Central bankers present themselves as Masters of the Universe. They are, but only in their own little Theater of the Absurd. In the real world, they are as clueless as any other mortals about the unintended consequences of their actions and the speed with which the corrupted, unsustainable financial Status Quo will decay and die. To admit the usustainable is not sustainable would bring the entire rotten edifice crashing down, so the central bankers invite us into their little Theater of the Absurd and evince a phantom confidence in their phantom solutions that depend on phantom assets.
Just when you thought it was safe to hope for more bad news being good news we complete the triumvirate of housing, manufacturing, and now confidence all beating expectations. But we Moar QE. Consumer Confidence just beat expectations for the first time in 5 months rising to its highest level since April as it appears the self-reinforcing 'Fed's got your back' belief once again becomes a self-defeating 'how can we QE when everything's peachy' scenario. To wit, 12-month inflation expectations rose from 5.3% to 5.4% - as we noted the inflation-argument for NEW QE here. This is simply remarkable levels of cognitive bias considering the savings rate just rose to a one-year high implying people are expectation deflation - dis-inflation at the least. It would appear that indeed - given the market's downward trajectory - that the stealing of one's own punchbowl realization is occurring.
If there was one thing the market did not nead 24 hours ahead of the FOMC in the aftermath of the better than expected Case Shiller May print (yes, 2 months ago) it was a follow up beat by the Chicago PMI, as this would only make any further forceful QE tomorrow less than likely. Sure enough, this is just what happened, as the PMI printed better than expected rising from June's 33 month low, printing at 53.7 from 52.9 in June on expectations of a modest decline to 52.5. And so in a market in which everything continues to be driven by hope and prayer that Bernanke will wake up at just the right angle, Risk is once again suddenly OFF. If there was one saving grace it is that the Seasonally adjusted Employment index plunged from 60.4 to 53.3 (60.0 to 57.0 NSA) which is the lowest print since July 2011 which in turn brings it back to May 2010. This leaves hope that the NFP print on Friday will come negative. However, that will be too late for the August FOMC meeting. Oh well, there is always hope that in September the Fed's mind will change as long as some more horrible economic data comes between now and then.
The unemployment rate across the 17-nation euro-zone reached its highest level on record (22 years) at 11.2% and becomes Europe's second scariest chart. The silver medal in scary factor is quite an accomplishment with parabolic TARGET2 exposures and plunging core short-term yields but the gold medal holder remains the extreme levels of youth unemployment that remain in the periphery. It would appear that Europe, in its haste to follow the lead of the US in cost-cutting and blood-letting amid a significant depression recession that clearly CEOs do not believe wil be short-lived, is seeing "Companies generally are under serious pressure to keep their labor forces as tight as possible to contain their costs in the face of the current limited demand, strong competition and worrying and uncertain growth outlook,” and as Reuters points out from IHS's Howard Archer, "there looks to be a very real danger that the euro-zone unemployment rate could reach 12 percent in 2013." May's unemployment was revised up from 10.1% to 11.2% as even glorious employer-uber-alles Germany saw the ranks of the unemployed swell.
Merkel may still be on vacation, but Germany decided to make it all too clear just who is in charge after last week's idiotic headfake by Draghi et cie:
- GERMAN FINANCE MINISTRY SEES NO NEED TO GIVE ESM BANK LICENSE
- GERMAN MINISTRY SAYS THERE ARE NO SECRET TALKS ON BANK LICENSE
- GERMAN MINISTRY SAYS NOT HOLDING TALKS ON BANK LICENSE FOR ESM
Translating Schrodinger Schauble: the quantum state of Begging and Choosing can not co-exist in tensor superposition. Just in case the previous headline from the Bundesbank was not clear enough.
Minutes ago French socialist president Hollande once again climbed on top of Cloud Nine, fully hopeful that Draghi's bluff would be enough:
- HOLLANDE CITES `STRONG WORDS' BY ECB'S DRAGHI ON EURO
- HOLLANDE SAYS ALL WILL BE DONE TO `DEFEND, PRESERVE' EURO
This led to a brief spike in the EURUSD until moments later, CNBC's Steve Liesman, by way of the Bundesbank, just converted Cloud Nine into Cloud Nein, which in turn was promptly pulled from under Hollande:
- BUNDESBANK TELLS LIESMAN MONETARY POLICY SHOULD FOCUS SOLELY ON PRICE STABILITY, STATES NEED FISCAL INTERVENTION
This means the Bundesbank does not give its blessing to SMP reactivation, and does not all "all" to be done to defend the Euroe.
Confirming that the economy continues to be on life support and that the consumer has been actively withdrawing from providing that key lifeblood so needed to regain the "virtuous circle" [RIP: XXXX-2009] is the just released revised personal consumer data, which showed even further retrenchment, as personal spending came unchanged in June on expectations of a modest 0.1% increase, while income rose 0.5% on expectations of a 0.4% increase (among other things due to "Contributions for government social insurance -- a subtraction in calculating personal income -- increased $3.5 billion in June, compared with an increase of $0.8 billion in May."). End result: the Personal Savings Rate (revised) rose from 3.6% in April, to 4.0% in May, to 4.4%, in June: the highest it has been since August 2011, just before the economy as manifested by the Fed's favorite metric, the Russell imploded. All those expecting the consumer to step up and pick up the pieces will have to defer hope and prayer for one more month. Luckily, for everything else there is the Fed's Taxpayercard.
The financial press is far behind in what the public would like or needs as evidenced by the outflow of money from equities and equity funds and into bonds and bond funds. The financial TV press is still fixated on stocks, addressing day traders that are a much smaller group of people than in times past and many shows treat investments as if they were some kind of casino enterprise. In other words, there is a lot of coverage that is directed towards speculators and not nearly enough directed toward investors. The bond markets are multiples of the size of the equity markets and coverage here is close to nil as retail and institutions alike concentrate much more on investing in bonds rather than putting their core money in equities. There is an old saying on Wall Street that to be successful one must “follow the money” and it is quite statistically evident that the money has flowed into fixed-income investments and that the financial press has not followed it. The investment world has changed and we encourage the media to grasp it and to change as a result.
While we are not certain how many times we have used the above headline in the past we know it is not the first time. Nor the fifth. Yet here we are again, reporting that Greece is out of money again. "Near-bankrupt Greece is fast running out of cash while it waits for its next installment of aid from international lenders, a deputy finance minister said on Tuesday, sounding the alarm on the country's precarious financial position. Greece's European partners have repeatedly promised the country will be funded through August, when it must repay a 3.2 billion euro bond, but the details of the funding have yet to be disclosed. In the absence of that money, Greece would run out of funds to pay everyday public expenses ranging from police and other public service wages to pensions and social benefits. "Cash reserves are almost zero. It is risky to say until when (they will last) as it always depends on the budget execution, revenues and expenditure," Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras told state NET television" In other words just like the US yesterday, Greece has also overestimated its revenues and underestimated its expenditures; also Greece in August is what the US itself will be in about 3-4 months, when the debt ceiling is hit. Luckily, the political environment in D.C. is open and cordial, and a prompt resolution to both the debt ceiling issue and the fiscal cliff, especially as they all coincide just in time for the presidential election is guaranteed.
European equities are trading in flat-to-positive territory going into the North American crossover with the FTSE-100 the primary laggard, being driven lower by individual earnings releases. Oil supermajor BP released a disappointing set of Q2 earnings, reporting a net loss of USD 1.39bln, pressing the stock lower by 4.25% at the midpoint of the European trading day. Data releases from Europe today have picked up in volume, but come alongside expectations, proving unreactive across the asset classes, as German unemployment changes matches estimates at a reading of +7K for July. The topic of a banking licence for the ESM has arisen once more, as German politicians have begun voicing their concerns on the issue, with a German senior lawmaker commenting that he cannot see an ESM banking licence becoming a reality. However, this appears to be another reiteration of the German political stance, and therefore not a particular shock to markets. With today the last trading day in the month, larger than average month-end extensions have proved supportive in the longer-end of the curve today, with notably large extensions in Germany, France and the Netherlands.
Want to buy stocks on anything than a greater fool theory, or hope and prayer that someone with "other people's money" will bail you out of a losing position when the market goes bidless? That may change after reading the latest monthly letter from Pimco's Bill Gross whose crusade against risk hits a crescendo. Yes, he is talking his book (and talking down his equity asset allocation), but his reasons are all too valid: "The cult of equity is dying. Like a once bright green aspen turning to subtle shades of yellow then red in the Colorado fall, investors’ impressions of “stocks for the long run” or any run have mellowed as well. I “tweeted” last month that the souring attitude might be a generational thing: “Boomers can’t take risk. Gen X and Y believe in Facebook but not its stock. Gen Z has no money.”.... So what is a cult chasing figure supposed to do? Well, the cult of equities may be over. But the cult of reflating inflation is just beginning: "The primary magic potion that policymakers have always applied in such a predicament is to inflate their way out of the corner. The easiest way to produce 7–8% yields for bonds over the next 30 years is to inflate them as quickly as possible to 7–8%! Woe to the holder of long-term bonds in the process!... Unfair though it may be, an investor should continue to expect an attempted inflationary solution in almost all developed economies over the next few years and even decades. Financial repression, QEs of all sorts and sizes, and even negative nominal interest rates now experienced in Switzerland and five other Euroland countries may dominate the timescape. The cult of equity may be dying, but the cult of inflation may only have just begun."
- Hilsenrath: Heat Rises on Central Banks (WSJ)
- Some at Fed Are Urging Pre-Emptive Stimulus (NYT)
- Obama Warns of Headwinds in Europe; Urges European Leaders to Take Decisive Action on Euro (WSJ) - also needs reelection
- ECB thinks the unthinkable, action likely weeks away (Reuters)
- Games Turn London Into ‘Ghost Town.’ (FT)
- Greek Leaders Seek to Defer Austerity Cuts (FT)
- Hong Kong Builders Unload Properties to Raise Cash for Land Rush (Bloomberg)
- North India Crippled by Power Cuts (FT)
- Euro-Area Unemployment Rate Reaches Record 11.2% on Crisis (Bloomberg)
- Italy's Monti sees hope of end to euro crisis (Reuters)
Two weeks ago we touched upon the possibility that the US climatic deep fried black swan could soon stretch to India where the Monsoon season was 22% below normal conditions for this time of year. Today India is the locus of another flightless bird sighting following an epic powergrid meltdown which left half of its 1.2 billion people without power on Tuesday "as the grids covering a dozen states broke down, the second major blackout in as many days and an embarrassment for the government as it struggles to revive economic growth... More than a dozen states with a total population of 670 million people were without power, with the lights out even at major hospitals in Kolkata." Indicatively this is the same as every man, woman and child in America having no electricity. Twice over."Stretching from Assam, near China, to the Himalayas and the deserts of Rajasthan, the power cut was the worst to hit India in more than a decade. Trains were stranded in Kolkata and Delhi and thousands of people poured out of the sweltering capital's modern metro system when it ground to a halt at lunchtime. Office buildings switched to diesel generators and traffic jammed the roads." Hopefully, two events in a row don't confirm a trend. Although if indeed systemic, and if suddenly the Indian power infrastructure is unable to handle the local drought-related conditions, thus serving as a natural cap on economic expansion, all bets may be off as to the unlimited upside potential capacity of the BRICs.