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Global Investing

As Greek Debt Default Nears, Investors Need to Take Cover

At this point a Greek debt default is virtually unavoidable, and it could happen in a matter of weeks.

The ensuing chain reaction will upend markets around the world and will almost surely lead to more defaults among the European Union's (EU) other debt-plagued nations, collectively known as the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

The bond markets have already passed sentence, with the yield on two-year Greek bonds spiking to an astronomical 76% yesterday (Tuesday). Yields on 10-year Greek bonds rose to 24%.

By comparison, the 10-year bond yields of another PIIGS nation, Italy, rose to 5.74%. Meanwhile, bond yields for the EU's strongest economy, Germany, have dropped below 2%.

The credit default swap (CDS) markets, where investors can insure their bond purchases against default, agree with the bond markets' verdict. As of Monday it cost $5.8 million and $100,000 annually to insure $10 million worth of Greek debt for five years, which means the CDS market now considers default a 98% probability.

Most European stock markets have been hammered over the past several weeks, with some dropping as much as 25%.

"Default is inevitable," said Money Morning Global Investment Strategist Martin Hutchinson. "Greeks are paid about twice as much as they should be, and that gap can't be solved by austerity."

How Soon is Now

In recent weeks Germany has shown more reluctance to dig deeper into its own pockets to bail out Greece and the other PIIGS. At the same time, Greece has struggled to implement the austerity measures that are required if it is to continue receiving aid from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Greece's budget deficit has increased 22% this year, while its economy is projected to shrink more than 5%.

Every new development appears to bring Greece closer to the brink of default – and some see that happening in the very near future.

"My guess is there will be a Greek debt default by the end of this fiscal quarter – yeah, that means very soon," said Money Morning Capital Waves Strategist Shah Gilani.

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The Only Way to Solve the European Sovereign Debt Crisis

It's often difficult to comprehend – much less internalize – the risks posed by the European sovereign debt crisis.

But understand this: If Europe's problems aren't resolved in an orderly fashion, the stock market drops we saw last month will be small potatoes compared to the steep declines that lie ahead.

So here's the solution: Let the Eurozone break up right now on its own terms. And let a new, stronger euro currency come as a result.

At this point, that is the only viable solution to the problems Europe faces.

So far, everything the European Union (EU) has done to try to subdue this outbreak has come up short. In spite of all the group's efforts, the European sovereign debt crisis continues to snowball, drawing more and more countries into the fold as it gathers momentum.

The trendy solution is to simply expel the weaker members of the Eurozone. That would work if Greece was the only problem, but it's not.

That's why a better solution would actually be the opposite – for the stronger countries to abandon the euro and create their own currency.

European countries with strong economies – Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden – should simply walk out.

I'd like to take credit for breaking new ground with this idea, but I can't. Former head of the Federation of German Industries, Hans-Olaf Henkel, writing in the Financial Times recently proposed this alternative solution as well.

Still, it's worth subscribing to for a number of reasons.

To begin with, it would absolve the strong countries of their liability to prop up their weak Mediterranean sisters.

It was one thing when only small countries, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal needed propping up. But now Spain, with a collapsed housing bubble and eight years of bad management, and Italy, with the most debt of any country in the EU, are at risk. Both of those countries' economies are large enough to put a sizeable dent in even Germany's vast wealth.

Even more ominous, storm clouds have started swirling around France, which is still rated AAA but does not deserve to be. The country has not balanced its budget since the early 1970s, and public spending has soared on the back of hopelessly uneconomic schemes such as the 35-hour workweek.

Now the French government has come up with a supposed solution – one that consists entirely of tax increases.

So it's clear now that something must be done. And the solution I support has benefits for both strong and weak Eurozone countries.

The Benefits of Breaking Up

For the stronger countries, leaving the Eurozone voluntarily and forming a new, stronger euro currency would…

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For Rational Investors, Market Uncertainty Equals Profits

There's no question that the Washington fiasco, more commonly referred to as the debt-ceiling crisis, has injected a huge amount of uncertainty to financial markets.

That's bad news for the U.S. economy – which Friday's lousy second-quarter gross-domestic-product (GDP) report demonstrates was already suffering from bad fiscal policy, bad monetary policy and a gross excess of new regulations. This deal didn't really solve any long-term problems, won't head off a federal credit-rating downgrade and all in all only adds to the market uncertainty.

But here's the good news. Uncertainty breeds opportunity – especially for savvy, rational investors.

And with the dark clouds of uncertainty that continue to build over the U.S. economy, we can turn this situation to our advantage in a big way.

Let's take a closer look so that I can show you what I mean …

When Investors Are Certain … But Not Rational

There's an irony about investing that's not lost on savvy, rational investors – even at the retail level: If a market lacks uncertainty, it's awful tough for us to analyze and then invest with confidence.

Just consider the capital markets of the late 1990s. Back then, stocks seemed to be on a steady upward march, posting double-digit gains each year.

The fact that the investing masses believed there was a complete lack of market uncertainty made it very difficult for "rational investors" to invest. Those "rational" players understood that the markets were getting frothy, or speculative – in fact, the warning signs were there as early as the middle of 1996 (six months before U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan denounced "irrational exuberance").

The whole tech sector really demonstrated the pervasive belief that stock prices could only go up. After its August 1995 initial public stock offering (IPO), Internet-browser pioneer Netscape Communications Corp. saw its shares double on its first day of trading. And I'm sure we all remember how tech companies in general – and particularly companies with "dot-com" in their title – saw their valuations soar well beyond any rational expectations.

For rational investors, that apparent market "certainty" made it almost impossible to invest with any degree of confidence – short or long.

The market was clearly too high, especially in the tech sector, so buying made no sense. It was impossible-to-gauge euphoric speculation that was driving stock prices – not easy-to-quantify fundamentals. If you bought, you were just hoping that the "Greater Fool Theory" would bail you out with a sale to someone else at a higher price.

Selling the market "short" wasn't the answer, either. Expecting an irrational trend to correct itself is a sucker's bet. And a bullish trend like this one that doesn't correct for five years is an expensive misstep – one that will send stock-market bears straight to the poorhouse.

There was very little un-certainty in the market – the United States was the best economy in the best of all possible worlds and the federal budget was swinging into surplus.

In fact, the only uncertainty to be found was situated far away from U.S. shores. I'm talking, of course, about the Asian economies going into crisis in the summer of 1997 and Russia defaulting in August 1998.

Now there was some market uncertainty that would have let you make some real money.

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Special Report: What is the Greek Debt Crisis, and What Does it Mean for Investors?

With Greece on the brink of default – and hanging over the global economy like a financial sword of Damocles – investors the world over are asking themselves the very same question, day after day: Just what is the Greek debt crisis, and what does it mean to me?

It means a lot.

In fact, the Greek debt crisis could prove to be the first in a series of sovereign-debt defaults that could even infect the U.S. economy, tipping it into a "double-dip" recession and reprising the bear market of 2009.

In short, this crisis is one you need to watch and understand.

Given the stakes, we decided to work with our panel of global-investing experts and put together this Money Morning special report: "What is the Greek Debt Crisis, and What Does it Mean for Investors?"

Our goal was to provide you with answers to some of the key questions about the Greek debt crisis – how it started, what's actually taking place, how it could affect the U.S. economy, and how we expect it to play out.

And with the help of experts Keith Fitz-Gerald, Shah Gilani and Martin Hutchinson, we also answer the most important debt-crisis question of all: "What should you do about it?"

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The New Global Gambling Hotspot That's Set to Overtake Las Vegas

First it was Macau that leapfrogged Las Vegas as the No. 1 global gambling destination in 2006.

Now another Asian powerhouse is set to push Sin City down to third on the list of global gambling hotspots.

We're talking about Singapore – the Southeast Asian city-state that has a red-hot economy and a new reputation as a tourist mecca.

Singapore, with just two casinos, is set to pass Las Vegas as the world's No. 2 gambling hub, according to Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association.

"Now more than a year old, the two integrated resorts in Singapore have exceeded all expectations and turned the nation into Asia's second global gaming superpower," Fahrenkopf told the AFP on the sidelines of a recent gaming conference in Macau. "The country's gaming market will likely overtake Las Vegas as the world's second-largest gaming center as early as this year."

Singapore's Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands casinos will rake in $6.4 billion of combined revenue this year, Fahrenkopf predicted. That would be a sizeable increase over 2010's $5.1 billion take.

Las Vegas brought in $5.8 billion last year, after stumbling in the wake of the financial crisis and housing collapse. A report citing research by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (NYSE ADR: RBS) indicated that Las Vegas would earn $6.2 billion this year, according to Agence France-Presse.

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Tech-Hungry Investors Take the Bait With Overvalued Pandora IPO

Internet radio company Pandora Media Inc. (NYSE: P) raised $234.9 million in its initial public offering (IPO) Tuesday, luring investors who were looking to get in on this year's batch of Internet stocks.

The Oakland, CA-based company sold 14.7 million shares at $16 each, up from $9 when the company first announced its IPO. Pandora shares jumped more than 40% as trading started yesterday (Wednesday), but closed only 8.9% higher at $17.42.

While many analysts like Pandora's long-term outlook, they say the company's financials don't explain its $2.6 billion valuation.

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Four Middle East Investments That Come with Little Risk and Big Potential

As I mentioned yesterday (Thursday) in Part One of this story about Middle East investments, instability makes investing in this tumultuous region fairly tricky. But that doesn't mean you ought to avoid it entirely.

After all, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in its World Economic Outlook that the region's economy would expand at a 5.1% pace in 2011, outpacing the United States and Europe.

And contrary to the perception of many Westerners, that growth projection isn't based primarily on the price outlook for oil, which has trended higher for most of the past year. Rather, it's keyed to everything from construction and new-business development to banking, tourism and even Internet gaming.

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Investing in the Middle East: The Best Plays to Make

Periodic eruptions of violence and instability make investing in the Middle East fairly tricky. But that doesn't mean you ought to avoid the region entirely.

Indeed, investing in the Middle East can be extremely profitable, as the region currently is one of the world's bright spots for economic growth.

The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) said in its World Economic Outlook that the region's economy would expand by 5.1% clip in 2011. That's well above the 1.5% pace projected for Europe and Japan and the 2.3% rate forecast for the United States.

And contrary to the perception of many Westerners, that growth projection isn't based primarily on the price outlook for oil, which has trended higher for most of the past year. Rather, it's keyed to everything from construction and new-business development to banking, tourism and even Internet gaming.

So let's take an in-depth look at each sector, as well as some specific companies to invest in.

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How to Profit From a Non-U.S. Investing Strategy

After reading columnist Martin Hutchinson's latest report on the Greek debt crisis last week, one Money Morning reader posed an excellent question: Given the crises already afflicting the markets in Europe and Japan – and the clearly darkening outlook for the U.S. economy – is it possible to craft a "non-U.S. investing strategy" of some type?

The answer, surprisingly enough, is "yes." You can put together an investment plan that largely avoids U.S.-related holdings – in essence, a non-U.S. investing strategy – and you can put it to work.

But before you can do that, you must fully understand the current challenges at hand.

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