Everyone has heard of Marie-Antoinette screaming from her balcony at the Palace of Versailles in the early hours of the French Revolution: “if there’s no bread, then let them eat cake!”. Right!
Spain has already gone bankrupt. It is not spoken of in this fashion, no one mentions it in public but that is the truth of it. The money, some $172 billion, was funneled to the banks and not to the sovereign in one more European ruse to distract everyone but the results are the same. Now it is becoming apparent that even this amount of money was not enough so more will have to be given. The money will go to the Spanish banks, the debt will be guaranteed by Spain, the contingent liability will not be counted as part of Spain's debt to GDP ratio but we will know the truth of it. Whatever direct money from Spain that goes into their banks will be called an "investment" and put on the left side of their balance sheet as an asset and the mockery will continue but I can still read a ledger; thank you very much.
"The last 36 hours have perhaps been evidence as to what might happen if stimulus is withdrawn before the global recovery has been cemented and what might happen if Japan makes mistakes along the way to their attempted new dawn. With the Chinese data still ambiguous, Europe still in recession, Japan in the very early stages of a growth experiment and with the US recovery still historically very weak one has to say that liquidity has been the main market fuel in recent months. So central banks have to tread carefully and the Fed tapering talk and the BoJ's seemingly benign neglect policy towards JGBs has had the market fretting." - Deutsche Bank
We are approaching a critical point (again) in the “battle royal” between the forces of inflation and deflation. Deflationary forces are threatening to overwhelm the reflationary push-back of the world’s central banks - although this is not reflected in most equity markets (especially the US). Open-ended QE was only announced by the Fed last Autumn, but the impact on (market-based) inflation expectations plateaued within months and has started turning down. A decision to taper QE would obviously be negative for equities in the absence of a sufficiently strong offsetting improvement in economic fundamentals – which is difficult to envisage right now.
Once again: The FOMC minutes had nothing to do with overnight's events, especially since both Ben Bernanke and Bill Dudley made it very clear previously that for any tapering to occur (and which is supposedly bullish according to David Tepper, who may finally be done selling to momentum chasers) if ever, the economy would have to be be stronger (which is of course a paradox because it is the Fed's QE that is making the economy weaker). If anything, the minutes reminded us that there is a mutiny in the FOMC with finally someone having the guts to say on the record that Bernanke is blowing a bubble - something never seen before on the official FOMC record. And after all, the Nikkei opened way up, not down. It was only after the realization of what soaring bond yields mean for, wait for it, stocks (despite central planner promises that it is soaring bond yields that are a good thing - turns out, they aren't) that the sell-off really started. That, and of course copper, and the end of the Chinese Copper Financing Deals arrangement that has been China's illicit cross-asset rehypothecation scheme for years (more shortly). So in a nutshell, here is what has transpired so far, courtesy of Bloomberg.
Yesterday afternoon, following the rout in the US stock market, we made a spurious preview of the true main event: "So selloff in JGBs tonight?" We had no idea how right we would be because the second Japan opened, its bond futures market was halted on a circuit breaker as the 10 Year bond plunged to their lowest level since early 2012, hitting 1% and leading to massive Mark to Market losses for Japanese banks, as we also warned would happen. That was just the beginning, and suddenly the realization crept in that the plunging yen at this point is not only negative for banks, but for the entire stock market, leading to what until that point was a solid up session for the Nikkei to the first rumblings of a ris-off. Shortly thereafter we got the distraction of the Chinese Mfg PMI which dropped into contraction territory for the first time since late 2012, and which set the mood decidedly risk-offish, although the real catalyst may have been a report on copper from Goldman's Roger Yan (which we will cover in depth shortly) and whose implications may be stunning and devastating and may have just popped the Chinese credit bubble (oh, btw, short copper). And then all hell broke loose, with the Nikkei first rising solidly and then something snapping loud and clear, and sending the index crashing a massive 1,143 an intraday swing of 9% high to low, leading to an over 200 pips move lower in the USDJPY, and leading to a global risk off across the world.
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?
Or maybe this is a trick question, and the answer for the "New Normal", when all central banks are coordinating on reflating the biggest asset bubble of all time, is "all of them"...
For all those curious why all real money managers (and not those who spend 18 hours a day on the modern day Yahoo Finance known as Twitter, "trading" with monopoly money while selling $29.95 newsletters) are furious at what Bernanke and company are doing as shown in the most recent Ira Sohn conference, we present the chart below from Goldman which confirms what most have already known: the Federal Reserve has made hedge funds a thing of the past, whose investors are sure to keep underperforming the S&P until the moment when it all goes tumbling down.
Unless there's a shock to the system when people start seeking safety, there's not much upside momentum for gold.
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.
As virtual fantasy worlds go, Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo 3 is particularly foreboding. Within this fairly straightforward gaming framework, virtual “gold” is used as currency for purchasing weapons and repairing battle damage. Over time, virtual gold can be used to purchase ever-more resources for confronting ever-more dangerous foes. But in the last few months, various outposts in that world have borne more in common with real world places like Harare, Zimbabwe in 2007 or Berlin in 1923 than with Dante’s Inferno. A culmination of a series of unanticipated circumstances has over the last few weeks produced a new and unforeseen dimension of hellishness within Diablo 3: hyperinflation. Considering the level of planning that goes into designing and maintaining virtual gaming environments, if a small, straightforward economy generating detailed, timely economic data for its managers can careen so completely aslant in a matter of months, should anyone be surprised when the performance of central banks consistently breeds results which are either ineffective or destabilizing? The Austrian School has long warned of the arrogance and naïveté intrinsic to applying rigid, quantitative measures to the deductive study of human actions and the events of the last week provide a stark reminder of the power and inescapability of the laws of economics.
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.
A reversal will come. The odds on this are 100%. You cannot have every asset class on the planet in a bubble forever. The world does not operate this way. The disconnect between economic fundamentals and the markets continues but the odds on it continuing forever is Zero. The creation of all of this money also has another effect. It causes stupidity. It is quite true that we do not know the "what and the when" of it but a prediction that lacks any "If" will prove to be true. There is no longer an "If." The disparity now is just too great. Play the game as long as you can. It has gone on to date right in line with the increase in the money and in the lies. Play the game. However if you are smart you will have an exit strategy and a defense lined up well in advance before the man with the scythe shows up and takes a swipe at you. We stand on a precipice. There is an avalanche of lies, distortions and currency that has been created and is tumbling all around us. It cannot be dodged forever.
"Our positive 2013 outlook for S&P 500 has played out much faster than we expected." That is how the latest equity update from Goldman Sachs, which until today had an S&P target of 1625 for the year end S&P, begins. And, logically, the only option for Goldman is to hike its outlook even more, because not even the Squid apparently could anticipate how quickly the policy it forced down the throats of central banks around the world, levitated markets to surpass its old price targets. The result is David Kostin (who until December had foreseen 1250 on the S&P for the end of 2012) and company were forced to goalseek even higher targets based on tried and true excel model fudging exercises, and such "value" creation as multiple expansion and dividend payments. To wit: "Our earnings estimates remain unchanged but we raise our dividend estimates and index return forecasts for 2013 through 2015. We expect S&P 500 will rise by 5% to 1750 by year-end 2013, advance by 9% to 1900 in 2014, and climb by 10% to 2100 in 2015. Our 2013 return implies a year-end P/E of 15.0x, a one multiple point premium to our fair-value estimate. We forecast dividends will rise by 30% during next two years. Dividend yield is likely to stay around 2%, in line with the 20-year average." For the record, Goldman had previously seen 1,900 in 2015. And now it sees another 200 points of value due to the magic of multiple expansion. That anyone can even pretend to forecast what happens three years into the future at a time when the central banks are injecting $160 billion (and soon $200 billion), and most likely will have to slowdown and halt such liquidity injection resulting in untold stock market carnage, is so beyond commentary we will leave it hanging for the ridiculous statement it is.