Monday, January 11, 2010

Economics 11/01/2010: One voice of reason...

On a note continuing yesterday's post - someone (hat tip to Patrick) brought to my attention Dolmen's note on the prospects for 2010, which I personally found to be of an excellent quality. The strategy is backed by serious arguments linked up with fundamentals, unlike the stuff coming out of some other stockbrokers here. The note is available here, but a couple of highlights are below:
"With stronger growth in economies such as the US and Europe compared to Ireland, 2010 will provide a good opportunity for Irish investors to increase the international diversification in their portfolios." You bet. For anyone wearing Green Jersey, my suggestion would be to look no further than IMF forecasts for growth (I plan to publish a comparative note on Ireland v Small Open Economies later this week).

Dolmen guys forecast US economy to grow at 3.5% in terms of GDP, a forecast that - despite having some risks to the downside - is reasonable in my view. Eurozone, held back by 'weaker economies' of Spain and Italy is expected to expand by 1.50%, the UK - by 1.30%, and Ireland, hmmm... Dolmen think +0.25%, my feeling +/-0.5% in GDP and up to -1.25% in GNP terms. Good luck to anyone who believes Irish equities are oversold on these comparatives. To me - they are overbought!

Dolmen predicate their Irish forecast as follows: "Ireland should see a reversal of the two years of negative GDP in 2010. The move away from negative growth will be welcome, but we estimate a slight increase of 0.25% in GDP for next year. The last three budgets have taken 7.4% of GDP out of the economy and with a further 1.8% to follow next year, there remains considerable challenges facing our economy." Correct.

But look beyond the Budget 2011 - Nama will remove some €4-5 billion annually through its operations, stalling the entire property market (due to increased uncertainty concerning supply of commercial and residential properties to the market) and doing nothing to restart credit cycle in the economy (don't take my word on this - look at the banks chiefs' statements).

Unemployment will continue to rise until second half of 2010, when massive scale withdrawals from the labour force and substantial emigration from Ireland will start reducing (artificially) the numbers unemployed. Numbers in employment will not rise, save for the wasteful state-subsidised 'jobs creation'. This means precautionary savings will stay with us, and deleveraging will remain anemic for consumers.

Corporate profitability will remain subdued - Dolmen expect 0.5% deflation in Ireland for 2010, as compared with 2% inflation in the US and the UK and 1.1% inflation for the Eurozone as a whole. Good luck to those stockbrokers who think profitability can be rebuilt with falling prices.

Interest rates gap will close up with US rates expected to rise to 0.75-1% by the end of 2010 from 0% currently, UK rates exected to increase from 0.5% in december 2009 to 1% in 2010, while the Eurozone rates are expected to stagnate at 1%. Now, I personally think the ECB will hike to 1.25-1.50 by the end of 2010. This is significant as far as FX rates for the euro are concerned. If the gap closes, euro will devalue somewhat against the sterling and the USD, implying some boost to exports. But if the gap remains where it is today (roughly), there is little momentum, bar for differences in the growth rates, to devalue the euro.

US and UK bond yields will push away - slightly - from the Eurozone averages, implying that demand for dollar and sterling will be weker (and add to this a bit of the moderation in demand for US Treasuries from China and the BRICs in general). Again, this restricts the scope for euro devaluation.

Dolmen make a call on the USD and sterling vis-a-vis the euro, but I am not that comfortable doing the same.

On Irish property markets: "In Ireland, the problems facing the commercial property sector have not improved. When compared to other Euro-Zone cities, Dublin property yields increased the most in Q3. Vacancy rates are also the highest in the sample of Euro-Zone cities... Any improvement in the sector is dependent on the outcome of NAMA and with the possibility that a number of properties may come to the market in the next year, together with the large level of unoccupied offices, the outlook for Irish commercial property looks bleak for 2010." Dead right!

Lastly, if you want to see what I mean by weaker earnings outlook for Ireland Inc on the back of our weak economy - see the end of Dolmen's note with yeild estimates for Irish equities. Marvelous - this does really support the idea of 10% growth for property markets and 100% increase in banks shares that Bloxham chief has predicted for us. I wouldn't hold my breath for that kind of a ride...

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