Many want to believe that a stock market that has doubled from the March 2009 low (or added $9tn in market cap) has to mean that the US economy is in a healthy long-term recovery. Unfortunately, as Charles Biderman of TrimTabs explains, the PollyAnnas are wrong. The sentiment, built on the three pillars of an improved labor market, higher corporate earnings, and the return of the housing market, are all based upon misleading data. Starting from the position of discovering where the new money is coming from, the Bay Area Beau dismantles each of the pillars one by one and ends by noting that it is not Gold, which has outpaced stock market gains, that is a phantom currency but the USD.
For a February 29, tomorrow will be even more remarkable, because while all eyes will be on the LTRO, just waiting for their chance to start fading the expansion of the ECB's balance sheet (which will hit a record €3 trillion+ as of market close tomorrow, or well higher than the Fed's $3 billion), some may be forgetting that across the pond, our own Bernanke will be holding the first of his biannual Humphrey Hawkins presentations to Congress hours after the LTRO news has printed. Expectations are high that despite $2 trillion in liquidity flooding capital markets in the past 6 months, that Bernanke will not dare to remove the punchbowl. Here is Citi's Steven Englander with a preview of what (not) to expect.
While the now scheduled Irish referendum on the fiscal treaty, which will likely not pass successfully absent major concessions on behalf of Europe, will not precipitate a failure of the recently agree upon compact, as 12 out of the 17 contracting parties need to support the Eurozone, it will have an impact in that it would impact future bailouts of Ireland courtesy of preset European bailout mechanisms. In other words, should things take a turn for the worse, and they will, in the near future, Ireland will have to rely on itself to save itself. As a reminder, it took Europe 2 years to (supposedly) firewall itself from default and a collapse of its banks. How long will the same take for Ireland, because while the country may be standalone, its banks most certainly will not be. Remember that money is fungible. So are massive unrecognized Mark to Market losses. Morgan Stanley explains.
First they force now officially defaulted Greece to bailout European banks courtesy of a Greek funded Escrow package, then they make Greek pays for the privilege of having a job, then they send in German tax collectors, and finally they prepare to pilfer the gold. And simply because nobody is home, the colonization continues, with the formal take over of the country by a "Kommisar"
- JUNCKER CALLS FOR RECONSTRUCTION COMMISSIONER FOR ATHENS: WELT
- JUNCKER COMMENTS IN INTERVIEW WITH GERMANY'S DIE WELT
And since not even this colonial escalation will do much if anything to stir the locals, we can't even imagine what the next annexation steps will be.
There no longer are any words left to explain what is going on in this centrally planned market (technically "enantiomeric" may be a word, but nobody would get it). It is sheer and utter bipolar insanity, when the S&P can hit multi-year highs even as the 10 year drops below 1.90%, something which in the pre-New Normal would be completely impossible. We wish luck to anyone "trading" a market (read trading alongside Central Bank X, with momentum escalated courtesy of Algo Y, regulated by the SEC no less) which is now pricing in extreme deflation and inflation at the same time, or, simply said, much more QE from the Chairman, record EUR Brent be damned. Oh, and with crude (in USD) back on track to surpass $110, we can't wait for the Department of Truth to tell us how February consumer confidence is literally off the charts.
Just as we scripted, the temptation to migrate from the status quo in Europe was just too high for the other peripherals and Ireland just gained first / next mover advantage by daring top mention the "R" word. As Bloomberg notes:
- *IRELAND TO HOLD VOTE ON EU FISCAL COMPACT, KENNY SAYS
We would imagine that Barroso and his pals are scrambling now that another 'Referendum' is on the cards (and we are checking what 'referendum' is in Portuguese) and while fascism in perpetuity has been priced into Euro, the possibility that democracy rears its ugly head has just sent the EURUSD tumbling.
The economic data keeps coming fast and furious, with Consumer Confidence just printing at a blistering 70.3 on expectations of 63.0, up from 61.5? Why? Because crude is approaching records and gas is $5? No - because the market is up of course on trillions in liquidity. So confidence is up because the market is higher, and the second the higher than expected confidence number prints, the market is higher on that alone. Catch 22 FTW, and it is not alone - every other confidence-based indicator in the past 3 months has beat! Because human beings, indoctrinated to only care about nominal gains, really are that dumb - something well known and appreciated by the central bankers. In other news, we joked before it printed that the Richmond Fed would come several standard deviations above the consensus. Sure enough, the actual print came at 20, naturally far higher than the average estimate of 14, and in fact above the highest estimate of 17. The good news: silver has just hit a 30% YTD return.
So it starts - the ECB has just announced its request for bids for the next all important 3 year (1092 Day) Discount Window, pardon, LTRO operation, which is fully priced in now (and following which the market will look toward the Fed for future easing - enter Bernanke and his Humphrey Hawkins testimony tomorrow), and which will create even more negative carry for Euro banks, as the insolvent hedge fund formerly known as the ECB lends out cash at 1% (in exchange for what can generously be described as used candy bar wrappers) and pays back 0.25% on the same cash redeposited back at the ECB. For the results of operation tune in at 11:15 am tomorrow local time or 5:15 Eastern. The only practical result of this operation will be the expansion of the ECB's deposit facility to the mid €700 billions. As for what the final size of the LTRO will be, just ask your hotdog vendor: he has as much guidance as anyone else. Regardless of the size outcome, one thing is certain - the banks that are found to use the ECB's Discount Window should prepare for major stock pain, as the market, devoid of easy targets, focuses on them next as the European stigma trade becomes the hedge fund divergence trade du jour. After all there is a reason why the Fed's Discount Window expansion lasted for all of 3 months, and ended up hurting the participating banks (ahem Dexia) more than any other Fed concoction during the early stages of the Depression.
While the discipline of behavioral finance is relatively new, the performing art of magic has long exploited many of the same principles about human nature and decision-making. While much is made of the smoke-and-mirrors market we exist in, Nic Colas, of ConvergEx Group, reviews the 'Basics' of this ancient form of entertainment, courtesy of a recent Smithsonian magazine article by Teller (the quiet half of Penn & Teller), and draws some analogies to the modern world of investing and economic analysis. The seven crossover points include pattern recognition, overconfidence, and the illusion of free choice. It seems to us that investors can benefit from reminding themselves that their own powers of perception are severely limited. As Nic points out, if we can be regularly fooled by a Las Vegas magic act, then many of the same flaws in our thinking must be at play when we watch the screens at work. We seek out patterns that don’t really exist. We confuse choice with freedom. We grow emotional and limit our ability to process information. Watching a show, this is amusing. Making investment decisions, not so much.
Little that can be added here. The December Case Shiller came, saw, and shut up all those who keep calling for a home price recovery. The Index printed at 136.71 on expectations of 137.11, with the prior revised to 138.24. The top 20 City composite was down -0.5% on expectations of a 0.35% drop. 18 out of 20 MSAs saw monthly declines in December over November, with just the worst of the worst - Miami and Phoenix - posting a dead cat bounce, rising 0.2% and 0.8% respectively. And granted the data is delayed, but the fact that we have now had 8 consecutive months of home price declines even with mortgage rates persistently at record lows, and the double dip in housing more than obvious, can we finally shut up about a housing bottom? Because as Case Shiller's David Blitzer says: "If anything it looks like we might have reentered a period of decline as we begin 2012.” QED
Earmuffs time for our German readers.
And so the transition to the QE3 "economic disappointment" regime begins. Because after the ECB is done with the LTRO it's over for global QEasing, and the Fed is next. Remember- Bernanke's semiannual testimony to Congress is tomorrow. Whatever will he say....
- Headline Durable Goods plunges from +3.2 to -4% on expectations of -1%
- More painfully, Durable goods non-defense ex aircraft down a whopping -4.5% on Exp of -1.3%, down from +3.4%.
Visually, this is the lowest Durable Goods number since January 2009
So far there are no dramatic consequences of the Greek default. The ECB did say they couldn’t accept it as collateral, but national central banks (including Greece’s somehow solvent NCB) can, so no real change. We will likely get a Credit Event prior to March 20th once CAC’s are used to get the deal fully done. Will the market respond much to that? Probably not, though there is a higher risk of unforeseen consequences from that, than there was from the S&P downgrade. It just strikes us that Europe wasted a year or more, and has created a less stable system than it had before. Tomorrow’s LTRO is definitely interesting. It seems like every outcome is now bullish – big take up is bullish because of the “carry” trade. Low take up is bullish because “banks are okay”. Any weak bank looking to borrow from the LTRO to buy sovereign debt would be insane to buy bonds longer than 3 years and take the roll risk, but on the other hand, the weakest and most insolvent, got there by doing insane things in the first place.
Bill Gross' monthly letters are always a fresh source of jovial imagery, although the bond king may have outdone himself in his latest monthly letter which collapses the principles of investing onto the football field: "My point about pigskin offense and defense is the perfect metaphor for the world of investing as well. Offensively minded risk takers in the markets have historically been the ones who have dominated the headlines and won the hearts of that beautiful gal (or handsome guy).... Canton, however, has an approximately equal number of defensive in addition to offensively positioned inductees, so there must be a universally acknowledged role for both sides of the scrimmage line. What fan can forget Mean Joe Greene, Deion Sanders or Mike Ditka? The old, now politically incorrect showtune laments that “you gotta be a football hero, to fall in love with a beautiful girl,” but football and any of life’s heroes can play on either side of the line, it seems." And it only gets better. While at its heart Gross' latest is merely yet another lamentation against the confines of the financially suppressive regime that arises from ZIRP and ends with what many expect is a whimper (when in reality they all forget to factor in the facility of hitting the CTRL+P keys as many times as necessary), the flourish of abandon this time around is palpable. We would not be surprised to soon see Gross hang up his offensive (and defensive) jersey, and sit back and enjoy the coming lunacy from a distance (but hopefully not before he allocates just a little to the Ron Paul SuperPAC).