While Europe is still keeping up a facade that all is well in the aftermath of the Spanish downgrade, but far more importantly its sheer economic collapse as noted earlier, just so Italy could price €4.916 billion in two On The Run 5 and 10 year bond issues (compared to a target of €5 billion), the tension is there, as can be seen in a decidedly week Italian bond auction, which saw yields soar, Bids to Cover slide, and tails spike. Italy also sold less than the maximum in off the run 2016 and 2019 bonds. All in all, while the market may experience a brief recovery rally that Italy managed to sell anything at all (that was not a Bill of course - that gimmick always does the trick), the reality that these yields are not sustainable will slowly seep in within a few hours.
In a week that Spain can't wait to end, the country was just hit with the bad news bears Trifecta, starting with the Real Madrid loss, following with the second S&P downgrade of Spain's credit rating for the year last night (or is that now SBBB+ain?), and concluding with economic data released this morning which showed that the economy is in a free fall that is approaching that of Greece, after retail sales fell for the 21st consecutive month, while Q1 unemployment soared to, drumroll please, one quarter of the working population or 24.44% to be specific, trouncing consensus estimates of 23.8%, and up nearly 2% from the 22.85% as of December 31. Which likely means that the real unemployment is far higher, and confirms not only that the economy is in free fall mode, but that Moody's, which delayed its downgrade of the country's banks to May, will proceed shortly.
"It won't be long before CPI is back above 1%", we promise, this time - we really mean it - is seemingly how the BoJ defends its decision to follow Einstein's definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome (Nov 2008 was the last time CPI was above 1% YoY). Admittedly, at some point the ever-increasing BoJ balance-sheet-to-GDP will become too much even for a nation hell-bent on printing its way out of chronic deflation only to be punched-and-kicked by a balance-sheet-recession so deep and full of deleveragers. The facts are that the BoJ will expand its LSAP-equivalent program by JPY10tn (USD123bn) - raising the 'stock' - but maintaining the same pace of JGB-buying at JPY1.8tn per month - leaving the 'flow' stable - hence extending the program by around six months. At the same time they have extended the maturity of JGB purchases from 2Y to 3Y (try and wring a little more duration out of an already starved yield curve). USDJPY was entirely confused out of the gate and rallied immediately only to about-face and sell-off up to 81.45 before already giving back half of its losses to pre-BoJ anouncement. The JPY sell-off implicit carry moves did nothing to move US equity futures (which limped up 1-2pts and then gave it back) and even the NKY has retraced 65% of its post-BoJ gains. Perhaps it is all about the flow and the need for that second derivative to be constantly rising after all? Whether it is repatriation flows or carry-unwinds, JPY devaluation (as we have discussed Andy Xie's perspective on) may just have to be done 'forcefully' as opposed to 'suggestively'.
It was early February when we called out Mario Draghi for his blatant lies regarding the stigmatizing effect that the LTRO program would have on European banks. Now, two months later, even the members of the European Parliament are openly questioning their belief in the sociopath ECB chief. After laying out the apparent reasons for the LTRO scheme (at a recent European Parliament hearing) to keep banks well-funded, Godfrey Bloom (MEP) describes the implicit reason - or so-called reach-around (sic.) Sarkozy-carry trade to fund governments circumventing Maastricht and article 104 of the ECB's Treaty - explaining the simple math means surely LTRO3 is inevitable and soon; as Spain (and Italy tomorrow remember) hits the wall with its issuance as banks are unable to serve their masters. Seeing right through this plan, the Yorkshire-man sums up his feelings towards mad-Mario right in line with our own: "I don't trust you one inch!" noting that Draghi's comments on 'buying time' means hours or days not months.
The bow-tie-and-bespectacled Jim Grant once again takes the centrally-planned 'Office of Unintended Consequence' (aka The Fed) to task in a thoughtful exchange with Capital Account's Lauren Lyster. Reflecting on his recent opportunity to speak directly to various Fed officials, he found one particular question (on the perceived 'mass starvation' that occurred in the brutal earlier Depression beginning in 1920 which ended rapidly without the need for monetary stimulation) most disturbing in its summation of the central bank's 'Atlas Complex' - or how would we get up and go to work in the morning without them. The attitude of our Monetary Priesthood, he analogizes, is that unless they are active in their prayers and devotions, who knows what might happen? Grant goes on to discuss the hypocrisy of Bernanke (noting the importance of free market prices to his students and yet controlling interest rates overtly in the market-place) and highlights interest rates role as the traffic light signal in a market economy providing a critical input to our perception of value in stocks, bonds, real estate, Silicon Valley Startups, and so on and because these rates are manipulated we live and invest in a hall-of-mirrors leaving us with a distorted vision of the real-world. He notes that Americans, as typically recklessly joyous investors in growth, "remain in a miasma of anxiety due to the extreme unpredictability of policy action and this is what creates the tail risk of doubt and apprehension." Looking to the future he sees the constitutionality of Obamacare and the elections as a critical test in the war against supply and demand that is being waged by our central bankers and government.
PIMCO's Bill Gross spent a longer-than-soundbite period discussing QE3, the chance of a US double-dip, and Europe's ongoing dysfunction with Trish Regan on Bloomberg Television this afternoon. Given more than his typically limited-to-ten-second thoughts some other media outlets appear to prefer, the old-new-normal-bond-king believes the Fed will resist another round of quantitative easing in the short-term but "if unemployment begins to rise for two-to-three months then QE3 is back on". Noting that investors should focus on nominal GDP growth tomorrow, he goes on to dismiss the idea that the US can decouple from a troubled Europe pointing the political dysfunction between the Germans and the rest as greater than the polarity between Democrats and Republicans here at home. Preferring to play a slightly levered long bet on low rates holding for a longer-period, he like MBS (as we have discussed in the past) but does not see the 10Y yield dropping precipitously from here though he does echo our thoughts entirely in his view of the 'flow' being more critical than the 'stock' when it comes to the Fed's balance sheet and hence the June end-of-Twist may be a volatile period for all asset classes.
The Social Security Administration made an alarming announcement recently that they will exhaust their funding capability by 2033 which was several years earlier than originally projected. As millions of baby boomers approach retirement more strain is put on the fabric of the Social Security system. The exact timing of this crunch is less important than its inevitability. The problem that Social Security has is "real" employment. I say "real" employment simply to sidestep the ongoing arguments about the validity of government employment survey's from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Federal Government receives income from the Social Security "contribution" from employee's paychecks. Social security "contributions" have decreased sharply by almost $70 billion from its peak. This is due to two factors. The first is that the number of "real" employees, while growing, is in lower income producing and temporary jobs. The second factor is that a larger share of personal incomes is made up of government benefits which does not affect social security contributions. The entire social support framework faces an inevitable conclusion and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.
The numeric implications as well as the magnitude of the student loan bubble have been discussed extensively before. Yet just like most people's eyes gloss over when they hear billions, trillions or quadrillions, so seeing the exponential chart of Federal Student debt merely brings up memories of a math lesson from high school, or at best, makes one think of statistics. And as we all know statistics are faceless, nameless and can never apply to anyone else. It is the individual case studies that have the most impact. Which is why we would like to introduce you to Devin and Sarah Stang - student loan debt slaves in perpetuity.
UPDATE: *S&P TO ASSESS EFFECTS OF SPAIN DOWNGRADE ON SPANISH ISSUERS
Adding insult to Bayern Munich injury, we just got S&P which did the impossible and cut Spain to BBB+ from A (outlook negative) not on Friday after hours. Kneejerk reaction is a 30 pip drop in EURUSD. Oh, and most amusing, those witches among men, Egan Jones, downgraded Spain from BBB to BBB-.... a week ago. Crush them, destroy them... How dare they be ahead of the pack as usual: after all their NRSRO application was missing a god damn comma.
Amazon Surges After Hours On After-Tax Accounting Gimmick, Cash Burn, Collapsing Margins, And Negative GuidanceSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/26/2012 - 15:54
Either the algos are getting really stupid, or nobody cares at all about the quality of earnings any more. Case in point - Amazon, which was expected to post revenues and EPS of $12.9 billion and $0.07 came up with a revenue of $13.18 billion, hardly breathtaking if this came entirely at the expense of margins as has been the case in the past year, yet the one item that is sending the stock surging after hours on yet another short covering squeeze in which people cover first and ask questions later, was the EPS which came at $0.28. Amazing. Only problem is that the EPS, which was $130 million equivalent, was based on $41 million in actual net income from continuing operations, or $0.09. Hardly the stuff sending stocks up 10% in after hours. What accounting for the balance? An after tax adjustment amounting to $89 million coming from Equity-method investment activity, or the oldest accounting trick in the book, which alone added $0.19 cents to the EPS number, or about 95% of the entire EPS beat. What is surely not driving the AH spurt is that company's guidance for Q2: "Net sales are expected to be between $11.9 billion and $13.3 billion, or to grow between 20% and 34% compared with second quarter 2011. Operating income (loss) is expected to be between $(260) million and $40 million, or between 229% decline and 80% decline compared with second quarter 2011." So... actual profit before after tax accounting gimmicks may be negative, but at least they will make up for it in volume, right? Or inverse cash: in Q1 the company burned $3 billion in cash, bringing its cash load down from $5.3 billion to $2.3 billion. One final thing that is not causing the10% spike after hours is the operating margin: the company made $192 million in income from operations on $13.2 billion in revenue, or 1.5% profit margin, compared to what was considered abysmal 3.2% last year.
As if anyone needed another example of who is really running the show, the S&P 500 cash index (an index that tracks the weighted performance of 500 underlying and supposedly fundamentally idiosyncratic companies) closed at 1399.99 after breaching the almighty 1400 earlier in the afternoon. The Dow Industrials failed to close in the green for the month and Dow Transports notably diverged bearishly today as the afternoon's ramp-fest in equities - and notably nothing else - gave hope to hope-less. Between a weak/strong (you decide) jobless claims data, a dismal Kansas Fed (and Chicago NAI negative print) juxtaposed with what was 'supposedly' strong pending home sales (contracts not signings note), it seemed some early QE-hope spillover from Bernanke yesterday got us going (with gold outperforming) early on but as the US day-session began, stocks took off from their lows, stabilized into the European close, then re-accelerated - running stops to the early April non-farm-payroll print levels. Stocks reconnected with Gold's early run but this did not have the feel of a QE trade at all - the USD was flat all afternoon, volume was dismal, gold actually fell as stocks took off this afternoon, and Treasury yields rose and fell in a narrow range. In other words, there was not a concerted cross-asset class QE hope here - this was all stocks on their own - as they disconnected from our cross-capital structure and broad risk asset models as the afternoon wore on. Notably SPY implied vol is very close to crossing below its 20-day realized vol for the first time in almost five-months as VIX tested under 16% but couldn't maintain it into the close. The USD was lower close-to-close with AUD strength and JPY weakness most obvious as the US day session began with EUR relatively stable. Treasuries broadly remain lower in yield on the week with 7Y outperforming and 30Y basically unch. Copper was the best performing commodity today followed by Silver (though Ag remains down on the week) but Gold and Oil also benefited from USD's leaking. Discretionary, Energy, and Financials sectors outperformed on the day in stocks (with Materials weak - another non-QE sign) but it was the equity market's standalone bullishness that suggests this was more technical than a hope- or fundamental-based regime shift.
As if our recent discussion of Austerity were not enough, Citi's Steve Englander invokes 'String theory' to open the door to multiple universes, and in one of them Paul Krugman is undoubtedly Fed Chairman. Start with the assumption that a Paul Krugman Fed would advocate strong fiscal and monetary measures and tolerate a significant run-up in inflation. The question is how the USD would respond in this world. The presumption is that the Krugman Fed would cooperate by financing the fiscal expansion, allowing government spending or (or in a very strange Republican Krugman parallel universe) tax cuts to have a real impact without affecting government debt, making a strong distinction between pumping liquidity into the banking system and directly into the real economy. In conventional terms, this is Financial Repression 101, but inflation is desired, achieved and beneficial. As Krugman points out there is a cost to an extended period of long-term unemployment. The bottom line is that unless you make low inflation a canonical virtue, you have to compare the long-term losses from lower credibility (if they exist) against the long-term gains from moving to full employment quicker (if they exist).