As reported on Wednesday night, China's economy is contracting faster than anyone expected. As further reported last night, China loan creation at 540.1 billion yuan was far below economist estimates of 700 billion. In other words: the world's marginal economy is starting to crack. So the PBOC has no choice but to ease right? Wrong. As we showed yesterday, the Chinese central bank has one mandate above all: food price stability, or else suffer the consequences of "1+ billion people instability." And as the USDA report just confirmed, Soybean is going nowhere but up. Which in turn means Chinese food inflation, which makes up 30% of the headline CPI (unlike America's 7.8%) is set to follow. Still hoping and praying that the PBOC will ease even as the deep fried black swan we warned about 2 weeks ago is rapidly flapping its wings toward Beijing? Hope and pray harder.
Corn was already surging to new record highs before the USDA released the WASDE report this morning. With a consensus view of 10.929 billion bushels (compared to USDA's prior 2012 estimates of 12.97 billion), the USDA's 10.779 billion bushel forecast means a 17% slashing in harvest expectations. Crop conditions were the worst since 1988 with 69% of the Midwest in drought. Soybeans likewise were expected to show a 2.796 billion bushel production forecast (based on Bloomberg's survey) which compares with the 3.05 billion prior forecast from USDA and just came 4% below expectations. Bloomberg notes: "The U.S. drought means that global corn supplies will be critically tight for the next year; Livestock and milk-product prices will have to rise to cover the increased feed costs. Eventually, global consumers will have to pay the bill." It appears the algos were at play immediately after the report as prices surged (in corn) to $8.49 before falling rapidly back to $8.19, and are now up fractionally at $8.31. The biggest consequence is a heavier drag on any possibility of a sizable Chinese stimulus as food price inflation, as we noted last night, is set to stymie any flood of money.
Look around. Take a good long and hard look because the data is becoming unsettling and it is pouring in from all over the world. In China, where a hard landing was thought to have been avoided; one moment please, not so fast. The world’s growth engine is sputtering and there will be consequences. In Europe the situation is dramatically worsening with virtually every country in a recession with the notable exception of Germany though we predict they will join the club by the fourth quarter of this year or by the first quarter of next year. For those that think that the Fed will save the day, if not the planet, we suggest to you that you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. There is only so much they can do now and each Fed action is being met by a less and less reaction in the markets and of a shorter duration.
The Financial Times published an interesting article on Wednesday by a Tokyo-based analyst with Arcus Research, Peter Tasker, entitled of 'Cash out of gold and send kids to college'. The article is interesting as it is an articulate synopsis of those who are either negative on and or bearish on gold. It clearly shows the continuing failure to understand the importance of gold as a diversification and as financial insurance. Tasker incorrectly states that gold is "just another financial asset, as vulnerable to the shifts of investor sentiment as an emerging market." He conveniently ignores over 2,000 years of history showing how gold is a store of value. He also ignores recent academic research showing gold to be a hedging instrument and a safe haven asset. Another fact unacknowledged is how gold has clearly been a store of value since the current financial and economic crisis began in 2007. Since then gold has protected people from depreciating financial assets (such as equities and noncore bonds) and from depreciating fiat currencies such as the dollar, the pound and more recently the euro.
European markets opened lower as risk-off was observed across the asset classes as participants reacted to the disappointing data from China overnight. Continental equity futures have moved horizontally throughout the session so far with little newsflow or influential data to sway price action. Heading into the European open, little has changed as all European indices are in the red, being led lower by consumer goods and utilities. China posted a sharp narrowing in their trade balance surplus to USD 25bln from USD 32bln in June, as the growth in exports slows across the month. As such, it is not a surprise to hear the usual market chatter of the Chinese central bank taking an imminent move to cut their Reserve Requirement Ratio today. However, as nothing has materialised, the riskier assets have not seen any significant lift from the talk.
- World’s Oldest Shipping Company Closes In Industry Slide (Bloomberg)
- Japan Growth May Slow to Half Previous Pace as Exports Wane (Bloomberg)
- China Export Growth Slides As World Recovery Slows (Bloomberg)
- Weidmann tries to muffle not spike Draghi's ECB guns (Reuters)
- Draghi lays out toolkit to save eurozone (FT)
- Concerns grow over prospects for sterling (FT)
- RIM Said To Draw Interest From IBM On Enterprise Services (Bloomberg)
- UN urges US to cut ethanol production (FT)
- Goldman Sachs Leads Split With Obama, As GE Jilts Him Too (Bloomberg)
- New apartments boost US building sector (FT)
There was a time when Bill Ackman, constantly misperceived as a retail investing genius, blew up an entire fund solely dedicated to investing in Target, mostly via calls as in something out of Whitney Tilson's wettest dream (incidentally, another "investor" who could not get enough of JCP at $27), Pershing Square IV (full hilarious letter from Pershing Square Capital Punishment to the PSIV investors here). His current massive investment in JCP is luckily not a standalone fund, but it is now certainly stalked by the ghost of PSIV as JCP literally blew up overnight and any hope of the rumored "10-15 return" that Ackman predicted in the stock has now gone up in smoke. Oh well: there is always the gamble on Procter and Gamble.
The markets have been treading water over the past week, yet courtesy of the non-existant volume and the lack of sellers, VWAP algos have been levitating the S&P ever higher despite the lack of any new or credible reason for it to do so. Call it the Merkel vacation doldrums. It is so slow in Europe even Rajoy - now the gatekeeper for the next European phase of sovereign bailouts - is soaking in the sun somewhere, whether or not he may want to return to his job is another matter. As Reuters reports, his popularity is plummeting meaning the government will not survive if and when Rajoy demands a Spanish bailout: "Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faces a cloudy return from his short summer break as his expected request for European aid in September will spur protests on the street and deepen cracks emerging in his conservative People's Party... According to an official poll released this week, if a general election were to take place now, Rajoy's People's Party would still win but would get only a 36.6 percent of the vote, down from 40.6 percent in a poll in May and 44.6 percent in the November vote." Which in turn means that Spain demanding a bailout could well mean a violent government overthrow and a follow through mimicking precisely what we saw in Greece, with the opposition party set to undo any bailout request by Rajoy (who knows all of this). In the meantime Bloomberg confirms that sentiment in Europe is resuming its turn as European markets fall led by the Spanish and Italian markets, 10yr yields in those countries rise. Chinese import & export data and French industrial production data were below estimates earlier. The euro is weaker against the dollar and commodity prices fall led by industrial metals. U.S. import price data is released later.
Six weeks ago we detailed how watching intra- and inter-asset-class correlations can tell investors a lot about what is behind market movements and as Nick Colas, of ConvergEx, highlights in his monthly review of asset price correlations - it reveals a key feature of the "Mystery Rally of Summer 2012." The move from the early June lows for U.S. stocks has come with increasing correlations across a wide array of asset types and industry sectors. That's unusual, because rising markets over the past three years more commonly bring lower correlations. For example, the rally from January to early April of this year saw industry correlations within the S&P 500 drop from +95% to 75-80% as the index went from 1270 to 1420 (a 12% return). Conversely, the move from 1278 to 1400 (early June to present day) has come with increasing industry correlations – 82% in May to 86% currently. To us, that's an important "Tell" about what's been taking us higher – hopes for further Federal Reserve liquidity at the next FOMC meeting in September and ECB liquidity to support the euro. The rest of August will likely feature the kind of light-volume tape that loves to drift higher, but increasing correlations represent a flashing yellow light signifying the need for caution in trading over the balance of the month.
A 40% loss of post-IPO market-cap, channel-stuffing largesse, contract-law destruction, and all with tax-payer backing. That is what the Bailout'er-in-chief has in mind for every manufacturing company in the US. As Politico reports this evening, President Obama gave a speech we think rivals his 'you didn’t build it' miasma as he alienated foreigners, encouraged socialized losses, and suggests bailouts for any and all. "I said, I believe in American workers, I believe in this American industry, and now the American auto industry has come roaring back," (cough - down 43% - cough) he said. "Now I want to do the same thing with manufacturing jobs, not just in the auto industry, but in every industry."
In attempting to stimulate risk appetite by taking “safe” assets out of the market, the Fed has actually achieved precisely the opposite of stimulating productive investment. First, it has turned bond markets into a race to the bottom as bond flippers end up piling into the very assets that the Fed is trying to discourage ownership of — because who care about low yields when the Fed will jump in at an even lower price floor, thus assuring the bond flippers a profit? Second it has energised other safe asset markets (such as gold) as longer term investors look for alternatives to preserve their purchasing power in the context of a global economic depression. The Fed is firing at the wrong target; the real problem — the thing that is causing investors to scramble for safe assets — is an economic depression brought on by (among other non-monetary causes) the deleveraging costs of an unsustainable debt bubble.
With drought conditions bad and getting worse and agricultural commodities 'stabilizing' at their multi-year highs, tomorrow morning could be the catalyst for the next leg in a global food inflation spike (and its accompanying deflationary impacts on economies). The USDA releases it August World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) at 830ET - which is particularly important since it is the first survey-based estimates of the year. It would appear that while pre-positioning has slowed a little, sell-side analysts expect prices (and implied vols) for corn, soybeans, and less-so wheat to rise on the back of not just (dramatically) lower crop yields (in this first of the year survey) but overly optimistic harvested-to-planted estimates and demand limits. Ethanol demand destruction is also emerging as a consensus.