Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beware! Greeks Are not Alone

From Eurointelligence today, THE CRISIS IS SPREADING TO PORTUGAL:

Investors are beginning to doubt whether the Greek rescue will be sufficient, according to the Financial Times, amid doubts that another package stands any political chance, given the uproar in Germany over the current package. The paper quotes Thomas Mayer of Deutsche Bank as saying: “I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that by the end of the year, they will find out that Greece needs a lot more money for 2011 and 2012, and that we will have serious problems getting another package through.”

These and similar fears were reflected on the financial markets yesterday, where Greek 10 year bond yields exceeded 8%, which makes a trigger of the EU/IMF package imminent.

In the meantime, the crisis is starting to spread to Portugal, the next weakest part of the eurozone’s house of cards. The finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, said yesterday that the formal request for aid might occur even before the end of negotiations with the EU/IMF delegation, which began yesterday, and is expect to take two weeks.

Portguese bond yields have been coming under additional pressure, with 10 year yields up to 4.77%, about 1.7pp high than Germany’s. El Pais picks on the IMF’s latest forecasts, in the Global Economic Outlook (more below) for Portugal, which show a strong downward revision for 2010 (to 0.3%). The report also mentioned that Portugal will miss the targets set out in its stability report. At the end of this year, the IMF calculated, Portugal will have a deficit-to-GDP ratio of 8.7%, while the deficit reduction will then proceed only at snail’s pace. In other words, the IMF believes that the stability programme of PM Jose Sokrates is a joke. (The Commission believes the same, and has recently asked Sokrates to make bigger efforts).

Media Conspiracies

Incidently, the Portguese business press, is full of stories this morning telling us that this contagion is not justified, citing anybody who defends up Portugal (Commerzbank for example, which says that contagion has no fundamental justification), while severely criticising those who say a negative word about their country. We observed the same phenomenon in the early stages of the Greek crisis, which was regarded initially as some foreign, or rather anglo-saxon plot against the country.

This is sounding like 1997-98, with rolling currency/debt crises. Then, the NATO countries were impregnable and imported deflation, helping to keep the boom alive. The same is happening now in the U. S., but then we were running governmental cash surpluses and had just won the Cold War and the Iraq War.

Yesterday in the markets, it appeared as if it were that era as well. The average stock per the Value Line Index peaked in 1997-8; a narrowing group of favored stocks led the averages higher into the 2000 ultimate peak. The same thing may be happening now; retailers were strong, drugs and financials weak. Gold rose along with the dollar and the long Treasury. This is getting interesting.

Meanwhile, the first stock I chose to re-enter the stock market with in spring 2009, McDonald's, traded horribly for months, basically tracking the long bond. Now, however, it looks like a star. It is by my count the only Dow Industrial at an all-time high. It beat earnings and sales expectations in reporting Q1 yesterday. It is neither cheap nor expensive, has enough skepticism to convert lots of non-holders to be stockholders, and appears to be gaining share in its market segment, which itself has been pressured the past 2 years and thus may see its own rebound.

The pattern is that MCD, DLTR, TJX and ROST are market leaders with strong but not overextended charts and rising earnings estimates. They are subject to bouts of profit-taking at any time, but every stockholder is happy and will tend either to dump high-flyers or underperformers during feared or ongoing market corrections rather than what for now are good actors reading from an upbeat script.

Bigger picture: What is different between the policies of the Greek government from that of the U. S.? And thus why does not the U. S. end up like Greece?

Thus we have the Scylla of the Japan scenario and the Charybdis of the Greek scenario. It's all about mise-en-scene.

This reality show bears watching.

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2010

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