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Germany’s First Failed Bond Auction – The European Crisis Continues to Spread

November 23, 2011
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Germany’s First Failed Bond Auction – The European Crisis Continues to Spread

Germany failed to get bids for 35% of the 10-year bonds auctioned today. Yields are up about 10 basis points this morning. The increase in borrowing cost is insignificant for Germany. Yields are still well below 2%, and Germany continues to benefit from the combination of very low borrowing costs, and a declining euro which helps support export competitiveness. The first sign of German bond market stress does highlight the risk the EU-17 is flirting with; the breakdown in confidence across the entire region. What started as a crisis in Greece has spread one-by-one to the rest of the European sovereigns. The reason the crisis has spread is not based upon profligate actions by the rest of the Eurozone. On the contrary, progress has already been made across Europe...

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Emerging Market Currencies Signaling More Risk Aversion

November 22, 2011
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Emerging Market Currencies Signaling More Risk Aversion

For almost a decade, emerging markets have been in a bull market with high growth rates, declining interest rates, and capital inflows. During the financial crisis, emerging markets were hit like financial assets around the world, and capital flowed out of the asset class. Over the course of 2010, and most of 2011, emerging market currencies have been strengthening once again. Recently, the European financial crisis has cast doubts on the risk appetite for emerging market investment. EM currencies experienced a sharp, across the board, selloff in September 2011. Currencies such as; the Brazilian Real, Mexican Peso, and Indonesian Rupiah quickly declined by 20%. Part of the decline was based on the start of EM central bank rate cuts but the majority of the move was simply risk aversion....

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“Super” Committee – Lack of Progress Heightens Risks to Economy and Financial Markets

November 21, 2011
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“Super” Committee – Lack of Progress Heightens Risks to Economy and Financial Markets

The US “Super Committee” has failed to make any progress on the sole task it was created for: deficit reduction. It now appears probable that there will be an announcement today stating the committee has “failed to reach its mandated goal of reducing deficits over the next 10-years by $1.2 trillion dollars”. An announcement of this sort would be particularly discouraging because the committee looks unable to achieve even partial success. At a time when the global economy and financial markets are experiencing a crisis of confidence in the future, this result is a major letdown. The US economy has been incredibly resilient despite the confidence-sapping political ineptitude, and the political/financial breakdown in Europe. The main issue with a potential “lack of result” announcement from the Super Committee is...

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US Housing Permit Activity Improves – Strongest in 3-Years

November 18, 2011
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US Housing Permit Activity Improves – Strongest in 3-Years

Housing is slowly and steadily showing signs of a bottom. Housing permits are required in most states before a housing start and are a leading indicator of overall housing demand. Housing permits improved to 653k which represents a 10.8% increase from September and a 17.6% improvement vs. last year. Both single-family and multifamily permits improved. Mortgage rates falling to 4% have helped housing affordability improve to the best levels in a number of decades. The combination of lower rates, growing median incomes, and falling house prices have all contributed. The longer-term outlook for housing is sound and buyers today should generally expect price appreciation over the longer-term. The market remains almost entirely focused on Europe. The financial crisis in the Eurozone is the most important driver and risk to...

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Que Lastima – Spain in a Vice as Interest Rates and Unemployment Soar

November 17, 2011
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Que Lastima – Spain in a Vice as Interest Rates and Unemployment Soar

I’ve been writing about the impossibility of the ECB running appropriate monetary policy for 17 different nations. The dilemma couldn’t be more evident when contrasting the economy of Spain with the economy of Germany. Spain actually has less sovereign debt relative to GDP than does Germany. The problem for Spain isn’t the level of debt the country has incurred, but the depth of the current recession and the questionable capitalization of the Spanish banking system. Spanish inflation is running in a range of 1.7%-3.0% depending on how you define it (1.7% core inflation). This morning, bond auctions in Spain only attracted investors at much higher yields, approaching 7%. As a result of higher interest rates and a deepening recession (which is helping to reduce inflation), real interest rates in...

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Europe’s Crisis Spreads as Spain, Belgium, France, the Euro and EU-17 get Questioned – How Does It End?

November 16, 2011
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Europe’s Crisis Spreads as Spain, Belgium, France, the Euro and EU-17 get Questioned – How Does It End?

For a number of months, the financial crisis in Europe has been explained under the guise of sound versus unsound policy. If this were indeed the case, the fix would be simple; eliminate unsound and unsustainable policy and voila, the problems would just go away. European leaders have shifted blame continuously from one problem to the next. First the issue was speculators, then Greece, then Ireland, then Portugal, then Spain, then Belgium, then Italy, then the need for austerity, then the macro economy, and now the problem has erupted to everywhere. The current set of events will hopefully amount to a positive development as it becomes clear that the problem is the construct of the Eurozone itself. Europe’s misguided attempts to reform its way out of a crisis are...

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China’s Trade Balance is Adjusting – the Largest Imbalance in the World is no Longer Growing

November 14, 2011
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China’s Trade Balance is Adjusting – the Largest Imbalance in the World is no Longer Growing

Markets in China rallied to start the week. Part of the rally resulted from “catch up” to US markets which closed strongly. But part of the rally was based on positive economic comments coming from Chinese officials. China’s President Hu Jintao pledged to focus on building imports which would boost global economic growth. IMF Deputy Managing Director Zhu Min, and National Economic Research Director Fan Gang, told the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu that a “soft landing” for the economy was expected for China. The officials noted slowing inflation and lower bad debt at Chinese banks. To complete the string of positively toned news, there was also speculation that China was relaxing lending curbs which amounts to incremental monetary policy easing. Both the H-Shares (up 2.8%) and...

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CJF Read of the Week – Rogue Economist: “Similarity of China’s USD Peg with the EMU”

November 13, 2011
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CJF Read of the Week – Rogue Economist: “Similarity of China’s USD Peg with the EMU”

The Rogue Economist, located in Canada, wrote a provocative piece discussing the similarities between the USD/Yuan peg and the EMU construct. I agree with Rogue that currency pegs and distortions lead to predictable real world economic outcomes that become evident in the balance of trade. Many financial market participants confuse cause and effect when identifying the cause of an imbalance and debating the proper solution. Click for the full piece at Rouge Economist:

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Walt Disney (DIS) Results Strong – Outside of Europe the Global Economy is Solid

November 11, 2011
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Walt Disney (DIS) Results Strong – Outside of Europe the Global Economy is Solid

Long live Mickey Mouse! Walt Disney reported strong results last night which reflected broad strength across the economy. Disney has diversified exposure to discretionary spending with its parks, media properties, and international businesses. A consistent theme through earnings season has been broadly solid corporate earnings and DIS is another example of this from a large capitalization blue-chip multinational. Walt Disney produced the enviable combination of results demonstrating solid top line sales growth, margin expansion, and tremendous EPS growth as cash flow was used to repurchase shares. Disney’s revenues grew 7% this quarter with strength from the parks division, media properties, and product royalties. Developing markets such as Russia, China, and India were all called out as strong on the earnings conference call. Disney’s cable and media properties are expanding...

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Europe Must Decide Its Future – Self Induced Financial Crisis Has Led Europe to the Brink

November 10, 2011
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Europe Must Decide Its Future – Self Induced Financial Crisis Has Led Europe to the Brink

After Wednesday’s market action around the world, it’s a good time for a big picture assessment on the state of the financial markets. The attitude out of Europe has pendulated between nonchalance and vitriolic attacks among the EU-17. Italian sovereign rates spiraling above 7% have brought the eleventh hour upon the region. Escalation of the crisis has caused all types of forward looking investment to become somewhat of a farce. The environment of complete and utter policy uncertainty will no longer be withstood by markets as the full scale part of the European financial crisis enters its fifth month. After bungling the first few opportunities to implement a fix, it has become clear that dramatic action will be required to keep the Eurozone intact. The problems of the Eurozone’s...

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Chinese Inflation Turning Down – More Confirmation on Inflection Point

November 9, 2011
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Chinese Inflation Turning Down – More Confirmation on Inflection Point

Overnight, China released inflation data for October, which came down as expected and declined meaningfully from the previous month. Chinese consumer inflation, which includes food and energy prices, was up 6.1% in September, and up 5.5% in October. This data shouldn’t be a complete surprise because China has been on a tightening campaign all year with higher interest rates, lower credit growth, and an exchange rate that has slowly appreciated this year. The actualization of lower Chinese inflation is  important because it provides the political cover for China to start easing monetary policy. In addition, many global commodities such as; copper, oil, cotton, wheat, corn, sugar, etc. have declined which will eventually help ease pressure on Chinese inflation. The Chinese Producer Price Index also declined meaningfully based on the...

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New York City Taxi Medallion Bubble – Prices Appreciate to $1M

November 8, 2011
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New York City Taxi Medallion Bubble – Prices Appreciate to $1M

Bloomberg recently reported that New York taxi medallions changed hands this October for a record $1 million. There have been a number of reports over the years demonstrating that investment in taxi medallions has outperformed stocks, bonds, real estate, and other financial assets. While this may be true, the yield has clearly come way down making investments at the new elevated prices much riskier. Reportedly, a $1M taxi medallion returns $2,500 in profit per month ($30k per year) which amounts to a 3% annual yield. The argument for medallion investment revolves around the regulated supply and recession-proof taxi fare industry dynamics. There is a public company called Medallion Financial Corp (TAXI) which has participated in the bull market. The company offers financing for the purchase of the medallions, has...

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Market Confidence in Italy Hits New Lows – Berlusconi to Face New Rounds of Confidence Votes

November 7, 2011
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Market Confidence in Italy Hits New Lows – Berlusconi to Face New Rounds of Confidence Votes

Italian 10-YR bond yields hit 6.62% this morning, which marks a new high since concerns over the sustainability of European sovereign debt began to unfold. This wasn’t supposed to work this way after the Eurozone leaders announced a new structured investment vehicle to be put in place to leverage up the EFSF. It remains unclear who is going to fund the SIV which raises doubts around how much firepower the EFSF will really have and whether Italian interest rates can be maintained at sustainable levels? All of this uncertainty takes place while Italian bonds yields escalate towards unsustainable levels, government approval ratings hit new lows, Berlusconi’s trial for soliciting an underage prostitute moves forward, and the real economy in Italy remains under intense pressure. The above issues are very...

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Magnifico! – Getting to Know Mario Draghi & Analysis of the ECB Monetary Policy Press Conference

November 4, 2011
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Magnifico! – Getting to Know Mario Draghi & Analysis of the ECB Monetary Policy Press Conference

The global equity markets have been held hostage by fears of a crisis since the summer. Taking another step back; crisis fears, macro, and policy responses have really been driving all financial markets since the summer of 2008. To be clear, the economy always has a meaningful impact on the investing environment, but the recent four years have been remarkable. Sound and prudent public policy has been of paramount importance, and a necessary condition, towards stabilizing the economic and business environment. The importance of the change at the helm of the ECB this week cannot be overstated. Now there are hardened and unrelenting cynics in the investment community, often quite vocal, who will say that nothing matters and the global financial system is inevitably doomed. Those who have read...

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ECB Cuts Rates 25 basis points – Dovish Comments From Draghi

November 3, 2011
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ECB Cuts Rates 25 basis points – Dovish Comments From Draghi

The ECB cut interest rates by 25 bps down to 1.25%. This was somewhat of a surprise cut as many expected Draghi to start his tenor by demonstrating some hawkish resolve – consistent with the views of departing ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet. Draghi presents a viewpoint that inflation is expected to fall further while highlighting that monetary growth is only moderate. He appropriately downgrades the forecast for Eurozone GDP growth and points out the “intensified downside” risks to the Eurozone economy. He goes on to point out that inflation is likely to fall below 2% in 2012. These are important comments because they immediately reveal that Draghi has a more dovish inclination relative to his predecessor. The ECB has more room to cut rates and the comments regarding the...

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When Will the Market Start to be Forward Looking – Early Signals from Asia?

November 2, 2011
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When Will the Market Start to be Forward Looking – Early Signals from Asia?

The markets have been through a period of wicked volatility with a significant pullback almost to the point of entering a new bear market. Intraday the S&P 500 was down 20% from its high but closed above those levels and went up from there. From the market’s closing bottom of 1,099 the S&P had a tremendous move higher up about 17% in 4-weeks. During this period, one of the characteristics of the market has been an obsession with day-to-day and even hour-to-hour news. The situation becomes impossible for investors because the news flow is utterly unpredictable and investors can get whipsawed and hacked up quite easily. Often the market is described as a voting mechanism for 6-9 months out. Understanding that this is the normal state of things will...

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Welcome to the ECB Mario Draghi!

November 1, 2011
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Welcome to the ECB Mario Draghi!

Who is Mario Draghi? Today is day #1 of a new job for Mr. Draghi, the President of the ECB, which right now is the world’s most powerful position in finance. Under normal circumstances, that position would be the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board but at the present moment, the ECB President will have more of an impact on the direction of the global economy in 2012. I wish I could outline a viewpoint on whether Mario Draghi tends to be more of a hawk or a dove. Based on a read of the few writings and speeches that are archived it is difficult to have a strong impression. It is my view that any conclusions as to whether Mr. Draghi will be a hawk or a dove...

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