Bank of Japan
The surge in Japanese long-term interest rates is likely causing some lost sleep among bond market participants and policymakers (despite their ignorance of the moves in the BoJ minutes) as Nomura's Richard Koo notes, if this trend continues (now added to by the collapse in stock prices) it could well mark the “beginning of the end” for the Japanese economy. Although the stock market has (until now) welcomed the yen’s continued slide against the dollar, Koo warns that this trend needs to be carefully monitored, as simultaneous declines in JGBs and the yen can be interpreted as a loss of faith in the Japanese government and the Bank of Japan. The biggest concerns are that the extreme volatility in Japanese stocks and bonds is occurring at a time when the BOJ was buying large quantities of government bonds. It is now clear that even large-scale BOJ purchases of JGBs cannot stop yields from rising. Simply put, Koo notes, the BoJ needs to rein itself in and state it will not stand for overshooting inflation expectations or the 'bad' rise in rates could crush both the nascent recovery and the nation's banking system.
We totally get why many are excited by the recent cyclical improvement in the Japanese economy. However, just because industrial production is turning up on the back of exports and 1Q GDP grew more than expected doesn’t mean Abeconomics is working. Most of the improvement in Japan is probably best described as a standard cyclical improvement in the aftermath of very depressed growth that was also heavily influenced by last year’s downturn in global trade. There are definitely signs that Japan’s economy are improving cyclically. However, as UBS notes, structurally, demographics remain a major headwind to raising aggregate demand. We feel many investors have not yet considered what slower growth for Asia will mean for Japan in the medium term. This will make it more difficult to raise aggregate demand above supply since capacity is sticky and Japan already has excess capacity. So for Abe-believers there will be fuel to support their optimism. However, once you move beyond that and think about what comes afterwards things look more challenging.
As Japan has indicated, when bonds start to plunge, it’s not good for stocks. Today the Japanese Bond market fell and the Nikkei plunged 7%. The entire market down 7%... despite the Bank of Japan funneling $19 billion into it to hold things together.
As the global equity and bond markets grind ever higher, abundant signs exist that we are once again living through an asset bubble – or rather a whole series of bubbles in a variety of markets. This makes this period quite interesting, but also quite dangerous. This can be summarized in one sentence: How could this be happening again so soon?
News That Matters - Today's news in brief
- Apple Bonds Stick Buyers With $280.6 Million Loss as Rates Climb (BBG)
- Iceland Freezes EU Plans as New Government Shuns Euro Crisis (BBG)
- "Transparent Fed" - Ben Bernanke meets privately with Darrell Issa (Politico)
- Bank of Japan vows market steps to curb bond turbulence (Reuters) holds policy (FT)
- Stockholm riots spread in third night of unrest (FT)
- Dudley Says Decision on Taper Will Require 3-4 Months (BBG)
- Senate panel passes immigration bill; Obama praises move (Reuters)
- Italy to outline youth jobs plan as government struggles (Reuters)
- Apple CEO Tim Cook, Lawmakers Square Off Over Taxes (WSJ)
- Google Joins Apple Avoiding Taxes With Stateless Income (BBG)
- Sony Board Discussing Loeb’s Entertainment IPO Proposal (BBG)
- Vote Strengthens Dimon's Grip (WSJ), Dimon performance well choreographed (FT)
Today is one on those rare days in which everyone stops pretending fundamentals matter, and admits every market uptick is purely a function of what side of the bed Bernanke wakes up on, how loudly Kuroda sneezes, or how much coffee Mark Carney has had before lunch, but more importantly: that all "risk" is in the hands of a few good central-planners. Following last night's uneventful Bank of Japan meeting, in which Kuroda announced no changes to the "full speed ahead" policy of inflation or bust(ed bank sector following soaring JGB yields) and which pushed the Nikkei225 to surge above the DJIA closing at 15,627, today it is Bernanke's turn not once but twice, when he first takes the chair in the Joint Economic Committee's "Economic Outlook" hearing at 10 am, followed by the May 1 minutes release at 2pm (which may or may not have been previously leaked like last month). As a reminder, Politico reported last night that Ben Bernanke had previously met in secret with Darrell Issa and other lawmakers "to discuss the central bank’s efforts to stimulate the economy and how it could exit this strategy in the future, according to people who attended the meeting." And since we know how important transparency is to Bernanke and the Congress, "Participants in the meeting declined to disclose specifically what Bernanke told lawmakers beyond saying there was discussion about the Fed’s bond buying programs and other issues." But as long as Mr. Issa, the wealthiest man in the House, has his advance marching orders, all is well.
Surging nominal imports and a miss for exports just about sums up perfectly just how the reality of Abenomics is crushing the real economy as the market goes from strength to strength on the hope that recovery is just around the corner. For the 28th month in a row Japan trade deficit has dropped YoY and its 12-month average is now at its worst ever. Energy costs are driving up imports (and adjusted for the devaluation in the JPY, the data is simply horrendous. Of course, there are green shoots - CPI is not deflating as fast as it was... and 'some' inflation expectations are rising (though as we noted here that is simply due to the tax expectations). Contrary to expectations held by some in the bond market, the BOJ did not comment on the sharp fluctuation in JGB yields since April as a result of monetary relaxation - on the basis, we assume, that if they don't mention it, it never happened. The result post a nothing-burger of 'more uncertainty' from the BoJ, the Nikkei keeps screaming higher, JPY rallied then fell back, and JGBs are sliding higher in yield.
The current Bank of Japan policy meeting is possibly the most important thing going on this week (even more so than Bernanke's comments perhaps). If, as is distinctly possible, they don’t do anything to reinforce the immediacy of the Kuroda QQE package, we could be looking at bond markets reacting in a most "unfavorable manner". The effect would be to reinforce the latest round of 'fear-on' bond selling – certainly over the short-term, and the damaged sentiment could impact stocks also. In fact, there is probably not much the BoJ can say at this meeting – it’s got to give the policy (of massive QE) time to work. That leaves markets highly vulnerable to a sense of disappointment tomorrow. 'Back in the bond market, over the last few days the search for yield does seem capped. There have been some stumbles in new issues... That all tells me the bond market is nervous.'
Up until today, the narrative was one trying to explain how a soaring dollar was bullish for stocks. Until moments ago, when Bill Dudley spoke and managed to send not only the dollar lower, but the Dow Jones to a new high of 15,400 with the following soundbites.
- DUDLEY: FED MAY NEED TO RETHINK BALANCE SHEET PATH, COMPOSITION
- DUDLEY SAYS FISCAL DRAG TO U.S. ECONOMY IS `SIGNIFICANT'
- DUDLEY: FED MAY AVOID SELLING MBS IN EARLY STAGE OF EXIT
- DUDLEY: IMPORTANT TO SEE HOW WELL ECONOMY WEATHERS FISCAL DRAG
- DUDLEY SAYS HE CAN'T BE SURE IF NEXT QE MOVE WILL BE UP OR DOWN
And the punchline:
- DUDLEY SEES RISK INVESTORS COULD OVER-REACT TO 'NORMALIZATION'
Translated: the Fed will never do anything that could send stocks lower - like end QE - ever again, but for those confused here is a simpler translation: Moar.
If this plan fails to bring about economic growth in Japan, or worse still fails to bring about growth and unleashes inflation, then it’s GAME OVER for Central Bankers. Their one great claim “we’re not doing enough QE” will have been proven to be total bunk.
If Japan’s bond market implodes, then global Central Bank efforts to hold the system together will have proven a failure.
A quiet day unfolding with just Chicago Fed permadove on the wires today at 1pm, following some early pre-Japan market fireworks in the USDJPY and the silver complex, where a cascade of USDJPY margin calls, sent silver to its lowest in years as someone got carted out feet first following a forced liquidation. This however did not stop the Friday ramp higher in the USDJPY from sending the Nikkei225, in a delayed response, to a level surpassing the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the first time in years. Quiet, however, may be just how the traders at 72 Cummings Point Road like it just in case they can hear the paddy wagons approach, following news that things between the government and SAC Capital are turning from bad to worse and that Stevie Cohen, responsible for up to 10-15% of daily NYSE volume, may be testifying before a grand jury soon. The news itself sent S&P futures briefly lower when it hit last night, showing just how influential the CT hedge fund is for overall market liquidity in a world in which the bulk of market "volume" is algos collecting liquidity rebates and churning liquid stocks back and forth to one another.
We feel that now there is a Bermuda Triangle of economics - a space where everything tends to disappear without radar contact, a black hole in which rationality and science is replaced by hope, superstition and nonsense pundits pretending to understand the real drivers of the economy. The Bermuda Triangle in real life runs from Bermuda to Puerto Rico to Miami. The Economic Bermuda Triangle (EBT) one runs from high stock market valuations to high unemployment to low growth/productivity. There is a myth that the sunken Atlantis could be in the middle of this triangle. It has been renamed Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) to make it suit the black hole's main premise of ensuring there is a fancy name for what is essentially the same economic recipe: print and spend money, then wait and pray for better weather. The EBT is getting harder and harder to justify - if for nothing else because the constant reminders of crisis keep us all defensive and non-committed to investing beyond the next quarter. We all naively think we can exit the "risk-on" trade before anyone else. We are due for a new crisis. We have governments and central banks proactively pursuing bubbles. A long time ago, policymakers entered a one-way street where reversing is, if not illegal, then impossible.
The mistake Abe is making is to think the same trick that worked for the US will work for them. The problem, as Shirakawa no doubt realizes, is that the two country’s situations are not at all analogous, because the yen isn’t really a reserve currency in the same way the dollar is. There is no population of natural sovereign buyers who will be forced to print their own currency to mop up excess yen, as there is for the dollar. No sovereign is going to want to dramatically increase the allocations of their country’s reserves to the yen, not when it’s in the middle of being deliberately devalued, or really ever. Russia and China and Saudi Arabia don’t need any more yen, they have plenty. Oil isn’t priced in yen. Japan isn’t the world’s largest economy, or even its second largest. World trade isn’t conducted in yen. The emerging economies will just let it collapse. There is no natural sovereign sink for yen to drain into, as there is for the dollar, no group of buyers of last resort with bottomless pockets and no choice but to buy.