Articles from May 2009



Sterling buoyed with positive house price data

Lots of positives in the global markets this morning and for sterling.

Firstly we have seen the Nationwide House price index survey show a surprise bounce as the average house price rose 1.2% in May- this is the strongest monthly gain for 19 months.

Although this is a good indicator that the severe downturn in the property market may be bottoming out- Nationwide noted that it is still too early to call as unemployment is still rising and credit conditions remain tight.

Sterling was also buoyed by UK consumer confidence matching its highest level in 11 months reported market researcher GfK NOP…the CBI also reported that business sentiment rose to the highest level since 2007.

Sterling is now pushing towards 1.61 against the dollar (a new 2009 high) and 155.00 against the Yen- we could see new yearly highs very soon on the EUR and for sterling on a trade weighted basis.

In the wider markets we have seen more leveraging into Oil and Gold which both rose sharply- Gold is closing in on $1,000/oz again and Oil has hit a new 6 month high above $65 a barrel. Commodity prices have leaped this month as a move out of the dollar and Yen mirrors the improved confidence and a move from safety to investments.

We have seen major gains in commodity based currencies particularly against the USD- with the CAD, AUD and NZD all making gains this month.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

Bond markets defy Fed as Treasury yields spike

The US Federal Reserve may soon be forced to launch fresh blitz of quantitative easing whatever the consequences for the US dollar, or risk seeing economic recovery snuffed out by the latest surge in long term borrowing costs.

Yields on 10 year Treasury bonds have risen relentlessly since March when the FED first announced its plan to buy $300bn (£188bn) of US government debt directly, a move that briefly forced rates down to nearly 2.5pc, a level thought to be the Fed’s implicit target.

The US Mortgage Bankers Association yesterday highlighted the fragility of the US housing market, reporting that 12pc of homeowners are either behind on their payments or facing foreclosure, the highest level since records began.

Almost 6pc of “prime” borrowers are in arrears, showing how far the crisis has moved beyond the sub-prime. Most arrears are caused by job losses. The US unemployment rate has reached 8.1pc, and is even higher under older definitions, running at 15.8pc under Clinton-era metrics.

It is unclear why US bond yields have spiked so violently, with spill-over effects on gilts and bunds. One camp of investors is worried that inflation is rearing its ugly head again: others fear a sovereign debt crisis as over-extended states loses their AAA ratings.

The US is at the front of the firing line. Beijing is clearly losing its patience with the Fed’s policy of printing paper, seen as a form of stealth default. There is some risk that further moves to step up quantitative easing could cause China to boycott US Treasury auctions. China and Japan together hold 23pc of all US federal debt.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

Wise Money warns Britain may suffer a double recession

One of the world’s most influential economists warns today that Britain faces the prospect of two recessions in quick succession.

Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University, said that the recent stock market bounce should be treated with caution.

He likened the current sense of optimism to a marital row. “You don’t know whether the argument with your wife is really over or not. Is the problem something that your spouse will bring up again, and again?”

The apparent upturn could soon go into reverse, he told The Times, marking a repeat of economic patterns in the 1930s and the 1980s.

Such a double-dip slowdown has been nicknamed by economists a “W-shaped” recession, where recovery is so fragile, the country could be plunged into another slowdown as soon as it emerged from the last.

Since March the stock market has rebounded by 27 per cent, raising hopes that the recession may not be as severe and protracted as many economists had feared.

Some have interpreted the recent rally as a sign that the banking system – which imploded after Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank, went bust in September – has stabilised and that confidence is returning.

Last week Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, brushed aside doubts that his Budget forecasts had been overoptimistic and predicted that the recession would be over by Christmas. Many economists in the City believe that Britain will stagnate until the end of 2010 and that unemployment will continue to rise well after that.

Speaking to The Times this week, Professor Shiller said: “I was last here [in London] in the fall and there is definitely a sense of optimism now. The Fed [US central bank] and the Bank of England seem to have things under control. Everything seems to be getting better.”

However, he warned that “there is a real possiblity of another recession. We may well see more bad news. It is a real failure of the imagination to think otherwise.”

He said that there were a number of issues that threatened any long-term recovery for the British economy – rising unemployment, mortgage defaults, and another wave of new company failures that “could surprise us yet”.

Professor Shiller also said that the banks were still harbouring large portfolios of troubled assets.

“We all want to lick this problem — there’s been a burst of confidence over the last few months, but really it’s not based on any news. A lot of people think this recession is coming to an end. But I’m not so sure. A resurgence in confidence may not translate into new jobs. We are still in uncertain times.”

He added: “In 1931 in the US, President Hoover unveiled his recovery plan – there was a huge stock market rally — the market improved but it didn’t hold because bad news kept coming in. Increased confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy but it doesn’t always hold.”

Professor Shiller said, however, that he believed another likely scenario to be one where Britain would face a continuous decline with house prices falling for a number of years, drawing comparisons with the decade of misery in Japan in the 1990s.

The economist became well known when he predicted the timing of the end of the dot-com boom in March 2000, and was one of the first to warn that the US housing market was perilously overvalued and that its collapse would cause devastating reverberations across the world’s biggest economy.

Professor Shiller has been in London this week promoting his book Animal Spirits. How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism, in which he argues that our own psychology and emotions, such as envy and resentment, drive house prices, debt levels and share values.

His co-author is George Akerlof, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001. In the book, they argue: “What had the people been thinking? Why did they not notice until real events — the collapse of banks, the loss of jobs, mortgage foreclosures — were already upon us. The public, the Government and most economists had been reassured by an economic theory that said that we were safe. It was all OK.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

Asian shares founder after North Korean nuclear test

Asian stocks foundered on Tuesday as the United Nations condemned North Korea’s nuclear test and investors awaited more clues about the health of the world economy.

Major markets like Japan and South Korea drifted lower, while the dollar fell against the yen and oil prices slackened.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula showed no signs of easing after the UN Security Council criticized North Korea’s test of a nuclear bomb as a “clear violation” of international bans. But the country’s defiance continued with reports saying it would likely step up its weapons testing by firing short-range missiles this week.

While hurting sentiment in the short term, the standoff was more an excuse to take a breather from the recent rally, analyst said.

Caution ahead of upcoming economic reports in the US, as well as Wall Street and British market holidays Monday, also left investors with few reasons to set a course one way or the other.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average fell 19 points, or 0.2pc, to 9,327.82, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 19.91 points, or 0.1pc, to 17,141.73 in an erratic session.

In South Korea, the Kospi was off 2.4pc at 1,367.02. The benchmark dived over 6pc on Monday on news of North Korea’s nuclear test before recovering nearly all its losses.

Elsewhere, Shanghai’s index lost 0.1pc, Australia’s benchmark was up 1.1pc and Taiwan’s market dropped 0.8pc.

Both US and British financial markets were closed Monday for holidays. European markets finished little changed on Monday.

With investors eyeing key US economic reports this week, including home sales, big-ticket manufactured goods and consumer confidence, Wall Street futures pointed to a slightly lower open on Tuesday.

Oil prices fell Asia trade ahead of OPEC’s meeting this week, with benchmark crude for July delivery trading at $60.93 a barrel, down 74 cents from overnight trade.

The dollar slipped to 94.66 yen from 94.84 yen, while the euro was lower at $1.3976 compared to $1.4003.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

What a difference an “A” makes

Yesterday we saw incredible volatility in the markets as firstly Standard & Poor’s said it was revising its outlook for Britain’s AAA credit rating from “stable” to negative.

This had a whirlwind effect on the markets with the FTSE falling nearly 3% and sterling tumbling across the markets. Official data showed that the treasury borrowed £8.5 billion last month and the S&P; warned that the debt rating would be downgraded if the next governments’ fiscal plans do not show a secure downward trajectory in the medium term.

A downgrade would be a huge blow to the status of Britain and would lead to the Treasury being required to pay higher interest on future borrowings. Sterling weathered the initial dip of 2% against the US Dollar and 1.5% against the Euro and retraced back to earlier highs of 1.58 against the USD in later trading and gained some of its losses back on the Euro.

Moody’s later informed the market that they had no plans to change their current rating of AAA and stable helping the pound. The response from the UK government and head of the DMO affirmed “There are significant uncertainties in the global economy at the present time and S&P; point out that the outlook could be revised back to stable ‘if fiscal outturns are more benign than currently (they) currently anticipate’,” – let us hope Mr. Darlings growth forecasts are correct!

Sterling’s gain back against the US dollar was also helped by worries that the US will eventually face the same fate of a credit downgrade with its spiraling budget deficit and weakening economy.

Bill Gross the co- CEO of PIMCO a large bond firm told Reuters that investors fear the US is “going the way of the UK-losing AAA rating, which affects all financial assets and the dollar”, the growing fears sent the dollar tumbling as risk aversion encouraged investors to seek new harbours- the YEN and the EURO the initial favourites.

EUR/USD is now approaching the 1.40 level and is still looking bullish. The decline in the dollar comes amid rallying commodities, equities and corporate bonds, initially the increased confidence in the markets encouraged the “safe haven” dollar to be sold, however now the dollar seems to be losing its shine as a safe haven.

The dollar index which tracks the US currency against a basket of currencies has fallen to its lowest level since December 29 and has technically broken out of its upward range. Expect to see more dollar weakness with neither risk appetite or risk aversion being dollar positive.

In other news data today confirmed that GDP in the UK dropped 1.9% in the first quarter of this year- this was exactly in line with forecasts and has not moved the markets. Japan has upgraded its economic outlook and is forecasting that exports are forecasted to pick up- this follows a massive fall in exports in Q1 and a 4% fall in output- this should be Yen positive as it underlines the safe haven status of the Yen and will encourage more Yen leveraged carry trades- particularly into AUD.

Finally the Indian Rupee advanced on sentiment that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will look to sell state assets and attract foreign investment- the INR made its biggest weekly gain against the USD since March 1996.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

UK Taxpayer faces £17.6bn loss on bank investments

The UK taxpayer would make a £17.6bn loss if the labour Government sold out of Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland at today’s prices.

The figures, compiled by analysts at Exane BNP Paribas, make even a partial sale of the Government’s stake in either bank before a general election next spring look highly unlikely.

The analysts calculated that the state’s holding in Lloyds is £10.9bn underwater and £6.7bn out of the money at RBS.

“We continue to view UKFI [the body managing the investments] as a (very) long-term shareholder,” Exane’s Ian Gordon said. “We assume that the test likely to be applied by UKFI is one of absolute return to (at least) break-even. That could be a long wait.”

UKFI has said it expects to sell the stakes piecemeal back to the market as soon as possible. The taxpayer owns 43.4pc of Lloyds, acquired at an average of 124.55p, and 70.3pc of RBS, bought at 51.21p. The stakes rise to 62pc and 95pc respectively once the “B” shares used to pay for the toxic debt insurance scheme are included.

Lloyds shares yesterday fell 6.09 to 70½p after adjusting to take account of its £4bn placing and open offer. RBS, which announced 700 job losses in IT and property yesterday under plans to cut around 20,000 staff globally, fell 0.7 to 42.4p.

Some of the potential losses in Lloyds could be recovered sooner, though, after the lender warned the Government might renegotiate the terms of the asset protection scheme (APS). In the prospectus, the bank said: “Negotiations are continuing and, although not currently expected by the board, may result in changes to the terms announced on March 7.”

The Treasury sought to downplay the warning, saying: “The Government is now undertaking a detailed examination of the assets and will announce final details in the coming months. We have not changed our initial assessment of the overall taxpayer exposure.”

The prospectus further revealed that European regulators could force Lloyds to unpick its merger with HBOS. In return for state aid approval, the EU may demand “the cessation or disposal of certain parts of the business [that] … could require the group to divest or exit core businesses”.

Lloyds was outlining potential risks ahead of the placing and open offer to redeem the £4bn of preference shares the Government took as part of last October’s bank recapitalisation. It is issuing 10.4bn shares at 38.43p – a 54.6pc discount to the closing price on May 13.

Lloyds is paying the Government an underwriting fee of £60m and covering its legal costs of £30m. The taxpayer will make a further £40m as the terms of the deal are that the preference shares are redeemed at 101pc of the issue price.

The £100m the Government will make on the deal comes on top of the £995m in profit the Bank of England has made from its emergency support packages for the financial system, but will have little impact on the billions of potential losses.

Lloyds said converting the preference shares into stock will remove the annual £480m cost of paying dividends on the stock, and “will thereby improve the group’s profitability, cashflow, liquidity and organic capital generation”.

It will add 0.8 percentage points to its core tier one capital, taking the ratio to 6.7pc before the effect of the APS, which is expected to lift the ratio to 14.5pc.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

Wise Money sees feelgood factor returns

Overnight the UK government has hinted it may look to sell a portion of the debt it has taken on in the nationalised UK banking sector this has seen sterling surge 2 cents against the US$ to levels not seen since December 2008.

Over in the US the feel good factor continues as the Treasury Secretary Geithner adds to the growing belief that we have turned the corner.

This, added to bullish global economic data and further comments from the US gave the Stock Markets a real boost, pushed the oil price up above $60 per barrel again and caused the Dollar to ease against the majors.

Positive data included a rise in Japanese consumer confidence and better than expected export figures from the EU.

We then got ‘reasonable’ numbers from the US including strong trading performance from Lowes, a major company whose business is directly related to the house building industry.

Financial stocks added to the positive sentiment following news that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan had applied to the Treasury for permission to repay their TARP borrowings.

The Reserve Bank of Australia gave a moderate assessment of their domestic situation and questioned the need for a further cut in their interest rates at the May meeting. AUD strengthened slightly following an earlier dip on the Chinese steel directive.

And in a further sign of a global shift away from the US Dollar as a trading medium, Brazil and China have agreed to work towards using their currencies in trading transactions rather than the greenback.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

Bank of England makes £1bn profit from bailouts after riding to rescue of high street lenders

The Bank of England revealed yesterday that it had racked up record profits of almost £1 billion in the year to February as its fee earning activities burgeoned amid the global financial and economic turmoil.

During a crisis that has brought some of the mightiest forces in global banking to their knees — and some to collapse and oblivion — the Bank emerged as having thrived while famed commercial institutions foundered.

Figures released yesterday in the Bank’s annual report showed that in the 12 months to February 28 it raked in profits before tax of £995 million. This marks a more than fivefold rise from £197 million in 2008 and is the biggest figure since its establishment in 1694.

The profits surge for the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has already paid a big dividend for taxpayers. The Bank made an initial payment to the Treasury of £203 million on April 3 and a further, similar sum is set to follow in October under rules that require the Bank to hand back a quarter of its post-tax profits to the Government on two dates each year.

The Bank’s soaring profits have come as a direct result of its massive interventions to shore up Britain’s banking system, as it has levied fees and interest on stricken high-street and commercial banks in return for the financial lifelines that have seen them through the financial storm.

“The Bank’s profit is a consequence of policy decisions to tackle the financial crisis,” a spokesman said last night after its report was handed to Parliament.

“The Bank has provided substantial liquidity support to the banking system. It is entirely right it charges fees to set the right incentives for financial institutions to use its facilities and protects itself and taxpayers from potential credit risk.”

Yesterday’s report showed that included in the year’s bumper profits for the Bank were £7 million earned through its support for the collapsed Bradford & Bingley and a further £4 million from its backing for the failed Northern Rock.

The Bank has also earned large amounts from the £185 billion loaned to banking groups in the form of Treasury bills, under its Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS). In the year to February 28, it booked £664 million in profits related to the SLS, according to its accounts.

As security for its loaned funds, the Bank continues to hold £287 billion-worth of hard-to-trade, illiquid assets that it swapped under the scheme.

Mervyn King, the Bank’s Governor, joined Sir John Parker, chairman of its Court, in using the annual report to renew calls for extra powers for the Bank to help to prevent future crises.

Mr King said that he welcomed the extra statutory role given to the Bank to ensure financial stability, but added: “I regret that the new responsibility has not been accompanied by any new powers to deal with banks before they fail. Responsibilities and powers need to be aligned.”

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

Wise Money doubts that this bull market has legs

It was only a fortnight ago that investors were buzzing with enthusiasm and dreaming of a bull market.

Stockbrokers were reporting a sharp rise in trading volumes as private investors rushed to join in the stock market renaissance.

The great and the good were confident enough to announce that the bull market had indeed come.

Doubts are being raised as to whether this is the bull market we had been hoping for. Certainly the FTSE 100 has struggled to get into top gear since and although the wheels haven’t come off, it has run out of gas.

London’s index of leading shares may have jumped 25pc since hitting a low of 3,512 points on March 3, but it closed the week down at 4,348 – its first weekly decline for several weeks.

The stock market chartists also suggest that it is a tad early to call time on the bear market. Take the Coppock Indicator, which aims to identify the start of a bull market.

The Coppock indicator signalled rallies in 1988 and 1994, and investors who acted on it made a lot of money (although it gave a false signal back in the early stages of the dotcom bust).

It was first developed more than 40 years ago when church authorities asked Edwin Coppock, a business economist, for a low-risk, long-term signal for use on the Dow. Coppock believed that, in the markets, collective emotion outweighed collective reason and investors panic-sold to avoid losses.

He asked the bishops how long it took to recover from bereavement or similar trauma. They said between 11 and 14 months, so using the Coppock Breadth Indicator he would judge the momentum of the markets based on the average of their 11- and 14-month rates of change.

The confirmation or buy signal comes when the indicator is below zero and turning upwards from a trough.

We point out that the indicator has yet to provide a buy signal. W warns that it is too early to shout “Yippee, the bear market’s over.”

The dividend cut by BT, not to mention its redundancies, reminds us that troubles run deep in corporate Britain. And given the cautious overtones in the latest Bank of England quarterly inflation report you can understand that the majority of investors remain sceptical that this bull market has legs.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.

IMF forecasts recovery despite Eurozone GDP fall

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said today that he expects the global economy to recover in the first half of next year despite worse than expected figures from the eurozone economy showing that GDP shrank by 2.5 per cent during the first quarter.

The quarterly fall in GDP in the eurozone– a key measure of economic health – takes the annual decline to a record of 4.6 per cent across the 16 countries that use the euro.

Germany revealed the worst fall in GDP, shrinking 3.8 per cent over three months in its worst performance since reunification in 1990. Economists had forecast German GDP would contract by 3 per cent.

However, the IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn said that green shoots of revival are everywhere but he stressed that banks’ balance sheets must be cleansed before an economic recovery can take place.

While today’s figures are far worse than expected, economists said the quarter would prove to be a low point, with the slowdown set to ease in the coming months.

France, Europe’s second-biggest economy, reported that GDP shrank by 1.2 per cent on the quarter while Italy, the next biggest, fell 2.4 per cent.

Much of Germany’s contraction was due to a sharp decline in exports, which make up a large proportion of the country’s economy, and a drop off in investment. The dramatic plunge in output was the fourth quarter in a row that Germany’s economy has shrunk.

Moreover, officials said fourth quarter GDP, which was previously the worst on record, was revised down to a contraction of 2.2 per cent, compared with the previously reported decline of 2.1 per cent.

Germany is now expecting a 6 per cent contraction this year and is predicting growth of just 0.5 per cent in 2010.

The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation to trade or a solicitation for funds. The Wise Money Blog cannot be held responsible for any loss or damages arising from any action taken following consideration of this information.