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Archive for January 29th, 2009

ASIAN MARKETS GAIN AFTER US HOUSE PASSES STIMULUS BILL; EUROPE OPENS DOWN

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on January 29, 2009

January 29, 2009 – 3:45 AM

by Stephen Wright – Associated Press

PUBLISHED BY ‘THE STAR TRIBUNE’ (USA)

BANGKOK, Thailand – Asian markets advanced Thursday, with Hong Kong jumping 4.6 percent in a catch-up rally, as the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $819 billion stimulus bill that investors hope will help lift the American economy out of its worst crisis in decades. European markets opened lower.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average rose 144.95 points, or 1.8 percent, to 8,251.24 even as new data showed that retail sales in the world’s second-largest economy sank the most in nearly four years in December.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng leaped 575.83 points, or 4.6 percent, to 13,154.43 after being closed for three days for the Lunar New Year. Mainland China’s markets are closed all week. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.7 percent and Australia’s main index rose 0.9 percent.

Sentiment in Asia got a boost as President Barack Obama’s massive stimulus package moved closer to becoming a reality.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved the bill Wednesday night, sending it to the Senate where debate could begin as early as Monday. Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama’s signature by mid-February.

“The U.S. stimulus package has a positive psychological impact on markets globally,” said Castor Pang, an analyst at Sun Hung Kai Financial in Hong Kong.

“But there is still going to be bad news in the form of profit warnings and unemployment,” he said. “The unemployment rate is going to continue to climb, making U.S. consumers even more hesitant about spending.”

As trading got underway in Europe, major bourses fell with France’s CAC-40 off 1.1 percent, Germany’s DAX down 1 percent and Britain’s FTSE 100 slipping 1.1 percent.

U.S. stock index futures were down, suggesting Wall Street would open lower Thursday. Dow futures were down 87 points, or 1.1 percent, at 8,235 and S&P500 futures were off 8.6 points, or 1 perc(AP) — ent, at 862.90.

Financial stocks led Asia’s advance Thursday, buoyed in part by hopes of new U.S. efforts to trim bad debt and spur lending.

In Hong Kong, banking giant HSBC jumped 8.4 percent and China’s top lender, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., or ICBC, added 5 percent.

In Tokyo, megabank Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group soared 13 percent, Mitsubishi UFJ jumped 4.8 percent and Mizuho added 5.2 percent.

Japanese exporters such as Sony and Toshiba reported weak quarterly results after the market closed.

Sony Corp.’s net profit tumbled 95 percent in the October-December quarter, as the global slump hurt sales of its core electronics products, while Toshiba Corp. sank into the red in the third quarter and expects a loss for the full year.

Elsewhere, New Zealand’s benchmark index was up 0.8 percent after the central bank slashed its key interest rate by 1.5 percentage points to 3.5 percent to prevent the country’s recession from deepening.

Oil prices slipped below $42 a barrel as rising U.S. crude inventories offset expectations the U.S. stimulus package will revive growth and consumer demand. Light, sweet crude for March delivery was down 34 cents to $41.82 a barrel by midday in Singapore in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currency trading, the dollar fell to 90.02 yen from 90.41 late Wednesday in New York, while the euro declined to $1.3044 from $1.3139.

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PUBLISHED BY ‘THE STAR TRIBUNE’ (USA)

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RUSSIA, CHINA BLAME WOES ON CAPITALISM – SPEECHES CRITICIZE INAPPROPRIATE POLICIES, FOCUS ON DOLLAR’S ROLE; YET PUTIN SENDS OBAMA CONCILIATORY SIGNAL

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on January 29, 2009

JANUARY 29, 2009

by Marc Champion in Davos, Switzerland; Andrew Batson in Beijing and Greg White in Moscow

PUBLISHED BY ‘THE WALL STREET JOURNAL’ (USA)

The premiers of Russia and China slammed the U.S. economic system in speeches Wednesday, holding it responsible for the global economic crisis.

Both focused on the role of the U.S. dollar, with China’s Premier Wen Jiabao calling for better regulation of major reserve currencies and Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calling over-reliance on the dollar “dangerous.”

Speaking on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, they both urged more international cooperation to escape the downturn. They also talked up the abilities of their own economies to ride out the recession. Mr. Wen said he was “confident” China would hit its 8% growth target for this year even though that was “a tall order.” (See the full text)

The Russian and Chinese leaders also called for cooperation with U.S. President Barack Obama, but it was a chilly reception for the new administration that reflected growing anger in economies that are now getting hit hard by a financial crisis that began with subprime mortgages sold in the U.S.

Mr. Putin was characteristically blunt. He called for the development of multiple, regional reserve currencies in addition to the dollar. “Excessive dependence on a single reserve currency is dangerous for the global economy,” Mr. Putin said. (See the full text)

The Russian leader mocked U.S. businessmen who he said had boasted at last year’s Davos meeting of the U.S. economy’s fundamental strength and “cloudless” prospects. “Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist,” he said.

Earlier, Mr. Wen called for an expansion of regulatory “coverage of the international financial system, with particular emphasis on strengthening the supervision on major reserve currencies.”

While Mr. Wen never named the U.S., his critique of its failings was as sweeping as Mr. Putin’s. The financial crisis, he said, was “attributable to inappropriate macroeconomic policies of some economies and their unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption; excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit” – and other excesses.

“The entire economic growth system, where one regional center prints money without respite and consumes material wealth, while another regional centre manufactures inexpensive goods … has suffered a major setback,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Wen’s comments came just days after U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner accused China of manipulating its currency for economic gain. The Chinese premier gently, but firmly warned that if Washington and Beijing chose confrontation, both would be losers.

But the different tones of the two speeches, and the fact that Mr. Wen didn’t call for replacing the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency but regulating it, reflect crucial differences in the important emerging economies.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment on the remarks in the speeches. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Many of the attendees at Davos took the remarks from Mr. Putin and Mr. Wen in stride. “The sad thing is is that we might have scoffed at this a while ago. But we really dragged the world down” economically, Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, said in an interview after the speeches.

The rapid collapse of oil and commodities prices has hit Russia hard on top of the ripples of the financial crisis. The government now forecasts the economy will shrink for the first time in a decade this year, after growing 6% last year.

“In a very real sense Russia has been kicked to the margins, while China has become pivotal to any resolution of the financial crisis,” says Bob Lo, Director of the Russia and China programs at the Center for European Reform in London.

Mr. Putin’s government has spent $200 billion of hard currency reserves to defend the Russian currency, the ruble. It has spent as much again in a bailout package that amounts to 15% of gross domestic product, one of the largest responses to the financial crisis in the world. Unlike China, Russia’s economy is too dependent on commodities exports and too small to play a significant role in any global recovery, says Mr. Lo.

Russia also has negligible trade with the U.S., while Chinese exports are heavily dependent on U.S. consumers and Beijing holds $2 trillion in U.S. debt, prompting a much more cautious approach towards Washington and the dollar in Beijing.

The net effect of falling oil prices and the downturn, however, has been to make Russia more vulnerable and the Kremlin weaker, analysts say. Russian officials have begun to send out more conciliatory signals to the new U.S. administration.

“We wish the new team success,” Mr Putin said Wednesday, calling on it to cooperate.

China, too, is suffering from the downturn. Many independent economists, including economists at the International Monetary Fund, question whether Beijing will be able to meet its 8% growth target this year.

Developed nations are increasingly calling for China to do more to stimulate its own economy. On Wednesday, Mr. Wen gave a detailed account of the four trillion yuan ($585 billion) investment program China announced in November. “As a big responsible country” China was actively boosting domestic, and particularly consumer demand, said Mr. Wen.

The headline sum in the program would likely be equivalent to around 3% of gross domestic product in 2009 and 2010. But even government officials aren’t promising that much of a boost to the economy. Zhang Ping, the head of the National Development and Reform Commission, in November estimated it would add about one percentage point to GDP growth this year and next.

That may have seemed like a lot at the time, but expectations for global and Chinese growth have rapidly deteriorated since then. Mr. Wen said growth slowed to 6.8% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier. That’s a little more than half the 13% gain in 2007, at the height of the boom. Some economists believe China could grow by as little as 5% this year, too little to provide jobs for the graduates flooding into the labor market from Chinese universities and schools each year and a further drag on the global economy.

Less noticed in Mr. Geithner’s repetition of Mr. Obama’s campaign-trail assertion that China “manipulates” its currency last week was his argument that the long U.S.-Chinese dispute over currency didn’t matter as much as getting China to do more to boost its economic growth.

“Given the crisis the immediate focus needs to be on the broader issue of stabilizing domestic demand in China and the U.S.,” Mr. Geithner said in his written response to questions during his Senate confirmation process. “A further slowdown in China would lead to a substantial fall in world growth (and demand for U.S. exports) and delay recovery from the crisis.”

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A6

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PUBLISHED BY ‘THE WALL STREET JOURNAL’ (USA)

Posted in BANKING SYSTEM - USA, BANKING SYSTEMS, BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA -(DEC. 2008/JAN. 2009), CENTRAL BANKS, CHINA, COMMERCE, CURRENCIES, DOLLAR (USA), ECONOMY, ECONOMY - USA, FINANCIAL CRISIS - USA - 2008/2009, FINANCIAL CRISIS 2008/2009, FINANCIAL MARKETS, FOREIGN POLICIES, FOREIGN POLICIES - USA, HOUSING CRISIS - USA, INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION, INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION - USA, INDUSTRIES, INDUSTRIES - USA, INTERNATIONAL, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, PUBLIC SECTOR AND STATE OWNED ENTERPRISES, RECESSION, REGULATIONS AND BUSINESS TRANSPARENCY, RESTRUCTURING OF PRIVATE COMPANIES, RESTRUCTURING OF THE PUBLIC SECTOR, RUSSIA, THE FLOW OF INVESTMENTS, THE PRESIDENCY - USA, USA | Leave a Comment »

HEDGEHOGS RAVAGED BY BEARS

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on January 29, 2009

Feb. 2, 2009

by Barton Biggs

PUBLISHED BY ‘NEWSWEEK’ (USA)

BARTON BIGGS

The equity markets of the world have many afflictions, but one of the most debilitating is the plague being experienced by the hedgehogs (a.k.a. hedge funds). Bright, young, bushy-tailed hedgehogs are dying right and left, and fatter, older, more experienced members of the species are starving and sickly. The irony is that hedge funds didn’t do all that badly last year. The Hennessee Hedge Fund Index was off 19.2 percent, although the average fund lost more like 25 to 27 percent. By contrast, the S&P 500 fell 37 percent, the MSCI All County World Index was down 42 percent and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 53 percent. Still, hedge funds failed to do what they promise: to protect their clients’ assets in a bear market.

We live in extravagant times. In January 2008 there were about 8,000 hedge funds worldwide running about $2 trillion of investor money. As the dust settles, the best guess is that about 2,000 hedge funds have gone out of business and another 2,000 will disappear in the next year. Ravaged by killer bear markets as well as a deluge of redemptions, the total capital run by hedge funds today is now about $1.2 trillion, according to Hennessee.

In the good old days, hedge funds were the most active investors; their $2 trillion was leveraged up to $8 trillion—the size of the U.S. equity market today. Things have changed. At a conference in London last week, Morgan Stanley said that at the beginning of 2008,65 to 70 percent of its institutional equity business in Europe was from hedge funds and only 30 percent was from traditional investment management firms. Now, the percentages are reversed. At this same conference, one of the largest funds of hedge funds in the world said that the net long positions of the 135 hedge funds in its portfolio was now 10 percent (i.e., only 10 percent of the fund’s capital was exposed to the market), and that the funds were less leveraged than ever.

The plague is likely to continue. The three classes of investors that dominate hedge-fund money are the fund of funds (FOFs), institutional investors (endowments, foundations, pension funds) and wealthy individuals. All three categories are scared to death, experiencing unprecedented liquidity squeezes, and deeply concerned about not the return on their money but the return of their money.

The FOFs, which now account, according to Hennessee, for 32 percent of hedge-rand assets, had in the past decade been the biggest winners in the entire investment-management business, with their assets growing 25 percent a year. Now suddenly they are suffering an epidemic of redemptions. A year ago they were 40 percent of assets. Fjven before the Madoff affair, their clients were questioning whether the extra fees they pay were worth it, since they were not being protected from losses. The Madoff Ponzi scheme and the FOFs’ involvement with Madoff was a brutal blow. In addition, many FOFs had leveraged up their portfolios to maximize their returns for competitive reasons. Instead they maximized their losses. The big institutional investors are also having a horrendous time. Many of them switched from a highly liquid asset-allocation strategy of stocks, bonds and cash to the so-called Endowment Model, which trivialized bonds, minimized listed equities and maximized so-called alternative assets (hedge funds, private equity, real estate and oil and gas partnerships). The managers of all these asset classes charge very high fees and rely on large amounts of debt to leverage up returns. Now, the debt money is simply not available. Meanwhile, global economic weakness is ravaging private equity, with real estate close behind. Many big institutions have been using the gains in their endowment portfolios for the funding of current operations. They are now faced with either sharply cutting operating budgets or selling investment assets. Charitable organizations and educational institutions are hurting big time. Harvard (one that has funded a major part of its operating budget from its endowment) has been dumping its private-equity stakes at 50 to 80 percent discounts, and recently raised money by issuing bonds. Pension funds, too, need cash. There is a desperate scramble for liquidity, which may force institutional investors to redeem from their large hedge-fund stakes.

As for individuals, they are just plain terrified from the wealth destruction they have suffered in the past year.

Does all this spell another horrendous year for the stock markets as a tsunami of forced selling overwhelms the great valuations that exist in many blue-chip stocks? Not necessarily, although it is a risk to bear in mind. I’m bullish because I’m a value investor. Stocks are dirt cheap, and I think that at some point this year we’re going to have a massive rally. But whatever happens to stock markets, the hedge-fund industry in the future will be much smaller, far less leveraged and have considerably lower fees. Hedge-fund and private-equity managers have been among the most overcompensat-ed executives in the history of the world. The golden years are over and gone, and I must admit the world will not be diminished by their passing.

(*) – BIGGS is a managing partner of’Traxis Partners hedge fund in New York.

PUBLISHED BY ‘NEWSWEEK’ (USA)

Posted in BANKING SYSTEM - USA, BANKRUPTCIES - USA, ECONOMIC CONJUNCTURE, ECONOMY, ECONOMY - USA, FINANCIAL CRISIS - USA - 2008/2009, FINANCIAL MARKETS, FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRIES, HOUSING CRISIS - USA, INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION - USA, INDUSTRIES - USA, RECESSION, REGULATIONS AND BUSINESS TRANSPARENCY, RESTRUCTURING OF PRIVATE COMPANIES, THE FLOW OF INVESTMENTS, USA | Leave a Comment »