With a government's October 1 shut down - temporary of course - now seemingly inevitable, and more importantly with the peak debt ceiling negotiations due in just about a week after which point the Treasury will run out of money, many wonder what comes next. That this is happening just two short years after the dramatic August 2011 debt ceiling impasse, when the market tumbled 20% and likely slowed economic growth is still fresh in everyone's mind, is hardly helping matters. Add a potential political crisis in Greece and Italy, and suddenly a whole lot of unexpected variables have to be "priced in."
Following yesterday's modest bounce in equities punctuated by the traditional last minute spike, sentiment has reverted lower once again, driven by the uncertainty surrounding debt ceiling talks in the US, where lawmakers have until next Tuesday to agree to a spending bill, or much of the government will shut down. The Senate will vote on a spending bill later today, which will then be sent back to the House putting republicans in a quandary (Politico explains the complications surrounding the GOP's "Plan C"). It was reported that US House leaders are considering postponing action on a bill to extend the US government's borrowing power, with the leadership discussing a change of strategy to complete action on the stopgap spending bill before debating the debt-limit debate. In FX, GBP strengthened across the board this morning after BoE’s Carney said he does not see a case for more quantitative easing.
- JPMorgan Guilty Admission a Win for SEC’s Policy Shift (BBG)
- Pricing Glitch Afflicts Rollout of Online Health Exchanges (WSJ)
- This will end well: Japan LDP Considers Draft Bill to Put Government in Control of Fukushima Cleanup (WSJ)
- How a German tech giant trims its U.S. tax bill (Reuters)
- Despite Merkel's Popularity, Angst Creeps In (WSJ)
- Hank Paulson warns of regulatory conflict (FT)
- Rajan Surprises With India Rate Rise to Quell Inflation (BBG)
- Apple Begins Selling New iPhones (WSJ)
- Pope Says Church Should Stop Obsessing Over Gays, Abortion (BBG)
Despite the Fed's strongest efforts at improving its 'communication', the average American is relatvely unaware of just what it is that QE does (and is). Reuters reports that a sad 73% of respondents could not define what the crucial-to-the-market's-survival program is with 12% of respondents believing QE was a computer-assisted program that the Fed uses to manipulate the dollar...
Compared with Japan, the United States national debt is a mere $17 trillion or so. But if you convert that number into yen, it comes to about 1.6 quadrillion.
We laugh at children when they talk about bazillions and gazillions but a quadrillion is no laughing matter. Measuring any currency in quadrillions brings to mind the many hyperinflations seen in the 20th and 21st centuries. For example, the powerful and very wealthy Germany in the early 1920s and wealthy Zimbabwe, the breadbasket of Africa in 2008.
Japan's soaring national debt is already more than twice the size of its economy.
Deflation - A derangement of money or credit, a symptom of which is falling prices. Not to be confused with a benign, i.e., downward shift in the composite supply curve, a symptom of which is also falling prices. In a genuine deflation, banks stop lending. Prices tumble because overextended businesses and consumers confront the necessity of selling assets in order to raise cash. When prices fall because efficient producers are competing to deliver lower-priced goods and services to the marketplace, that is called “progress.” In 2013, central bankers the world over define deflation as a fall in prices, no matter what the cause. Nowadays, to forestall what is popularly called deflation, the world’s monetary authorities are seemingly prepared to pull out every radical policy stop. Where it all ends is one of the great questions of contemporary finance.
While the issue of whether they will or won't taper is certainly still not clear, the WSJ's John Hilsenrath notes that the other dilemma facing the Fed is whether to reduce their purchases of Treasurys, mortgage-backed securities or both. According to officials, Hilsenrath notes, there were two lines of thinking at the Fed on how to structure a pullback from the bond programs and the issue would be discussed at the meeting. Goldman's Jan Hatzius has posited that "Fed leadership probably views MBS purchases as more effective in boosting economic activity than Treasury purchases," but as Hilsenrath notes, some Fed officials prefer a simpler-to-communicate strategy of proportional cutbacks to both MBS and Treasuries. The fact that Hilsy is reporting this suggests that a Taper is somewhat inevitable - as we have noted since the Fed remains cornered. On average, the market expects a $6bn taper on Treasuries and $3 billion for MBS.
With Syria now quickly fading from the headlines and Wall Street believing that Yellen is a "shoe in" for the Fed, what headwinds still remain for the markets ahead...
UPDATE: *GEITHNER STILL DOESN'T WANT TO BE CONSIDERED FOR FED CHIEF: WSJ
The next chairman's main job is going to be deciding how soon and how aggressively to pull back on Fed programs; and as none other than Fed whisperer John Hilsenrath notes, Larry Summers' withdrawal increases the likelihood of continuity in central-bank policy for the next few years - meaning any Fed wind-down of its easy-money programs will be slow and gradual. Of course he posits Yellen and Kohn as potential front-runners but throws Tim Geithner and Roger Ferguson back into the mix. Business-as-usual is back and the doves are in control - all the Fed needs now is bigger deficits to enable it to keep the pumps primed...
The froth is back. As we noted yesterday, corporate leverage has never been higher - higher now than when the Fed warned of froth, and as the BIS (following their "party's over" rant 3 months ago) former chief economist now warns, "this looks like to me like 2007 all over again, but even worse." The share of "leveraged loans" or extreme forms of credit risk, used by the poorest corporate borrowers, has soared to an all-time high of 45% - 10 percentage points higher than at the peak of the crisis in 2007. As The Telegraph reports, ex-BIS Chief Economist William White exclaims, "All the previous imbalances are still there. Total public and private debt levels are 30pc higher as a share of GDP in the advanced economies than they were then, and we have added a whole new problem with bubbles in emerging markets that are ending in a boom-bust cycle." Crucially, the BIS warns, nobody knows how far global borrowing costs will rise as the Fed tightens or “how disorderly the process might be... the challenge is to be prepared." This means, in their view, "avoiding the tempatation to believe the market will remain liquid under stress - the illusion of liquidity."
"A broad-based tax cut, for example, accommodated by a program of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to increase, would almost certainly be an effective stimulant to consumption and hence to prices. Even if households decided not to increase consumption but instead re-balanced their portfolios by using their extra cash to acquire real and financial assets, the resulting increase in asset values would lower the cost of capital and improve the balance sheet positions of potential borrowers. A money-financed tax cut is essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman's famous "helicopter drop" of money ."
- Ben Bernanke, Deflation: Making Sure "It" Doesn't Happen Here, November 21, 2002
"It's getting concerning," notes one fixed-income banker, Puerto Rico muni bond yields "never got near 10% [yields] even in the crisis." Some of the 27-year maturity Puerto Rico bonds just traded at a dismal 67 cents on the dollar (10.082% yield) and the most recently issued 2036 Electric Power bonds have collapsed from par a month ago to just above 82 cents on the dollar today. As the WSJ reports, the fall in prices also is a sign of investor risk aversion in the wake of Detroit's record municipal-bankruptcy filing in July; but it seems the anxiety and outflows from ETFs is having just as big an impact as Puerto Rico bonds now trade cheaper than Detroit's. "It's out of whack," one analysts warns, though the island's double-digit unemployment and recent weakness in economic indicators somewhat support the concerns - and while the "yields are attractive" it is possible that the island's borrowing costs could go higher as supply is extremely heavy in coming months. With 77% of managers holding Puerto Rico bonds, this is a problem...
With interest rates rising and now clearly weighing on the housing recovery (and affordability, as we noted earlier), many look at the extreme jumps in auto sales being pumped out today and worry that higher rates will impact that credit-fueled orgasm of optimism. While house price appreciation and belief in its linear extrapolation seemed to have prompted an inordinate amount of fed-funded credit-based car sales in the last month, the fact is that rates won't 'directly' affect car-buyers, since as CNBC's Rick Santelli exclaims, auto-loan rates are massively high already with millions paying high double-digit rates and terms are now as long at 97 months!! Simply put, with incomes stagnating, should we see any marginal impact on ability-to-pay or credit-availability (which will be affected by higher rates weighing on funding abilities - see below), then as Santelli concludes, watch out for these little words... "Auto Sub-prime loans."
In a sense the markets are experiencing a "Vietnam Moment" where we all believed what we were told and we all accepted the official headlines until the day came when we found out we had been flimflammed and you know the results of that fiasco. We believe that the markets are quite close to a shift in psychology where people and institutions alike no longer blindly accept the stories as told.
Much data and events next week. Politics risks trumping economics.