Steve Liesman unleashed a torrent of abuse when he claimed recently that "This Country Was Built On Consumer Debt" Of course, Steve's comments really are of little surprise. With the average American still living well beyond their means, the reality is that economic growth will remain mired at lower levels as savings continue to diverted from productive investment into debt service. Furthermore, with the Federal Reserve and the Administration actively engaged in creating an artificial housing recovery, and wealth effect from increasing asset prices, it is likely that another bubble is being created. This has never ended well. The concern is that without a reversion of debt to more sustainable levels the attainment of stronger, and more importantly, self-sustaining economic growth could be far more elusive than currently imagined.
It was interesting over the last couple of days to watch a series of both hosts and analysts scratching their heads and fumbling for answers over the recent decline in interest rates. After all, how could this be with inflation creeping up due to much stronger economic growth? More importantly, asset prices are clearly telling investors to get out of bonds as the "great rotation" is upon us as we launch into this new secular bull market, right? The recent decline in interest rates should really not be a surprise as there is little evidence that current rates of economic growth are set to increase markedly anytime soon. Consumers are still heavily levered, wage growth remains anemic, and business owners are still operating on an "as needed basis." This "economic reality" continues to constrain the ability of the economy to grow organically.
Since so many people are still slightly confused about how all the pieces come together in this move lower in yields, we feel the need to add some follow-up commentary.
Following the only major overnight econ event, which was the May German IFO Business Climate Index which dropped from 111.2 to 110.4 missing expectations of 110.9, the USDJPY has been on a soaring rampage higher hoping to push equities along with it (because now that gold manipulation is a proven fact, it is only a matter of time before the link between manipulating the USDJPY on thin volume with massive leverage and rigging the equity market is uncovered too), and at last check was just shy of 102.000. For now equity futures have failed to be dragged along although with the S&P all time high just around the horizon, the psychological level of 1900 staring the rigged market in the face, and the weekend just around the corner, it is virtually assured that the S&P will close at an all time high today - after all the people need to be confident when they go shopping at malls with money they don't have (but delighted by paper profits they haven't booked) so they boost the US non-GAAP GDP (at least before like Italy, the BEA too changes the definition of GDP to include cocaine and hookers). Finally, assuring a (record?) low-volume levitation today is the early closure of the bond pit ahead of Memorial Day holiday which also means only a skeleton crew of algos will be frontrunning each other to push the S&P over 1,900.
China's HSBC Manufacturing PMI has now spent 3 years within 2 points of the crucial '50' demarcation between contraction and expansion but as the following chart shows, something seems 'odd' about the last few months apparent stability. Tonight China HSBC PMI printed a stunning 49.7 crushing the expectation of 48.3 (modestly above last month's 48.1) but still in contraction for the 5th month in a row (the longest contraction since Oct 2012). This was China's biggest spike in PMI in 9 months led by increases in new orders, production, and new export orders... but employment fell to new lows. Japan's Markit PMI also printed in 'contraction' territory for the 2nd month in a row - its first since Abenomics began.
In a well-crafted 688 words published just 5 minutes after the minutes were exposed to the public, the Wall Street Journal's Jon Hilsenrath provides what bullish equity market believers might consider one of his more hawkish commentaries on what the Fed is really thinking. "Federal Reserve officials turned their attention to longer-run issues at their April policy meeting," he noted; adding that discussion of the Fed's "exit strategy" from low interest rates has heated up in recent weeks. His summation - lots of talk, no action... not what the bad-news-is-good-news crowd wants to hear.
- More than 20 dead, doctor says, as anti-China riots spread in Vietnam (Reuters)
- Russia's Gazprom plans Singapore stock exchange listing (Reuters)
- Inside Europe’s Plan Z (FT)
- Ukraine slides deeper toward war as Russia warns to vote (BBG)
- Fast-Food Protests Spread Overseas (NYT)
- BOJ Beat, Officials Could Upgrade Outlook for Capex (WSJ)
- Euro-Zone Economy Shows Weaker-Than -Expected Expansion (WSJ)
- Yahoo to YouTube Ads Spreading Viruses Rile Lawmakers (BBG)
- New York Times Ousts Jill Abramson as Executive Editor, Names Dean Baquet (BBG)
- NYT Publisher Said to Always Have Clashed With Abramson (BBG)
- Google gets take-down requests after European court ruling - source (Reuters)
Headlines were made earlier today as Ireland’s ten year borrowing costs dropped below the UK’s for the first time in six years. Given that it only recently exited a bailout programme and not long ago was mired in the worst crisis in a generation, this is a pretty astonishing turnaround. Nor is Ireland alone. Spain and Italy can now borrow at similar rates to the USA on ten year debt. More broadly, in the past year peripheral countries borrowing costs have plummeted to levels seen before the crisis, or below, as countries begin exiting bailouts and returning to the markets. There are three key factors driving this 'bubble" and five major problems stemming from this seeming nirvana.
... To the astonishment of almost everyone in the room, Angela Merkel began to cry. “Das ist nicht fair.” That is not fair, the German chancellor said angrily, tears welling in her eyes. “Ich bringe mich nicht selbst um.” I am not going to commit suicide. For those who witnessed the breakdown in a small conference room in the French seaside resort of Cannes, it was shocking enough to watch Europe’s most powerful and emotionally controlled leader brought to tears....
Could it really be that peripheral countries’ interest rates are plunging and borrowing costs have converged to pre-crisis levels, Greece is issuing debt, and the euro crisis is over forever, but Mario “Whatever-It-Takes” Draghi is musing about starting QE now? Have policymakers lost touch with reality to such a startling degree that they now reach for the QE bottle like it is some 1850s cure-all nostrum, regardless of what is wrong with the patient? All we can imagine is the good doctor, handle bar moustache and full regalia, sitting behind his desk: “You have the vapors? Take this QE, you’ll feel better. Ma’am, you have a little hysteria? QE is just the thing! Sir, this QE will cure that headache! Son, you need some inflation, so QE is just right for you.” There is nothing – we repeat, nothing – that is being done at present to enable Europe to perform better economically, to encourage its unemployed to get off the dole, or to empower its peripheral countries to deal with their underperformance on a sustainable basis.
"Everybody knows interest rates are going to rise." Whether you agree with this premise, or not, is largely irrelevant to this discussion. The current "bullish" mantra is the "great bond bull market is dead, long live the stock market bull." However, is that really the case? When the bond bubble ends this means that bonds will begin to decline, potentially rapidly, in price driving interest rates higher. This is the worst thing that could possible happen.
In one of his most voracious tomes, The Wall Street Journal's Fed-see-er Jon Hilsenrath prepared 726 words and published them in 5 minutes to explain that the Fed's forecasts for Q1 were dismally wrong, that the future will all be rosy, and their forecasts spot on, and that the Taper is steady..."Fed officials acknowledged the first-quarter slowdown was worse than expected by saying activity "slowed sharply." Previously, they had just said activity merely slowed...Still, officials nodded to signs of a pickup in economic activity in March and April, suggesting they aren't too worried about the winter slowdown."
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as come out swinging after US issued a new round of sanctions against citizens and companies of the nation:
- RUSSIA WON'T LET SANCTIONS GO UNANSWERED: INTERFAX
- RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER RYABKOV VOICES "DISGUST" AT WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT ON NEW U.S. SANCTIONS -INTERFAX
As we await the European Union's reaction (which the US has said is imminent... hopefully) it is the blowback from Russia that is most importance - despite constant protestation by talking-heads on mainstream media channels that any sanctions on Russia will have no impact on US business...
While Jay Carney and the White House continue to press their "sell" recommendation on Russian assets, it appears the market is buying the news (after selling the rumor). Russian stocks are ripping higher on "better than expected" sanctions and the Ruble is strengthening notably... So given that the market is signaling these sanctions are clearly weaker than expected, we should certainly not expect any Russia de-escalation soon.
This eruption of late cycle bubble finance hardly needs comment. Below are highlights from a Bloomberg Story detailing the recent surge of leveraged recaps by the big LBO operators. These maneuvers amount to piling more debt on already heavily leveraged companies, but not to fund Capex or new products, technology or process improvements that might give these debt mules an outside chance of survival over time. No, the freshly borrowed cash from a leveraged recap often does not even leave the closing conference room - it just gets recycled out as a dividend to the LBO sponsors who otherwise hold a tiny sliver of equity at the bottom of the capital structure. This is financial strip-mining pure and simple - and is a by-product of the Fed’s insane repression of interest rates.