The S&P 500 gained 12% in 2012 and has almost reached that level of return in 2013 YTD , delayed only by the apparent non-event in Cyprus, led, if one is to believe the talking heads and asset gatherers, not by a Fed-driven liquidity flush but by the mother's milk of stocks - earnings. A major driver of these earnings has been corporations ability to squeeze more blood out of their stones (read - layoff and automate as much as possible) and margin expansion is often cited as the catalyst for the next leg higher in stocks. The trouble with that 'anecdotal' meme, trotted out again and again, is it appears to have hit its unemployment/consumerism-driven limiting point. As JPMorgan notes, in light of the robust cost cutting experienced during the recovery, additional margin expansion remains unlikely going forward, leaving future earnings growth dependent on stronger revenues - recoupling expectations to GDP growth and we know what that means. Critically, in reality, S&P 500 profit margins have dropped rather notably in the last two quarters - now at their lowest since Q1 2010 - not exactly the 'expansion' the advisers told us would happen.
It would appear that physical assets trump digital assets this morning in Europe as Silver has just spiked over 1% (and Gold back over $1615) as Bitcoins plunge on heavy volume... Did the Europeans run out of Bitcoins?
With record numbers of people out of the labor force, and hundreds of thousands falling off each month, it is no surprise that the grind lower in initial claims continues - after all there is only so long one can request insurance benefits, now that extended claims are limited. In the week ended March 16, initial claims rose from an upward revised 334K (was 332K and merely the latest in an infinite series of prior upward revisions) to 336K, just below the expected 340K, even as NSA claims declined more to 299K. It would not be surprising that with the current of labor force exodus we get a 100K-handle unadjusted print soon as the pool of eligible workers who collect benefits shrinks to record levels. A tad defensive BLS was quick to note that unlike prior weeks, no states number were estimated. Continuing claims rose also, from an upward revised 3048K to 3053K, above the expected 3050K. Overall a snoozer of a report. The biggest surprise, however, was in the emergency extended benefits, which has continued it abnormally erratic weekly pattern, with this time 136K people falling off, following last week's weekly surge. A tiny 1.8 million Americans are now on extended claims, nearly 1.1 million below the 2.9 million last year. Curious who the people applying for SS disability are? Now you know.
Until this past weekend, the scariest, and thus most important, chart relating to Europe, was that of European youth unemployment. And while its updates month after month showed a situation hopeless and constantly getting worse, the final outcome is quite clear: it is not a pleasant one especially for Europe's youth. However, now that the topic of bank confidence, particularly in the context of unwarranted and unprecedented deposit confiscation is suddenly front and center across the entire Eurozone, here is the new "scariest" European chart: that of deposits around the European periphery. We know one thing: if and when the Cypriot banking system reopens, the dark gray line for Cyprus is going straight down. The real question is: which other lines will follow Cyprus in its dramatic reintroduction to monetary gravity?
As reported yesterday, Cyprus banks are now expected to reopen next Tuesday. We would boldly go ahead and take the under following overnight news that the ECB has once more escalated its political interventions (remember the lies about "apolitical, independent" Central Banks - good times...), and following a Reuters report yesterday that the ECB is prepared to let Cyprus go, the FT now has doubled down on the propaganda, reporting (in an article with no less than five authors) that the ECB has issued an ultimatum to Cyprus to agree to a bailout by Monday (which is a holiday), or the free liquidity ends. "The European Central Bank raised the stakes in the Cyprus crisis on Thursday, telling Nicosia it had until Monday to agree a bailout with the EU and International Monetary Fund or it would cut off emergency liquidity provision to the country’s banks. The hardline stance from the ECB sets a clear deadline for Cyprus to agree to a plan after its parliament rejected a bailout negotiated at the weekend that would have taxed the deposits of account holders in the country’s banks." Which means yet another weekend of ad hoc choices and spontaneous decisions awaits, only this time with a key non-Euro actor involved in the face of Russia, whose interest just in case there is any confusion, is to see Cyprus crushed, so it can swoop in later and "acquire" the assets on the cheap, or preferably free, while the local population welcome the second coming of the glorious Red Army with open arms, delighted to be free of European slavery. Well played Putin.
- Euro zone call notes reveal extent of alarm over Cyprus (Reuters)
- Stagnant Japan Rolls Dice on New Era of Easy Money (WSJ)
- Cyprus, European data batters shares and euro (Reuters)
- UK cuts taxes to revive stagnant economy (FT)
- "Quality Control" Rat Body Linked to Blackout at Fukushima (NYT)
- North Korea issues fresh threat to U.S., South probes hacking (Reuters)
- South Korea Says Chinese Code Used in Computer Attack (BBG)
- Osborne paves way for Carney to retool Bank of England (Reuters)
- Carney Gets ‘Escape Velocity’ Mandate With Limiter (BBG)
- Osborne Pledges Five More Years of U.K. Austerity (BBG)
- Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (BBG)
- Senate Passes Bill to Fund Operations (WSJ)
Those wondering why the overnight ramp has not yet materialized despite promises from BOJ's new governor Kuroda to openly-endedly monetize Fukushima radiation if necessary in order to reflate the economy, will have to look at Europe where a raft of horrifying PMIs confirms what most have known: the relapse into a multi-dip European recession is progressing nicely, and the hoped for rebound in the core economies of France and Germany is once again on track to not happen, but at least there will be Cyprus to blame it all on this time. The specific reason this time was French and German Flash Manufacturing and Services PMI for March, all of which came far below expectations: German Mfg PMIs printed at a contracting 48.9 vs Exp. 50.5 (back from 50.3), while Services came at 51.6, down from 54.6 on expectations of a rise to 55.0, while French Mfg PMI stayed stubbornly flat at 43.9, despite hopes of a "bounce" to 44.3, even as the Service number ticked even lower from 43.7 to 41.9, below expectations of 44.3 and the lowest since February 2009. End result: Eurozone March Services PMI down from 47.9 to 46.5, vs Exp. of 48.2, while Manufacturing slid from 47.9 to 46.6 on hopes and prayers of a bounce to 48.2. Which then takes us back to Cyprus, where things are not fixed yet, where the parliament is not expected to vote for a revised Bailout proposal yet, and where we got a cornucopia of brilliant one liners, such as these from the new Eurogroup head, who is filling in the shoes of his predecessor Juncker in style, and proving quite well that "things are serious."
While one night in Bangkok is enough for most, the following images (via Reuters) taken over nine days in Tiananmen Square, Beijing should highlight just how appalling the smog situation is in that country. As we discussed recently, this is more than a major problem for health, the reforms that the government proclaims means significant shifts in the economy (to say nothing of the increasing appeals for clean water and purchased clean air).
When someone tells the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke CFA, Series 7 and 63, certified, that "the stock market has been hitting all time highs, it's recovered all of its losses from the financial crisis" and then proceeds to ask, even jokingly, during the Q&A of the most important monetary policy conference in the world, if he "still has time to get in," you know it has all become, quite literally, one big joke.
HSBC's China Flash PMI just printed above expectations at 51.7, disappointing those hoping for more stimulus but just Goldilocks enough to satisfy the world that China is firing on all cylinders... But, and there's always a but, the following chart suggests that the diffusion-driven survey-based PMI data may be just a little different from the hard data on the ground. Of course, everything could have magically turned around in the last 3 weeks (aside from Copper demand and PBoC repo/rev. repo that is). For now, we tip our hat to the well planned PMI print as indicative that all is well in the smog-ridden pig-barren nation but scratch our chin at just what is powering all this growthiness...
February marks the first three-months of consecutive declines in restaurant sales in almost three years as Bloomberg reports consumers caught in "an emotional moment" spooked by higher payroll taxes, surging healthcare premia, and spiking energy costs. "February was pretty ugly" for many chains after January delivered an initial blow." Malcolm Knapp notes that "it's important to keep in mind that companies also are facing unusually tough comparable sales because of favorable weather in 2012," so the result is an industry that’s been "a lot softer so far this year." "People are acting fearfully, or you could almost say rationally in a way,” because it’s not surprising they change their dining habits when they feel less confident; as once again it's the middle class that appears under pressure. Casual dining is "definitely being squeezed" because "it's not food on-the-go and it's not high-end food for people trying to treat themselves."
Something extreme is happening in Europe. Since Sunday, Bloomberg Businessweek reports a trio of Bitcoin apps have soared up Spain's download charts, coinciding with news that cash-strapped Cyprus was planning to raid domestic savings accounts to pay off a $13 billion bailout tab. “This is an entirely predictable and rational outcome for what’s happening in Cyprus,” says ConvergEx's Nick Colas. "If you want to get a good sense of the stress European savers are feeling, just watch Bitcoin prices." The value of the virtual currency has soared almost 30 percent in the last two days. "One hundred percent of that is due to Cyprus," says Colas. "It means the Europeans are getting involved." As German economist Peter Bofinger warned in an interview with Spiegel Online: "European citizens must now fear for their money." The same apps download data, however, showed that Italians aren’t ready to abandon commercial banking, remarkable as many Italians still recall that black day in 1992 when they woke up to a levy on their savings accounts to prop up the nation’s teetering finances.
It appears Abe and his henchmen had better stop doing things and say something as the huge devaluation of the JPY so far is NOT having the effect he had hoped for. Exports dropped 2.9% - more than expected - and while imports rose less than expected, the currency drop still meant an 11.9% surge in imports. All this means is that on a seasonally-adjusted basis, the Japanese Trade Balance just hit a new all-time record low (negative). USDJPY is strengthening on the news... it seems that well-placed non-news headline at 2am Japan time is well worth it now to cover this debacle... We assume the lesson is - just wait, "if we devalue, they will come."