With the G-20 (and G-7) concluding with what appears to be a slap on the wrist and a wink-and-a-nod to Japan, it seems the game of competitive devaluation will continue. Much pixel and ink has been spilled the 'potential' winners and losers in such an evolving game, but as Bloomberg notes, there has been one winner in the last 10 years each time the world has fretted over "currency wars". As fear (and actuality) of currency wars flares, the USD has borne the brunt of the buying. From 2004's JPYtervention to Mantega's 2010 comments and each time in between, when competitive devaluation is on the world's lips, then the USD is implicitly bid as the currency du jour is offered to any and every willing carry trade riderthere is. The trouble is - for the lowly US investor - each time the USD is bid, so the US equity market has hit an FX-translated earnings hump and fallen back. So while talking heads will exaggerate the nominal performance of Japanese and British equity markets as their currencies free-fall, perhaps the US investor should be careful what they wish for.
We recently introduced the four main candidates in the 'how easy can we be' glamor parade that is the BoJ Governor race. With Abe potentially set to name his nomination as early as this week, the rhetoric is heating up. Citi grades the BoJ governor candidates on a scale of 1 to 5 from the perspective of JPY bullish/bearish. Mr.Kazumasa Iwata will be the most JPY bearish candidate as he is a proponent of the BoJ’s foreign bond purchase. On the other hand, Mr.Toshiro Muto is the most JPY bullish candidate among the big three but he would still be far more dovish on monetary policy (and JPY negative) compared with Shirakawa, the current governor. The third candidate Kuroda will be middle between Iwata and Muto. Also, we need to pay attention to who shall be the deputy governors with USDJPY projections from 90 to 100 depending on the combination.
Economist Vilfredo Pareto's (1848 - 1923) data-driven discovery that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population led to the Pareto principle, known as the 80/20 rule. Research has turned up an astonishing range of natural and social examples of the 80/20 rule: fixing 20% of software bugs eliminates 80% of the tech support calls, 20% of the customers are responsible for 80% of the complaints, and so on. The 80/20 rule can be further reduced (80% of 80 is 64 and 20% of 20 is 4) to a 64/4 rule: the 4% "vital few" have outsized influence on the "trivial many" 64%. We can see the rough outlines of this distribution in income and taxes: The top 1% of taxpayers reported almost 17% of all taxable income and paid 37% of all income taxes; the top 5% reported 32% of all income and paid 59% of the taxes, and the top 10% earned 43% of the income and paid 70% of the taxes.
Who says Barron's covers are only good for timing contrarian market inflection points to the millisecond? In this specific case, we learn that all hope and change roads (soon to be de-potholed following another trillion in road renewal stimulus, aka ARRA 2.0, spent shortly and paying a minimum wage of $9.00 to the depotholers) lead to, where else, Greece.
It would appear that the hopes and commissions of each and every talking head wealth manager and/or central banker has been dashed on the rocks of 'fiscal cliff' tax-hike front-running and a citizenry who remain far more cognizant of the unreality of the real world than the reality being preached by the market. There were some fund flows this week into equity funds (the lowest in six weeks) but, as Reuters notes, it was all into international funds as domestic funds saw outflows and domestic bond funds once again saw inflows. As Goldman Sachs' funds flow and positioning monitor shows - Rotation, Over.
While the G-20 and the G-7 haggle among each other, all (with perhaps the exception of France) desperate to make it seem that Japan's recent currency manipulation is not really manipulation, and that the plunge in the Yen was an indirect, "unexpected" consequence of BOJ monetary policy (when in reality as Richard Koo explained it is merely a ploy to avoid the spotlight falling on each and every other G-7/20 member, all of which are engaged in the same type of currency wars which eventually will all morph into trade wars), Europe's energy powerhouse Norway quietly entered into the war. From Bloomberg: "Norges Bank is ready to cut interest rates further to counter krone gains that interfere with the inflation target, Governor Oeystein Olsen said. “If it gets too strong over time, leading to inflation that’s too low, we will act,” Olsen said yesterday in an interview at his office in Oslo.
Jobs! President Obama has set a record. In his speech to Congress on Tuesday, he uttered the word "jobs" more than in any of his previous four State of the Union addresses. His 45 mentions were more than double the references to any of the other policy ambitions encapsulated in his speech by such words as health, education, immigration, guns, deficit, debt, energy, climate, economy, Afghanistan, wage, spend or tax (the runner-up). If only the president's record on unemployment were as good. After four years America remains in a jobs depression as great as the Great Depression.
Paul Krugman is all for currency wars, but not trade wars: "...First of all, what people think they know about past currency wars isn’t actually true... And in reality the stuff that’s now being called “currency wars” is almost surely a net plus for the world economy..." There is a serious intellectual error here, typical of much of the recent discussion of this issue. A currency war is by definition a low-level form of a trade war because currencies are internationally traded commodities. The intent (and there is much circumstantial evidence to suggest that Japan at least is acting with mercantilist intent, but that is another story for another day) is not relevant — currency depreciation is currency depreciation and still has the same effects on creditors and trade partners, whatever the claimed intent. The risks of disorder and disruption are still very real today.
Look around the investing world and biases are pervasive, from clustering estimates around company guidance (anchoring) to avoiding a stock that has already outperformed (mental accounts). And these biases make a difference. To provide an example, buying Stoxx 600 companies on low P/E multiples (and selling high) would have generated ~25% annual alpha over the last decade using 12-month forward actual reported earnings, but would have lost ~3% per annum using consensus estimates. Interestingly, you would lose less money applying historical earnings (-2% alpha p.a.) than by using consensus estimates! Simply put, biases make consensus estimates worthless.
James Howard Kunstler is concerned. But beyond our decaying fundamentals, he's distressed by society's unwillingness to be honest with itself about the issue's it's facing. Instead, we are embracing a narrative based in "magical thinking" (e.g., prosperity through the printing press, energy independence through domestic shale) that assures us everything is fine. "It’s characteristic of the time that we’re living in that there simply is no sense of consequence. And that’s exactly what you get when you have a Federal Reserve that’s out of control and a public that is filled with technological narcissistic visions of Santa Claus delivering rescue remedies on demand. And so there’s no general sense that when you do things, bad things can happen."
This recent release of the manufacturing and industrial production data added further support to our view that the much touted economic recovery has yet to manifest itself. The latest data showed that manufacturing in January fell back but after strong gains in December and November. However, it is important to remember that the gains at the end of 2012 were driven by the effects of Hurricane Sandy and the "Fiscal Cliff." That ramp up in November and December is likely to leave a void in demand in the coming months - so January's weakness is likely a return to a more normalized trend. What is clear, however, is that the economic data is not markedly improving. While monthly data points will remain volatile it is the trend of the data that is most telling about macroeconomic future. Currently, that outlook remains one of a "struggle through" environment at best. The belief, currently, is that the economy in the U.S. can decouple from the rest of the globe and act as an island of economic prosperity. With 40% of corporate profits tied to international exposure it is unlikely that the U.S. can remain decoupled from the rest of the global community for long.
This week we were told that, by the magic of a non-deficit-increasing wave of our President's hand, the minimum wage should be increased to $9 (a 24% rise from the current $7.25 federal minimum wage) and anchored to inflation going forward. The rabbit-holes of whether this is a good or bad thing run deep and in very different directions. However, in three short minutes, Milton Friedman provides some critically clarifying truthiness on the unholy coalitions between 'do-gooders', 'special interests', 'trade unions', and the vicious circle that this non-market-based decision will create. "Do-Gooders believe passing a law saying nobody shall get less than [a minimum wage] is helping poor people (who need the money). You're doing nothing of the kind. What you're doing is to ensure that people whose skills do not justify that wage will be unemployed." It is no accident that youth unemployment is almost double the overall unemployment rate. We never learn... and as Friedman concludes, "it is the exact people who the do-gooders are trying to help that are hurt the most - the poorest!"
Throughout history, citizen disarmament generally leads to one of two inevitable outcomes: Government tyranny and genocide, or, revolution and civil war. Anti-gun statists would, of course, argue that countries like the UK and Australia have not suffered such a result. My response would be – just give them time. You may believe that gun control efforts are part and parcel of a totalitarian agenda (as they usually are), or, you may believe that gun registration and confiscation are a natural extension of the government’s concern for our “safety and well-being”. Either way, the temptation of power that comes after a populace is made defenseless is almost always too great for any political entity to dismiss. One way or another, for one reason or another, they WILL take advantage of the fact that the people have no leverage to determine their own cultural future beyond a twisted system of law and governance which is, in the end, easily corrupted. The unawake and the unaware among us will also argue that revolution or extreme dissent against the establishment is not practical or necessary, because the government “is made of regular people like us, who can be elected or removed at any time”. This is the way a Republic is supposed to function, yes. However, the system we have today has strayed far from the methods of a Free Republic and towards the machinations of a single party system. Our government does NOT represent the common American anymore. It has become a centralized and Sovietized monstrosity. A seething hydra with two poisonous heads; one Democrat in name, one Republican in name. Both heads feed the same bottomless stomach; the predatory and cannibalistic pit of socialized oligarchy.
When the news broke of the SEC's action against the HNZ call option insider traders, and we posted the full SEC charge against the perpetrators whose actions Zero Hedge reported on first, we asked this regarding one of the entities named: "the trade occurred through an "omnibus account located in Zurich, Switzerland in the name of GS Bank IC Buy Open List Options GS & Co c/o Zurich Office (the "GS Account")." Does GS stand for Goldman Sachs one wonders?" This followed our prior post, rhetorically titled "Guess Who Was Buying HNZ Stock From Its Clients", with the answer of course being Goldman Sachs, which had had HNZ stock at a Sell rating for months, and which just days before reiterated its negative sentiment. But for the most part the post was written in jest. Turns out the joke was on everyone else, because just as we feared, or rather knew, Goldman was indeed implicated all along.