Despite German and French Manufacturing and Services PMI data outperforming expectations, European equity indices are trading down at the mid-point of the European session on extended concerns over the still-not-settled Greek PSI agreement. Further downward pressure on German markets came from Siemens’ earnings report earlier this morning, with the company missing their revenue targets and foreseeing a difficult economic environment for them in Q2 of this year. In UK news, despite an unexpected fall in government spending, UK debt has topped the GBP 1tln mark for the first time.
Round up for ZH readers ...
The market will look for any signal on the pace of discussions over the ESM pre-funding details and the fiscal compact. Flash PMIs in the Eurozone and the IFO will also be key to watch given market fears over the activity impact of tight fiscal policy linked to the Eurozone fiscal crisis. Attention will likely shift to the US this week. Q4 GDP will likely exceed 3% mostly due to one-off drivers and less so due a genuine pick-up in final demand in our view. The FOMC statement and press conference are unlikely to lead to a change in US monetary policy. However, we will be focusing on the publication of the FOMC participants’ views of appropriate policy (specifically the path for the federal funds rate and guidance for the size of the balance sheet going forward). In addition, President Obama will give his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
In most countries, deleveraging is only in its early stages. In a report today, McKinsey notes that total debt to GDP has declined in only three countries since the 2008-09 crisis (US, South Korea, and Australia) as total debt has actually grown in the world's ten largest mature economies (due mainly to rising government debt - Keynesian style?). Greatly concerned that the UK and Spain are slow to delever, they do note that the US is more closely following the two phase deleveraging process that 1990s Finland and Sweden followed but point to the household segment as leading the way with 15% reduction in debt to disposable income (driven unsurprisingly in major part by mortgage defaults). The bottom line is US (households) are at best one-third of the way through their deleveraging and the UK (financials) and Spain (non-financials) face much more significant pressures (which will inevitably impact aggregate demand given governmental borrowing pressures) as their deleveraging has only just begun. Historically, deleveraging has begun in the private sector and government has stepped up to borrow and fill the aggregate Keynesian hole left behind. McKinsey points out deleveraging normally takes 4-6 years which we suspect will remain an anchor for demand and growth in the mean-time (perhaps as disappointing earnings revisions are already pointing to).
A triptych of greece, cement and resolutions.
After the fairly muted Wellington open, the reaction of the European bond markets to the S&P downgrade will be the next focus of attention. One benefit of the S&P ratings action is that it takes away one source of uncertainty. Given a French downgrade wasn't widely anticipated, market focus on this issue may well be short lived. Related to the European downgrades is the rating of the EFSF, which was also put on credit watch in early December. S&P have commented that they are in the process of evaluating the impact of the sovereign downgrades on the EFSF rating. For the AAA rating to be maintained it would require further commitments from European governments. Remaining in Europe, newswires report that Greek debt talks will resume Wednesday, thus the Greek PSI is likely to remain a focus all week.
To those who woke up on Saturday to images of a massive cruise liner keeled over following a very peculiar Friday night accident off the coast of Italy, no, this was not a prop for the latest James Cameron movie: it is the Carnival Corp's Costa Concordia, which carried over 4,200 passengers and crew, and foundered after hit a submerged rock off the Tuscan island of Giglio in very calm conditions. At last count 11 passengers and 6 crewmembers were missing, with at least 6 confirmed dead as of last night. Here is what is known as of right now.
Australia is the sixth-largest country (2.9m square miles) on earth, just a tad smaller than the contiguous United States (3.1m). They are a little short on people (22.8m), which comes handy, since they dig up their entire country and sell the dirt to China. Australia has a remarkably low government dept-to-GDP ratio (29% ), low unemployment (5.2%), a moderate budget deficit (3.4% of GDP) and moderate inflation. However, Australia has been running current account deficits of up to 6% of GDP for more than 50 years. The “mates”, until recently, didn’t like to save, hence most investment has to be financed by borrowing from foreigners. I was curious as to how much of the success was due to exporting dirt to China. From the Australian Bureau of Statistics you get the following data about their top-10 export markets (accounting for 82% of all exports)...
The fact is that the US has been on a slippery slope for decades, and it's about to go over a cliff. However, our standard of living, while declining, is still very high, both relatively and absolutely. But an American can enjoy a much higher standard of living abroad. On the other hand, if I were some poor guy in a poverty-wracked country with few opportunities, I'd want to go where the action is, where the money is, now. Today, that means trying to get into the United States. The US is headed the wrong direction, but it's still a land of opportunity and a whole lot better than some flea-bitten village in Niger...This is one of the advantages of studying history, because it shows you that things like this rarely happen overnight. They are usually the result of trends that build over years and years, sometimes over generations. In the case of the US, I think the trend has been downhill, in many ways, for many years. Pick a time. You could make an argument, from a moral point of view, that things started heading downhill at the time of the Spanish-American War. That was when a previously peaceful and open country first started conquering overseas lands and staking colonies. America was still in the ascent towards its peak economically, but the seeds of its own demise were already sewn, and a libertarian watching the scene might have concluded that it was time to get out of Dodge –
2011 was an abysmal year for the global insurance industry, which had to cover yet another enormous increase in damages from natural disasters. Unknown to most casual observers is the fact that during the past few decades the frequency of weather-related disasters (floods, fires, storms) has been growing at a much faster pace than geological disasters (such as earthquakes). This spread between the two types of insurable losses has moved so strongly that it prompted Munich Re to note in a late 2010 letter that weather-related disasters due to wind have doubled and flooding events have tripled in frequency since 1980. The world now has to contend with a much higher degree of risk from weather and climate volatility, and this has broad-reaching implications. And critically, it has a particular impact on food.
The new year’s worldwide economic downturn has an interlocking effect: every national economy is searching to accommodate itself politically as well as economically to what looks to be an extended period of low growth. After longer or shorter periods of historically unrivaled prosperity, they are feeling for a “bottom” – a level to wait out new growth. That is the proverbial “soft landing”.