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March Retail Slide, Miss Expectations, Post Biggest Drop Since June

Add retail sales to the ongoing economic US crunch, which, just as predicted here in February, would start taking place once the regular seasonal adjustment rotation out of the "strong" winter season into spring started and once the now annual European swoon in the spring spread to the US, as it always does. Sure enough, March retail sales missed across the board, with headline down -0.4% (exp. 0.0%, Feb revised lower to 1.0%), ex autos down -0.4% as well (exp. 0.0%, last 1.0%), and ex autos and gas -0.1, on expectations of a +0.3%. This was the biggest miss ex autos since June and the biggest drop since June as well. More troubling perhaps for the true strength of the US consumer, electronics sales dumped -3.2% Y/Y (confirms the collapse in PC sales reported yesterday), while general merchandise sales declined by 4.9% year over year. As we have said all along, the US consumer - that very levered driver of 70% of US GDP - even when factoring in the trillion + in student loans, is getting very much tapped out. But at least car sales, funded by the still very generous Federal Reserve and Uncle Sam, of course, are merrily chugging along at a +6.5% Y/Y pace.

 



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The One-Chart Summary Of All That Is Wrong With The US Financial System: JPM Deposits Over Loans

The chart below may be the best one-chart summary of all that is wrong with the US financial system. It is a very simple chart - it shows total JPMorgan deposits, loans and the excess difference of deposits over loans.



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The Gold And Silver Morning Takedown Is Back

It's been a few days since the once ubiquitous morning take-down in precious metals showed its face but this morning with the USD leaking only modestly higher and Treasuries notably bid, gold and silver are gapping down in a hurry. Gold (-2%) is back to the May 2012 lows (within $10 of July 2011 (pre-QE2) levels and silver (-3%) is testing down to recent lows also. Other commodities (like Oil and Copper) are also in pain this morning...



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Frontrunning: April 12

  • Korean Nuclear Worries Raised (WSJ)
  • Och-Ziff, With Strategy from a 30-Year-Old Debt Specialist, Racks Up Big Score (WSJ)
  • Japan's big "Abenomics" gamble: how to tell if it's paying off (Reuters)
  • Kuroda walks a two-year tightrope (FT)
  • China Rebound at Risk as Xi Curbs Officials’ Spending (BBG)
  • BOJ Said to Consider Boosting Outlook for Inflation (BBG) - for energy prices? Absolutely: by double digits
  • Cyprus May Loosen Bank Restrictions in Days (WSJ)
  • Cyprus mulls early EU structural funds (Reuters)
  • Russia slashes 2013 growth forecast (FT)
  • Japan, U.S. Agree on Trade-Talks Entry (WSJ)
  • IMF Trims U.S. Growth Outlook in Draft Report Citing Fiscal Cuts (BBG)
  • Mexico Is Picking Up the Peso (WSJ)


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JPM Beats Thanks To $1.1 Billion Reserve Release, Revenue Misses, Drops By $900 Million, NIM At Post-Crisis Low

If JPM and its "fortress" balance sheet and business model are supposed to represent Q1 earnings for US banks, it will not be a good start to the year. While EPS beat expectations solidly, coming at $1.59 on expectations of $1.39 print, this was largly driven by a bigger than expected loan loss reserve release in its real estate portfolios ($650MM pretax), and card services ($500MM pretax), which was the largest combined release number since the $2 billion reduction in Q1 2012. This took down total JPM total loan loss reserves to $20.8 billion, down from $21.9 billion in Q4, and down $5.1 billion from the $25.9 billion a year ago. This happened even though JPM's NPL declined far more modestly, from $10.7 billion to just $10.4 billion. It was the revenue of $25.12 that missed expectations of $25.85, down from $26.05 billion a year ago, and which is the bigger issue for the bank, driven by disappointing trading results with fixed income markets revenue of $4.8 Billion, down 5% YoY, equity markets revenue of $1.3 Billion, down 6% YoY, and Securities Services revenue of $974mm, flat YoY. Not surprisingly in order to maintain expenses, headcount continue to decline from 258,753 to 255,898.



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Overnight Sentiment: Lower

There was little in terms of overnight newsflow to spook algos, but the tone is decidedly sour this morning following a lack of either the now traditional Japan or Europen-open buying ramps. The primary reason for this may well be the ongoing decline in the USDJPY which failed to breach the 100 barrier yesterday, coming as close as 99.95 before the Mrs. Watanabe onslaught had to be called off despite some more jawboning from Kuroda whose headlines are now summarily ignored, and which appears to have set a line in the sand for Japan, whose market naturally closed lower following this strengthening in its currency. Similarly troubling was the dip in the SHCOMP which closed down -0.58%, this despite the epic M2 and credit injection reported yesterday: if new liquidity can't send the market higher, what can?



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Japanese Bond Implied Volatility Spikes To 10Y High; Stocks Drop First Day In Last 8

It's been a long night for the Japanese markets. As Abe and Kuroda awoke stunned that JPY had not broken above 100, things went from bad to worse as USDJPY slid 60 pips from the last US day-session. The Japanese equity market is following the FX pair in its hyper-correlated way as TOPIX is struggling with its first loss in eight days. The Japanese bond market is not doing well either, despite the BoJ's JPY2.5 trillion monetization today. 7-year to 30-year JGBs are 5-7bps higher in yield (3-4 times the average move) and JGB Futures are suffering significantly with the 10Y down over almost a point - within a tick of triggering the TSE's circuit-breaker for the 5th time in 6 days. While everything points to a 'disorderly' market (especially in bonds), we can rest assured they are on it:

  • *KURODA CONFIDENT BOJ CAN BUY BONDS AS PLEDGED

Add to that the fact that JGB implied vols just hit a 10-year high and it seems all is well in the land of the setting sun once again.



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Doug Casey on Internationalizing Your Assets

In a wide-ranging interview with Casey Research editor Louis James, Doug Casey discusses why it's imperative to start diversifying one's assets today, and provides some guidance in considering countries to diversify into... "I'm sure they'll get 'round to closing all the loopholes. So, the time to act is now. We'll keep monitoring the situation, but when this happens, the Powers that Be won't want anyone to see it coming, so it will zing in from left field. Your only chance to protect your wealth is to start diversifying its exposure to any one particular predatory state as soon as possible."



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There Is No Risk Left... Anywhere

Many have argued that sovereign CDS markets 'caused' the problems in Europe - as opposed to simply 'signaled' what was in fact being hidden by cash market manipulation. But as the IMF notes in a recent paper, there are times when the CDS market leads the cash bond market and other times when it lags. But as far as looking at risk in Europe and the US, based on a wonderful model that uses Markov-switching to predict what the probability of the world being in a low-risk or high-risk state, we are as 'low risk' as we have been since the crisis began. Each time that level of complacency was reached before, equity markets have rapidly sold off. What is perhaps most notable is the systemic compression of every risk indicator, first VIX (Kevin Henry and the fungible excess reserves of every prime dealer whale), then the liquid SovX index (via Greece CDS auction uncertainty and 'naked' short bans), then the Euro TED Spread (via LTRO), then individual Sovereign CDS (via Draghi's 'promise'). The result, the 'free-market' signal of risk is non-existent.



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Guest Post: Are Individuals The Property Of The Collective?

Mankind has faced a bewildering multitude of self-made catastrophes and self-made terrors over the past few millennium, most of which stem from a single solitary conflict between two opposing social qualities:  individualism vs. collectivism.  These two forces of organizational mechanics have gone through evolution after evolution over the years, and we believe the long battle is nearing an apex moment; a moment in which one ideology or the other will become dominant around the world for well beyond the foreseeable future. Collectivism as a philosophy is a perfect tool for oligarchy.  The men who dominate such systems rarely if ever actually believe in the tenets they espouse.  They sell the idea of single-minded society as a nurturing light that will create group supremacy, prosperity, and perfect safety.  But the truth is, they couldn’t care less about accomplishing any of these things for the masses. The most vital aspect of the collectivist process is convincing the public that the individual citizen is not sovereign, but is actually the property of the group.



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Carmen Reinhart: "No Doubt. Our Pensions Are Screwed."

"The crisis isn't over yet," warns Carmen Reinhart, "not in the US and not in Europe." Known for her deep understanding that 'it's never different this time', the Harvard economist drops the truth grenade a number of times in this excellent Der Spiegel interview. Sweeping away the sound and fury of a self-serving Federal Reserve or BoJ, she chides, "no central bank will admit it is keeping rates low to help governments out of their debt crises. But in fact they are bending over backwards to help governments to finance their deficits," and guess what, "this is nothing new in history." After World War II, all countries that had a big debt overhang relied on financial repression to avoid an explicit default. After the war, governments imposed interest rate ceilings for government bonds; but, nowadays, she explains, "monetary policy is doing the job. And with high unemployment and low inflation that doesn't even look suspicious. Only when inflation picks up, which is ultimately going to happen, will it become obvious that central banks have become subservient to governments." Nations "seldom just grow themselves out of debt," as so many believe is possible, "you need a combination of austerity, so that you don't add further to the pile of debt, and higher inflation, which is effectively a subtle form of taxation," with the consequence that people are going to lose their savings. Reinhart succinctly summarizes, "no doubt, our pensions are screwed."



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Cash Burning J.C.Penney Scrambles To Raise $1 Billion, Hires Blackstone

It should come as no surprise that struggling retailer JCPenney, which has been burning cash at an unprecedented rate, and which just wasted two years of turnaround time following the sacking of its now former CEO Ron Johnson only to return to the same strategy that Bill Ackman blasted as recently as 2012, has been in dire cash straits. However, while everyone expected the company to announce that it would satisfy its immediate cash needs by drawing down in part or in whole on its recently amended and restated, and currently undrawn, $1,850 billion revolver with JPM as administrative agent (as every other company does when it needs a brief liquidity burst), nobody expected that JCP, whose stock yesterday hit a 12 year low, would be forced to hire Blackstone to advise in on raising cash. Which according to the WSJ it just did.



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Goldman Activates The Magic 8 Ball, Can Now See The S&P 500 In 2015 (At 1900)

Just because Goldman's track record at predicting the near-future is so fantastic (Abby Joseph Cohen "forecasting" in March 2008 the S&P would close the year at 1500, or about 40% off), the firm that spawned a thousand central bankers and ambassadors, has decided to try its hand at really long-term stock predictions. As in "three years over the horizon" long. And, of course, it's only uphill from here. To wit: "We develop a new framework for forecasting equity returns over the medium term using a consistent approach globally. We extend our forecast horizon to the end of 2015."And the punchline: "With a 2015 horizon all regions look attractive on an absolute basis"



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TIC-TIC-TIC: The Ominous Warning In Foreigners' U.S. Bond Positions

As of later this month, we’ll receive the final picture on China’s U.S. bond sales over late 2011 and early 2012, and the reaction isn’t likely to be much different than it was last year. But, we argue that there’s actually quite a lot to see. Namely, there’s a brand new reason to be concerned about America’s access to foreign capital. In a nutshell, America needs foreigners to be both willing and able to buy its bonds. China is able but much less willing than it used to be. (Treasury data that isn’t shown here suggests its interest in U.S. securities recovered somewhat in late 2012, but remains far short of the levels of two years ago.) Other countries are willing but not nearly as able as China, notwithstanding the sharp increase in purchases in the recent period. And overall, the message in the preliminary TIC data is more worrisome than it may appear on the surface. Should the final report on April 30th confirm the message, consider it a warning of a potentially disastrous future decline in foreign purchases of U.S. debt.



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