US Trip review
Comment of the Day

April 30 2012

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

US Trip review

Eoin Treacy's view The TSAA-SF asked me to talk about the opposing forces of inflation versus deflation at the talk I gave to their chapter. (I posted a pdf of my slides on Friday). While I attempted to point out that inflation was evident in parts of the economy and deflation was in others, the attendees were much more polarised. Some were die hard inflationists expecting an imminent rise in gold prices and government bond yields. Others suggested that the USA's return to economic growth was illusory with the government's long record of massaging statistics and record numbers on food stamps. I suspect the answer is more nuanced than either extreme scenario. What is clear is that the country faces some enormous challenges in the coming years. Personally, I am optimistic that the country's inherent strengths in people, technology and natural resources will eventually prevail.

At The Chart Seminar, we propose no examples but rely on delegates to tell us what they are interested in. This approach serves two functions. It ensures that the subject matter is of personal interest to at least part of the crowd and demonstrates that the approach is applicable to a wide array of asset classes and individual securities. It is always interesting to observe what people ask for because it gives us a clue as to what people own or what has done well. When we reverse this approach and look at what is not asked for, it is generally an indication of what fallen off the radar in terms of investor interest.

In this regard, the San Francisco and New York seminars were interesting because both focused on a relatively narrow geographic field of potential investments. In California, Apple was a major topic of conversation, not least because it was so overextended and prone to a reversion towards the mean. Individual US equities were also a major topic of conversation as was the US Treasury market. Gold, the other precious metals and the energy complex were also of interest to delegates. Commodities were of more interest to the New York delegates.

Industrials metals, Asian, European or Latin American stock markets were not of sufficient interest to delegates for them to be asked for as examples. In the case of in the industrial metals this is at least in part because they have been such underperformers. The ASEAN markets, led by Philippines remain relative strength and timing leaders. The industrial metals pulled back over much of the last month but have found at least short-term support. The same is true of a wide number of European stock markets.

Some of Fullermoney's favoured companies in the Autonomies sector have been among the best relative and absolute performers over the last few months. The potential for mean reversion to take place over the coming weeks and potentially months has increased substantially. In such an environment, a return to relative performance among previously underperforming sectors has increased.

At the San Francisco seminar a fund manager focusing on Vietnam suggested that the government has finally begun to institute reforms in an effort to stem foreign currency reserve dissolution and tackle inflation. The Dong has been trading in the current band for longer than any time during the course of its four-year devaluation and the stock market index has rallied to break the more than two-year progression of lower rally highs. A sustained move below 400 would now be required to question medium-term potential for continued higher to lateral ranging. It was additionally interesting that he attested to very little interest among international investors when attempting to convince them of the bullish case for Vietnam.

While at the New York seminar we looked at ratios of natural gas compared to coal, and oil and identified clear acceleration as an ending signal. These ratios have now begun to pullback suggesting that the medium-term underperformance of natural gas is abating. In absolute terms, prices have bounced from the $2 area. 50¢ rallies in the course of the downtrend have been relatively frequent so prices will need to sustain a move above $2.50 to confirm a return to demand dominance beyond the short term.

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