Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stock Market: 2012 - Year Of The Bull?

The future is full of surprises, experience teaches. Why should 2012 be different? Considering the gloomy sentiment, the sluggish global economy and the continuing huge challenges, a year with strong gains on the stock markets - a powerful bull market - would be a big surprise. But that is what happens very often. One of the big surprises of 2012 could be a strong rally on the global stock markets with gains of 30% and more, leading the S&P 500 to north of 1.700.

Even some decent economic development in 2012 could trigger a strong rally, because the majority is betting on a worsening. Many are under-invested, including the majority of the big funds. A lot of money idles now in bonds and money market funds, with almost zero interest. A rising stock market could set many fund managers under performance pressure. They would have to buy stocks otherwise they would miss the upswing.

1. The stock market in Shanghai, which was one of the biggest losers in 2011 (minus 22%), could lead the global rally. Many funds are are now speculating on a recession in China, the so-called hard landing. I reckon the China pessimism as ill-founded because the huge workforce has still a strong necessity to adapt to Western standards. Therefore consumer expenses should continue their sharp growth, making the gigantic country less dependent on foreign influences. There also are signs that the government, which in 2011 slowed the economy to fight the inflation, reacts to the slightly cooling economy and loosens the brakes. Both could reaccelerate the growth rate, helping the whole global economy.

2. I guess that the European mess could show signs of a slow healing, because the European economies are adapting to reduced public expenses, helped by extremely low interest rates. The leading German economy, which is focused on exports, should benefit from the ongoing growth in China and other emerging markets and stabilize the rest of Europe.

3. The U.S. economy could continue its mild growth, maybe gain a bit of speed, driven by the healing job market (falling weekly jobless claims), climbing exports (thanks to China and other emerging markets), sharply rising company profits, a solid growing manufacturing sector and optimistic free-spending consumers.

The alleged positive developments in Europe, China and U.S would disappoint the pessimistic majority who are now betting on doom & gloom. If these factors would add together they could amplify the rally.

Happy New Year to everybody!

Movies: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The best is the enemy of the good. This is also true with movies. Recently I watched both versions of the  "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (German version: "Verblendung", which means "Dazzlement"). First I saw David Fincher`s interpretation, which runs now in U.S. cinema theaters, than the Swedish original "Män som hatar kvinnorby" by Niels Arden Oplev (Netflix download), which I didn`t know before. To say it shortly, I like the U.S. version more. This may be a bit unfair because Hollywood star Fincher had the greater budget and could spend a lot more money on everything, including the cast and the cinematography.

The plot is based on the so-called "Millennium Trilogy" by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, a far left wing writer who claimed that Sweden is a fascistic dictatorship. Anyway,  both movies are highly entertaining and tell the thrilling story of a journalist (character named Michael Bloomquist) who investigates the fate of a girl, who disappeared around 40 years ago. With the help of the character Lisbeth Salander he exposes a lot of sinister secrets of the missing girl`s extremely wealthy family.  Almost the whole plot plays on an distant Swedish island, which belongs to this family and is only inhabited by family members.

The defining difference between both flicks are the actresses who happen to incarnate the character of Lisbeth Salander: Rooney Mara (U.S.version) and Noomi Rapace. The girl is the center of the movie and operates as free lance investigator and gifted hacker. The extremely smart woman dresses in the usual punk outfit, usually with a hood on her head and wears piercings in her face and - of course - a large dragon tattoo on her back.

Comparing both incarnations I prefer Rooney Mara, introduced by Fincher in his "Social Network" (Zuckerberg`s restricted girlfriend, who split with him in the opening scene). Again: The best is the enemy of the good. Mara is definitely more beautiful and cooler than Rapace. Her cat-like movements and her slim, sleek and well exercised body fits perfectly. Mara`s aesthetical but tough appearance makes her role as a girl fighting fiercely for her rights more believable. Seeing first Mara as the character Lisbeth Salander I cannot really understand the cult which focuses on Noomi Rapace´s Lisbeth.

I also prefer Daniel Craig (btw the 2nd best James Bond behind Sir Sean Connery) as the investigating journalist Blomkist because he seems to me a bit more cooler & tougher than Michael Nyqvist in the original.

The cinematography and the editing of the U.S. version also show that Fincher could burn more money than the creator of the original. It´s a pleasure to watch the sceneries on the family owned islands and other pictures created by the U.S. director and his cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth ("Social Network", "Fight Club"). The film music, composed by Trent Reznor & Atticus Reznor, fits perfect to the sinister ambience of the flick.

Both directors aren`t afraid to show a lot of violence and sexual graphic scenes. The movies aren`t for the faint hearted. They display torture and sexual violence including a forced blow job and an anal rape. But these scenes are necessary to transform the plot and fit to its dire topic.

Notwithstanding all the differences and my preferences I regard both versions as well done and worth seeing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Movies: A Dangerous Method

There is no commonly agreed science, there are just competing ideas & theories. This is especially true for psychology, a social science which is based on a lot of interpretation and musing. This science is still formed by the conflict between the schools of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the founding fathers of modern psychology & psychiatry. The movie "A Dangerous Mind" touches this conflict (imdb).

Director David Cronenberg, Scriptwriter Christopher Hampton (Atonement) and John Kerr, the author of the basically book, focus on Jung´s relationship with a female patient (played by Keira Knightley), who became his lover & muse.

I enjoyed the nostalgic style of the flick. It was nice to watch the reincarnation of Europe before World War I, especially Zürich & Vienna. The performances of Michael Fassbender (Jung) and Viggo Mortensen (Freud) were flawless. But I had my problems with the role of the beautiful Keira Knightley who meandered between a heavy mentally disturbed person and an analytic and scientific arguing observer. Especially her facial expressions while her mental attacks seemed to me overdone and were almost unbearable.

There was another point I disliked: The plot focusses on Jung and puts his antagonist Freud in the shadow. I guess the creator of psychoanalysis (wikipedia) deserves more than a role as a kind of collaborator of Jung´s amorous travails.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Movies: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

What is the difference between "Indiana Jones", "Sherlock Holmes" and "Matrix"? If we believe the producers of "Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows", there is none.

This movie, directed by Guy Ritchie (, doesn´t have much to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's analytic detective stories. Instead the stylish flick delivers a contemporary action spectacle. It`s mainly a vehicle to cash on the still rising popularity from Robert Downey Jr. The Hollywood star did actually a good job and delivered the expected funny performance - Johnny Depp  watch out.

The special effects team also was worth its money.  The CGI-department created some appealing nostalgic views. I enjoyed especially the faked 19th century sceneries from London, Paris and Strasbourg and deluged a picturesque castle on a steep mountain wall out of which a waterfall is gushing.

Allowing my mind to retire for a while I found the film somewhat entertaining.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Movies: Shame

Sex rules. At least the life of Brandon Sullivan. This is the leading character in the movie "Shame" (imdb), directed by Steve McQueen ("Hunger"). Sullivan shuns fixed relationships, he prefers short sexual adventures, whenever and wherever he can find them. Sullivan entertains himself with prostitutes and plays games of seduction in the New York subway, he even finds his way to a gay club. His hedonistic life gets more complicated when his troubled sister moves into his flat and demands his brotherly love.

Michael Fassbender, a rising star in Hollywood ("A Dangerous Method", "X-Men", Jane Eyre", "Centurion"), incarnates Sullivan very convincingly, Cary Mulligan ("Wall Street", "Public Enemies" "An Education", "Drive") who plays his sister, is a congenial co-star.

Shame isn´t afraid of nudity and graphic sex scenes and doesn`t care about the usual sex-phobia of the Hollywood studios. The viewer gets how it is to be Sullivan. The very straight cinematography (Sean Bobitt) lets you participate in Sullivan`s sex-life  (kind of), stroll in New York City - certainly not in a touristy way -  and explores the metropolitan`s subway network.

The movie is sometimes tough and not for the faint hearted. But after all the Christmas carrolls it maybe refreshing like a glass of Vodka after too many cookies.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Economy: Merry X-Mas

Some of us might have already unwrapped our Christmas gifts. Here in New York City we've gotten plenty of sunshine and friendly temperatures (around 40 F, 5C). It has been unusually mild weather since last November and not just on the U.S. east coast. The temperatures in Western Europe are also significantly higher than both last year and the long term average, reports Bloomberg.

This a-typical warm start of the winter could have beneficial effects for the whole economy, a kind of Christmas gift for the stressed economies of the U.S. and Europe.

 "Retail Sales Seen Rising on Nice Weather" headlines Bloomberg (bloomberg). Especially on the U.S. east coast the current retail sales could be much better than last year, because in 2010 a blizzard that began on Christmas closed thousands of stores on the East Coast the next day, when millions of consumers typically make exchanges and redeem gift cards, they tell us. The same is true in the U.K., which has had above-average temperatures and little snow after several blizzards, including one in late December, had hit the country last year, adds Bloomberg.

Other sectors, which are sensitive to weather conditions, could also benefit from the spring-like conditions, including housing starts, construction and home sales. Higher temperature are also dampening the energy demand and could slow the rise of the oil price. Billions of Dollars & Euros could be saved because of the calm winter, which could be spent for shopping, restaurant visits and other consumer activities.

Merry X-mas to everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Movies: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

9.11. has been burned onto the memories of many people, even outside the U.S. I still remember how shocked I was while watching the disaster from Bonn/Germany via CNN.

The movie "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close", directed by Stephen Daldry, deals with this topic in a special way ( The flick is based on the homonymous novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and tells the drama from the point of view of a boy who is  around 10 years old, and lost his father in the twin towers. The flick shows how the kid tries to handle his trauma one year after that event.

The star of the movie is Thomas Horn, who played the kid. He is a real discovery. Wikipedia reports that the boy had no prior acting experience (wikipedia). He was chosen by the producer after he had won over $30,000 at age 12 during the 2010 Jeopardy! Kids Week, writes Wikipedia. Horn naturally fits to the role as a very smart and educated kid. The character is exceptionally systematic and scientific as taught by his late father.

I also was impressed by the acting of Tom Hanks, who played the father in the numerous flashbacks caused by the memory of the boy. I am usually not a fan of Hanks. I regarded him as a bore and a reason to shun a movie. But in this role the actor did a great job as the father of a very gifted child, whom he treated as a smart being on an equal footing.

The rest of cast also was convincing. Sandra Bullock played a supportive and compassionate mother.
Max von Syndow, who acted as a kind of assistant during the quest of the boy, displayed again his grandeza. The 1929 born Swede actor is one of the people who legitimate the cliché that getting older means getting better like Cognac. I liked also John Goodman who had a somewhat funny role  as the doorman at the boy´s home.

The movie got part of its strength from the editing which structured the flick in an appealing way, sometimes by speeding up and slowing down. Some scenes were quiet and calm, others instead accelerated into staccati to create some tension in the otherwise calm plot. The music was decent and fitted well to plot and sentiment.

"Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close" was better than expected. It didn´t show the kitsch I feared from a Hollywood product with big brand names like Hanks & Bullock. Instead it delivered an interesting exposition.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Culture: Painted Houses

Advertisements are a part of pop culture. Some of the big billboards which you find in New York for instance, are awesome. My favorites are the huge ads which are painted manually on some buildings.

During my last stay in NYC I documented the development of a ad painting at a house on Lafayette Street at the eastern border of the trendy Lower East Side (drivebycuriosity). Now I can show the result - a part of a huge marketing campaign for flavored vodka.

While on other visits I also shot pictures of other former incarnations at Lafayette Street. The ad for the Bordeaux I found on Delancey Street and the ad for the fashion brand Desigual was at Herald Square on 6th Avenue.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Investing: Farewell Equities?

One of the most popular words these days is the term "decline". We read a lot about the decline of life quality, income, wealth, whatever. Now the McKinsey Global Institute predicts another decline: The decline of the equity ( "The Wall Street Journal" ( abstracts their thesis: "In less than a decade, the world economy could face too many companies wanting to issue equity and too few stock buyers". McKinsey calls this the "equity gap".

The institute justifies their prediction with to 2 alleged trends (
1. "A rapid shift of wealth to emerging markets where private investors typically put less than 15 percent of their money into equities (compared to 30–40 percent in many mature economies)".
2. "In developed nations, such as the U.S., euro zone and U.K., the aging population, growth of alternative investments and regulatory changes will shift investor preference away from equities".

McKinsey claims " that the share of global financial assets held in listed equities could fall from 28 percent to 22 percent by 2020 if these trends continue" and projects a potential $12 trillion “equity gap".

I don´t buy these predictions. There is not alternative to equites. I reckon McKinsey underestimates the power of the rising company profits. The owners of stocks participate in the rising profits of the companies and in the growing global economy. The owners of bonds (debts of the companies) don`t. And the companies will continue to deliver rising profits as long as they are continuing their learning process and are getting more efficient.

I also reckon that investors in emerging markets will lift the proportion of equities in their portfolios in the coming years and will approach the levels common in developed countries. This will be part of the transformation processes of the emerging markets which will adapt to the wealth & security of developed nations. Investors in the emerging markets will become much more wealthier (because of the high growth rates in their countries) and will therefore accept higher risks. The "Economist" ( writes that now "companies in emerging markets are often not as transparent as those in the developed world, nor do they have a record of treating minority shareholders well". I guess that while the emerging markets will become more ripe the companies there will adapt to the global markets and become more transparent, efficient and profitable and therefore more attractive for investors.

I also doubt that the appetite for stocks will shrink in the developed nations. A rising live expectancy and growing wealth combined with climbing company profits will enhance the appetite for stocks even with the retired, who can calculate with a remaining lifespan of 20 years and more.