Canny buying. Earlier this, week mining executive Antony Sage was declaring his company Cape Lambert Resources was off to Sierra Leone and Greece because the RSPT had led to the cancellation of an investment. While the investment itself turned out to be rather smaller than we’d been led to believe by the shrill headlines that accompanied the story, Cape Lambert’s share price took a dive. But in swooped one smart investor – Mr Sage himself picked up 1 million shares for a cool $399,000. Based on the closing price last Friday before the RSPT was announced, Mr Sage has saved himself $60,000. — Bernard Keane
Austerity is the new black for Britain: A decade of sovereign deleveraging awaits the Conservatives (probable winners). It was somehow appropriate that as the Poms were going to the polls, markets around the world were tanking on debt and bank stability fears. If anything underlined the real issue in the UK election and afterwards, another day of instability did. Not helping was that pesky Moody’s ratings agency, which unhelpfully included the UK banking system with the likes of Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal as being highly exposed to the impact of deep recessions, funding shortfalls and budget cuts in their home economies. It was the PIIGS with the UK included (which is a bit unfair on poor old Ireland, which has done a lot of cutting already). Moody’s warned that Britain has to cut, but can’t cut too quickly and deeply, without raising the risk of another recession.
Oh, to be in the black, instead of deep in sh-t: Seeing that the UK government controls two of its biggest banks, Lloyds and RBS, it has the unfortunate disadvantage of facing a double whammy should the country’s credit ratings be questioned, or the stability of the banking system start to weaken. One can lead to the other, but in Britain, it’s a two-for-the-price-of-one attack of contagion (debt flu?). So in a country where the budget deficit, this year more than 11%, will be bigger than Greece’s (which will hopefully be falling) at £163 billion, and next year, rise to more than 12%, with the debt peaking in 2012 at 87% of GDP, there’s not much room to move if the stuff does hit the fan.
Beyond control: We will hear lots of claims of how it’s a new start, new day etc and there will be promises of swift, decisive action, but once the cuts start and the taxes are raised, listen to the moaning and groaning. But events will be beyond the Government’s control. If markets feel that too little is being done too slowly, then sterling will be attacked and Government debt sold off. A second quick election to get a stronger mandate might be the best option. The new government will be in power, but not in control. That was ceded to the markets a while ago and emphasised by the implosion of Greece. But sterling is at least free (and has dropped sharply in value in the past two years). That may be just enough to limit the damage to Britain.
It’s all so 1948. So, being normally helpful, here’s what we can suggest for Britain. We should all bundle up our garden gnomes and ship them to London to relieve the expected black and white life they will be living. Food coupons, petrol vouchers, lot’s of walking, riding bikes. And as a special treat, the Australian cricket team will tour in 2012 and beat them five Tests to nil, to remind them of 1948. But on a more serious note, Britain’s next five years will be mirrored in Greece, Spain, the US, Japan and many other economies where debt mountains dominate the fiscal scenery. It will have been a great election to lose.
Good news from NZ: A rate rise is now expected to happen next month after the best rise in employment for 24 years. Figures out yesterday showed a fall in the unemployment rate from 7.1% in the December quarter to 6% in the March quarter. It was the biggest fall since 1986 as employment jumped 1% , or 22,000 people to 2.18 million people. Market forecasts were for a rise of 0.2% and the number of people out of work fell 25,000 to 140,000. But could the market instability delay a rate rise?
US jobs, where are the new jobs? According to economists, tonight’s US April jobs report is expected to show about 190,000 jobs created last month, after the 162,000 created in March (and likely to be revised). But a static unemployment rate of 9.7%, which again raises the question, where are the new jobs from the recovering economy: US GDP rose at an annual 5.6% in the December quarter of 3.2% in the first estimate for the March quarter. Solid growth like that should have seen a flood of new jobs by now. (And if there’s a smaller number of jobs created, watch the market fret after the huge falls overnight).
The answer: US employers are being greedy and making hay while the jobless numbers remain high. US productivity figures show confirm the story. Non-farm productivity jumped by a higher than expected 3.6% in the March quarter, down from the near record 6.3% in the December quarter (and 6.3% in the year to March, the best since 1962), as employers continued to squeeze more work out of existing employees, while cautiously adding part-time workers to job rolls. Productivity is a measure as a worker’s output per hour and in the first quarter output grew by 4.4% with hours worked rising a weaker-than-expected 0.8%. Wages rose 1.9%, so profit margins will have grown in the quarter. In the key manufacturing area, hours worked jumped by 4.9%, the first rise in three years. Productivity was up 2.5%, but wages fell 1.2%, more hay for the bosses.
A nasty truth: Not to many US analysts will point out where the surge in US corporate earnings and sales is coming from. There are other factors at work, demand, increased consumer spending, but lower labour costs are the big factor, so for the past three quarters corporate earnings have been stronger (outside banking) than expected. The reason is easy to see. Overnight also saw the release of the weekly and four-weekly jobless claims: an improvement here with another fall ahead of the jobs numbers tonight. But there was another point buried in the figures that underline how the productivity story is really about a jobless recovery. The four-week moving average of initial claims fell to 458,000 last week (that’s an average of new claims in the previous four weeks). Over the past two months, an average of 454,000 people have made claims, meaning no real improvement in the jobs market. And there’s another worrying factor, 153,000 people were added to the pool of people who have used up normal benefits and are now on emergency or extended payments. The total last week in this pool was 5.56 million. It’s American business’ dirty little secret. And it won’t improve in time for the expected slowdown in the final two quarters of this year as the recovery runs out of steam.
Squid watch: Goldman Sachs holds its annual shareholders meeting in new York tonight. Except mea culpas by the bucketload and lots of nice talk, but don’t expect any apologies for past actions, deals, selling, etc. The SEC charges are there to be resisted, a possible criminal investigation and several civil suits from investors as well.