Calmer markets today, but European officials are finding it hard to put the cat back in the bag.
Another session in which the market continues to be "cautiously optimistic" about Europe, but is confused about Cyprus which keeps sending the wrong signals: in the aftermath of the Diesel-Boom fiasco, the announcement that the preciously announced reopening of banks was also subsequently "retracted" and pushed back to at least Thursday, did little to soothe fears that anyone in Europe has any idea what they are doing. Additional confusion comes from the fact that the Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus moments ago submitted his resignation: recall that this is the bank that is supposed to survive, unlike its unluckier Laiki competitor which was made into a sacrificial lamb. This confusion has so far prevented the arrival of the traditional post-Europe open ramp, as the EURUSD is locked in a range below its 200 DMA and it is unclear what if anything can push it higher, despite the Yen increasingly becoming the funding currency of choice.
Well, that was a fun day, eh? Spills and thrills the whole day long.
Importantly, it’s the end of the quarter and performance bonuses are on the line. So any excuse to rally is built in to conditions.
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.
All eyes should remain focused on Cyprus today, especially since there is no data being reported elsewhere. Financial markets closed Friday on a positive note, as an agreement on Cyprus appeared to be taking shape and a minor relief rally across most asset classes overnight vindicated hopes of a positive outcome as details of the detail were announced overnight. More clarity is still required on some aspects of the agreement (deposit and bondholders) but the fact that the national parliament does not need to vote again should stop the deal from unravelling as it did last week. Whether this is enough to restore confidence and prevent a possible cautionary deposit flight from Cyprus remains to be seen.
Rather than sitting nervously and passively and awaiting the coming financial dislocations and expropriations, investors and savers need to be prepared for the uncertain financial scenarios that seem increasingly likely.
Hoping for the best, but preparing for less benign scenarios remains prudent.
The Cyprus finance minister Michael Sarris may or may not have submitted his resignation after the president formally declined to accept it, but now that he is back on the saddle he is back to spreading hope, cheer and goodwill. Those wondering why both the EURUSD, and its derivative, US stock futures have surged overnight and retraced all of yesterday's losses and then some, it is not due to any anachronistic events such as "good economic news" (especially since the Spanish PM said Spain will have to cut its economic outlook once again, or rather, as usual), but due to the following phrase uttered by Sarris a few hours ago: "We are hoping for a good outcome, but we cannot really predict" regarding his views on talks with Russia. That's right - the entire overnight ramp is based on the hope of one man, who thinks Russia can be blackmailed through deposit haircuts, into bailing out the tiny island which has now said nein to Europe and bet the ranch on a well-meaning Vladimir Putin. What can possibly go wrong: according to the GETCO algos all alone in levitating stocks, absolutely nothing. What is clear is that Cyprus is fully intent on seeing Europe "blink" whether due to Russia's involvement or just because it thinks (correctly) it has all the leverage as the alternative is a breakdown of the Eurozone.
The reversal begun yesterday in the FX market is continuing today. Although we are skeptical of the factors being cited as causes of the price action, we suggest it should be respected and will look for opportunities next week to get back with what we suspect is the underlying trend.
"Equity prices in the US and Europe have been hovering at multi-year highs. To the extent that this reflects powerful policy easing, equity markets may have lost some of its ability to reflect economic trends in exchange for an important role in the policy fight to support spending." This is a statement from a Bank of America report overnight in which the bailed out bank confirms what has been said here since the launch of QE1 - there is no "market", there is no economic growth discounting mechanism, there is merely a monetary policy vehicle. To those, therefore, who can "forecast" what this vehicle does based on the whims of a few good central planners, we congratulate them. Because, explicitly, there is no actual forecasting involved. The only question is how long does the "career trade", in which everyone must be herded into the same trades or else risk loss of a bonus or job, go on for before mean reversion finally strikes. One thing that is clear is that since news is market positive, irrelevant of whether it is good or bad, virtually everything that has happened overnight, or will happen today, does not matter, and all stock watchers have to look forward to is another low volume grind higher, as has been the case for the past two weeks.
The concept of the Great Rotation continues to garner significant investor attention. From a flow perspective, UBS' analysis across various asset classes infers there is scant evidence of a large rotation out of corporate credit or fixed income in general. They make a few simple observations. First, that the thesis of a great rotation out of Treasury securities into corporate equities is a fallacy - the Federal Reserve and global central banks are the dominant holders of Treasuries; if they decide to sell, the money will not directly flow into equities. Second, the thesis of a great rotation out of corporate credit into equities is complicated by three main cross-currents which suggests, correctly, to them that the Great Rotation debate is much ado about nothing.
In the upcoming week the key focus on the data side will be the US February retail sales figures on Wednesday, which should provide clearer evidence on how the tax increases that took place on January 1 have affected the consumer. In Europe, industrial production and inflation data will be the releases to watch. On the policy side, the focus will be on the BoJ appointments in an otherwise relatively quiet week for G7 central banks. Italy’s newly elected lawmakers convene for the first time on Friday 15 March and the expectation remains that President Napolitano will formally invite Mr Bersani to try and form a new government. He may also opt for a technocrat government. Although clearly preferred by markets, winning political backing may prove challenging.
Just like a week ago, when the futures experienced an unprecedented event when they actually slid overnight (only to recoup all the losses and then some, in the US trading session), so today sentiment appears to be driven by China which over the weekend once more posted its worst economic numbers to start the year since 2009, with purposeful economic weakness telegraphed by the politburo coupled with higher than expected inflation in what is a harbinger to the end of the global reflation, just as it was in 2011. The Shanghai Composite closed down 0.3%, while the Nikkei was in a world of its own, closing up 0.5%, tracking nothing but the USDJPY nowadays. Additionally, while the US stock market took Friday's downgrade of Italy in stride, and in fact Getco's algos used it to catalyze a late day ramp to close the DJIA just around the "psychological" 14,400 (just like Dow 36,000 is apparently psychological), Europe is less sanguine, and so far Italian bonds have been pressured compared to the rest of PIIGS, rising with yields rising to 4.65%, hitting 4.694% earlier. That's ok though: as we reported over the weekend, there is nothing for widening BTP spreads that a few hundred billion in Fed reserve reallocations to European banks can't fix. And with no macro events or news on today's calendar, perhaps the most notable event so far is the lack of the overnight ramp, which we have all grown to love and expect almost as much as the mysterious 3:30 pm intraday clockwork DJIA ramp.
Whether it is a reflection of the inflated price of regular edibles thanks to Abe's Yen devaluation escapades, or simply more evidence of the greater fool theory playing out among a mesmerized world, the latest gourmet eating experience in Japan highlights the human ability to follow a herd in spite of all common sense. As CBS reports in this somewhat remarkably not The Onion clip, the highest delicacy among Japanese diners is now - dirt. Of course, no-one would be expected to eat, chew, gnaw on any old garden variety, umm, garden; this is potting soil that is boiled, grilled, steamed, and pureed and then dribbled on creme brulee, rolled over mashed potatoes, and drizzled over arugula. Is it any wonder that consumer confidence in Japan is soaring, despite their currency's dismal demise and soaring prices for energy; as even the ever-calm-and-polite host of this clip is 'surprised' at the taste (hint: not in a good way). Of course, there is nothing new in this world as geophagy (eating dirt) is a traditional cultural activity in Africa for pregnant and lactating women. So perhaps, this is Japan's subliminal message to their people to start procreating a little more - as that demographic cliff is getting very close.
Why are citizens of the developed world looking a gift horse in the mouth? The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied beyond 14,300 points this week, passing the highs it reached in 2007 just as the world economy was starting to wobble. And yet, this week, investors and pundits warned us not to read too much into it. They have a point. In the half-decade since the western financial system almost collapsed, the relationship between stock markets and the “real” economy has seemed more tenuous. Part of the reason people get less giddy about the Dow than they did five years ago is because they have learnt a bit about inequality. What looks like a recovery, a rally or an increase in consumer confidence may just be the effect of elites passing money among themselves. The US Federal Reserve has added more than $2tn to its balance sheet since 2007. In general, that tide of liquidity ought to lift all boats in the harbour. But when the harbour is an equity market, you won’t find your yacht lifted unless you own one.
This objective report concisely summarizes important macro events over the past week. It is not geared to push an agenda. Impartiality is necessary to avoid costly psychological traps, which all investors are prone to, such as confirmation, conservatism, and endowment biases.