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Words from the (Investment) Wise for the Week That Was (February 16 - 22, 2009): Part II

By: Prieur du Plessis | Sunday, February 22, 2009

Michael Metcalfe (State Street Global Markets): The yen is heading for a fall
"The yen is overvalued and its status as a 'safe haven' currency is likely to come under scrutiny, says Michael Metcalfe, head of global macro strategy at State Street Global Markets.

"He argues that analysts typically fall back on either current account positions or, better still, net foreign asset positions as a guide to which currencies should perform in times of heightened risk aversion.

"'The rationale is that investors respond to reduced risk appetite by cutting their exposure to international investments,' Mr Metcalfe says.

"This theory appears to be supported by the fact that Japan has one of the largest surpluses on its net foreign asset position - and therefore the biggest potential for repatriation flows - and the yen has appreciated strongly.

"But Mr Metcalfe points out the Japanese are not repatriating. 'Indeed, quite the reverse. Money is flowing out of Japan into foreign bonds and, more unusually, foreign equity markets too. This implies it has been the perception of - or potential for - repatriation that has drawn investors into bets that the yen will rise.'

"He says both speculative and institutional investors now hold significant long positions in the yen.

"The question is whether investors will hang on to these bets, as the reality is that the yen is overbought and overvalued and Japan's economy is sinking fast. It has the potential to be a safe haven, but the reality may prove different if Japanese investors keep buying foreign assets."

Source: Michael Metcalfe, State Street Global Markets (via Financial Times), February 17, 2009.

Business Intelligence: Jim Rogers advises Gulf states to get rid of dollar peg
"The Gulf countries' currency peg to the dollar is a 'terrible mistake' and will cause problems for the region as the US currency is expected to decline, Jim Rogers said.

"The six Gulf Cooperation Council states should form a joint currency as soon as possible, the chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings said at a conference in Dubai Monday.

"The new currency shouldn't be linked to any other as the region has enough foreign reserves and oil to back it up.

"'You've got good foreign exchange reserves and a lot of oil' to back a common currency, Rogers said during a banking conference in Dubai.

"Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman agreed in 2001 to form a European Union-style monetary union by 2010 to boost regional trade. Oman later pulled out.

"Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab state to have dropped its currency peg to the dollar, giving it some control over monetary policy.

"Gulf Arab leaders in December approved an agreement to create a central bank and single currency for the region to boost trade and strengthen monetary policy.

"A single currency would allow the Gulf states to stop pegging their currencies to the dollar and implement independent monetary policy.

"Rogers said the dollar will suffer because the US government's bailout plans and the economic stimulus will increase the US debt, weakening the US currency."

Source: Business Intelligence, February 17, 2009.

Bloomberg: StockCharts' John Murphy - gold to outshine

Source: Bloomberg (via YouTube), February 14, 2009.

David Fuller (Fullermoney): Gold bullion in solid uptrend
"The USD's firmness had masked some of gold's strength, until recently. However many other charts of bullion have been showing significant breakouts and resumptions of the long-term bull market for some time. You can see this in terms of bullion's performance against most currencies, including: EUR, CHF, GBP, RUB, AUD, SGD and ZAR.

"How high will gold move on this particular run?

"I have no idea, particularly in this environment, and neither does anyone else. Targets are always pure guesswork, not least because the outcome depends on so many variables.

"However, we know what gold has done on its earlier advances during this decade. Once it began to appreciate against all currencies, it subsequently also moved to new all-time highs against all of them. These moves occurred in medium-term trends persisting for at least six months from the last reaction low in the prior trading range. If that consistency was repeated in the current cycle, gold should rally well into March. The best clue of a pending peak, which you can see on the charts and which veteran subscribers will certainly remember, has been clear evidence of trend acceleration."

Source: David Fuller, Fullermoney, February 17, 2009.

Richard Russell (Dow Theory Letters): Potential buyers of gold?
"Here are some figures, the first number is the nation's holding of gold and the second figure is the percentage that gold is of their reserves. Nations with low percentages of gold in their reserves may be expected to be potential buyers of gold.

US -- owns 8,135 metric tons of gold ... Gold makes up 64.4% of US reserves. The US will not sell any of its gold.
Germany -- 3,412 ... 64.4% of reserves
IMF -- 3,217 ...
France -- 2,508 ... 58.7%
Italy -- 2,451 ... 61.9%
Switzerland -- 1,040 ... 23.8%
Japan -- 765.2 ... 1.9% (a potential gold-buyer)
China -- 600.0 ... 0.9% (should be a big buyer)
Russia -- 495. 9 ... 2.2% (is a buyer)
Taiwan -- 422.2 ... 3.6% (should be a buyer)
India -- 357.7% ... 3.0% (should be a buyer)
UK -- 310.3 ... 14.5% (sold most of its gold at the low price)
Saudi Arabia -- 143.0 ... 11.4% (should buy gold)
South Africa -- 124.4 ... only 9.0%
Australia -- 79.8 ... 6.3%"

Source: Richard Russell, Dow Theory Letters, February 18, 2009.

Financial Times: Fund amasses bullion holding
"Gold holdings at the world's largest bullion-backed exchange-traded fund jumped above 1,000 metric tons for the first time, the latest indication of investor demand for bullion amid increasing financial turbulence and economic slump.

"The SPDR Gold Trust holdings have risen 228.6 metric tons so far this year, to a record 1,008.8 metric tons late on Tuesday, absorbing in the first seven weeks of the year about 10% of the world's annual mine gold output.

"The industry-backed World Gold Council said that gold consumption last year rose 4% to 3,658.6 metric tons as a 64% surge in investment demand was counterbalanced by a 11% drop in jewellery demand and a 7% fall in industrial consumption.

"Supply fell 1% last year compared with 2007 ... a 42% drop in official sales from central banks and a 3% drop in mine output. Gold scrap supply jumped 17%.

"The WGC said that the extreme uncertainty that currently surrounds the global economy was unlikely to abate and should continue to underpin net investment demand, particularly for bars and coins. 'However, we expect this to be partly offset by ongoing weakness in both industrial and jewellery demand,' it added."

Source: Javier Blas, Financial Times, February 18, 2009.

James Turk (GoldMoney): ETFs no alternative to owning physical gold
"There is one chart I would like to share with you. Bill Murphy presented it on Friday in his commentary. It's another one of the informative charts prepared by Nick Laird of www.sharelynx.com. This chart plots both the gold price and the weight of gold recorded in GLD, the gold exchange traded fund (ETF).

"When I look at the above chart, one key question arises immediately. How can a 150-tonne increase in demand for metal in recent weeks translate into such a relatively small increase in the price of gold? This disparity raises more questions as to whether the ETF really owns the metal supposed to be backing the shares it issues.

"I'm no fan of the precious metal ETFs, and haven't been since they were first launched.

"In short, the ETF is at best a trading vehicle, and not an alternative to owning physical gold. In this sense, the ETF is like a futures contract, which of course is not an alternative to owning physical gold either. With these trading vehicles you have exposure to movements in the price of gold, but they also come with counterparty risk, which should of course be avoided because of the ongoing economic and financial problems around the globe. The lessons in this regard were learned in September when Lehman collapsed and AIG was on the ropes, which caused numerous commodity ETFs in London to suspend trading.

"So if you want to trade the price of gold, trade futures or ETFs. But do not view futures or the ETFs as an alternative to owning physical gold and silver.

"If you are still not convinced, or even if you are, I recommend reading an article by Jim Sinclair which questions the integrity of GLD and the other gold ETFs. His February 12th report is entitled 'Where Do All The Gold ETFs Get Their Bullion From?'."

Source: James Turk, GoldMoney, February 15, 2009.

Financial Times: Are platinum, palladium and silver prices sustainable?
"Investors searching for a safe haven have pushed gold prices to $950 a troy ounce. In their rush to safety, they have also boosted the price of silver, platinum and palladium.

"In fact, the well-reported 7.5% rise in gold prices this year pales against the 20.5% gain in silver, 14.5% rise in platinum and 15.6% increase in palladium.

"Are the gains in these three precious metals sustainable? Part of the surge is a correction from last year's crash, which saw platinum plunging from more than $2,000 an ounce to less than $800 in three months.

"Gold spikes traditionally boost other precious metals and this time is no exception, with a surge in exchange-traded funds' holdings of silver, platinum and palladium. But investors should note that, even if usually grouped under the precious metals umbrella, these three resemble industrial metals more closely, albeit expensive ones.

"Platinum and palladium are used for catalytic converters in the automotive industry, accounting for 60% of their consumption. And for silver, electronics is a large consumer.

"For these three metals, demand for jewellery is less important than for gold. The supply side, which last year boosted prices - particularly for platinum - now looks less supportive, too. As HSBC says: 'After many years of deficit, we anticipate that the platinum market will swing into a surplus' ... 'in 2009.' Silver and palladium face a similarly loose market.

"Against that backdrop, investors will need to corner the market and sharply increase their holdings if silver, platinum and palladium prices are to sustain their upward trajectory. Further price gains are possible as long as the metals benefit from safe-haven buying. But without the support of industrial demand, any upside is probably limited."

Source: Javier Blas, Financial Times, February 16, 2009.

Bloomberg: Shipping Index surge signals commodity currency gains
"Shipping costs have more than doubled this year, so it may be time to buy kroner, Aussies and loonies.

"The 147% jump in ocean-transport prices is evidence that China's $580 billion stimulus plan will lift raw materials, said Ihab Salib, who oversees $3 billion at Federated Investments Inc. in Pittsburgh. That would benefit countries exporting them, so Salib is 'actively trading' Norway's krone and Australian and Canadian dollars, nicknamed Aussies and loonies.

"Salib and other currency traders have started using the Baltic Dry Index's global gauge of raw-material shipping costs to help make such decisions. The index and the value of a basket of those three resource-rich countries' currencies are increasingly moving in tandem - 96% of the time in the past year, up from 84% in the past decade, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

"'Historically, the Baltic Dry Index is a good leading indicator for commodity prices,' said Salib, who declined to detail his investments. 'Commodities are very depressed right now, and they offer good long-term value. Once they come back, these currencies should do well.'

"The shipping gauge is a sign that China's stimulus spending on housing, highways, airports and power grids will have impact beyond its borders. By Feb. 28, it will have spent 25% of its stimulus budget, Deutsche Bank AG said, predicting the country's economy will grow at a 12% annual rate between the fourth and first quarter, after shrinking 2.3% between the third and fourth."

Source: Ye Xie and Candice Zachariahs, Bloomberg, February 17, 2009.

Financial Times: China/Russia oil deal
"China has what Russia wants: masses of US dollars. Russia has what China wants: energy, and lots of it. Hence Tuesday's oil-for-loans agreement between Moscow and Beijing. Russia's state-owned oil companies get 20-year loans to help them refinance while preserving capital spending; China gets cheap fuel for the duration.

"Bilateral deals happen all the time between countries. The difference here is that no one has tried to dress this up as a political or diplomatic event. This is an artifice-free exchange of one commodity for another.

"For their part, Russia's national champions avert a nasty cash crunch. The world's second-largest oil producer has been floundering amid depressed crude prices and declining production: aggregate volumes shrank by almost 1 per cent last year.

"China does very nicely too. 300,000 barrels a day amounts to about 4% of its total demand, or 8% of its total oil imports. Russia is paying 6% on the loans, implying that China is securing supplies at about $20 a barrel, according to UOB-Kay Hian, a Shanghai brokerage. As China buys most of its oil in the spot market, this is a significant saving.

"There are fringe benefits. Russia diversifies its customer base away from Europe, while China reduces its dependence on the Middle East. It also increases its chances of getting a stake in the long-term development of Russia's fabled Siberian oil reserves - perhaps at the expense of Japan. But at bottom, this is barter. How very post-crunch."

Source: Financial Times, February 18, 2009.

Financial Times: Brazil to supply oil to China for loans
"Brazil and China signed a landmark agreement on Thursday that will ensure long-term supplies of oil to China while delivering much-needed financing to help Brazil develop enormous reserves of oil and gas recently discovered in its coastal waters."

Source: Jonathan Wheatley, Financial Times, February 19, 2009.

Financial Times: Japan growth plunges to a 35-year low
"Japan's government faced pressure for another stimulus package on Monday after plunging exports pushed the country, the world's second largest economy, into its worst slump in 35 years.

"Economists see little prospect for a quick rebound after a quarter-on-quarter fall of 3.3% in gross domestic product in the last three months of 2008.

"The decline was worse than economists had forecast and equivalent to an annualised fall of 12.7% - the steepest drop since 1974 when import-dependent Japan suffered because of soaring oil prices.

"This time, collapsing demand for exports and weak domestic consumption are to blame.

"This is the biggest economic crisis since the war," said Kaoru Yosano, minister for economic and fiscal policy.

"Government leaders have resisted announcing new action as a stimulus package drawn up last year, which includes a Y2,000 billion ($22 billion) cash handout, and the main budget for the year from April, move slowly through a parliament in which the opposition controls the upper house.

"The decline in GDP is fuelling calls for more aggressive measures from the government and the Bank of Japan."

Source: Mure Dickie, Financial Times, February 16, 2009.

Financial Times: G7 softens tone on China
"The US and other Group of Seven industrialised countries have stepped back from criticism of China in a push for greater cooperation with Beijing and a more unified response to the global financial crisis.

"In a communique issued following their meeting in Rome at the weekend, G7 finance ministers adopted milder language than recently regarding China's handling of its currency. Tim Geithner, US Treasury secretary, also used a more conciliatory tone towards Beijing than he did last month, when he accused China of manipulating its currency to benefit exporters.

"Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, will this week become the first senior member of the new administration to visit China as analysts look for clues as to how Washington will handle one of its most important economic relationships.

"In a speech before she left, she labelled a 'positive, co-operative relationship' between Beijing and Washington as 'vital to peace and prosperity, not only in the Asia-Pacific region but worldwide' and also announced the resumption of military contacts between the two nations.

"However, in a sign of potential for tension, China on Sunday hit out at a 'Buy American' provision in the $787 billion economic stimulus package approved by the US Congress last week. 'History and economic theory show that in facing a financial crisis, trade protectionism is not a way out, but rather could become just the poison that worsens global economic hardships,' the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.

"The G7 has realised that China needs to be brought into the fold of the global financial system rather than be treated as a pariah just because of currency inflexibility,' UBS said in a note on Sunday on the meeting. 'This is also a realisation that as the world's largest foreign exchange reserve holder and the US's largest creditor nation, China not only holds the purse strings but its continued growth is crucial to helping the world recover from the economic crisis."

Source: Guy Dinmore, Daniel Dombey and Kathrin Hille, Financial Times, February 15, 2009.

Jing Ulrich (JPMorgan): China urges spending
"While the first phase of China's stimulus plans involved massive infrastructure projects and tax relief measures for manufacturers, the country's leaders have now begun speaking with greater urgency on the need to encourage consumption, says Jing Ulrich, chairman, China equities at JPMorgan.

"Recently, Premier Wen Jiabao said bluntly that the trick to spurring consumer spending was not to engage in slogans, but to put money in people's pockets.

"This principle has been applied literally in the issuance of consumption coupons by some local governments to low-income residents,' Ms Ulrich says. 'This practice is likely to become more common as an alternative to income tax cuts - which might only encourage greater savings.

"She adds that the government is also turning to rural residents to help stimulate growth.

"Having launched a rural subsidy programme for household appliances and electronics, authorities are planning to introduce a similar scheme for lightweight vehicles.

"But she acknowledges that while consumer stimulus plans will help support growth, China will remain heavily dependent on trade and fixed investments until headway is made in addressing a lack of confidence in the country's social safety net.

"Towards this end, the State Council recently approved plans to spend $123 billion by 2011 to implement a basic universal healthcare system."

Source: Jing Ulrich, JP Morgan (via Financial Times), February 19, 2009.

BCA Research: Chinese exports - not as weak as they appeared
"The Chinese New Year effect is mainly to blame for China's extremely weak trade numbers in January.

"Yesterday's data release showed that Chinese exports tumbled by 17% in January and imports collapsed by 43% from a year ago. However, it is important to note that China's macro data in the first two months of the year tend to be distorted by the Chinese New Year holidays. There is no question that January's shocking trade data suggests that the economic environment remains highly challenging. Nonetheless, they are greatly exaggerated by fewer working days last month than January 2008.

"Adjusting for this factor, it is estimated that exports actually increased by 6% from a year ago, while imports dropped by 26%. The latter is also impacted by the tumble in commodity prices. The export sector performance is consistent with the most recent purchasing managers' surveys, which show a slight improvement in both export orders and industrial production."

Source: BCA Research, February 17, 2009.

Peter Attard Montalto (Nomura): The threat from emerging Europe
"One of the biggest threats to financial stability in the eurozone comes from the region's exposure to central and eastern European banks, says Peter Attard Montalto, emerging Europe economist at Nomura.

"During the boom years, he says, high interest rates in emerging Europe led to a huge increase in foreign currency borrowing by households and companies - most notably in euros and Swiss francs. 'Borrowers took the view that the foreign currency risk was low and offset anyway by the credit cost saving.'

"But not only did eurozone banks lend to these countries, they also took very large stakes in local institutions. 'Indeed, more than 80% of emerging Europe bank assets are owned by western European banks,' Mr Attard Montalto says.

"This was fine during times of easy credit when the region's economies were growing strongly. However, widening spreads and a painful slowdown in growth now point to a serious risk to these exposures as non-performing loans may reach above 25%.

"This will have grave consequences for the central eastern European and Baltic economies as well as for the European banks that hold the ultimate risk.

"Market sentiment is currently very fragile but there is no clear agreement from the EU or other bodies about how to tackle this problem. Swift action is needed as CEE currencies continue to weaken. This issue is not going to go away on its own."

Source: Peter Attard Montalto, Nomura (viaFinancial Times), February 16, 2009.

Financial Times: No escape from the eastern pain
"Can western banks extricate themselves from the pain of an eastern European collapse?

"These eastern neighbours owe western banks - mainly in Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden - about $1,635 billion.

"Such a figure is almost equivalent to the entire balance sheet of a major bank in any one of these countries, so the question is not trivial.

"However, a better question might be: should western banks extricate themselves from eastern Europe?

"For this group of countries, where exposures are largest, is like the canary in the coalmine of European trade. But as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Croatia sicken, western Europe cannot hope to survive with a dash back to the clean air.

"Eastern Europe is at the sharp end of the new financial protectionism, a natural consequence of government involvement in banking.

"But it is also a big contributor to western Europe's economies, accounting for almost one-quarter of German exports for instance.

"There has been a certain amount of vendor finance at work here. High local interest rates as governments tried to cool growth and move in line with the eurozone encouraged consumers to import first western debt in euros and Swiss francs, then more western goods. Sadly, they have also imported the credit crunch through the same channels.

"The quandary is not going unrecognised - Hungary has already had European Union support. But neither is it fully appreciated. Some believe the euro is doomed to trail after its poorer neighbours. The more the Polish zloty or Hungarian florint sicken, the worse the euro will feel. There is a credit trade choice to be made, too: should you buy protection on, say, Austria or Germany? As the canary chokes, the answer looks like the latter."

Source: Paul Davies, Financial Times, February 17, 2009.


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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.

Copyright © 2008-2012 Dr Prieur du Plessis