If the new year started off with a bang, March is setting up to be quite a whimper. In the first news overnight, we got the "other" official Chinese PMI, which as we had predicted (recall from our first China PMI analysis that "it is quite likely that the official February print will be just as weak if not more") dropped: while the HSBC PMI dropped to 50.4, the official number declined even more to just barely expansionary or 50.1, below expectations of a 50.5 print, and the lowest print in five months. This was to be expected: Chinese real-estate inflation is still as persistent as ever, and the government is telegraphing to the world's central banks to back off on the hot money. One country, however, that did not have much hot money issues was Japan, where CPI declined -0.3% in January compared to -0.1% in December, while headline Tokyo February data showed an even bigger -0.9% drop down from a revised -0.5% in January. Considering the ongoing surge in energy prices and the imminent surge on wheat-related food prices, this data is highly suspect. Then out of Europe, we got another bunch of PMIs and while French and Germany posted tiny beats (43.9 vs Exp. 43.6, and 50.3 vs 50.1), with Germany retail sales also beating solidly to cement the impression that Germany is doing ok once more, it was Italy's turn to disappoint, with its PMI missing expectations of a 47.5 print, instead sliding from 47.8 to 45.8. But even worse was the Italian January unemployment rate which rose from 11.3% to 11.7%, the highest on record, while youth unemployment soared from 37.1% to 38.7%: also the highest on record, and proof that in Europe nothing at all is fixed, which will be further confirmed once today's LTRO repayment shows that banks have no desire to part with the ECB's cash contrary to optimistic expectations.
The best performing currency year-to-date has no home country, no central banker and no physical scrip; it is the online-only ‘Bitcoin’ and as we noted recently, it is becoming more mainstream. BTC, as the currency is known, up 130% year to date in dollar terms, thanks to rising demand from a wide variety of adherents, which ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, includes libertarian activists, small businesses, online drug dealers and gambling sites. That makes the Bitcoin a controversial subject, to be sure, but Nick notes we can also learn from this unique case study a lesson in global economics. Bitcoin ‘Money supply’ growth is capped at a slow rate – far below its current levels of demand. That makes it prone to boom-bust cycles. It also has no sovereign sponsorship, which means it works outside any nation’s security apparatus. Lose your bitcoins to hackers? Tough luck – there is no FDIC in these parts. Still, Colas concludes, in the creation and growth of the Bitcoin it is not hard to see the online future of currency, especially as real-world alternatives continue to struggle with sluggish economies.
Oh well, who cares about things in the past?
From -0.1% to +0.1% (on expectations of a 0.5% print): the Q4 GDP revision was the smallest possible to make it seem that the US economy grew in the fourth quarter. A quick look at the components, however, reveals more of the same, with a small drop in the consumption contribution to GDP (from 1.52% to 1.47%), Fixed investment growing modestly, as well as imports, while the negative components remained roughly in line, with Inventories detracting the most from growth in Q4, or 1.55%. If JCP is any indication, expectations of aggressive inventory restocking in Q1 may be very optimistic. One thing is clear - the general GDP trendline is ugly, and we may now see downward revisions to Q1 growth forecasts in the aftermath of today's number.
- Grillo kills move to break Italy deadlock (FT)
- Abe nominates Kuroda to run BoJ (FT)
- More WMT bad news: Wal-Mart Chief Administrative Officer Mars to Leave: WSJ (BBG)
- Japan's Abe: Islands Are Indisputably Ours (WSJ) - Except for China of course
- Low-key departure as pope steps down, to enter the final phase of his life "hidden from the world" (Reuters)
- Cuts unlikely to deliver promised budget savings (Reuters)
- European Union caps bankers’ bonuses (FT)
- White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks (Reuters)
- Jockeying Stalls Deal on Cuts (WSJ)
- Argentina Says It Won’t Voluntarily Comply With Bond Ruling (BBG)
- Italian president says forming new government cannot be rushed (Reuters) - or happen at all
- Central Banks Spewing Cash Must Plan Exit Timing, Rohde Says (BBG)
- China Regional Targets Cut in Sign Debt Concerns Heeded (BBG)
- RBA Says Up to 34 Central Banks Holding Australian Dollars (BBG)
Moroccan Pottery Classes, Shrimp On Treadmills And Obamaphones - Bernanke's Biggest Bloopers Tie It All TogetherSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/27/2013 21:54 -0400
Those who listened to Bernanke's three hour oratory before the House Committee today noticed something different: the Chairman's tone was far more resigned, and as noted previously, on occasion devolved into incoherent, illogical ramblings that may be satisfactory for an introductory economics class at Clown College (aka Princeton), but certainly are inappropriate for the man who runs the world's most important printer. And while as expected the bulk of the Q&A session focused on the sequester, there were enough pearls one could shake a GDP hockeystick at. We have extracted the best of these exchanges below. However, the definitive five minutes comes from this fiery confrontation between Sean Duffy and the Chairman, in which the republican has obviously had enough with the monetary policy chief coming in Congress and telling Congress how to conduct fiscal policy, when it is Bernanke's deficit-monetizing actions that allow zero-cost borrowing and thus profligate, indiscriminate spending to result in such lunacy as total US debt just hitting a record 16,618,701,810,927.77. From the negative jobs impact resulting from cutting Moroccan Pottery Classes, no longer handing out Obamaphones, stopping the payment of travel expenses for the watermelon queen in Alabama, and most importantly preventing shrimp from running on a treadmill, to Bernanke explaining how a 2% cut in the budget would result in mass mayhem, in the context of a 1% interest rise resulting in $100 billion in additional interest expense, and much, much more, the Chairman ties it all together.
Italy is driving the markets. Japanese developments means the market is closer to give Abenomics its first test. Bernanke to set the record straight after many gave the regional non-voting Fed presidents too much weight in understanding trajectory of Fed policy.
JPY saw a massive correction today - gaining 3% against the USD - its biggest single-day gain since May 2010 - dragging all the carry traders with it. S&P 500 futures volume exploded to its highest since the rally began in November as it broke its uptrend and slumped 40 points from its intraday highs. VIX's term structure collapsed to its flattest in 18 months as spot surged above 19% (no - everyone wasn't hedged). The Dow, S&P, and Nasdaq are all red for the month and even the Trannies are almost unch. Treasuries soared with 10Y ending -10bps (after being +4bps at its worst of the day). Gold and Silver surged (with the latter testing near $1600 again) as WTI dropped 1%. Homebuilders (not helped by lumber's price collapse) dropped 3.5% but every sector was ugly today and closed at its lows. Risk assets led this downswing all day long and cross-asset-class correlation surged as the slump accelerated.
For most portfolio managers, investable assets can be thought of as sitting somewhere on the risk-return curve. If we look at the risk-return curve today it is obvious that 75% of global financial assets are now locking in real losses, unless of course, inflation collapses and deflation takes hold in the major economies. If we are spared a massive deflationary wave the assets at the bottom left of the curve will lose 1.5% real per year for the next five years. This means that, for global assets to stay roughly in the same place, equities will need to provide a real return of 4.5% per year for five years. However, it is important to note that such returns will only serve to compensate for the capital destruction taking place in the fixed income market. Real returns on equities of 4.5% will not leave us any richer compared to our starting level. This means that investors will have spent five years on a treadmill running to stand still. When you consider that no asset growth was registered in the previous five years, we are facing a whole decade devoid of capital accumulation. Given the world’s aging population, isn’t this bound to be problematic?
The publication, earlier this week, of the FOMC minutes seemed to have a similar effect on equity markets as a call from room service to a Las Vegas hotel suite, informing the partying high-rollers that the hotel might be running out of Cristal Champagne. Around the world, stocks sold off, and so did gold. The whole idea that a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington scans lots of data plus some anecdotal ‘evidence’ every month (with the help of 200 or so economists) and then ‘sets’ interest rates, astutely manipulates bank refunding rates and cleverly guides various market prices so that the overall economy comes out creating more new jobs while the debasement of money unfolds at the officially sanctioned but allegedly harmless pace of 2 percent, must appear entirely preposterous to any student of capitalism. There should be no monetary policy in a free market just as there should be no policy of setting food prices, or wage rates, or of centrally adjusting the number of hours in a day. But the question here is not what we would like to happen but what is most likely to happen. There is no doubt that we should see an end to ‘quantitative easing’ but will we see it anytime soon? Has the Fed finally – after creating $1.9 trillion in new ‘reserves’ since Lehman went bust – seen the light? Do they finally get some sense? Maybe, but we still doubt it. In financial markets the press, the degrees of freedom that central bank officials enjoy are vastly overestimated. In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.
This week's events show that the Chinese government realises that its stimulus efforts have got out of hand and its economy is in trouble.
While today's lower than expected LTRO repayment news was largely a strawman set by misguided expectations set under the impression that Europe is fixed (it isn't), and that the ECB is willing to witdraw excess liquidity (it isn't as the result was a spike in the EURUSD so high it got quite a few political officials talking the EUR down to prevent an export-sector crunch), there is a bigger issue facing Europe in the context of liquidity, and that is a maturity cliff of some €1.7 trillion over the next 3 years. As the chart below from Goldman shows, the excess LTRO cash remaining after today is a modest €807 billion, meaning that not even half the required prepayment capital can be funded outright. It is even worse when calculating the closed European Excess System cash in the second chart below, which also according to Goldman has declined to just under €400 billion. This means that while rolling the maturing debt is certainly an option, the incremental pick up in interest rates will mean far more cash leaves Europe's banks, which at a time when virtually not a single European bank can generate any positive cash from operations bank liquidity shortages will once again return.
Just in case anyone is confused about how fixed Europe is, insolvent Spanish TBTF megabank, which F'ed last year and had to be bailed out by the government, will post earnings (and in this case we use the term very loosely) next week at which time it will report the biggest corporate loss in Spanish history. From Telegraph: "On Thursday Bankia will report full-year earnings, including a €12.6bn provision taken at the end of last year. The writedown is a result of the lender moving assets into Spain’s “bad bank” at heavy discounts. Bankia, which is seen as a symbol of Spain’s financial woes, was created through the merger of seven smaller savings banks before being listed on Madrid’s stock exchange. When the company failed, hundreds of thousands of people who had been sold shares saw their savings wiped out. The collapse forced Spain to ask Europe for a bailout for its banking sector, which has meant the lender is subject to tight controls. Bankia is trying to sell its 12pc stake in International Consolidated Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, which is valued at about £510m, and 5.3pc of the power company Iberdrola, which is worth about €1.24bn."
When one thinks of the US banking system, the one thing few consider these days is the threat of a liquidity shortage. After all how can banks have any liquidity strain at a time when the Fed has dumped some $1.7 trillion in excess reserves into the banking system? Well, on one hand as we have shown previously, the bulk of the excess reserve cash is now solidly in the hands of foreign banks who have US-based operations. On the other, it is also safe to assume that with the biggest banks now nothing more than glorified hedge funds (courtesy of ZIRP crushing Net Interest Margin and thus the traditional bank carry trade), and with hedge funds now more net long, and thus levered, than ever according to at least one Goldman metric, banks have to match said levered bullishness to stay competitive with the hedge fund industry. Which is why the news that at noon the Fed reported that Primary Dealer borrowings from its SOMA portfolio, which amounted to $22.3 billion, just happened to be the highest such amount since 2011, may be taken by some as an indicator that suddenly the 21 Primary Dealers that face the Fed for the bulk of their liquidity needs are facing an all too real cash shortage.
You can choose to ignore this and believe that Europe’s Crisis is fixed just as EU political leaders claim. But Europe in general is out of options in terms of solving its debt crisis.