Words from the (Investment) Wise for the Week That Was (January 12 - 18, 2009): Part II

By: Prieur du Plessis | Sun, Jan 18, 2009
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MarketWatch: 30-year mortgage under 5%
"The benchmark 30-year mortgage fell below 5% for the first time ever in Freddie Mac's weekly rate survey as economic weakness continued to push interest rates lower, the mortgage agency said Thursday.

"The national average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.96% in the week ending January 15, down from 5.01% a week ago. That is the lowest on record. Freddie Mac began its rate survey in 1971. A year ago the loan averaged 5.69%.

"The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, a popular refinancing choice, edged up to 4.65% from 4.62% a week ago. Last year at this time the loan averaged 5.21%. Refinancing activity has been strong as mortgage rates have plumbed historic lows.

"The two fixed-rate loans required the payment of an average 0.7 point to achieve the interest rate. A point is one percent of the loan amount, charged as prepaid interest."

Source: Steve Kerch & Amy Hoak, MarketWatch, January 15, 2009.

Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Dreadful retail sales in December
"Retail sales in December were abysmal on every front. Total retail sales during December plunged 2.7% from 2.1% in November. Nearly all sub-components posted significant declines in sales.

"Retail sales have dropped at an annual rate of 24.6% in the fourth quarter versus a 5.1% drop in the previous quarter, a large part of it is due to the drop in gasoline prices. The weakness in retail sales supports expectations of a weak headline GDP number for the fourth quarter and also arithmetically consumer spending and GDP of the first quarter of 2009 are at a disadvantage."

Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, January 14, 2009.

Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Lower prices and weak non-oil imports translate to smaller trade gap
"The trade balance of the US economy narrowed to $40.4 billion in November from $56.7 billion in October. A 12.0% drop in nominal imports of goods and services partly due to lower imported oil prices was the main reason for the reduction in the trade gap. Weak economic conditions in the US have resulted in lower imports, while a similar status abroad has led to a 5.8% drop in nominal exports of goods and services."

Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, January 13, 2009.

Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Energy and food prices bring down headline wholesale price index
"The Producer Price Index (PPI) of Finished Goods fell 1.9% in December after a 2.2% drop in the prior month, reflecting lower prices for energy (-9.3%) and food (-1.5%). In 2008, the PPI fell 0.9% versus a 6.2% jump in 2007. The 20.3% drop of the energy price index was the main reason for a sharp reversal of the wholesale price index in 2008. The food price index climbed 3.7% in 2008 versus a 7.6% gain in 2007."

Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, January 15, 2009.

Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust): Inflation - issue of little importance, for now
"The Consumer Price Index (CPI) dropped 0.7% in December, the third consecutive monthly decline and the fourth drop in the last five months. During the twelve months ended December the CPI moved up only 0.1% (CPI rose 4.1% in all of 2007), which is the smallest gain on record in the post-war period with the exception of a 0.7% drop in the twelve months ended December 1954. The reversal of the energy price index (-21.3% versus +17.4% in 2007) is largely responsible for the significant deceleration of the CPI. The food price index fell 0.1% in December and advanced only at an annual rate of 1.4% during the three months ended December versus a 4.0% annualized increase in the prior three-month period.

"... going forward, given the projections of weak economic conditions, inflation could move below levels that are consistent with price stability for a short period. At the same time, we should bear in mind that the large fiscal and monetary stimulus in place, and more in the pipeline, inflation could once again be problematic but much farther down the road."

Source: Asha Bangalore, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, January 16, 2009.

Jim Sinclair (MineSet): The unavoidable face of hyperinflation
"It is horrifying what the Fed and Treasury injected in percentage terms. A true measure of comparison can be seen in the three months of 2008 when the Fed accomplished more than in the seven years from 1929 to 1937.

"This is beyond all reason, having its own new and terrible consequences well in excess of the consequences of the 1929 and 1932 breaks.

"Markets have been run now for years by algorithms, manipulators and seeded interests that are like summer thunderstorms. They are loud and scary, but quite short term and in the end quite meaningless and non-productive.

"The dollar cannot and will not remain strong, nor can a planetary Weimar experience now be avoided."

Source: Jim Sinclair, MineSet, January 14, 2009.

Bloomberg: Hedge fund assets fell record 36% in 2008
"Hedge fund assets fell a record 36% to $1.84 trillion in 2008 as tumbling global markets prompted investor withdrawals and fund liquidations, according to industry researcher HedgeFund.net.

"Hedge funds lost $512 billion through withdrawals and fund closures, while performance losses totaled $535 billion, the New York-based unit of Channel Capital Group said in an e-mailed statement. The decline is the biggest since Hedgefund.net began tracking the data in 2003.

"Funds suffered losses and client withdrawals last year, with some selling assets at fire-sale prices as the global credit crisis forced banks to withdraw loans to the industry. While defections and closures reached a record in December, a benchmark of performance rose for the month after declining in previous months, Hedgefund.net said.

"'Investor asset flows lag performance, and the sharp rise of outflows in the fourth quarter are the result of yearlong aggregate losses,' Hedgefund.net said in the statement. 'Positive performance in December may be an indication that the biggest wave of investor outflows has passed.'"

Source: Tomoko Yamazaki, Bloomberg, January 15, 2009.

Bespoke: S&P sector returns year to date
"Below we highlight S&P 500 sector performance year to date through about noon today. As shown, just three sectors are underperforming the market so far this year, and the Financial sector is weighing heavily on the overall index's declines. Energy, Health Care, Technology, Materials, and Utilities have actually held up pretty well."

Source: Bespoke, January 16, 2009.

CNBC: Doll's outlook for 2009
"A look ahead of the possible double-digit equities growth in 2009, with Bob Doll, BlackRock vice chairman/global CIO."

Source: CNBC, January 12, 2009.

CNBC: Hendry - bonds still best bet
"Government bonds are still the safest bet for investors in these uncertain times, and the euro will face an uphill battle as weak economies will need more flexibility, Hugh Hendry from Eclectica told CNBC."

Source: CNBC, January 12, 2009.

BCA Research: US employment will cap Treasury back-up
"The US December employment report was grim and included further downward revisions to prior months. Our forecast for the next six months is equally bearish, which implies that Treasury yields will be capped for a long time.

"The contraction in payrolls were roughly in line with expectations, with a broad-based decline in all industries. Our Model forecasts significant weakness in the first half of the year, with no bottom in sight. Labor and income insecurity will continue to keep consumers from spending, and the already deflationary retailing environment will continue to worsen.

"Historically, Treasury yields sustainably rebound only once the annual growth in payrolls turns up significantly. Thus, any back-up in government bond yields over the next few months will prove short lived. Deflation and a contracting economy will be the primary drivers of trends in the Treasury market, underscoring that fears of higher yields driven by mushrooming budget deficits are premature."

Source: BCA Research, January 12, 2009.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Telegraph): The bond bubble is an accident waiting to happen
"The bond vigilantes slumber. As the greatest sovereign bond bubble of all time rolls into 2009, investors are clinging to an implausible assumption that China and Japan will provide enough capital to keep the happy game going for ever.

"They are betting too that debt deflation will overwhelm the effects of near-zero interest rates across the G10 and nullify a £2,000 billion fiscal blast in the US, China, Japan, Britain, and Europe.

"Above all, they are betting that the Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke will fail to print enough banknotes to inflate the US money supply, despite his avowed intent to do so.

"Yields on 10-year US Treasuries have fallen to 2.4% - a level that was unseen even in the Great Depression. This is 'return-free risk', said bond guru Jim Grant.

"It is much the same story across the world. Yields are 1.3% in Japan, 3.02% in Germany, 3.13% in Britain, 3.26% in Chile, 3.47% in France, and 5.56% in Brazil.

"'Get out of Treasuries. They are very, very expensive,' said Mohamed El-Erian, the investment chief at the Pimco, the world's top bond fund, in a Barron's article last week.

"It is lazy to think that China, Japan, the petro-powers and the surplus states of emerging Asia will continue to amass foreign reserves, recycling their treasure into the US and European bond markets.

"These countries are themselves bleeding as exports collapse. Most face capital flight. The whole process that fed the bond boom from 2003 to 2008 is now going into reverse. Woe betide any investor who misjudges the consequences of this strategic shift."

Click here for the full article.

Source: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph, January 12, 2009.

David Fuller (Fullermoney): Government bond bubble will burst
"Objectively, there is no doubt that government debt yields in the UK, USA and a number of other countries have moved well outside their historic, normal price ranges and values. This indicates a bubble, which some have described as a 'return-free risk'.

"We need no reminding today that dire economic circumstances have contributed to these ultra-low yields. Indeed, governments have encouraged the move, with rate cuts and talk of quantitative easing, as part of their reflationary efforts. We also know that governments need to issue considerably more debt to finance their programmes, and they want to do this as cheaply as possible.

"My conclusion is that those who are lending to governments at record or at least near-record low yields, are walking into a trap. The government bond bubble has yet to burst, judging from the charts, but it will burst. With bubbles, it seldom pays to delay one's exit until the downtrend is evident to all."

Source: David Fuller, Fullermoney, January 14, 2009.

CNBC: Credit - still a good bet if yield curve steepens?
"Investment-grade credit looks very attractive to Richard Urwin, MD & head of asset allocation & economics research team at BlackRock. But what happens if the yield curve steepens by year-end? He gives his take CNBC's Amanda Drury & Martin Soong."

Source: CNBC, January 16, 2009.

Eoin Treacy (Fullermoney): 10-year Treasuries show negative real yield
"It is interesting that this is the first time since 1980 that the US 10yr has shown a negative real yield. The fact is that it has not had anything close to the size of the move, relative to CPI, as seen in 1974 or 1980 is also worthy of notice. Of course back then, high inflation expectations were much more of a factor in the movement of the spread, but that is certainly not the case today."

Source: Eoin Treacy, Fullermoney, January 13, 2009.

Financial Times: Bond issuance by emerging nations surges
"Emerging market sovereign bond issuance has surged this week as governments take advantage of the dramatic drop in yields because of the sharply improving sentiment since the start of the year.

"The Philippines, Turkey, Brazil and Colombia have all issued debt in the past few days, raising a total of $4.5 billion. This compares with just one deal worth $2 billion from Mexico issued in the entire fourth quarter of 2008.

"Nigel Rendell, senior emerging markets strategist at RBC Capital Markets, said: 'Sentiment has improved a great deal since January 1 in the emerging market space, so these countries see this as a window of opportunity to issue debt.'

"Since January 1, emerging market bond yields have fallen about 40 basis points compared with US Treasuries, the international benchmark for debt, close to eight-week lows, according to JP Morgan's Embi+ Index. Emerging market bonds are now trading about 650 basis points above US Treasuries. Emerging market governments are also rushing to issue debt as they fear they could be 'crowded out' of the primary bond markets because of the record volumes of sovereign debt due from the industrialised nations.

"These emerging market countries need the cash, like their industrialized counterparts, to stimulate their economies."

Source: David Oakley, Roel Landingin and John Aglionby, Financial Times, January 9, 2009.

Bespoke: US dollar testing resistance
"The US Dollar index has made a nice comeback after its free-fall from late November to mid December. The dollar is up 6.76% from its low on December 17, but as shown in the chart below, it is bumping up against key resistance at its 50-day moving average. If the dollar is able to break above its 50-day, a resumption of its multi-month uptrend will be solidified. If it fails to break through, however, the current level will be one peak of a newly formed downtrend."

Source: Bespoke, January 14, 2009.

Edmund Conway (Telegraph): Shipping rates hit zero as trade sinks
"Freight rates for containers shipped from Asia to Europe have fallen to zero for the first time since records began, underscoring the dramatic collapse in trade since the world economy buckled in October.

"'They have already hit zero,' said Charles de Trenck, a broker at Transport Trackers in Hong Kong. 'We have seen trade activity fall off a cliff. Asia-Europe is an unmitigated disaster.'

"Shipping journal Lloyd's List said brokers in Singapore are now waiving fees for containers travelling from South China, charging only for the minimal 'bunker' costs. Container fees from North Asia have dropped $200, taking them below operating cost.

"Industry sources said they have never seen rates fall so low. 'This is a whole new ball game,' said one trader.

"The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) which measures freight rates for bulk commodities such as iron ore and grains crashed several months ago, falling 96%. The BDI - though a useful early-warning index - is highly volatile and exaggerates apparent ups and downs in trade. However, the latest phase of the shipping crisis is different. It has spread to core trade of finished industrial goods, the lifeblood of the world economy."

Source: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph, January 12, 2009.

Bloomberg: Frontline says ships storing the most oil in 20 years
"Frontline Ltd, the world's biggest owner of supertankers, said about 80 million barrels of crude oil are being stored in tankers, the most in 20 years, as traders seek to take advantage of higher prices later in the year.

"Traders are seeking to profit from a market situation called contango where futures prices are higher than the cost of immediate supplies. A purchaser could buy oil now, keep it for months at sea and fetch better prices by selling oil futures that are higher than the spot price.

"'In this current financial situation I guess it's one of the more safe bets to do,' Jens Martin Jensen, Singapore-based interim chief executive officer of the company's management unit, said by phone today. Thirty to 35 very large crude carriers, each designed to haul 2 million barrels of crude, are storing oil, with the rest on ships half the size called suezmaxes, he said.

"The contango pricing structure has been caused by excess near-term oil supply as demand slows and speculation that output cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will reduce the glut later this year."

Source: Alaric Nightingale, Bloomberg, January 14 2009.

Victoria Marklew (Northern Trust): Eurozone - interest rates, inflation, the economy - all fall down
"As widely expected, the European Central Bank (ECB) lopped another 50 bps off its refi rate this morning [Thursday], taking it to 2.0%. Rates have now come down by 225 bps in four successive steps, including a 75 bps cut in December, as the Eurozone economy hits the skids and inflation drops sharply.

"In his subsequent press conference, President Trichet acknowledged that economic data and surveys over the past month point to 'a further weakening of economic activity around the turn of the year' and warned that Eurozone demand is likely to be 'dampened for a protracted period' with growth risks to the downside. He also acknowledged that the slowing economy has reduced inflation risks, and that the rate of inflation is likely to 'fall significantly' in mid-year, in part because of base effects."

Source: Victoria Marklew, Northern Trust - Daily Global Commentary, January 15, 2009.

Financial Times: German GDP contracts sharply
"Germany's economy could have contracted by as much as 2% in the final quarter of 2008, the country's statistical office warned on Wednesday, deepening a recession that looks likely to be the worst since the second world war.

"The sharp contraction in Europe's largest economy would sound alarm bells across Europe because of Germany's role as Europe's economic powerhouse.

"German exports had benefited from strong global growth in recent years 'but now that process has gone dramatically into reverse', said Andreas Rees at Unicredit in Munich.

"The latest data came just hours after Berlin unveiled a two-year $66 billion package of growth-boosting measures. Michael Glos, economics minister, argued on Wednesday that the plan would have a 'noticeable effect' by later this year.

"Gross domestic product increased by 1 per cent in 2008 as a whole, after a 2.6% rise in the previous year, the federal statistics office reported. But in the final three months of the year, preliminary estimates suggested that GDP fell between about 1.5% and 2%, it said."

Source: Ralph Atkins, Financial Times, January 14, 2009.

CEP News: Germany's coalition parties agree on €50 billion stimulus package
"Germany's coalition parties have agreed on a second economic stimulus package totalling approximately €50 billion, to be put into place over the course of the next two years in an effort to pull the economy out of its worst recession since the end of the Second World War.

"The package of measures will include approximately €36 billion in infrastructure investment and tax cuts. The announcement was made following six hours of talks between the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party in Berlin late on Monday.

"The second stimulus package follows a €31 billion plan already in existence."

Source: CEP News, January 13, 2008.

Financial Times: Spain hit by public finance warning
"The growing dangers for Europe's sharply slowing economies were highlighted yesterday as Spain became the third eurozone country to be warned over its deteriorating public finances in the space of three days.

"Standard & Poor's, the rating agency, said Spain's top-notch triple A credit ratings could be downgraded because of pressure on its public finances after it entered what is likely to be a deep recession in the fourth quarter. On Friday, Greece and Ireland were also warned by the agency that their ratings could be downgraded as economic conditions worsen. The warning is likely to help drive up borrowing costs for those countries.

"The euro weakened against the dollar and the yen after the announcement, which underlined the challenges facing European countries seeking to stimulate their battered economies and pay for bank bail-outs. Analysts say other European countries could face warnings in the coming days or weeks as governments take on record debt levels, which could jeopardise the sustainability of their public finances."

Source: David Oakley and Victor Mallet, Financial Times, January 12, 2009.

Financial Times: China sees "success" in offsetting crisis
"Wen Jiabao declared China's efforts to offset the effect of the global economic slowdown an 'initial success' on Sunday as the economy performed 'better than expected' last month.

"The premier's hints that the country's economy might not be locked in a downward spiral will be seen as good news in the rest of the world, where Chinese growth is viewed as a potential palliative for the global recession.

"Speaking during a three-day visit to industrial regions in eastern China, Mr Wen said sales at some companies had begun to rebound, stockpiles were falling and electricity consumption was rising.

"'We have achieved initial success from the policies we adopted to counter the financial crisis,' the premier said, according to China National Radio.

"Beijing announced an economic stimulus package of Rmb4,000 billion ($585 billion) in November, heavily weighted towards construction and heavy industry. It was not expected to improve economic growth until the middle of this year but some industries, such as steel, have already shown more confidence since the stimulus package was announced. Scores of Chinese steelmakers have resumed production in the hope that it will lead to a sustained recovery in steel prices.

"Mr Wen vowed that the central government would take other measures, including large investments, to combat the crisis before the legislature's annual meeting in early March, according to a speech published separately."

Source: Patti Waldmeir, Financial Times, January 11, 2009.

US Global Investors: Rebound in Chinese bank lending
"A significant rebound in money supply growth and bank lending in China during December suggests that the government's stimulating policies may have achieved some success. However, challenges for the economy are likely to be sustained in the foreseeable future."

Source: US Global Investors - Weekly Investor Alert, January 16, 2009.

Bloomberg: China passes Germany to become third-biggest economy
"China's economy overtook Germany's in 2007 to become the world's third largest, underscoring the nation's increasing economic and political clout.

"Gross domestic product expanded 13% from a year earlier, more than a previous estimate of 11.9%, to 25.731 trillion yuan ($3.38 trillion), the statistics bureau said on its website today. That topped Germany's 2.424 trillion euros ($3.32 trillion), using average exchange rates for 2007.

"China's economy is 70 times bigger than when leader Deng Xiaoping ditched hard-line Communist policies in favor of free-market reforms in 1978. After overtaking the UK and France in 2005, China became the third nation to complete a spacewalk, hosted the Olympic Games and surpassed Japan as the biggest buyer of US Treasuries.

"The figure was released as China faces the weakest economic expansion since 1990 after exports collapsed because of the global recession."

Source: Nipa Piboontanasawat and Kevin Hamlin, Bloomberg, January 14 2009.

Financial Times: Jim O'Neill on the Bric economies
"Jim O'Neill, Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs, tells David Oakley about the reasons to be positive on China, finding value in Bric economies, and the problems facing Russia."

Source: Financial Times, January 9, 2009.


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Prieur du Plessis

Author: Prieur du Plessis

Dr Prieur du Plessis
investmentpostcards.com

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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