Thursday, March 31, 2005

DR Barton of Trader's U: What Investors Can Learn From Traders

I'd like to share with you an insightful article by DR Barton of Traders U...

What Investors Can Learn From Traders

by D.R. Barton, Jr.
Trader’s U

Investors and traders really aren't that different, deep down inside. In general, traders think a little more highly of themselves. And they tend to buy and sell a bit more frequently.

And while I know a few traders who believe that they can leap tall buildings in a single bound, I have yet to see one of them actually demonstrate this particular attribute...

There are some generalities that we could use to distinguish traders and investors:

* Traders tend to have shorter time horizons; investors have longer ones.

* Investors lean more toward fundamental analysis, while traders concentrate more on technical analysis.

* Traders have sharper wits and tend to be snappier dressers (okay - I just made that one up).

A trader's tendencies toward shorter time frames and technically based analysis can actually prove beneficial for investors as they apply fundamental analysis over longer time frames. Let's look at a few ways that a trader's mindset can help an investor.

Teaching Old Investors New Tricks

Traders, as a group, tend to be very open to learning new and better ways to do things. This is one characteristic that investors could profitably adopt. What are some concepts that traders apply that investors could use? Here are three that could help you in both your trading and investing portfolios:

* Keep a healthy detachment. Investors, by the nature of their typically fundamental research, tend to get attached to their investment ideas. This is easy to understand. After doing copious amounts of digging into the balance sheet, management team and new-product stream of a prospective company, it's easy to buy into the story you've created about how good the company is. The problem is that many investors have trouble "letting go " when their pet stock doesn't work out and heads into the tank.

People will make all sorts of rationalizations to keep from selling a stock that they have spent so much time researching. You fall in love with the stock that you spent so much time and energy selling yourself on in the first place. Some might call it getting drunk on your own wine. But such attachment can be costly if it means holding onto a loser too long (or holding onto a stock that has had a great run for you and is now taking back most of those profits).

In contrast, traders must learn to give up the losers so they can go and concentrate on something more productive. The stock or commodity isn't personified; it either acts like it's expected to, or it's cut loose.

* Take real responsibility for your results. It's easy to blame outside forces when an investment goes bad. Corporate insiders messed up. Short sellers knocked your stock down. Foreign (or domestic) oil barons played with the market. Your broker gave a bad fill. This list could be endless.

The problem is that until we take responsibility for the performance of our portfolio, we are destined to keep repeating old mistakes. If our most recent loss (or string of losses) was someone else's fault, why should we change anything? In order to make useful changes to our investing process, we have to take responsibility for losers and winners.

Are traders naturally more responsible people? Goodness, no! BUT traders have to learn to take responsibility early in their careers. We have a very descriptive word for traders who fail to take responsibility for their results - we call them "broke."

* Manage trade-by-trade and portfolio risk. When investing, it is sometimes easy to get caught up in one good idea - like a company that could skyrocket 10 or 100 times its current price if it makes it through clinical trials or lands that critical contract. Even savvy investors who would never "risk it all" can catch themselves putting too many eggs in one basket when a particularly compelling idea comes along.

Because of the frequency of trading opportunities, traders are forced to manage trade-by-trade risk or face quick extinction. This is a hard lesson that many an aspiring trader has learned the hard way. Risking too much, too often, can rapidly knock a trader's equity below the point of no return.

A good rule of thumb for both traders and investors is to risk no more than 1% of your equity on any trade. This insures that you'll always be able to come back another day if your investment or trade doesn't work out.

As for your whole portfolio, lots of people don't even consider what could happen if a major event happened that affected a broad range of holdings in their portfolio. This is such an important topic, that we'll dedicate a whole article to it in the near future. For now, ask yourself this question: "How bad a hit would I take if all my stops were triggered in one day?" If the answer is not cataclysmic, you are probably on the right track.

Traders and investors are definitely similar in one aspect: Both are trying to profitably navigate the ebbs and flows of the market. Looking at the markets from another point of view may provide some valuable insight for you as pick your next trade or investment.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hedge Funds Dominated the Selling of Emerging Market Assets

According to Turkish Daily News Asia, hedge funds were mostly responsible for the recent emerging asset selloffs, “Hedge fund accounts were behind the bulk of the sell-off in emerging market external debt, a JP Morgan survey showed on Wednesday, noting that these accounts now have big short positions in the market.”

And the Philippines was one of the major losers, "At the country level we have seen a broad, but small reduction in exposure. The biggest reductions have been in Russia and the Philippines. Smaller reductions have come from Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, Mexico and Ecuador. Argentina and Venezuela are little changed," the survey said.

So, the non passage of VAT, Abu-Sayyaf and suspected IPO rotations were clearly not the triggers or the causal factors and have a scintilla of relevance to the latest market carnage.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Bloomberg: Philippines Expects $7 Billion in Mining Investment

Philippines Expects $7 Billion in Mining Investment (Update3)

March 23 (Bloomberg) -- Anglo American Plc and China's Shanghai Baosteel Group are among overseas companies that may spend $7 billion on mines in the Philippines after a Supreme Court ruling eased investment rules, Mining Secretary Michael Defensor said.

``There has been tremendous interest from investors,'' Defensor said today in an interview in Singapore. ``We will be able to get $7 billion in foreign direct investment,'' he said, without giving a timeframe.

The Philippines is reviewing regulations on the ownership of mines in an effort to boost investment in the industry, which accounted for 1.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2003. Mining may account for as much as 15 percent of GDP in five years, Defensor said, after the Supreme Court in December ruled foreign companies could invest in the ``large-scale exploration, development and utilization'' of mining and energy resources.

Mining companies are holding talks about investing in 60 projects, and a further 30 projects are at an ``exploratory stage,'' Defensor said. Overseas mining companies in talks include London-based Anglo American, the world's second-largest mining company, Shanghai-based Baosteel, China's largest steelmaker by output, and Canada's Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., he said.

``Many private companies in Manila were able to negotiate and have some commitments from companies from Australia, Canada and all over the world,'' Defensor said.

Nickel Project

Shanghai Baosteel is considering building a $1 billion nickel project in the Philippines with China's Jinchuan Group, Yu Zhonghai, director of the international business development department at Shanghai Baosteel, said in an interview this month. The company hasn't completed a feasibility study on the Philippine project, Yu said.

Shanghai Baosteel and Jinchuan plan to buy a nickel mine in the Philippines that halted operations in 1986, China Business News reported in February. The mine halted output because of technical problems and high energy costs, and would need production upgrades costing as much as $1 billion before resuming operations, the report said.

Ivanhoe Mines may invest in projects operated by Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co., the Philippines' biggest mining company, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported in December.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Bloomberg: Emerging Market Bonds, Currencies and Stocks Extend Declines

Prudent Investor Comments…

Evidences are mounting that the Phisix sell-offs are of class related and has little to do with domestic developments. This report from Bloomberg accentuates that currencies, bonds and stocks in emerging markets have ALL been thrashed.

I would consider this though, an evanescent sell-off considering that, one, emerging assets have been streaking red hot and requires some cooling off or profit taking, and two, commodity prices in general remain buoyant which means that the primary revenue drivers of most emerging markets are still bustling.

Further, this queasiness has also been due to speculations on the US Fed’s move tonight, if it would drop its ‘measured pace’ of hiking rates and open its doors to a more aggressive stance which is currently boosting the US dollar at the expense of emerging market assets.

Emerging Market Bonds, Currencies and Stocks Extend Declines

March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Emerging market bonds, stocks and currencies fell, extending last week's declines, as investors shunned riskier assets amid expectations rising oil prices will stoke inflation, pushing U.S. interest rates higher.

Brazil's benchmark bond maturing in 2040, the most traded emerging-market security, fell to a four-month low. Among stock markets, Pakistan's declined the most, losing 4.2 percent. Shares also dropped in Turkey, Russia and Argentina, while the currencies of Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania also weakened.

Surging oil prices and rising government bond yields in the U.S., the world's biggest economy, are curbing investor appetite for higher-risk assets, which were among the best performers in 2004. Concern deepened after General Motors Corp., the world's third-biggest corporate borrower, on March 16 forecast its biggest quarterly loss since 1992.

``Risk appetite is fading fast,'' said Jean-Dominique Butikofer, who manages $850 million of emerging-market debt at Julius Baer & Co. in Zurich. General Motors' announcement last week had a ``negative psychological impact. Emerging markets are coming under pressure.''

Average spreads on emerging-market debt widened today, rising 5 basis points to 368 basis points, or 3.68 percentage points, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s EMBI Plus Index.

Brazil's 11 percent bond due 2040 fell as much as 1.4 cents on the dollar and was down 0.1 cent to 112.3 at 2:50 p.m. in New York. Its yield rose 1 basis point to 9.76 percent. Brazil's 8 percent bond due 2014 fell 0.4 cent to 99.69.

Venezuela's benchmark 9.25 percent bond that matures in 2027 dropped to its lowest level since October while Mexico's 8.125 percent bond maturing in 2019 slipped to a two-month low.

Emerging market assets are being hurt by speculation the Federal Reserve may signal that it plans to boost the pace of interest-rate increases. By June, the Fed will stop using the term ``measured'' to describe the pace of its interest-rate increases, according to 13 of the 22 firms that trade with the Fed.

Fed Concern

The Fed will raise its benchmark overnight rate by a quarter- point tomorrow to 2.75 percent, the seventh increase since June, according to 93 of 101 economists in a separate poll.

``Everything in Brazil and Latin America right now is about U.S. rates,'' said Pedro Tuesta, senior Latin America economist for London-based 4Cast Inc. in Washington D.C. ``With the possibility that the Fed may change the tone and speed of rate increases, there is less appetite for emerging-market risk.''

Morgan Stanley Capital International Inc.'s Emerging Markets Index of stocks in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America fell 0.7 percent today, extending its losing streak to six consecutive days. That's the longest run of declines since May.

Pakistan, Russia, Argentina

Pakistan's Karachi Stock Exchange 100 Index dropped 4.2 percent, Russia's Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange Index fell 1.8 percent and the Argentina Merval Index slipped 2.5 percent.

U.S. 10-year Treasury yields are near a seven-month high on concern rising energy costs will fuel inflation. Crude oil for April delivery fell 10 cents today to $56.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil touched $57.60 a barrel on March 17, the highest for a contract closest to expiration since trading began in 1983. Prices are up 49 percent in the past year.

The yield on the benchmark 4 percent U.S. note due February 2015 was at 4.52 percent today, within 6 basis points of its highest since July.

``Investors' appetite for risk, which has been huge, is on the wane,'' Morgan Stanley's London-based chief fixed-income strategist Joachim Fels wrote in a report published on March 18. ``The bull-run in all the major fixed-income asset classes appears to be over.''


The Slovak koruna dropped 2 percent against the dollar today, the biggest decline among 61 currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The Turkish lira lost 1.7 percent, the Czech koruna 1.9 percent and the Romanian leu 1.6 percent.

``This isn't a rout but there's more risk adjustment going on,'' said Jon Harrison, a currency strategist at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in London. ``The market clearly thinks there's more to come.''

Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa stock mutual funds last week had their first weekly outflow of money in three months, according to The funds lost a net $4.4 million the week to March 16, the Boston-based fund tracker said in an e-mail. The funds have taken in $2.85 billion in new money this year, more than the $2.18 billion inflow for all of 2004, the data showed.

Phisix Sell-Off Is A Class Action

Finding a correlation for the declining Phisix? Here it is....The Phisix has moved in tandem with the JP Morgan Emerging Market Debts.

The sell-off in the emerging bonds has filtered into domestic equities with tightening global liquidity conditions as the pronounced catalyst. Posted by Hello

Monday, March 21, 2005 A kind of contagion

The Prudent Investor says, my observations on the decline of the local market as being a contagion among emerging market classes is shared by Barry Sergeant of, read his article...

A kind of contagion?

By: Barry Sergeant
Posted: '18-MAR-05 15:13' GMT © Mineweb 1997-2004

JOHANNESBURG ( -- Investors have been piling out of global emerging market (GEM) stocks over the past week, and switching proceeds mainly into the dollar. The greenback is back in favour for the meantime, with record crude oil prices seen as re-igniting inflation fears, and thus an acceleration in the tightening of interest rates in the US.

So far, the carnage in emerging markets has been relatively mild, led by sell-offs originating in Latin America and developing Europe. Measured in dollar terms, the Brazilian stock market has fallen by just over 9% between its all time high on March 7, and March 16. Hungary fell 11%, again from an all-time high, between March 9 and March 17. Egyptian stocks were whacked down an average of 7.4% in the two trading days to March 17. Poland slumped 11.5% in just six trading sessions, to March 17.

The sell-off in South Africa has been relatively mild, with the market falling 5.6%, in just five trading sessions, from an all time high on March 11, to March 17. On Thursday, March 17, foreign investors were net sellers of R583-m of South African equities, according to statistics from the JSE Securities Exchange. The switch in trend from net purchases to net sellers has been evident for much of this year; for the year-to-date, foreigners have bought a net R8.5 billion worth of domestic equities, compared to R32.9 billion for the comparative year-ago period.

All told, the past week has seen the dollar-denominated Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) emerging markets stock index record its longest losing streak since December 7 to December 10. The index comprises 733 companies with a combined market value of about $2.4 trillion.

This week’s sharp correction in GEM stocks sees a retreat from recent all-time highs in most markets, and may possibly signal the peak of major bull markets. However, the past week or so has also been characterised by a relatively sharp sell off in emerging market currencies. The rand, which is also classified as a commodity currency, on Monday was the biggest loser against the dollar among 16 major currencies monitored by Bloomberg. The domestic currency fell by 2.8% on the day.

Not one of the 16 currencies gained on the dollar on the day, mainly on sentiment that the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, would continue increasing interest rates. On Tuesday, the rand was again the single biggest loser against the dollar, with a slip on the day of 2.2%. The currency then recovered 0.2% against the greenback on Wednesday, before surrendering another 0.25% on Thursday, when the currency traded at five-week lows against the dollar, at R6.18.

Recent investor concerns over emerging markets can be traced to March 9, when the JP Morgan EMBI+ index, comprising emerging market bonds, mainly government debt, saw its sharpest sell off since late November last year. South African and Brazilian bonds were at the forefront of the sharp sell-off of GEM debt.

The action was triggered by frail sentiment in global markets, and more specifically by concerns that higher bond yields in the US would diminish the attractiveness of GEM debt. The widely followed JP Morgan EMBI+ emerging-market debt index had gained 26% from an eight-month low seen on May 10, 2004; over the same period the benchmark 10-year US Treasury note has lost 7%.

In examining the significant pressure experienced by GEM equities over the past week, the Bank Credit Analyst states: “We have repeatedly warned that the recent run-up in emerging market stocks has been too steep and too fast.” Some returns have been stupendous; this year alone, even after this week’s corrections, the average Egyptian stock is up by 63%; in Pakistan, the gain has been 42%.

BCA Research concludes: “A corrective phase in this asset class may now be developing.

Bottom line: A more substantial drop in prices may be needed before the correction is over.”

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Prudent Investor: The Talisman and the Philippine Stockmarket

The Talisman and the Philippine Stockmarket
March 19, 2005

It is revolting to see how media can easily pollute and manipulate the minds of the gullible public. One late night domestic narrative TV program featured on the efficacy of the talisman, locally known as the ‘anting-anting’. First, it portrayed of the seeming invincibility of amulet. Second, how the talisman is made, and lastly, the show concludes (sic) that the potency of the talisman depends on the underlying faith of its bearer.

While the TV program did feature a tad of skepticism about its effectivity, nonetheless it was totally amiss with scientific evidences proving or disproving its utility. The show’s vignette was primarily based on empirical or observational proofs. It catered to the viewing public’s intuition and not to reason. In other words, the manner of presentation actually frames or impresses on the public to accept these mysterious objects as factual, in condition that it was accompanied by faith.

There are millions of zealots or fanatics of various religious persuasions around the globe who would have gladly used these age old mystical items to promote their interests without the need of blowing up themselves.

The world spends close to a trillion dollars in defense and by discovering and improving on the functional utility of such mystic devices that may substitute for armaments, global poverty may be alleviated as allocations towards defense may instead be channeled towards developmental assistance. That is IF these were genuine.

Unfortunately for the unwitting TV program producers, the show may be indirectly inciting violence, giving goofballs the incentive of proving their unassailability.

In the financial markets, the Talisman analogy can frequently be seen in media which oftenly attaches plausible but uncorrelated events to the market’s movements. This is because the public clamors for instinctive responses to the market’s action.

Take for example this week’s market decline. Mainstream media alongside most experts and observers seems to be groping for a cause citing the Abu Sayyaf retaliation threats and other security issues, failure of to pass VAT and IPO related selloffs as possible reasons for the Phisix’s hefty 4.08% decline. In other words, the market found ‘no domestic walls of worry’ to climb and has left the public bewildered by the recent carnage.

However looking at the global markets, we note that MOST emerging markets were shellacked over the week such as the horrendous declines of the bourses of Romania, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Turkey, Egypt, China, South Korea and etc. In Asia, it was more of the rule, and Indonesia and Australia, being the exceptions.

In my previous newsletter, I have noted of the sharp decline in emerging market bonds which could spillover the Philippine bourse. Apparently and coincidently, these have been the case. Both, JP Morgan Emerging debt funds and Salomon Bros Emerging Debt funds continued to post steep losses this week.

Swooning emerging debts coupled with overbought technical indicators overwhelmed my bullish outlook brought about by the firming peso and the falling US dollar.

The Peso which was down by .39% to 54.34 and should be expected to fall further as the huge block sales of Globe Telecoms led the market to register an outflow of P 1.803 billion over the week. In addition the Peso’s decline was mostly in tandem with the region.

Further, the US dollar could be seen rallying this week highlighted by the US Federal Reserve meeting this March 22. The Fed rate is expected to be raised by a quarter percentage points and any major changes/alterations in the ‘measured’ pace may stir the hornet’s nest in the financial markets.

Next, you have crude oil and other energy prices at record levels for the week and this may exacerbate the liquidations in the global financial markets on SELECT asset classes.

Energy related issues dominated global markets EXCEPT the Philippines.

In Asia, Bloomberg’s Neha Kumar reports, “The MSCI Asia-Pacific Energy index, which tracks energy stocks including Woodside Petroleum Ltd., climbed for the 10th straight week.”

In Europe, Brian McGee of Bloomberg reports, “Oil shares, this year's biggest gainer among the 18 industry groups in the Stoxx 600, paced today's advance…The Stoxx 600's basic-resources and oil and gas groups have added 14 percent and 12 percent respectively in 2005. The broader measure has increased 4.3 percent.”

Bloomberg European Analyst Matthew Lynn says, “The London stock market is going through a speculative frenzy over oil exploration stocks. Investors are piling into stocks based on little more than rumors and hope. Shares are being sold on the back of the purported expertise of developers, not business plans.”

In the Philippines, energy and oil stocks are getting clobbered together with trash issues. In the era of globalization and internet are we still insulated from the world?

Finally, declining bond prices/higher yields and record high oil/energy prices seem to signal an imminent tightening of global liquidity conditions. This is where the rubber meets the road.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

World Bank Press: Asia Needs Trillion Dollars Over Five Years To Boost Infrastructure

Asia Needs Trillion Dollars Over Five Years To Boost Infrastructure: Study

Asia-Pacific developing economies led by China need to invest more than one trillion dollars over the next five years to upgrade their infrastructure and sustain growth, Agence France Presse notes a report said Wednesday.

China alone is estimated to account for 80 percent of the total amount needed, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) said after a joint study. The 21 economies covered in the report face a massive funding challenge with more than $200 billion required annually from public and private sources for roads, power plants, communications, water and sanitation systems during the five-year period.

The report noted that some of the poorest economies such as Laos and Cambodia have little or no infrastructure investment while the 1997-98 Asian crisis forced others like Indonesia and the Philippines to spend less in this area. "The economic crisis is now over, most countries have resumed high level growth levels and private investment in general is beginning to recover but private investment in infrastructure is returning only very cautiously and governments are sometimes tentative in their response," it said.

The three lending institutions, however, noted important developments since the regional financial meltdown in the late 1990s. The countries affected now have more open governments, allowing vigorous debate on policy and spending issues, as well as stronger state institutions capable of handling large transactions and investments more efficiently. "And significantly, while it is hard to say that there is less corruption, there is less tolerance of it and fewer illusions about its hidden costs on business and the poor," they said. The report covered Cambodia, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Kiribati, Laos, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Thailand, East Timor, Tonga, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

Reuters explains that the study said 65 percent of the required funds was needed for new investment and the remainder for maintenance of roads, power plants, communications, water and sanitation systems. Infrastructure was particularly important at a time when the region was "increasingly interconnected through supply chain production networks and expanding cross-border trade, fuelled by China, which has served as a magnet for regional growth", they said. For China, total needs account for almost 7 percent of GDP, the study estimated. ADB Vice-President Geert van der Linden told Reuters in an interview that China's rapid rate of growth requires an expansion in infrastructure as the economy demands more power generation and transmission networks. Refocusing on infrastructure was important for boosting both economic and social linkage within the region and reminding the donor community of the "essential part of development", which he said had been somewhat forgotten.

Dow Jones adds that private investment in infrastructure today accounts for only about five percent. Though overall investment levels in East Asia are high, averaging over 30 percent of gross domestic product since the 1990s, with several countries investing over seven percent of GDP in infrastructure alone, private investors have fed only about $190 billion into East Asian infrastructure since 1990, the study said. Private companies worldwide are willing to contribute to that investment as long as government policies and regulations are predictable.

Reuters adds that Jemal-ud-din Kassum, the World Bank's regional vice president for East Asia and the Pacific, stressed the need for proper use of infrastructure funds amid concerns about the impact on the environment and local communities and about corruption. "Over the course of the study, we heard clearly that while infrastructure can indeed be a force for good, we also have to make sure it is done well," Kassum told a symposium in Tokyo at which the three organizations presented the study. "Increased funding both from the private sector and particularly on the public side must be used in a way that maximizes the development impact. That means linking infrastructure projects to countries' overall development and poverty reduction strategies," he added.

Prudent Investor comments…

There are several items that can be gleaned from the article,

One, the appreciating currencies of the region translates to a more conducive environment for infrastructure investments

Two, the massive stash of US dollars by the held by region’s central banks increases the probability for increased regional investment spending as dollar diversification becomes a plausible option

Lastly, infrastructure investments would boost demand for basic materials, commodity and energy raw materials.

Bloomberg: Oil Surges to a Record on Concern Demand Is Outpacing Supply

Oil Surges to a Record on Concern Demand Is Outpacing Supply

March 17 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil surged to a record $56.69 a barrel as a promise of increased output from OPEC failed to ease concern that demand for gasoline and other fuels is rising faster than supply.

OPEC said yesterday's agreement to add 500,000 barrels a day to its output quota won't immediately change supply, which already exceeds the limit. U.S. gasoline rose to a record after stockpiles last week had their biggest decline since September. Saudi Arabia, the only OPEC member with significant untapped production capacity, warned of higher demand later this year.

``Traders know that there is very little ability for a big increase'' in OPEC's output, Tom James, managing partner in London of energy and commodity consultant Global Risk Partners, said in an e-mail. ``This year we're not looking to see any major drop in oil demand.''

Crude oil for April rose as much as 23 cents, or 0.4 percent, in after-hours electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange to the highest intraday price since the contract was introduced in 1983. It was at $56.64 at 8:30 a.m. Singapore time.

Yesterday, the April contract rose $1.41, or 2.6 percent, to $56.46 a barrel, a record closing price.

Futures jumped more than $1.50 in 15 minutes after the Energy Department's weekly report showed U.S. gasoline supplies fell by 2.9 million barrels last week, almost three times the decline expected by analysts in a Bloomberg survey.


The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will hold talks on another 500,000 barrels a day increase in the output quota starting from May 1, OPEC President Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al- Sabah told reporters in Isfahan, Iran, where the group met yesterday. Because members are already supplying more than planned, additional barrels may not come until May, he said.

``There is little OPEC can do to get more on the market,'' said John Kilduff, senior vice president of energy risk management with Fimat USA in New York. ``OPEC has ended up marginalizing themselves. The increase in quotas only highlights their lack of spare capacity.''

U.S. crude-oil supplies gained 2.6 million barrels to 305.2 million last week, the highest since June, and 8.2 percent higher than a year earlier, according to Energy Department data. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg forecast a 2 million barrel increase.

Gasoline supplies fell for a second week to 221.4 million barrels, the report showed. Supplies remained 9.4 percent higher than a year earlier.

`Gasoline Spooked Market'

``It was the gasoline number that spooked the market,'' said David Thurtell, commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney.

Gasoline for April delivery rose 4.1 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $1.5483 a gallon in New York, the highest closing price since the contract was introduced in 1984. It was at $1.55 in after- hours trading.

``We're worried about the high-demand period this summer and our ability to keep up with gasoline consumption,'' said Phil Flynn, vice president of risk management with Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago. ``U.S. crude supplies rose last week but with the growth of China there's going to be more competition for barrels in the months ahead.''

China's fuel use will rise 7.9 percent this year, or 500,000 barrels a day, to 6.88 million barrels a day, according to the Paris-based agency. China is the second biggest oil consumer after the U.S.


Global supply is sufficient to boost inventories now, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said yesterday in Isfahan.

``When we project into the fourth quarter, we see a substantial rise between the third quarter and the fourth,'' he said. ``We believe additional crude is needed. How much, we don't know.''

OPEC pumped 29.85 million barrels of oil a day in February, according to a Bloomberg survey of oil companies, producers and analysts. The ten members with quotas, all except Iraq, have a production ceiling of 27 million barrels a day and exceeded that by almost a million barrels last month.

The International Energy Agency, an adviser on energy policy to 26 industrialized nations, forecast in a report last week that oil consumption will climb by 1.81 million barrels, or 2.2 percent, to 84.3 million barrels a day this year. It was 330,000 barrels more than the agency forecast last month.

Prices rose in 1974 after an oil embargo that followed the Arab-Israeli war and from 1979 through 1981 after Iran cut oil exports. The average cost of oil used by U.S. refiners was $35.24 a barrel in 1981, according to the Energy Department, or $75.71 in today's dollars.

Prudent Investor comments...

As noted before a weakening dollar, demand supply imbalances, government interventions, terrorism and geopolitical tensions have all contributed to the bull market of energy prices such as crude oil. We are poised to see a continuation of higher oil prices, higher inflation levels and higher interest rates which will be detrimental to most financial markets.

As of this writing most Asian bourses are down almost in sympathy with the shellacked US equity markets. However, defying the trend are the global oil stocks which have risen in the recent past in congruence to higher oil prices, as Matthew Lynn of Bloomberg says, “The London stock market is going through a speculative frenzy over oil exploration stocks. Investors are piling into stocks based on little more than rumors and hope. Shares are being sold on the back of the purported expertise of developers, not business plans.” But not in the Philippines, whose market looks insulated from macro developments and has been a playground for speculative ‘trash’ issues.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005 China Congress passes Taiwan bill

China Congress passes Taiwan bill

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China's top legislative body has approved a resolution that authorizes Beijing to use military force to prevent Taiwan from declaring its independence.

The measure, passed on Monday by the National People's Congress, "represents the common will and strong determination of the Chinese people to safeguard the territorial integrity" of China, NPC chairman Wu Bangguo said.

Wu said the measure would "promote the peaceful reunification" and "contain secessionist forces in Taiwan," which China's ruling Communist Party considers a renegade province.

The law allows China's State Council and the Central Military Commission to move against any formal secession attempt by Taiwan as a last resort, should chances for peaceful reunification "be completely exhausted."

But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the new legislation was not a "war bill."

"This is a law advancing peaceful unification between the sides. It is not targeted at the people of Taiwan, nor is it a war bill," Wen said at a news conference, shortly after the law was passed.

China has long threatened to take military action to prevent Taiwan from declaring formal independence.

Monday's resolution, approved as the annual National People's Congress came to a close, puts a legal framework behind those threats.

The law also declares that the status of Taiwan "is China's internal affair, which subjects to no interference by any outside forces."

The measure has triggered widespread criticism from Taiwan, where one leader called it a "dark cloud" hanging over relations with mainland China. There was no immediate reaction to its passage from Taipei.

In Washington, the Bush administration last week called it "unhelpful" and urged Beijing to reconsider the bill. But Wu waid the measure would promote peaceful reunification and regional stability.

"This law has practical and profound historical significance," he said.

China hopes the law will deter Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian from pushing for the island's independence before the end of his second and last term in 2008, analysts say, Reuters reported.

Despite the legislation, analysts say the People's Liberation Army has no immediate plans to attack Taiwan and the "non-peaceful" means is not specifically a reference to war. It could, for example, be economic sanctions or blockades.

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan, which lies east of the Chinese coast, since Nationalist troops lost the Chinese civil war on the mainland and fled to the island in 1949.

Reuters reports the new law will feature in talks between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing in Beijing on March 20-21.

Washington recognizes China but is Taiwan's main supporter and arms supplier.

U.S. President George W. Bush has pledged to help Taiwan defend itself against any Chinese attack.


Prudent Investor comments…

A casus belli to World War III?

Jonathan Davis: "Secrets of Success: No one sees when bullish turn to bearish" published by the Independent UK

Secrets of Success: No one sees when bullish turn to bearish
By Jonathan Davis
12 March 2005
The Independent UK

Market timing, a hundred academic studies have told us, does not really work. Calling the precise points at which markets turn from bullish to bearish, or vice versa, is simply not a feasible option. You might get lucky once or even twice in a row, but to hope to do it on a consistent, regular basis is the stuff of dreams (though that does not stop investment banks and a host of other dream-peddlers continuing to offer advice of this sort).

This is one reason why, for most of us, professional and amateur alike, a more sensible approach is not to try. It is a better use of your time and emotional energy to stick to focusing on a few big-picture trends and stick with them until or unless they begin to show signs of excess. Investing on a regular basis and rebalancing your portfolio once a year to adjust for valuation shifts is another tried and tested way of protecting your assets from bad timing calls.

Yet the reality is that most of us cannot resist getting involved in trying to call the twists and turns of each successive market phase. Market timing is an addictive drug, which fulfils some deep-seated emotional need we all share. Why do bull markets have to "climb a wall of worry", as the old market saying has it? Because deep down we are all market junkies and would not have it otherwise.

The same goes for the age-old debate about whether "growth" or "value" is the better investment approach. There is no debate, as far as I am aware: all the evidence I have seen shows that, in the long run, a buy-and-hold value-based approach will provide the better, more reliable returns. But it can be dull work putting such a philosophy into action.

The real fun in the stock market comes in phases when either growth stocks do spectacularly well as a class, or there is some great speculative surge that holds out the prospect of sudden, large-scale returns. We are seeing one develop in the mining and natural resources sector at the moment. You only have to look at the exotica now finding its way daily to the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) to see that. It is all intoxicating stuff - and probably worth joining in with your fun money. The evidence that we are entering a new long bull market phase in commodities and natural resources seems pretty robust. Coupled with a low interest rate environment (the essential precondition of any speculative bubble), that provides a useful backcloth against which speculative stocks can flourish.

Many new mining exploration companies now appearing will turn out to be worthless.

It will all end in tears, though not for some time. The prudent investor will look to play the new bull market in commodities in a more cautious, strategic way: for example, through well-diversified dedicated funds and the larger diversified oil and mineral companies.

There is, as the market strategist David Fuller points out, a common theme in these developments. It is what he calls "supply inelasticity", the notion that demand for many natural resources and industrial commodities is growing strongly while, after years of weak or falling prices, the investment needed to bring on new sources of supply will take time to mature. That imbalance will underpin the upward trend in the oil, gold and industrial commodities markets for some years to come, although the trend will be obscured from month to month by periodic sharp falls in prices.

By contrast, Fuller suspects that stock markets in general will shortly be heading in the opposite direction: in his view, we are now two years into a typical "bear market rally" that will in due course see Wall Street and other leading markets resume the secular downward trend that began in 2000. This seems a plausible argument to me, and one I find that is quite widely shared by the professionals whose opinions I rate highly. We should all be preparing ourselves for such an eventuality. As a long-standing Warren Buffett watcher, I think that this is also the real message contained in his latest letter to shareholders, which came out last weekend. Having moved a lot of money into bonds four years ago, and bought into the energy sector in a big way more recently, Buffett is now sitting on $40 billion of cash and signaling that he is not tempted by values in the stock market at current levels. But the most important thing to remember, as a pragmatic investor, is not to let feelings about markets, however strong they might be, tempt you into too much precipitate action - which is the real snare of market timing.

The bullish phase of the stock market is still running, and there is no powerful reason yet to jump off, at least without more compelling evidence that the markets have turned. Fuller advises us to look out for what happens to the Australian and New Zealand stock markets. In his experience, the markets that lead the global stock markets up tend to be the ones that "top out" first. Australia and New Zealand have both carried out that role in the global stock market rally of the past two years. When they start to deteriorate, that could be a powerful signal that the bigger market trend is drawing to an end - especially if it is seen to be combined with evidence that bond yields are also starting to rise. Just don't expect to catch the turn precisely. Most successful investors are brilliant market timers in retrospect, but rarely in advance.

What they tend to do, if they think the market might be turning, is put a small bet on the fact and then gradually increase their exposure to that point of view, if the subsequent market action suggests that the move is indeed becoming an enduring trend, rather than a short-term alarum of the kind that keeps all market junkies happy.

Financial Times: Growing fears credit boom may implode

Growing fears credit boom may implode
By Dan Roberts and David Wighton in New York and Peter Thal Larsen in London
Published: March 13 2005 21:42 | Last updated: March 13 2005 21:42
Financial Times

Bankruptcy advisers are hiring extra staff amid fears that an end to the global credit boom could spark a surge in business failures in the US and Europe.

Unusually loose lending conditions have encouraged record borrowing by speculative-grade companies, with leveraged buy-outs and debt refinancing on both sides of the Atlantic generating more than $100bn of deals in the past eight months.

But last week's fall in the price of US Treasury bonds, coinciding with signs that bankers are struggling to complete riskier corporate bond issues, has added to a sense of nervousness in some quarters.

Although corporate default rates remain low, some fear the legacy of recent private equity buy-outs and hedge fund investments in distressed debt will be a swath of over-leveraged companies ill-equipped to survive in less benign conditions.

PwC, the largest corporate recovery adviser, said it was hiring insolvency specialists in sectors such as retailing, utilities and telecommunications in preparation for the expected fall-out.

Scott Bok, president of Greenhill & Co, an investment bank specialising in merger advice and restructuring, also predicts the cycle will end with a lot of companies in trouble. “In many of the deals being done today you can foresee the debt restructurings to come in a year or two,” he said.

Last week, the Financial Stability Forum, a group of national and international central banks and regulators, pointed to the levels of liquidity as one of the main risks to the stability of the global financial system.

Following a meeting in Tokyo, the FSF said that, according to some of its members, tight credit spreads and low long-term interest rates suggested some in the market might be underpricing risks. It urged banks and investors to monitor their exposures by stress-testing what would happen in the event of a market shock. Chuck Prince, chief executive of Citigroup, said: “The possibility of a liquidity bubble around the world concerns me. A very cautionary thing is that it feels like the world is changing and traditional indices may not give a complete picture.” Some say markets are becoming more nervous. Paul Hsi, a senior analyst at Moody's, said: “There is a little bit more caution in the market right now as some of the weaker credits come up with ‘me-too' offerings and investors take a harder look.”

Ian Powell, head of European business recovery for PWC, added: “You only need one of these really big financing deals to go sour and confidence will evaporate very quickly.”

However, investors say the market is more aware of the risks than in previous credit cycles and that funds are managing their exposure accordingly.

“People are on ‘bubblewatch' since almost every market got burnt in the last five years,” said Stephen Peacher, head of high-yield investment at Putnam, the fund manager.

“We know that bond prices are certainly not cheap but, given that default rates are so very low, we feel comfortable that spreads are in a fair value range.”

Additional reporting by Jennifer Hughes in New York

NIALL FERGUSON: "Our Currency, Your Problem" published by the New York Times

Our Currency, Your Problem
New York Times
March 13, 2005

Every congressman knows that the United States currently runs large ''twin deficits'' on its budget and current accounts. Deficit 1, as we well know, is just the difference between federal tax revenues and expenditures. Deficit 2 is generally less well understood: it's the difference between all that Americans earn from foreigners (mainly from exports, services and investments abroad) and all that they pay out to foreigners (for imports, services and loans). When a government runs a deficit, it can tap public savings by selling bonds. But when the economy as a whole is running a deficit -- when American households are saving next to nothing of their disposable income -- there is no option but to borrow abroad.

There was a time when foreign investors were ready and willing to finance the U.S. current account deficit by buying large pieces of corporate America. But that's not the case today. Perhaps the most amazing economic fact of our time is that between 70 and 80 percent of the American economy's vast and continuing borrowing requirement is being met by foreign (mainly Asian) central banks.

Let's translate that into political terms. In effect, the Bush administration's combination of tax cuts for the Republican ''base'' and a Global War on Terror is being financed with a multibillion dollar overdraft facility at the People's Bank of China. Without East Asia, your mortgage might well be costing you more. The toys you buy for your kids certainly would.

Why are the Chinese monetary authorities so willing to underwrite American profligacy? Not out of altruism. The principal reason is that if they don't keep on buying dollars and dollar-based securities as fast as the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury can print them, the dollar could slide substantially against the Chinese renminbi, much as it has declined against the euro over the past three years. Knowing the importance of the U.S. market to their export industries, the Chinese authorities dread such a dollar slide. The effect would be to raise the price, and hence reduce the appeal, of Chinese goods to American consumers -- and that includes everything from my snowproof hiking boots to the modem on my desk. A fall in exports would almost certainly translate into job losses in China at a time when millions of migrants from the countryside are pouring into the country's manufacturing sector.

So when Treasury Secretary John Snow insists that the United States has a ''strong dollar'' policy, what he really means is that the People's Republic of China has a ''weak renminbi'' policy. Sure, this is bad news if you happen to be an American toy manufacturer. But there are three good reasons that the administration is tacitly delighted by the Asian central banks' support. Not only is it keeping the lid on the price of American imports from Asia (a potential source of inflationary pressure). It is also propping up the price of U.S. Treasury bonds; this in turns depresses the yield on those bonds, allowing the federal government to borrow at historically very low rates of interest. Reason No. 3 is that low long-term interest rates keep the Bush recovery jogging along.

Sadly, according to a growing number of eminent economists, this arrangement simply cannot last. The dollar pessimists argue that the Asian central banks are already dangerously overexposed both to the dollar and the U.S. bond market. Sooner or later, they have to get out -- at which point the dollar could plunge relative to Asian currencies by as much as a third or two-fifths, and U.S. interest rates could leap upward. (When the South Korean central bank recently appeared to indicate that it was shifting out of dollars, there was indeed a brief run on the U.S. currency -- until the Koreans hastily issued a denial.)

Are the pessimists right? The U.S. current account deficit is now within sight of 6 percent of G.D.P., and net external debt stands at around 30 percent. The precipitous economic history of Latin America shows that an external-debt burden in excess of 20 percent of G.D.P. is potentially dangerous.

Yet there is one key difference between the United States and the countries south of the Rio Grande. Latin American economies have trouble with their foreign debts because those debts are denominated in foreign currency. The United States' external liabilities, by contrast, are almost entirely denominated in its own currency.

It therefore makes more sense to compare the United States with other members of that exclusive club of countries that have produced -- and hence been able to borrow -- in international currencies. The most obvious analogy that springs to mind is the United Kingdom 60 years ago.

During the Second World War, Britain financed its wartime deficits partly by borrowing substantial amounts of sterling from the colonies and dominions within her empire. And yet by the mid-1950's, these very substantial debts had largely disappeared. Unfortunately, this was partly because the value of sterling itself fell significantly. Moreover, sterling's decline and fall did not reduce the U.K.'s chronic trade deficit, least of all with respect to manufacturing. On the contrary, British industry declined in tandem with the pound's status as a global currency. And, needless to say, the decline of sterling coincided with Britain's decline as an empire.

From an American perspective, all this might seem to suggest worrying parallels. Could our own obligations to foreigners presage not just devaluation but also industrial and imperial decline?

Possibly. Yet there are some pretty important differences between 2005 and 1945. The United States is not in nearly as bad an economic mess as postwar Britain, which also owed large sums in dollars to the United States. The American empire is also in much better shape than the British empire was back in 1945.

Even the gloomiest pessimists accept that a steep dollar depreciation would inflict more suffering on China and other Asian economies than on the United States. John Snow's counterpart in the Nixon administration once told his European counterparts that ''the dollar is our currency, but your problem.'' Snow could say the same to Asians today. If the dollar fell by a third against the renminbi, according to Nouriel Roubini, an economist at New York University, the People's Bank of China could suffer a capital loss equivalent to 10 percent of China's gross domestic product. For that reason alone, the P.B.O.C. has every reason to carry on printing renminbi in order to buy dollars.

Though neither side wants to admit it, today's Sino-American economic relationship has an imperial character. Empires, remember, traditionally collect ''tributes'' from subject peoples. That is how their costs -- in terms of blood and treasure -- can best be justified to the populace back in the imperial capital. Today's ''tribute'' is effectively paid to the American empire by China and other East Asian economies in the form of underpriced exports and low-interest, high-risk loans.

How long can the Chinese go on financing America's twin deficits? The answer may be a lot longer than the dollar pessimists expect. After all, this form of tribute is much less humiliating than those exacted by the last Anglophone empire, which occupied China's best ports and took over the country's customs system (partly in order to flood the country with Indian opium). There was no obvious upside to that arrangement for the Chinese; the growth rate of per capita G.D.P. was probably negative in that era, compared with 8 or 9 percent a year since 1990.

Meanwhile, the United States may be discovering what the British found in their imperial heyday. If you are a truly powerful empire, you can borrow a lot of money at surprisingly reasonable rates. Today's deficits are in fact dwarfed in relative terms by the amounts the British borrowed to finance their Global War on (French) Terror between 1793 and 1815. Yet British long-term rates in that era averaged just 4.77 percent, and the pound's exchange rate was restored to its prewar level within a few years of peace.

It is only when your power wanes -- as the British learned after 1945 -- that owing a fortune in your own currency becomes a real problem. As opposed, that is, to someone else's problem.

Niall Ferguson is professor of history at Harvard and author of ''Colossus: The Price of America's Empire.''