As the increasingly farcical Greek debt saga staggers on, away from the spotlight a potentially bigger crisis is brewing in the US. The Island of Puerto Rico, led by Democrat Governor Alejandro Padilla has declared their $72 billion debt "un-payable" and is looking to "re-structure" (aka reduce) the debts.
The problems experienced in Puerto Rico are not unprecedented - New York and Cleveland in the 1970's, and Orange County in the 1990's faced similar problems, but subsequently recovered. The problem for the local authorities is that they cannot just declare bankruptcy-under US Law, neither Puerto Rico nor its "sub-state entities" (public corporations, judicial districts etc.) can do so, unlike in US cities such as New York or California. Public Corporations, such as the PR Electric Power company owe between $20-25 billion. For comparison, New York, the most indebted US State, owes $29 billion in total, despite having a population five times that of Puerto Rico.
The seemingly endless Greek saga looks to be close to denouement today (9/7/15) as Prime Minister Tsipras appears to be set to acquiesce to the terms demanded by the Troika, the ECB, (and most importantly), Angela Merkel. Indeed, they are likely to be harsher than those originally rejected by the Greek people in last Sunday's referendum. In return, there is the prospect of a new long-term aid programme, but one that will expressly not include "haircuts" for the various creditors. The question is, who are those creditors, and how much will they lose if Greece were to go bankrupt, and exit the Euro Zone (the so-called "Grexit").
The media frenzy is in full swing today as markets see sharp falls, especially in China (and today Hong Kong). But what will this all look like in 10 (or even 20) years? The chart below shows the FTSE All Share Index on a log basis. Without knowing when it occurred, it may be difficult to see the "crash", when shares fell 21% in one day(!). This underscores the crucial importance of not over-reacting (or over-analysing) market movements. There is a distinction between the map and the terrain - volatility is the norm, not the exception, and those who can ignore the news, the hype, the scaremongering of the financial media will survive and prosper.
This is an example of a report I was asked to prepare for a client who was interested in the oil market. It was written on the 27th March 2015 when the oil price was less than $50 per barrel. Post this report, the oil price rose relentlessly, reaching $64 within a month. It clearly demonstrates the limits of using "fundamental analysis" to gauge future market movements. The fact that it was almost completely wrong, despite the wealth of data to support it, reminds one that trying to foretell markets' behaviour is a fool's errand. Markets are designed to wrong-foot the majority, and so it is much more sensible to just take what the market gives you. That is what Index Investing is all about.
The Oil Market: How to Profit from Price Moves
There are several ways to gain exposure to a rise in oil prices:
- Buy low cost oil producers
- Buy oil service companies…
In what seems to be a depressingly familiar story, we have been made aware of another banking scandal involving the mis-selling of unsuitable products to investors, this time by the venerable institution Coutts. It is by no means the first (or last) time this will happen - a Forbes article highlights the biggest scandals of 2012 (what does it say about an industry that can have at least 10 "scandals" per year?). Typing in scandal to ETF.com produces circa 6,000 hits, so it can be truly said that Industry has a FIFA-like track record in mis-behaviour. The question is therefore begged as to why investors still use (let alone trust) these firms to work on their behalf. We shall get to that later, but first the details.