We have good news out of Europe today, which is a welcome change. The question, of course, is how long it will last. Those answers will come in the next few weeks as the details of this week's EU summit are hammered out and countries decide on which pieces they can agree to.
But there are two important questions that should get answered relatively soon. Will Greece, Ireland, and Portugal ask to have their deals renegotiated since Spain and Italy appear to be getting much better terms? This is particularly true for Ireland, which had low debt levels until it asked for help dealing with its banking crisis.
The other question: Will Germany's parliament approve the European Stability Mechanism fund now that it has morphed into a bank rescue fund as well? While we wait for those answers, Europe appears to have once again bought itself some time without putting a lasting solution in place. That's not great, but it's better than the alternative.
Europe will continue to dominate the headlines, but there were a number of global stories this week that were just as important for investors. Here's what caught my eye this week.
Banks behaving badly, again
The big news this week was Barclays' (NYSE: BCS ) settlement with U.S. and U.K. regulators for colluding with traders to fix LIBOR rates. LIBOR is the rate banks use to lend money to each other. LIBOR, with a spread added to it, is also used as the base rate for all manner of short-term lending. Everything from commercial loans to adjustable rate mortgages use LIBOR, which is why manipulating the rate is such a big deal.
In Japan, Nomura (NYSE: NMR ) is currently grappling with an insider trading case, and other banks are believed to have played the same games with LIBOR that Barclays did. So Barclays is the latest big bank to run afoul of the law, but it won't be the last.
Given the constant stream of bad news and the concerns about the global economy, it's not a surprise that big banks around the world are selling at a discount to book value. But there are some things that shouldn't be purchased at any price, and the big banks fall into that category for me. There's no way of knowing exactly what assets they hold or when a rogue trader is going to lose a few billion in a gambit to juice his bonus. The big banks are simply too big for their own good and not worth the risk.
Focus more on China and less on Europe
First it was industrials like ABB (NYSE: ABB ) reporting weak sales in China, then came The New York Times report on China manipulating energy consumption figures to hide just how much growth has slowed, and now we have Nike (NYSE: NKE ) reporting a sudden slowdown in orders from China. That news has knocked the shares down 10% today and highlights the uneasy transition China faces as it tries to transition its economy to domestic consumption and away from infrastructure investment.
It was a mixed quarter at best for Nike. Sales at grew 12%, but gross margin declined 1.5%, and future orders from China grew by just 2%. Nike grew its sales in China by 18% last quarter, so the forward order outlook indicates the company's growth in China will be far slower in coming quarters. On its conference call, Nike management admitted as much, but said this is just a bump in the road. In the long-term it still expects to grow its business in China substantially.
With a premier global brand and the rare ability to grow in emerging and developed markets, Nike is a great candidate for the Orange Portfolio. So while I think the slowdown in China is an important data point to pay attention to, I'll be watching to see just how much punishment the shares take in the next few weeks. Looking out beyond the next year or so management is right about its long-term potential in China, I think.
The slow start to the week and negative headlines out of Europe made it feel like a down week, but most markets around the world were up more than 1% this week. The primary exceptions were emerging markets such as China, Brazil, and South Africa, which all saw their major indexes fall by 2% or more.
So while Europe dominated the headlines this week, Nike and the economic news out of China are the stories investors want to pay attention to if they're worried about where the global economy is heading. With the news out of emerging markets turning negative, it's not a surprise that's where I'm starting to find the most attractively priced ideas -- including one I hope to add to the Orange Portfolio next week.