The Fed In 2014: A Story Of Unintended Consequences And Goldilocks

Unintended consequences may have developed from QE policies that are not fully understood.  They may materialize more clearly during the withdrawal process.  Any of a number of obstacles could push the Fed ‘off course’ from the smooth landing that its baseline scenario suggests: 

  • Certainly, expanding the balance sheet by over $3 trillion has had a significant impact on valuations, market functioning, and asset allocation, so those effects could cause some market turbulence as they revert back to normal.
  • Emerging markets, which benefited heavily in the early years of QE, have recently shown some disruptions, such as, slowing economic growth, weakening currencies, and capital outflows.
  • Political and social concerns about income and wealth inequalities have grown due to the use of asset prices as a policy tool.
  • Structural unemployment from long-term joblessness and technological advancement cannot be addressed through easy money.
  • Politics is still polarizing, which in turn creates on-going economic headwinds.

Commodities Are Crumbling

Despite the surge in prices for NatGas (and record time-of-year prices for gasoline),  WTI crude oil prices are stumbling back to $93.50 this morning. Copper is also sliding but the real action - once again - is in Gold and Silver. Following yesterday's flash crash in gold, silver is having a conniption this morning as the 8amET period once again brings volatility. The selling coincided with the smaller-than-expected trade deficit - perhaps indicating indirectly less room for Fed QE? But in this new normal market, do they really need a reason to smack them down. Stocks are not moving as this occurs but bonds and the USD are modestly bid.

Surge Pricing: New York Nat Gas Prices Soar To Record

It's Winter, so it's cold; but even relative to the worst year in recent records, this is extreme. Demand for heat is seemingly surging as the price for delivery of Natural Gas in New York City and New Jersey has soared to a record high. Uber would be proud of the surge as prices for Northeast Transco Zone 6 gas reached almost 9 times its seasonal average and other East Coast hubs reached 10-year highs.

November Trade Deficit Slides 13%, Lowest Since October 2009, Exports Rise To Record

Following October's disappointing bounce in the US trade deficit, it was only expected that the November data would come leaps and bounds ahead of the expected $40 billion print, instead sliding 12.9% to $34.3 billion from October's revised $39.3 billion - this was the lowest monthly trade deficit since October 2009. The delta was the result of a modest boost in exports, up $1.7 billion, to a record high of $194.9 billion, compounded by a more pronounced slide in imports, which were $3.4 billion less than October's $232.5 billion. Some other highlights: exports to China climbed to a record high (we certainly expect "matching" Chinese exports to the US to also rise to a record when reported next), while the US petroleum deficit was the lowest since May 2009 thanks to shale.

Spending On Gambling And Low-End Hookers Slides; Weak Booze Sales Blamed On Weather

In yet another indication that the US consumer is tapped out and rolling over, a report from the "Vice Index" reporting firm SouthBay Research which tracks spending on gambling, liquor sales and prostitution, says that "spending on vices wasn’t very strong in December, a sign that overall consumer spending was weak, according to the latest reading of the Vice Index from SouthBay Research’s Andrew Zatlin" as the WSJ reports. "The Vice Index for December points to stable but subdued consumer spending," according to SouthBay's head Andrew Zatlin further predicting that retail sales slipped 0.1% in December from November.  And while the split between "the 1%" and "everyone else" was evident in the faster decline in beer sales compared to wine sales, as well as gambling where the low-end contracted while the high end expanded, nothing says a recovery for the 1% like the following sentence: "High-end escorts successfully raised prices,” Zatlin wrote in the report. “Lower-end escorts did not.

Frontrunning: January 7

  • Yellen’s Record-Low Senate Support Reflects Fed’s Politicization (BBG)
  • Euro-Zone Inflation Rate Falls in December, even further below ECB's target (WSJ)
  • Zambia politician charged for calling president a potato (AFP)
  • Blame gold: India Savings Deposit Scam Collapse Leaves Thousands Penniless (BBG)
  • Hedge Funds Raise Gold Wagers as Yamada Sees $1,000 (BBG)
  • George Osborne limits cuts options with pensions promise (FT)
  • Vietnam Raises Foreign Bank Ownership Caps to Aid System (BBG)
  • But they said buy a year ago... Goldman to JPMorgan Say Sell Emerging Markets After Slide (BBG)
  • SAC Trial Seen by Probe Convict as Latest Abusive Tactic (BBG)

Deep Freeze Day Market Summary

Heading into the North American open, stocks in Europe are seen broadly higher, with peripheral EU stock indices outperforming after Ireland successfully returned to capital markets with its 10y syndication that attracted over EUR 10bln. Financials benefited the most from the consequent credit and bond yield spreads tightening, with smaller Italian and Spanish banks gaining around 4%. Following the successful placement, IR/GE 10y bond yield spread was seen at its tightest level since April 2010, while PO/GE 10y spread also tightened in reaction to premarket reports by Diario Economico citing sources that Portuguese govt and debt agency IGCP consider that the current level of yields already allows Portugal to go ahead with a bond sale. Looking elsewhere, the release of better than expected macroeconomic data from Germany, together with an in line Eurozone CPI, supported EUR which gradually moved into positive territory. In addition to that, smaller MRO allotment by the ECB resulted in bear steepening of the Euribor curve and also buoyed EONIA 1y1y rates. The Spanish and Italian markets are the best-performing larger bourses, Swedish the worst. The euro is stronger against the dollar. Japanese 10yr bond yields fall; Spanish yields decline. Commodities gain, with wheat, silver underperforming and Brent crude outperforming. U.S. trade balance data released later.

It's A Click Farm World: 1 Million Followers Cost $600 And The State Department Buys 2 Million Facebook Likes

Recently, Facebook got into hot water with investors when it was revealed that as many of its 1.18 billion active users 14.1 million (and likely orders of magnitude more) were fraudulent. Things are even worse at Twitter, where Italian security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli found that of the social network's 232 million monthly active users about 20 million are fake and for sale, while Jason Ding of Barracuda Labs said 10% of more of all Twitter accounts are fake. Welcome to the world of click farms, where nothing is what it seems, and where social networking participants spend millions of dollars to appear more important, followed, prestigious, cool, or generally "liked" than they really are... The bottom line is simple "The illusion of a massive following is often just that," said Tony Harris, who does social media marketing for major Hollywood movie firms, said he would love to be able to give his clients massive numbers of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, but buying them from random strangers is not very effective or ethical.

Revolving Door 2014: Former Head Of The FCC Joins Carlyle

There is no quicker route to success in the USSA than to go into “public service” regulating a massive industry and then flip back over to engage in M&A in the exact industry you were in charge of regulating.

The Slow (But Inevitable) Demise Of The US Dollar

Nothing lasts forever (as we've shown before) - except perhaps gold as a store of value it would appear. Central banks around the world are increasingly diversifying their currency reserves away from the US Dollar. Even as overall holdings soar to a record $11.4 trillion, the US Dollar accounted for 61.44% (down from well over 65% at the peak of the crisis in 2008). With China outspokenly concerned at the US Dollar's future status, we suspect this will only become more 'diversified'.

Peter Schiff On Blind Faith In The Magical 'Monetary Policy' Elixir

Most economic observers are predicting that 2014 will be the year in which the United States finally shrugs off the persistent malaise of the Great Recession. In contrast, we believe that the episode has, for the moment, established supreme confidence in the powers of monetary policy to keep the economy afloat and to keep a floor under asset prices, even in the worst of circumstances. The shift in sentiment can only be explained by the growing acceptance of monetary policy as the magic elixir that Keynesians have always claimed it to be. This blind faith has prevented investors from seeing the obvious economic crises that may lay ahead. Based on nothing but pure optimism, the market believes that the Fed can somehow contract its $4 trillion balance sheet without pushing up rates to the point where asset prices are threatened, or where debt service costs become too big a burden for debtors to bear. The more likely truth is that this widespread mistake will allow us to drift into the next crisis.

Jim Kunstler's 2014 Forecast - Burning Down The House

"Paper and digital markets levitate, central banks pull out all the stops of their magical reality-tweaking machine to manipulate everything, accounting fraud pervades public and private enterprise, everything is mis-priced, all official statistics are lies of one kind or another, the regulating authorities sit on their hands, lost in raptures of online pornography (or dreams of future employment at Goldman Sachs), the news media sprinkles wishful-thinking propaganda about a mythical “recovery” and the “shale gas miracle” on a credulous public desperate to believe, the routine swindles of medicine get more cruel and blatant each month, a tiny cohort of financial vampire squids suck in all the nominal wealth of society, and everybody else is left whirling down the drain of posterity in a vortex of diminishing returns and scuttled expectations."

The Strange Case Of Suppressed US Macro Data Cycles

While banks have been shown to manipulate every asset class (except of course stocks where HFT is merely a liquidity provider), it has largely been left to the Chinese to be blamed for 'plan' what data is released to the world and 'manage' expectations. With conspiracy 'theories' in market and macro data manipulations being proved 'fact'; we thought it intriguing that the US Macro data cycle has rapidly diminished since the financial crisis. This, of course, makes perfect sense in a world where fundamentals no longer matter; nevertheless, compared to the pre-crisis swings, things are different this time.

Guest Post: Adaptive Investing - What's Your Market DNA?

Evolutionary theory as a perspective for understanding human behavior within capital markets is a more useful perspective than what economic theory has become... a cloistered, brittle theology that day after day becomes more abstract in its formation and more narrow in its application. The first and most basic lesson of an evolutionary perspective properly applied: we are well served as investors to jettison the superiority complex that comes with living in the present and looking back on what naturally seems a benighted past. The notions of liberal progress and evolution-as-hierarchy are so deeply ingrained that we assume that whatever behaviors are new or modern, including modern investment management practices or modern investment strategies (or modern monetary policy), must be part and parcel of some advancement over what existed in the past. In truth there is no up-and-to-the-right arrow associated with evolution; there is no intelligent design pushing us “forward”.

Janet Yellen Is Confirmed As Next Fed Chair

With the critical 50th Yes vote just being cast, Janet Yellen has officially become the first woman to head the central bank in its 100 years of existence. The vote continues, and the only question now is whether the current tally of 27 No votes will surpass the Bernanke record of 30 objections to the central bank head.

Angry French Union Workers Take Two Bosses Hostage

Workers at a tire plant in Northern France have taken two managers hostage until Goodyear (the firm that owns the plant and has been trying to shutter it for years) meets the mabor unions demands. WSJ reports, as Goodyear winds down operations with the plant almost idle, French labor law requires the company to keep all workers employed, which means many of them don't work more than a couple of hours a day while still getting full salary. The situation is why Titan International's Maurice Taylor blasted that he "would be stupid" to operate the plant on that basis.

Chart Of The Day: Greek Poverty

And now, the saddest chart of the day: Greek poverty since the crisis, and in 2013, when the so-called "Grecovery" arrived.