On the first of each month, I send a letter to our investors describing what we see in the world relative to their portfolios. We always try to identify some “big picture” issue, usually one that is overlooked. The goal is to have our clients understand our thought process.
One of my favorite analytical devices is to compare quantitative data with investor sentiment. Pitting the cognitive versus the quantitative often reveals a “perception gap” -- a difference between investors’ emotions versus the underlying market data. Think of it as “what people are thinking” versus reality.
The news out of Eastern Europe is a perfect example of this. Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressive military grab in Ukraine has been dominating global media coverage. Markets were off dramatically yesterday, with Russian’s bourse down 10 percent for the day. In the U.S., markets fell about 1 percent, although the accompanying media angst might have made you think it was triple that.
Regardless, it is merely the latest global event that is dramatic, dangerous -- and mostly irrelevant to investors.
Why is that?
Some context goes a long way in explaining. To put the Ukraine's economy into some perspective, let’s go to the CIA World Factbook. The annual gross domestic product of the country is $175.5 billion. That is about 4 days of GDP in America. Indeed, the entire stock-market capitalization of the Ukraine is about the size of Walt Disney Company. Ukraine’s per capita income is a touch higher than Egypt's. In other words, it is not very economically significant.
Fortunately, the Russian incursion into the Crimean peninsula has so far been bloodless. It is possible that diplomatic efforts will keep the situation from turning into a catastrophe. None of has any idea how this will turn out. However, I can conclude that it is unlikely to effect your portfolio in a very meaningful way. No, the Federal Reserve will not change the “taper” because of what is going on in the Ukraine. Nyet, Crimea is not going to affect Friday’s payroll number. There might be sanctions, there might be a temporary increase in the price of oil.
It is not just Ukraine, but Russia as well. Last year, the total trade between the U.S. and Russia was about $38 billion (according to Census Bureau). In the European Union, Russia’s two-way trade was much more substantial -- about $280 billion. Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst of the Lindsey Group, further observes that Russia is “the third largest trading partner of the EU, and the EU is the largest trading partner of Russia. Also, up to 75% of Foreign Direct Investment in Russia comes from EU member states.”
The economic impact on Europe will be more significant than that here, but even that will be relatively modest.
Investors should be hopeful that Ukraine's revolution will not lead to bloodshed, and thankful that the market impact continues to be de minimis.
(Barry Ritholtz writes about finance, the economy and the business world for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter at @Ritholtz.)
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