sabato 9 gennaio 2010

Bolla o non bolla? E le riforme? Aggiornamento all'8 gennaio 2010

E' iniziata una nuova bolla o no? Sono in molti a chiederselo da qualche mese. Già il 26 novembre scorso scriveva Buttonwood :

THE hunt for the next bubble is well advanced. Gold, which has repeatedly hit record nominal peaks, is a plausible candidate. Like a dotcom stock, it seems to lack any valuation constraints.
Another option is emerging markets. Equities in developing markets have already enjoyed a phenomenal rally this year,(...) But what about emerging-market debt?
The credit crunch has shown that emerging markets have not only become the main drivers of global growth but have also replaced developed countries as exemplars of fiscal probity. (Dubai is not technically an emerging market.) The bail-out of the banks, an unexpectedly sharp recession and a collapse in tax revenues have pushed some developed countries into deficits of more than 10% of GDP, figures not seen outside world wars.
The contrast is now striking. Matt King, a strategist at Citigroup, cites IMF figures showing that the debt-to-GDP ratio of the leading 20 developed nations is already twice that of the top 20 emerging markets. By 2014 it will be three times as high.
The bullish argument for emerging-market bonds is based not just on the state of government finances but on the outlook for foreign-exchange markets. The American government may talk about the desirability of a strong dollar but it seems to have no intention of doing anything about it. Governments in Japan and the euro zone are hardly applauding the resulting strength of the euro and yen. By contrast, argues Mr King, some emerging countries may find their currencies appreciating, no matter what policy they follow.
What if they give in to Western political pressure and allow a modest currency rise? Then investors will speculate that further appreciation is likely. Alternatively countries may choose to intervene in the foreign-exchange markets to prevent their currencies from rising. But the effect of such a policy will be to increase their foreign-exchange reserves (as they sell their own currencies and buy dollars or euros). That will make the country’s fundamentals look even more attractive and encourage even greater investment.
The Economist - 9 January 2010
In addition, importing loose monetary policy from America (as countries try to peg their currencies to the dollar) may create asset bubbles within emerging markets. Those will attract speculative inflows. And if developing countries try to restrict those bubbles by raising interest rates, that will only make their currencies even more attractive as yield-hungry investors pile in.

Il numero in edicola dell'Economist torna proprio sull'argomento senza mezzi termini, dedicando la copertina proprio alla sopravalutazione di molti asset causata dagli ingenti stimoli governativi e dai bassissimi tassi di interesse un po' ovunque e particolarmente negli Usa, in Europa e in Giappone:

THE effect of free money is remarkable. A year ago investors were panicking and there was talk of another Depression. Now the MSCI world index of global share prices is more than 70% higher than its low in March 2009. That’s largely thanks to interest rates of 1% or less in America, Japan, Britain and the euro zone, which have persuaded investors to take their money out of cash and to buy risky assets.

For all the panic last year, asset values never quite reached the lows that marked other bear-market bottoms, and now the rally has made several markets look pricey again. In the American housing market, where the crisis started, homes are priced at around fair value on the basis of rental yields, but they are overvalued by almost 30% in Britain and by 50% in Australia, Hong Kong and Spain.
Stockmarkets are still shy of their record peaks in most countries. The American market is around 25% below the level it reached in 2007. But it is still nearly 50% overvalued on the best long-term measure, which adjusts profits to allow for the economic cycle, and is on a par with two of the four great valuation peaks in the 20th century, in 1901 and 1966.
Central banks see these market rallies as a welcome side- effect of their policies. In 2008, falling markets caused a vicious circle of debt defaults and fire sales by investors, pushing asset prices down even further. The market rebound was necessary to stabilise economies last year, but now there is a danger that bubbles are being created (see article).

I mercati nel frattempo continuano a far festa: persino venerdì scorso, dopo dei numeri

sull'occupazione USA per niente incoraggianti che hanno fatto cadere le borse europee dello 0.5% o più in pochi secondi, si sono ripresi e Dax, Ftse100, Dow Jones, Nasdaq e S&P500 hanno chiuso la giornata con incrementi percentuali. Le borse durante la  prima settimana di gennaio sono avanzate del 2-3% continuando a sognare...

Ma la disoccupazione è davvero un problema negli USA, un problema che peraltro

potrebbe peggiorare seriamente se come alcuni sostengono la recessione non fosse finita ma ci trovassimo semplicemente nell'occhio del ciclone. Se volete approfondire gli scenari possibili per l'occupazione e l'economia USA vi raccomando l'ultima lettera di John Mauldin, giustamente preoccupato sia dalla disoccupazione sia dalla mancanza di una risposta adeguata alla crisi finanziaria (ho evidenziato le considerazioni finali che condivido ampiamente):

But if you think unemployment is high now, you will really not like what happens if we dip back into recession. It could go a lot higher. They are truly risking a great deal if they decide to pursue this experiment.
Thus, I am faced with a great deal of uncertainty as I look into the future with my forecasts - and we will get into the bulk of the actual forecasts next week. I almost titled this letter "The Year of Waiting," because there are so many important developments we are waiting on. Will they actually raise taxes in such a soft economy, or will cooler heads prevail and the increases be postponed, or at least phased in over 4-5 years? What will the health-care bill look like? There are so many things that could significantly change any predictions.
As I have written for years, the stock market drops an average of over 40% during a recession. If we go into a recession in 2011, it is highly unlikely that there will be an exception to the bear market rule. But this market seemingly wants to go higher. Smart people like my partner Steve Blumenthal argue with me that the technicals say we could go a lot higher in the short term. And he may very well be (and probably is) right.
This is a trader's market. It is not time to buy and hold large indexes or high-beta stocks and expect to be made whole over the next ten years. Hope is not a strategy. But waiting for the "shoe to drop" is frustrating, I know. However, that is the situation we find ourselves in.
We will go into this next week, but the current environment is quite different than 1982, when the last bull market started. Rates were falling; they are now likely to rise over time. Taxes were going down. Valuations were at historical lows, not high and rising. Inflation was coming down. And on and on. The current environment is not one in which bull markets are born.
Whither the Fed?
The futures market is pricing in rate hikes from the Fed beginning this fall. I highly doubt a politicized Fed will hike rates with unemployment over 10%, ahead of a November election. We are going to have a very easy monetary policy for longer than most observers think.
The Fed has painted itself into a very tough corner. Raising rates in a high-unemployment environment is risky. Bernanke knows what happened in 1937 and does not want a repeat. But by keeping rates too low for too long, they risk an asset bubble or two. And the federal fiscal deficit of over $1.5 trillion is not making their situation any easier.
The Fed has announced it is ending many of their various and sundry programs in the first quarter. They have essentially been the mortgage market. What will happen to rates? I think that is one of the reasons why Geithner has essentially lifted any limit on explicit guarantees for Fannie and Freddie. It will be seen as higher-paying government debt. It will also cost you, Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer, hundreds of billions in increased deficits, as they are telling those entities to eat the losses from large numbers of loan modifications. This is outrageous on so many levels. Congress should at least have to approve this.
It's getting close to my eight pages, so let me end by saying that, as we face the next crisis - and we will (there is always another crisis) - we will find we have not fixed the causes of the last one. We still have banks too big to fail, we have not put the credit default swaps on an exchange, we have not reinstated Glass-Steagall, Barney Frank's bill (which was not the one that came out of committee) now makes it exceedingly more difficult to short stocks, we keep in power the same people who missed the problems the last time, and the list of bad policies bought (typo intended) to you by bank lobbyists grows ever longer. If the current bill looks like it was written by the bank lobby, that's because it was. But it means we will have to face the same problems all over again. But that is another story for another day. Next week we look at the dollar and other currencies, gold, commodities, bonds, emerging markets, and more.

Ecco l'aggiornamento all'8 gennaio.

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