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.
Here a three views that are outside the consensus.
When you get this close to a record it’s just a matter of time before it gets taken out generally. Why today? Well, China reversed course psychologically by now stating it would expand “deficit spending by 50%” after just Monday putting the clamps theoretically on their housing bubble. That provided a big lift to Asian and European shares. With the latter more ECB talk about defending the eurozone and euro was fed bulls. Global markets also feasted on Fed Vice-Chair (the woman who would be king?) Janet Yellen that QEternity is not gonna change.
"Mission Accomplished" - With CNBC now lost for countdown-able targets (though 20,000 is so close), we leave it to none other than Jim Cramer, quoting Stanley Druckenmiller, to sum up where we stand (oh and the following list of remarkable then-and-now macro, micro, and market variables), namely that "we all know it's going to end badly, but in the meantime we can make some money" - ZH translation: "just make sure to sell ahead of everyone else", just like everyone sold ahead of everyone else on October 11th 2007, the last time stocks were here...
- GDP Growth: Then +2.5%; Now +1.6%
- Regular Gas Price: Then $2.75; Now $3.73
- Americans Unemployed (in Labor Force): Then 6.7 million; Now 13.2 million
- Americans On Food Stamps: Then 26.9 million; Now 47.69 million
- Size of Fed's Balance Sheet: Then $0.89 trillion; Now $3.01 trillion
- US Debt as a Percentage of GDP: Then ~38%; Now 74.2%
- US Deficit (LTM): Then $97 billion; Now $975.6 billion
- Total US Debt Oustanding: Then $9.008 trillion; Now $16.43 trillion
Earlier we reviewed the overnight plunge in China stocks, especially those related to the real-estate market in the aftermath of the latest move by the State Council to be far more hawkish than expected, in its effort to curb property inflation. The economic and market weakness that resulted has followed through to overnight US and European futures, even as peripheral bonds are trading roughly unchanged, surprising many who thought this weekend's Beppe Grillo statement on the future of Italian debt and presence in the Eurozone would be market moving: it wasn't as Grillo said nothing that he had not already made quite clear. In other, more recent economic news, UK construction PMI imploded to recession levels, plunging to 46.8 from 49.0, far below expectations and the lowest print since October 2009, setting the stage for much more Goldman-led reflation by the BOE. Also negative was the drop in the Eurozone Sentix Investor Confidence index which tumbled to -10.6 from -3.9 on expectations of -4.3, sending the EURUSD deep into 1.29 territory. It appears the Sentix excludes the soaring German confidence, which two weeks ago was the sole driver of all upside, not once but twice in one week. Today we get the first day of the sequester being digested by the market - this togetger with an empty macro calendar in the US means rumors and headlines will determine how far GETCO's algo push the stop hunts during the first and last 30 minutes of trading.
With little on the event calendar in the overnight session, the main news many were looking forward to was Italy's auction of €2.5 billion in 5 and €4 billion in 10 year paper, to see just how big the fallout from the Hung Parliament election was in the primary market. As SocGen explained ahead of the auction: "The target of Italy's 2017 and 2023 BTP auction today is a maximum EUR6.5bn, but in order to get to that tidy amount the Tesoro may be forced to offer a hefty mark-up in yield to compensate investors for the extra risk. Note that Italian 6-month bills were marked up at yesterday's sale from 0.731% to 1.237%. Who knows what premium investors will be asking for today for paper with the kind of duration that is not covered by the ECB OMT (should that be activated)? Will Italian institutions, already long BTPs relative to overall asset size, be forced to hoover up most of the supply?" The outcome was a successful auction which, however, as expected saw yields spike with the 4 year paper pricing at 3.59% compared to 2.95% before, while the 10 Year paper priced some 60 bps wider to the 4.17% in January, yielding 4.83%. The result was a brief dip in Italian OTR BTP yield, which have since retraced all gains and are once again trading in the 4.90% range on their way to 5%+ as JPM forecast yesterday. And as expected, talk promptly emerged that the auction was carried by "two large domestic buyers" in other words, the two big local banks merely levered up on Italian paper hoping furiously that they are not the next MF Global.
Ben was in congress campaigning er, testifying mostly about the effectiveness of all things ZIRP and QE. He was grilled about possible risks with QE especially if interest rates should rise. The Bernank saying that interest rates would rise was unlikely but he then cavalierly stated if rates rise, the Fed would just “hold back on payments” er, stiff the Treasury. That’s no big deal for him since by then he’ll be down the road writing his memoirs, making speeches and joining some big Wall Street firm as a well-paid consultant. The Bernank was also asked if he noted any bubbles or market excess and said he saw none.
While the market will do everything in its power to forget yesterday's Hung Parliament outcome ever happened, and merrily look forward to today's Bernanke testimony (first of two) before the Senate, Europe is not quite so forgiving. Because moments after today's Italian Bill auction in which the now government-less country sold €8.75 billion in 6 month bills at a yield of 1.237% nearly double the 0.731% yield for the same issue previously, things went bump in the night, leading Italian 2Y yields to surge +38bps to 2.086%, vs 2.063% earlier, while the benchmark Italian 10Y yields soared +28bps to 4.766%, vs 4.739% earlier, and just shy of JPM's 5% target. Spain is not immune from the Italian developments, and while it will take the market some time to realize that the next political scandal may be dropping this time in Spain (as reported yesterday), the Spanish 10 Year is already up 7% to 5.23%. Suddenly talk of parity between Italy and Spain may be on the table all over again. And while unlike yesterday there is US macro data, in the form of US consumer confidence, new homes sales and house price data, all the market will care about is soothing Wall Street sellside spin that Italy is not really as bad as everyone said it would be if precisely what happened, happened. With the EURUSD on the verge of breaking down the 1.3000 support, it is very unclear if they will succeed.
Is the U.S. economy about to experience a major downturn? Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of signs that economic activity in the United States is really slowing down right now. In many ways, what we are going through right now feels very similar to 2008 before the crash happened. Back then the warning signs of economic trouble were very obvious, but our politicians and the mainstream media insisted that everything was just fine, and the stock market was very much detached from reality. When the stock market did finally catch up with reality, it happened very, very rapidly. Sadly, most people do not appear to have learned any lessons from the crisis of 2008. Americans continue to rack up staggering amounts of debt, and Wall Street is more reckless than ever. As a society, we seem to have concluded that 2008 was just a temporary malfunction rather than an indication that our entire system was fundamentally flawed. In the end, we will pay a great price for our overconfidence and our recklessness.
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.
- Risk of instability hangs over Italy poll (FT), Protest votes add to uncertainty in close Italy election (Reuters), and... Risk On
- Czech inspectors find horsemeat in IKEA meatballs (Reuters)
- China’s Slower Manufacturing Casts Shadow Over Recovery (Bloomberg)
- So much for reform: China Prepares for Government Shuffle as Zhou Stays at PBOC (Bloomberg)
- France to pause austerity, cut spending next year instead: Hollande (Reuters)
- Sinopec to buy stake in Chesapeake assets for $1.02 billion (Reuters)
- White House warns states of looming pain from March 1 budget cuts (Reuters)
- China Quietly Invests Reserves in U.K. Properties (WSJ)
- Osborne Keeps Austerity as Investors See Downgrade as Late (BBG)
- South Korea's new president demands North drop nuclear ambitions (Reuters)
- Russia accuses U.S. of double standards over Syria (Reuters)