Shaw Capital Management August 2010: Financial Markets

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Shaw Capital Management views on financial market.

Sentiment in the financial markets has improved over the past month. There has been further evidence that the recovery in the global economy is continuing; the sovereign debt crisis in Europe has not yet produced a major casualty; there has been a modest rally in the euro; and the Chinese authorities have announced that they intend to adopt a “more flexible” policy towards the renminbi that is expected to allow it to appreciate at a slightly faster rate.

Shaw Capital Management August 2010: Financial Markets - These developments have suggested that the gloom was overdone. The effect in the currency markets had been to slightly weaken both the dollar and the yen, as the “risk appetite” amongst investors and traders has increased, and to strengthen the commodity-linked currencies and ease the pressures on the euro. Sterling has also improved over the month, helped by the measures announced by the new coalition government in the UK, both before and during the recent budget statement, to significantly reduce the huge fiscal deficit.

Shaw Capital Management views on financial market - But overall movements in the major currencies have been fairly small, and there is still considerable optimism about prospects.

The latest evidence on the performance of the US economy has enhanced the prospects for the dollar, and this should also continue to provide some stability for the yen.

The sovereign debt problems in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and even in Italy, continue to worsen, and may well lead to defaults and put further pressure on the single currency system.

There must also be serious doubts about the latest improvement in sterling.

The new government in the UK is making credible efforts to reduce the size of the fiscal deficit; but it faces a daunting task, and will find it very difficult to maintain its tough stance.

There is therefore a serious risk of a crisis in the UK currency market, and so it is crucial that the international agencies prepare contingency measures to enable them to act quickly if the situation appears to be running out of control.

The latest available evidence on the performance of the US economy; show the recovery from recession remains on track.

Retail sales were 1.2% lower in May than in April, emphasising the cautious mood amongst consumers; non-farm payrolls increased by 431,000 in May, but 411,000 jobs were accounted for by temporary government hiring to complete the 2010 census, leaving the increase in “real” jobs well below expectations; new home starts fell sharply in May following the withdrawal of government measures to prop up the market, and existing home sales also fel.

And the M3 measure of broad money growth is also continuing to decline because of weak loan demand from reliable borrowers, and the reluctance of the banks to lend to anyone else. There are offsetting factors in the strength of the manufacturing sector; and consumer confidence figures remain reasonably strong.

The Commerce Department has recently revised its estimate of growth in the first quarter of the year down to a 3% annualised rate; but this rate may not have been maintained in the current quarter; and this has already led to a strong plea to Congress from the government to authorise additional spending programmes costing up to $50 billion “to keep the recovery on track”, it is not clear how Congress will respond.

The Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke’s recently testimony to Congress; that the pace of the recovery will not be strong enough to fix the jobs market or reduce the budget deficit without further help, also argued that, despite the size of that deficit, “to avoid sharp, disruptive shifts in spending programmes and tax
policies in the future, and to retain the confidence of the public and the markets, we should start planning now how we will meet these budgetary challenges”. This view about the economy is repeated in the statement after the latest meeting of the bank’s Open Market Committee, and so, although the bank believes
that the recovery is continuing, it is not surprising that it is quietly considering what steps it might have to take if the recovery unexpectedly falters.

There has been a modest recovery in the euro from a low-point in the early part of the past month, although it is still ending the period slightly lower.

The economic background in the euro-zone is continuing to improve, and there has been evidence of support for the euro, particularly from the Swiss National Bank, which reported an increase in its foreign currency reserves of more than $100 billion in May. But the benefits have been limited by the on-going sovereign debt problems amongst some member countries of the euro-zone, and especially by the serious deterioration in the situation in Spain, and so the improvement that has occurred remains very fragile.

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