Succinctly summarizing the positive and negative news, data, and market events of the week...
As the holiday weekend starts and quarter ends, what better time is there to go out on a new S&P 500 Index high? The new high was in the cards.
One thing bulls should worry about is a report that pension plans may rebalance as much as $29-35 billion out of stocks to bonds and other assets with the quarter end. We’ll see how that works this coming week.
In what may be a stunning development, today the market may actually respond to an adverse piece of economic news by going lower. The news, in this case was the February Chicago PMI which tumbled from 56.8 to 52.4, the lowest since December and far below expectations of a 56.5 print - the biggest miss in 11 months. This was driven by a plunge in New Orders which tumbled from 60.2 to 53.0, the most since May 2011, although virtually every other components was ugly: Production posted the weakest print since September 2009, Order backlogs had its ninth month of contraction in the last year, Inventories had their 4th contraction in the last six months, Supplier Deliveries were the longest in 15 months, and so on. Ironically, only Employment was relatively normal dropping a small 0.6 from 55.7 to 55.1. And for those claiming there is a housing recovery, we present this excerpt from one of the respondents: "a company we buy steel from, they also pre-cut steel for new home construction, back in 2007 they shipped 110 rig packages per week, today they ship 2 rig packages per week, and for carpenters, for one employed there are 15 unemployed." Housing recovery, sure. How about unleashing the millions and millions in shadow units either entering or exiting the jammed foreclosure pipeline, where millions live mortgage free just to avoid an avalanche of selling? Let's see what recovery you have then.
The BTFD mantra is alive and well in a market, where futures overnight briefly dipped to a low of -0.5% only to be set to open at record high, following the biggest one day drubbing in China in months, where the Shanghai Composite closed -2.82% after new rules were issued by the Chinese banking regulator to limit the expansion and improve the transparency of so-called “wealth management products”. The products, which are marketed as higher yielding alternatives to bank deposits, are often used to fund risky projects including property developments, short-term corporate lines of credit or for speculative purchases of commodities and have been identified as contributing to the rise of shadow-banking in China’s financial system. As Deutsche reports, Fitch estimates the total amount of outstanding wealth-management products was around 13 trillion yuan at the end of last year—equal to about 15% of total banking-system deposits. Japanese equities were also weaker overnight (Nikkei –1.3%) and the yen is 0.3% firmer against the dollar after BoJ Governor Kuroda told parliament that he has no intention of buying foreign bonds because doing so could be seen as currency intervention. Finally, South Korea informally entered the currency wars after it slashed its GDP forecast from 3% to mid-2%, announcing it would use "interest rates" to boost growth, which naturally means use of monetary means and directly challenging the BOJ.
While the news flow is dominated by Cyprus, it will be important to not lose sight of the developments in Italy, where we will watch the steps taken towards forming a government. The key release this week is likely to be US consumer confidence. Keep a watchful eye on the health of the consumer in the US after the tax rises in January. So far, household optimism and demand has held up better than expected. The IP data from Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, Japan will provide a useful gauge on activity in the region and what it reflects about global activity, however Chinese New Year effects will need to be accounted for in the process.
If the new year started off with a bang, March is setting up to be quite a whimper. In the first news overnight, we got the "other" official Chinese PMI, which as we had predicted (recall from our first China PMI analysis that "it is quite likely that the official February print will be just as weak if not more") dropped: while the HSBC PMI dropped to 50.4, the official number declined even more to just barely expansionary or 50.1, below expectations of a 50.5 print, and the lowest print in five months. This was to be expected: Chinese real-estate inflation is still as persistent as ever, and the government is telegraphing to the world's central banks to back off on the hot money. One country, however, that did not have much hot money issues was Japan, where CPI declined -0.3% in January compared to -0.1% in December, while headline Tokyo February data showed an even bigger -0.9% drop down from a revised -0.5% in January. Considering the ongoing surge in energy prices and the imminent surge on wheat-related food prices, this data is highly suspect. Then out of Europe, we got another bunch of PMIs and while French and Germany posted tiny beats (43.9 vs Exp. 43.6, and 50.3 vs 50.1), with Germany retail sales also beating solidly to cement the impression that Germany is doing ok once more, it was Italy's turn to disappoint, with its PMI missing expectations of a 47.5 print, instead sliding from 47.8 to 45.8. But even worse was the Italian January unemployment rate which rose from 11.3% to 11.7%, the highest on record, while youth unemployment soared from 37.1% to 38.7%: also the highest on record, and proof that in Europe nothing at all is fixed, which will be further confirmed once today's LTRO repayment shows that banks have no desire to part with the ECB's cash contrary to optimistic expectations.
The Chinese PMI may be slowing down (first HSBC, official one coming out soon), but why bother when according to MarkIt it is now the US' turn to carry the torch of economic growth, reality notwithstanding. As the just released Chicago PMI indicated, in February the broad index rose to 56.8, higher by 1.2 points and beating expectations of a 54.0 print. It is only logical that with the rest of the world in contraction mode, and China about to enter, that the US would have the highest print in 11 months (or Q1 2012, when US GDP was just a tad higher). Or not. Remember: it is all about playing along the script that always, at some place, there is at least some growth taking place. That said, while last month cojoined PMI and Mfg ISM were flipped, as has happened nearly every month in the past year to keep everyone baffled with BS, today's PMI beat likely means that the Manufacturing ISM will be a miss, which according to GETCO's algos will be just as positive for stocks, as today's beat.
It has been yet another quiet overnight session, devoid of the usual EURUSD ramp, and thus ES, at the Europe open (although it is never too late), which has seen the Shangai Composite finally post a meaningful rise up 2.26%, followed by some unremarkable European macro data as Eurozone CPI came as expected at 2.0%, and German unemployment just a tad better, at -3K, with consensus looking for 0K. Italy continues to be the wildcard, with little clarity on just who the now expected grand coalition will consist of. According to Newedge's Jamal Meliani, a base case scenario of Bersani/Berlusconi coalition may see a relief rally, tightening 10Y BTP/bund spread toward 300bps. A coalition would maintain current fiscal agenda and won’t implement any major reforms with fresh elections being called within a year. A Bersani/Grillo coalition is least likely, may slow reforms which would see 10Y BTP/bund spreads widening to 375bps. Of course, everything is speculation now, with Grillo saying no to any coalition, and moments ago a PD official saying against a broad coalition. But at least the market has it all priced in already - for more see Italy gridlock deepens as Europe watches nervously.
Bernanke gave more testimony on Wednesday emphasizing and defending all Fed policies. He successfully parried all questions about QE and ZIRP risks and made no mention of any policy exit dates. Bulls translation, the printing press will be on “auto” to infinity.
Interesting testimony tidbits were:
“Fed could go some time without sending profits to Treasury,” (Fed is allowed to be a deadbeat).
“Savers will benefit with economic recovery; savers won't get strong returns in a weak economy,” (So not in my lifetime?).
Next week’s calendar is packed with important events and releases, aside of course from the biggest event of the week which are the Italian elections. In fact we already got the first one in the form of China's disappointing HSBC flash PMI which consensus expectations would print stable yet which dropped to a 4 month low. On Friday, the ISM is expected to come out mildly softer vs last month’s strong 53.1 print and consensus at 52.5. Chicago PMI will also be followed by markets on Thursday. On the central bank front markets will be primarily looking for further news on the BOJ leadership succession front. From the perspective of Fed speakers, Chairman Bernanke’s testimony ahead of the Senate Banking Committee will also be followed as markets continue to track the Fed’s assessment of the economic recovery. In the global currency warfare front, the Bank of Israel is expected to cut policy rates by 25bps on Monday, as well as the National Bank of Hungary on Tuesday.
It was the deep of winter... CNBC was talking about "animal spirits", had just touted "the best January in 14 years", was quoting Raymond James' Jeff Saut as saying that "The market "is amazingly resilient, and is no longer overbought" and desperately doing everything it could to get retail back into stocks, and was succeeding: retail inflows into stocks were surging and seemed unstoppable... The Chicago PMI had just printed at its highest level in decades... the VIX was dropping fast... Stocks were soaring... Bonds were sliding... NYSE margin debt had just risen to the highest level since 2008... A few brief months earlier the Fed had unleashed a new, massive round of unsterilized bond buying... Bank of America was blaring about the "great rotation" for stocks, and yes - just shortly prior "global currency warfare" had broken out.
Name the year?
While the baffle with BS theme was strong earlier, when the UMich consumer confidence soared, rejecting the plunge in the consumer confidence tracked by the Conference Board, contrary to our expectations, the manufacturing ISM did not do a "China", which last night was reported to have grown and ungrown at the same time, did not drop to disprove yesterday's Chicago PMI and instead soared to 53.1 from 50.2, well above the expectations of a 50.7 print, and above the highest Wall Street estimate. This was the biggest beat of expectations in 16 months, and was driven by virtually every series rising except for Exports and Deliveries, but mostly by a surge in Inventories, which soared from 43 to 51.
After two consecutive down days in the market, it was time to get real, and like clockwork the dollar and yen devastation started right out of the gate in overnight trading, when first the USDJPY exploded higher, followed promptly by the EURUSD, both of which hit new period highs, of over 92, and just why of 1.37 respectively. And with not one funding currency around to push risk higher, but two, futures have ramped enough to undo all of yesterday's losses and then some. Bad news was either promptly ignored, such as China's official PMI coming in at 50.4, below expectations of the 50.6 print, or offset by conflicting data, with the HSBC China PMI print moments after at 52.3, higher than the 52.0 expected, taking us back to early 2012 when the Chinese PMI was contracting and expending at the same time.
Remember when the Chicago PMI was revised much lower in December, pushing it from 51.6 to some 48.9, as part of its annual revision. Well, the baffle with BS show must go on. Moments ago the PMI printed at a number that makes a complete mockery of all the regional Fed diffusion indices and the various confidence data, not to mention all other manufacturing data, miraculously soaring from 50.0 to 55.6, the highest print since April, the biggest monthly jump since October 2009 and a 5 sigma beat to expectations of 51.6: the biggest such beat in absolute terms since September 2011.
Remember all those soaring German confidence indices that said ignore the negative GDP print and focus on a future so bright, ze Germans've got to wear Zeiss? Appears the confidence may have been a tad massaged upwards because following a spate of weak corporate results out of Europe's growth dynamo, the German HDE retail association said Christmas sales for November and December were down some 0.7% from the prior year. Specifically German retail sales plunged -1.7% from November on expectations of a modest -0.1% decline, while on a year over year basis December imploded a whopping -4.7% vs expectations of -1.5%. Did the Germans blame the weather of lack of government spending, or maybe say to only focus on the positive aspects of the report (if any)? No. They were not girlie men about it. In now traditional news, Greek retail sales in November followed suit and plunged just a tad more than in Germany imploding by some -16.8% in November. Remember: once they hit 0 they can only go up. But the biggest news certainly was Germany, whose economy continues to deteriorate and is probably what spurred Buba president Jens Weidmann to say that ongoing bailouts could threaten the strongest members.