On the inaugural day of the much-awaited holy grail of Europe - the ESM - DutchNews.nl reports that Dutch diplomats in Athens have been secretly planning for an eventual Greek exit from the eurozone (along four themes - liquidity, energy, communications, and security). "We have deliberately strictly kept this behind closed doors", a Dutch diplomat told Volkskrant, adding "I do not know who has trumpeted." Among the Dutch companies doing business in Greece are Heineken, Unilever, and Philips as one business owner note that they "send cash back to the Netherlands as soon as possible - holding as little money in Greece as possible." While the foreign affairs ministry would not confirm, the paper cites a diplomat who commented: "we do not want to awaken any sleeping giants." We suspect you just did - sshh!
Europe just can't catch a break these days. While French Fitch naturally came out earlier with a AAA rating and a stable outlook, it is Moody's, which has yet to follow through in S&P's footsteps 14 months later and tell the truth about America's AAA rating, that moments ago spoiled the ESM "inauguration" party by branding it AAA, but with a Negative outlook. So much for the most 'supersecure' CDO on earth: looks like we are not the only ones to assign comical value to the ESM's €80 billion first loss "Paid-in" tranche. Because that 12% in buffered protection can disappear very quick if and when the central planners lose control.
If interest income as a percentage of total personal income had remained at its 2008 level, the total would now be over $1.5 trillion. It is this $550 billion annual delta that the Fed has directly, though its policies, taken away from US consumers in terms of purchasing power. So while the Fed has taken away the bond market as a venue in which to generate current income, it is the structural failures of equities in a post-HFT world (stories of mini, amd maxi, Flash Crashes are now a daily occurrence) that prevent investors from having the same confidence about current income in a market in which terminal and fatal capital loss are all too real fears. And there are those who still wonder why the US consumer is withering away, and absent such crutches as soaring Federal non-revolving debt, used for anything but its designated purposes, would have less purchasing power now than before the crisis as a result of the Fed's failed policies. As George Magnus so peotically summarizes it "What the left hand giveth, the right hand taketh away."
With bond-traders amiss - no doubt all celebrating the indigenous people of our great nation - volumes were dismal and so was any evidence of a BTFD mentality in risk. AAPL, amid the biggest three-day slide in almost six-months, saw pullbacks to VWAP sold immediately (signaling more institutional biased selling) ending very close to a 10% correction from its highs. This weighed on Tech (obviously) which was the worst performing sector and dragged Nasdaq (and the S&P) lower. In general equities stayed in sync with risk-assets on the day (we note that TLT's move implies around a 4-5bps compression in yields at the long-end of the Treasury curve) though the lack of liquidity made the relationships noisy. Low volumes, low range, a premature ramp in the last hour that gathered no momentum left S&P futures having retraced 50% of their low-to-high swing of last week. Gold and Oil decoupled early then recoupled late, ending the day down but outperforming the implied weakness from USD strength (EUR weakness balanced JPY and AUD strength on the day). Copper and Silver ended the day down 1.4%. VIX 'outperformed' equity weakness and pushed a notable 0.8 vols higher back over 15%.
S&P 500 EPS is forecast by consensus to decline 2% both sequentially and YoY in 3Q12 driven by net margin compression. As Morgan Stanley's Adam Parker notes, it appears (for now) that we can have an earnings recession without an economic recession; but the disconnect may be a lag as opposed to a decouple. Roughly 50% of companies are expected to experience YoY contraction in net margins but - and this is the 'funny' segment of this post - consensus expects an 18.2% incremental margin expansion in 2013 (from a 7.2% rise in 2012 which is down from 13.1% rise in 2011); and while 3Q EPS is expected to be negative, the following three quarters EPS growth are expected to rise dramatically (double that of 2012 on average). It seems investors (and analysts) are still willing to believe in miracles.
Since the end of the Second World War, the major powers of the world have lived in relative peace. While there have been wars and conflicts — Vietnam, Afghanistan (twice), Iraq (twice), the Congo, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, the Iran-Iraq war, the Mexican and Colombian drug wars, the Lebanese civil war — these have been localised and at a much smaller scale than the violence that ripped the world apart during the Second World War. Hopefully, the threat of mutually assured destruction and the promise of commerce will continue to be an effective deterrent, and prevent any kind of global war from breaking out. Nothing would be more wonderful than the continuing spread of peace. Yet we must be guarded against complacency. Sixty years of relative peace is not the end of history.
The president is about to speak in Keene, CA, just off Bakersfield, where he will announce the establishment of the Cesar Chavez national monument. That at least is the official topic. What everyone is curious about is if Obama will bring up the topic that is on every Californian's mind today: gas prices that have never been higher. Find out shortly if the recent gas price breakout is once again the work of evil, evil speculators, some of whom may not even have a printing press, or if the market's discounting of $1 trillion in new Treasury monetizations by the Fed, or roughly half the budget deficit through 2014 has anything to do with it. Also, certainly keep an eye on RBOB and various energy margin hike after the close. After all, Obama is not known as the margin hiker-in-chief for nothing.
We have seen bigger drops in AAPL's share price and each time that dip has been bought. Critically though, not just nibbled on but backed-up-the-truck volume surges as AAPL's price fell as what seemed like institutional buyers using any dip to grab some high-beta meth into this trend. The current almost-10% drop is missing this volume surge - where are the BTFD'ers? But, but, but what about iTV, the mini-iPad, and the pending vendor-financing corporate spin-off?
Now that the ESM has been officially inaugurated, to much pomp and fanfare out of Europe this morning, many are wondering not so much where the full debt backstop funding of the instrument will come from (it is clear that in a closed-loop Ponzi system, any joint and severally liable instrument will need to get funding from its joint and severally liable members), as much as where the equity "paid-in" capital will originate, since in Europe all but the AAA-rated countries are insolvent, and current recipients of equity-level bailouts from the "core." As a reminder, as part of the ESM's synthetic structure, the 17 member countries have to fund €80 billion of paid-in capital (i.e. equity buffer) which in turn serves as a 11.4% first loss backstop for the remainder of the €620 billion callable capital (we have described the CDO-like nature of the ESM before on many occasions in the past). The irony of a country like Greece precommiting to a €19.7 billion capital call, or Spain to €83.3 billion, or Italy to €125.4 billion, is simply beyond commentary. Obviously by the time the situation gets to the point where the Greek subscription of €20 billion is the marginal European rescue cash, it will be game over. The hope is that it never gets to that point. There is, however, some capital that inevitably has to be funded, which even if nominal, may prove to be a headache for the "subscriber" countries. The payment schedule of that capital "invoicing" has been transformed from the original ESM document, and instead of 5 equal pro rata annual payments has been accelerated to a 40%, 40%, 20% schedule. And more importantly, "The first two instalments (€32 billion) will be paid in within 15 days of ESM inauguration." In other words, October 23 is the deadline by which an already cash-strapped Spain, has to pay-in the 40% of its €9.5 billion, or €3.8 billion, contribution, or else.
As earnings season is upon us, we will no doubt hear that expectations are so low that the market has it all priced in and upside is the only way to go (apart from the fact that Q4 expectations remain in the land of faeries and unicorns). Of course Q4's hockey-stick is critically going to depend on the fiscal-cliff - post-election. As we noted here, there are few positive outcomes from the fiscal cliff 'negotiations' with even a best-case 'possibility' of a 0.9% fiscal drag in the first half of 2013. Using trend growth of 3%, and Goldman's estimate of around a 4% drag (lower than the 6-plus% drag the CBO estimates), we can work back from the consensus 2.05% GDP growth for 2013 to figure what the market's priced in probability of a fiscal-cliff resolution is. It would seem the market is more than happy to almost entirely dismiss the fiscal cliff. Back of the envelope math implies only a 1.5% probability of the full fiscal cliff impact and therefore any expectation of an equity market rally on hopes of a compromise seem far-fetched with well over 95% priced in currently.
Friday's ramp-fest in European stocks - which did not appear to be correspondingly followed by European sovereign debt - was largely retraced today. Extended by the bullish bias from the US NFP data (and closed before the US data BLShit sunk in), it seems that not just the catch down drove stocks in Europe (and Europe's VIX) but anxiety ahead of the expected wall of noise from European leaders ahead of their meetings (which we have already suffered today). European government bonds leaked lower (yields/spreads higher) and Swiss 2Y rates dropped to their lowest in a month (though still well above the mid-crisis safety panic levels of a few months ago). European credit also slid - tending to follow equities this time.
Given the Fed's ZIRP impact on expected returns, PIMCO notes that those approaching retirement have three choices: a) save more, b) work longer, or c) tighten their belts in retirement. If everyone saves more, we consume less, and therefore GDP growth slows down. Anemic growth leads to a Fed on hold for a prolonged period - and even further lowered return expectations in an ugly paradox-of-thrift-like feedback loop. PIMCO has found a concerning empirical link between lower rates and longer periods in the workforce as a higher fraction of older Americans remain employed. This has the structurally dismal impact of reducing (implicitly) the level of 'prime working age' employment and has 'convexity' - in other words, the lower rates go, the greater the inertia of the elderly to stay in the workforce. Intuitively, low rates leading to longer work lives just makes sense – especially in an era where fewer retirees will draw defined benefit pensions. This is why some of us are wondering if the Fed is spinning its wheels by sticking to the old model of trying to stimulate growth. So expect lower-rates and longer working years or go all-in on HY CCC debt with 20% of your savings.
The majority of Americans seem OK with just waddling through life, accepting the lies and misinformation blasted from the boob tube and their various iGadgets by their owners, gorging themselves to death on Twinkies and Cheetos, paying 15% interest on their $10,000 rolling credit card balance, and growing ever more dependent on the welfare/warfare state to provide and protect them from accepting personal responsibility for their lives. A minority of critical thinking people have chosen to question everything they see and hear being spewed at us by the propagandist mainstream media. What do 'we, the people' want? As it seems the entitlement “free shit” mentality permeates our culture. The question is whether we will stand idly by, fiddling with our gadgets, tweeting about Honey Boo Boo, or will we regain our sense of duty to the future generations of this country.
This particular news from Goldman and the SEC needs absolutely no introduction, explanation, or conclusion. It is, as Homer J. Simpson would say, "a tidy little package."
- GOLDMAN HIRES EX-SEC INVESTMENT MGMT CHIEF BUDDY DONOHUE: MEMO
- GOLDMAN NAMES DONOHUE GENERAL COUNSEL OF GSAM INVESTMENT COS
Shocking. Absolutely shocking. Elsewhere, completely unfounded rumors that various DOJ staffers are planning to join assorted Mexican drug cartels shortly.