Today I am speaking at a local conference here in Dallas for my friends Charles and Louis Gave of GaveKal along with George Friedman of Stratfor, and get to finally meet Anatole Kaletsky. They graciously allowed me to send their latest Five Corners report as this week’s Outside the Box. I find their research to be very thought-provoking as they are one of the main sources of optimism in my ususal readings (except for their very correct and profitable views on the European debt of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, [Ireland?], Greece and Spain).
The GaveKal team is scattered all over the globe (and based in Hong Kong), and make my paripatetic travel schedule seem small change, not only being in scores of countries but talking to the movers and shakers in both finance and politics. This is an amazing advantage in information gathering. Thus they have a very global view of the world and tend to spot trends before most analysts have picked up on them.
This week’s Five Corners touches on China, the possible change in investment trends as we go into 2010, currencies, thoughts on styles of investing and more, with contributions from a number of their team. I know you will find it interesting. I will see if I can talk them into letting me use their material a little more. While their material is a tad pricey for individual investors, those interested can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week as we go into the Holiday season (and can you believe the prices on electronic stuff this year?).
John Mauldin, Editor Outside the Box
Will The Three Trends of 2009 Prevail in 2010?
Looking back at the past year, we can conclude that three inter-related trends have dominated financial markets: 1) an impressive weakness in the US$, 2) a significant rally in commodities, and 3) a pronounced out-performance of emerging markets, including Asia. Today, these three trends appear to be running out of steam: the US$ has been rallying, commodities have rolled over and, in November, for the first time in what feels like an eternity, the US MSCI actually out-performed all other countries in the World MSCI index. For us, this begs the question of whether the trends of 2010 will prove different to those of 2009? And the answer to that question may be found in the most unlikely of places, namely the Middle-East.
The news that a Dubai World unit would be suspending payments to creditors, was promptly followed by the rumor that two defaulted Saudi groups (the Saad group and the Ahab group) were treating their domestic creditors differently than foreign banks. From our standpoint in Hong Kong, all these bleak headlines lead us to ponder how the Middle East could find itself in this tight spot? After all, who, a decade ago, would have bet on Dubai (soon to be followed by Venezuela?) going bust with oil at US$80/bbl?
Of course, the apparent squeeze may be nothing more than a few bad apples that blatantly mismanaged their liabilities and blew up their balance sheets. But we have to admit that we are also intrigued by the recent announcements that some of the region’s sovereign wealth funds (Qatar, Kuwait…) have lately been selling the large stakes they acquired in Western financials at the beginning of last year’s financial crisis. Of course, these disposals may be the result of a deep relief that the banks are back above their purchase price and, like a money manager who has just been on a gut-wrenching ride, the SWF are happy to turn the page and put this episode behind them. Or perhaps, the sales are an indication that the Middle East needs US$ right now and that we are now confronting some kind of squeeze on the US$.
Thus, the recent strength in the US$ may be highlighting that we are experiencing an important change in the investment environment. Indeed, at the risk of making a mountain out of sand-dune, we believe that one thing is for sure: recent developments in Saudi and Dubai will most likely give pause to foreign banks looking to expand their lending operations in that region. And if financing for projects becomes more challenging, then this raises the question of whether the Middle East will look to pump more oil in a bid to generate the revenue necessary to keep the wheels churning? Could an unfolding financial squeeze in the Middle-East lead to the kind of massive cheating on OPEC quotas that we witnessed in the 1980s?
Of course, a proper financial squeeze in the Middle-East, one that triggered a US$ rally and lower oil prices, would de facto justify the Fed’s decision to keep interest rates low for a long time. With lower oil would come lower inflation expectations, while a higher US$ would help keep the US economy from overheating under the twin stimulus of lower oil and low interest rates. But where would all this leave other emerging markets, most specifically Asian equities which have soared in the past year?
Historically, Asian equities tend to struggle when the Dollar rallies as a strong US$ forces Asian central banks, who typically run pegs or managed floats, to print less aggressively. But at the same time, most Asian economies would likely welcome the extra liquidity that lower oil prices would provide, not to say anything about an environment of continued low interest rates. More importantly, a possible environment of higher US$/weaker commodities would likely lead to a massive rotation within the markets away from commodity producers and property developers (the key beneficiaries of an ever falling US$ and big components of Chinese indices), and towards manufacturers and exporters (whose margins have been caught between the rock of weak US demand and the hard place of rising materials costs). In other words, a reversal in the weak US$/strong commodity trend would likely trigger a rotation away from ‘price monetizers’ towards ‘volume monetizers’.
Ricardo, Schumpeter or Malthus?
by Charles Gave
We are today very fortunate in having a very broad, highly diversified client base with readers in over 40 countries and in all sorts of businesses, from property developers to mining companies, and of course hedge funds, mutual fund companies and pension funds. We are not bringing this up to brag but because, over the years, we have noticed that, regardless of their locations and underlying businesses, investors tend to fall into one of three categories:
….read more HERE.