HSBC's Flash Manufacturing PMI printed at 48.1 - its lowest in 7 months as contraction continues in the world's growth engine - as inventories rise at a faster rate and new export orders plunged at the fastest rate since March 2009. Risk markets were already leaking lower before this but extended losses with ES down 6pts from the close (and over 11 from the day's highs). Treasuries are bleeding a little lower in yield but the real action is an exaggerated slide in WTI (which is rapidly heading towards a sub-$80 handle) and EURUSD which has dropped back to the day's lows around 1.2660. Copper, Gold, and Silver are also sliding lower as AUD weakens (as we suggested last night) back to 1.0150.
One of the things that’s really unique about this part of the world is having access to so many people with first-hand experience of living under Soviet rule. It’s a bizarre thing to say, but the stories they have to tell are extraordinary. ast night I had dinner with some friends, including one woman who was just a child at the end of World War II. She explained to me that her family had been wealthy landowners near the capital city… until the Soviet-controlled government came in, confiscated all of their property, and shipped the adults off to Siberia. “There were so many opportunities to leave beforehand,” she explained, ”but they just never thought things would ever get that bad here. Everyone saw what happened in other countries, but my family never expected that it would happen to them.” While most people probably aren’t going to end up in Siberia anytime soon, the lesson is still valuable.
The revaluation that is underway now is beyond the simple scope of corporate earnings valuations, going to the very core of the system itself. Just like the equity pricing regime (and investor expectations for equity assets) needs to adjust to the twelve-year-old bear market reality, pricing within the global banking system as a whole needs to adjust to the reality that the artificial growth of the economic textbook is not replicable. The economic truth of 2012 is that much of the science of economics, and the foundation that gives to finance and financial pricing, was a temporal anomaly befitting only those specific conditions of that bygone era. In other words, the entire financial world needs to reset itself outside the paradigm of pre-2008. The secular bear market in US equities is one strand of this changing landscape, perhaps the first stirring of the collapse of the activist central bank experiment. In the end, the potential selling pressure of the dollar shortage is irresistible, no matter how “cheap” stock prices are to earnings, but none of it may matter in the grander scheme of a dramatic reset to the global system. The inability of that global system to escape this critical state, to simply move beyond crisis and function “normally” again, demonstrates conclusively, in my opinion, the foundational transformation that is still taking place well beyond the stock bear. Everything is a locked feedback loop of negative pressures in this age, no matter how much we want to see “value” where and how it used to exist.
Paradigm shifts are rarely orderly, but there are warning signs.
Capitalists have been gripped by 'systemic fear' making them worry not about the day-to-day movements of growth, employment, and profit, but about 'losing their grip'. An interesting recent article by the Real-World Economics Review on the Asymptotes of Power focuses on the fact that the capitalists are forced to realize that their system may not be eternal, and that it may not survive in its current form. The authors fear that, peering into the future, the '1%' realize that in order to maintain (or further increase) their distributional power (their net profit share of national income - which hovers at record highs) they will have to unleash even greater doses of social 'violence' on the lower classes. The high level of force already being applied makes them increasingly fearful of the backlash they are about to receive (think Europe to a lesser extent) and nowhere is this relationship between the wealthy capitalists and social upheaval more evident than in the incredible correlation between the Top 10% share of wealth and the percent of the labor force in prison. In order to have reached the peak level of power it currently enjoys, the ruling class has had to inflict growing threats, sabotage and pain on the underlying population. Although there are no hard and fast rules here, it is doubtful that this massive punishment can be increased much further without highly destabilizing consequences. This crisis is rooted in our past sins and we are unlikely to escape the punishment we justly deserve.
There has been much talk today about Obama's use of the "executive privilege" yet few are familiar with the details of this relatively unknown presidential option. The AP sheds much needed light on this practice: perhaps the most fitting, to the constitutional expert president, is that the "privilege" isn't in the Constitution nor has been clearly defined by the courts. In other words - just the kind of loophole that one needs to mask the fact that the very person tasked with imposing justice is himself guilty of performing just the opposite. Yet Obama has only used it once (so far) during his tenure as president. Dubya used it six times, Bush Sr used it once also. Slick Willie however takes the cake with 14 cases of executive privilege during his 8 years on top.
Despite what her officials say publicly, austerity has limited support within the ECB itself, because it is run at the top by neoclassical economists. Instead, the real constraint is Germany, whose citizens’ savings are on the line and which faces the prospect of its third currency collapse in a century. So this is where the lines are drawn up: spendthrifts desperate for more money, a conflicted central bank, and Germany. Angela Merkel has made considerable progress in pushing the German electorate in a direction that is completely against its instincts by playing the political card marked “there is no alternative.” With her considerable political skills, she may be able to push her people some more, but it is becoming increasingly difficult, because everyone in Germany can see that committing real savings to bailing out the spendthrifts only wipes out the savings. These are not euros simply conjured out of thin air, because the Bundesbank cannot print them and probably wouldn’t do so anyway. But the pressure is mounting on her, and she is being squeezed by governments such as the British and the Americans, who are now panicking over the consequences of failure. This is why both countries went public last week, with David Cameron even visiting Merkel in person. It is a sure indication that major governments outside the Eurozone are beginning to expect the worst, and that unless Germany gives way, it will happen quickly.
After earlier none other than Obama stepped up and invoked an executive privilege, hoping the next step would be avoided, Darrell Issa just called the president and the AG's bluff:
HOUSE PANEL VOTES TO HOLD ERIC HOLDER IN CONTEMPT - BBG
But wait, there's more:
HOLDER CALLS CONTEMPT VOTE `EXTRAORDINARY' AND UNNECESSARY
HOLDER CALLS CONTEMPT VOTE `ELECTION-YEAR TACTIC'
... And now to give some illegal immigrant voters pseudo-amnesty. So aside from this soaring acrimony between Republicans and Democrats, the "Fiscal cliff" issue will be promptly resolved. Promise.
Gold and Treasuries tipped their hands a little pre-FOMC and risk assets plunged immediately on the release's lack of an explicit and immediate print-fest gratification. But between short-squeezes (and stating the obvious news) from Europe and a dangling-chad of hope for future QE as the economy was marked down to a 'must-do-better' grade by Bernanke, we ripped higher in most risk-sensitive assets to test the day's highs. We then plunged back down to the lows of the day as the press-conference went on and left most wanting more kool-aid than Ben was willing to deliver. However, with 10 minutes to go in the day, EURUSD staged an impressive squeeze higher of shorts and that dragged stocks up to VWAP and beyong for a green close. What a shit-show - excuse our French. Gold had outperformed for much of the sell-off and recovery and Treasury yields, the USD, and stocks had stayed in sync with one another - until the last few minutes when stocks and the USD went vertical and overshot gold. Commodities were generally decimated on the day (with WTI -2.7% on the week, Silver -2%, Gold -1.2%, and Copper unch) while the USD is modestly lower -0.23% on the week ending the day practically unch having given all its gains back in the last few mins. Stocks trading very technically, stalling the sell-off at Friday's closing level, pivoting on volume around VWAP and Monday's opening highs, and closing at basically yesterday's day-session close. Despite stocks lack of excitement (though intraday bipolarism), VIX managed to drop notably - down 1.2 vols to close at almost 17.00% (its lowest in 7 weeks). Treasuries ended the day mixed with the long-end lower in yield (not participating in the selloff that dragged the rest of the curve higher by 4-5bps). EURUSD squeezed back up over 1.27 by the close and HYG outperformed (ending notably rich to stocks and its own fair-value).
The real estate industry announces the housing recovery is finally underway every year. 2012 is no different from previous years: various positive data points are duly cherry-picked (multiple offers are back in West Hollywood, sales are up year-over-year in Las Vegas, inventory is down, etc.) to back up the claim the "bottom is in" and the recovery in sales and prices is rock-solid. We understand the industry's extreme self-interest in attempting to re-inflate housing, but let's begin with the obvious question: what's the housing recovery based on? The standard answer is of course "super-low mortgage rates, courtesy of the Federal Reserve." But people need a sufficient income to qualify to own a house, regardless of rates, so let's look at income by age, and focus on the key homebuying ages of 25 to 44. The only age group whose incomes continued rising during the past five years is the over 65 cohort--the very group who is "downsizing" or selling their homes to live in assisted living. The key homebuying cohorts have seen their incomes plummet since the housing bubble popped.
Things are bad and getting worse. We have a plan but can't tell you all about it. We have guns (and ammo) - do you feel lucky? All paraphrasing today's press conference by Ben Bernanke but perhaps most notable when one analyses his comments was the overwhelming use of the word 'think'. It seems, as ever, that us mere paeons in the global game of survival chess must once again bow to the great central planners' deep thought (and actions).
This one simple chart below shows what is possibly the biggest and most fundamental flaw in Bernanke's approach to spurring the economy, which to him, of course, means rising prices of risky assets, aka the stock market.
Today's FOMC circus concludes with Ben Bernanke saying a few generic words from prepared remarks, then answering Steve Liesman's and a few other journalists' questions, which all will boil down to the following: if the stock market drops by anything more than 1%, the stock market should rise immediately because will be there to prop it up, unemployment, inflation and the general economy be damned.