Bulls are still in charge of markets despite the shallow 2 to 3% correction the previous week. The conundrum for most investors remains, where else are you to put your money despite obvious risks and deceptive conditions? The Fed is forcing people into stocks, period.
The "Excel Spreadsheet Error" In Context
Despite the many differences between China and the U.S., their basic problems are remarkably similiar: an economy that increasingly serves a tiny Elite, and a political/financial system that is incapable of meaningful reform. Setting aside the latest bird flu outbreak and sagging indicators of growth, China 2.0 is in trouble (with 1.0 being the Communist era of 1949 -1977 and 2.0 being the modernization/globalization era of 1978 - 2013), for it remains overly reliant on unsustainable growth dynamics. Add it all up and you get a clear picture of a government and economy that is incapable of making the kind of structural reforms that are needed to make growth sustainable.
Less than an hour ago we speculated that "it wouldn't be surprising for GDP to come substantially weaker than expected, only to be revised higher (or lower) subsequently." Sure enough, we have gotten at least the first part right for now, with the advance Q1 GDP number printing a very disappointing 2.5%, on expectations of a 3.0% increase, up from 0.4% in Q4, and the biggest miss since Q3 2011. The reason for the big miss: Inventory and Fixed Investment came well below expectations, comprising 1.03% (of which autos represented 0.24%) and 0.53% of the 2.5% annualized increase GDP. Kiss the great CapEx investment story goodbye.
We recently showed 220 years of US Treasury bond yield history but all too often, the average investor is unfortunately unaware of the relationship between bond yields (interesting on a relative-value perspective) and bond prices (the thing that matters for your portfolio's returns). The two measures are inextricably linked obviously (a higher yield implies a lower price and vice versa) but the relationship is not a straight line - it has 'convexity'. The following charts may help understand the upside-downside changes from 'yield' movements, what the Fed is doing to the relationship, and how inflation expectations impact these changes.
The crypto-currency Bitcoin is still merely a speck on the global monetary landscape. It is young, experimental, and for all we know, it may ultimately fail to break into the monetary mainstream. However, on a conceptual level some are willing to call it a work of genius and arguably the most exciting development in the field of money for more than 130 years. The outcome is probably binary: Either Bitcoin ultimately fails and the individual Bitcoins end up worthless. Or Bitcoin takes off and Bitcoins are worth hundreds of thousands of paper dollars, paper yen, paper euros, or paper pounds. Maybe more. Those who buy Bitcoin as a speculative investment should consider it an option on the future success of the crypto-currency. We still consider gold to be the essential self-defense asset in the ongoing paper money crisis. The brand-new crypto-currency Bitcoin has to first earn its stripes as a monetary asset by proving itself as a ‘common’ medium of exchange. That is why we view Bitcoin very differently from gold, although the attraction of both has its origin in the demise of entirely elastic, politicized state fiat money. In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.
A peculiar trading session, in which the usual overnight futures levitation has not been led by the BOJ-inspired USDJPY rise (even as the Nikkei225 rose another 0.6% more than offset by the Shanghai Composite drop of 0.86%), which actually has slid all session briefly dipping under 99 moments ago, but by the EURUSD, which saw a bout of buying around 5 am Eastern, just after news hit that the UK would avoid a triple dip recession with Q1 GDP rising 0.3% versus expectations of a 0.1% rise, up from a -0.3% in Q4 (more in Goldman note below). Since the news that the BOE will likely delay engaging in more QE (just in time for the arrival of Carney) is hardly EUR positive we look at the other news hitting around that time, such as Finland saying that the euro can survive in Cyprus exits the Eurozone, and that Merkel has rejected standardized bank guarantees for the foreseeable future, and we are left scratching our heads what is the reason for the brief burst in the Euro.
When Spanish bonds traded at yields above 7% last Summer, the world's central banks went into a whirlwind to proclaim that these levels did not represent reality (in spite of the depression-era style economic data the nation was spewing). Fast forward nine months, the data is worse and getting worserer but yields - through the guiding hand of Draghi, the self-referential buying of domestic banks, and the BoJ's risk-is-no-object reach for anything non-JPY denominated - have crushed to 4.3% pre-crisis levels. Meanwhile, a few thousand miles south, the nation of Rwanda is issuing its first international debt today at a 7% yield (to the Japanese we are sure) as over 90% of the world's sovereign bond markets are at or near all-time low yields. But, the smart money is leaving, as PIMCO notes, "this central bank-inspired rally has made the markets expensive... relative to fundamentals"
It is one thing for the market to no longer pay attention to economic fundamentals or newsflow (with the exception of newsflow generated by fake tweets of course), but when the mainstream media turns full retard and comes up with headlines such as this: "German Ifo Confidence Declines After Winter Chilled Recovery" to spin the key overnight event, the German IFO Business climate (which dropped from 106.2 to 104.4, missing expectations of 106.2 of course) one just has to laugh. In the artcile we read that "German business confidence fell for a second month in April after winter weather hindered the recovery in Europe’s largest economy... “We still expect there to have been a good rebound in the first quarter, although there is a big question mark about the weather,” said Anatoli Annenkov, senior economist at Societe Generale SA in London." We wonder how long Bloomberg looked for some junior idiot who agreed to be memorialized for posterity with the preceding moronic soundbite because this really is beyond ridiculous (and no, it's not snow in the winter that is causing yet another "swoon" in indicators like the IFO, the ZEW and all other metrics as we patiently explained yesterday so even a 5 year old caveman financial reported would get it).
Despite rising (and record) unemployment, non-performing loans at record levels crushing the banking system's balance sheets, pension funds all-in, and their Italian neighbor now expecting more budget cuts of almost 1% of GDP in 2015-17 (and further downside risks to the GDP forecasts); Italian and Spanish bond spreads are pressing below critically 'positive' levels. While Italy remains above recent low spreads, Spain has just breached the 300bps (spread to Bunds) level; last seen in November 2011. The last 3 days have been the best run in Spanish bonds for six months. This level has been significant resistance a number of times since the European crisis began, but this time it's different, since the BoJ is seemingly blind to 'risk' and only sees 'return'. With the market telling the politicians that Europe is fixed, is it any wonder they are all asking for a stop to austerity? Or is bad once again good, as it forces Draghi's hand to follow his BoE, BoJ, Fed compatriots down the rabbit hole?
Due to decades of unreserved credit growth that temporarily boosted the appearance of sustainable economic growth and prosperity, rational economic behavior cannot produce real (inflation-adjusted) economic growth from current levels. The nominal sizes of advanced economies have grown far larger than the rational scope of production that would be needed to sustain them. This fundamental problem explains best the current state of affairs: malaise (i.e., bank system de-leveraging and economic stagnation) spreading through the means of production and the need for increasing policy intervention to stabilize goods, service and asset prices (by depressing the first three and inflating the last?). We live and work in a contrived meta-economy that can be managed through narrow channels in financial and state capitals. Given the overwhelming past misallocation of capital cited above, we think the most important realization for investors in the current environment is that price levels of goods, services and assets may be biased to rise but they are not sustainable in real (inflation-adjusted) terms. The crowd is ignoring the obvious, as all signs point towards the next currency reset.
The main take away from events in Japan is that the BOJ shifted from a tactic of interventions (under former Governor Masaaki Shirakawa) to one of monetary policy (under current Governor Haruhiko Kuroda) . What strikes us is that the monetary policy is precisely to... well, destroy their money and in the process any chance of having a monetary policy. In our view, it was exactly because the Fed’s (undisclosed) intention was to engage in never ending Quantitative Easing, that Japan was forced to implement the policy undertaken by Kuroda. Coordination with the Fed was impossible. With Mr. Kuroda’s policy, we now have the BOJ with a balance sheet objective, the Fed with a labour market objective (or so they want us to believe), the European Central Bank with a financial system stability objective (or a Target 2 balance objective) and the People’s Bank of China (and the Bank of Canada) with soft-landing objective. It is clear that any global coordination in monetary policy is completely unfeasible. The only thing central banks are left to coordinate is the suppression of gold.
As another woeful week wends to a weary close... what we got to look forward to? Although markets appeared to be shooting off in every direction, we do expect we'll see clearer direction soon. Despite the noisy criticism earlier this week of Yen "competitive" devaluation, the G20 meeting said nothing. We suspect certain individuals were quietly sat in the comfy chair, had global reality gently explained to them with the aid of some rusty dental equipment, were slapped around a bit and told to shut it. As long as Japan can sign the pledge on “no competitive depreciation” without giggling we’ll be ok. We do suspect the warmest circle of financial hell is being reserved for those populist European politicians who've tried to appeal to voters with efforts to stem the financial tides, and punished markets for being markets.
The German stock market, the DAX, has officially taken out its trendline from the June 2012 low when European Central Bank President Mario Draghi promised “unlimited bond buying” to support Europe.
The $20 billion gold futures sale and concentrated selling of gold futures on the COMEX on Friday and Monday is far more likely to be “nefarious” than the gold fixings in London. The CFTC’s track record to date has not been great and regulatory capture remains a real risk with the CFTC seeming to be reluctant to hold Wall Street banks who may be involved in price manipulation in the futures market to account. After the Libor revelations, it is surprising that there is not more scrutiny and hard questions asked of banks and regulators in this regard. Separately, large institutional fund manager Blackrock said that there was “no visible central bank activity” as the gold price plunged. They said that gold's fundamentals remain strong and that the fall in price was driven by an outflow of "hot money" and that gold prices are now near the marginal cost of new supply which should provide strong support at these levels and lead to higher prices again.