The Asian Rebound Continues in Full Force

by: Jim Delaney

The Great Recession has taught us all many lessons regarding unintended consequences but I doubt anyone would have thought that when the acronym for the troubled economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland Greece and Spain, now commonly referred to as the PIIGS, was first coined there would be another use for it. After Friday’s news that Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) was being sued by the SEC for “misstating and omitting facts” in a CDO that ultimately cost investors over $1BN, it seems as if Greece and Spain can now be replaced with Goldman’s stock symbol without changing its meaning as, if the lawsuit is successful, it will be because GS was being a greedy little piggy.

While we might experience another summer of endless televised hearings which first came to pass when “Tricky Dick” Nixon & Co. were caught for bending the rules in their game a little too far, there are other considerations to keep in mind as well. First and foremost is whether the recovery is on track.

This might seem an easy task with the plethora of economic statistics we are bombarded with constantly but it seems these cannot always be completely believed either. Since the numbers most are watching these days are those published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding payrolls, it is a source of some concern that the BLS itself says that it is only 90% certain that the numbers it comes up with are correct.

The change in Non-Farm payrolls was reported to be a gain of 162K in March but the BLS said it was equally plausible that that number could have been a drop of 243K or an increase of 511K. The ranges are just as wide for 7 of the last 10 months and 75% of the time in the last ten years according to Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research for J.H. Cohn, an accounting firm in Roseland, N.J.

“Most of the month-to-month changes” he says, “are not only nonsigificant in a statistical way, but they are very often straddling zero, so you can’t even infer the direction of the change has been accurately represented.”

Given the size of our government and the amount of resources spent at figuring these numbers out being “close enough for government work” looks like it’s not that close at all.

If Uncle Sam is the one that is supposed to be getting it right, then what is to be made of the GDP numbers that came out of Asia recently. China reported last Thursday that 1Q10 GDP grew at 11.9% YoY while Singapore said it grew 32% in the first quarter boosted by a 139% jump in manufacturing, mostly of electronic goods headed for the U.S. and China. The Singapore Monetary Authority said in a statement accompanying the release that the economy has “now fully recovered the output lost during the recession, and the economic activity in a broad range of industries has exceeded its pre-crisis peak.”

South Korea has been doing its part to keep things going. With an unemployment rate of just 3.8% in March, Moody’s Investor Service raised the country’s credit rating from A2 to A1 last Wednesday, its highest level since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. Korean Airlines (OTC:KRNRF) recently increased its forecast for its 2010 operating profit by a factor of six. “The economy has entered a rapid recovery path,” M.S. Hwang, the carrier’s VP of Marketing said.

The Asian Development Bank also did some raising of forecasts saying growth in the region should be 7.5% in 2010, up from its previous prospect of a 6.6% gain.

Marc Chandler, global head of foreign exchange for Brown Brothers Harriman, thinks, “foreign inflows of capital will support appreciation” in the currencies of South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and India due to their “proximity to China, increasing demand for technology products as well as policies by their respective central banks that will allow a reasonable amount of currency appreciation as a means of keeping their economies from overheating.”

Where does all the Asian growth put the dollar? Jessica Hoversen, FX analyst with MF Global in Chicago, thinks it does better than the Euro and the Yen but will “lag behind emerging Asia and the commodity-exporting nations in the recovery cycle.”

Depending on how you look at it, that makes the Buck the best of the worst or the worst of the best.

South Korea’s CDS closed at 78bps on Friday just 4bps higher than the 74bps seen on the day its credit was upgraded by Moody’s. The low for 2010 was 73bps on St. Patrick’s Day.

Malaysia’s CDS are running neck and neck with South Korea’s ending Friday at 74bps. There were no quotes for CDS on Taiwan or India.

Uncle Sam’s CDS closed at 39bps on Friday, compared to 65bps for Japan and 35bps for German which is used in this instance as a proxy for the Eurozone.

Enjoy the week.