US equities tried to escape the draw of a strong Treasury market and weak gold market all day but kept being dragged back to reality (with a late-day dive on decent volume making the most interesting moment of the day). The day-session range was relatively low but volumes were ok as we leaked lower on the day. NASDAQ was the weakest (thanks to AAPL's push back towards it 'generational low') and TRANS outperformed - but the latter was playing catch up to the rest from yesterday's weakness (still lagging on the week). S&P futures clung to VWAP most of the afternoon in a rather uneventful day even as VIX pushed 0.5 vols higher to close above 17% for the first time in three weeks - notably divergent from stocks. EUR strength (+0.8% this week!), while modestly supportive, has largely decoupled from equity movements this week as correlations across risk assets have dropped notably.
Beggaring thy neighbour has consequences. Neighbours might turn around and bite back. How long until other nations join with Brazil in declaring trade measures against the United States is uncertain, but there may be few other options on the table for creditors wanting to get their pound of flesh, or nations wishing to protect domestic industries. After all, the currency wars won’t just go away; competitive devaluation is like trying to get the last word in an argument. The real question is whether the present argument will lead to a fistfight.
With humans long gone from the trading arena and algorithms left solely in charge of the casino formerly known as "the stock market", in which price discovery is purely as a function of highly levered synthetic instruments such as ES and SPY or, worse, the EURUSD and not fundamentals, numerous valuation dislocations are bound to occur. Such as company equity value trading well below net cash (excluding total debt), or in other words, negative enterprise value, meaning one can buy the cash at a discount of par and assign zero value to all other corporate assets. In other far more rare cases, some companies may trade with negative EV even if they have positive LTM free cash flow (EBITDA-CapEx). Usually these arbs are rather well hidden, and certainly not within the roster of the far more popular S&P500 companies. We did a quick CapIQ search of all Russell 2000 companies (avoiding microcaps) for whom Net Cash > Market Cap. There were a total of 10 companies among the universe of 2000 that fit these criteria. We then further subdivided the category into companies with negative (far less valuable) cash flow, and positive cash flow. There were just 4 companies in the last category. They are highlighted in the table below.
While China's equity index continues to plumb new depths, the macro data of the past two weeks has been the crutch for US equity bulls losing faith in the fiscal cliff negotiations - growth is up, investment is up, and inflation is down - with analysts hailing the news as evidence that the Chinese economy has "truly bottomed out." As Michael Pettis, of China Financial Markets, notes though "I think we need to be very cautious and refrain from allowing ourselves to get too caught up in the huge sigh of relief that the sell side is heaving. Growth rates in China will continue to slow dramatically in the next few years, and if there are temporary lulls, as there must be, these do not represent any sort of “bottoming out” at all." His perspective is simply that Beijing cannot afford 'politically' to allow the transition/adjustment/reforms to take place too fast - and occasionally needs "to step on the investment accelerator." The bottom-line, he notes, is that "you can get as much growth as you like if you expand credit, but once expanding credit has become the problem, it cannot also be a permanent solution to slower growth. The country’s balance sheet continues to deteriorate – and the most recent growth spurt implies faster deterioration – and this, ultimately, is the main constraint of the Chinese growth model."
With the Italian economy in its fourth recession in the last ten years and unemployment soaring, a supermarket has come up with a novel way of hiring. According to Germany's Mittelstands Nachrichten, customers who spend over EUR30 will receive a lottery ticket and the grand prize winners will be given "temporary part-time assistant jobs" at the supermarket. We are not really sure where to go with this - but somewhere in this odd arrangement is a sad reflection of the European society's deterioration...
With the foundation of our economy now one of gluttony and excess (at all costs), the significance of the slowdown in consumer spending in the latest GDP data cannot be underestimated. As Bloomberg Briefs notes, real consumer spending fell 0.3% in October, and is only 1.3% above year-ago levels - the US economy has a propensity to slip into recession any time the 12-month pace of real consumer spending falls below 2.0%. Their so-called ‘Fab Five’ indicators of discretionary spending took a notable turn for the worse in October. Dining out fell 0.4% MoM in October and is only +1.5% YoY – its slowest pace since April 2010. Spending on cosmetics and perfumes fell 0.04% in October, continuing the negative trend from its peak registered in the summer of 2011. Spending on women’s and girls’ clothing slumped 1.8% in October, following a 0.1% decline in September. Casino gambling fell 1.6% in October, while spending on jewelry and watches fell 0.1% in the same month. All-in-all, the consumer's balance-sheet-recession continues...
Amidst all the "fiscal cliff" talk of raising tax rates, few dare to ask: have tax revenues topped out? How could tax revenues decline as rates go up? Easy: people modify their behavior in response to whatever incentives and disincentives are present. Make mortgage interest deductible and people will rack up huge mortgages. Reduce the yield on savings to near-zero (thank you, Federal Reserve) and people will save less. Raise tax rates and people will lower their income or move to low-tax locales. As the saying has it, "Money goes where it is treated well." Supporters of higher rates tout studies that find upper-income taxpayers shrug off higher rates, staying put in high-tax states: Do High Taxes Chase Out The Rich? and Superrich stay put in high-tax states like California. On the other side of the ledger is this study from Britain: Two-thirds of millionaires left Britain to avoid 50% tax rate. Which view is correct? Both, as a result of different dynamics. There are at least four separate dynamics in play.
Yesterday we noted that India was preparing to send its Navy into the South China Sea - defending its mineral rights from China's increasingly vociferous presence. The Philippines also expressed concern. Today, it's Vietnam's turn as Reuters reports the nation is condemning China's "serious violation of sovereignty" as Chinese boats sabotaged Vietnamese State oil and gas company - PetroVietnam's operations (by severing a seismic cable). The actions stem from China's 'belief' that two Vietnamese-owned archipelagos (Spratly and Paracel Islands) are theirs. While China (who oppose unilateral oil and gas development in disputed waters) argued somewhat comically that "Chinese fishing boats were operating normally," the Vietnamese saw it as "blatant violation of Vietnamese waters," and are deploying marine police and a border force to stop foreign vessels. As one analyst noted, "It's going to lead to friction."
With AAPL -2% and stocks at the lows of the day, we wonder whether Obama has bought puts or calls today... President Obama sits down with Bloomberg White House correspondent Julianna Goldman at the White House today for his first television interview since the election to discuss the fiscal cliff - now just four weeks away.
*OBAMA SAYS NO FISCAL CLIFF DEAL `WITHOUT TAXES ON THE RICH'
Live stream below
Time for flashbacks to nearly two years ago, when the first Egyptian revolution, with great assistance from the various governmental liberating agencies of the "developed world", led to a democratic regime, so democratic, the ruler lasted all of 5 months before declaring himself temporary dictator. The reason: following yet more riots, this time resulting in a siege of the presidential palace, and in which protesters breached the presidential palace cordon, Reuters reports that Mursi, aka Morsillini, who granted himself "temporary" supreme commander (read dictator) powers with a unilateral decree on November 22, has now left the building... the presidential palace that is. This will surely embolden the protesters even more, and may well get the military in play once again. One wonders just which regime the US will support this time around, and what happens if control over the Suez Canal can not be maintained following what is increasingly shaping as a counterrevolution.
When people become desperate or hope-less, two things tend to coalesce; 1) they become easily led by charismatic leaders (no matter how crazy the ideas would appear previously), and 2) they resort to actions deemed previously un-possible. Putting a roof over your family's head, feeding your kids (or yourself), or buying the next iPad can drive people to these acts of desperation. Greece's homelessness rate has risen 25% since 2009 (with 20,000 living on the streets of Athens) and over 30% are at risk of poverty (with Ireland close behind). Suicide rates had risen by 40% in the first half of 2010 (and Greece was still relatively low). HIV infections from injecting drug-users has surged 20-fold in two years! And while crime rates remain among the lowest in Western Europe, robberies have surged since 2005 and prison populations (per capita) are on the rise - though, thankfully not as bad as in the US (yet). With sovereign bond spreads at multi-month lows, stocks at multi-month highs, and Barroso et al. claiming victory at every opportunity, perhaps some internal (Farage-like) reflection on the social depression they have enabled is required as the Bank of Greece warned the nation’s social cohesion is under threat.
The Great Depression brought about the Keynesian Revolution, complete with new analytical tools and economic programs that have been relied upon for decades. In dampening each successive downturn, authorities accumulated increasingly larger deficits and brought about a debt supercycle that lasted in excess of half a century. The efficacy of these tools and programs has slowly been eroded over the years as the accumulation of policy actions has reduced the flexibility to deal with crises as we reach budget constraints and stretch the Fed’s balance sheet beyond anything previously imagined. Some have referred to this as reaching the Keynesian endpoint. Keynes would barely recognize where we now find ourselves. In this ultra loose policy environment we are limited by our Keynesian toolkit. Without a new economic paradigm, the deleterious consequences of the current misguided policies are a foregone conclusion.
A snapshot of (quite amusing) "New Normal" dealmaking in the insolvent continent.
Forget the Fiscal Cliff: it is merely a much needed economic distraction for the next 3-4 months (distracting from what? Why Europe of course). Yes, it will be resolved, and yes taxes will go up, and yes, debates over it will most likely be carried over into 2013 and nothing will be compromised until the ultimate debt ceiling deadline (because it is really a Fiscal Cliff-Debt Ceiling package deal) is hit some time in March 2013, but eventually one or both parties will cave, right after the market plunges to put it all into the proper perspective as it did around the time of TARP and the August 2011 debt ceiling debate, and a resolution will materialize. The bigger issue has nothing to do with the Fiscal Cliff, which is indeed a sideshow. The bigger issue, as Art Cashin explains, has everything to do with a secular decline in the US economy, where a 1% growth rate will soon be the "New Killing It", where millions more (in part-time workers) will soon be let go, and where businesses no longer generate the cash flows needed to stay open. Art Cashin explains.