As most of Asia is on vacation for the lunar new year, UBS' Art Cashin is growing more and more concerned with the excessively bullish tone. While not screaming for an outright short, the venerable volatility-handler fears many factors he sees in the market currently from sentiment to vauation, and a lack of 'rotation', and while the January Effect and the Super-Bowl are in the bulls favor, he gently reminds that the 'Year of the Snake' has typically not been a good one for markets or man...
As we said a week ago in "Scapegoating Nemo", it was only a matter of time before Wall Street's heroic band of permabullish lemmings used a snow storm in the middle of, gasp, winter, as a "valid" excuse to justify why an economy priced to central planning-perfection may deviate slightly from a path that has missed every major upside inflection point in the past four years (but... but, there is always a reason... if only for the Fed to print). And appropriately enough, the first such excuse comes from none other than Groundhog Phil's nemesis Joe LaVorgna who just cut his Non-farm payroll forecast to 125K due to "inclement winter weather." Truly odd how there is never an exogenous reason for "better than expected" data. Ever. Next, and as always, rain in the spring will be blamed for a Durable Goods plunge in April, sun and balmy warm weather in the summer will be the cause of a collapse in retail spending in July, and finally, a gust of wind in the fall will lead to a double dip depression.
Thanks to a law banning horses from Romanian roads, the ever-enterprising and integrated European Union workers have apparently found a use for the millions of horses and donkeys that were slaughtered. In a bizarre report from The Independent, it appears 'donkey meat' has turned up on the shelves of British, French, and Swedish supermarket shelves (and no it doesn't taste like chicken or ass). The unintended consequence of the Romanian horse (and donkey) ban appears to follow a truly remarkable path from abattoirs in Romania (who must be busy) to a dealer in Cyprus (subcontracting for a Dutch dealer) to a meat plant in France which sold its frozen 'meat' onto a distributor in Luxembourg. French and British governments have forced the removal of the 'fake' beef from supermarket shelves as "a case of fraud and conspiracy against the public." Given last week's incredible footage from Greece, we suspect more than a few are willing to choke it down, as for now the British are pushing to ban meat imports.
It appears the tensions between Turkey and Syria are far from easing, as evidenced by the just reported car bomb explosion at the Turkish-Syria border where at least 9 people have been killed according to TV24. According to AA, the blast happened in a vehicle with a Syrian license plate, which is certain to inflame tensions between the two countries even more. Keep an eye on the already soaring Brent-WTI spread.
The precious metals market appears to have found a size seller this morning. Despite record breaking demand for physical coins from the Mint, gold and silver prices hit an air pocket around 8amET but had been sold all day in Europe. We humbly suggest that his Holiness spread out his retirement selling... of course we saw a similar gap last Tuesday and Thursday as Europe's risk-asset markets continue to slide (and perhaps collateral margin calls come due). Of course, the more important questions remain: which TBTF bank will the pope end up as vice-chairman in, and which ex-Goldman Managing Director/Partner will be the next head of the Vatican bank... and incidentally Catholic Church (it appears a Canadian is front-runner, rather coincidental given Carney's recent appointment).
While hardly presented by the mainstream media with the same panache dedicated to the monthly ARIMA-X-12 seasonally-adjusted, climate-affected, goal-seek devised non-farm payroll data, the three month delayed Foodstamp number is according to many a far greater attestation to the "effectiveness" of the Obama administration to turn the economy around. And far greater it is: since his inauguration, the US has generated just 841,000 jobs through November 2012, a number is more than dwarfed by the 17.3 million new foodstamps and disability recipients added to the rolls in the past 4 years. And since the start of the depression in December 2007, America has seen those on foodstamps and disability increase by 21.8 million, while losing 3.6 million jobs. End result: total number of foodstamp recipients as of November: 47.7 million, an increase of 141,000 from the prior month, and reversing the brief downturn in October, while total US households on foodstamps just hit an all time record of 23,017,768, an increase of 73,952 from the prior month. The cost to the government to keep these 23 million households content and not rising up? $281.21 per month per household.
- Pope steps down, citing frailty (Reuters)
- Japan’s economic minister wants Nikkei to surge 17% to 13,000 by March (Japan Times)
- Venezuelan devaluation sparks panic (FT)
- Rajoy releases tax returns, but fails to clear up doubts over Aznar years (El Pais)
- Companies Fret Over Uncertain Outlook (WSJ)
- Home Depot Dumps BlackBerry for iPhone (ATD)
- Kuroda favors Abe's inflation target, mum about BOJ role (Kyodo)
- A Cliff Congress May Go Over (WSJ)
- U.S., Europe Seek to Cool Currency Jitters (WSJ)
- Radical rescue proposed for Cyprus (FT)
- Franc Is Still Overvalued, SNB’s Zurbruegg Tells Aargauer (BBG)
- Northeast Crawls Back to Life After Crippling Blizzard (WSJ)
In what has been a quiet start to week dominated by the G-20 meeting whose only purpose is to put Japan and its upstart currency destruction in its place, many are expecting a formal G-7 statement on currencies and what is and isn't allowed in currency warfare according to the "New Normal" non-Geneva convention. Because while there may not have been much overnight news, both the EURUSD and USDJPY just waited for Europe to open, to surge right out of the gates, and while the former has been somewhat subdued in the aftermath of the ECB's surprising entry into currency wars last week, it was the latter that was helped by statements from Haruhiko Kuroda (not to be confused with a Yankee's pitcher) who many believe will be the next head of the BOJ, who said that additional BOJ easing can be justified for 2013. He didn't add if that would happen only if he is elected. Expect much more volatility in various FX pairs as the topic of global thermonuclear currency war dominates the airwaves in the coming days.
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
The following rather stunning documentary provides a critical insight into what Europe (and Argentina once again) could well be progressing towards. There is a reason we highlight the 'scariest chart in Europe' as that of youth unemployment and with the central banks printing money at ever increasing paces and the next round of global competitive devaluation beginning, the debt slaves will suffer ever more. In 2001, Argentina collapsed; after many years of apathy in the country, the insurrection exploded. As TopDocumentary notes, the spontaneous revolt of 'faceless' people meant saucepans were being banged in every neighborhood. What happened to Argentina? How was it possible that in so rich a country so many people were hungry? The country had been ransacked by a new form of aggression, committed in a time of peace and in a democracy. Ever since independence, almost 200 years ago, Argentina’s foreign debt has been a source of impoverishment and corruption and the biggest scandals. This foreign debt always went hand in hand with big business, and with the complicity of nearly every government. The policy of indebtedness gave rise in Argentina to generations of technocrats and bureaucrats, who favored banks and international corporations over their own country. It didn't end well then, and it won't end well this time...
The Federal Reserve's policy of targeting unemployment is based on a curious faith that low interest rates and lots of liquidity sloshing around the bank system with magically lead employers to hire more workers. I say this is a curious faith because it makes no sense. In effect, the Fed policy is based on the implicit assumption that the only thing holding entrepreneurs and employers back from hiring is the cost and availability of credit. But as anyone in the actual position of hiring more staff knows, it is not a lack of cheap credit that makes adding workers unattractive, it is the lack of opportunities to increase profit margins by adding more workers. If the economic boom of the mid-1980s proves anything, it is that the cost of credit can be very high but that in itself does not restrain real growth. What restrains growth is not interest rates, it is opportunities to profitably expand operations.
China has been a very active purchaser of gold for its reserves in the last few years, as we extensively covered here and here, but another nation has taken over the 'biggest buyer' role (for the same reasons as China). Central banks around the world have printed money to escape the global financial crisis, and as Bloomberg reports, IMF data shows Russia added 570 metric tons in the past decade. Putin's fears that "the U.S. is endangering the global economy by abusing its dollar monopoly," are clearly being taken seriously as the world's largest oil producer turns black gold into hard assets. A lawmaker in Putin's party noted, "the more gold a country has, the more sovereignty it will have if there’s a cataclysm with the dollar, the euro, the pound or any other reserve currency." It appears Russia-China is now the 'hard-money' axis and perhaps, to some extent, it is the relative price of oil that defines their demand for the barbarous relic.
With China offline celebrating its New Year, and potentially mobilizing forces in (not so) secret, and not much on the global event docket, the upcoming G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Moscow at the end of the week will be the key event for FX markets, which these days define every other aspect of risk. It should surprise nobody the last couple of weeks have seen increased attention on exchange rates and the frequent use of the “currency war” label by policymakers in many countries. No news announcements are expected at the BoJ meeting on Thursday, following the formal announcement of a 2% inflation target and an open-ended asset purchase program. On the data side, US retail sales on Wednesday will provide an important signal about the strength of the US consumer following the largest tax increase in decades. Although January auto and same store sales data was reasonably solid, new taxes will soon begin to weigh on spending. Also on Wednesday, Japan Q4 GDP will be released. On Thursday, Q4 GDP for France, Germany, Italy and the Euro area will be released. While Q4 contraction is assured, the key question mark is whether German can rebound in Q1 and avoid a full blown recession as opposed to a "brief, technical" one, as the New Normal economic term goes.