As Europe continues to churn nowhere but down economically, it seems that leading government officials everywhere have suddenly become fixed income experts. According to these financial wizards, declining yields from Italy and Spain is vindication that (once again) the worst is over. This is the point where we ask investors, government officials, and media to read beyond both the headlines and the first paragraph of investment reports. Just as the declining US unemployment rate is attributed to more and more people simply giving up hope (there’s that “word” again) and not an abundance of new jobs; the decline in sovereign bond yields is the result of domestic banks and pension funds buying new bonds from their respective governments – not an increase in confidence from international investors. While strong domestic demand for a government’s debt is usually a good sign, “forced” demand is not. By any measure the all-in strategy of demostics banks and pension funds investment in their own bonds is epic. Of course, odds are this epic strategy will only end in disaster. The high concentration of investment is embarrassing for whomever is in charge of the fund and is really no different than directly raiding the pension fund assets. This is a shameful act and ultimately someone will have to pay for this Spanish mistake, which naturally leads us to Germany. And, in simple terms, the generosity threshold of the average German is pretty close to being breached.
In the past months and right after implementing Quantitative Easing Unlimited Edition, the Fed began surfacing the idea that an exit strategy is at the door. With the latest releases of weak activity data worldwide, the idea was put back in the closet. However, a few analysts have already discussed the implications of the smoothest of all exit strategies: An exit without asset sales; a buy & hold exit. We have no doubt that as soon as allowed, the idea will resurface again. Underlying all official discussions is the notion that an exit strategy is a “stock”, rather than a flow problem, that the Fed can make decisions independently of the fiscal situation of the US and that international coordination can be ignored. This is logically inconsistent as we address below...
It may seem uncharitable to note that only 0.4% - that's 4/10th of 1% - of mutual fund managers outperform a plain-vanilla S&P 500 index fund over 10 years, but that is being generous: by other measures, it's an infinitesimal 1/10th of 1%. So what do we get for investing our capital in mutual funds and hedge funds? The warm and fuzzy feeling that we've contributed the liquidity needed to grease a monumental skimming operation. Ten out of 10,000 is simply signal noise; in effect, nobody beats an index fund. The entire financial management industry is a rentier arrangement: they skim immense profits and return no productive yield at all.
If this doesn't send the S&P to new all time highs nothing will. Moments ago the Dallas Fed reported its April General Business Activity report and in short it was the biggest miss to expectations on record, plummeting from 7.4 to -15.6, on expectations of a 5.0 print and the lowest since July 2012. It was also the biggest one month drop on record. Since all of this will be attributed to balmy spring weather in New Zealand, extra rainfall in the Russian Steppes, the US sequester, evil European fauxterity, Cyprus deposit confiscation, and of course, Bush, there is no point in commenting on this disaster at all. And why comment: judging by the market's response which is now at the day's highs, it is not as if anyone even pretends any data matters. The only hope now for those expecting a 20,000 on the DJIA is that the ISM due out soon, will print at 0 and everything will be permanently fixed. In other news the daily prayer to praise St. Bernanke begins at 11 am when POMO ends. Please orient yourself to face the Marriner Eccles building when bowing down.
A bank in some European country such as Spain lends money but the collateral, Real Estate or commercial loans, are going bad. The bank then securitizes a large pool of this collateral and pledges it at the ECB to receive cash. In many cases to take the pool the country has to guarantee the debt. So Spain, in my example, guarantees the loan package which is then pledged at the ECB and is a contingent liability and which is not reported in the debt to GDP ratio of the country but nowhere else that you will find either. “Hidden” would be the appropriate word. Then as time passes the loans get even worse so that the ECB demands cash or more collateral because they will not be taking the hit; thank you very much. The bank cannot afford to post more collateral so that the country, Spain, must post the collateral and add an additional guarantee for the new loan or they must post cash which is oftentimes the case. Consequently as time passes and more cash has been spent the country, Spain, begins to run out of capital and the 10.6% deficit figure, that Spain announced recently, is not anywhere close to the actual reality so that they will get forced to officially borrow more money from the ESM as the sovereign guarantee of bank debt becomes unsustainable.
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?