Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Investors Need To Know About Japan

In the 90's Japan experienced a slowdown in their economy known as the "Lost Decade" despite the aftershock Japan is still a major economic power.  Japan's GDP was worth 5497.81 billion in 2010 according to the World Bank.  In 2011 Japan stood as the 4th largest economy in the world according to the World Factbook

The country's energy infrastructure and economy were hurt in March 2011 as a result of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest it has ever had.  This is devastating since the country has no natural energy resources, Japan is the 2nd largest importer of oil and the largest importer of coal and liquefied natural gas.  Japan was another victim the Great Recession claimed it experienced a slowdown for its exports and caused the country to slip further into recession.  Stimulus spending allowed the country to recover in 2009-10 but the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 delivered a strong blow which disrupted their economy once again.

The Nikkei 225 closed higher today at 8874.11 one of the day's top performers was Yamaha Corp.  Japan is among the world's most technologically advanced and largest producers of motor vehicles. 

According to Forbes Tadashi Yanai & Family is #88 on the list of billionaires he is the founder of Fast Retailing of which Uniqlo is a subsidiary.  The company opened up a Uniqlo store in Manhattan becoming the single largest retail space on Fifth Avenue.

Japan's consumer confidence has been improving after collapsing at 26.2 in December 2008 it is currently at 40.70.  The unemployment rate in the country is 4.6%, inflation at 0.40% and interest rates are at 0%.  Japan is considered a safe haven especially with the European crisis scaring the world, in June demand for their bonds hit a record high.  Foreigners own about 8.3% of all Japanese government bonds even though the 10yr only yields .82%.  A Japanese yield spike should worry us all, half of the government's revenue goes to paying interest on these bonds. 

Japan faces other long term problems such as deflation, dependence on exports to generate growth and an aging population.  With electricity supplies tight in Japan and manufacturing troubles the country is considering the idea of free trade with the European Union and other countries.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Art and Technology

During the late 1800's Impressionists like Monet and Pissarro set out to start a new way of expressing art like them our generation of art innovators are also finding new ways to convey art by using the digital and technological.  Artists are using different online tools to create paintings and promote the aesthetic.  Tools like inkjet-printed digital images and are adding new ways of expressing and promoting art.

In a dead economy where many are not spending much money these new forms of art provide cost efficient ways for the average consumer to enjoy and purchase art.  The latest ways of expressing art are connecting many and allowing new ventures to start as a result.  New art genres improve the quality of living in the neighborhoods where one can find them but they also improve the economy.

The Ohio State University Art and Technology Exhibitions have many talented artists doing their MFA and BFA programs showing art ranging from 3D animation to art and biology.  The New Media Robotics laboratory allows students to build robots with interactive microprocessor and computer control.  This type of technology allows the freedom to build art such as the cyborg birthing robot which can also be useful in a medical setting. 

In late November of last year Samsung displayed their Sm'art Liquid Crystal Canvases at two different art expos.  These liquid crystal canvases capture all the details from a real painting which allow users to get the gallery experience in their home.  In January 2012 the company held Samsung Art+Prize the UK's first digital media art competition which had many technology inspired contemporary artists competing for recognition. 

The Art and Technology Center known as Eyebeam is a non for profit that connects artists to new technologies and media arts.  Just as Linux uses open source to allow programmers to give and take so does Eyebeam use open dissemination through online publication, free exhibitions and participatory workshops.  The company's mission is to provide state-of-the-art-tools for digital research and experimentation.  It celebrates the hack and invites the public to share in a spirit of openness.  An example of this is the "Dead Drop" an anonymous peer to peer open network via a USB flash drive which is placed in a public space.

Art always sets the way for enlightenment and improvement.  But as the world of technology and nanotechnology takes off so does the opportunity for new artists to express themselves in new and unseen ways.  In a global society where information is king many artists can work together to proceed into a new era and genre of endless possibilities. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

What You Need To Know About The Euro Zone

Stocks have continued to fall as investors remain worried about Europe's anemic state of economy.  Even with an aid package to boost Spain's banks the market has not shown faith and is looking over to Greece and the highly anticipated outcome of the elections on June 17.  Whether Greece remains in the euro zone or not the world economy is slowing down and drastic measures need to be implemented to bring confidence back to the market.  One thing to keep in mind is that violence is not the answer even if unemployment in Greece hovers at 21.90%. 

Despite the 2008-09 recession the euro area went on to experience moderate GDP growth in 2010-11 according to the World Factbook.  The euro area's GDP value makes up about 20.09% of the world economy according to the World Bank.  That is why the EU is so important to the rest of the world and why oil prices have dropped steadily.  Nations anticipated the impact of the 2008 recession and it brought commodity prices to its knees.  Commodity prices dropped heavily during the 2008 recession and commodity indices experienced more volatility than that seen on 9/11/01.  The year 2011 did not end well as the sovereign debt crisis became a nightmare for the world and is now the European Union's top economical and political concern.  The bigger risks that face the bloc are an aging population, high debt load and the fear of debt crisis contagion which already has taken place.  Unemployment rate in the zone was last reported in April at 11% and inflation is at 2.60% with interest rates at 1.00%.

The last month has been negative for the Euro STOXX 50 a major stock index which tracks large companies in the euro area.  It last traded in the red at 2137.70 one of the top performers for the day was Bayer AG a healthcare company that produces central nervous system drugs as well as aspirin.

Although the euro zone has taken measures such as boosting funds it has clearly not been enough and more needs to be done to stimulate spending.  Experts have suggested more stimulus not only to the EU but to the rest of the countries that pose a risk to the global economy. 

How should investors play this European crisis? With the euro trading at 1.2479 and expected to drop lower shorting it can be one option if this is too risky for some then going with an ETF may be a better option.  Stocks have continued to drop as a result of the crisis whether the companies have direct exposure to Europe or not.  Most companies are trying to reduce their European exposure which is a sign that investors should be doing the same.  Banks have also been hit pretty hard.  Even healthcare HMO's like Centene Corp. (CNC) dropped today with overall light volume in the NYSE.  Euro zone turmoil is going to be on the news and on the minds of investors for a while, expect no quick fix, best not to look at your 401k neither.  Whether buying stock on these dips or not grab on to your seat belt because it will be a bumpy ride. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

China's Economy

China reached an all time GDP high of $5878.63 billion in December 2010 making up about 9.50% of the world economy according to the World Bank.  According to The World Factbook China has become the world's largest exporter making it an important player to keep an eye on.  Some financial experts like Michael Casey author of The Unfair Trade have blamed China for playing a major role in the 2008 financial crisis due to their export oriented economy and a nation full of savers.  Some of its major export partners include the U.S., Honk Kong, Japan, South Korea and Germany.  China exports electrical equipment, apparel, rice, wheat, iron & steel, as well as optical and medical equipment.

The Renminbi exchange rate is currently at 6.37 China has kept their currency tightly pegged to the U.S. dollar for years until 2005 when it revalued its currency and allowed it to be referenced to a basket of currencies.  When the 2008 recession hit the Renminbi remained pegged to the dollar until 2010 when it resumed and gradually appreciated as Beijing gave permission to do so.  In 2010 China became the world's second largest economy after the U.S. surpassing that of Japan.  An important fact to keep in mind is that China's industrial and agricultural output exceeds that of the U.S., the U.S. is number 1 in terms of the value of services it produces.

China's interest rates are at 6.56% and their inflation rate is currently 3.40%.  The European crisis is expected to have an impact on China's GDP which is already slowing down.  China's rapid economic development has caused the country to lose much of their arable land.  The government has emphasized economic reforms and promoted an increase in domestic consumption to reduce China's need for exports in the future.  China's consumer confidence decreased from 105 in February 2012 to 100 in March. The country's 10 year government bond is at 3.38%.  The Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 Index China's major stock index has declined in the last month it is currently trading at 2,559.03.  Top performers include Shandong Gold Mining Co and Tasly Pharmaceutical Group Co a company that focuses on brain blood vessel diseases.

Li Ka-shing is Asia's richest man his company employs more than 270,000 people around the world.  He has invested in startup tech companies such as Facebook.  He is also big on philanthropy donating more than $1.5 billion mostly for education and medical research.  In the CNNMoney article "Number of millionaires see a decline in wealth" the Boston Consulting Group sees the new wave of millionaires emerging from Asia.  As double digit growth is expected to continue in the coming years by 2016 it is predicted that Asia's growth will slightly over take that of Western and Eastern Europe's growth combined.