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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wary of QE2 withdrawal effects!

At a time when Indian markets were nearing valuation comfort, they surged again. Usually, it would be a positive reinforcement and time to get in. However, I am not sure today. The risks arising out of end of QE2 pose significant threat to markets.

On its own, the end of QE2 alone would be a perceptible trigger. But more important is the situation of world economies at this point. With EU on the brink of another crisis, waning strength of US recovery and still-to-gain-traction Japan, we are at the most unstable point in recent years. At such a time a withdrawal of QE from US may not auger well for the markets. 

I guess we must hold on tight and keep powder dry for there may be interesting times to invest in very near future. 

My book "Subverting Capitalism & Democracy" is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Krugman & Delong and Weak Dollar

Brad Delong links to the Krugman post titled A Weaker Dollar Is in America's Interest. I have always maintained that weaker dollar is essential for US economy to recover. Weaker dollar has come about using a different mechanism that investors anticipated.

The value of any currency refers to or is derived in relation to a basket of goods. The basket has significant number of commodities. So as investors moved the commodity prices up, the value of the US dollar automatically depreciated. In other words, investors created this devaluation and not the central bank.

The process, however, is fraught with risks. In a world of pegged currencies, we now have devalued the entire currency universe. This, to my mind, is not correct. The purchasing power of other currencies, particularly the Yuan, should be higher. The discrepancy has crept in because of central bank action. Developing countries are worried about export competitiveness declining with even small appreciation in currency. As a result they have to tolerate higher inflation and no amount of domestic slowdown may correct it. Only those countries that have strong economic transmission mechanisms can tolerate inflation. However, this is only short term relief. As transmission mechanism takes effect, it translates into higher wages and thus lower competitiveness.

With the Chinese reserves topping USD3 trillion, I guess we have some more time. I had mentioned in an earlier posts that it will take doubling of Chinese reserves till we have decisive action. At the time Chinese reserves were close to USD 2 trillion. So I am expecting this process to continue for some more time in accordance with the phases I mentioned back in video (relinked below) in 2009.

USD Dollar Views from 2009(links to old post)

My book "Subverting Capitalism & Democracy" is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Commodity markets and synchronized investment

John Kemp has a piece on the financial post titled Analysis: Commodity markets wobble | Investing | Financial Post. He argues that prices have diverged from fundamentals and talking heads are merely retrofitting explanation to reality.

Broadly, I want to add that such trend build-up is seen in many asset classes. The bubble-like behavior needs a sustained up move and as the move loses momentum, downward forces take effect. The downward action, in most cases, is swift leaving many (occasionally including yours truly) in the lurch.

I believe this is as much a result of group think as speculation. Algorithm-based trading, herding aided by technology (mass-emails) and lack of diversity of ideas probably causes synchronized money flows resulting in self-reinforcing behavior. Some fund managers interested in exploiting this behavior often talk about leading such trends or buying stocks not companies.

A typical trend comprises of four phases accumulation, discovery, bull-run and realization. Accumulation happens when prices are low for sustained period of time. At such times a section of population accumulates the assets leading to firming of its price. The group is led by fundamental investors and many others follow suit. Discovery happens as more and more people realize the downside resilience of the prices of that asset. Technical charts start suggesting potential for up-moves. Early speculators jump on the bandwagon and soon this phase moves into a bull-run. In bull-run the prices start accelerating, crossing the targets investors have in mind, but the move shows no signs of abating. The prices soon reach the bubble territory and often confidently march on prompting investors to re-look at fundamentals to see if they are missing something. As prices cross the bounds of incredulity, realization dawns about weak fundamentals and all the hell breaks loose. The synchronized move out of the asset creates more distress to prices that warranted by fundamentals.

While I am critical of this issue, the issue itself is not new. Such behavior is a reality of the market. It is merely exposed more during volatile times. In periods of stability the trends hide this behavior from public scrutiny.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Volatility and investments

As the markets are getting more volatile by the day, we turn our focus to impact of this volatility. In general, volatility is enemy of long term investment. It is a friend of aggressive trader when luck is favourable. It promotes, a sort of, alignment towards short term.

Current macro climate in India is sensitive to such short-term focus. India needs long term investments that should boost supply to accommodate the growing demand. Such investments are are difficult to conceive during times of high volatility. The attempt of policy-makers should be to create pockets of certainty in areas that can be controlled. Particularly, monetary policy, fiscal policy and government regulation need to demonstrate continuity and stability thus not contribute to the already existing volatility.

China has successfully shown policy continuity and stability that promotes such investment. India needs to learn from China in this regard.

My book "Subverting Capitalism & Democracy" is available on Amazon and Kindle.