Six centuries ago, when London and Paris were irrelevant, plague-infested backwaters, and New York City wasn’t even on the map, the greatest city in the world was Nanjing– the capital of the Great Ming. At the time, Nanjing was not only the most populous city on the planet, it was also the pinnacle of civilization. Art, science, technology, and commerce flourished in the Ming Dynasty’s liberalized economy, which constituted a full 31% of global GDP at the time. (By comparison, the US economy is roughly 25% of global GDP today…) Taxes were low, the currency was strong, and overseas trade thrived. For a time, Nanjing truly was the center of the world. Over the next several hundred years, the tide shifted. The Ming Dynasty fell, and power was transferred further west to the Ottoman Empire, and eventually to Europe which had finally emerged from the Dark Ages as the most advanced civilization on Earth... This phenomenon has lasted for several hundred years now… but as history has shown repeatedly, power centers frequently shift. The world is now witnessing yet another transition of power, this time from west to east, as the US-led western hierarchy suffocates within its own debt-laden Keynesian fiat bubble.
Today brings the release of the Minutes of the March 13th FOMC meeting. As Steven Englander of Citi notes today, since the tone of the Minutes reflects the breadth of opinion among FOMC members the risk is that it reads somewhat more hawkish than recent comments by Chairman Bernanke. Persistent hawkishness from other FOMC members could foster the perception that Bernanke will face greater resistance in any push to introduce additional accommodation which could have a negative impact on risk appetite and lend support to USD. This would be particularly true if mentions of possible further easing by FOMC doves are few and far between. Given that interest rate expectations have declined over the past two weeks since the series of speeches by Chairman Bernanke, there does appear to be some room for investors to price in more Fed hawkishness. As reflected in implied yields for December 2013 eurodollar futures, interest rate expectations have dropped nearly 20 bps since March 20th. However, this drop in yields only reverses part of the rise seen in the wake of the Chairman’s earlier Senate testimony and the release of the FOMC statement, so ultimately scope for a rebound should not be open ended. Coupled with the fact that Bernanke’s comments are more recent than March FOMC meeting, this convinces us that risk return in chasing any bout of USD strength upon the release is unattractive.
As Dick Bove opines and talking heads explain the money-on-the-sidelines and why AAPL is going to one cajillion, the major US financials have quietly been notably lagging the performance of the broad equity markets since yesterday's European equity close. Whether this is a catch up to credit's recent underperformance or simply a recognition that nothing in Europe is solved and the contagion is as real as ever is unclear but for now the buy-of-a-lifetime in Morgan Stanley is at a 3% 'discount' to yesterday's price...
Because as everyone knows, debt is wealth. And as everyone knows even better, it is much better to go 1000 days without any budget whatsoever. Finally, what is truly best in life is to have your own budget, Mr. President, get voted down 414-0 in Congress, even as Congress (i.e., the body representing the US population) passes the Ryan budget.
With the political season heating up, and tax season upon us, we thought it worthwhile drilling into exactly how painful the potential pre-programmed fiscal tightening in 2013 is likely to be. As Credit Suisse notes, "it ain't over til its over" as the suspicion is that a lame duck session of Congress will forestall some of the tightening but until Congress acts, the economy is still technically in a collision course with the largest fiscal hit in modern times.
The dislocation between 10Y Treasuries and the S&P 500 is once again becoming wide as bonds continued to press 'a sombre reality' and stocks 'a new hope' - whether this is QE-positioning is unclear but we wonder which way the correction will come this time with TSY snapping on March 30th - the last time we dislocated so far so fast.
While the LTROs were supposed to bring European banks back from the edge of insolvency with a warming blast of liquidity, the sad truth, now that the exuberance of fresh money-printing has faded, is that the unintended consequence has crammed down the senior unsecured bank debt holders to the lowest of the low. This realization, that we have discussed a number of times - most recently here - that nothing has been solved - as the LTRO Stigma unintended consequence, is starting to leak back into broader risk premia as now the contagion risks are back on the table and even non-LTRO-facing banks are seeing spreads increase as expectations of either broader forced cram-downs or interconnected vicious cycles rear their ugly head once again among European banks - and implicitly back onto European Sovereign balance sheets. Citigroup's Hans Lorenzen highlights four key reasons for the increasingly binary bifurcation that senior unsecured bank debt has become.
Anyone who hasn’t sensed a mood change in this country since the 2008 financial meltdown is either ignorant or in denial. Millions of Americans fall into one of these categories, but many people realize something has changed – and not for the better. The sense of pure financial panic that existed during September and October of 2008 had not been seen since the dark days of 1929. Our leaders used the initial terror and fear to ram through TARP and stimulus packages that rewarded the perpetrators of the financial collapse rather than helping the middle class who lost 8 million jobs, destroyed by Wall Street criminality. The stock market plunged by 57% from its 2007 high by March 2009. What has happened since September 2008 has set the stage for the next downward leg in this Crisis. The rich and powerful have pulled out all the stops and saved themselves at the expense of the many. Despite overwhelming proof of unabashed mortgage fraud, rating agency bribery, document forgery on a grand scale and insider trading based on non-public information, the brazen audacity of Wall Street oligarchs is reminiscent of the late stages of the Roman Empire.
Following the durable goods miss at the end of March, there were some who were expecting another Schrodinger print in today's Factory Orders report, which was expected to post a 1.5% increase (even as the Durable Goods miss was revised from 2.2% to 2.4%, still short of the +3.0% expectation). Alas, no such luck, and instead the weakness from March is spilling over into April as February new factory orders rose 1.3%, missing expectations, but an improvement from January's print which was revised lower to -1.1%. Shipments however declined 0.4% in February, following two consecutive monthly increases. "Transportation equipment, also down following two consecutive monthly increases, had the largest decrease, $1.3 billion or 2.5 percent to $49.2 billion." Finally, and in what will be no surprise to anyone, Inventory stockpiling continues, and is now up twenty-eight of the last twenty-nine months. "This was at the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis in 1992 and followed a 0.6 percent January increase." Finally, the inventories-to-shipments ratio was 1.33, unchanged from January. We will likely see some modest downward GDP revisions based on this data.
Presented with little comment except to note that Members of Congress and Lobbyists rank lowest for honesty and ethics with Nurses topping the list and Bankers just below Journalists as the resentment of where the QE funds flow rises ever so slowly at first...
So when will retail investors start buying stocks? One of the final legs propping up this rally is the belief that retail investors will finally pile into stocks. There is hope that all this “money on the sidelines” will find its way into the stock market. The S&P at 1,350 was supposed to do the trick. Certainly 1,400 on the S&P was going to be enough to chase retail investors into stocks. Basically the argument that retail will capitulate and finally invest in stocks is based on the assumption that higher prices increase demand – aka, a Giffen Good. Retail investors can see that the U.S. debt has continued to grow and that in spite of lip service to deficit reduction, we are creating a bigger deficit. They are nervous about what will happen when finally the spending gets pulled in. They are also very nervous (as are many professional investors) that they will be the last purchase of stocks before the central banks stop pumping fresh money into the system in their never ending attempt to inflate asset prices. Expecting “the masses” to buy just because something is already up 20% seems a little silly, if not downright arrogant. If there is one sector where the upward price movement is sucking in more money it is amongst corporations themselves and if any group has shown an ability to buy high and sell low, it is corporations themselves. It is just wrong to expect individuals to be as frivolous with their money as corporations are.
It is no secret that when it comes to attention spans and 'deep thought', Americans would rather be at the movies. After all, for a country which prides itself on its distractability and sales of ADHD medications, the only thing that matters is the line up of entertainment. Perhaps one reason why last summer's debt ceiling fiasco ended up being such a popular thriller with the masses is that the movie lineup at the time was less than inspiring, leading to a 1.4% decline in summer theater attendance. Which begs the question: what is in store for this year? Because as we have noted, we already know that the US debt ceiling will likely be breached sometime in September, leading into the presidential election, and as a result Americans will demand distraction, or else there is an all too real possibility the same market crash as happened in August of 2011, may recur. So what are the distractions in store for the herd? Courtesy of BofA and the Hollywood Stock Exchange, here is the complete summer lineup, coupled with the HSX movie stock price (an indicator of expected revenues). Will it be enough to offset reality setting in with a thud? You decide.
As Europe's exuberance from the LTROs fades (with Italian banks now negative YTD, Sovereigns wider than LTRO2 levels, and financials desparately divided by the LTRO Stigma) Jefferies David Zervos uncovers the sad reality that faces peripheral creditors and Northern Europeans - as we noted a month ago here. The 'success' of the LTRO monetization scheme (as opposed to EFSF/ESM transfer dabacles) is what enabled the Greek restructuring, and as Zervos notes, the losses that the big boys (Spain and Italy) need to take will not be taken via a haircut but a monetization as the number 1 rule is we must always assume that losses will be taken in a way that protects the large northern banks, northern jobs and most importantly Northern politicians. If the loss realization is not managed correctly (and losses there will be), then the ugly truth will escape but the North's large-scale vendor-financing scheme with the periphery will have to continue - even in the knoweldge that the debt will never get paid back.
The income and savings of Northern workers must be ploughed (directly or indirectly) into the rest-of-Europe or the entire structure becomes insolvent and the breaking of that social contract (that they will be looked after when they are old) will inevitably lead to revolt and nasty nationalist political forces being unleashed. The hope to avoid this is the 'wealth illusion' as the workers of the north can never be allowed to realize they have only 50% of their worth in reality. Ireland will be next on the loss-realization-monetization path but as we move from relatively small and containable sovereigns to the big-boys, the idea that Spain and Italy will roll over and accept a decade of austerity in exchange for a haircut is pure folly. These countries hold too much clout in the Eurozone and their threat of exit is a material threat to the northern jobs and hence northern politicians. The only way the northern politicians will be able to save face when it comes to Spain and Italy is through massive monetary policy accommodation. Inflation will rebalance Europe; but let's hope that the process of restating northern wealth and wage rates does not lead to revolt in the northern streets. The politicians will need to carefully execute this trade.