|From: Sam Citron||2/7/2009 4:45:12 PM|
|Have Car, Need Briefs? In Russia, Barter Is Back [NYT]|
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — Does the Taganrog Automobile Factory have a deal for you! Rows of freshly minted Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility vehicles are available right now. In exchange — well, do you have any circuit boards? Or sheet metal? Or sneakers?
Here is a sign of the financial times in Russia: Barter is back on the table.
Advertisements are beginning to appear in newspapers and online, like one that offered “2,500,000 rubles’ worth of premium underwear for any automobile,” and another promising “lumber in Krasnoyarsk for food or medicine.” A crane manufacturer in Yekaterinburg is paying its debtors with excavators.
And one of Russia’s original commodities traders, German L. Sterligov, has rolled out a splashy “anti-crisis” initiative that he says will link long chains of enterprises in a worldwide barter system.
All this evokes a bit of déjà vu. In the mid-1990s, barter transactions in Russia accounted for an astonishing 50 percent of sales for midsize enterprises and 75 percent for large ones.
The practice kept businesses afloat for years but also allowed them to defer some fundamental changes needed to make them more competitive, like layoffs and price reductions. It also hurt tax revenues.
The comeback is on a small scale so far. The most recent statistics available, from November, showed that barter deals made up about 3 to 4 percent of total sales, according to the Russian Economic Barometer, an independent bulletin. Nevertheless, economists are taking note.
“Russians are so arrogant that they never cut prices,” said Vladimir Popov, a professor at Moscow’s New Economic School. By turning to barter systems during an economic downturn, he said, “you are hiding your head in the sand.”
It would be hard, however, to dissuade business owners who see barter as a point of light on a bleak financial horizon.
Among the most upbeat of them is Mr. Sterligov, who, just as the credit crunch brought most business deals to a halt, shoveled $13 million into the Anti-Crisis Settlement and Commodity Center.
Mr. Sterligov, 42, is one of the great characters of Russian capitalism. In his mid-20s, on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse, he was a freewheeling, chain-smoking commodities trader surrounded by leggy assistants.
But Mr. Sterligov sat out the oil-fueled prosperity of recent years. After a failed run against Vladimir V. Putin in the 2004 presidential election, he retreated to a log house outside Moscow, opting for the beard and boots of a Russian shepherd. In August, intimations of the financial crash lured him out of the woods.
He plans to use a computer database to create chains of six or seven enterprises having difficulty selling their products for cash, in which the last firm on the chain would pay the first in a single cash transaction.
It is the kind of multiparty barter that rose to prominence in the 1990s, when managers of factories across Russia devised complex barter chains to keep the maximum number of enterprises in business when none had cash to pay their bills. A computer, he said, can do the same job faster and more efficiently.
“What was in the past will remain in the past,” Mr. Sterligov said in an interview last month, from the 26th-floor suite he has rented in a Moscow high-rise. “We are making a step into the future.”
So far, economists doubt that barter will grow to the level it reached in the 1990s. Earlier in the transition to a market economy, industrialists still had little monetary stake in their businesses but were dependent on the prestige that went with executive positions, said Andrei Yakovlev of the Higher School of Economics here. They had little incentive to cut costs, and barter deals kept them going for five years, he said.
Now, business owners and managers “are really trying to reduce costs and reduce inefficiency,” Mr. Yakovlev said. Interest in barter, he said, is more likely to come from regional governments, which have the most to lose from high unemployment.
Barter is a side effect of tight monetary policy, said Mr. Popov, who is teaching at Carleton University in Ottawa. Russia is in the grip of a liquidity crisis. As in the mid-1990s, the government has made it a priority to shore up the economy by buying up rubles, hoping to avoid the panicky sell-off that comes with rapid devaluation. The ruble has gradually slid from 23.4 to the dollar in early August, before Russia’s war in Georgia, to 36.2 to the dollar last week.
As a result, the money supply continues to contract, and some enterprises turn to barter to survive. “We are stepping for the second time on the same rake,” Mr. Popov said. “The second time is a greater sin.”
Long-term macroeconomic trends, however, are the last thing manufacturers were thinking about in recent weeks.
The Hyundai factory in Taganrog, the southern seaport where Chekhov was born, rolled out a barter promotion on its Web site, offering to trade vehicles for “raw materials,” “high-tech equipment” or “other liquid goods, including finished products of various branches of industry.” Gleb Korotkov, a spokesman for the factory, said he could not be specific about what goods were meant, saying it was a “commercial secret.”
Barter deals seem to be spreading fastest in construction industries. Dmitri Smorodin, who runs a large St. Petersburg building firm, said he thought for two months before announcing in late January that he was willing to accept barter items — including food products — as payment for construction work.
He said he hoped that adopting the strategy early in the crisis would give him an edge over his competitors.
“Food we would happily accept, because it’s easy to sell,” he said. “Of course, money is always preferable.”
In contrast, Uralchem, a fertilizer producer, refused payment in grain and beef, because the company conforms to international financial reporting standards in its reports to shareholders, said Andrei Kocherov, a spokesman for Uralchem, which was founded in 2007. The modern accounting system would preclude barter, he said.
Meanwhile, in Bashkortostan, a republic in southwestern Russia, local development officials publicly encouraged businesses to develop barter chains.
Sergei Ryazanov, 30, a businessman from the Siberian city of Surgut, took out an advertisement a month ago offering to barter excess metal piping. So far, he has not been impressed by the offers he has received; he said people were not desperate enough to drop prices. He is looking for a truly liquid commodity, something universal, like gasoline. Even underwear, which, he said, “is much more liquid than automobiles.”
He was intrigued by Mr. Sterligov’s idea, though he questioned the wisdom of planning a career in barter. “It will take him a couple years to get it right,” Mr. Ryazanov said. “And then, in two years, liquidity will be back.”
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|From: Sam Citron||2/9/2009 9:18:58 AM|
|A Hard-Liner Gains Ground in Israel [NYT]|
By ETHAN BRONNER
JERUSALEM — Last year, he suggested publicly that Egypt’s president “go to hell.” In the Israeli parliamentary elections, to be held Tuesday, he is running on a vow to require Arab citizens to sign a loyalty oath. As his campaign slogan asserts with a sly wink at Jewish voters, Avigdor Lieberman “knows how to speak Arabic.”
Mr. Lieberman does not know Arabic and will not, by all polls and predictions, become the next prime minister. But his popularity has been climbing so steeply that his party is now expected to come in third, making him a likely power broker with an explosive and apparently resonant political message: Israel is at risk not only from outside but also from its own Arab population.
“It no longer matters whether Lieberman will get 19 seats, as some polls indicate, or merely 15,” noted the political commentator Sima Kadmon in Friday’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper. “He is the story of this election campaign.”
The front-runner and likely prime minister remains Benjamin Netanyahu of the conservative Likud Party. Close behind him is Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the centrist Kadima Party. Until recently, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the left-of-center Labor Party, was in third, having been bolstered by Israel’s recent war in Gaza.
Now Mr. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Is Our Home) holds that slot. He and his party, who have drawn support away from Likud, may well be part of an eventual coalition government or lead the opposition.
Most of the political establishment, including members of the Likud, Kadima and Labor Parties, are furious and afraid of either possibility because they broadly consider Mr. Lieberman a demagogue. They fear that his focus on a normally submerged paradox of political life here — how a state made up of Jews and Arabs can define itself as both Jewish and democratic — undermines a delicate coexistence. They say he is drawing in Israeli Jews who feel the country needs a greater display of power to survive.
“I am afraid of this guy, and I dislike him,” said Shmuel Sandler, dean of social sciences at Bar Ilan University, an institution that emphasizes Jewish identity and values. “He appeals to simple-minded voters. Average Israelis feel that we have given up territory, and at the same time the Arabs don’t want to accept the Jewish nature of the state.”
Israel’s military assault on the Hamas rulers of Gaza has helped Mr. Lieberman in two ways. First, he presents himself as a strongman eager to confront Israel’s enemies. At the same time, Israeli Arabs sympathetic to Gaza protested the war, which incensed many Jews.
“The biggest boost his campaign had were pictures of Israeli Arabs waving Hamas flags during the Gaza war and shouting ‘Death to the Jews,’ ” noted Abe Selig, a reporter for The Jerusalem Post who has been covering Mr. Lieberman.
But he is not classically right wing — he is less doctrinaire about land and is not religious — and his iconoclasm seems to be drawing voters from surprisingly diverse political tendencies.
An immigrant from the Soviet Union — he was born in Moldova and moved here in the late 1970s — Mr. Lieberman, 50, wants to ease the paths of those of his fellow immigrants who are children of mixed marriage and looked down upon by the rabbinate.
Unlike many on the far right, he favors a two-state solution with the Palestinians. He wants to trade away parts of Israel that are heavily Arab to the future Palestinian state in exchange for close-in Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. He lives in such a settlement near Bethlehem.
His loyalty oath would require all Israelis to vow allegiance to Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, to accept its symbols, flag and anthem, and to commit to military service or some alternative service. Those who declined to sign such a pledge would be permitted to live here as residents but not as voting citizens.
Currently Israeli Arabs, who constitute 15 percent to 20 percent of the population, are excused from national service. Many would like to shift Israel’s identify from that of a Jewish state to one that is defined by all its citizens, arguing that only then would they feel fully equal.
Mr. Lieberman says that there is no room for such a move and that those who fail to grasp the centrality of Jewish identity to Israel have no real place in it.
Oddly, Mr. Lieberman and those who support him often say that the loyalty oath mirrors an American practice, apparently mistaking the naturalization process for a universal requirement for all United States citizens. For example, Uzi Landau, the party’s No. 2, said recently, “In the United States, whoever wants to be a citizen has to pledge allegiance to the country and its Constitution, know the anthem, be familiar with the flag and its history.”
Taken together, Mr. Lieberman’s proposals aim toward an ethnically purer Jewish state, in many ways a classically conservative goal. But his willingness to give up land where Israel is narrowest, and around Jerusalem, for the sake of reducing the Arab population contravenes a basic tenet of many on the right: that Israel must not get any smaller because the land belongs to it and because strategically that would be risky.
The result of such mix-and-match ideas is that Mr. Lieberman has drawn followers not only from the large number of Russian speakers but also from the many who are attracted to his anti-establishment tendencies, as well as the young.
“I was a supporter of Labor all my life,” said Idan Tzadok, a 24-year-old student from Haifa. “I was raised in a kibbutz, but when I came to university I woke up. I saw these people in Israel who go with the Palestinian flag.
“Peace in Israel will come when all Israelis will go to the army,” he said, adding of several Arab members of Parliament, “I am not going to pay the paycheck of these people who go and support Hamas.”
In an unscientific survey of 10 high schools across Israel, Mr. Lieberman’s party took first place followed closely by Likud, Kadima and then Labor.
Alex Miller, a member of Mr. Lieberman’s party, told the newspaper Haaretz that it was natural that the party’s message would appeal to the young.
“Loyalty is the most burning issue for the youth,” he said. “They’re about to go in the army and therefore national honor is important to them. They want someone whose word is good, who stands behind his principles. Avigdor Lieberman projects strength.”
Mr. Lieberman began his political career working for Likud, becoming campaign chairman in the 1990s for Mr. Netanyahu and director general of his office when he was prime minister. He later formed Yisrael Beitenu, winning election to Parliament as its party leader. He has held several ministerial portfolios but only for short periods because of his tendency to fall out of favor with those in power.
Lately he has also come under investigation for the business practices of a company owned by his daughter, including allegations of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. The police have said they believe that the daughter, Michal Lieberman, was serving as a front for her father.
Mr. Lieberman said he welcomed the investigation because the more he was seen as pursued by the establishment, the more popular he became. The investigation, he said, would add four seats to his party’s take.
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|From: Sam Citron||2/9/2009 10:02:23 AM|
|Second wave of credit crunch may come if foreign lenders ditch debt market|
By Craig Stephen
Last update: 4:22 p.m. EST Feb. 8, 2009
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Last week the head of Hong Kong's Monetary Authority Joseph Yam warned local legislators that Financial Tsunami Part II could soon hit Hong Kong and other Asian markets.
He has said this a couple of times, and investors seem unmoved as share prices both here and in China both finished the week higher.
Perhaps Yam's pronouncements don't carry the sway of a Fed Chairman but they are worrying enough to take a closer looking at, and may offer clues to the upcoming Hong Kong Budget.
One explanation could be Yam is just feeling a bit down after the HKMA Exchange Fund lost a record HK$74.9 billion ($9.66 billion) last year.
Yam has also been in the firing line for letting Hong Kong residents buy HK$20 billion of now-worthless Lehman Brothers-backed mini-bonds on his watch. Hardly the finale he might have wished for as he gets set to retire this year from his job as the world's highest-paid central banker, with a cool HK$11 million in salary.
It could be argued there are encouraging signs the worst of the financial crises is behind us. We have had global bailout packages for banks, loan guarantees and mega stimulus packages.
But if we look at previous crises in Hong Kong, it could pay to be on guard. While the Asian financial crisis 12 years ago started in Thailand and spread around the region domino-style, the final act took another year to play out, with a crescendo of selling in Hong Kong.
Yam's argument runs that, while the global financial system has been patched up to avert a collapse, Asian economies have in the meantime weakened considerably, leaving them exposed as the huge leverage built up in the boom days unwinds.
Here he is talking not about collateralized debt obligation or other exotic derivatives, but rather the wholesale corporate debt market.
Hong Kong is possibly a uniquely international banking market, with the world's 500 largest banks doing business here, according to HKMA records. This vast pool of liquidity is one reason Hong Kong is credited as the biggest foreign direct investor in China. This year it's estimated up to US$22 billion of syndicated corporate loans will mature here, and foreign lenders account for roughly 40% of that.
The worry now is that foreign banks, beset with problems at home, will baulk at rolling over these loans. This could potentially trigger a wave of corporate collapses.
Yam describes this as the danger of "financial protectionism," where foreign banks are going to focus on lending in their own backyard.
Perhaps this is an understandable consequence of the post-credit-crunch financial world. Will banks bailed out by U.S. or U.K. taxpayers still have an appetite to lend working capital to a manufacturer in Guangdong to save jobs there?
Going by the size of the international finance sector in Hong Kong, it would leave a big gap if such capital retreats.
Yam did say, however, that Hong Kong is in a strong position -- the HKMA Exchange Fund topped $202 billion at end of 2008, of which $129.9 billion was foreign currency.
He also added -- rather ambiguously -- that the government will look at providing assistance if troubles materialize. Perhaps there will be some business-friendly packages when Budget Day arrives on Feb. 27.
It will be worth considering how HSBC Holdings (HBC:
HSBC Hldgs Plc is positioned. HSBC serves as Hong Kong's de facto central bank and was one of the first to warn back in September that this credit crunch would be worse than the one a decade ago.
It is likely to be under pressure to pick up the slack if foreign lenders retreat.
HSBC in the past has stepped in when local banks got into trouble, such as by taking over Hang Seng Bank. HSBC also avoided taking funds from the U.K. government, but it is now facing speculation it needs more capital.
Whatever assistance the HKMA or government comes up with is likely to be politically charged. Hong Kong corporations are not, by and large, wholly institutionally owned like in Western markets, but rather are controlled by family tycoon shareholders. Any direct assistance may expose the government to charges of bailing out the corporate elite at a time when ministers say there is nothing in the kitty for give-aways for the wider population.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post even carried an opinion piece saying the government shouldn't run an economic stimulus package. That probably reflects the look-out-for-yourself ethos in Hong Kong. And in the corporate world, when things get tough, Hong Kong usually plays by the laws of jungle: Ailing firms die or are swallowed up by the bigger guys.
Perhaps this was why, last month, stalled legislation for a new bankruptcy protection law was resurrected.
It will be worth watching closely if Yam's warnings on financial protectionism come true and what, if anything, the Hong Kong government might do about it.
Some legislators suggested a good start would be to review salaries at the HKMA.
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|From: Sam Citron||2/9/2009 3:09:25 PM|
|Japan’s Investors Savor Strong Yen in Hunt for Assets (Update3)|
By Ron Harui
Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Daiwa SB Investments Ltd. is urging clients to put their money into Brazil, Mexico and Turkey after the yen’s 55 percent gain against their currencies made emerging markets a bargain. A year ago, it wasn’t recommending any developing nation funds.
“A lot of assets have gotten extremely cheap and Japanese investors are looking to park their money somewhere,” said Kenichiro Ikezawa, who oversees about $3 billion as a fund manager at the second-largest brokerage in Tokyo. “Emerging markets including Brazil, Mexico and Turkey look attractive. We would like to invest more in such countries.”
After a year when the yen rallied against 177 currencies, Japan’s biggest money managers say the best is over in the foreign exchange market. The nation’s investors bought 940 billion yen ($10.3 billion) more international stocks and bonds than they sold in the five days to Jan. 31, the seventh week of net purchases, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Japanese companies are also taking advantage of the strengthening currency, spending record amounts on mergers and acquisitions outside the country. The total value of overseas takeovers more than tripled to $76.8 billion last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The yen rallied 60 percent against the Brazilian real, 55 percent versus the Mexican peso, and 62 percent against the Turkish lira in 2008 as the global economic slump led investors to pull billions of dollars out of emerging-market assets to repay low-cost loans funded in Japan’s currency.
‘Wave’ of Selling
Now, traders expect a turnaround. The yen may fall 18 percent this year to as low as 112 against the dollar from 91.52 today as domestic investors find bargains outside the country, said Akio Shimizu, chief manager of foreign-exchange trading in Tokyo at Mitsubishi UFJ Trust & Banking Corp., an arm of Japan’s largest publicly listed lender. His target is weaker than the median forecast for a 6 percent decline to 98 by year-end, according to a Bloomberg News survey of 48 analysts.
“A wave of yen-selling orders is starting to hit the market,” Shimizu said. “Banks are stepping up the amount of investment trusts focused on overseas assets.”
Mizuho Asset Management Co. wants to increase holdings of dollar-, euro- and Australian dollar-denominated sovereign debt, said Akira Takei, who helps oversee the equivalent of $42.5 billion as head of non-yen bonds at the unit of Japan’s second- largest bank in Tokyo.
“Foreign yields look attractive right now,” Takei said. “There are still some risks, so I’d rather stick with sovereign bonds. The yen may decline to 112 versus the dollar this year. I certainly don’t expect the dollar to plummet.”
The dollar weakened the most in two decades last year.
The strategy is similar to the so-called carry trade, where investors borrow in countries with low rates and invest in nations with higher borrowing costs.
The carry trade dominated foreign exchange markets in 2005 and 2006 as declining volatility and rising risk appetites spurred investors to sell yen and buy Australian and New Zealand dollars as well as South African rand and Brazilian reais.
Japan’s target rate is 0.1 percent. An expansion of the carry trade helped push the yen down 13 percent in 2005 versus the U.S. dollar. The collapse of credit markets and almost $1.1 trillion of losses and writedowns at the world’s biggest financial companies triggered a flight from higher-yielding assets last year, when the yen strengthened 23 percent.
Emerging-market assets are appealing to Japanese because those nations suffered only a fraction of the credit-market losses that pushed the U.S., euro region and Japan into recession. In a Jan. 28 report, the International Monetary Fund said while the global economy is likely to shrink 0.5 percent this year, emerging markets will grow an average of 3.4 percent.
“Emerging countries still have the impression of doing better relative to the developed world,” said Kimihiko Tomita, head of foreign exchange in Tokyo at State Street Bank & Trust Co., a unit of the world’s largest money manager for institutions. “Japanese investment trusts and individuals are still interested in emerging markets.”
Brazil is one of the favorites because its benchmark interest rate is 12.75 percent, Tomita said. It takes only 40.89 yen to buy a Brazilian real, down from 69.67 yen as recently as Aug. 6. The country’s interest rate is the highest in the world, accounting for inflation, even after the central bank cut borrowing costs last month for the first time since September.
The world’s 10th-largest economy received a record $45.1 billion in foreign direct investment last year, including $8.1 billion in December, more than twice the forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 13 economists.
Japanese investors may earn a 25 percent total return this year on Brazil’s local-currency bonds, should the median forecast for the yen in a Bloomberg survey of analysts prove accurate. Anyone who bought the country’s 10 percent notes due January 2014 at the start of the year would gain 13 percent from the yield on the securities. Yen-based buyers would get another 12 percent from currency appreciation, based on the forecast for 44.34 yen to the real by year-end.
That same bet would have resulted in a loss of 24 percent in 2008.
Emerging-market bonds offer the best way to gain from the yen’s strength, said Hideo Shimomura, who helps oversee the equivalent of $44.3 billion as chief fund manager at Mitsubishi UFJ Asset Management Co., a unit of Japan’s largest bank.
The extra yield investors demand to own bonds of developing nations instead of Treasuries was at 6.40 percentage points today, up from 1.46 percentage points in the first half of 2007, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“Sovereign bonds in the Middle East, South America, South Africa, and Turkey are popular,” Tokyo-based Shimomura said, forecasting yen may fall as low as 100 to the dollar this year. “Brazil, for example, has relatively sound fundamentals and is likely to keep luring funds pretty easily.”
The yen’s five-month advance versus the dollar leaves more room for appreciation, and emerging-assets will get even cheaper as the global recession deepens, said Jun Fukashiro, a senior fund manager at Toyota Asset Management Co. in Tokyo, who helps oversee about $10 billion in assets.
“We want to wait on investments in emerging markets,” Fukashiro said. “Foreign bonds are attractive given that the global economy is still deteriorating but this isn’t a time to aggressively get into emerging-market debt.”
Mexico’s economy will shrink 1.2 percent this year, according to the average forecast of 31 economists surveyed by the central bank Jan. 20-29. Brazil’s growth will slow to 2 percent, the weakest since 2003, a central bank survey published Jan. 26 found. Latin America’s gross domestic product will contract 0.5 percent, JPMorgan said in a report Feb. 4.
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is down 1 percent this year, after slumping 54 percent in 2008, its biggest annual decline in at least two decades.
“We think it is unlikely that the Japanese will be rushing into overseas markets any time soon,” a team of analysts at Citigroup Inc. wrote in a note to clients on Feb. 5. “The risk- reward of overseas investment is not what it once was. Interest- rate differentials are closing fast and foreign-exchange volatility remains high.”
Japanese companies are increasing their overseas investments as the stronger yen boosts their purchasing power.
International acquisitions by Japanese firms climbed to $76.8 billion last year from $23.1 billion in 2007, beating the previous record of $57.1 billion set in 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The figures include debt assumed in the purchases.
Nomura Holdings Inc., the nation’s largest brokerage, bought the non-American businesses of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in October after the U.S. investment bank collapsed the previous month. Tokyo-based Nomura said the purchase would cost $2 billion. Asahi Breweries Ltd., Japan’s top-selling beermaker, spent $667 million buying a majority stake in China’s Tsingtao Brewery Co. in January, after the Tokyo-based brewer purchased the Australian beverage operations of Cadbury Plc for 550 million pounds ($811 million) in December.
Last month, Tokyo drugmaker Astellas Pharma Inc. made a $1 billion bid for Palo Alto, California-based CV Therapeutics Inc., adding to the $9.2 billion Japanese firms spent buying U.S. pharmaceutical and biotech companies last year.
“If companies can secure enough funding, the appreciation of the yen gives them a good chance of exploring business opportunities outside Japan,” said Toshiro Yanagiya, Tokyo- based general manager of securities business division at Aozora Bank Ltd. “We are likely to see plenty more such deals in the year ahead.”
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|From: Sam Citron||2/13/2009 2:14:49 PM|
|Oh, Canada! |
Canada Stocks Lead as Barrick Surges, Banks Forgo Aid (Update2)
By John Kipphoff
Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Canada is beating the biggest stock markets this year as the global recession prompts investors to buy its gold producers and banks.
The Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index of shares traded in Toronto has fallen 2.7 percent, less than stocks in the U.S., Australia, Spain, the U.K., Germany, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland and Japan. The median drop among benchmark gauges in the biggest developed countries this year is 7.3 percent.
Barrick Gold Corp. and 11 other Canadian producers surged 5.2 percent as a group in 2009. Bank shares fell 8 percent, the second-best performance among the biggest economies, which averaged a 13 percent loss. Lenders in the S&P 500 plunged 42 percent this year.
“The biggest driver is the confidence in gold as an asset class,” said Frank Holmes, who oversees about $2 billion as chief executive officer of U.S. Global Investors Inc. in San Antonio. “It also has a different banking system that’s very deposit driven, and banks that have a broad deposit base in Canada have done better than those in the U.S.”
Toronto-based Barrick, the world’s biggest gold producer, is benefiting as investors boosting their inflation forecasts buy the precious metal as a hedge against consumer price increases. A gauge of inflation projections for the next decade, derived from yields on 10-year Treasury notes, climbed to 1.23 percent from 0.12 percent on Jan. 5.
Ninth Annual Gain
In the same period, gold added 9.2 percent to $936.80 an ounce in New York, the highest price since July. It gained in six of the past eight days and is rising for the ninth straight year.
Peter Schiff, who oversees about $1 billion as president of Euro Pacific Capital in Darien, Connecticut, said as much as 20 percent of his clients’ assets are invested in Canada, mostly in mining and energy companies. He’s betting inflation will cause gold to rise to more than $1,500 an ounce this year.
“A strong gold price will be helpful to the economies that have a big mining industry,” Schiff said. Canada is the world’s seventh-biggest gold producer.
Barrick surged 109 percent to C$44.95 since sinking to a five-year low in October. Kinross Gold Corp. and Yamana Gold Inc. also more than doubled in three months. They are among gold companies worldwide that sold more than $2 billion in stock since November. Iamgold Corp. is up 194 percent from its Oct. 23 low. Kinross, Yamana and Iamgold are all based in Toronto.
‘Count On’ Gold
The rally lifted gold producers to 11 percent of the S&P/TSX yesterday, the highest weighting in Canada’s benchmark compared with monthly values since 1996, according to Howard Silverblatt, S&P’s senior index analyst in New York.
“Gold is the only thing you can count on,” said Andrew Martyn, who helps manage about C$420 million ($337 million) at Toronto-based Davis-Rea Ltd.
The World Economic Forum says Canada’s banks are the soundest because they speculated less on mortgage assets that have proved toxic. Canada’s banks, which account for about 6.7 percent of the industry’s worldwide market value, suffered only 1.5 percent of the $817 billion in mortgage-related losses reported globally.
As Canada’s banks wrote down $12.5 billion since 2007, its six biggest lenders, including Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto- Dominion Bank, attracted new investment, selling C$9.2 billion in stock and bonds as a group since October.
Unlike their global counterparts, which have accepted almost $500 billion in bailouts, Canada’s banks have done without direct government aid. While Canada is providing guarantees on more than C$200 billion in bank debt and has bought mortgage bonds to boost lending, none have required taxpayer-funded cash injections.
“There is a sense that the Canadian banks are much better regulated and in stronger shape,” said Quincy Krosby, Hartford, Connecticut-based chief investment strategist at Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. The firm has $346 billion in assets. “The Canadian market has come on the radar screen over the last month or so.”
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|From: Sam Citron||2/17/2009 12:34:17 PM|
|Japan’s Finance Minister Quits After G-7 Blunder [NYT]|
By HIROKO TABUCHI and BETTINA WASSENER
TOKYO — Japan’s finance minister resigned Tuesday after widespread criticism of embarrassing behavior at the weekend Group of 7 meeting in Rome.
The minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, raised eyebrows for his slurred speech and muddled answers, and for appearing to fall asleep at a news conference in Rome on Saturday. A clip of Mr. Nakagawa in which he appeared to be groggy in front of journalists was posted on YouTube.
After intense criticism from politicians who said he had embarrassed Japan, Mr. Nakagawa stepped down on Tuesday, adding to the woes of a government that is facing a backlash for its handling of the economic crisis.
Mr. Nakagawa, 55, said cold medication and fatigue were to blame for his behavior, but also admitted to sipping wine before the event.
“I apologize for causing great inconvenience over my behavior at the G-7 meeting,” Mr. Nakagawa said at a news conference on Tuesday. “However, I still have a strong commitment to improving Japan’s economy.”
Prime Minister Taro Aso appointed Kaoru Yosano, Japan’s economics minister, to take on Mr. Nakagawa’s role, lending continuity to discussions about Japan’s budget and stimulus efforts.
Mr. Nakagawa’s behavior was a major embarrassment for Mr. Aso, who is under fire for his handling of the economy and whose public support has plummeted ahead of elections later this year.
The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner are in danger of losing the election, which could set the stage for far-reaching changes in Japan’s political landscape.
Although Mr. Nakagawa’s behavior may not make much difference to voters — Mr. Aso’s ratings in some opinion polls already below 10 percent — “what it does underscore is how unprofessional the Aso government is,” said Jesper Koll, chief executive of Tantallon Research in Tokyo.
Mr. Nakagawa’s resignation comes as Japan is trying to stimulate a flagging economy. Data on Monday showed its economy, the world’s second largest, had deteriorated in the fourth quarter of 2008 at its fastest pace since 1974. The country’s real gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 12.7 percent from October to December after contracting for two previous quarters as the country’s mainstay exports slumped amid the global economic crisis.
Some economists believe that the current quarter could be even worse and that added stimulus measures will be needed to haul the economy out of recession. Hiroshi Shiraishi of BNP Paribas in Tokyo on Monday revised his forecast for contraction this year to 5.8 percent from an earlier projection of 3.4 percent.
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|To: Sam Citron who wrote (218)||2/17/2009 12:38:59 PM|
|From: Sam Citron|
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Kaoru Yosano (??? ?, Yosano Kaoru?, born August 22, 1938) is a Japanese politician. He is a member of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and member of the House of Representatives, currently serving his ninth term in the Lower House representing Tokyo's first electoral district. Yosano was Chief Cabinet Secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from August 2007 to September 2007 and is currently State Minister in charge of Economic and Fiscal Policy.
Born the grandson of poets Yosano Akiko and Yosano Tekkan in Tokyo, he graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1963. In 1972 he unsuccessfully ran for a seat in House of Representatives. Yosano then served as secretary to Yasuhiro Nakasone. He ran again in 1976 and was elected for the first time. On August 27, 2007, he was appointed Chief Cabinet Secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, replacing Yasuhisa Shiozaki. He was replaced by Nobutaka Machimura on September 27 when Yasuo Fukuda succeeded Abe.
Yosano was appointed as State Minister in charge of Economic and Fiscal Policy on August 1, 2008.
Yosano is known for advocating an increase in the consumption tax to reconstruct the nation's debt-ridden fiscal structure. His hobbies include golf, making computers, photography, fishing, and playing Japanese board games.
Following the resignation of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Yosano announced his candidacy for the LDP presidency on September 8, 2008: "I believe politicians should never mislead the public by showing some rosy pictures. The LDP is facing the biggest crisis since its creation. I will contest the election with high spirits and the courage to lead Japan. Japan is going through a crisis. I will battle the situation for the benefit of the people." In the leadership election, held on September 22, 2008, Taro Aso was elected with 351 of the 527 votes, while Yosano trailed in second place with 66 votes. In Aso's Cabinet, appointed on 24 September 2008, Yosano retained his post as State Minister in charge of Economic and Fiscal Policy.
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|From: Sam Citron||2/18/2009 2:55:24 PM|
|Slim’s [Mexican] Economic Forecasts Are Alarmist, Lozano Says (Update2)|
By Jens Erik Gould
Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s economic forecasts are alarmist, may discourage consumers and scare away investment as the country grapples with a global downturn, Labor Minister Javier Lozano said.
Slim, one of the world’s richest men, told lawmakers in Congress yesterday that Mexico’s gross domestic product will “plunge” and unemployment will increase to record levels as exports and the price of oil drop.
No forecast has been more “grave” than Slim’s, Lozano said today in an interview with the Televisa television network.
“All the headlines refer to this catastrophic scenario that the most powerful man and businessman we have is giving,” Lozano said. “He should be conscious that this isn’t just another declaration or forecast. It can really have an impact on investment, employment and the mood of the people.”
The government is seeking to downplay Slim’s forecast after the country’s biggest newspapers printed front-page articles about the billionaire’s comments today. The Finance Ministry expects GDP to be unchanged this year, an outlook that’s more optimistic than predictions by analysts and the central bank.
Analysts polled by the central bank in a Feb. 1 survey forecast the economy will contract 1.2 percent this year as demand for exports wanes, remittances fall and job losses mount. The central bank says the economy may shrink as much as 1.8 percent.
Mexico has lost almost 500,000 formal jobs since November, the worst performance in the labor market since the Tequila crisis in the mid-1990s, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts said in a report yesterday. Formal employment fell by 128,122 jobs in January, according to the Social Security Institute.
Slim, 69, is the world’s second-richest man according to Forbes magazine. He controls Telefonos de Mexico SAB, Mexico’s largest fixed-line phone company, and America Movil SAB, Latin America’s largest mobile-phone company. Slim agreed to loan the New York Times Co. $250 million last month.
Telmex’s press office declined to comment on Lozano’s remarks when contacted by Bloomberg News.
Organizacion Soriana SAB, Mexico’s second-largest retailer, fell 2.3 percent to 23.4 pesos, the first decline in three days. Investors who heard Slim’s remarks may be betting that consumers will further curtail spending, said Tufic Salem, an analyst with Credit Suisse in Mexico City.
“There’s a lot of concern about the economic environment,” Salem said in a phone interview. “It’s all closing in.”
Lozano said that while the economy will probably continue to lose jobs and may contract in the first half of the year, President Felipe Calderon’s stimulus plan will help mitigate the impact of the global downturn.
Calderon last month announced an initiative to increase infrastructure spending, raise unemployment benefits and lower energy costs. The plan, along with moves announced last year that include building Mexico’s first new refinery in almost 30 years, are worth 1.8 percent of gross domestic product, the government says. Mexico also freed a similar amount in credit for small and medium-sized businesses, Calderon said in a Jan. 31 interview.
The government and industries will increase spending on projects such as roads, airports and sea ports to 570 billion pesos ($39.9 billion) this year, Calderon said last month.
“He’s not considering what’s being done, everything we’re adding to the domestic market,” Lozano said about Slim.
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|From: Sam Citron||2/20/2009 7:31:11 AM|
|[Sweden] GM unit Saab files for protection from creditors|
Friday February 20, 6:09 am ET
By Karl Ritter, Associated Press Writer
STOCKHOLM (AP) -- General Motors Corp.'s Swedish-based subsidiary Saab filed for bankruptcy protection Friday so it can be spun off or sold by its struggling U.S. parent, officials said.
The move comes after Sweden turned down GM's request for government help for Saab.
An application to reorganize the Swedish-based unit was filed at a district court in Vanersborg, in southwestern Sweden, Saab spokeswoman Margareta Hogstrom said.
The Swedish government on Wednesday rejected a request from loss-making GM to inject money into the carmaker. GM, which is seeking help from the U.S. government to avoid bankruptcy at home, has been looking for buyers for Saab but said it needs more funding to spin off or sell the division.
"We explored and will continue to explore all available options for funding and/or selling Saab and it was determined a formal restructuring would be the best way to create a truly independent entity that is ready for investment," Saab's managing director, Jan Ake Jonsson, said in a statement.
The move would give Saab protection from creditors while it restructures in a process similar to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.
"Pending court approval, the reorganization will be executed over a three-month period and will require independent funding to succeed," Saab said, adding it would seek funding "from both public and private sources."
However, government officials seemed to rule out financial assistance. "I'm not sure what they're referring to, because support in the form of money is not on the agenda," Industry Ministry spokesman Hakan Lind said.
Industry Minister Maud Olofsson told Swedish news agency TT it was "very hard to say what our role will be."
On Wednesday, Olofsson rejected GM's plea for state funding for Saab, saying it was up to the U.S. automaker to save the brand.
In its own restructuring plan, GM said Tuesday it would need up to $30 billion from the U.S. Treasury Department, up from a previous estimate of $18 billion and including $13.4 billion it has already received. It also said it would need to cut 47,000 jobs worldwide and close five more U.S. factories
GM said it needed about $6 billion in support from the governments of Canada, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Thailand to provide liquidity for its overseas operations in those countries.
The Detroit automaker said it had developed a proposal that would cap its financial support of Saab with the Trollhattan-based automaker's operations "effectively becoming an independent business entity" by Jan. 1, 2010.
Saab has around 4,500 workers in more than 50 countries. Its main markets include the U.S. Britain, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Australia, France, the Netherlands, and Norway, with most of its production located in Sweden.
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