Broadgate: Weekly Briefing 23/6
23 June 2014
China – Foreign investment in China fell in May to its lowest level in 16 months, partly due to slowing growth. The government says China attracted $8.6bn in foreign direct investment (FDI) in May.
That is a 6.7% fall from the same period last year and marks China’s weakest FDI report since January 2013.
Economists say prospects of slower growth in the world’s second-largest economy may have deterred foreign investors.
China’s economy expanded at the pace of 7.4% in the first three months of this year, down from 7.7% growth in the previous quarter.
U.S. – The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its U.S. growth forecast, urging policy makers to keep interest rates low and raise the minimum wage to strengthen its recovery.
The crisis lender said it expects 2% growth this year, down from its April forecast of 2.8%, after a “harsh winter” led to a weak first quarter. However it expects 3% growth in 2015.
It also said the U.S. should increase its minimum wage to help address its 15% poverty rate.
“Given its current low level (compared both to US history and international standards), the minimum wage should be increased,” the IMF said in its annual assessment of the U.S. economy.
Argentina – Argentina’s stock market closed 4.9% lower on Thursday after the country’s cabinet chief said there would be no delegation to the US to negotiate with bondholders over a $1.3bn (£766m) debt.
Earlier this week, a US Supreme Court ruling sided with bondholders demanding Argentina pay them the amount in full.
Argentina defaulted on debts in 2001 following a severe economic crisis.
It has been in a legal battle with a number of US hedge funds which lent money to the country.
Many hedge funds have agreed to accept a partial repayment, but others, led by NML and Aurelius Capital Management, are demanding payment in full.
Commodities – India has taken over from the U.S. as the largest importer of Nigerian oil, the West African state’s national oil company has said.
The US has “drastically reduced” its demand for Nigeria’s crude oil in recent months, the Nigerian National Oil Corporation said. The country is currently buying about 250,000 barrels a day.
India now buys considerably more – about 30% of the country’s 2.5 million barrels of production.
U.S. demand for imported oil has fallen sharply because of increasing domestic shale gas and oil production – so much so that the International Energy Agency and oil giant BP both forecast that the country will be largely energy independent by 2035.
Commodities – Investors are moving back towards safe haven assets such as gold as ongoing violence in Iraq hits markets.
Gold climbed to a three-week high of $1,282 an ounce on Thursday, a 0.6% increase and the fifth day of gains as Iraqi insurgents seized control in parts of the country. The metal has risen 6.7% this year on tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Silver, palladium, and platinum also saw a rise, with silver reaching a one-month high of $19.8 last week.
On Friday, Brent crude oil passed its previous high of $114 per barrel after Iraqi militants threatened to halt repairs to an oil pipeline.
Spotlight on: Will ISIS push oil prices to critical point?
Escalating violence in the Middle East could impact global economic activity as oil prices continues to climb.
In the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham has taken several northern Iraqi cities by force and despite the fact the majority of Iraqi oil fields are located in the south of the country, this violence has already made investors nervous.
Capital Economics chief emerging markets economist Neil Shearing says: “The unfolding crisis in Iraq has cast a shadow over the region, causing equity markets to tumble. As it happens, the largest Middle-east and north African economies have only limited trade and financial ties with Iraq, meaning that, in aggregate at least, the economic spillovers should be fairly small.
“But some countries, such as Jordan, do have relatively large trade ties with Iraq while in others, such as Lebanon, the crisis could exacerbate existing sectarian divisions.”
Outside of the region, the price of oil is being negatively impacted by this surge in Iraqi violence and could impact global investors.
The Brent Crude oil benchmark currently pegs the price of oil per barrel as $115.06, very close to the “critical” $120 per barrel level according to Old Mutual Global Investors fund manager Richard Buxton.
Buxton, who manages the £1.4bn Old Mutual UK Alpha fund, says: “Ongoing conflicts in the middle east are absolutely at the top of the worry list. We have been concerned all year about this but this is clearly spilling out in a much more dramatic fashion.
“Oil is currently hovering below that critical $120 per barrel level which we have seen several times in recent years. If it goes over this it slows in terms of economic activity. We have to keep a very close eye on this and it would have a very material impact.”
BlackRock global chief investment strategist Russ Koesterich argues a prolonged price rise in oil would pile additional pressure onto the global economy as it suppresses stocks and raises volatility.
As a result, Koesterich says: “Higher oil prices, coupled with still reasonable valuations in the sector, support a continued overweight to energy stocks.
“At the same time, higher oil and gas prices represent yet another headwind for a consumer already struggling with slow wage growth and high personal debt. In a world of modest growth and a strapped consumer, we believe a cautious view toward consumer discretionary companies is warranted.”
With debate now raging as to the possibility of western intervention into Iraq, Ashmore head of research Jan Dehn sees a resolution to this crisis via this route as unlikely due to past geopolitical crises.
Dehn says: “The west’s loss of moral authority to act has already inflicted diplomatic defeats on western powers in the Syrian conflict and over Crimea and in Georgia. “We see very little chance that the west will be able to significantly ramp up its influence in the region from current levels, which means that the west’s most important allies increasingly have to rely on their own financial and military means to see off the threat to their rule from militants.”
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