, January 7, 2009.

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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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