SOTU Post Mortem:
The best news possible: "Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that." Barack Hussein Obama
The worst news: Everything else.
Here is the text of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address as prepared for delivery at 9 p.m. ET. "Jobs" 33 vs. "Fat Cats" 0, Rich 3 vs Poor 1, Hope 2 vs Unicorns 0, Change 9 vs Tooth-Fairy 0, Mortgages 5 vs Apple 0, Main Street 1 vs Wall Street 3, China 4 vs Europe 1; DEBT CEILING 0
While watching the live-stream of Obama's third State Of The Union speech here, why not enjoy the 'p(o)ints game'? Thanks to BNP's Bricklin Dwyer for the 'game' and for noting that Obama's approval rating is 44% (approval has tracked the stock market/GDP higher since October's sub-40% trough) versus a disapproval rating of 47%.
Humans are a flawed species. Our minds are easily manipulated. We don’t like pain. We prefer instant gratification. We are susceptible to mass delusion. We will often choose hope over critical thought. Those with higher IQs will regularly attempt to take advantage of those with lower IQs. Fear and greed are the two motivations used by the minority in power to control and manipulate the majority. The American people have been led astray by a small group of powerful men. We were herded through a door in the wall of perception that promised an American dream of material goods, entitlements and pleasure with no obligations or responsibility to future generations. There is only one choice that can save this country from ruin. Each individual must make a choice to either to continue supporting the manipulative, corrupt status quo or coming back through the Door in the Wall.
“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend” – Aldous Huxley
Without trying to take away from Apple's blow out earnings, a quick look at the Apple data sheet breaking down revenue and unit sales by geography points to something rather curious. While unit sales in Q4 were fine, with a modest drop in the US, even as European sales posted the biggest sequential increase on record at 306K (from 1,176K to 1,482K), one wonders just how sustainable this in itself is, now that Europe has officially entered a recession, especially since the incremental revenue in Europe in Q4 was also a record $3.9 billion (of the total $18 billion sequential increase). Yet nowhere was this quarterly surge more evident than in the US: the increase in American sales was a unprecedented $8.1 billion sequentially, from $9.7 billion to $17.7 billion (which means margins are blowing out: how long until FoxConn has something to say about this?). While most of this is to be attributed to the iPhone 4S launch in the quarter, the question then is just how sustainable is the new trendline growth if one normalizes for product cadence (yes, we hate that word too), or the ability of the company to reinvent itself quarter after quarter. With the iPad 3 expected this quarter, and the iPhone 5 the next, will Apple be a "product to product" company going forward, and what happens with baseline revenue growth ex-new product innovation? Or how about self-cannibalization? Not like we are saying anything new here, but the value of Apple is in product innovation, which is nowhere better seen than in the sequential Q4 revenue. Will this innovation ability stay with the new management? And how much of the Q4 sales surge was, sad to say it, the Steve Jobs death factor? Finally, the fact that in Q4 AsiaPac revenues were less than a year prior, does this mean that even with the 4S release, Apple has now lost the Asian market to cheaper, pirated, or Google-based competition? Finally, in a tried and true tradition of instant gratification (credit funded naturally), how much of the explosion in the December 31 quarter sales is simply a "cash for clunker"-like forward shifted of purchases that would have otherwise happened in the first quarter of 2012?
After generating $37.9 billion in cash, short and long-term equivalents in 2011, and a record $16 billion in Q4 alone (of which $11.8 billion in Long-Term Marketable Securities: Treasurys? Pretty soon Apple will be a bigger monetization force than the Fed), the company's total cash and equivalents horde is now just shy of $100 billion, or $97.6 billion. And with cash growing at 20% in the quarter, extrapolating into the future, means that the company will hit $1 trillion in cash by Q1 2015. Looked at otherwise, if Apple were a country, and its cash was equivalent to GDP, it would rank as the world's 58th largest economy, above such countries as Slovakia, Iraq, Luxembourg, and Syria. At least now we know where all that money that is not going to pay mortgages, is going. Next question: how long until uncle Sam demands windfall tax, or until the FoxConn workers learn to read press releases and politely request a pay raise or they all jump?
The suspense can now end
- Revenues of $46.33 billion, expected at $38.99 billion
- EPS of $13.87, expected at $10.14
- APPLE SEES 2Q REV. ABOUT $32.5B, EST. $31.87B
- APPLE SEES 2Q EPS ABOUT $8.50, EST. $7.96
- APPLE 1Q IPAD UNITS SOLD 15.43MLN , UP 111%
- APPLE 1Q GROSS MARGIN 44.7%, EST. 40.8%
- APPLE SOLD 5.2 MILLION MACS DURING QTR, EST. 5.1M
- APPLE SOLD 15.4 MILLION IPODS IN QTR, EST. 13.9M
- APPLE SOLD 37.04 MILLION IPHONES IN THE QUARTER, REPRESENTING 128 PERCENT UNIT GROWTH
- APPLE GENERATES $17.5 BILLION IN CASH FLOW IN THE QUARTER
With quarter-to-date volumes at the NYSE 20% below Q4's average, we wonder just how much bank's earnings will be impacted as today saw the credit derivative index market 'disappear' this afternoon also. IG and HY traded (or at least were quoted) in an extremely narrow range post the European close (as ES also traded in a 2pt range for two hours post Europe before making a slightly bigger move). Stocks (and HYG) outperformed IG/HY today but ES has not been levitating as much as credit post OPEX. EURUSD rallied post the Europe close (as for the 4th day in a row, European equity and credit markets reversed direction pre- and post-US day session and then EUR reversed direction on Europe's close). The EUR-implied USD weakness did nothing to drive risk assets too much though HYG (the high-yield ETF) was active and positive on the day as we see HY credit and stocks as close in 'value' as they have been in almost 8 months. It seems obvious that between AAPL earnings (down today), the SOTU, and a Greek fiasco any moment that most 'traders' are either fully positioned and biting their nails or simply in wait-and-see mode. Copper outperformed on the day as Oil, Gold, and Silver all fell on the day (with Silver in a frenzy last evening). Gold and Silver are lower from Friday now and while TSY yields did drop into the close, they remain3-4bps higher on the week. The modest rally to almost unch in ES into the close was not supported by broad risk assets which were stable to modestly lower after holding high correlations all day.
Much has been said about the secretive vault situated 80 feet below ground level at 33 Liberty street, which contains over 20% of the world's gold (allegedly*), currently estimated at over $350 billion. Some have even robbed it: with the barrier between fantasy and reality a blur, courtesy of the total farce we live in which has rendered the IPO of TheOnion impossible, there is nothing wrong with actually believing Die Hard With A Vengeance did in fact happen. But if your knowledge of the vault is limited to the perspective of one John McClane, you are missing our on a lot. Which is why the new York Fed, in those rare occasions when it is not monetizing debt, and/or telling Citadel which securities to buy, has been courteous enough to put together "The Key To The Gold Vault" - the official brochure of the warehouse where more gold is stored than at any other place in the world.
No, there is no desperation in Spanish PM's Rajoy statement at all. The head of the economy, whose unemployment rate just soared to a ridiculous 23% in the past quarter, registering the largest drop since the Lehman collapse, pretty much made it clear that without European (read German) fiscal aid viagra, the unemployment rate may soon reach that of Chicago, only without the typo. Reuters reports that Spain favours the creation of the largest possible European financial rescue fund to prevent future crises, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Tuesday, adding that his government will meet its budget deficit target this year. "We support a rescue mechanism, the bigger the better, for it to act as a dissuading element for certain things that we've been going through lately," Rajoy told reporters after meeting his Portuguese counterpart, Pedro Passos Coelho. He said Spain will meet its budget gap goal of 4.4 percent of GDP this year. Judging by the Spanish (un)employment chart, and specifically recent trends therein, we will take the under. And the over on the Enzyte jokes.
The biggest market-moving event so far this year is undeniably the positive (so far) aftershock from Germany's capitulation on monetary expansion and as Michael Cembalest of JPMorgan goes on to note that the ECB, directly and indirectly, is giving its governments and its banks the money that the rest of the world has been taking away. Between the ECB's LTRO largesse and its 'crisis management' initiatives (for example: collateral standards, watered down Basel III, lower bank reserve requirements), it seems clear that the resignation of the German contingency (Stark and Weber) from the ECB last year was a signal of the laying-down-of-arms by the Germans relative to the Periphery (perhaps for fear of the 'powerful backlash' that Monti among other has warned about). While the JPMorgan CIO understands the market's positive reaction (as Armageddon risk is reduced/delayed) he remains a skeptic broadly given the structural reforms and any expectations of growth among most euro-zone economies this year. He reminds investors that it should not be lost on anyone that first prize in the Central Bank balance sheet expansion race is not necessarily one you want to win and we wonder just how aware the German press and public are that this is happening under their watchful (if not frustrated) gaze.
With over 150 million registered users, the file sharing site MegaUpload.com is one of the most popular on the Internet. At least, it was. The site has now been seized by the US government and its homepage converted to an FBI anti-piracy warning. Its founder, a high tech entrepreneur named Kim Dotcom (yes, he had it legally changed), was arrested in New Zealand after his homes were raided and assets seized. These actions were all at the behest of the US government. And it's just the latest example of Big Brother overextending its authority across the entire world. Last week, we discussed the grassroots efforts to stop passage of the SOPA/PIPA legislation that would give the US government jurisdiction over the Internet. Wikipedia blacked out its English language pages to raise awareness of the issue, and people went completely nuts. Congress subsequently withdrew the bills amid popular outcry, and the public rejoiced that their efforts successfully thwarted further encroachment on their liberty. Or so they thought. On the exact same day that everyone was celebrating victory over SOPA/PIPA, the US government simply used another set of regulations to nab Dotcom and seize his assets. The fact that SOPA was scrapped turned out to be completely irrelevant, they just found other rules to apply (or break).
The “Transmission Mechanism” Is Broken. As the Fed debates what form of QE to launch on the world and whatever new communication strategies they are going to employ, maybe they should sit back and figure out why their policies seem to be doing so little. The Fed is clearly trying to stimulate the economy. As much as we disagree with many of their policies, we do believe their intentions were to boost the economy and not just help banks make easy money. In spite of their intentions, they have failed and we think it is because they are clinging to two flawed assumptions - the wealth effect and the fact that low rates for banks means low rates for banks' customers. The Fed should be going back and figuring out how to address the failure of the stock market wealth effect and of the bottleneck of the banks.
With the Fed expected to at least extend the period of guaranteed ZIRP from 2013 to 2014 tomorrow, it is no surprise that the just priced $35 billion in 2 year bonds did so very uneventfully, and at a high yield of 0.25% (38.96% allotted), in line with the When Issued, the note priced like what is was: an issue explicitly guaranteed by the Fed, and a yield reflecting it. The pricing was uneventful in the headline, and in the internals, with the Directs taking down 8.27% (quite lower than the TTM 13.05%), Indirects in line with average at 32.89% and Primary Dealers as usual accounting for more than a majority, or 58.84%. The Bid To Cover was a solid 3.75 if not a record. And now the Dealers will promptly reverse repo the bond back to the as nobody can do anything with a 0.25% yield in an environment in which investors demand double digits ROEs. Most importantly, however, was that this was merely the latest bond auction concluding even with the US debt ceiling still not getting an extension, and even more plundering from the G-fund. Once the ceiling is finally lifted, total US debt will move the maximum $15.2 trillion to well over $15.3 trillion overnight, maybe higher, just as it did back in August.
Earlier today, the IMF tongue-in-cheekly attempted to make a serious case that Europe and the US could, for the first time since the formation of the Eurozone, decouple, with a worst-case scenario seeing European growth dropping 4% below baseline, or roughly -5% in late 2012 merely as an attempt to stoke Europeans to finally agree to fiscal easing, even as America grew contently on its merry way of monetary easing. While any hopes of a European "spriteness" are a guaranteed dead end, as confirmed by the Luxembourg finance minister who told Spiegel that "Merkel's Fiscal Pact a 'Waste of Time and Energy'", the bigger question remains what happens to the US, once i) Europe does not react aggressively to the threat of the biggest recession since 2008, and ii) its GDP does contract by 4% or more. We don't know. What we do know, courtesy of StreetTalk Advisors, is that whereever the US GDP goes, so does the Eurozone. And vice versa. Think the US won't experience a full blown recession if European growth implodes? Think again.