Time is running out. The cliff negotiations have devolved into two unpalatable options: (1) extend just the middle income tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits and allow about two-thirds of the cliff to happen, or (2) go over the cliff in the entirety. In BofAML's view, given the short time frame and legislative hurdles, the latter appears much more likely. Stock market vigilantes have replaced bond vigilantes as the potential good, bad, and ugly scenarios are devoured flashing red headline by flashing red headline. They, like us, believe that going over the cliff is not a benign “slope” as some suggest. Rather, it accelerates the already-building damage to the economy and markets. The latest evidence is the plunge in consumer confidence. Indeed, this could mark the beginning of the rotation in the uncertainty shock from businesses to consumers. Going over the cliff has many secondary, largely ignored, negative impacts, including tax changes that could damage the housing recovery, as well as negatively impact education and alternative energy, among many others.
Because you know you just can't get enough of the Fiscal Cliff melodrama, whose final episode for the 2012 season has just started, here is a live webcast via C-Span from the Senate floor, where Wall Street muppets have reverted to opening and closing their mouths.
There’s a much bigger cliff than the so-called fiscal cliff. The absolute worst result of the fiscal cliff would be a moderate uniform tax increase at a bad time, resulting in a moderate contraction. It is an obvious - but ultimately rather cosmetic - stumbling block on the so-called “road to recovery”. The much bigger cliff stems from the fact that the so-called recovery itself is build on nothing but sand. This is a result of underlying systemic fragilities that have never been allowed to break.
While we first presented this chart over the weekend, we believe it is worth repeating the rather amusing correlation between the collapse in net VIX futures non-commercial spec interest (yes, the traded VIX, which courtesy of the New Normal's relentless synthetic reflexivity has a huge impact on the trillions in underlying assets: think massive leverage) as per the CFTC's weekly commitment of traders report, and the arrival of Brian Sack's replacement as head of the NY Fed's trading desk, Simon Potter, the same former UCLA Econ PhD who recently delivered a very ornate speech explaining central bank interactions with financial markets "through the prism of an economist." Now at least we know how said "interactions" look outside of "Market Manipulation for Econ PhD Dummies" and in practice.
For the past eight years-in-a-row, that worthless yellow barbarous relic that some call 'Gold' has outperformed the 'precious' Dow Jones Industrial Average (even with the constant DJIA re-indexing where the losers are quietly taken out back and shot). As we enter the last day of trading in 2012, Gold still holds a slight edge +6.3% on the year vs the Dow's +5.9%. Will 2012 break the record-breaking run? Or will Warren Buffett's nemesis once again outperform equities and with lower volatility - just a few more hours to find out...
S&P 500 futures (ES) jumped higher this morning, retracing a perfect 61.8% of the Friday afternoon plunge on the reiteration by Senator Corker (and perhaps some remarkably obsequious comments by Van Hollen - who has been so trustworthy in the past). "I would bet my life that over the next very short period of time (that) 98 to 99% of people in the country are going to be rescued," Corker told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. The algos trading the futures, naturally, buy it hook, line and sinker. Only problem is this is from yesterday just as everyone was "cautiously optimistic" a deal would come from the Senate later that night, which... never happened. But hey: algos don't care about details. The bad news for Corker's numerous Wall Street sponsors is that his life may now well be forfeit should there be no deal in 15 hours, and all this "cautious optimism" was for nothing.
Shinzo Abe's re-election on the basis of his monetary policy aggression plans have sent the JPY reeling (as he hoped for) and the NKY soaring - but it is his more aggressive perspective on patriotism that could lead to far greater problems. As the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently noted,all eyes are fixed on Abe as "Japan’s nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands destroyed the framework for keeping a balance, which means ‘shelving a conflict'," a Chinese diplomatic source said, adding that "China has no political methods to return the situation to the (pre-nationalization) state. Therefore, there are no other ways except for looking for a new framework." As a precondition for establishing the framework, an executive of the think tank said, "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should not take actions that heighten the tensions further. It is the same as a game of go. If Japan escalates the conflict, China will be prepared to respond to the move." As a result, Japan-China relations will enter into a highly volatile period, ruining any hope of a resurgence in Japan's real economy, and more worryingly, the think-tank concludes, China's conflict with Japan is inevitable.
Just in case the stakes in the final episode of the 2012 season of the "Fiscal Cliff" soap opera, and a 30 second advertising block was not selling for a record amount, here comes the Pentagon with a warning that it may fire almost 1 million civillians their services will be required but unpaid if there is no Cliff deal. From the WSJ: "Mandatory federal spending cuts designed to be prohibitively drastic will become a reality on Wednesday if negotiators remain unable to reach an agreement to avert the reductions. Illustrating the gravity of the cuts, the Pentagon plans to notify 800,000 civilian employees that they could be forced to take several weeks of unpaid leave in 2013 if a deal isn't struck, and other agencies are likely to follow suit. The cuts, which members of both parties have referred to as a "meat ax," are the product of a hastily designed 2011 law that required $110 billion in annual spending reductions over nine years to reduce the deficit. Their severity, representing close to 10% of annually appropriated spending, was intended to force Democrats and Republicans to come together on a broader package of deficit-reduction measures, which would replace the cuts. That effort failed, raising the prospect of the cuts' taking place."
- Japan PM Abe wants to replace landmark war apology (Reuters) - to summarize Abe's strategy: crush the JPY even as China is alienated so much not a single Japanese export goes to Beijing. Brilliant
- Unthinkable Cuts Almost a Reality (WSJ)
- Signs of Negative Economic Impact Growing (WSJ)
- Carlyle Agrees to Buy Duff & Phelps for $665.5 Million (BBG)
- Greek retail sales slump deepens in October, recession bites (Reuters)
- Congress Dysfunction as Deadline Arrives Poses 2013 Risks (BBG)
- For Euro, All Eyes Are on Central Bank's Actions (WSJ)
- France Seeks New Path to High Tax (WSJ)
- Japan Rebuke to G-20 Nations May Signal Moves to Weaken Yen (BBG)
- Portugal braced for ‘fiscal earthquake’ (FT)
- Monti's reform path faces test beyond Italy elections (Reuters)
- South Korea’s Inflation Slows Even as Economy Gaining Momentum (WSJ)
- China factory sector strongest since May 2011 (Reuters)
It's the last trading day of the year, nothing has been resolved on the Cliff, the perpetually wrong media has now decided to change its tune and is spin the Wile E. Coyote plunge as a "good thing" (just as we expected), Congress is nowhere, the Senate failed to reach any resolution last night and is resuming the "negotiations" farce at the bright and early hour of 11 am, and yet somehow, in spite of everything, the strong bid under the futures refuses to go away (thank you Kevin Henry). This despite what is becoming clear to even this broken market (InTrade odds of a debt ceiling deal by the end of today are still a substantial 2.3%) that there will likely be no deal until some time in February or March when the debt ceiling extensions expire by which point the only question is how deep the US recession will be. And still everyone will be shocked, shocked, when nothing is done today either. Why? Because the market continues to price in an outcome which demands that it crash for it to be achieved. That so few grasp this is frankly, disturbing. Also, everything else is perfectly enjoyable theatrical noise. And just to keep the excitement factor really high, most rates and FX markets close early today, with rates and FX futures markets close at 1pm New York time while cash bond trading at 2pm.
There was a time when the US was the cleanest dirty shirt; it seems now, given the US equity futures' (total lack of) reaction to tonight's 19-month-high surge in the ever-trustworthy over-invested mal-allocated Chinese PMI that for once, all that matters is domestic issues. HSBC's China PMI surged to 51.5, its highest since May 2011 and the Shanghai Composite is even shrugging it off as new export orders fell slightly (but of course all that matters is the top-line); and not wanting to burst anyone's bubble but - a majority of survey respondents (nearly 85%) reported no change in the level of outstanding business, employment levels also remained broadly similar in December, with nearly 92% of panelists noting no change to workforce numbers. But apart from that, the drop in inventories (and jump in input prices) apparently was enough to jerk this idiotic barometer of whatever it is to something that purports to show the best manufacturing growth in 19 months. It seems clear that our Chinese 'friends' at the PBoC are telegraphing that we are on our own - there will be no easing from them in this environment - Trade accordingly...
The divergence between consumers and producers within the real economy that has stumped economists for the better part of 2012 can, at least in part, be attributed to the Fiscal Cliff; but the anticipatory effects of the Fiscal Cliff on the United States of America evidently began with American politicians, and probably for the worse, that is where it will end. The division that has plagued Washington has grown starker in recent years, and the divergence between consumers and producers as a result of divided leadership stands as a testament to the irresponsibility of those sent to Washington D.C. to serve their country. These divergences cannot last forever, and depending on the events of the next couple weeks, the United States is due for a reversion to the mean. The direction of that reversion - either production up to meet consumption or consumption down to meet production and confirm a recession within the United States - is wholly on the shoulders of the politicians in Washington D.C.
UPDATE: ES scrambled up to Flash-Crash lows at 1391.5
No Deal; No Deal. The updates came thick and fast and almost entirely full of nothing until Harry Reid called a halt to proceedings:
- *REID SAYS SENATE WILL RESUME WORK AT 11 A.M. TOMORROW
- *REID SAYS `THERE'S STILL TIME LEFT' TO REACH BUDGET AGREEMENT
S&P 500 Futures Open at Friday's lows amid higher than average volume but is modestly off the lows as an initial push (ES +4). EURUSD is 8 pips higher (in a purely algo-oriented lift as it was completely oblivious into Friday's close).
It's not even 6 pm yet (futures open time) and all that early optimistic momentum hard procured by splinter GOP Senators, is slowly but surely, being extinguished. Enter Dick Durbin, the second ranking Senate democrat:
- Even if budget agreement to avoid fiscal cliff is reached today, it would be tough to “put it together this evening,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tells CNN.
- If deal reached, more likely to be made final tomorrow, he says
- Original terms of budget deal present “problem”
- Hopeful “common ground” can be reached
So let's set the ground rules for tonight's drinking game...
Talks on the fiscal cliff have resumed, but as of this writing there is not yet an agreement. The current negotiations focus on the income threshold under which tax cuts should be extended, among other topics. As we have noted, the sides seem as far apart as ever, and as Goldman notes, while it is still possible that an agreement will be reached by year end, a retroactive deal in January looks more likely. The eventual resolution still looks likely to be a scaled down agreement that addresses only the policy changes scheduled for year-end and omits other issues, such as an increase in the debt limit or longer-term fiscal reforms. The greatest area of uncertainty is whether the spending cuts scheduled under the sequester will be addressed. The fiscal policy timeline below shows how we are rapidly approaching the more ominous debt ceiling debate and Goldman's Q&A asks and answers provides context for where we are from both an economic and ratings agency impact basis.