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Will Bear Market End with Disgust for Capitalism?


Deficits -- and the interest on them -- could destroy America's economy.

Stock markets, in general, again logged gains last week as pundits perceived economic data to be better than expected. But the recovery path isn't home and dry yet, as shown by declines in crude oil, a number of emerging stock market indices, small cap indices, and high-yield corporate bonds. All said, risky assets displayed some fatigue despite positive economic reports.

Caution remained over the robustness of any economic upswing, as reflected by the solid performance of government bonds, with safe-haven currencies such as the US greenback and the Japanese yen also edging up.

As expected, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was appointed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday to serve a second term. "Mr Obama is said to credit Mr Bernanke with a leading role in helping to avert economic catastrophe. By reappointing Mr Bernanke -- who worked in the Bush White House -- Mr Obama can also emphasize his bipartisan credentials at a time when he is embroiled in a fiercely partisan battle over healthcare reform," commented the Financial Times.

However, critics of Obama's decision were plentiful and Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach, blaming Bernanke for his pre-crisis actions, said (via the Financial Times): "It is as if a doctor guilty of malpractice is being given credit for inventing a miracle cure. Maybe the patient needs a new doctor." Bill King (The King Report) ascribed the stock market rising subsequent to Obama's announcement to a "thank God it's not Larry Summers" rally.

The past week's performance of the major asset classes is summarized by the chart below -- a set of numbers showing both the S&P 500 Index and government bonds rising, indicating an expectation of a subdued economic recovery and that the Fed's monetary policy will stay easy for an extended period of time.

A summary of the movements of major global stock markets for the past week, as well as various other measurement periods, is given in the table below.

The MSCI World Index (+1.3%) and MSCI Emerging Markets Index (-0.2%) again followed separate paths last week as China, Hong Kong, and Brazil underperformed. Mature stock markets have recorded gains for a straight seven weeks, whereas emerging markets have seen two back-to-back weeks of declines. The end result is that emerging markets have now underperformed developed markets for four weeks running. Could this be a sign of a retrenchment in risk appetite?

The major US indices extended their gains to two consecutive weeks, including eight straight up-days in the case of the Dow Jones Industrial Index, before getting snapped by a decline on Friday. The year-to-date gains are as follows: the Dow Jones Industrial Index +8.7%, the S&P 500 Index +13.9% and the NASDAQ Composite Index +28.6%. With declines on three days, the Russell 2000 Index was the odd index out last week, but still boasts a respectable +16.1% gain since the beginning of 2009.

Top performers in the stock markets this week were Lithuania (+28.2%), Estonia (+17.3%), Latvia (+12.6%), Egypt (+9.6%), and Iceland (+9.1%). The top three positions were all occupied by eastern European countries where worries over the risk of some economies collapsing have receded. At the bottom end of the performance rankings, countries included Nepal (-4.0%), China (-3.4%), Kenya (-2.7%), Uganda (-2.6%), and Bangladesh (-1.8%)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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