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In our investing process, we look across the spectrum at a multitude of possible events, their probabilities, their effects on markets and weigh them against market prices. Sometimes these discrepancies come from unexpected places. This week we will explore the ramifications of a weather event, El Nio. The soft-commodity markets (grains, sugar, coffee, cocoa and other annual crops) seem to have priced in about a 20% likelihood of an El Nio occurrence this year, while last week the Climate Prediction Center issued a 65% probability for this summer.
Let's Party Like it's 1978
A twice yearly meeting of the Chinese government officials, formally known as the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, started on Saturday and will end tomorrow. Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping has indicated that this session could be as consequential as the plenary session in 1978 which introduced policies that set in motion the Chinese growth engine. We are going to take a closer look at the changes from the plenary session 35 years ago, the circumstances leading up to the session and how China changed following the meeting.
The Saudi Tribulation
In this report, we will discuss the basic history of U.S. and Saudi relations, focusing on the historical commonality of goals between the two nations. We will detail how the aims of the two nations have diverged since the Cold War ended and use this to examine Americas evolving plans for the Middle East. We will discuss how the evolution of U.S. policy is affecting Saudi Arabia and the pressures these changes are bringing to the kingdom. As always, we will conclude with market ramifications.
India's Maoist Problem
India has fought numerous wars with outside forces in its history and has also had several internal conflicts.The most notorious civil struggle has been the conflict with Kashmir insurgents, a border conflict between India and Pakistan that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.So it generally came as a surprise when the Indian Prime Minister Manmohn Singh declared the Maoist movement in the eastern part of the country to be the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by India.
The Turmoil in Washington
At the time of this publication the budget situation has not been resolved, although it appears that both parties are backing away from the default abyss. However, given that these crises seem to come once or twice a year, it seemed appropriate to weigh in on the geopolitical impact of the intractable problems of American government.
Detente with Iran?
On September 28th, President Obama reportedly called Iranian President Rouhani to confer over American and Iranian relations. In addition, Irans nuclear program was discussed. This was a historic eventthe first documented call between a U.S. president and his counterpart in Iran in 35 years. The last time such a conversation occurred was when the Shah was in power.
Earlier this month, President Obama found himself in a very difficult position regarding Syria. An ill-advised comment about making the use of chemical weapons a red line forced a response when the weapons were clearly used in Syria. The administration began moving toward a military response. However, support for military operations was lacking both domestically and internationally. The clearest signal of this opposition was the British Parliaments vote to prevent P.M. Cameron from authorizing military action in support of the expected U.S. military strike.
The Brazil Conundrum
The last decade has been exceptionally good for emerging markets. Never before have so many countries grown so rapidly, and at the same time. The average growth rate from 2003 to 2012 was 13.1% for emerging markets, while the long-term average stands at 5.0%. This growth rate was partly due to mean reversion after sluggish growth periods in the 80s and 90s, when the average growth rate for the group stood at 3.5%.
Meet the New Boss
On November 14th, the new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) was unveiled. The composition of this new group had been anxiously awaited for months. Although most of the members (all men, by the way) had been anticipated, there were some surprises. This committee is the most powerful group in China; it is essentially the legislative and executive branch of the country. And, given that the judiciary is not really independent, the PSC effectively rules China.
Lessons from Scandinavia
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Scandinavian nations suffered through balance sheet recessions. Commentators have suggested that U.S. policymakers could use the Scandinavian response to their crises as a roadmap for resolving the current U.S. situation. As part of our own analysis, we have studied several earlier events to understand the underlying similarities and differences to develop insights into the current event.
The Mystery of Chinese Capital Flight
Capital flight is defined as the rapid withdrawal of assets out of a country for political, economic or geopolitical reasons. Since late last year, there have been steady reports indicating that capital flight has been occurring in China. China restricts its capital account; inflows of foreign capital are carefully regulated and private outflows face significant restrictions. Chinese citizens can legally transfer only $50k per year out of the country.
The 2012 Mid-Year Geopolitical Update
As is our custom, we use this early July report to offer our outlook for the next six months. In this issue, we will discuss what we see as the key geopolitical issues that will affect the markets for the rest of 2012. This list is not exhaustive but highlights our greatest concerns.
The Counterrevolution in Egypt
In this report we will begin with a geopolitical history of Egypt, concentrating on the unique geography that has historically shaped its governance. We will discuss the role of the military in Egyptian political life, focusing on its self-perception and its goals. We will also detail the role of the MB as an organized political group in the country. Following this analysis, we will offer our forecast for Egypt and its potential effects on the region.
Syria: Descent into Civil War
In March of last year, small scale protests began in Syria. As protests spread, the response escalated to the point where now it appears Syria may be on the brink of a civil conflict. In this report we will begin with a geopolitical history of the country. Following this analysis, we will describe current conditions and our concerns about the breakdown of social order in Syria, concluding with a summary of how outside powers are trying to manage the direction of any changes in Syria.
Rising Tensions in the South China Sea
Right now, the most critical geopolitical risk to the financial markets remains Europe, with the Persian Gulf probably the second most important concern. However, there is value in analyzing situations which may become problematic, even if it is in the distant future. By doing so, it allows investors to become aware of potential situations long before they become issues. We believe it is better to have some familiarity with geopolitical concerns in advance of any major problems.
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