I tell you, with weeks in the financial markets like the one we had last week, I'm reminded of the story of Chicken Little who was always running around saying, "The sky is falling."
However, I can see where investors can get this same mentality. After all, most things are selling off right now. Most stocks are selling off. Most commodities are now selling off, and even most currencies are selling off.
In fact, I did a mutual fund screen this past week to see how many mutual funds were hitting their 52-week highs vs. those hitting their 52-week lows. Only eight funds were hitting their highs, while more than 3,200 were hitting 52-week lows. So even the professional money managers out there are having a tough time right now figuring it all out.
Now, let's get back to the story at hand.
In markets like this, I always have to ask myself, "Okay, money is running out of most things, but what is it running into? What is heading higher?" And sometimes it takes a lot of hunting to find those very things, because in the panic of the day it's not always obvious or everyone would run to them.
So, we can all turn on the nightly news and find out what's falling out there (which is almost everything). However, let's look at what is going up out there.
I think you'll find it's always good to have an account where you can invest in currencies. Here's why. Aside from a few select healthcare and bio tech stocks, I can hardly find a whole sector of stocks that's going up right now in the U.S. stock market. And when I look around the globe, most foreign stock markets seem to be selling off, too.
Then I turn to their currencies, and almost all of the major currencies are being sold off like crazy right now, including the euro, British pound, Australian, New Zealand. and Canadian dollars. Even many of the more exotic currencies, like the Brazilian real, Singapore dollar, etc.
So when I scour the world in search of what's stable and what's going up, after looking long and hard, I came up with three investment plays that appear to be some of the only safety zones out there. Two of the three are currency plays.
The financial instrument that seems to be going up the most right now in the midst of all of this turmoil is the yen. Paired against most any currency out there, it's especially strong against the pound and euro, yet not as strong against the U.S. dollar. However, out of the top 16 or so currencies of the world, last week the yen (JPY) gained on every one of them. So this is the biggest place that money is running to right now.
Why is this happening? It's not that Japan's economy is so strong. In fact, it may be entering into a recession as we speak. So what's the deal? For years now, as stock markets have been strong and volatility fairly tepid, investors around the world bought high-yielding currencies while borrowing the money in the lowest-yielding currency in the world, the yen (0.5 percent).
Many of these currencies reaped six percent to eight percent a year, and the investor only had to pay between zero and one half of one percent if they borrowed in yen. And when you add a bit of leverage to these positions, you get a really great annual return just by borrowing low and investing the money into something that has a far higher yield of return.
This worked fine for years when things were calm, cool, and collected in the financial markets.
However, as we know, since about a year ago, the markets have been in a downtrend and very volatile, and this is not conducive to this type of currency investing called "carry trading" where they focus on earning the interest.
So as these positions are closed out (or as they say in the industry "unwound"), they sell the higher yielding currency like Aussie or New Zealand dollars or the euro or pound, and have to pay back that loan of yen. When they do this, they are "buying back" yen, which causes it to get a pop up.
It's almost like a short seller in stocks covering his short sell by buying back the shares to close the position out.
As long as the turmoil persists, margin calls will continue to close investors out of their positions. That will propel the yen higher as these trades are forcefully closed.
The second most stable instrument that I find out there is (believe it or not) the U.S. dollar. It has actually been rallying during these past few months as the intensity of this unwind has continued on.
It has ripped a chunk out of the euro in just over a month's time. The euro vs. the dollar has crashed from over 1.60 down to just over 1.42 as of this writing, which is huge. You don't see those types of moves often.
The pound has gotten destroyed to an even greater degree. So as money runs out of all of these higher-yielding currencies, they are running firstly to the yen, but secondarily to the U.S. dollar.
Why? For a few reasons actually. For starters, if the sky is falling for most of these currencies, then your most liquid, safest place to go is usually the U.S. dollar.
Secondly, if you were a European holding euros or pounds or in Australia or New Zealand and holding your home currency and seeing it drop like a rock, you'd be inclined to find another place for it. They realize that the dollar is not taking a hit right now even though its stocks have taken a bit of a hit. So they're running to dollars.
Also, the U.S. stock market is not falling quite as hard as many of these other financial markets. For instance, the S&P 500 right now, when directly compared to the German DAX, is actually gaining a bit on that index.
So they feel it's better to be in a currency that's going up (the dollar) and stocks that are going down some vs. a currency that is going down (the euro and pound) and stocks that are going down even more.
But wait! There's one last investment that's shown some signs of life in all of this turmoil also, and that's the U.S. bond market. Yes, as stocks around the world are selling off, investors are selling off their home currency as they cash in their stocks, and they're buying dollars and heading into U.S. bonds.
It's the third safe haven that I've seen lately in all of the turmoil. These are the three main themes that I see right now to protect investor's money through the turmoil.
Now, once the tide turns and the worst is finally over, the Japanese yen and U.S. bonds will no longer be the place to be, but U.S. stocks will likely be in vogue.
As far as the U.S. dollar is concerned, it should rally well on into 2009 as central banks around the world lower their interest rates and make the investment in those currencies much less attractive. This will only give investors more of an excuse to pour into the U.S. dollar as it is more stable, isn't going down for now, and has the potential for rate hikes in 2009, which is more than most any major currency of the world can say right now.
Once stocks finally start to put in higher lows and higher highs on their charts (for the technicians out there) and when the fundamentals turn around in the housing market and for U.S. companies in particular, then the coast will be clear, and you can look to come out of these instruments mentioned above and back into U.S. stocks.
However, stick with the U.S. dollar until all of these countries finish cutting rates, and that's going to be a while. That potentially could take all of 2009 to accomplish. So that's something that's not going to change tomorrow.
So the moral of the story is don't believe the Chicken Littles out there. There's always something going up somewhere in the world. The best get paid to find what it is and go there, while the rest of the world runs around blindly.
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