Reports indicating that Americans have invested more in equity funds here in 2013 than they did all last year have given rise to talk of the "Great Rotation". The idea is that Americans are selling fixed income investments bought during the financial crisis and now buying shares. We are less sanguine. There is a third asset class that needs to be integrated into the analysis: cash. After surveying the data and various reports, it looks to us that the flows into equities is not coming out of fixed income but rather money market funds and deposits.
The Eurozone is not a debt crisis that is "fixed," it is a debt crisis waiting to implode. The happy-talk that the Eurozone debt crisis has been resolved is ubiquitous. But when did ubiquitous happy-talk make it correct? Since the crisis is about debt--too much of it, and too much of it cannot and will not be paid back--then perhaps it would be prudent to look at two charts of eurozone credit.
Michael Woolfolk took the anti-gold position and Komal Sri-Kumar defended a gold standard on Bloomberg TV. Is it true that we don't have enough gold for a gold standard? Is it true that a gold standard is established by government fixing the price of gold?
Movements in equity prices are driven by many factors, such as the economy, government policy, earnings, interest rates and valuation. But we think tactical moves (<3 months) are often better explained by sentiment, positioning and technicals. While macro, policy and valuations matter, sentiment has worked well in recent years as a contrarian tool to identify short-term inflection points in asset prices. According to BofAML's new Bull & Bear Index investor sentiment toward risk assets is at a more bullish level today than 99% of all readings since 2002. The current reading of 9.6 (out of 10) is close to max bullish and thus triggers a contrarian "sell" signal for risk assets. In their view, the relative risk-reward of owning equities is unfavorable at this juncture. Since 2002 a "sell" signal of 8.0+ was on average followed by a 12% peak-to-trough correction in global equities within three months.
Concerns about the devaluations and the growing risk of a severe bout of inflation have led to calls for a return to fixed exchange rates and a gold standard. Bloomberg’s Trish Regan and Adam Johnson interviewed TCW Group’s Komal Sri-Kumar and Bank of New York Mellon's Michael Woolfolk about the risks from currency wars on Bloomberg Television's "Street Smart." Trish Regan asks whether there is a danger that “we have massive inflation worldwide for years to come?” The answer is yes and both agree that inflation is a real risk as is a loss of credibility by central banks.
Sometimes, it feels good to hope. But since last September, nothing has really changed. At least not fundamentally. The zero-interest rate policies were going to encourage share buybacks, dividend payments and any method to allow the extraction of whatever real value is still available to extract from corporations/businesses by their owners. This meant leverage was going to increase, unemployment would remain high, capital expenditures were going to decrease and the risk of defaults was to going to rise. A year later, all these symptoms are starting to surface. One more reason to avoid stocks and be long gold. But in my view, it will take longer than many believe, for these imbalances to burst "...As long as the people of the EU put up with this situation and the EU Council (…) effectively kills democracy at the national level AND as long as the Fed continues to extend US dollar swaps, this status quo will remain… Whenever the political sustainability of the EU is challenged, we will see a run for liquidity... The trend is for asset inflation, and will last as long as the people of the EU and the US do not challenge the political status quo..." Unemployment and the tolerance of those unemployed will tell us when the time has come.
Back in November 2011, when the ECB did its damnedest to make sure Silvio Berlusconi resigned and never came back (it succeeded in the first, but is failing in the second as the Berlusconi block is rapidly rising in the polls two weeks ahead of the Italian elections and is now one margin of error away from the frontrunning Democratic Party) the central bank knew the Bunga Bunga PM would be bad news for the status quo - a fixed exchange status quo which as we showed in an earlier post, is there merely to enrich the rich, and impoverish the poor. The reason is that Sylvio has always refused to play ball with the banker oligarchy, whose survival depends first and foremost on the perpetuation of the EUR (as a collapse of the Eurozone means all reflation and DJIA 36,000 bets are off), and where every hint of a weakening of the Eurozone is to be eliminated at inception. Which is why news that Belusconi's coalition ally in the parliamentary election - Roberto Maroni, head of the Northern League, has suggested the creation and use of a local currency in northern Italy as an "alternative" to the Euro will hardly be seen as favorable by Europe's technocratic overlords for whom any initiative to structurally destabilize and weaken the European currency has to be crushed at the roots.
Let’s be very clear here: this is what the euro has wrought. This destruction of the non-German industrial bases has taken place with the active complicity of the European technocrats. They did not even realize that France, the EMU’s second largest economy, for example was becoming hopelessly uncompetitive. This is a zero sum game if there ever was one, with Germany being the main winner and the other three economies massive losers. Instead of leading to convergence in euroland economies, the euro project has led to massive divergences, with the strong getting stronger, and the weak getting weaker... The ECB has thrown enough money at the market to, for now, reduce borrowing costs and allow equity prices to rise (unfortunately so is the euro, threatening exports). This buys time—but these actions are not enough to solve the structural problems created by the euro. The private sector has shriveled in Southern Europe, as government spending and debt has soared. If we have France, Italy and Spain together enter a debt deflation/debt trap, the crisis will be far too big for Germany to handle: and if this happens before German federal elections are held (no later than October) we could see the European political crisis revive in full force.
Whether you're aware of it or not, a great battle is being waged around us. It is a war of two opposing narratives: the future of our economy and our standard of living. The dominant story, championed by flotillas of press releases and parading talking heads, tells an inspiring tale of recovery and return to growth. The other side, less visible but with a full armament of high-caliber data, tells a very different story. One of growing instability, downside risk, and inequality. As different as they are in substance, they both share one fundamental prediction – and this is why you should care: This battle is about to break. And when it does, one side will turn out to be much more 'right' than the other. The time for action has arrived. To position yourself in the direction of the break you think is most likely to happen. It's time to choose a side.
In a surprise announcement, BoJ Governor Shirakawa announced that he will step down on 3/19 (a month ahead of schedule) and while Barclays notes that there had been talk at one point that Mr Shirakawa might step down in a bid to protect the BoJ’s independence in response to Mr Abe’s threats to revise the BoJ Act; the decision, however, appears to have been motivated by policy considerations (the desire to have the governor and deputies start together). At a time when Japan’s stockmarkets are celebrating JPY weakness, Mr Shirakawa’s move provided yet more bounce as the new BoJ leader is expected to be even more dovish. Abe's push for a new governor, however, is meeting resistance from his own cabinet and financial bureaucrats, who fear extreme measures from the central bank may trigger a damaging rise in bond yields. The tussle, which Reuters notes, is testing Abe's resolve, but lies between a slightly less dovish bureaucrat in Toshiro Muto (favored by the opposition) and a banker, Haruhiko Kuroda, who is a front-runner in Abe's camp. With Draghi's comments today, we suspect Abe will err on the side of uber-dovish to fight the currency wars alongside him.
Jeremy Grantham: "I like the analogy of the Fed beating a donkey (the 1% growing economy) for not being a horse (his 3% growing economy). I assume he keeps beating it until it either turns into a horse or drops dead from too much beating!"
The list of public/private institutions that desperately need structural reform is long: the Pentagon, healthcare (a.k.a. sickcare), Social Security, the complex mish-mash of programs that make up the Welfare State, the 73,000 page tax code, public pensions and the financial sector, to name just the top few. Regardless of the need for reform, it isn't going to happen for these structural reasons.
There was some hope that Greece, which for the past few months was desperately trying to show it has a primary surplus when in fact it was merely shoving unpaid bills under the rug, was at least getting its runaway deficit situation under control. This, despite what many sensible people pointed out was the return of nearly daily strikes, which meant zero government revenue as zero taxes could be levied on zero wages. Turns out the sensible people were again right, and the Greek and European propaganda machine has failed once more as the Greek Finance Ministry just reported that despite big tax hikes demanded as part of austerity measures by international lenders, tax revenues fell precipitously in January, with the Greek Finance Ministry reporting a 16 percent decrease from a year earlier, and a loss of 775 million euros, or $1.05 billion in one month. It is all downhill from here as the feedback loop of more spending cuts is activated to offset declining revenues, leading to even less revenue, and culminating with the complete collapse of Greek society.
It has been another quiet overnight session, with macro data decidedly mixed and "adjusted", because while the key German December Industrial Production number came in sequentially at 0.3% on expectations of a 0.2% rise, it fell more than expected on an unadjusted Y/Y basis, dropping 1.1%, on expectations of just a 0.5% drop. On the other hand, Spain's industrial output not unexpectedly stagnated for a 16th consecutive month, plunging by 6.9% in December in line with expectations, and sliding by a whopping 8.5% Y/Y. In bond auction news, Spain sold some €4.61 billion in 2015, 2018 and 2029 bonds, all pricing with yields substantially higher than recent January auctions, which in turn sent the Spanish 10 Year to 2 month highs of 5.52% after the auction, however it has since regained most of the losses.
Both the recent increase in interest rates and renewed questions about the duration of QE3, sparked by the release of the December FOMC minutes, have raised concerns about a 'Great Rotation' out of credit and into stocks. Barclays notes that the story goes something like this: negative total returns in fixed income and increasing equity prices will drive investors to sell the fixed income assets they have accumulated over the past several years and buy stocks. This “Great Rotation” will force investment grade corporate spreads wider. However, in nearly 100 years of data, Barclays finds no evidence of a period when rates rose, spreads widened, and equity returns were positive. Risky assets are generally correlated. The few times that higher rates were accompanied by wider spreads happened in the 1970s and early 1980s, when inflation was accelerating. In each of these periods, equity prices fell sharply. As we have been warning, credit spread deterioration has tended to front-run equity weakness (with some false positives) but never with the divergence remaining consistent as a 'rotation' would suggest.