While some would argue (as they always do) that there are good reasons to be bullish going into 2014 (central bank liquidity provision being an obvious one); there are ample reasons to remain vigilant with respect to your investments. The stagnation of wage growth combined with higher costs leaves an already cash strapped consumer with few options. It is likely that we will see a push by consumers to re-leverage their household balance sheet which will be hailed by the media as a return of consumer confidence. However, one should not forget the last time a highly levered consumer ran into problems. Furthermore, there are three potential headwinds that are likely to weigh on the economy and the markets which are potentially being overlooked.
From the first headline to the last, the following brief month-by-month summary of the year shows just how far markets and global happenings have come...
With both current conditions and future expectations indices jumping higher, the UMich consumer confidence headline final print rose at its equal fastest pace since Sept 2009. The surge in current conditions - the largest since Dec 2008 - has lifted it back to the highest level since July 2007. If there was anything to note that took the shine off such an exuberant surge it's the fact that the headline number did actually miss expectations (3rd miss of last 4) and the final outlook data dropped from the preliminary print. As we have noted before, it is confidence that 'inspires' the multiple-expanding hope as fundamental reality fades - bulls better hope it's different this time as we hit the year's highs in confidence.
Another day, another low volume overnight meltup to record highs in equity futures. Stocks traded higher in Europe this morning, with tech stocks outperforming following reports that Apple has finally secured a deal to bring the iPhone to China Mobile, which has more than 750 million subscribers. As a result, the likes of ARM Holdings and STMicro traded with gains of over 2% and Apple's German listing traded up around 2.5%. At the same time, French CAC index under performed its peers, with Technip among the worst performing stocks after being removed from Goldman's Sustained Focus List. Addtionally, over the weekend, the ECB's Praet said that the ECB is ready to intervene if credit contracts - and since Euro credit is contracting at a record pace, we wonder what he is waiting for. This happened as Fitch affirmed France at AA+, outlook stable. Looking elsewhere, thin trading conditions resulted in an aggressive spike higher in CME US 30y futures this morning after a large clip was traded, which consequently saw the exchange adjust prices lower, but did not bust any trades.
Although the probability of any one of the predictions coming true is low, they are deduced strategically by Saxo Bank analysts based on a feasible - if unlikely - series of market and political events. As Saxo's chief economist notes, "This isn't meant to be a pessimistic outlook. This is about critical events that could lead to change - hopefully for the better. After all, looking back through history, all changes, good or bad, are made after moments of crisis after a comprehensive failure of the old way of doing things. As things are now, global wealth and income distribution remain hugely lopsided which also has to mean that significant change is more likely than ever due to unsustainable imbalances. 2014 could and should be the year in which a mandate for change not only becomes necessary, but is also implemented."
Despite misses on stocks and gold, Citi FX Technicals' excellent "12 Charts of Christmas" performed well in 2013 directionally across FX, bonds, and commodities. This year, Tom Fitzpatrick and his team unveil 2014's most important charts - establishing a starting point for their outlook in the year ahead. From a slowing housing market to expectations of a strong USD; and from a "roll-over" in Consumer Confidence to strength in gold, they see the "repair process" continuing albeit at a slow pace but worry that the stock markets are looking more and more like 2000.
If one believes the various US diffusion indices - among which key are the assorted regional Fed surveys the monthly PMI data - and listens to the pithy soundbites of their respondents, the US economy has hardly ever been better (of course, that 60% of "growth" in the past year has been due to inventory accumulation on hope that the consumer end demand will finally come is neither here nor there). However, we don't exactly believe said indices. Instead, to get a true sense of what is going on, it is always better to listen directly to those who are not only deep in the trenches, but are also accountable to their shareholders every quarter: the various CEOs and CFOs of America's public corporations. Below, courtesy of Bloomberg chief economist Rich Yamarone, who has compiled a selection of Q3 earnings call soundbites, is an indicative snapshot of the US economy as seen most recently through the prism of executives in a wide range of industries.
The US data flow is relatively light which is typical of a post-payrolls week but it’s worth noting wholesale inventories on Tuesday and retail sales on Thursday. Importantly US House and senate negotiators are supposed to come to an agreement on a budget before the December 13th deadline. A lot of optimism has been expressed thus far from members of congress, and there are reports that a budget deal will be unveiled this week.
Of course, why not. University of Michigan Consumer Confidence jumped from 75.1 to a preliminary 82.5 beating expectations by the most on record. While we remain below the July 2013 highs, current conditions soared to the highest since May and the economic outlook spiked to the highest since August. This is the biggest absolute improvement in current conditions since December 2008.... and that ended well eh?
Futures Pushed Higher On Weaker Yen, But All Could Change With Today's "Most Important Ever" Jobs NumberSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/06/2013 06:58 -0500
The latest "most important payrolls day of all time" day is finally upon us. Of course, this is a ridiculous statement: considering that the average December seasonal adjustment to the actual, unadjusted number is 824K jobs, it will once again be up to the BLS' Arima X 13 goal-seeking, seasonal adjusting software to determine whether the momentum ignition algos send stocks soaring or plunging, especially since the difference between up and down could be as small as 30K jobs. As Deutsche Bank explains: " today's number is probably one where anything above +200k (net of revisions) will lead to a further dip in risk as taper fears intensify and anything less than say +170k will probably see a decent relief rally after a tricky week for markets. Indeed yesterday saw the S&P500 (-0.43%) down for a fifth day - extending a sequence last seen in September." And then consider that nearly 30 times that difference comes from seasonal adjustments and it becomes clear why "farcial" is a far better definition of labor Friday.
Thailand Police & Military Step Aside As Anti-Government Protesters Reach PM's Office; Declare VictorySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/02/2013 23:56 -0500
As the "peoples' coup" in Thailand gets the blessing of the country's Military leader (who stated he would not intervene), the police have also undertaken an unexpected reversal of strategy by removing barriers from the heavily fortified police and government buildings. The government no longer wants to confront the protesters in the 3rd of fighting with 3 dead and at least 230 injured. As AP reports, the protesters have made no attempts (yet) to enter Government House but are milling around the entrance. The government has 'asked' people to stay inside and police helicopters are reportedly dropping leaflets warning demonstrators to move out of the rally sites (on grounds of insurrection and possibel death penalty). The anti-government protesters have declared "victory" as the police state "there will be no tear gas today."
As the S&P 500 continues to make higher highs, Citi's FX Technicals group attempts to identify important levels to watch. As they have highlighted before, while they respect the price action and the fact that the markets are making higher highs, there is an underlying degree of skepticism surrounding the sustainability of this uptrend from a more medium term perspective. Important levels/targets on the S&P 500 converge between 1,806 and 1,833. A convincing rally through this range (weekly close above) may open the way for a test of the 1,990 area (coincidentally the Fed balance-sheet-implied levels for end-2014); however, at this stage they are watching closely over the coming weeks as we approach the New Year.
Unlike every other measure of consumer confidence, sentiment, or comfort, the 'final' UMich Consumer Confidence print recovered its "flash" collapse and managed to beat expectations. However, before the party streamers are broken out, this uptick leaves the confidence data the 2nd lowest since Jan 2013 - led by - drum roll please - the expectations for the future (which rose from a preliminary 62.3 to final 66.8). Perhaps troubling is the drop in inflation expectations - down to 2.9% year ahead, the lowest since Oct 2010. So unlike the rest of the surveys, UMich finds consumers more confident about the future but in the baffle-em-with-bullshit category, expecting disinflationary pressures to grow. Of course, there are seasonality factors - its the holidays nearly - and we note that the 75.1 print is lower than any Nov print from 2004-2008.
In a carry-trade driven world in which news and fundamentals no longer matter, the only relevant "variable" is whether the JPY is down (check) and the EUR is up (check) which always results in green equities around the globe and green futures in the US, with yesterday's sudden and sharp selloff on no liquidity and no news long forgotten. The conventional wisdom "reason" for the overnight JPY underperformance against all major FX is once again due to central bank rhetoric, when overnight BOJ's Kiuchi sees high uncertainty whether 2% CPI will be reached in 2 years, Shirai says bank should ease further if growth, CPI diverge from main scenario. Also the BOJ once again hinted at more QE, and since this has proven sufficient to keep the JPY selling momentum, for now, why not continue doing it until like in May it stops working. As a result EURJPY rose above the 4 year high resistance of 138.00, while USDJPY is bordering on 102.00. On the other hand, the EUR gained after German parties strike coalition accord, pushing the EURUSD over 1.36 and further making the ECB's life, now that it has to talk the currency down not up, impossible. This is especially true following reports in the German press that the ECB is looking at introducing an LTRO in order to help promote bank lending. Since that rumor made zero dent on the EUR, expect the ongoing daily litany of ECB rumors that the bank is "technically ready" for negative rates and even QE, although as has been shown in recent months this now has a half-life measured in minutes as the market largely is ignoring whatever "tools" Draghi and company believe they have left.
No matter what measure of confidence, sentiment, or animal spirits one uses, the consumer is not encouraged by the record-er and record-er highs in the US equity market. The Conference Board's consumer confidence data missed for the 2nd month in a row - its biggest miss in 8 months - as it seems in October consumers were un-confident due to the government shutdown... but in November they are un-confident-er due to its reopening. As we have noted in the past a 10 point drop in confidence has historically led to a 2x multiple compression in stocks (which suggests the Fed will need to un-Taper some more to keep the dream alive). Ironically, more respondents believe stocks will rise of stay the same over the next 12 months even as the 'expectations' sub-index collapsed to its lowest in 8 months.