Existing home sales dropped 1.2% month-over-month - the biggest drop in 2013 - against expectations for a 1.5% rise. Critically though, this is for a period that reflects closings with mortgage rates from the April/May period - before the spike in rates really accelerated. Inventory rose once again to 5.2 months of supply (vs 5.0 in May) and you know the realtors are starting to get concerned when even the ever-optimistic chief economist of the NAR is forced to admit that 'stunningly' "higher mortgage rates will bite." With mortage applications having collapsed since May, we can only imagine the state of home sales (especially as we see all-cash buyers falling) for July.
By now even the most confused establishment Keynesian economists agree that when it comes to economic "growth", what is really being measured are liabilities (i.e., credit) in the financial system. This is seen most vividly when comparing the near dollar-for-dollar match between US GDP, which stood at $16 trillion as of Q1 and total liabilities in the US financial system which were just over $15.5 trillion in the same period. What, however, few if any economists will analyze or admit, and neither will financial pundits, is the asset matching of these bank liabilities: after all since there is no loan demand (and creation) those trillions in deposits have to go somewhere - they "go" into Fed reserves (technically it is the reserves creating deposits but that is the topic of a different article). It is here that we can discern directly just what the contribution of the Fed to US GDP, or economic growth.
Two minutes of rational thinking in the world of irrational omnipotence in which we live. Howard Marks explains that we’re in a low return world. Refuse to recognize that and demand traditional returns, without recognizing that the market simply may not accommodate you, at your own risk - "The market is not an accommodating machine... it will not 'give' you consistently high returns. Blindly accepting more risk to get the returns you 'expect' or 'deserve' is a big mistake."
In Portugal, it seems the compromise deal between the ruling party and its junior partner is back on track following the failure of all-party talks last week. As Citi notes, PM Coelho is on the wires saying he will once again reshuffle his cabinet, with Paulo Portas likely to become deputy PM in charge of negotiating with the Troika. Portas has made it clear he wants to discuss a softening of the terms of the country’s bailout program which obviously will make for a bumpy road ahead in terms of relations with the Troika, but is probably necessary if the ruling coalition is to hold on to power amid growing popular unrest. While debt restructuring remains a tough proposition (given the contagion and precedent - Portugal debt-to-GDP is lower than Italy's for instance), the likelihood of a further substantial bailout (up to EUR76bn) remains high.
The proud Q1 debt-to-GDP outliers, where the local economies are expected to continue plunging and thus send the stock markets (if mostly that in the US) surging, are the following:
- Euroarea: 92.2%, up from 88.2% a year ago
- Greece: 160.5%, up from 136.5% a year ago
- Italy: 130.3%; up from 123.8% a year ago
- Portugal: 127.2%, up from 112.3% a year ago
- Ireland: 125.1%, up from 106.8% a year ago
- Spain: 88.2%, up from 73.0% a year ago
- Netherlands: 72.0%, up from 66.7% a year ago
It must have been the weather: at least that is what we expect McDonalds will blame the latest (in a long series) of Q2 revenue misses, but also earnings as moments ago the fast food giant reported $1.38 EPS in Q2 earnings, while revenue of $7.08 billion missed expectations of $7.09 billion. The internals were just as ugly: Q2 comp sales rose 1% on expectations of a +1.5% print; Europe was down -0.1% with the bulk of the hit coming strangely enough from Germany and France. The rest was in line, with global comp sales up 1% vs Exp. 1%, however this being the weakest of all categories it is hardly offsetting what is becoming increasing a weak lower-end consumer story, as well as one of FX headwinds with forex eating into Q2 EPS by $0.02. Sadly, after reading the press release it appears the neither cold or hot spring/summer weather was at scapegoated fault (as it was for Coke and Google): "McDonald's results for the quarter reflect our efforts to strengthen our business momentum for the long-term," said McDonald's President and Chief Executive Officer Don Thompson. "We remain strategically focused on the global growth priorities that help us better serve our customers. While the informal eating out market remains challenging and economic uncertainty is pressuring consumer spending, we're continuing to differentiate the McDonald's experience by uniting consumer insights, innovation and execution." Innovation in the $1 meal? Good luck. More importantly, someone actually told the truth about end-demand, and the fact that consumer spending is deteriorating. Unpossible.
With earnings season in full swing as some 20% of the S&P is expected to report, the quieter macro picture moves to the backburner especially with the Fed now silent for a long time. Looking at key central banks events, at the Turkey central bank meeting this week, Goldman expects that the bank is more likely to deliver a moderately hawkish “surprise” and hike the lending rate by 100bp to 7.5% (7.0% for primary dealers), and leave the key policy (1-week repo) and the borrowing rates unchanged at 4.5% and 3.5%, respectively. Among the other central bank meetings this week, benchmark rates are expected to remain unchanged in New Zealand, Philippines and Colombia, in line with consensus, while a 25bp cut is expected to be announced at the Hungary MPC meeting.
- Earthquake Sends Kiwis Screaming From Wellington Buildings (BBG)
- China quake death toll more than doubles to 54, hundreds hurt (Reuters)
- In 2011, Michigan Gov. Snyder said bankruptcy wasn't an option for Detroit. Two years later, he changed his mind (WSJ)
- GlaxoSmithKline says Chinese laws might have been violated (FT)
- SEC Tries Last Ditch Move to Put SAC’s Cohen Out of Business (BBG)
- Detroit’s Bankruptcy Reveals Dysfunction Common in Cities (BBG)
- Obama to start new offensive on economy (FT)
- As WTI and Brent reunite, Gulf of Mexico faces squeeze, not glut (Reuters)
- Extended Stay Files for Public Offering (WSJ)
- Apple Developer Website Hacked: Developer Names, Addresses May Have Been Taken (MacRumors)
- Treasuries Not Safe Enough as Foreign Purchase Pace Slows (BBG)
Don't look now but futures are up as usual, driven higher by both good and bad news. The biggest event of the weekend, if largely priced in, was the victory by Abe's coalition in the upper-house leading to the following seat breakdown. Of course, judging by the Yen and market reaction, which barely managed to eek out a gain: its first in four trading days, the event was largely of the "sell the news" type despite such bold proclamations: "Abe’s victory in the upper house is bullish for Japanese equities and the Japanese economy as a whole, as the removal of political headwinds bolsters the government’s ability to press forward with all ‘three arrows’ of its growth strategy," John Vail, Tokyo-based chief global strategist at Nikko Asset Management Co., which manages $162 billion, wrote in an e-mail. Elsewhere in Europe, Portugal bond yields have plunged by roughly 60 bps on news that the Portuguese President Silva has backed the centre-right coalition government, consequently ruling out snap polls. Well, what else is he going to do? This also comes on the heels of a Goldman report that said a second bailout for the country will be necessary and will likely be discussed in the fall. That too is bullish. What also was bullish in Europe apparently is that government debt hit a new record high of 92.2% of GDP. Remember: debt is wealth so just buy more futures. Looking forward to the US, the market will focus on the latest existing home sales data, the Chicago Fed activity index, as well as earnings report releases from McDonalds, Texas Instruments and Halliburton and a bunch of other companies that will beat EPS and miss revenues.
From the huge demand for physical gold from Asia to repatriation demands, and from the draining of COMEX gold inventories to the excess supply of paper gold, there is an increasing 'gap' between the perceived 'price' of gold and the cost to get one's hands on the precious metal. Santiago Capital's Brent Johnson provides a brief but complete summary of the various conundra (which we have described in detail) occurring currently in the manipulated metals market. Perhaps the most telling phrase comes towards the end when Johnson notes, "I don't know how to say 'Hunt Brothers' in Mandarin, but it might not be a bad idea to learn."
UPDATE: At least 22 killed, 300 injured in the Chabu quake; Nikkei 225 -400 from intraday highs.
It seems Asia-Pac is a hot-bed of activity this evening as both markets and mainland are being buffeted. Despite the 'positive' news of Abe's victory, JPY is strengthening (back below 100) and the Nikkei has given up all its post-Japan-close gains from Friday (down 340 from the US-day-session-close). But more importantly, New Zealand (Wellington) and China (Chabu) have suffered significant earthquakes this evening. There are reports of some damage to buildings and infrastructure in New Zealand after the 6.5 quake (and >4.5 aftershocks). Local news in China claims that a village has been leveled by a strong, shallow 6.6 quake but China Daily notes details remain unclear. We worry that just as in late 2010 (culminating in Japan in March 2011), the tectonic plate movement in Asia-Pac is starting to pick up.
The following story from Bloomberg's Jonathan Weil should be familiar to anyone who i) wanted to get rich quick; ii) wasn't too willing to read the small print, and iii) put their faith in a TBTF bank. Or simply watches South Park. Jon recounts the story of "Philip L. Ramatlhware, an immigrant from Botswana who went to a Citigroup branch in downtown Philadelphia one day five years ago to open a regular bank account. He was 48 years old at the time and disabled, after being hurt in an accident as a passenger on a Greyhound bus. In April 2008, he received $225,000 in a settlement for his injuries, part of which went to pay legal fees. He was holding the settlement check when he walked into the branch. Immediately he was referred to a broker for a “financial consultation,” according to an arbitration claim he filed against Citigroup. The broker assured him the money would be invested in “guaranteed” funds and that he could have access to them whenever the need arose, the complaint said. Ramatlhware gave him $150,000 to invest. The broker put $5,000 into a bank certificate of deposit, bought a $133,000 variable annuity and invested the rest in a series of mutual funds. Less than six months later, Ramatlhware had lost $40,000, according to the complaint."
Almost 11% of short gold positions covered in the last week according to CFTC Commitment of Traders' data. That is the largest weekly drop in net shorts for four months and the combined futures-and-options net long position jumped 13,287 contracts or an impressive 48% (the most since Nov 08). Following the ubiquitous "sell-while-Bernanke-is-speaking" dump last Wednesday gold has risen almost 4% touching $1320 this evening as Asia opens. So with Asian physical demand remaining high and COMEX vault's running dry (and JPMorgan's on fire), we wonder - now that Taper is off (according to equity market pundits) if this is the start of the long-awaited short-covering rally back to reality for the precious metal.
China is similar to Japan in the 1980s in terms of financial imbalances and challenges for the real economy, but, as JPMorgan notes, China differs in terms of its stage of economic development. Turning possibility into reality is not an easy task, especially as China’s structural slowdown is accompanied by mounting financial imbalances. In the near term, overcapacity and decline in the rate of return on investment are the major challenges to be addressed by policymakers, and rising debt in the corporate sector and local governments needs to be contained and gradually reduced. In our view, this would require reform not only on the economic front (e.g., fiscal reform, land reform, financial reform, and SOE reform), but also social reform (e.g., hukou reform) and governmental reform (e.g., changing the role of the government and de-monopolizing). The list of tasks is daunting, but policy inaction could be even more dangerous - a delay in economic restructuring in China could lead to a repeat of Japan’s experience.