While bad news may be good news for the market hoping that it will spur more stimulative measures from the Fed to boost asset prices - for Main Street America bad news is just bad news. More importantly, the decline in consumer confidence continues to perpetuate the virtual economic spiral. As the consumer retrenches the decline in aggregate end demand puts businesses on the defensive who in turn reduces employment. The reduction in employment, and further stagnation of wages, puts the consumer further onto the defensive leading to more declines in demand. It is a difficult cycle to break.
One used to describe how the Chinese economy is like (exactly who started saying that is no longer clear): a bicycle. Anyone with the experience of riding a bicycle knows that you can’t ride it too slowly, or else you fall over. There was a common belief that China has to grow at least at 8% annual rate (now the number seems to have come down to 7.5%), or there will not be enough jobs being created so that there will be social unrest, that kind of thing. We are not sure if we have ever had much faith in such theory. To our mind, the society has something seriously wrong if it requires 8% or more economic growth in order to keep it stable. And if this is true for China, the Chinese society is very wrong indeed (or perhaps the Chinese society has been seriously wrong with or without this implicit 8% requirement). Now, the Chinese government is now worried about growth (we won’t speculate if the government is panicking or not). Even if China successfully reflates its economy to 7-8% growth (via mal-investments in already over-capacity industries), we are genuinely not impressed if that is going to mean even lower return on investment and even lower corporate profit. That means we have come to an uncomfortable conclusion that China is just not the place we would like to be in, regardless of GDP growth.
Over the last five years, there have been so many ‘projections’ from the economic and political glitterati that have failed spectacularly as to be almost unbelievable - from Bernanke's 'subprime is contained' to Rajoy's November promise that 'Spain will stop being a problem and instead form part of the solution'. Projection was historically the moment when, despite all the work that went into getting to that last point in the program, hope and faith took over as the alchemist found himself having to rely on just a little bit of magic in order to get the outcome he so desperately wished for. Grant Williams believes that, when QE3 finally arrives (and arrive it will), it will mark the top of the S&P500 for a VERY long time and its positive effects will be far shorter-lived than many - including the Fed - are projecting. Far from an overwhelming rising tide that will float all boats, QE3 will be a dismal failure and the last bullet in the Federal Reserve’s gun will turn out not to be the hollowpoint that many are projecting, but instead simply a ‘bang flag’.
To those on the hill and elsewhere who suggest this growing 'fiscal cliff' and 'debt ceiling' crisis will all get solved, former Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director David Stockman tells Bloomberg TV that "they will punt, punt, punt and kick the can with partial solutions driven by eleventh hour crisis-based extensions that will go on for the whole of the next term!" When asked whether this economy will be mired in the doldrums, he rather ominously states "it will be worse, because we will be in recession" and notes that when the lame ducks re-look at the budget numbers with a realistic recession (instead of the current assumption of no recession within 12 years) it will be far worse and in a political environment where 'we cannot possibly raise taxes - and we cannot possibly cut spending'. With a 78% disapproval rating for the 'do nothing' Congress, Stockman is surprised that 16% somehow approve - approve of what? His warning is that unlike in past periods, today "we are completely paralyzed, there is an ideological divide on taxes and entitlement like we've never had before" and while he realizes that "the debt problem doesn't become a debt problem until the market suddenly have a wake up call and realize that if the Fed doesn't keep printing, it's game over."
Just under two years ago, when we mocked then Morgan Stanley's analyst Jim Caron's call for a surge in long-dated yields on the back of an improvement in the economy (not something more realistic like the Fed losing all control of the TSY curve), we penned "Visualizing The Past Of The Treasury Yield Curve, And Deconstructing The Great Confusion Surrounding Its Future" in which we said that contrary to pervasive expectations of a bull steepener, the treasury curve would continue flattening more and more, until the whole thing would become one big pancake. Today, we have decided to revisit that post: in short - Jim Caron was fired by Morgan Stanley as head of rates following 3 consecutive years of bad calls starting in 2009 (only to be rehired in June as a Portfolio Manager... oops), while our view that sooner or later the 2s30s will be 0 bps is over one third complete.
Stunned at the sheer ineptness and lack of due diligence in the Libor-rigging details that are being uncovered specific to Geithner's Treasury and Bernanke's Fed, CNBC's Rick Santelli reflects on just how unbelievable TARP was in this context. "Hurry up, let's spend three quarters of a trillion dollars; how much due diligence did they do for our role as taxpayers in basically bailing out the banking system? Obviously zero!" and this as they knew these very-same banks were manipulating rates. Opining on the un-Americanism of jet-skis and outsourcing, Rick states unequivocally "what's un-American is we now have the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Treasury taking heightened importance in regulating us in the future through Dodd/Frank. Shame on their legislation!" Meanwhile, those very same un-American Treasury staff (who we are supposed to trust with the future of our banking system and implicitly the economy we pre-suppose) have just been caught soliciting prostitutes and breaking conflict-of-interest rules.
Things are getting a little 'strange' in Europe. European equity markets (and voatility) have disconnected from the reality of European corporate, financial, and sovereign credit. As the massive bifurcation in sovereign yields continues - with Spain near record-highs and Swiss/German at record-lows - equities are still significantly higher post the EU-Summit (and vol massively so) as credit of any kind is dramatically wider. Specifically, 1) Europe's broad equity index is massively outperforming credit post EU Summit; 2) Europe's broad equity index Vol is majorly disconnected from XOver credit; and, 3) Europe's broad equity index is in-line with GDP-weighted sovereign risk BUT dramatically dislocated from Italian and Spanish risk (that is reflective of the core of the stress). Just as we have seen in the US, the method of choice for 'pumping hope' into equity market valuations is through the levered selling of volatility - it seems some-one/-thing with very deep pockets is getting awfully brave as Europe's VIX drops to near pre-crisis levels (and its steepest in months as short-term complacency surges).
US Ship Mistakenly Fires On Friendly Boat Off Dubai, As Russia Condemns Saudi Treatment Of Religious ProtestersSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 07/16/2012 - 11:53
Those trigger happy US sailors are causing some diplomatic headaches again for Hillary Clinton who this time has no Syrian anti-aircraft missiles to blame, by firing on a friendly ship, killing one and injuring three, off the coast of Dubai. Per the AP: "A U.S. Consulate official in Dubai says an American vessel has fired on a boat off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, killing one person and injuring three. The official gave no further details, but it appears the boat could have been mistaken as a threat in Gulf waters not far from Iran's maritime boundaries. An Emirati rescue official confirmed the casualty toll. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the incident between the two allies. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, said it was investigating the Monday shooting. The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment." So far so bad, but where it gets even worse is that over the weekend, Russia finally decided to make its own voice heard in the middle east, and after over a year of the west condemning Syrian "eradication" of its own insurgents and keeping Russia on the defensive, Russia has decided to shine a light on none other than America's favorite regional ally: Saudi Arabia, which as we reported recently, has once again taken to quelling religious protests in Qatif and other eastern cities. Apparently Russia has had enough of this one-sided reporting of regional "insurgencies."
By now, everyone is aware of the incredible increase in the price of corn thanks in large part to the almost unprecedented drought levels across the country. Up another 5% today at over $777, the 30-day run has seen prices up over 41%. However, while this is an unbelievable move to record high prices, on a trailing 12-month basis, this price move has merely mean-reverted to the average gain of the last 10 years. From 2002-2011, the average price rise from July-to-July was around $55 and the current July-to-July price rise is only around $75. While things do not look set to improve any time soon for the weather, some longer-term context for Corn may well be worth considering. Furthermore, as Goldman notes the lack of rainfall and extreme warmth has shifted corn yields to the second-largest yield-loss since 1950 (noting that the current 24% rise in the Ag complex is still well below the 35% rise in the 'drought' summer of 1988) and the implications for global inflation are gravely concerning as hopes of China stimulus are impaired.
From Goldman: "Cutting the IOER rate down to zero could be harmful to market institutions. Chairman Bernanke made this argument himself in Q&A at the July 2010 Humphrey-Hawkins testimony: “The rationale for not going all the way to zero has been that we want the short-term money markets like the Federal funds market to continue to function in a reasonable way, because if rates go to zero, there will be no incentive for buying and selling Federal funds overnight money in the banking system. And if that market shuts down, people don’t operate in that market, it will be more difficult to manage short-term interest rates when the Federal Reserve begins to tighten policy at some point in the future.”
The reason for the ramp in risk as attributed by various buyside desks as to what recently has become the trademark of more hope, prayer and magic from Jefferies' (yes, Jefferies is driving the market for once, who wouldathunk it) David "SPOOS" Zervos, whose latest note that the Fed will follow the ECB and cut its overnight excess reserves rate to -0.25% has picked up some traction, and is causing a modest rise in risk markets. Here is the problem: the Fed will NOT do this, and certainly will not do this for months and months as not only would it destroy the US money market, general colalteral, unsecured and virtually every other overnight market instantaneously (and not even Ben is that dumb to trade a few trillion in private sector overnight funding for 10% in the S&P), but even as Zervos says this is nothing short of a thought experiment in what may happen: "Whether it happens or not is not the point. The issue is that we are not priced for it AT ALL." Correct David: they are unprepared because it will not happen. The Fed will do much more LSAP, and even that other flow-based lunacy, NGDP targeting, before it decides to blow up overnight markets (not to mention destroy the entire Primary Dealer risk analytics system all of which is based on positive flow from Reserves). Because if the Fed telegraphs it is ending the inflows from reserves experiment started 3 years ago, we better be having 4% GDP growth. Reality check: we have 1.1% Q2 annualized GDP. Finally, that whole ECB experiment with negative Deposit Rates led to... absolutely nothing... correction: it led to yet another plunge in Spanish and Italian yields: something the Fed is quite aware of.
Can a declining economy offset the impact on inflation of debt creation and its monetization, with the result that inflation falls to zero, thus making the low interest rates on government bonds positive? According to his public statements, zero inflation is not the goal of the Federal Reserve chairman. He believes that some inflation is a spur to economic growth, and he has said that his target is 2% inflation. At current bond prices, that means a continuation of negative interest rates. The latest news completes the picture of banks and central banks manipulating interest rates in order to prop up the prices of bonds and other debt instruments. We have learned that the Fed has been aware of Libor manipulation (and thus apparently supportive of it) since 2008. Thus, the circle of complicity is closed. The motives of the Fed, Bank of England, US and UK banks are aligned, their policies mutually reinforcing and beneficial. The Libor fixing is another indication of this collusion. Unless bond prices can continue to rise as new debt is issued, the era of rigged bond prices might be drawing to an end. It would seem to be only a matter of time before the bond bubble bursts.
The IMF believes that advanced economy deficits will decline by about 0.75 percentage points of GDP this year which 'strikes a compromise between restoring fiscal sustainability and supporting growth". However, continued focus on nominal deficit targets runs the risk of compelling excessive fiscal tightening if growth weakens. In addition, there is a risk in the United States of political gridlock that puts fiscal policy on autopilot and results in a sharp and sudden decline in deficits—the “fiscal cliff.” What is more troubling is the significant upward revision to all of the peripheral European nations (with Greece now at 171% Debt/GDP in 2013 versus 160.9% forecast only 3 months ago). While the average debt-to-GDP ratio among advanced economies is projected to continue to rise over the next two years, surpassing 110 percent of GDP on average in 2013, debt ratios will by then have peaked in several advanced economies - though rather explosively they do not see debt ratios for Spain and Japan stabilizing.
The IMF just took a bucket of bath-salts to world economies as it slashes growth expectations for every major global economy (and emerging nations suffer too). Noting that Q1's upward surprise was "partly due to temporary factors", they reduce 2012's overall global growth to 3.5% adding that developments during the second quarter have been worse. Job creation has been hampered - with unemployment high in many advanced economies, especially among the young in the euro area periphery; but incoming data from the US also suggests less robust growth than forecast previously. While distortions to seasonal adjustment and payback from the unusually mild winter explain some of the softening, there also seems to be an underlying loss of momentum. Growth momentum has also slowed in various emerging market economies, notably Brazil, China, and India. This partly reflects a weaker external environment, but domestic demand has also decelerated sharply in response to capacity constraints. The baseline projections in this WEO Update incorporate weaker growth through much of the second half of 2012 in both advanced and key emerging market economies, reflecting the setbacks to the global recovery. Downside risks to this weaker global outlook continue to loom large. The most immediate risk is still that delayed or insufficient policy action will further escalate the euro area crisis. How long before those Q4 hockey-stick earnings forecasts get reduced?
While economists may waste lots of hot air debating this, that and the other about the future growth trajectory of the US economy, in the aftermath of Goldman's cut of US GDP to just a 1.1% annualized rate of growth. And with the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, Europe, China, and a plethora of other unknowns up ahead, this number will certainly decline further. Now here lies the rub: as the chart below shows total US marketable debt has doubled in the past 4 years, or an annualized growth rate of just above 21%. And as Zero Hedge has shown before, total US Debt/GDP is on the verge of crossing 102%, the highest since WWII. Simply said, the divergence between the two data series will only accelerate as every incremental dollar of debt generates ever less bank for the GDP buck. And that, from a "sustainability" perspective, is what the problem is in a nutshell.