Friday, August 21, 2009

Predictions of a recovery – V, U, W and now " L " !

Fuck.... They're soon going to run out of letters in the alphabet.

All this talk of shape of the (economic) recovery befuddles me. Can we assume the first step in any recovery is for output is to stop shrinking? But the more interesting question is what shape it will take. The debate centers around three scenarios: “V”, “U” and “W”. A V-shaped recovery would be vigorous, as pent-up demand is unleashed. A U-shaped one would be feebler and flatter. And in a W-shape, growth would return for a few quarters, only to peter out once more.
America is apparently doomed no matter what. Years of debt driven consumption by consumers is now replaced by debt driven consumption by the government. If it inflates away the debt, the government will be able to pay off its debt but its citizen will all be poorer due to value erosion, leading to a crash in consumption and even higher unemployment. If US doesn't inflate away its debt, then its children and grandchildren will work to pay off interests on that debt for generations, leading to extended depressed consumption and high unemployment. Different path to the same result. So, some predict an `L' shape recovery for America.
Why is inflation bad? Inflation is a tax on savings while a subsidy to borrowers. If you saved $100,000 today, it won't feel so great when high inflation eats all of it away tomorrow. If you're a borrower, $100,000 is a huge burden on you today, but something you can probably write a check for tomorrow and forget about.
America's balance sheet recession is different. In this case, the saver is not fellow Americans. They're foreigners (China and other Asian nations). So for Americans, inflation is a remedy that won't make its rulers lose that many votes (so long as inflation does not get out of control). After the Asian financial crisis, East Asia was using export-oriented growth, through undervalued exchange rates, to power growth. The other side of their trade figure is a huge deficit in America which can only exist with an overvalued dollar...which itself can only exist with foreign money from Asia coming in to prop up the dollar. So, high export earnings from Asia were replowed into America, which cannot produce anything of its own because of an overvalued currency but was awash with cheap money...well, banks had to do something with that money, like lend. If they didn't lend, their competitors will. Asia giving so much money to a rich country where they money won't go as far is really unusual.
This is unusual for two reasons: a) developing countries are in no position to lend (b) US T-bills offer a silly 4-5% return. Asia should therefore invest all of it internally for better healthcare, education and infrastructure in rural areas. Then perhaps they can beat the piffling return they get from US-T bills as they do now, which is again eroded by depreciation of the dollar as they repatriate back home on maturity. This is a great misallocation of resources!
Still people are fixated at likely shape of recovery, than how best to make it happen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Tag - Rally Buster

Rally Buster. This is the new tag on my blog. It relates to a spooky rumor or news item that pulls the plug on a rally in the stock market. Sugar has been rallying for quite some time because of huge demand (22 million tons) – supply (15 million tons) gap in India. The rally has extended to the US and European commodity markets too because of the news that India, world's most avaricious consumer of sugar is facing this huge a deficit and is in a mood to import in bulk.

Meanwhile, the sugar companies in India were operating nowhere near their full capacities because the raw material (sugar cane) is in short supply. Then we have the socialist mandate of levy sugar (10% production of each sugar mills to be sold to government at Rs.12 per kg even as the going market price is Rs.30 plus) to be supplied by the mills before the rest can be sold in the open market.

Constraints, constraints, constraints for the sector. As if all this is not enough, today the sugar daddy and others in the cabinet have met up to discuss raising the levy sugar quota from 10% to 25% of production to bring down the spiraling sugar prices.

That busted the rally to some extent. The sugar stocks tanked between 4%-8%. The Economist can talk of Astonishing Asian rebound. Given the rally busting tendencies of our policy makers, they may not have to spill much ink on the topic !

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On to the worm now

This was pure music....
Real estate, after the meltdown, was my favorite. DLF to be precise. Don't think I did big bang research that made it quite a find. Just a wistful hunch when I saw the stock languishing at Rs.300 levels. Now I read about the Mutual Funds newfound love for all things realty. Ha!
The MFs exposure to realty rose from Rs 1.24 bn in March 2009 to Rs 1.71 bn around December 2008 to nearly Rs 11.13 bn by the end of Q1-FY09. By July 09, it rose to Rs.14.21 bn according to this news report in BS.

Nice to feel like an early bird... On to the worm now !!!