We have again reached a point where attempting to explain away an utterly irrational market, in which sentiment and momentum shifts on a dime overriding any fundamental newsflow, and summarizing overnight catalysts has become a moot point. With stocks acting and reacting like petulant, schizophrenic children with ADHD, fundamentals are totally meaningless: yesterday and the overnight trading session have become perfect examples as prepared bulletins by two politicians, which said absolutely nothing of significance or constructive - have been enough to override 72 hours worth of actual fundamental deteriorating data, and also offset each other. Will Congress resolve the Fiscal cliff in its 10 remaining days in session without a major impetus to move such as a market plunge? Of course not, but once again the question has become one of who sells first, and the momentum piles on - and if there is no downside momentum, there are no volume ramps. In the meantime all the sellside firms have gone uber bullish on 2013, setting up the Fiscal Cliff as a perfect strawman. Of course the "Cliff" will be surmounted eventually, and after some near-term pain, but the reality is that the resulting rising taxes across the world in 2013 will be a major economic headwind, just the opposite of what the sellside crew is saying as one after another strategists push out optimistic outlooks on the next year to sucker in what little remaining retail interest in the farce formerly known as the market may be left.
A glimpse at stock prices, sovereign bond prices, and credit spreads and you could be forgiven for believing that (a la Juncker) Europe has turned the corner. The dismal reality is that one by one, market-based signals have been decoupled from reality by repression or plain old jawboning and squeezing. The picture of real fundamentals is considerably worse as these three charts from Bloomberg Briefs show. The Good (financial conditions index at multi-year highs) is merely a reflection of the ECB's transfer of risk and support (and is obviously hindered by the acknowledged failure of transmission mechanisms; which leads to the bad - both consumer and business confidence has decoupled (in a bad way) from markets. All this market-based hope is predicated on eventual joint-and-several-ness and an ECB backstop that seems more promise than premise; the ugly is that Germany (cash-money for the rest of the Euro-slaves) has seen six months in a row of manufacturing orders plunge and nine of the last eleven. Markets aside, fundamental realities suggest yet another hope-based rally due to be faded.
Harry Reid’s publicly displayed dismay at the lack of progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations finally injected a dose of realism into the process after investors threw caution to the wind and seized on the optimism offered by the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker Boehner on November 16. We view yesterday’s sound bite as more negative than the aforementioned statement on the White House Lawn, for we now sit 11 days closer to the New Year’s deadline. Despite this asymmetry, equities suffered only moderate losses giving up just a modicum of the gains from last week. The relative lack of a response to the comments seem puzzling given the price action from the prior several days; however with month end looming, enough buyers kept stocks from selling off violently. My November 13 “Missive” outlined a game theory exercise that suggests this rancor will continue until very late into December and/or the capital markets dislocate thereby ensuring either a falling over the cliff or a band aid solution to avoid the crisis temporarily. Both parties unfortunately may assume that by agreeing to postpone the tough decisions, they will have prevented a rout in equities; however, the August, 2011 precedent of raising the debt ceiling out of desperation hints otherwise.
It seems like it was only 24 hours ago that Europe bailed out Greece for the third time and everything was "fixed", with a resultant desperate attempt to validate this by pushing the EURUSD above 1.3000. Sadly, as always happens, Europe, and especially Greece, refuses to be fixed, because as we will not tire of saying: you can't fix debt with i) more debt, ii) hockeystick projections or iii) soothing words of platitude and an outright bankruptcy, just like that which Argentina is about to undergo, will be needed. If that means the end of the EUR and the delusion that the Eurozone is a viable monument to the egos of a few technocratic career politicians, so be it. As a result, this time around the halflife of the latest bailout was precisely zero, as was that of the latest Japanese QE episode, as the entire world is now habituated to the lies emanating from Europe, and demands details, which in turn are sorely lacking, especially as relates to the question of just where will Greece get the money desperately needed to fund the Greek bond buyback. But at least Kathimerini was kind enough to advise readers that said buyback must take place by December 7 in time for the euroarea finmins to approve the payment of the next Greek loan tranche at the December 13 meeting, something which will likely not happen, especially if Germany's SPD party delays the vote on the Greek bailout until the end of December as was reported yesterday. We can't wait to learn the details of the buyback package, which will come in the "next few days" per ANA, and especially where the buyback money will come from, especially with the FT reporting that various European countries will already lose money next year on the latest Greek bailout.
As we hear more and more pundits talk about the soaring consumer confidence, the "recovery", and how the fundamentals are improving, keep in mind that retail investors are still not in equities
Consumer Confidence up to a level not seen since February 2008—a level that caused people to tear their hair out at the time
Those with vested interests in the Status Quo tout data that supports the claim the "recovery" is now "self-sustaining," meaning that the economy is now expanding fast enough to fuel new growth. In this view, the Federal Reserve's extraordinary policy interventions (zero interest rate policy, $23 trillion in support provided to the global banking system, 3.4% mortgage rates, etc.) and the Federal government's unprecedented fiscal stimulus (borrow and blow $1.3 trillion a year) have done their job; the economy is now "self-sustaining," meaning that it can continue growing as Federal deficits shrink and the Fed trims its quantitative easing policies. Those looking at fundamentals such as household income/debt and sales see more of a Mind Trick being played on the weak-minded. If you can convince me the economy is expanding and inflation is rising, I will be more likely to risk borrowing and spending more than I can afford. The "real" economy might be sputtering, but my belief in the "recovery" will support my confidence in the wisdom of leveraging more of my (shrinking) income into debt-based consumption.
Ok. It’s not that the Greek deal is nothing. But then again, third strike. Eventually expected, or at least hoped for. Hence, lack of concrete follow-through. So, now it’s there. And now what? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet? What is there to see??? Pitch the markets some input, something concrete, something to feed off, something to see!
"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" (Bunds 1,43% +2; Spain 5,51% -9; Stoxx 2538 -0,2%; EUR 1,293 -30)
It wouldn't be Europe if the insolvent continent did not announce, to much pomp and circumstance, another final rescue for a broke country which was nothing but a short-termist can kicking exercise. It also wouldn't be Europe if the leaders did not do much if any math when coming up with said "rescue", and it certainly wouldn't be Europe if the initial EURphoria following such an announcement was not promptly faded. Sure enough, all three have now occurred with the EURUSD soaring to over 1.3000 in the moments after last night's soon to be obsolete announcement, only to see a gradual and consistent sell off over the next several hours, dropping to a week low of just under 1.2940 as details emerged that... there were not details. To wit, as Market News reported:
- EU COMMISSION: FUNDING FOR GREECE DEBT BUYBACK NOT WORKED OUT YET
In other words, the use of funds for the third Greek bailout has been more than detailed. The only tiny outstanding issue - the source of funds.
Those with vested interests in the Status Quo tout data that supports the claim the "recovery" is now "self-sustaining," meaning that the economy is now expanding fast enough to fuel new growth. Those looking at fundamentals such as household income/debt and sales see more of a Mind Trick being played on the weak-minded. So the task of the Status Quo shifts from actually expanding the economy to persuading us the economy is expanding. With debt levels still high and income sagging, where is the higher income needed to support higher debt and spending? Lowering the interest rate has enabled higher debt, but now that interest rates are negative (below the rate of inflation),they can't go any lower: the Status Quo has run out of "stimulus" and now must rely on manipulation and artifice--Mind Tricks--to persuade people a stumbling, stagnant economy is growing robustly enough that they should risk their future prosperity on debt-based consumption in the present.
Reasons to be bullish.
Hard pressed to find anything remotely exciting today. Equities losing a little shine, but understandable given last week’s 5% rush (and 14% tightening in Credit). Bonds stuck in range. Fiscal Cliff hailing back (in yet rather timid manner, though). Waiting on Greek rescue revelations. Yawn!
"Sailing" (Bunds 1,41% -3; Spain 5,6% unch; Stoxx 2542 -0,4%; EUR 1,296 unch)
Gold edged down on a Monday as speculators took their profits as prices rallied on thin volumes on Friday to their highest in a month on technical buying. A strong fall in the greenback triggered rapid gains in commodities and options-related buying on Friday. Tonight US Congress will meet to attempt to devise a plan to avert the US fiscal cliff which will throw the US into a spiral of tax hikes and budgetary cuts that will lead the US economy deeper into a recession this January. Another short term ‘resolution’ will almost certainly be achieved which will allow the US to keep spending like a broke drunken sailor and which will again store up far greater fiscal and monetary problems. The scale of these deep rooted structural challenges is so great that they are likely to affect the US sooner rather than later. Global investment demand for gold remains robust with the amount in exchange-traded products backed by the metal rising 0.1% to 2,606.3 metric tons.
The S&P 500 achieved its anticipated 4-5% bounce off the recent 7-10% pullback, most of it accomplished in a very light holiday trading week. Much of the gains were attributed to overly effusive optimism over the prospects of resolving the fiscal cliff. Ironically, with Washington abandoned the past ten days for Thanksgiving, we have not heard anything substantive on the negotiations since Senator Reid and Speaker Boehner spoke jointly on the White House Lawn on November 16. The returns in equities that resulted from this perceived positive outlook has likely run its course as the blue chip index has regained the levels from the morning after the Election. Certainly, the mundane increases in open interest for the futures and the outperformance by the blue chips versus smaller capitalization names on a beta adjusted basis hint at such vacuous motivation for the upward move.
Another week begins which means all eyes turn to Europe which is getting increasingly problematic once more, even if the central banks have lulled all capital markets into total submission, and a state of complete decoupling with the underlying fundamentals. The primary event last night without doubt was Catalonia's definitive vote for independence. While some have spun this as a loss for firebrand Artur Mas, who lost 12 seats since the 2010 election to a total of 50, and who recently made an independence referendum as his primary election mission, the reality is that his loss has only occurred as as result of his shift from a more moderate platform. The reality is that his loss is the gain of ERC, which gained the seats Mas lost, with 21, compared to 10 previously, and is now the second biggest Catalan power. The only difference between Mas' CiU and the ERC is that the latter is not interested in a referendum, and demand outright independence for Catalonia as soon as possible, coupled with a reduction in austerity and a write off of the Catalan debt. As such while there will be some serious horse trading in the coming days and week, it is idiotic to attempt to spin last night's result as anything less than a slap in the face of European "cohesion." And Catalonia is merely the beginning. Recall: "The European Disunion: The Richest Increasingly Want To Fragment From The Poorest" - it is coming to an insolvent European country near you.