Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Today's tape was an exclamation point to those who fear slowing growth and the risks of deflation.

The schmeissing in stocks, crude, copper, silver and gold and the rise in bond prices is evidence of a panicky flight to safety in a world that is still deleveraging and is fearful.

We remain in a Euro-centric world.

Last Friday's enthusiasm over the E.U. "solution" has, to state the obvious, evaporated.

It was however, suprrising to me to see stocks off so much, considering that the 10-year soveriegn bond yields were relatively unchanged today. Unfortuantley, investors continue to be skeptical that neither International Monetary Fund, the E.U., the European Central Bank or governments have the will to aggressively address and reverse the debt contagion in Europe.

There's a rumor that a representative of the ECB is saying that the ESFS could be funded with over 1 trillion euros.

"A firewall is needed now to stabilise the markets, bring yields down, allow for sovereign refinancings, reduce stress in the banking sector and provide protection against likely future credit events."

-- John Paulson, "Europe Needs a Firewall to Stabilise Markets," Financial Times

Run, don't walk to read John Paulson's op-ed piece in Financial Times, "Europe Needs a Firewall to Stabilise Markets."

In his editorial, Paulson writes that the sovereigns in Europe are in a "danger zone."

What is needed is a sovereign debt guarantee program similar to the U.S.'s FDIC TLGP, whereby the sales of sovereign debt are wrapped around an ECB insurance policy. This would calm down the markets, lower bond yields and wouldn't be inflationary.

Meredith Whitney's dramatically negative call on the U.S. municipal bond market continues to be wrong-footed.

Gold is now in free fall, down by over $90 an ounce.

It is interesting to note that amidst all the doom and gloom chatter in the various media, the NYSE financial sector is positive.

Europe's economies are moving in reverse -- at best, a deepening recession is in the cards. (Europe used to rule the world, but it no longer dominates.)

The U.S. economy is moving forward, with a 3%-plus real GDP for fourth quarter 2011 expected and growing signs that the domestic recovery will be self-sustaining (albeit, at a moderate pace).

I believe, more than ever, that the events over the past decade have highlighted the likelihood that the U.S. stock market will be favored among most other investment markets in the world.

The U.S. stock market has become the best house in a bad neighborhood.

Below are 10 reasons for my optimism.

1. U.S. relative and absolute economic growth is superior to global growth. The U.S. economy, though sluggish in recovery relative to past expansions, is superior to most of the world's economies (with the exception of some emerging markets) in terms of diversity of end markets, quality of global franchises, management expertise, operating execution and financial foundations.

2. U.S. banks are well-capitalized, liquid and deposit-funded. Our banking industry's health, which is the foundation of credit and growth, is far better off than the rest of the world in terms of liquidity and capital. Our largest financial institutions raised capital in 2008-2009, a full three years ahead of the rest of the world. As an example, eurozone banks continue to delay the inevitability of their necessary capital raises. Importantly, our banking system is deposit-funded, while Europe's banking system is wholesale-funded (and far more dependent on confidence).

3. U.S. corporations boast strong balance sheets and healthy margins/profits. Our corporations are better positioned than the rest of the world. Through aggressive cost-cutting, productivity gains, external acquisitions, (internal) capital expenditures and the absence of a reliance on debt markets -- most have opportunistically rolled over their higher-cost debt -- U.S. corporations are rock-solid operationally and financially. Even throughout the 2008-2009 recession, most solidified their global franchises that serve increasingly diverse end markets and geographies.

4. The U.S. consumer is more liquid and stable. An aggressive Fed (through its extended time frame of zero interest rate policy) has resulted in an American consumer that has re-liquefied more than individuals that live in most of the other areas in the world. (Debt service and household debt is down dramatically relative to income.)

5. The U.S. is politically stable. After watching regime after regime fall in Europe in recent weeks (and given the instability of other rulers throughout the Middle East), it should be clear that the U.S. is more secure politically and from a defense standpoint than most other regions of the world. Our democracy, despite all its inadequacies, has resulted in civil discourse, relatively balanced legislation, smooth regime changes and law that has contributed to social stability and a sense of overall order.

6. The U.S. has a solid and transparent corporate reporting system. Our regulatory and reporting standards are among the strongest in the world. Compare, for example, the opaque reporting and absence of regulatory oversight in China vs. the U.S. (It is beyond compare.)

7. The U.S. is rich in resources.

8. The U.S. has a functioning and forward-looking central bank that is aggressive in policy (when necessary!) and capable of acting during crisis.

9. The U.S. dollar is (still) the world's reserve currency that is far more solid than the euro.

10. The U.S. is a magnet for immigrants seeking a better life. This and other factors have contributed to a better demographic profile in our country that has led to consistent population growth and formation of households. (Demographic trends in the U.S. are particularly more favorable for growth than those population trends in the Far East.)

In summary, conditions that have evolved over the near- and intermediate-term have conspired to favor risk assets in the U.S. over many other areas of the world.