Ben Bernanke can move markets, and sometimes his words are too strong for his own good. That may have been true of his press conference last month, when he announced that he planned to start tapering off QE bond purchases later this year, and end them altogether by next summer. That drove a dramatic rise in Treasury yields, and in the dollar.
For a further classic example, look at the speed with which currency markets responded late on Wednesday and early on Thursday to a speech he made in Massachusetts, and to the minutes from last month’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, published on Wednesday. The euro gained 4.5 cents against the dollar in a matter of minutes, while the pound gained almost 4 cents (or about 2.6 per cent).
Value investors are getting excited about emerging markets again after their terrible performance over the past few months.
The problem, as Arjun Divecha, chairman of Boston’s GMO, says, is that mostly what’s cheap is commodity-related stocks set to suffer from the slowdown of demand in China. Domestically-oriented companies are down, but aren’t that cheap.
There are a couple of really cheap areas, though. He points to Russian oil shares, and Chinese banks.
Both have horrible fundamentals. Russia is stuck between recession-hit Europe and slowing China, and has some of the worst corporate governance in the world.
Chinese banks are directly exposed to the slowdown in the country’s economy, are being told to lend less (hurting profitability), face higher funding costs (hurting profitability) and risk the bursting of the credit bubble (which would expose the bad debts from their relaxed lending decisions of the past four years).
Given all that, shares would need to be very very cheap to consider buying them. And they are. Charts showing just how cheap Chinese stocks have become follow after the break.
Americans have been wondering if the housing market is in a double bubble for a little while, since Professor Robert Shiller, co-creator of the Case-Shiller house price indices, raised the danger.
The real action has been in housebuilders, though. Their valuations, based on price to estimated book value, peaked in May above where they stood at the height of the property bubble in 2005/6. Prices look very much like the rebound bubble in the Nasdaq, in the Dow Jones Industrials in the late 1930s and in the Nikkei 225 (although it wasn’t quite so big). This chart shows the Nasdaq and Nikkei time-shifted so the peaks overlap with the 2005 peak in housebuilding shares:
I’ve circled the point where the rebound went wrong again: seven to eight years later for both Nasdaq and, less spectacularly, the Nikkei (the Dow’s second depression-era boom-bust came in 1937, also eight years after the original bubble).
More fab charts, including one must-see on why US housing isn’t as affordable as everyone thinks, after the break.
The fun part of the eurozone crisis, if there is one, is that you never know where to look. After the Cyprus crisis three months ago, the hunt was on for the next small peripheral country that would create a headache. Slovenia was a popular bet. So, among some hedge fund managers, was the Netherlands, where house prices are dropping alarmingly. There was a frisson of concern about Croatia’s accession to the EU. But it turns out that the next country to administer a shock, two years on from its bail-out, is Portugal.
You do not need to be an expert in Portuguese politics to see that the country is in a crisis, or that local markets were shocked by developments. When the foreign minister hands in a resignation hours after the finance minister has done the same thing, over an issue of core economic policy, and the existence of a fragile coalition is called into question, then it is natural that prices will be revised.