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.
We start today's story of the day by pointing out that Deutsche Bank - easily Europe's most critical financial institution - reported results that were far worse than expected, following a decline in equity and debt trading revenues of 23% and 8%, but primarily due to Europe simply "not being fixed yet" despite what its various politicians tell us. And if DB is still impaired, then something else will have to give. Next, we go to none other than Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid, who in his daily Morning Reid piece, reminds the world that with austerity still the primary driver in a double dipping Europe (luckily... at least for now, because no matter how many economists repeat the dogmatic mantra, more debt will never fix an excess debt problem, and in reality austerity is the wrong word - the right one is deleveraging) to wit: "an unconditional ECB is probably what Europe needs now given the austerity drive." However, as German taxpayers who will never fall for unconditional money printing by the ECB (at least someone remembers the Weimar case), the ECB will likely have to keep coming up with creative solutions. Which bring us to the story du jour brought by Suddeutsche Zeitung, according to which the ECB and countries that use the euro are working on an initiative to allow cash-strapped banks direct access to funding from the European Stability Mechanism. As a reminder, both Germany and the ECB have been against this kind of direct uncollateralized, unsterilized injections, so this move is likely a precursor to even more pervasive easing by the European central bank, with the only question being how many headlines of denials by Schauble will hit the tape before this plan is approved. And if all eyes are again back on the ECB, does it mean that the recent distraction face by the IMF can now be forgotten, and more importantly, if the ECB is once again prepping to reliquify, just how bad are things again in Europe? And what happens if this time around the plan to fix a solvency problem with more electronic 1s and 0s does not work?
A 2.7% gain in the NASDAQ, obviously dramatically aided and abetted by the squeeze-fest in AAPL +9% from last night's close, was the best gain in over four months for the tech-heavy index but still leaves it lagging the Dow (by over 2%) and S&P 500 (by over 1.5%) from the 4/9 highs in Apple. At the other end of the spectrum in the real economy, CAT's less than rosy outlook, saw it suffer its largest drop in 7 months dragging an impressive 37pts out of the Dow's lagging but positive performance on the day (now positive from the 4/9 Apple Top day). Of course the Apple-exuberance which seemed enough for the entire world's risk-asset markets to decide that everything is fixed started the day off gap higher in the US and late-to-the-game retail pushed equities higher out of the date this morning as the rest of risk-assets were generally steady. Europe's close seemed to have only minimal impact as everyone was focused on the FOMC statement and Bernanke's presser. Between the FOMC and the Bernanke conference, Gold, stocks, and the USD knee-jerked and retraced but Treasuries remained worse (higher in yield by 3bps or so). Once Bernanke began his quaking tenor, Gold pushed higher, Treasuries lower, stocks higher and the USD lower as hints of QE back on the table were dribbled in between defensive tacks on biflationary concerns. This QE-specific action was accompanied by low volumes though (as usual) but volatility did compress (a la typical QE trades) with VIX closing below 17% - its lowest in over a month and near its largest divergence from European volatility (V2X). Commodities in general lagged early then recovered as USD sold off on QE chatter from Ben - Silver underperformed on the day but outperformed notably off its lows after testing below $30 for the first time in 3 months. Treasuries pulled back positively off their high yields of the day in the late afternoon ending the week with the short-end (out to 5Y) flat and 10s/30s 2.5bps higher in yield. HYG was a dramatic high-beta outperformer today - now green for the month - even as HY and IG credit lagged the ebullience in stocks (though did improve to two-week highs). ES (the S&P 500 e-mini future) closed above its 50DMA on average volume today with some heavy and larger average trade size into the close ending just above Friday's highs - even after the dismal US data (Durable Goods) and Europe's issues this morning.
As usual the market remains on tenterhooks for its next fix of Central Bank largesse and the following 11 days provide some rather large potholes for those addicted to the sweet nectar of freshly printed extreme monetary policy. Citi's Steven Englander provides some much-needed reality checking on what the market is expecting and what the FOMC/ECB might deliver, and all importantly, what the implications for risk-assets in general will be. The possibility of misunderstood language at the FOMC meetings seems very high even as the announcement of additional measures remains unlikely and perhaps more notably the Euro has sold off sharply when the ECB does not present a policy response to rapidly deteriorating market conditions - especially in light of the implicit tightening we have seen in Euro-zone aggregate rates. Rock meet hard-place.
No wonder one third of Americans are obese. The crap we are shoveling into our bodies is on par with the misinformation, propaganda and lies that are being programmed into our minds by government bureaucrats, corrupt politicians, corporate media gurus, and central banker puppets. Chief Clinton propaganda mouthpiece, James Carville, famously remarked during the 1992 presidential campaign that, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Clinton was able to successfully convince the American voters that George Bush’s handling of the economy caused the 1991 recession. In retrospect, it was revealed the economy had been recovering for months prior to the election. No one could ever accuse the American people of being perceptive, realistic or critical thinking when it comes to economics, math, history or distinguishing between truth or lies. Our government controlled public school system has successfully dumbed down the populace to a level where they enjoy their slavery and prefer conscious ignorance to critical thought.