Bullet dodged, show me the economy

By Jeremy Gaunt, European Investment Correspondent

LONDON (BestGrowthStock) – The condemned man has been given a reprieve, allowing him to focus again on the prison walls around him — or at least that is how it must feel to many investors.

Heading into a new week, they have had the fears of an imminent meltdown in sovereign debt calmed by a massive European Union and International Monetary Fund rescue plan.

So now they are left looking at the global economic climate and wondering if growth is sustainable or deficits too large to create a stable market environment.

They will get some guidance over the next few days from a gathering of euro zone finance ministers, a Bank of Japan meeting and the latest minutes from the Federal Reserve and Bank of England.

Weekly investment fund flow data will also be of particular importance, signaling whether a flight to safety prompted by the fears of a Greece default and a potential domino effect elsewhere is being reversed or remains in place.

Markets have been hammered over the past month or so by concerns about debt in the peripheral euro zone economies and its impact on the supposed sanctity of sovereign debt.

At one level — that of imminent disaster — the problem was solved by the 750 billion euro EU/IMF rescue plan.

“Our sense is it is likely to work because the price of failure will be so high we expect euro zone policy makers to work very hard to make it work,” said John Lomax, head of emerging market equity strategy at HSBC.

He added, however, that markets could be constrained by concerns about how the plan will be implemented.

Market reaction to the plan has been mixed. Equities have remained volatile but still looked set on a global basis to have had one of their best weekly performances in about seven months.

European shares were heading for their biggest weekly gains since November 2008.

The spread between yields on various riskier bonds — emerging market, credit, peripheral euro zone — has come down in relation to that of core debt such as Treasuries and Bunds.

The euro, however, has failed to recover and is on track for losses of more than 2 percent against the dollar for the week, making a roughly 13 percent loss for the year to date.

ECONOMY REDUX

It is often difficult to draw true causes and effects for financial moves.

The euro’s slide, for example, could reflect doubts in the minds of investors about the efficacy of the rescue plan, and the fact that it does not actually do anything to cut the deficits of stricken countries.

But equally it might simply reflect continuing concern that the euro zone’s economy is hardly robust, that European Central Bank interest rates will remain low and that other places are doing better.

“In the event that markets question the completeness of the rescue package, the euro will weaken,” UBS’s investment research team wrote in a note.

“But even in the event that market concerns are allayed, the combination of tighter fiscal policy and looser for longer (rates) from the ECB is a recipe for a weaker currency.”

UBS forecast $1.15 versus the dollar by the end of the year compared with the current $1.25 level.

Investors will get some updated official views of the state of the world economy from the EU finance ministers, the Fed, BoE and BOJ.

It will likely be a mixed picture. The U.S. economy appears to be recovering quite well, with the latest employment data — which UBS and others say has all but been ignored because of the debt crisis — showing jobs growth.

The euro zone, however, is lagging. True, it has not been in contraction for three quarters, but growth has been tepid at best.

Even that is now seen as coming under threat because of the spending cuts many countries will have to endure to get their deficits under control.

Japan also continues to struggle, while Britain has a ballooning deficit that a new, untested coalition government will have to start work on.

HEADING FOR THE HILLS?

The key for understanding investor sentiment after the rescue plan, meanwhile, could come from a series of regular reports that track where money is actually flowing.

Fund trackers iMoneynet, the Investment Company Institute and EPFR Global all showed money market funds getting net inflows of at least $21 billion in the latest week.

It was the first increase this year, which has been characterized by money flowing out of safe-haven cash funds into higher-yielding bonds and stocks.

EPFR estimates that outflows from money market funds have totaled more than $388 billion year-to-date.

If new figures show a continuation of the latest week’s trend it will not bode well for riskier-asset markets in the weeks ahead.

The first numbers will come from iMoneynet on Wednesday.

Stock Basics

(Additional reporting by Sujata Rao)

Bullet dodged, show me the economy