Even a broken clock could be right at least twice a day....
- Worse than expected manufacturing PMI figures from core Eurozone countries dented risk-appetite
- Equities came under further pressure following news that Credit Agricole is removed from EuroSTOXX 50 Index, whereas Societe Generale, Intesa Sanpaolo and Unicredit are removed from STOXX Europe 50 Index
- Risk-aversion was enhanced following a lack-lustre 5-year bond auction from Spain
- The French/German spread continued to widen throughout the session partly on the back of weaker manufacturing PMI from France
- According to an article in FT, citing European source, the IMF has estimated European banks could face a capital shortfall of EUR 200bln. However, Eurozone officials strongly disagreed with the IMF’s analysis.
As John Hussman correctly highlighted many moons ago, there is just one problem with the whole "cash on the sidelines" statement - it is completely and utterly wrong. Yet while we agree with it in principle, what is also true is that if you don't have cash, you can't buy stuff, period. Or in this case, equities. Yes, one can sell existing holdings to raise cash, but in an environment such as ours, in which underperforming the levered beta tsunami (or, unlike in 2010, the modest wakeboarding wave) means immediate termination, and where margin debt barely moved off its all time highs even as the general market (and especially fixed income) crashed in a repeat of late 2008, it seems nobody is willing to sell anything, come hell, high water or pink slip. Which is why, semantics aside, the fact that the mutual fund space just saw its total Liquid Assets drop to a new all time record low of 3.3% (down from 3.4%), or about $150 billion on $4.54 trillion in stock assets, is not good, no matter how one defines cash or sidelines. And with so little cash to bid up stocks even as they plunged (i.e., contrary to the expectation cash did not go up), the very troubling question arises yet again: just where will the purchasing power come from (and no, it's not retail: retail is long gone).
The question that I have been asked more today than almost any other time in the past month has been "Is This The Time To Start Buying Back In?". With the recent rally off of very oversold conditions in July and August, a reflex rally has been in the offing. Also, with this being the end of the month, we are seeing portfolio window dressing for mutual funds. However, a brief review of our technical indicators is in order to determine where we are in this current market environment and what the potential "risk" versus "reward" of being fully invested currently is.
Every now and then it is easy to forget that the one or two "better than expected" data points blasted by flashing headlines do nothing that merely mask what is an otherwise quite deplorable and deteriorating reality. For the disconnect between America and the rest of the world look no further than this chart showing the dramatic divergence between the DJIA, which has just gone positive for the year, and every other major global stock market. Yet for those who require a narrative to go with their numbers, here is The Economic Collapse with the latest of their traditionally comprehensive bulletins, this time summarizing the "25 signs that the financial world is about to hit the big red panic button."
What exactly do we have left after several decades of frenzied spending and mindless consumption? I’ll tell you what we have left. We have our rituals and dogma, and soon enough not much more.
Marx predicted a crisis of advanced Capitalism based on the rising imbalance of capital and labor in finance-dominated Capitalism. The basic Marxist context is history, not morality, and so the Marxist critique is light on blaming the rich for Capitalism's core ills and heavy on the inevitability of larger historic forces. In other words, what's wrong with advanced Capitalism cannot be fixed by taxing the super-wealthy at the same rate we self-employed pay (40% basic Federal rate), though that would certainly be a fair and just step in the right direction. Advanced Capitalism's ills run much deeper than superficial "class warfare" models in which the "solution" is to redistribute wealth from the top down the pyramid. This redistributive "socialist" flavor of advanced Capitalism has bought time--the crisis of the 1930s was staved off for 70 years--but now redistribution as a saving strategy has reached its limits... That gambit has run out of steam as the labor force is now shrinking for structural reasons. Though the system is eager to put Grandpa to work as a Wal-Mart greeter and Grandma to work as a retail clerk, the total number of jobs is declining, and so older workers are simply displacing younger workers. The gambit of expanding the workforce to keep finance-based Capitalism going has entered the final end-game. Moving the pawns of tax rates and fiscal stimulus around may be distracting, but neither will fix advanced finance-based Capitalism's basic ills.
A lot of people—children of the ’70’s, I suppose—claim that judgment is a bad thing: “Don’t judge! You have no right to judge!” is their mantra. They insist that we as a society have no right to judge how they live, or more importantly what they do. A lot of other people have taken up the same slogan, and adopted it as their own: People like Dick Cheney—like Monsanto and DuPont and BP, who poison us with impunity—like the oil and gas companies carrying out “fracking”, which is causing earthquakes and flammable water on the East Coast—like the TBTF banks and the prop desks front-running their clients, or illegally foreclosing on homeowners—in short, people near the top of our social pyramid. They have adopted the non-judgmental slogans: “Don’t judge! You have no right to judge! It’s not illegal! We’re not breaking the law! So don’t judge! Don’t judge!” they yell and scream as loud as they can. They seem so convincing, these slogans: It’s tempting to do what they ask—to not judge. Because judgment is hard. It’s far easier to passively accept a situation—to not pass judgment—to simply let it be—than to stand up, make a judgment, and then say it out loud.
The UBS daily note reports that “the mood among gold investors appears to be to buy the dip rather than chase the market, which is understandable given last week's volatility.” UBS conclude that the “violent sell-off hasn't done any lasting damage to gold, and the reasons investors bought gold in recent months remain valid. Our one-month forecast of $1950 remains in place.” UBS three month price view is $2,100 per ounce. Very significant demand being seen for bullion internationally and especially in Asia means that gold’s correction is likely to again be of short duration. Indeed, the scale of demand suggests that gold may not need a long period of consolidation and could again surprise to the upside. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch said in a research note it was revising its 12-month gold target to $2,000 an ounce. JPMorgan said that gold could reach over $2,500 per ounce prior to year end. The recent sell off has not seen banks and analysts revise down their price forecasts.
With ZIRP, real interest rate on fixed income investment gives a negative return after inflation...
The consumer driven recession has begun. Keeping it very simple of the four GDP components (consumer, fixed investment, government and net trade) the consumer has simply rolled over. In Q1 2011 the consumer contributed 1.46% to the 0.4% total GDP. In other words if it was not for consumer growth or even if .5% of that growth was removed the economy contracted in Q1 2011. Fast forward to Q2 where the consumer component is now 0.3%. In other words the trend of the consumer is deteriorating. Representing roughly 70% of total GDP the consumer is the economy. Confidence drives the consumer, the consumer drives demand and demand drives the economy. Well judging by the epic fall in University Of Michigan Sentiment, now at multi year lows the economy is in serious trouble. To get a sense of the economic reality facing the US look at the historic correlation between sentiment and real GDP.
Over the past x months, one thing has become all too clear in FX land: the EURUSD must stay rangebound between 1.40 and 1.50, even though as Goldman's John Noyce presents in his latest "not-for-retail" packet, the fair value of the European currency continues to be higher than where it should be. Whether this is a simple case of the tail wagging the dog, whereby the ECB and China are terrified of the downstream effects should the European currency trade under the psychological barrier of 1.40, is unclear. What is clear is that every country in the world has skin in the game, and is forced to keep the EUR in Goldilock rangebound territory: not too low to spook European investors, and not too high to accelerate the German double dip. Some other risk assets correlations observed include the AUD vs 2 year swap spread basket, the VIX vs the S&P, and lastly, on the until recently massively overstretched CHF. Noyce tops it off with some technical perspectives on US govvies and the 2s10s, which is once again diving, although unclear if due to a bullish or bearish flattening.
The first revision to Q1 GDP printed at 1.0%, down from the preliminary Q2 GDP print of 1.3%, and as expected was worse than Wall Street consensus of -1.1%, although it was certainly not as bad as the miss to the preliminary number. Stone McCarthy's forecast of 0.7% is not necessarily wrong: it is probably just early: the final revision to Q2 GDP will come on September 29, one week after the next FOMC meeting, and will be the last sub 1% GDP growth number before we see a negative GDP print for Q3. Personal Consumption printed a little better than expected at 0.4%, higher than consensus of 0.2%. Alas, this number will be whacked massively in Q3. Core PCE was also slightly higher than expectations of 2.1%, coming at 2.2%. The components of the 1.0% revised GDP were: PCE: 0.3%; Fixed Investment: 1.01%, Change in Private Inventories: -0.23%; Exports: 0.41%; Imports -0.31%; and Government consumption -0.18%. This is the third consecutive quarter in which the government has taken away from growth.