The headline risk here, folks, is that if you wait for your central banker to give you insight into ...
10 Ripples from Greece's Rescue Deal
11/30/2012 1:12 pm EST
The latest deal to rescue the ailing nation will shape the fate of global markets for the next few months. Here's how it could affect your portfolio, writes MoneyShow's Jim Jubak, also of Jubak's Picks.
Let's say Monday's deal on rescuing Greece—again—holds together. Germany's Bundestag votes yes on the deal. Enough private holders of Greek debt decide to take the buyback offer to make the International Monetary Fund happy. Greece actually gets 42.5 billion euros—$55.1 billion US—in December, enough to recapitalize Greek banks and to enable the Greek government to pay suppliers that haven't seen a drachma—I mean a euro—in eight months.
Then what? What does the Greek deal mean for financial markets?
And nearer to home, what does the Greek deal mean for your own portfolio?
Off Center Stage
Usually the answer to that question begins and ends with what's going to happen in Europe? Will Spain go bust or break up? Will Ireland continue its recovery? Will France join the PIIGS—the troubled nations of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain—even as Greece drops out (to turn PIIGS into PIIFS)?
But let's call a ham a jamón and admit that Europe isn't exactly the center of the financial action anymore, even if it isn't in crisis. It's not, after all, as if anyone is expecting any economic growth out of the Eurozone anytime soon. Greece, Spain, Italy, and France are in recession and likely to stay that way for a while.
But that doesn't mean the Greek deal isn't extremely important to your portfolio. In fact, the Greek deal and the (temporary) move of the euro debt crisis from boil to simmer will be the defining event (or the defining nonevent, if you will) for global financial markets for the next few months. The Greek deal doesn't mean you want to invest in Europe, but it does point the way for where you do want to invest.
10 Things We Get from Greece
I can think of 10 ways that the Greek deal will shape success and failure in global financial markets over the next few months.
- The move of the euro debt crisis to the back burner will reduce the demand for safe-haven currencies such as the yen and the dollar. Oh, I don't expect the euro to soar—everyone knows the Greek deal didn't really fix any of the Eurozone's long-term problems. But a move up from the Nov. 28 close—when one euro equaled $1.2891 US—to something like the $1.3084 of Sept. 18 or the $1.3214 of April 30 is certainly possible. BNP Paribas projects $1.33 for the euro by the end of 2012. That move isn't so big in itself, but any move up in the euro raises the possibility that traders selling euros to buy yen or dollars could see a loss. And that would be enough to restrain the flow into the yen and the dollar.
- A modestly declining dollar is good news for the price of gold, copper, oil, and other commodities priced in dollars. As the relative value of the dollar declines, the dollar-denominated price of these commodities climbs. Exactly how much the dollar might fall in the next few months will hinge on the degree of worry about the US economy heading over a fiscal cliff.
- A modestly declining yen would be good news for Japanese exporters who get killed when a rising yen makes Japanese goods more expensive to non-Japanese customers. The degree of weakness in the yen depends on how dysfunctional Japanese politics become as the opposition Liberal Democrats fight to bring down the troubled Democratic Party government.
- By taking Europe's economic woes out of the spotlight, the Greek debt deal will shift attention to other global growth (or no-growth) stories. That increases the power of news on the US fiscal cliff and on China's growth rate to move global financial markets. For an example, look to the whiplash in global markets on Nov. 28 as prices first dropped on pessimistic remarks from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and then rallied on optimistic remarks from President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Remember how—before euro crisis fatigue set in—every remark from Germany's Angela Merkel or Italy's Mario Draghi moved the markets? Well, look for a replay, with a cast of characters from the United States and China taking over the stage.
- Setting the Eurozone crisis on simmer raises the stakes for negotiations over the US fiscal cliff. While the euro was in full crisis, US fiscal and monetary policy didn't have to be especially intelligent or effective for the dollar to strengthen and for the price of Treasurys to climb—sending interest rates lower. All the United States had to be was less scary than the Eurozone. But now that the fear factor in Europe has been set somewhat lower, the United States isn't such an obvious refuge. If US politicians do something to raise the fear of another downgrade to the US credit rating, beware arguments that a downgrade wouldn't be important since last time—when the United States got downgraded from AAA to AA—Treasury prices went up and interest rates went down. But US assets then had the safe-haven winds from the Eurozone debt crisis at their back. If the Eurozone hits some kind of stability for a while, US financial assets wouldn't have the same degree of support from safe-haven buying after a downgrade.
- A scenario that combines fear of a US fiscal cliff with a gently declining (or worse) dollar plays out very differently for assets such as gold and commodities than the Eurozone crisis did. Then, a wave of fear from the crisis led to a falling euro, a rising dollar, and falling gold prices (because the dollar was climbing) on many days. That was certainly frustrating for anyone who had bought gold as a fear hedge. This time, though, a scenario would include a falling dollar, and gold and other fear hedges would actually pay off, in my opinion.
- As we learned from the Eurozone crisis, it's not just the presence or absence of fear that matters, but the degree of that fear. Fears that Spain would follow Greece's downward economic course have never vanished, but global financial markets were able to move up on other news when it didn't look as if Spain would plunge into the abyss in the next few days. When that plunge looked imminent, though, fear dominated financial markets and made it hard for any other story to break through.
- It's the same now with the US fiscal cliff. When fear of a near-term disaster soars, it takes down all global markets. But when it recedes to the level of a stomachache—instead of appendicitis—markets can rally on good news from the US housing market or from US retailers or from Chinese industrial companies.
I'm of the belief that Washington will work out some kind of Eurozone-style solution—part kick-the-problem-down-the-road, part detail-light action—for the fiscal cliff that will keep fear in check for the rest of 2012 and into 2013. If that's the case, then the good news—that the US housing industry is in recovery and that rising home prices are adding to consumer confidence, and that September marked a bottom for China's economic growth rate—stands a good chance of moving global stock prices modestly higher in 2013. (This is true even for European export-oriented stocks, despite the Eurozone recession.) Remember, when you've been banging your head on the wall (be it Eurozone debt crisis or the US fiscal cliff) for months, nothing feels quite so good as stopping. That's a good description of the positive story for 2013.
- The evidence keeps building that China's economic growth rate bottomed in September and is in rebound mode. It may be a modest rebound, but growth of gross domestic product seems headed up to 8%, rather than facing a drop to below 7%. For example, profit at China's industrial companies climbed 20.5% in October after a 7.8% gain in September. Before you go all goggle-eyed at the figures, some context: The improvement was just enough to push profit growth at these companies into positive territory for the first 10 months of 2012. Year to date, profits are up a not-so-huge 0.5%. That is, however, better than the 1.8% year-to-date decline for the nine months through September.
- Don't let the continued lackluster performance of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, where the Shanghai Composite continues to bump along near the 2000 level, determine your investing stance toward Chinese equities. The Shanghai market, dominated by domestic Chinese investors, remains extraordinarily pessimistic. Stock prices are at January 2009 levels, and the index is down 9.5% in 2012. I think that's because Chinese investors and traders who have been looking for something dramatic out of Beijing to stimulate the economy have been disappointed by the government's actions to date. However, the Hong Kong stock market, which is dominated by international money, is up 15% since the start of August. Investors in Hong Kong shares are seeing the pickup in growth—with or without splashy stimulus packages—as a reason to buy. I think Hong Kong is a leading indicator on China's growth story and more accurately reflects the pickup in China's economy. Shanghai often takes a while to shift gears from a focus on politics to an emphasis on the real economy.
If the US fiscal cliff delivers a fender bender rather than a crash that totals the car, if the Eurozone crisis remains on simmer for most of 2013 (until Greece runs out of money again, shortly after the German elections in the fall, in the best-case scenario) and growth in China looks like it will hold at 8% or slightly better in 2013, then I think the biggest beneficiaries will be emerging-market stocks. The China story will convince global investors—rightly in some cases, overly optimistically in others—that the rising tide will lift all boats and that the absence of a pressing global crisis makes it safe to take on more risk. Investors should watch to see if the rally in Hong Kong is followed by rallies in Brazil and then Mexico.
10. The biggest gains will be in those markets that would take the biggest hit if the risk-on trade goes back to risk-off—meaning, if investors again shy away from risk. So 2013 won't be a year for buying Turkey or the Philippines or Colombia and then forgetting about those investments. Try not to get whiplashed by the daily shifts in emotion, but do watch for a real return of fear based on an unexpected move back to boil in Greece and Spain or a fiscal cliff wreck in the United States.
2013 looks if it will be another year when real news—if you can separate it from the emotional reaction to the noise in the news—will drive financial markets. There is the possibility of a good year, or maybe just for a good first half, if the fear level remains set at "moderately distracting" rather than "head-for-the-hills."
Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of September, see the fund’s portfolio here.
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