David Rosenberg: Greece same canary in the coal mine that Thailand was for emerging Asia in 1997
From his latest "Breakfast with Dave" missive.
Well, I think the turbulent global events of the past few weeks underscore the reason why I have maintained a cautious investment approach for the past year, notwithstanding the massive recovery in risk assets we saw from the March 2009 lows, which from my lens bore a huge resemblance to the bungee jump in the market back in 1930. In fact, at one point two weeks ago, at the highs, the stock market had already achieved, in barely more than a year, what took five years to accomplish in the 2002 to 2007 bull market, and at least that market wasn’t being fuelled by unprecedented government intervention in the economy and incursion into the capital markets.
The dramatic government stimulus was global in nature, and this was the primary prop behind the rally in equities over the past year and change, and the message coming out of Greece, and not just Greece but many other governments in the European Union and across the globe, is that governments are probing the outer limits of their deficit finance capacities. History does indeed show that it is quite common to see sovereign default risks follow on the heels of a global banking crisis, which was the story for 2007 and 2008; it took a respite in 2009 and we are now in a new chapter of this prolonged debt deleveraging story. These cycles of balance sheet repair, alternating between the private and public sector, typically lasts 6 to 7 years. We are barely into year three, and what is extremely important in this roller coaster ride is to focus on capital preservation strategies that minimize the volatility in the portfolio, which is one reason why I have favoured long-short income and equity strategies.
In my opinion, Greece is the same canary in the coal mine that Thailand was for emerging Asia in 1997, which ultimately led to the Russian debt default and demise of LTCM; the same canary in the coal mine that New Century Financial in early 2007 proved to be in terms of being a leading indicator for the likes of Bear Stearns and Lehman. So, the most dangerous thing to do now is to view Greece as a one-off crisis that will be contained. Even with this new and aggressive EU-IMF financing arrangement that has managed to trigger a wild short covering rally yesterday, the risks are still high that the contagion spreads to countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and even the U.K., which has already received some warnings from the major rating agencies and is gripped with political gridlock in the aftermath of last week’s uncertain election results.
The problem of there being far too much debt on balance sheets globally has not gone away and in many cases has become worse, and the ability to service these debts especially in countries that have weak economic structures like Greece, Portugal and Spain has become seriously impaired. It remains to be seen how Greece and the other problem countries in the euro area will manage to cut their deficits without, at the same time, controlling their monetary policy and their currency, which of course we were able to do here in Canada during the 1990s but with the help of a 30% currency devaluation.