Friday 18 December 2009

** 2009 – Easy to forget. 2010 – Important to remember **

This will likely be the last piece until 2010, as I temporarily decamp to the (much colder) London office for a couple of days next week and then break for the Christmas and New Year period. I wish you and your families a very joyous festive season, and thank you all for your support over 2009, as well as your continually kind and thought-provoking feedback. It certainly has been an eventful year! Have a wonderful time over the last few days of 2009 everyone. I am looking forward to seeing you all in 2010. Before that, some end-of-year reflections…and future thoughts.

There’s a great line in an episode of the classic comedy series Seinfeld (if you were never “into” that show you should try again now) where one of the main characters describes “agitation” as an “old irritated man trying to send back cold soup in a New York deli”. The sheer visual imagery conjured up is strong enough to imagine a bunch of agitated financial titans all sat in that old man’s seat at the deli, trying desperately to return TARP money to the US government – and within a time limit. Will this be the image with which the end of 2009 will be remembered? Will all the other incredibly visceral memories throughout the year be swept aside in a matter of popular protest induced by the threat of big bonuses, or will there be something left in the (very few) days of trading to hurtle us towards 2010? Well, no – certainly safe to assume nothing more disastrous than a few office party misdemeanours will be reported (always great fun to regale colleagues around the water-cooler the next morning) until we hit the reset button on all those lovely big green numbers on the trading screens. In early 2010, hopes will be for a continuation of the strong undercurrent of positive market sentiment that has brought us back from the brink.

Looking back…
Talk about agitated, apart from the sheer selfishness of a bunch of British Airways waitresses – oops, we say “flight crew” – threatening to destroy plans of an estimated million passengers looking to get home for Christmas in addition to demolishing their employers along with, the last twelve months have been quite a ride in global markets. Whether or not you were actually involved at the investment level, you certainly watched them with a very, very close eye. The highs and lows we have all seen and lived through either now feel as though they passed in the blink of an eye, or played out in slow-motion as you sat at your desk just wishing it would all end. Housewives, plumbers and teachers all of a sudden became (annoyingly) fluent in financial jargon having spent sleepless nights glued to CNBC and other frenzy-inducing media channels, suddenly confident enough to open discussions with investment bankers over dinner (back in the days when bankers were still invited to such social events) as to the pros and cons of the toxic-asset-relief-programme (they even knew the TARP’s full name!) and what proportion of blame should be attributed to those in the so-called “regulatory” industry vis-à-vis just how far clever financial engineers deceived the powerless man on the street. Mothers would constantly trouble their banker sons, already ego-deflated from losing their Masters-Of-The-Universe status, enquiring as to whether they had really raised a child as evil (sorry mum) as the media were making them out to be – a tough year all over.

It was annoying this time last year, and it is still annoying today when the media suddenly forgets many of the lessons feigned to have been learnt during the height of the crisis. When it really felt the world might go to bed one night and wake up the next with no system of monetary exchange in place, humility and caution reigned supreme – no doubt reflecting the public mood in the face of continual bank failures and unprecedented governmental interventionist measures. Things were so-out-of-skew that at one point we were all even heralding Gordon Brown, at the G20 Summit in April, as the world’s saviour – yeah, you thought you’d forgotten that hadn’t you? Many repetitions of “we will learn from these lessons” echoed down not just the halls of world-wide sovereign treasury departments, but corridors of governmental power, trading floors and even the average super-leveraged (UK and US) household. Promises to never repeat the same mistakes and inject a fortified understanding of moderation through living–within-one’s-means dominated personal thoughts as conspicuous consumption became an “evil-act”.

Think back to the first quarter of 2009, when the almost nightmare-like scenario we had lived through in late 2008 was still causing many to pop one-too-many-an-aspirin, trophy wives were freshly packing their bags and walking out on their bonus-bereaving “husbands”, governments were just starting to open the flood gates of liquidity to their fullest, stimulus packages were causing individuals to take for granted figures centred on hundreds of billions of dollars (what’s another 30yrs added on to our debt repayment schedule anyway?), markets were threatening a further tumultuous fall beyond the precipice and the incredible shift in sentiment and change in general economic atmosphere comes sharply into focus. We certainly have come a long way. Just remember to look in the rear-view mirror every once in a while.

The end was nigh…repent.
Lifestyle changes and self-conscious displays of moderation - this was all a natural and honestly necessary reaction. In times of crisis, sins will be repented. The worry now is, barely a year after the very same people promising to drop-it-down-a-gear-or-two by choosing the house wine rather than the most expensive on the menu, many have just-about reverted to their bull-market ways, losing touch with the humbleness they briefly expressed, in an incredibly short period of time. “One holiday a year is enough” they said in February 2009. As markets first stuttered to life in March, and then continued to rise against all odds providing a warm sense of confidence, a second holiday became an acceptable limit around summer time. A third holiday is now on the menu, seeing as markets survived a tough summer and even surprised to the upside in the final quarter. Now, markets rising are all well and good, and extremely welcome for all of us.

Yearly performances such as Brazil (+141%), Russia (+127%), Indonesia (+121%), a whole host of Asian economies returning rising +50% and even the largest developed economies in Europe and the US returning 20%-30% in many instances has been an incredibly important factor in restoring levels of confidence and providing a floor to an eventual full-blown economic global recovery. Just remember that in February this year, before the influx of cash from government coffers, the uncertainty of success was palatable. Indeed, one could argue the certainty of success should still be keenly recognised as a non-given.

The “new big thing” is still a year or so ahead of us. First, international governments must figure out how to play their ‘exit strategies’ in such a way as not to prematurely kill-off any of the Greenshoots of recovery. Recent positive indications in unemployment figures from the US last week and the UK in recent days have followed pick-ups in confidence levels across large industrialised nations like Germany even. Asia has always been a resilient performer since running past the depth of the crisis and never looking back, with China powering ahead (GDP growth +10% est 2010) through its shift from a totally export-dependent economy to a partially domestic consumption focused nation, not to mention its own form of huge stimulus spending. Emerging markets all over have outshone the rest of the pack, and consensus is clear that this will continue in 2010.

Consensus is also equally rounding around a belief that a nasty shock may emit from China’s own over-expansion in the banking industry at some point, but they are clearly wealthy enough (will probably cost them $1.5trn – petty cash) to handle their own affairs and the contagion effect will be limited. Gold, Oil and the US$ will be areas of great analysis as we continue along the route of currency prisoner’s dilemma games between the US and, well, the rest of the virtually Dollar-denominated world. The socio-political agenda is full, and the economic calendar is unrelenting. Sleep was lost in 2009, and sleep will be lost in 2010. Obama’s basketball sessions will become shorter but more intense and he may have to cut-down and only make two great speeches a week.

UAE – Unrelenting Absolute Entertainment
How can we forget the endless amounts of entertainment and material Dubai provided us in 2009 huh? At the height of the financial crisis in the city, strange things happened on the once-clogged-to-the-brink-of-suffocation-highways as inhabitants realised that their egos were writing cheques their bodies certainly couldn’t cash – literally (and yes, that is from Top Gun. We’re getting old). The entire drama of its construction boom and bust, constant mixed messages of whether or not they were “one with Abu Dhabi”, the game of bluff that played out to its near disastrous-end in the last month and the final act of chivalry by the UAE’s capital-city all tied together in a muddle of emphatic hubris, political manoeuvring and ultimately soothing unity to close a most entertaining chapter in the country’s history.

Have significant concessions really been made in return for that 11th-hour show of unity? Will Dubai’s hard-fought and developed level of autonomy be stifled and brought closer to the Gulf-fold? We can hardly wait to turn the page and see what is further along the story.

Bring it on 2010…
With public debts and deficits soaring in many countries, some economists and policymakers are starting to worry about a future "public debt crisis". As with many a commentary, it may prove futile to forecast it, but as it is almost Christmas, and in true fortune-telling fashion as so many of our esteemed colleagues decide to entertain us in at this time of year, a few predictions for 2010 on matters concerning us from all areas of interest might prove useful, if not entertaining: By the way, has anyone every taken the trouble to go back and check on the precision of 2009’s predictions? No? Great, in that case, my “expert” predictions for 2010 are:

1. President Obama will not win the Nobel Peace Prize again – I’ll put a lot of money on that one.
2. Tiger Woods will pick up a golf club and win another two tournaments (minimum) around the world – his wife will win her divorce case and take half those winnings with her.
3. Millions of MBA grads will make promises to learn Mandarin and Cantonese to fully-leverage their new found skills in the huge Chinese market, only to discover on arrival in Shanghai that the Chinese are actually using them to learn English. The Chinese market: a billion people, a billion people, a billion people – yeah, learn from Gillette’s story when they realised a billion people DON’T shave.
4. An animated movie will win the Best Film award at the Oscars – in 3D.
5. Abu Dhabi will increasingly become a city of destination for “exclusive” and “executive” vacations – Dubai will increasingly become a destination for “I think I’m an exclusive executive” as prices begin to first fall and then plummet.
6. Hugo Chavez will win whatever election he decides to call in Venezuela again. And again. And again.
7. Berlusconi will be alleged to have fathered two illegitimate children – one boy and one girl. The boy will be a potential candidate for prime minister of Russia one day, given his mother’s origins.
8. The US will begin making good cars again that US customers will actually want to buy. The Japanese will announce the invention of the world’s first viable “personal flying vehicle” – darn it Detroit! Always an entire decade behind Japanese technology.
9. The Gulf Co-operation Council will finally move to a “chip and pin” credit card system, alleviating frustration amongst customers at every point of sale. Getting the bill can’t always take longer than the duration of the entire meal.
10. We will not learn from our mistakes in 2009, and will repeat many in 2010, and 2011, and 2012…

See you all in 2010!!

Best Rgds,

Monday 14 December 2009

Shocks & Saviours

What a shock this morning! Flying out from the shadows to provide a massive unforeseen and surely widely applauded thump of an impact that has surprised many all over and undoubtedly brought hollers of joy to some (nope, it’s not what you’re thinking), a disgruntled member of the Italian population threw an object at very close range straight into our favourite “I’m too beautiful to be a monster” Berlusconi – leaving him with a broken nose, broken teeth, a lot of blood and a huge plastic (re)surgery bill. In a move that may be too little too late, what after the ridiculous super-tax the UK imposed, Citi has apparently neared talks to no longer be one of the only banks not to have repaid some TARP funds, preparing to clear $20bn of government intervention/support. Toyota, the most revered of car-makers, has admitted it may be on a course to self-destruct as its Chairman announced they were at the brink of disaster – if the Japanese are faltering in quality there’s little hope for the rest – well apart from the Germans that is. Oh yeah, and in another surprise (you knew I was just stalling) Abu Dhabi bewilders (in a good way) the investment community by finally bailing-out Dubai in a truly eleventh hour fashion, providing $10bn to Dubai World and taking care of the niggling $4.1bn bond problem due for repayment today. The decision makes things much easier for Dubai in re-structuring the remaining large levels of debt with its creditors over the next couple of years.

Saved by the bell…
At the risk of re-hashing many a comment already provided on the issue, and surely to be dissected by many later today, Abu Dhabi’s move is of course a great thing for Dubai (Nakheel bonds at 109.5 from 54 last week, market limit up) but truly also a very good thing for the rest of the region (Doha +2.6%, Saudi +2%). That is something that must be remembered here, the region (the GCC that is, which includes the sleeping-giant Saudi) was heavily concerned at the exceptionally negative (and overdone) reaction the general investment community and global press descended upon the Dubai story. Saudi in particular was surely concerned about its attempt to transform from a tightly family-held regional powerhouse into a truly diversified, industrialised and internationally recognised market through accessing finance and advice from those same international entities that were about to be burnt beyond recognition in Dubai. The last-minute talks between Abu Dhabi and Dubai are one thing, but there’s no doubting an irate phone call from Saudi may have helped.

A little value please…
The fall-out from the UK’s super-tax as expected was harsh in its criticism from bankers and strong in its support from peasants – oops sorry, I meant the masses. Blow after blow continues to reign down upon the investment community in the run-up to Christmas, removing any cheer and good-will-onto-others across the large and boisterous trading floors. As if it wasn’t bad enough already, with gift lists being whittled down in banking households from totally unnecessary luxuries, like tailored matching luggage for the new Aston Martin, to only necessities like Christofle backgammon sets (it’s tough dealing with not getting the first thing on your list), the public simply will not let love into their hearts.

How much worse could it get than being called less trustworthy than insurance sales-men and not being paid correctly? I’ll tell another study (who conducts these darn studies?) bankers have been found to be less worthy than cleaners – that’s right, apparently hospital cleaners are deemed to provide a more worthy value to society than we do. If you think about, actually makes sense, but still hurts those that would like to think themselves humbly providing a service in the financial world. One redeeming piece of information, senior advertising executives are apparently responsible for creating large levels of “stress and dissatisfaction” in creating images and lifestyles so many can only dream to afford. Then they turn to banks to help finance those dreams and before you can say “brand-new-marble-kitchen-counter” it’s the financial world getting blamed for everything again. Blame the advertisers I say.

Talking of advertisers, even worse than a punch in the face, clean-cut Tiger-Woods may be looking slightly grizzlier soon as Gillette announces his “infidelity” will be a cause for limiting their use of his image in their campaigns. Really? Didn’t realise men chose their razors based upon whether or not another man is faithful to his wife. Seeing the propensity for beards in the Middle East, and a certain familiarity with having multiple female partners, wouldn’t be surprised to see Gillette’s sales remain un-assaulted. More than can be said for Berlusconi’s features.

Thursday 10 December 2009

A Taxing Grinch

The fun never stops in these markets. Rather than a slow-down as we enter the Christmas period and face the New Year, economic developments mingled with socio-political announcements are flying at us from every corner, wreaking equal amounts of havoc and anxiety to ensure the last couple of weeks of the year prove as eventful as the preceding fifty. From more hawkish outlooks in the US – Bernanke himself sounding incredibly cautious, incredibly suddenly - to Greek downgrades sparking a “who’s next in the firing line” scenario, Dubai floundering as it seemingly attempts to baffle investors to such a degree that they no longer even know what the difference between a “dessert” and “desert” is - ultimately providing no alternative but to re-structure or risk their sanity - and a revenge-seeking population in the UK stirring the cauldron enough to implement a super-tax-shotgun-sized hole in their foot. Did we mention that the US public now place Wall Street firms even lower in their esteem than not only Congress (always unpopular) but even lawyers and insurance sales men? Come on! Lower than insurance sales men? Have mercy.

Christmas’s about the giving
Not so much ho-ho-ho as woaahhh-ho-ho-where-are-you-taking-my-bonus? That’s right, piling under populist public pressure, those investment bankers and “I’ve-been-a-good-boy-this-year” financial executives have seen Santa fly right by their chimneys as the Grinch (UK Treasury) steals away 50% of their (further 40% taxed) bonuses in the back of his sleigh. Just as some festive joy was beginning to fill the hearts of dazed and frazzled traders across the City of London, ecstatic just to see 2009’s finishing line within touching distance, the pressure of anger mounting from the masses against the banks potential bonus payouts became too powerful a political leveraging tool for the embattled incumbent socialist UK government to ignore.

Fair enough many will say, the only reason many of the banks enjoying London’s hospitality have even remained on their feet let alone be in a position to pay bonuses close to record levels is thanks to governmental intervention and the printing of unprecedented amounts of new money. Others will profess that many of the institutions in London are not benefactors of UK governmental intervention and indeed international banks that have been bailed-out by their own respective governments – so why should they share the pain in the 70% effective bonus tax?

Bit of a tough-one there – it could be argued that the international banks prompted more than their fair share of the UK property bubble, and did very little to stem the rise in easy credit that became as popular as a pint-after-work-down-the-local throughout middle-class Britain. International banks also (albeit indirectly) benefited immensely from the aversion of a total UK banking crisis, also taking explicit advantage of the aforementioned liquidity, borrowing money for practically nothing and parking it in safe yielding assets to make a decent spread rather than passing the quantitative easing on to the final customer. All rather valid reasons to treat them equally under the super-tax the masses would yell.

London’s Loss…
The UK has been touted as one of the most significant problem areas over the next 2 years It was singled out by many at the start of the crisis as having the most to lose. A city (and country you could surmise) so dependent on the financial industry (accounting for 75% est. of GDP growth from 1997-2007) was always going to suffer. Everything from restaurants, schools and even the postal system benefited from the wealth being generated and spent via the City and Canary Wharf. Endless cries of anguish can be heard as the sheer self-defeating effects of this decision and its impact on the wonderful city of London sinks in.

Will this super-tax go down in history as the beginning of the end of London’s status as a mighty financial-centre? You know those moments when you are watching a TV series you really enjoy and then all of a sudden some strange plot-line or character comes in and it suddenly doesn’t quite feel so right anymore? Those moments normally presage the final episode.

The last two weeks saw endless articles written about Dubai’s financial dreams going down the Nakheel drains. London’s own period of financial-superpowerdom will find those same pens turned against it as the liberal and business minded lament the possible plot-line twist that will play into the hands of rival financial centres - New York here we come again, Dubai handed a life-line?

What interesting reading the international press, ex-UK, will make over the next few days. A key differentiating factor in freedom of press and the “democratic voice” though, will be the lack of pulling entire inventories of certain broadsheets from newsstand shelves and blacking-out any pictorials depicting sovereign leaders wallowing in the credit-crunch.

Monday 7 December 2009

Moral of the story

A lot of activity over the weekend amongst financial commentators as they all look forward to 2010 and another year of fun and games (and stress) across markets and the broader economic field, grappling with further discussions of unfettered capitalism versus government control, risk-taking traders versus neutered (ouch) bankers and even a good amount of reflection on whether the very banks that tax-payers helped bail-out should be allowed to release the shackles of compensation caps by paying some of the government money back. After Bank of America last week, Citi today attempting to win approval to repay a (small) amount ($20bn) of the money received during those dark days of the crisis - not looking too likely. A rather more liberated organisation in Kuwait (KIA) went ahead and sold its entire holding in Citi for a 37% return after just two years, netting almost $1.1bn in profits. Nice.

The fight to flee imposed pay caps continues. The story will consistently gain momentum as the public backlash increases. The timing (strangely coincidental) is centred around the financial industry’s traditional bonus period, and many out there are aggrieved at the speed with which bankers want to pay themselves bumper pay packages so soon after their near demise, and too soon when the lack of mortgage-lending and other forms of liquidity that should be finding its way to the average consumer rather than simply going through the banks’ trading department into treasuries are considered.

Saudi’s morals…
Bubbling under the surface over the weekend was another possible Middle East-originated-spat, involving Saudi this time - even as we recover from the over-reaction to Dubai’s corporate default (seems some of the international banks will end up owning a chunk of Dubai equivalent in size to Manhattan – might take a while before you can get a good slice of pizza like on Park and 32nd there though). In what may escalate into quite a row if the lovely British press have their way, Saudi’s apparent decision to favor local institutions over international lenders in the Saed Al Manea and Al Gosaibi financial bankruptcy/dispute/family disagreement has apparently angered those international bankers who are demanding they ought to be treated fairly and equally as debt holders, and (wait for it) as stipulated by “moral codes”.

Ok, hold on, hold on. Bankers are upset that the money they “invested” in other international entities under the domain of semi-dictatorial and tribal governments might not be fairly repaid? At the risk of sounding incendiary, are they really surprised that the Saudis might want to favour Saudi institutions? Honestly, with all the trouble bankers are in throughout the western world, the attempt to argue on “moral” grounds I fear may end with tears and a lack of sympathy from the growingly unforgiving consumer base. Whether the Saudi banks do or do not re-pay “fairly” the Brits (or anyone else for that matter) thinking they might be able to strong-arm the oil-controlling Saudis may have to rethink their strategy. Somehow it does not seem too likely the Saudi royal family will lose sleep over a few international banks shying away from facilitating less than 0.5% of their own domestic earmarked spend – should be fun to read all the nonsense the international press (hungry after tasting the joy of Dubai’s bloodletting) will conjure up in nationalistic reaction.

Snoozing along…
As global leaders gather in Copenhagen for the climate change summit (don’t hold your C02 filled breaths for anything more than even more hot air unfortunately), global markets are at best plodding along at a leisurely pace with marked falls in volumes. Asia was mixed with China putting in a gutsy performance (CSI300 + 90bps) and even Japan managing to close higher (NKY +1.45%) despite falls in HK (-77bps), India (-89bps) and slight gain in Singapore only (+21bps). Europe has opened the week in a negative mood, falling about -60bps across the majors, despite the (apparently) excellent jobless figures out of the US last week. US itself looks set to kick the week off lower as well, with futures there trading down 30pts on the DJIA. Gold has pulled back a little ($1,146/oz) and the Saudi’s are in a strong negotiating position with Oil still above $75/brl.

Could be many a money-manger/trader has started to snooze along to Christmas and the New Year period – as if an excuse were needed after the exhausting 11months - and first few days of Dubai December. Traders and fund managers alike are thanking their lucky stars for whatever positive returns (no thanks again to Dubai’s best efforts) are inked into their spreadsheets, with many not willing to risk a change to a decent number in unpredictable markets.

Train games…
Along with the anecdotal observation that there were many more than the usual collection of Abu Dhabi registered cars driving around the busy streets of Dubai during the Eid holidays – presumable touring their conquered lands and cherry picking the best properties to “buy” (is it still “buying” when going for 1cent on the $?), a number of discounts have already begun appearing across the still functioning city – even lower prices have been reported for essential breakfast items in the DIFC – a strong sign of a new lower-pricing strategy. We’re all still waiting for “rip-off-drinks” Zuma to join in though.

Finally, what better way to start the week than taking inspiration from a creative bout of entrepreneurial activity from our friends in Japan - content to advertise certain rooms in their hotels as having a great “rail side view”. Apparently there are enough train crazy Japanese visitors to such hotels to warrant a special premium for these “guaranteed track view” sought-after rooms. Maybe some of the hoteliers here in Dubai should take note and start making the most of their Dubai Metro facing facilities – considering the track goes right along in front of nearly every hotel along the main road, and the trains themselves were designed in Japan, Dubai’s normally slick marketing machine may have missed a Far-East-trick.

Thursday 3 December 2009


As much as Dubai craves media attention and any excuse to have its name mentioned in the same breath as New York, London or Paris, surely it will come as a relief that the nightmare coverage over the last few days is starting to wane – as with anything that is fully devoured by the media the fuss is starting to fizzle out, replaced by the next big story – a tussle between Tiger Woods’s actions with a golf club off a golf course strangely enough (do we really care what he gets up to in his private life? Strange we love seeing genuinely successful people flounder) and Obama’s decision to push deeper into Afghanistan’s never-before conquered lands coming close to the attention his choice of watch has received. The climate summit in Copenhagen has already been polluted by the so-called “Grandfather” of global warming boycotting the gathering, angered by the apparent couter-productive attempt to limit carbon emissions through the cap and pay system – seems every industry (see below) is looking for a way to avoid government imposed limitations – and in a controversial decision video-technology has been ruled out for the forthcoming World-Cup to assist in referee decision disputes – but of course, what else would the fans have to discuss (not so calmly) over a few drinks after the game has long-finished? Oh, the fact the international media have run out of traction on the Dubai story doesn’t mean the problems have gone away – there’ll surely be more to discuss as difficult decisions are announced after the holidays.

Farming markets…
Plenty of action in the international markets, with the big non-farm payroll figure tomorrow in the US (-125k is expected) alongside a good rally in asset classes as the risk trade pushes US$ down past recent lows (cable at 1.67, Euro/USD 1.51) and a continued appreciation in stock prices across most of Asia following last week’s blip which now appears to have presented a good buying opportunity – from China (+30bps today) to Pakistan we’ve had returns to levels even slightly higher than that sell-off, with HK today rallying (+1.6%) on the weak dollar to erase that 7% fall. Interestingly in Japan, the significant laggard in the region (+12% YTD on the Nikkei, compared to +67% for Taiwan, 44% in Korea and 28% in Australia) a high-profile tussle tacking place for Japan Airlines between American Airlines (along with TPG) and Delta, as the US carriers keen to create a foothold in Asia make a noise in notoriously non-hostile Japan corporate world.

The Middle East did experience foreseen selling in the UAE, but even today and yesterday other parts of the GCC began the recovery process, with Doha in particular rising almost 7% after falling 8% on the first day of trading following the big news. Europe also recovered swiftly from the Dubai fall-out, now awaiting direction from the US ahead of those employment numbers, with a good amount of trading following the currency movements – trading about 90bps higher across the majors for now. US futures pointing at a good opening (+45pts on DJIA). One thing’s for sure, even if the Dubai response was overdone, fund managers have gone through their major holdings once more and ensured the quality is there – big buying in blue-chips since last Thursday.

And what of our favourite asset-class of the year – Gold is at it again. Anyone still doubting the fragility of human emotion dictating markets? $1,220/oz and counting. December is historically a strong month for markets, but not usually for Gold. The push towards $1,300/oz (seemingly inevitable now) taking place at a time where predictions for 2010 are making the rounds, alongside currency moves as detailed above, Oil’s insistence on remaining between $75-80/brl and even as the Baltic Dry Index flutters with a drop in global trading confidence.

The bankers are at it again: If even Bank of America can repay almost $45bn in Tarp funds just a year after the near-destruction of its balance-sheet, then things truly have moved forwards a long-way – and fast. Too fast maybe. Whilst admirable that the US, in addressing the major issues head-on openly and frankly, has supposedly rehabilitated its major banks, the cynical side views the repayment as a ploy to avoid any cap on bonuses (as others had done a few months back). The fact BofA will undergo the single largest capital raising exercise in US bank history ($18.8bn) a sign of the strong desire to avoid the shackles of government intervention. The problem? That the huge amounts of liquidity pumped into the system and through banks like BofA itself, originally intended to support small and medium enterprises and facilitate the very heart-beat of capitalist lending, has merely succeeded in getting bankers out of the mess they first created. When vast sums of cash are at stake, moral hazard is never too far behind.

Barclays is looking to increase salaries across its investment banking staff by 150%, paying themselves more money to avoid possible clampdowns on their bonuses as seen with a vicious backlash on Goldman Sach’s recent announcements. Then again, at least none of these big banks pronounced themselves to be “doing God’s work” a la Goldman, who have since had to show what must surely have been a painful amount of humility and actually went as far as to publish an apology (probably a first for Goldman) and embark on a massive media-coaxing exercise. Did we mention their attempt to pay their way out backfiring as well? RBS in the UK has had no choice but to acquiesce to the Government’s “request” to ban bonuses, and unless the general economy really starts improving for the middle-class worker in the new year, patience for such large pay-packets will quickly give way to re-invigorated resistance.

Keep Dreaming…
As expressed by Tiger’s recent mauling at the hands of the intrusive press, any star, no matter how naturally talented and humble, can face a blip in their 15mins of fame. One worries for the latest US favourite, the British singing sensation Susan Boyle who just made US recording history by having her debut album become the fastest selling by a female artist in its first weekend on release. She rose to fame by “dreaming a dream”, but how long before the press decide to cause her sleepless nights?

One thing’s for sure, Dubai may want to time some of its future announcements around her mistakes so as to blunt the impact of its own negative backlash. As much anticipated (and much needed) falls in prices across the city take form, availability at the quite well-respected golf courses should improve. Tiger could always make his way over here to hit a few with either his wife or girlfriend, or maybe even both, as hotel room rates fall.