Thursday, July 3, 2008

Not So Fine at $4.09

“She’s real fine my 409”
Beach Boys

When the price of gas in the US hit $4.09 a gallon, the song that many consumers began singing was decidedly out of tune from the one the Beach Boys sang many decades ago.

Back in the day, 409 had a different, simpler meaning. Summertime, hot rods, muscle cars, and cheap gas. Today’s tune is, unfortunately, more about demand destruction than it is about how to pick up chicks.

Demand destruction is underway on several levels with high energy prices the central part of the scene. Deleveraging is also playing a major role in demand destruction via credit contraction. Then there is threat of greater regulation and more activist governments.

I have noted this more activist role several times before. And, while the US Congress is in recess this week, recent developments show the increased regulatory threat continues and is broadening. Take for example, the recent surprise announcements re CFDs.

Contracts for difference (CFDs) is a swap instrument that many hedge funds (and no doubt other institutional investors) use to establish positions without disclosing the true nature of the ownership. Within the past few days, however, certain rules changes have been instituted by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) that took most professional investors by surprise. Below are a few links re this story.

Investment Strategy Implications

The world economy is experiencing the dark side of both globalization and financial innovation.

Developing economies, led by China with its policies of excess money creation and subsidies along with hot money flows, continue to provide the demand fodder for high commodities prices, most notably oil. Coupled with capital market flows by major institutional investors away from equities and into commodities (as an asset class, often satisfied via swaps like CFDs), the unsustainably high price of oil will produce one of two high probability outcomes – stagflation (the lite version, most likely) in developed countries or a global recession.

The contraction of financial innovation is also underway as write downs and bail outs force business model changes for financial firms while the consequences of deleveraging produce a substantial cutback in credit creation.

Gas at $4.09 or higher is unsustainable to the world economy. Developed countries can attest to that. So will developing countries, many of whom are heavily dependent on exports to developed countries’ consumers.

The Bank for International Settlements is correct when it declared that the world economy is near a tipping point. For the equity markets, the relevant primary investment question might seem to be “Have the equity markets come to fully appreciate the danger?” In other words, have prices discounted the risks?

I would propose, however, the more relevant question to ask is “Do investors correctly see the complete picture?” In this regard, the answer is more likely no.

409 was in a simpler time. $4.09 is much more complex.

Enjoy the weekend and a happy fourth.

CFD related links:
Article 1
Article 2
Article 3

No comments: