We’re now having a Thanksgiving holiday for the markets. Indeed, there’s a slight chance that we’ll see a bear market rally in the coming weeks, the realization of which will depend on the success of central banks in easing year-end funding issues. A lot has been done, and at least for me, it’s hard to predict the outcome. Nevertheless, today’s developments in the interbank market do not emit positive signals:

The cost of borrowing in dollars for one month in London jumped the most since 1999 as banks sought to bolster balance sheets through year-end amid a squeeze on credit that’s being exacerbated by the global economic slump.

The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, that banks say they charge one another for such loans climbed 47 basis points to 1.90 percent today, British Bankers’ Association data showed. The Libor for three-month loans rose two basis points to 2.20 percent. The Libor-OIS spread, a measure of the willingness of banks to lend, also increased.

“There is some concern about the turn of the year,” said Patrick Jacq, a senior fixed-income strategist in Paris at BNP Paribas SA. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see this tension easing over the next few days as central banks address the situation with more liquidity.”

With little more than a month to go until the end of 2008, banks are vying for loans that mature after Dec. 31 to strengthen their balance sheets as they prepare to report to investors. Financial institutions mark the value of loans and cash positions at the end of each quarter. The euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, for one-month loans rose 22 basis points to 3.61 percent today, the first increase in 24 days, according to the European Banking Federation.

Cash Hoarding

Banks and companies are hoarding cash amid concern interest-rate cuts and injections of liquidity along with government-spending programs won’t be enough to avert the worst global recession since World War II. Rates on U.S. commercial paper, or short-term company loans, climbed yesterday by the most in more than a month.

The Federal Reserve this week committed as much as $800 billion to thaw a freeze in credit for consumers and small businesses. The U.S. also provided a $306 billion rescue to Citigroup Inc. Financial institutions are cutting jobs amid $970 billion of writedowns and credit losses since the start of 2007.

Asian Rates

Money markets began seizing up in August 2007 as banks became wary of lending to each other on concern their counterparties were holding assets linked to U.S. subprime mortgages. They froze up after the Sept. 15 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. sparked concern more banks would follow. The one-month dollar rate jumped 40 basis points on Nov. 29 last year as banks sought cash for the year-end.

Asian financing costs were calmer today. Hong Kong’s three-month interbank lending rate, Hibor, rose about five basis points to 2 percent. Tokyo’s rate increased one basis point to about 0.87 percent. Singapore’s three-month U.S. dollar rate, known as Sibor, slipped to 2.20 percent, from about 2.21 percent.

China’s central bank yesterday lowered its one-year lending rate by the most since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, less than three weeks after Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan.

‘Toxic Debt’                                                       

In a further indication of the squeeze in lending, the European Central Bank registered almost 217 billion euros ($280 billion) of cash deposited by banks yesterday in its overnight facility. It was the sixth straight day the figure surpassed 200 billion euros. The daily average in the first eight months of the year was 427 million euros.

The Libor-OIS spread, a gauge of cash scarcity among banks favored by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, was little changed at 178 basis points. The difference between what banks and the Treasury pay to borrow money for three months, known as the TED spread, widened two basis points to 217 basis points. The spread, which reached a low this year of 76 basis points in May, was at 464 basis points on Oct. 10, the most since Bloomberg began compiling the data in 1984.

Hedge fund liquidations and redemptions, of course, continue unabated:

Bluebay Asset Management Plc dropped the most since its initial public offering two years ago after the manager of fixed-income investments said it will shut down its Emerging Market Total Return Fund.

The $1.2 billion hedge fund, which accounts for 6 percent of assets under management, had dropped 53 percent this year, Bluebay said today in a statement. Fund manager Simon Treacher resigned “following a breach of internal valuation policy,” it said. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“Marketing other funds may now become very difficult,” said Gurjit Kambo, a London-based analyst at Numis Securities Ltd. who tracks the industry. “People become more nervous about putting money into Bluebay.”

Bluebay won’t retreat from credit-market investments despite “extremely challenging” conditions, Chief Executive Officer Hugh Willis said in the statement. Satellite Asset Management LP and Artemis Asset Management joined the list this week of more than 75 hedge funds that have liquidated or restricted investor redemptions since the beginning of the year.

Bluebay declined 30 percent to 70 pence, valuing the London-based company at 135 million pounds ($208 million). The shares, which peaked at 568.25 pence in June 2007, have fallen 80 percent this year.

The Emerging Market Total Return Fund was hurt by “liquidity conditions” and is no longer viable on its own, Bluebay said. The closure means that revenue from funds that bet on both rising and falling share prices will probably be below analysts’ estimates, Bluebay said.

The fund was hurt by “a perfect storm” after two wrong bets on cash bonds and credit default swaps, Kambo said. The value of cash bonds failed to rise as Bluebay expected, and credit default swaps narrowed, meaning the perceived risk of default decreased, he said.

Satellite Asset Management LP, founded by former employees of billionaire George Soros, stopped client withdrawals from its three largest hedge funds and eliminated more than 30 jobs after losses reduced the firm’s assets to about $4 billion this year.

Satellite Overseas Fund Ltd., Satellite Fund II LP and Satellite Credit Opportunities Ltd. have declined as much as 35 percent in 2008, said a person with knowledge of the funds’ performance. Simon Rayler, Satellite’s general counsel, declined to comment and wouldn’t disclose how many people remain at the firm’s New York headquarters or London offices. Satellite oversaw about $7 billion for clients at the end of last year.

More than 75 hedge funds have liquidated or restricted investor redemptions since the start of the year as they cope with fallout from the global financial crisis. Investors pulled $40 billion from hedge funds last month, while market losses cut industry assets by $115 billion to $1.56 trillion, according to data compiled by Hedge Fund Research Inc. in Chicago.

“Barring volatility in the markets, I expect that by the end of the year, we would’ve seen the bulk of these redemption suspensions done,” said Ron Geffner, who represents hedge funds at the New York-based law firm Sadis & Goldberg LLP.

Satellite was started in 1999 by Lief Rosenblatt, Gabe Nechamkin and Mark Sonnino, who worked together for 11 years at Soros Fund Management LP in New York. The firm is retaining teams that trade bonds and loans and invest in companies going through events such as takeovers, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

21% Redemption Rate

The company has received withdrawal notices, which are effective through June, for 21 percent of the $2 billion Satellite Overseas Fund Ltd., its largest fund, the person said.

Satellite has cash to meet current redemptions and will continue to run the funds and sell securities over a period of years to avoid unloading them quickly in slumping markets, the person said.

Commodities keep falling too. Of course with the investments of the past two years

Lead fell to a two-year low in London as reductions in automobile production erode demand for the metal used mostly in car batteries. Copper declined.

U.S. vehicle sales at the lowest since 1991 prompted cuts at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. China’s output of lead concentrate, used to make refined metal, climbed 14 percent in the first 10 months, according to Mainland Marketing Research Co.

“Investors and consumers have given up,” said David Thurtell, an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets in London. There is “a sharp rise in Chinese production and a sharp fall in auto demand.”

Lead for delivery in three months declined $81, or 6.8 percent, to $1,105 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange, the lowest since July 2006. Prices have dropped 57 percent this year. Inventories in warehouses monitored by the LME rose 250 tons, or 0.6 percent, to 41,200 tons, according to the exchange’s daily report.

Copper fell on concern a slumping U.S. economy will crimp consumption of Chinese imports and demand for industrial metals in the Asian economy. Some economic indicators in China showed a “faster decline” this month, National Development and Reform Commission Chairman Zhang Ping said in Beijing today.

Copper usage in the U.S., the largest buyer after China, fell 9 percent in the first eight months and demand in China rose 13 percent, according to the International Copper Study Group.

“Over the last month or so, the perception is that China was slowing down faster than people thought it would,” said William Adams, an analyst at London-based Basemetals.com. “The Western world is putting on the brakes rapidly and therefore China can see their export demand will suffer.”

And yesterday China cut rates by the largest amount in 11 years.

China’s biggest interest-rate cut in 11 years highlights government concerns that the country risks spiraling unemployment, social unrest and the deepest economic slowdown in almost two decades.

The central bank yesterday lowered its benchmark one-year lending rate by the most since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, less than three weeks after Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan.

“China’s trying to draw a line under unemployment and civil unrest,” said Glenn Maguire, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong. “It’s the most challenging set of circumstances Beijing has had to face since late 1989 that culminated in the protests in Tiananmen Square.”

About 1,000 police and security guards this week attempted to break up a demonstration of fired workers that overturned a police car, smashed motorbikes and broke company equipment in southern Guangdong province, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. The nation’s “top policy priority” is maintaining growth to create jobs, Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, told a briefing in Beijing today.

The central bank cut the key one-year lending rate 108 basis points to 5.58 percent. The deposit rate fell by the same amount to 2.52 percent.

‘Forceful, Fast’ Measures

China vaulted past the U.K. in 2005 to become the world’s fourth-largest economy, with growth averaging 9.9 percent for the past 30 years. The economy has expanded 68 times in size since free-market reforms began in 1978.

Gross domestic product may grow 5.5 percent next year, the slowest since a 3.8 percent expansion in 1990, CLSA Asia Pacific Markets forecasts. That compares with an 11.9 percent gain in 2007.

Some economic indicators declined more quickly this month, showing the urgency of “forceful and fast” measures to stimulate growth, the NDRC’s Zhang said.

China, the world’s most populous nation, is aiming for at least 8 percent growth to provide jobs for workers moving to the cities from the countryside. A decline to even that level would be tantamount to a recession, according to Tao Dong, chief Asia economist with Credit Suisse AG in Hong Kong.

Exports are suffering as recessions in the U.S., Europe and Japan cut demand for China’s toys, sneakers and computers. Net exports — the difference between exports and imports — accounted for a fifth of GDP growth last year.

Toy Exporters

Two-thirds of small toy exporters closed in the first nine months of this year, the customs bureau said this week.

“Employment is being impacted by factory closures and many migrant workers are returning to their home towns,” Zhang said.

China is trying to keep the official urban unemployment rate below 4.5 percent this year, which would be the highest in at least a decade. The Labor Ministry says the figures don’t account for millions of migrants who work in urban areas but aren’t registered there.

“Twenty percent of migrant workers may lose their jobs and in some provinces it is already at that level,” said Andy Xie, an independent economist in Shanghai who was formerly Morgan Stanley’s chief Asia economist. “When they return to their villages we don’t know how these things might work out.”

Deflation Risk

The size of the rate reduction also signals the central bank’s concern that the economy faces a bout of deflation as oil and commodity prices drop. That’s a switch from the first half of this year, when Governor Zhou Xiaochuan was focused on fighting inflation that rose to a 12-year high in February.

“The aggressive rate cut is a response to the central bank’s concern about the short-term deflation risk,” said Xing Ziqiang, an economist at China International Capital Corp. in Beijing, who predicts another 108 basis points of rate reductions in the coming year.

“There is still ample room to cut rates in the future,” said Peng Wensheng, head of China research at Barclays Capital in Hong Kong, who sees a 54 basis point reduction in December.

The fourth rate reduction since mid-September adds to the government’s package of measures to stimulate growth through 2010.

The State Council has pledged “fast and heavy-handed investment” and a “moderately loose” monetary policy. The plan spans housing, rural development, railroads, power grids and rebuilding after May’s earthquake in Sichuan province.

China’s cabinet said yesterday that it was studying extra measures to help struggling companies in the steel, auto, petrochemical and textile industries; to increase key commodity reserves; and to expand insurance for the jobless.

“In previous crises China could always get out of trouble by boosting its exports,” said Xie. “This time that’s not an option.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The dollar is rising, and while reappraisal of the global economy may lead to further strength for the dollar in the coming 6-12 months, it’s important that we put the macro picture into perspective when analysing the direction in the forex markets.

 

When there is no excessive divergence in interest rates or central bank policies, one should expect currencies to perform according to the underlying fundamental strength of the respective economies.

 

Such is the case between Europe and the US, where the rate differential is too small to override macroeconomic concerns. Since the introduction of the Euro, and except for a brief period during the global stock market bubble, the behaviour of the euro-dollar pair has beem based on fundamentals. The overextended finances of both the public and private sectors in the US contrasts unfavorably with the balanced current account situation of Europe, the relatively less leverage of its citizens, and the much better fiscal discipline of the governments. Until recently even Spain’s government could boast of a singnificant fiscal surplus, and on the whole the stringent requirements of the euro area treaties, and continuous urging by the ECB for fiscal responsibility allowed Europe better fundamentals than those of the overextended, overleveraged US. There’s, in short, every reason to be negative on the dollar versus the euro, based on the fundamentals of the two economies: The dollar is just another word for leverage and indiscipline.

 

When the Fed began reducing rates in September 2007, in spite of external financing concerns, and fears of inflation, investors and speculators around the world reacted by buying commodities and selling dollars, partly in anticipation of decoupling, and partly to profit from the dollar-negative momentum. And they were justified in their pessimism for the US dollar, except for one difficulty:

 

The USD is the world’s currency for trade: it’s supply will be ample during times of increased economic activity, as the supply of USD from exporters to the US, and also from global players such as hedge funds and mutual funds widely exceed the USD demand for imports such as oil, copper, and finished goods. Thus, as greed, and the quest for yield cause ever greater amounts of US dollars to be exchanged for other currencies, the buoyancy of the global economy will also draw down the value of the dollar, especially when the medium term fundamentals of the US economy are as weak as detailed in the previous paragraph.

 

When however, the opposite happens, and global demand contracts, as the growth of demand for commodities, the volume of international trade is in danger of declining, there will be less circulation of the dollar, and the currency of international trade will also see increasing demand, just as the supply of dollars from international economic actors contracts as a result of the same reasons: the prospect of weaker economic activity will cause repatriation flows, extracting dollars from the global financial system, and in the worst cases, as we’re witnessing now, a shortage of the US currency.

 

This then explains why the discrepancy between the value of oil and the euro versus the dollar created an arbitrage opportunity, provided that the investor sees them as different faces of the same investment paradigm. Indeed until recently the fluctuations of euro-dollar parity, and the oil price showed a close correlation even of intraday movements. It was only natural that one would follow the other.

 

Now, if rising dollar means less global economic activity, at a time when internal demand in the US is likely to shrink as a consequence of deleveraging, and rising unemployment, then how do we explain the recent rise in stock prices? Rising dollar and rising yen are the hallmarks of pessimism and fear; if US and Japanese investors are withdrawing funds from overseas, putting it in bonds and cash, is it possible to interprete this phenomenon as being positive for financial markets?

 

While the disinflationary effect of the rising dollar is welcome, one must remember that even before the recent turmoil, there were significant inflationary pressures in the world economy. The era of cheap Chinese labour is already over – inflation is now a structural problem, not a temporary one.

 

We’re likely to see continued falls in the stock markets in the next few weeks, and months.