When we last discussed what now appears certain to be a TBAC announcement tomorrow that Floating Rate Treasurys are about to be launched by the US during the Treasury, we cautioned, using an analysis by the IMF's Singh, that "the US Treasury may be telegraphing to the world that it, or far more importantly, the TBAC, is quietly preparing for a surge in interest rates." We then continued that "What is also obvious is that if the TBAC is quietly shifting the market into preparation mode for "a steady (or rocky) rise in rates from near zero to a "neutral" fed funds rate of 400 bps and a "normal" 5 percent yield on 2 year U.S. Treasuries" as the IMF warns, then all hell is about to break loose in stocks, as by now everyone is aware that without the Fed liquidity, and not just liquidity, but "flow" or constant injection of liquidity, as opposed to merely "stock", VIX will explode, equities will implode, and all hell would break loose. It is not yet certain if the TBAC will proceed with implementing FRNs. Although, since the proposal came from the TBAC, read Goldman and JPM, and what Goldman and JPM want, they get, it is almost certain that in about a month, concurrent with the next quarterly refunding, America will slowly but surely proceed with adopting Floaters." Judging by the amount of press coverage this topic has received in the past week, the advent of FRNs is now a given. What is unclear is why: our take is that this is simply a move to make Treasurys more palatable to investors, simply to avoid capital losses when rates finally resume their inevitable surge higher. The flipside of course, is that the guaranteed coupon payments in a rising rate environment means that more cash will leave the Treasury to cover interest. It is this corollary to increasing demand that has made the "father" of Treasury floaters warn on Bloomberg that now is the worst possible time to being sales of FRN Treasurys.
Google vs .GOV vs Apple vs Telcos: .GOV keeps old way of doing business alive for current broadband cos. Roads are expensive too, but we have found ways to build them without requiring tolls at the end of our driveways.
To give you an idea of how bad things are with the cajas, consider that in February 2011 the Spanish Government implemented legislation demanding all Spanish banks have equity equal to 8% of their “risk-weighted assets.” Those banks that failed to meet this requirement had to either merge with larger banks or face partial nationalization. The deadline for meeting this capital request was September 2011. Between February 2011 and September 2011, the number of cajas has in Spain has dropped from 45 to 17.
While the most commonly held perspective on the aging demographic in the US is a retiring Boomer generation that is increasingly risk-averse (rotating to fixed income) and in desperate need of a growing segment of the healthcare pie, it appears that this may not be the entire picture. The data shows, via UBS Larry Hatheway, that in fact asset preferences do not change much by age cohort and therefore is not the driving reason behind a secular rotation out of stocks per se (as opposed to more simple reasons such as mistrust) and more notably the perception of an increased longevity could actually incentivize older investors to extend investment horizons (whether in stocks or fixed income). There does, however, remain a clear correlation (intuitive rather than causal if one is splitting hairs) between equity valuations (P/E ratios) and the older cohort (implying expectations of dropping equity valuations). Critically though, it appears from the data that older investors are not more risk averse. There is one further issue that is quietly emerging and that is US fertility data which points to an 'eventual' rejuvenation of US society - which could eventually shift the demographic influence back in the opposite direction. The simple take-away is that while old people continue to desperately cling to wealth preservation in their longer-than-expected lives, with their notably higher-than-average net worths, there will be an increasing pressure to stealthily tax part the aged of their wealth to cover the costs of a growing and even more state-dependent youth demographic that is emerging. Forget the 99% versus the 1%, it appears the new and more clearly-defined class warfare could well be the old versus the young.
Hugh Hendry is back with a bang after a two year hiatus with what so many have been clamoring for, for so long - another must read letter from one of the true (if completely unsung) visionary investors of our time: "I have not written to you at any great length since the winter of 2010. This is largely because not much has happened to change our views. We still see the global economy as grotesquely distorted by the presence of fixed exchange rates, the unraveling of which is creating financial anarchy, just as it did in the 1920s and 1930s. Back then the relevant fixes were around the gold standard. Today it is the dual fixed pricing regimes of the euro countries and of the dollar/renminbi peg."
Forget Competing Theories … What Do the Facts Say about Quantitative Easing?
Krugmann fails to address even a single one of the arguments forwarded by Spitznagel. This is no surprise, as he has often demonstrated he does not even understand the arguments of the Austrians and moreover has frequently shown that his style of debate consists largely of attempts to knock down straw men. After appraising us of his economic ignorance (see the idea that time preferences can actually 'go negative' implied by his argument on the natural interest rate above), he finally closes a truly Orwellian screed by claiming that everybody who is critical of the Fed and the financial elite is guilty of being 'Orwellian'. As we often say, you really couldn't make this up.
The good days are over, at least according to Goldman's Jan Hatzius. Now that "Cash For Coolers", aka April in February or the record hot winter, has ended, aka pulling summer demand 3-6 months forward, and payback is coming with a bang, starting with what Goldman believes will be a 125,000 NFP print in April, just barely higher than the disastrous March 120,000 NFP print which launched a thousand NEW QE rumors. But before you pray for a truly horrible number which will surely price in the cremation of the USD once CTRL+P types in the launch codes, be careful: from Hatzius - "Despite the weaker numbers, we have on net become more, not less, worried about the risks to our forecast of another round of monetary easing at the June 19-20 FOMC meeting. It is still our forecast, but it depends on our expectation of a meaningful amount of weakness in the economic indicators over the next 6-8 weeks. In other words, our sense of the Fed’s reaction function to economic growth has become more hawkish than it looked after the January 25 FOMC press conference, when Chairman Bernanke saw a “very strong case” for additional accommodation under the FOMC’s forecasts. This shift is a headwind from the perspective of the risk asset markets....So the case for a successor program to Operation Twist still looks solid to us, and the FOMC’s apparent reluctance to deliver it is a concern."
The question puzzling currency markets is why the EUR is so strong. While we have argued that during the risk-off period of the last month or so post-LTRO2 (before Tuesday) EURUSD strength appeared to be driven by repatriation flows and balance sheet reduction, new information over the last couple of weeks driving the expectation that growth will be weak enough in the US to keep US policy very stimulative for a nice long time, we tend to agree with Steven Englander of Citigroup who argues that it looks very much as if QE3/Fed-stimulus anticipations are behind the EUR relative strength recently. Indeed the recent USD weakness is pretty much across the board, suggesting that it is less EUR attractiveness than USD unattractiveness that is driving the EUR’s gains. That said, I think the buzz around various euro zone measures to help out banks and ease the rigidities of the fiscal compact is also helping support the EUR by reducing tail risk, but right now the USD/Fed is the bigger story. Back of the envelope math based on the Fed/ECB balance sheets and EURUSD implies the market expects around $700bn of QE3 and given swap-spread differentials there appears to be little liquidity premium to reduce this expectation.
Whatever one thinks of the practical implications of the Kalecki equation (and as we pointed out a month ago, GMO's James Montier sure doesn't think much particularly when one accounts for the ever critical issue of asset depreciation), it intuitively has one important implication: every incremental dollar of debt created at the public level during a time of stagnant growth (such as Q1 2012 as already shown earlier) should offset one dollar of deleveraging in the private sector. In turn, this should facilitate the growth of private America so it can eventually take back the reins of debt creation back from the public sector (and ostensibly help it delever, although that would mean running a surplus - something America has done only once in the post-war period). This growth would manifest itself directly by the hiring of Americans by US corporations, small, medium and large, who in turn, courtesy of their newly found job safety, would proceed to spend, and slowly but surely restart the frozen velocity of money which would then spur inflation, growth, public sector deleveraging, and all those other things we learn about in Econ 101. All of the above works... in theory. In practice, not so much. Because as the WSJ demonstrates, in the period 2009-2011, America's largest multinational companies: those who benefit the most from the public sector increasing its debt/GDP to the most since WWII, or just over 100% and rapidly rising, and thus those who should return the favor by hiring American workers, have instead hired three times as many foreigners as they have hired US workers. Those among us cynically inclined could say, correctly, that the US is incurring record levels of leverage to fund foreign leverage, foreign employment, and, most importantly, foreign leverage.
Relative to their positively exuberant +2.7% GDP growth expectation, Goldman opines on the below consensus print for today's Real GDP growth. The composition of growth was seen as weak, with a larger add from inventories and less momentum in domestic final sales than they had expected. There is a silver-lining though as they suggest the weakness in national defense spending that explained part of the miss will possibly reverse next quarter (or not we hesitate to add). BofA adds that the strength in consumer spending and contribution from motor vehicle output look unlikely to repeat in future quarters. Auto production added more than a percentage point to growth. At least half of that is due to the recovery from Japan supply chains and is not sustainable. Outside of autos, GDP growth would have been just 1.1% - thank goodness for all that channel-stuffing.
So much for the +3.0% GDP whisper number. Instead of printing at the expected number of +2.5%, the first preliminary GDP data point (two more revisions pending) came out at 2.2%, a big disappointment for a quarter which had a substantial boost from the weather. And while of the 2.2%, Personal Consumption came in strong - as expected, as it was precisely the factor most impacted by pulling in demand forward courtesy of "April in February", 0.59% of the 2.2% was an increase in inventories, something which was not supposed to happen as it means that the quality of the economic growth in Q1 was far worse than expected. Cementing the ugly composition of Q1 GDP was fixed investment which added just a paltry 0.18% - this is the number which is critical for ongoing cashflow generation and unfortunately, the very low print means that growth outlook for Q2 is now even worse than before and we expect economists will promptly trim their already bearish predictions for Q2 GDP. Finally, government "consumption" subtracted just 0.6% from the total number, a decrease from the 0.84% in Q4, which means that once again the government is starting to become less of a detractor to growth - a dagger in the heart to anyone who claims there is "quality" in GDP growth. And the number you have all been waiting for: At March 31, US Debt/GDP was 100.8%
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).
We pay homage to one of the architects and chief implementors of quantitative easing and discuss the end game for the Fed.