Our biggest concern here on the cusp of 2013 is the current odd combination of extreme complacency about the risks presented by extend-and-pretend macro policy making and rapidly accelerating social tensions that could threaten political and eventually financial market stability. Before everyone labels us ‘doomers’ and pessimists, let us point out that, economically, we already have wartime financial conditions: the debt burden and fiscal deficits of the western world are at levels not seen since the end of World War II. We may not be fighting in the trenches, but we may soon be fighting in the streets. To continue with the current extend-and-pretend policies is to continue to disenfranchise wide swaths of our population - particularly the young - those who will be taking care of us as we are entering our doddering old age. We would not blame them if they felt a bit less than generous. The macro economy has no ammunition left for improving sentiment. We are all reduced to praying for a better day tomorrow, as we realise that the current macro policies are like pushing on a string because there is no true price discovery in the market anymore. We have all been reduced to a bunch of central bank watchers, only ever looking for the next liquidity fix, like some kind of horde of heroin addicts. We have a pro forma capitalism with de facto market totalitarianism. Can we have our free markets back please?
Credit expansion, wrote the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, is not a nostrum to make people happy. "The boom it engenders must inevitably lead to a debacle and unhappiness." That seems a pretty accurate summary of the current situation for the western economies: a debacle, and unhappiness. Von Mises also wrote that "The final outcome of the credit expansion is general impoverishment." And, "What is needed for a sound expansion of production is additional capital goods, not money or fiduciary media. The credit boom is built on the sands of banknotes and deposits. It must collapse." It seems to us that we may be fast approaching the tail end of a 40-year experiment in money. The conventional financial media continue to keep central bankers on their pedestal; such thinking is astounding for the rest of us who know the Emperor's new clothes when we see them.
As the fallout of Liborgate escalates, the next big bank to be impacted in the fallout started by Barclays civil settlement "revelation" is set to be troubled UBS, already some 10,000 bankers lighter, where as many as three dozen bankers are reported by the implicated in the fixing of the rate that until 2009 was the most important for hundreds of trillions in variable rate fixed income products. Only instead of attacking the US or even European jurisdiction, where the next big settlement is set to hit is Japan: a country whose regulators as recently as half a year ago promised there were no major issues with Libor, or Tibor as it is locally known, rate fixings. And while this most recent development will have little material impact on UBS' ongoing business model, the one difference from previous settlements is that it will likely include criminal charges lobbed against some of the 36 bankers. From the FT: "UBS is close to finalising a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5bn and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan. The pact between the bank and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, US Department of Justice, UK’s Financial Services Authority and UBS’s main Swiss supervisor Finma is expected to be announced on Wednesday, although last minute negotiations continue."
At a time in the year when the market should be at a standstill, and when all trading should be over, the tension in the S&P is unprecedented, driven by two main factors: the ongoing Fiscall Cliff confrontation, which now appears set to not be resolved by Christmas, and very likely to persist into the new year, and what happens with hotel AAPLfornia, as suddenly it has become a liability to show LPs any holdings of the fruit in the year end statement. The two events combined will likely see furious market volatility persist well through the year end, and since volumes will further die down, we may well see massive stock moves on odd lots. And while AAPL is trading under $500 for the first time since February following last night's Citi downgrade, the confusion over the Fiscal Cliff persists, with The Hill first reporting that Boehner is willing to cave on the debt ceiling extension, even as Boehner himself subsequently tweeted that "Any increase in the debt limit will require a greater amount in spending cuts and reforms." So back to square one, with a red herring proposal that Boehner can say we offered to the president and the president turned down. Japan continues to attract a lot of attention with the ADHD market desperate to hope that the coming of Abe 2.0 will be much better than that of 1.0, when in one year he achieved nothing and then resigned due to diarrhea. Judging by the action in the USDJPY, we may be a few short hours away from closing the gap that sent the pair to 84.30 first thing, and proceeding to unwind the near record JPY commitment of traders short position as the JPY realizes this time will not be different. Quiet calendar in the US, with the Empire State Manufacturing Index expected to print at -0.5 at 8:30 am Eastern, TIC data to show China's ongoing TSY boycott at 9 am, and a hawkish Jeff "Mutiny on the Eccles" Lacker speech at 1 pm.
Just as Byron Wien publishes his ten surprises for the upcoming year, Morgan Stanley has created a heady list of seventeen macro surprises across all countries they cover that depict plausible possible outcomes that would represent a meaningful surprise to the prevailing consensus. From the "return of inflation" to 'Brixit' and from the "BoJ buying Euro-are bonds" to a "US housing recovery stall out" - these seventeen succinctly written paragraphs provide much food for thought as we enter 2013.
There was a time when it was nothing short of economic blasphemy and statist apostasy to suggest three things: i) that the Fed's canonic approach to monetary policy, in which Stock not Flow was dominant, is wrong (as we alleged, among many other places, here); ii) that the Fed is monetizing the deficit, thus enabling politicians to conceive any idiotic fiscal policy: the Fed will always fund it no matter how ludicrous, converting the Fed effectively into a political power and destroying any myth of its "independence" (as we alleged, among many other places, most recently here in direct refutation of Bernanke's sworn testimony); and iii) that by overfunding bank reserves, the same banks are left with one simple trade - to frontrum the Fed in its monetization of the long-end, in the process destroying the bond curve's relevance as an inflationary discounting signal, with more QE, leading to tighter 10s, flatter 10s30s, even as the propensity for runaway inflation down the road soars, in the process eliminating any need for the massively overhyped, and much needed to rekindle animal spirits "rotation out of bonds and into stocks" trade (as we explained, first, here). Well, that time is now officially over, with that stalwart of statist thinking, JPMorgan, adopting all of the above contrarian views as its own, and admitting that once again, the Fed and conventional wisdom was wrong, and fringe bloggers were right all along.
In a world in which the Fiscal Cliff, including headlines, rumors, leaks, and mere whispers thereof, is the main show, all other data points are at best supporting data actors. There was a lot of support overnight - for the futures, which once again closed the prior session at the lows - with a battery of PMIs released, starting with the December HSBC China Flash PMI which printed at a excel picture perfect 50.9 vs an expectation 50.8 and above 50 for the second straight month, which sent the Shanghai Composite up 4.32%, and wiped out the bitter aftertaste from the Japan December large manufacturer Tankan index which tumbled to -12 on expectation of a -10 print, confirming the Japanese recession is deteriorating at the worst possible time. Then after China, Markit released a bevy of European PMI data which came in mixed: Services PMI rose from 46.7 to 47.8 in December, beating expectations of a 47.0 print, while the Manufacturing PMI rose modestly from 46.2 to 46.3, missing expectations of a 46.6 result. The biggest wildcard once again was Germany, where the Service PMI, like in the US, posted a sizable rise, posting above 50 for the first time in months, or at 52.1 on expectations of 50.0, and up from 49.7 last, although more disturbing was the ongoing collapse in German manufacturing which dipped from 46.8 to 46.3, on expectations of a rise to 47.2. French manufacturing data did not help posting a tiny rise from 44.5 to 44.6, missing expectations of a 45.0 print. Economic data was further confounded when Spain released its quarterly home price update, which dipped 3.8%, accelerated last quarter's -3.3% drop, and sliding by a massive -15.2% in Q3, faster than the -14.4% drop in Q2, and confirming Spanish housing has a long way to go before it is fixed.
No one wants to mention that the Fed Chairman has changed the rules of the game in the middle of the game but there you are; a backsliding Federal Reserve Bank whose statements are only crafted for the moment and future moments may be brief; we just don’t know. Apparently we have transitioned to a “whatever is convenient” policy at the Fed and we all should bear that in mind when assessing probable actions. When money talks, nobody pays any attention to the grammar. The Treasury issues, the Fed prints money and buys, the cost of financing for the country is incredibly low and the yields for investors are paltry. In the risk markets there will now be a demand as instigated by the Fed, that overwhelms the supply of new issuance. Between the coupons paid and the maturities for 2013 the figure is about $1 trillion in excess demand more than estimated forthcoming supply. Given the 36% loss in wealth that took place in America during the 2008/2009 period the odds of an asset allocation shift out of bonds and into equities is de minimis in my opinion and so the “Great Compression” will continue.
The Eurozone was once again engaged in burning the midnight oil, in yet another futile endeavor, this time setting the stage for a common bank supervisor in the face of the ECB, which is somehow supposed to "regulate" Europe's thousands of banks. That this was a total practical dud can be seen in the response of the EURUSD to the news. However, for those interested in the theoretical nuances, whose actual implementation has once again been kicked into the future, here is a quick and dirty primer from SocGen.
- Bernanke Wields New Tools to Reduce Unemployment Rate (BBG)
- Home Seizures Rise as Banks Adjust to Foreclosure Flow (BBG)
- EU Backs Release Of Greek Aid (WSJ)
- Democrats Confident They Have 'Cliff' Leverage (WSJ)
- Americans Back Obama Tax-Rate Increase Tied to Entitlement Cuts (BBG)
- Goldman flexes tentacles: Treasury open to Carney radicalism (FT)
- Launch Fuels Asia Security Concerns (WSJ)
- BOJ’s Unlimited Loan Program Seen Open to Use by Hedge Funds (BBG) - there are Japanese hedge funds?
- Abe Set to Face Manufacturing Gloom as Japan Contracts (BBG)
- US and UN condemn N Korea rocket launch (Guardian)
- Eurozone agrees common bank supervisor (FT)
- Berlusconi Adds to Italy Turmoil by Signaling He’d Step Aside (BBG)
- Here come the low margin products: Apple Tests Designs for TV (WSJ)
- Obama and Republicans Trade Offers to Avert Fiscal Crisis (BBG)
- Carney broaches dumping inflation target (FT)
- Bernanke Critics Can’t Fight Bonds Showing No Inflation (BBG)
- Corporate Taxes on Table in Cliff Talks (WSJ)
- US business chiefs back tax rise (FT)
- Greece Confident Bond Buyback Needed for Aid Succeeded (BBG)
- New Faith in Europe's Banks (WSJ)
- European Bank Sees Little Room for Rate Cuts (WSJ)
- North Korea Claims Success in Rocket Launch (WSJ)
Today is probably the first day in a while in which minute-by-minute rumors on the Fiscal Cliff will not be on the frontburner (with yet another late day rumor yesterday of an imminent deal turning out to be a dud, when it was reported that Obama's latest grand compromise was to lower his initial tax hike demand from $1.6 to $1.4 trillion, or still $600 billion more than last summer's negotiated number), with Ben Bernanke and QE4 taking center stage instead. By now it is a foregone conclusion that Ben will proceed with extending Twist as first predicted here, into an unsterilized bond buying operation, in effect confirming that there has been zero improvement in the economy, as another $1 trillion is about to be injected until the end of 2013, and more trillions after that. The good thing is that all pretense that the Fed cares about anything but the market is now gone. The bad thing is that the Fed will continue to take over the capital markets until it and the other central banks are the only traders remaining. The only question is whether the market, now well into massively overbought territory, will fizzle and snap back after Bernanke's news announcement, and will QE4EVA (as we believe QE3+1, aka QEternity-er, should be called) have been fully priced in by the time it was announced?
In a sharp turn around from the open, Italian and Spanish 10yr government bond yield spreads over German bunds trade approx. 10bps tighter on the day, this follows several market events this morning that have lifted sentiment. Firstly from a fixed income perspective, both Spain and Greece managed to sell more in their respective t-bill auctions than analysts were expecting and thus has eased concerns ahead of longer dated issuance from Spain this Thursday. In terms of other trigger points for today's risk on tone the December headline reading in the German ZEW survey was positive for the first time since May 2012 coming in at an impressive 6.9 M/M from previous -15.7 with the ZEW economists adding that Germany will not face a recession. Finally, reports overnight have suggested that Italian PM Monti could be wooed by Centrist groups which means that if he wanted too the technocrat PM could stand for elections next year albeit under a different ticket. As such yesterday's concerns over the Italian political scene have abated and the FTSE MIB and the IBEX 35 are out performing the core EU bourses. Looking ahead highlights from the US include trade balance, wholesale inventories and a USD 32bln 3yr note auction, however, volumes and price action may remain light ahead of the key FOMC decision on Wednesday.
US leaders see that this strategy has worked for EU leaders (those who went along with it are still in office, those who didn’t have been kicked out). And so they are now adopting a similar strategy with discussions on the fiscal cliff.