Fiscal Cliff Update: 'Little Progress Toward A Compromise In Past Ten Days"

Two Fridays ago, just as AAPL was in danger of plunging below the absolute last support level of $500 after which freefall for it and the entire market begins, a truly unexpected deus ex machina appeared for those still clinging to long stock positions: politicians, in this case John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, who held a press conference in which they defined the recently launched "Fiscal Cliff" talks as "constructive." In reality, this appearance was nothing but a photo opportunity for talking heads (as explained in "Risk Ramp on Boehner Banality"), and one which as Nancy Pelosi herself admitted later, served simply to halt what then looked like an assured free fall in the markets. Since then the ongoing rally in stocks and the EURUSD has been predicated on the "constructiveness" of the talks actually being real. Judging by the latest update from Reuters, Goldman will likely be right, if only in the short term. As Reuters admits, " U.S. lawmakers have made little progress in the last 10 days toward a compromise to avoid the harsh tax increases and government spending cuts scheduled for Jan. 1, a senior Democratic senator said on Sunday." That this update comes after the "big" market swoon into the recent lows from November 16, is certainly cause for alarm, because it means that at least one more violent market whipsaw to the downside will have to take place before there is any cliff progress to report.

Retailers Blame Drop In Black Friday Sales On Black Thursday

With all bad news on the tape now having a suitable "explanation", be it a prior president, a tropical storm, the weather being too hot, the weather being too cold, the weather being just right, but never, ever someone actually taking blame for the fact that life is what happens when corporate CEOs (and sovereign presidents) are busy making "priced to perfection" plans. So it is with what is now a confirmed flop of a Black Friday, which according to ShopperTrak saw sales drop by nearly 2% to $11.2 from 2011, which in turn was a 6.6% gain over 2010 (and would be revised to far lower once all the refunds and exchanges to cash took place in the two weeks later). This occurred despite a 3.5% increase in retail foot traffic to 307.7 million store visits. The nominal drop in retail sales also occurred despite a nearly 1% increase in the total US population over last Thanksgiving, and a 2% Y/Y inflation. But fear not: the ad hoc excuse for this "surprising" loss in purchasing power is already handy: it is all Black Thursday's fault, or the latest idiotic attempt by retailers to cannibalize their own future sales by diluting the exclusivity of Black Friday, and which will force all retailers to follow the sovereigns in a race to the bottom, as soon every day will be the equivalent of Black Friday. But at least retailers have another 364 years worth of excuses for the conceivable future to excuse any and all store weakness. Next year: it's all Black Wednesday's fault.

Europe Demands Nationalized Spanish Banks Fire 8,000 To Transfer First Bank Bailout Tranche

For those still unsure why Spain PM Mariano Rajoy is fighting tooth and nail to avoid requesting an official activation of the ECB's SMP reincarnation: the OMT, which is a conditional bond buying program supposedly pari passu with the private market (but not really) here is an explanation. While Spain already requested, and received, a bailout of its banking system, which according to eronous analyses by firms such as Oliver Wyman will be at most €60 billion, and which according to others (such as us) will eventually end up costing orders of magnitude more once the green light for extortion is open for the New Normal modified vigilantes, said bailout would come with full conditions. Today we learn what a major condition of the first bank bailout tranche disbursement will be. It should come as no surprise to our readers- recall that in May when discussing the absolute lack of any actual austerity implementation we said, that "In fact, the epicenter of the current meltdown - Spanish banking - has seen only de-minimus headcount reduction over the past few years - so who is tightening their belts?" It seems someone at the Troika was paying attention, because as El Pais reported, European condition number 1 will be an epic bloodbath of pink slips come Monday, with Spanish banks expected to fire thousands of bank workers immediately and shut down 1,000 branches.

Montana GOP Rep.: "Pay Me In Gold Before Dollars Have No Value"

Jerry O'Neil, six-term GOP state representative in Montana, has asked to receive his salary (which at $10.33 per hour is around $1800 per month) in gold or silver. The long-standing legislator was driven to this decision by his constituents' concerns about the nation's massive debt-load and fears of our country's collapse as "only so many dollars can be printed before they have no value." The long-time Ron Paul supporter, according to Time, cited Article 1, Section 10 of the US Constitution, which says, in part, that "No State shall... make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts." State administrators have denied his request and added that "a bill could be introduced to accomplish this result." O'Neil, like many other, believes "The Keynesian era of financing government with debt appears to be close to its demise."

The Greek Debt Buyback 'Boondoggle' - Questions Answered

Following this week's 'failed' Eurogroup meeting, leaked details suggest a debt-buyback is becoming the corner-piece of the 'new' Troika deal with Greece. The leaking of details (and anticipation by the market) has driven GGB prices up and reduced much of the benefit of the buyback 'boondoggle' but as Barclays notes, "even if the debt buyback enables the IMF and EU leaders to come to an agreement, leading to a Greek resolution in the near term, in the medium-to-long-term Greek debt is not sustainable on realistic macroeconomic assumptions without notable outright haircuts on official EU loans to Greece. Therefore, a successful debt buyback might resolve the Greek debt sustainability issue on paper in the troika report but it will most likely not resolve it in investors’ minds." While there are 'optical' advantages to the buyback, the four main disadvantages outlined below should be irksome to the Greeks (e.g. creditor benfitting over growth-empowering) - which is critical since, as ekathermini notes, a senior finance minister commented "God forbid we should not be close to an agreement on Monday."

Chart Of The Day: LEI - Leading-To-Lagging Ratio

While the general consensus from the media, and the majority of analysts, is that the U.S. economy will avoid a recession - there have been numerous indicators that have continued to point to deterioration in the economic fabric.  Most recently industrial production in the U.S. dropped sharply, along with capacity utilization rates, due to the growing recession in Europe, and slowdown in China, which has impacted exports from domestic manufacturers. While it is not popular within the media, or blogosphere, to point out economic concerns but rather why markets are going to engage in a continued bull market - the simple reality is that by the time the NBER announces an official recession it will be far to late for investors to minimize the damageThe leading-to-lagging ratio continues to point to an economy that has very little, if any, actual momentum which leaves it very susceptible to exogenous shocks.

"Survival Of The Fattest": It's A Fat, Fat World After All

Back in March, we first presented a rather stunning finding: by 2020 75% of Americans will be obese or overweight. This was promptly followed up with a post showing just how it is transpired that America became the fattest nation in the world in less than 20 years. What however may not be known, is that America's fatness epidemic is not localized to the country that gave the world the McDonalds burger (and the McMansion): it really is a fat, fat world, after all.

On The Myth Of Ireland's Debt Sustainability

Ireland is continually held up as the poster-child for austerity-driven 'aid' and how the European Union can successfully manage an economy through a depression with no real pain for bankers. Unfortunately, as we have pointed out previously, judging a nation's progress on the back of its bond yields (when liquidity is negligible and the mighty hand of ECB-collateral-reacharound is upon us) should become anathema from any serious analysis. The sad truth, specific to Ireland in this case, is the relative size and importance of EU subsidies (and the EU budgetary allocation) mean that assumptions of current account surplus going forward (the much-needed elixir to sustain the gross debt load the nation's taxpayers now are buried under thanks to banker-transfers) leave Ireland's debt sustainability greatly in question.

Russia Sends Warships To Gaza Coast

For the entire 8 day duration of Operation Pillar of Defense, there was one major geopolitical player who had been largely quiet and certainly absent from the scene: the same player whose unflinching position over the Syria conflict has so far prevented any intervention in the civil war torn country: Russia. The same Russia which has a military base in the Syrian port city of Tarsus, and thus in its own eyes, a very substantial "national interest" role to play in the middle east, one that is certainly opposing that of the US and the pro-NATO forces, a tension that will surely boil to the surface now that war between Iran and Israel is always at most "hours away" depending on who is asked, and which one day will be more than just a war of words. Today, Russia decided that it had kept quiet for too long over the Gaza conflict, with Voice of Russia reporting, courtesy of Al Arabiya, that Russian warships anchored off the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea will be put on military alertness should the conflict in Gaza escalate and brought in proximity, according Russian Navy Command source on Friday.

Goodbye Petrodollar, Hello Agri-Dollar?

When it comes to firmly established, currency-for-commodity, self reinforcing systems in the past century of human history, nothing comes close to the petrodollar: it is safe to say that few things have shaped the face of the modern world and defined the reserve currency as much as the $2.3 trillion/year energy exports denominated exclusively in US dollars (although recent confirmations of previously inconceivable exclusions such as Turkey's oil-for-gold trade with Iran are increasingly putting the petrodollar status quo under the microscope). But that is the past, and with rapid changes in modern technology and extraction efficiency, leading to such offshoots are renewable and shale, the days of the petrodollar "as defined" may be over. So what new trade regime may be the dominant one for the next several decades? According to some, for now mostly overheard whispering in the hallways, the primary commodity imbalance that will shape the face of global trade in the coming years is not that of energy, but that of food, driven by constantly rising food prices due to a fragmented supply-side unable to catch up with increasing demand, one in which China will play a dominant role but not due to its commodity extraction and/or processing supremacy, but the contrary: due to its soaring deficit for agricultural products, and in which such legacy trade deficit culprits as the US will suddenly enjoy a huge advantage in both trade and geopolitical terms. Coming soon: the agri-dollar.

Will LGIVs Be The 'Straw' To Break China's Credit-Fueled Growth 'Back'?

We presented a detailed look into China's credit bubble earlier this week and why serial-extrapolators may well have to adjust their strategy calls sooner rather than later; but the more we look around in the detritus of China's non-centrally-issued datasets, the more concerned we become. To wit, the major issuance of local government investment vehicles (LGIVs) in the last few months to stabilize growth amid falling fiscal revenue growth. The unintended consequence of PBoC-sponsored debt restructurings (as Barclays notes, rolling over debt via the issuance of new products or buyouts by asset management companies) is creating a false sense of security for these instruments, reinforcing the belief of an 'implicit government guarantee'. We tend to agree with Barclays when they conclude that the underestimation of the credit risks in both the trust loans and bond markets could induce excessive risk-taking - and warrants extremely close monitoring.

Guest Post: Be Careful Jumping On Bernanke's Bandwagon

Markets initially sold off on Tuesday as Bernanke's speech gave no mention of further easing programs; but rebounded on his closing remarks, which the media latched on to, regarding optimism about economic growth in 2013. This was welcome news - as long as you don't think about it too much. With debt levels continuing to spiral higher, which acts as a governor on economic growth due to the debt service requirement, the question of a return of economic growth becomes much more cloudy. The problem for Bernanke comes down to his inability to provide realistic economic forecasts as the Federal Reserve faces a severe 'communications' challenge, which is the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Imagine that following an FOMC meeting Bernanke stated:

"The policies and actions that we have implemented to date have done little to curb economic weakness. The economy is in much worse shape that we have previously communicated as the transmission system of Fed policy through the economy, and the financial markets, is obviously broken."

The immediate reaction to such a statement would be a complete meltdown of the financial markets.

Is An 18% JPY Devaluation The 'Best-Case' Scenario For Abe's 'New' Japan?

The JPY dropped 1.3% against the USD this week for a greater-than-6% drop since its late-September highs as it appears the market is content pricing Abe's dream of a higher inflation-expectation through the currency devaluation route (and not - for now - through nominal bond yields - implicitly signaling 'real' deflationary expectations). In a 'normal' environment, Barclays quantified the impact of a 1ppt shift in inflation expectations from 1% to 2% will create a 'permanent inflation tax' of around 18% (which will be shared between JPY and JGB channels). However, as we discussed in detail in March (and Kyle Bass confirmed and extended recently), the current 'Rubicon-crossing' nature of Japan's trade balance and debt-load (interest-expense-constraint) mean things could become highly unstable and contagious in a hurry. When the upside of your policy plans is an 18% loss of global purchasing power, we hope Abe knows what he is doing (but suspect not).

Swedish Labor Union Seeks To Set Monetary Policy - Demands Lower Rates, Higher Wages

Forget Chuck Schumer's cat-out-of-the-bag 'get back to work' comments to Bernanke, now it is union-leaders who are advising the world's central bankers. "There is a not a single reason not to lower rates" exclaims Sweden's trade union confederation to the central bank as he begins negotiations with employers on wage deals for next year. His demands (for lower rates) are "far from excessive" and he adds "should not cause inflation" as Swedish organized labor have "never called for levels that ... could not be supported economically." It seems that everyone, from NYTimes bloggers & NY politicians to Swedish Hoffas know best what the central planners must do - and furthermore, it is becoming clear to an increasing mob who is really in charge (sadly).

Q3 Revenues For Business TV Anchors

Judging from the market's reaction (which after all is the only thing that counts apparently), we have little to fear but fear itself - especially when it comes to real fundamental earnings. However, for those with depth perception issues (two data points, a trend do make), color blindness (red is always green as it's 'off-the-lows'), and ADHD (10-second soundbites only), the following chart should help clarify just how bad Q3 revenues were - and how weak the recent trend is (hint - from the upper left to the lower right is not good).

Guest Post: Canada's Junior Oil Companies Swap Growth for Income

Remarkably prescient given our discsussion yesterday, it seems the leading Canadian junior oil companies are doing whatever they can to create value for their shareholders. Three of the top junior oil companies in Canada are turning away from high growth and into dividend plays this morning. These are all well-respected, leading junior management teams. What we’ve seen in the markets lately is the generalist institutional money—especially in the US but also Canada—leave the junior oil sector. Growth and good management is not getting rewarded. So maybe income and good management will. Is this a sustainable business model now? Other dividend payers like Petrobakken, Pennwest, Enerplus, etc. are down in share price this year. Time will tell.

European 'Austerity' Update

As we highlighted a few months back for Spain, the word 'austerity' appears to mean something different than we thought. Portugal just announced:

  • *PORTUGAL SAYS JAN.-OCT. SPENDING RISES 0.7%           :1174Z PL

and to help cover that anti-austerity 'rise' in spending:

  • *PORTUGAL SAYS REVENUE FROM INDIRECT TAXES DROPS 4.5%  :1174Z PL
  • *PORTUGAL SAYS REVENUE FROM DIRECT TAXES FALLS 3.7%    :1174Z PL

Hhhhmm, well at least the deficit reduced modestly thanks to some chicanery transferring pension benefits. We are sure this 'diligent austerity' is why the bonds have rallied 100bps this week and everyone is patting the Portuguese on their back for 'following the Troika program'!

About Those Retail Investor Fund Flows

While the developed world's central banks may enjoy trading FX and stocks, either directly or indirectly, with each other in a demonstration of monetary policy "stability", the historically biggest source of capital inflows into stocks - the retail investor - has once again just said "nein", for the 17th consecutive week, and excluding tiny inflows of $95 million in the week of July 18 and $907 million in the week ended May 30, has pulled money from stocks for an unprecedented 39 consecutive weeks, with $6.6 billion pulled out in the last week, the most since the first week of October. In fact going back to the beginning of 2010, according to ICI, while $44.5 billion has been invested into domestic equity stock funds, $412 billion has been pulled out. Where has the money gone on an almost dollar for dollar basis: bonds, confirming that the New Normal mantra is all about return of capital.