Martin Spring's On Target: Lessons from the Sauna Club
Comment of the Day

June 22 2012

Commentary by David Fuller

Martin Spring's On Target: Lessons from the Sauna Club

My thanks to this knowledgeable author for his ever-interesting letter. Here is the opening:
Investor attention now is focused on the "Pigs" - the member-nations on the periphery of the Eurozone whose debt bubbles threaten to explode and fragment the currency union.

In lost jobs, destroyed businesses and higher taxes, the peoples of those temperate lands on the coasts of the Med and the Atlantic are starting to pay the price for decades of self-indulgence, and face years of stiff repayments still to come.

But Europe has another periphery, up north, where a harsher climate seems to have bred resilience and adaptability. Countries stretching from the border of Russia to the Arctic approaches - let's call it the Sauna Club - have already matched up to their crises.

Their recent experiences offer interesting lessons, even role models, for the garlic-and-Guinness belt.

• Sweden is a role model for how governments should manage a financial crisis and reform an over-generous state. Its finance minister is now the most respected in the whole of Europe.

• Estonia is also a role model -- for how a debt-bloated nation can take the pain, suffer the austerity, and kick-start economic recovery.

• Iceland is a fascinating example of how a tiny country that got in a terrible mess, with no outside support on offer, can ride out a crisis without buckling under to bullying from powerful, angry creditors.

• Finland shows how an economy hit hard by global recession can fight back and re-shape itself… as it has done before.

• Denmark is an example of how a small nation can gain the confidence of global investors to such an extent that it can borrow from them at way below the cost to major nations such as the US and Germany.

• Norway is a different kind of model - how to harness an abundance of energy resources to provide long-term for a continuing prosperous future.

These six nations, plus the Danish territory of Greenland, encompass 27 million people living in some of the world's most progressive societies, with a combined economic output of $1.7 trillion a year, average incomes two-fifths higher than Germany's, and considerable natural and human resources.

David Fuller's view Arguably, Europe has the lowest equity valuations of any continent (see Eoin's review below). Nevertheless, sentiment remains universally bearish due to concern over the Eurozone's peripheral countries which have seemingly intractable debt problems. Admittedly, Eurozone leaders have not exactly distinguished themselves but this is partly due to the game of chicken that is playing out in the negotiation process.

Everyone has views, or has certainly heard opinion regarding the downside of a Eurozone break-up. However, almost no one is talking about a successful, albeit lengthy, transition to fiscal union, with or without Greece. Might this be a contrary indicator, especially since no one actually knows how this drama will play out? Meanwhile, the Sauna Club countries mentioned by Martin Spring are doing comparatively well and only two of them are actually members of the Eurozone - Estonia and Finland.

I think readers will find this issue of On Target both refreshing and illuminating.

Martin Spring's 'Tailpieces' section contains this small item:

Energy forecast: Oil prices are likely to nearly double in real (inflation-adjusted) terms over the next eight years, according to a new forecasting model at the International Monetary Fund.

I have not seen the IMF's forecasting model but my guess is that it is an extrapolation of China-led oil consumption trends, which takes little account of game changing developments which are transforming the US energy outlook. I am talking about fracking technology which will enable vast reserves of shale oil and gas to be developed not only in the USA but also all over the world within the eight years mentioned above.

Additionally, global warming concerns plus high oil prices in 2008, 2011 and earlier this year have intensified government efforts to increase their use of renewable energy technologies. Solar, not surprisingly, has emerged as the most versatile and cost effective source of renewable energy and combined with other technologies these are steadily reducing dependence on oil imports.

Fullermoney remains confident that energy costs and therefore the price of crude oil will be lower in the next decade, in real terms, than it has been at the highs of recent years. This could also occur sooner if there are no major disruptions to oil supplies in the next few years.

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