Words from the (Investment) Wise for the Week That Was (March 30 - April 5, 2009): Part II

By: Prieur du Plessis | Sun, Apr 5, 2009
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CEP News: ECB's rate cut takes into account subdued prices & weak demand, Trichet says
"The European Central Bank's decision to lower interest rates to a record low of 1.25% took into account weak price pressures and deteriorating economic growth, said ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, noting that further unconventional policy measures would be discussed in May.

"'After today's decision, we expect price stability to be maintained over the medium term, thereby supporting the purchasing power of euro area households,' Trichet said during his press conference following the central bank's rate announcement on Thursday.

"'The Governing Council will continue to ensure a firm anchoring of medium-term inflation expectations,' he said.

"Trichet said the ECB Governing Council 'voted by consensus' to lower the main refinancing rate by 25 basis points to a record low 1.25%. Economists, however, had expected a 50 bps cut.

"In his introductory remarks, Trichet noted that economic activity has weakened markedly in the euro area and that it will likely remain at a low level for the year.

"Nevertheless, falling commodity prices and large amounts of stimulus to the economy and the financial system should help consumption recover in 2010, he said, adding that risks to the economy are broadly balanced as a result.

"Disinflationary pressures, due largely to the sharp fall in global commodity prices, are likely to push price growth temporarily into negative territory, he said, but added that such developments are 'not relevant from a monetary policy perspective'.

Source: CEP News, April 2, 2009.

CEP News: Government efforts having effect on financial markets, says ECB's Bini Smaghi
"Signs that government stimulus measures are having a positive effect on financial markets are beginning to emerge, European Central Bank Executive Board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi said.

"Government efforts, including fiscal stimulus plans and rescue measures, 'are starting to be felt in financial markets,' Bini Smaghi said in a speech given in Milan, Italy on Monday.

"However, the financial industry is still likely to contract, even after the global economy finally recovers, the central banker said. Smaller profit margins and a smaller labour force in the sector is to be expected, he said.

"At the same time, global trade is likely to increase at a slower pace than before the crisis, Bini Smaghi said, adding that risk aversion is likely to remain at high levels for some time."

Source: CEP News, March 30, 2009.

CEP News: SNB to use "all means" to prevent deflation, says Hildebrand
"The Swiss National Bank will continue to intervene in foreign exchange markets to bring down the value of the franc and reduce the risk of deflation, the central bank chairman Philipp Hildebrand said.

"In March, the SNB reduced its three-month Libor target rate by 25 basis points and announced that it would begin purchasing foreign currency through FX markets in an effort to counteract further appreciation of the Swiss currency.

"'A renewed appreciation of the franc contains the risk of a sustained deflationary dynamic in Switzerland,' Hildebrand said at an event in Bern on Thursday. 'It's about preventing' deflation 'by all means'."

Source: CEP News, April 2, 2009.

Reuters: Soros - Eastern Europe "prime candidate" for IMF help
"Billionaire investor George Soros said on Tuesday Eastern Europe was a 'prime candidate' for International Monetary Fund (IMF) support.

"Speaking at the London School of Economic ahead of the G20 summit, Soros said: 'G20 should not just provide pious words but should take steps to stabilise periphery countries.'"

Source: Cecilia Valente, Reuters, March 31, 2009.

CEP News: German manufacturing PMI improves further
"Declines in German manufacturing activity continued to slow in March, Markit Economics confirmed on Wednesday. However, activity in the sector continues to contract at a sharp pace, the research firm added.

"The German manufacturing purchasing managers index rose to 32.4 in March, up one point from February's figure and in line with both preliminary estimates and expectations.

"March's increase marks the second consecutive month of improvement after PMI reached a 12-year low in January of 32.0.

"Nevertheless, the figure remains well in contraction territory, with the average taken across Q1 as a whole notably lower than the previous quarter's figure."

Source: CEP News, April 1, 2009.

CEP News: Improvement in UK services PMI suggests worst may be over
"The contraction in the UK services sector eased more than expected in March, suggesting that the worst in terms of activity declines has passed, Markit Economics said on Friday.

"The UK services purchasing managers index rose beyond expectations to 45.5 in March from February's 43.2 level. Economists had expected a far more modest gain to 43.5 for the month. March's gain is the largest recorded since last September.

"'The latest upturn in the activity index and another improvement in business confidence to a post-Lehman Brothers high provide further evidence that the severe contractions in services output at the end of last year may now be behind us,' Markit senior economist Paul Smith said."

Source: CEP News, April 3, 2009.

Nationwide: UK - surprise bounce in house prices
• House prices increased by 0.9% in March
• House purchase activity reaches highest level since May 2008
• Welcome signals of market improvement but too early to talk of house price recovery

"Commenting on the figures Fionnuala Earley, Nationwide's Chief Economist, said:

"'Spring brought a surprise bounce to house prices in March. The price of a typical house increased for the first time since October 2007, rising by 0.9% during the month and reducing the annual rate of fall from -17.6% to -15.7%. This brings the price of a typical house to £150,946.

"The moderation in the annual rate of fall is somewhat distorted by conditions last year and so it would be unwise to draw strong conclusions from the significant slowdown in the annual rate of fall. Equally, while the rise in prices in March is welcome, it is far too soon to see this as evidence that the trough of the market has been reached.

"The Bank of England has already taken strong measures to ease the tensions in economic and financial markets by cutting rates and commencing quantitative easing. However it will take time for these to work through into the housing market before we can expect a sustained recovery in house prices."

Source: Nationwide, April 2, 2009.

Li & Fung Research Centre: Chinese PMI rebounds to over 50%
"The PMI rebounded to 52.4% in March 2009, up from 49.0% in the previous month. The index was back to the expansionary zone of higher than 50% for the first time since October last year. Output index, new orders index and purchases of inputs index were also higher than the critical level of 50% in March. Except stocks of finished goods, all sub-indices were higher than their respective levels in the previous month. Of which, imports index grew strongly by 7.0 ppt. to 48.8% in March, compared to the previous month."

Click here for the full report.

Source: Li & Fund Research Centre, April 2009.

China View: Soros - China's system more suited to emergency conditions
"China has a system 'which is more suited to these emergency conditions,' the Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros said in London on Tuesday, adding the Chinese government has more control over the banks.

"Speaking at a seminar organized by the London School of Economics ahead of the G20 summit, Soros said China has the means to stimulate its economy and keep the growth.

"He noted that China was 'badly hit as the rest of the world,' in some ways 'even worse than some countries' by the current economic crisis.

"Soros, however, predicted that China 'will be coming out of the recession faster than the rest of the world'.

"The billionaire investor spoke highly of the stimulus packages that the Chinese government introduced, which have led to significant expansion of bank lending and a rally in the stock market."

Source: China View, April 1, 2009.

James Pressler (Northern Trust): Japan - more news about a worsening situation
"Barring natural disaster, Japan's fiscal year could not have started off any worse. Today's release of the Tankan survey showed business confidence hitting a record-low level in Q1, and the near-term outlook plunging to new depths as well. The headline index for large manufacturing companies declined to -58 from an already-dismal -24 in Q4, while the index reflecting conditions looking forward continued its freefall from -36 to -51, suggesting conditions will remain horrible this spring. Furthermore, the confidence index came in lower than that quarter's expectations index for the fifth straight time, undershooting projections by a full 22 points. As bearish as the economic environment seemed last quarter, business managers did not realize just how bad things could get.

"With global demand having all but dried up and the yen unwilling to depreciate significantly, it is readily apparent that Japan is not going to export itself out of its current recession. That being said, any near-term hope is going to have to emerge from fiscal stimulus. With today being the first day of the new fiscal year, it is also the first day under more relaxed fiscal policy and extra government spending. This will offer the economy a little boost while exports remain horribly weak, and possibly ease some of the pain from such a sharp economic contraction.

"From a GDP standpoint, the economy likely posted a year-over-year drop of 6% or more in Q1 due to external weakness. With some fiscal stimulus factoring in to the national accounts, the economy will not contract as sharply starting in Q2, but that does suggest any real economic growth before 2010 - just less pain."

Source: James Pressler, Northern Trust, April 1, 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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