China’s monthly data dump was the main macro update overnight, which however with ongoing mockery of the Chinese data "goalseeking" and distribution methodologies, most recently by the likes of Goldman, UBS and ANZ, had purely political window dressing purposes for the new Chinese politburo. Sure enough, that all the data came precisely Goldilocks +1 was enough to put a smile on everyone's face. To wit - Q4 GDP growth came in just higher than consensus (+7.9%yoy v +7.8%). On a full year basis the economy grew by 7.8%, also a tad above expectations. Then we got industrial production, also just higher than expected (+10.3% v +10.2%) and retail sales - just higher as well (+15.2% v +15.1%). Much more important than meaningless, jiggered numbers, was the announcement from the PBOC that in light of the entire world going "open-ended" on easing, China - which now can't afford to lower rates for fears of rampant inflation together with importing everyone else's hot money - announced it will start short-term liquidity operations as additional tool for controlling liquidity, engaging in a reverse repo on a daily basis, which will have a maturity of less than 7 days. This way the central bank will be able to reacted almost instantly to any inflationary spikes across the economy, as it too has no choice but to ease although not by the conventional inflation targeting methods now used by everyone else.
The week ahead will deliver important data from the US and China. In the US, the focus will be on retail sales and housing starts, as well as on the Philadelphia Fed and U. Michigan Consumer Sentiment surveys. Turning to China, the consensus forecast for China Q4 GDP is 7.8%yoy, while secondary data will come from the country's IP and FAI data updates.
We are back to that phase in market euphoria where no news is good news, good news is better, and bad news is best. While there was little news over the weekend, and overnight, what news there was uniformly negative: northern China drowning in smog, the Apple fad bubble bursting, European Industrial production printing below expectations (-0.3%, exp.-0.2%, down from revised -1.0%), and ever louder rumors that the debt ceiling debate may metastasize into an actual government shutdown for at least a few days, which means the first technical default in US history. Yet nothing seems able to faze the risk on mood, still driven by a relentless surge in the EURUSD which touched on 1.34 overnight before retracing, and the EURCHF, which too has soared by over a 100 pips in recent trading action, which according to some is a result of Swatch buying the Harry Winston watch and jewelry brand for $1 billion, and an aggressively selling of CHF into USD by the company. Eventwise, today will be a quiet day in the US, although the action will pick up tomorrow as more companies report earnings as well as the all important retail sales report will put to rest all debate over just how good or bad this holiday shopping season (pre and post seasonal adjustments) truly was.
The biggest highlight of the day is the launch of Q4 earnings season with Alcoa after the close. The question is by how much will the ES/SPY correlation have dragged individual stock prices higher from far lower cash flow implied valuations - we will get a glimpse this week, as well as get a sense of how Q1 is shaping up, this week but mostly next week as earnings reports start coming in earnest. There was the usual non-event newsflow out of Europe, which has no impact on risk levels, now driven solely by every twitch of Mario Draghi's face, and best summarized by this from SocGen: "In the wake of September's 3 point VAT increase in Spain, which saw a significant bringing forward of consumption to beat the tax hike, euro area activity in Q4 has been genuinely awful."
The main events of this week, monetary policy meetings at the BoE and the ECB on Thursday, are not expected to bring any meaningful changes. In both cases, banks are expected to keep rates on hold and to hold off on further unconventional policy measures. While significant economic slack still exists in the Euro area, and although the inflation picture has remained relatively benign, targeted non-standard policy measures are more likely than an interest rate cut. As financial conditions are already quite easy in the core countries, where the monetary transmission mechanism remains effective, the ECB’s first objective is to reverse the segmentation of the Euro area’s financial markets to ensure the pass-through of lower rates to the countries with the most need for further stimulus.
The Cliff is dead; long live the Cliff. Yesterday’s impressive market rally was a great way to kick off the New Year, but (as ConvergEx's Nicholas Colas notes) we do have 251 trading days to go before we can lock in those gains and dance a celebratory jig. The market’s psychological pendulum swings between extremes of “Macro” and “micro” focus, and we shouldn’t take it for granted that the stock market’s positive take on the Fiscal Cliff negotiations portend a better economy, a stronger financial picture for the U.S., or any of the actual nuts-and-bolts which hold together the framework of corporate earnings and cash flows. Colas' prime concern is that the increase in Social Security tax withholding by 2 percentage points – back to its pre-2011 12.4% - will take a chunk out of the spending power for tens of millions of households. In the abstract, the amounts involved are not huge – perhaps 50 basis points of GDP. But everything counts when GDP growth remains stubbornly subpar.
The first two economic indicators of 2013 are in and are a beat and a miss. The beat was in the December ISM Manufacturing printed at 50.7, higher than the 50.5 expected, and up from November's 49.5. This is happening even as 7 of the 18 manufacturing industries in December report growth while 9 reported contraction: go figure. Looking at the component data, New Orders remained flat at 50.3. The index was driven higher by Backlog of Orders +7.5, Exports +4.5, Supplier Deliveries +4.4, Employment +4.3, and Prices + 3.0. The declines were in Inventories and Production, down -2.0 and -1.1 respectively. The miss was in November Construction Spending, which printed at -0.3%, down from a downward revised October 0.7% (from 1.4%), and well below expectations of a 0.6% print: this was the biggest miss in 10 months, and the first negative print in 10 months, which however will likely be blamed on Sandy.
Time is running out. The cliff negotiations have devolved into two unpalatable options: (1) extend just the middle income tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits and allow about two-thirds of the cliff to happen, or (2) go over the cliff in the entirety. In BofAML's view, given the short time frame and legislative hurdles, the latter appears much more likely. Stock market vigilantes have replaced bond vigilantes as the potential good, bad, and ugly scenarios are devoured flashing red headline by flashing red headline. They, like us, believe that going over the cliff is not a benign “slope” as some suggest. Rather, it accelerates the already-building damage to the economy and markets. The latest evidence is the plunge in consumer confidence. Indeed, this could mark the beginning of the rotation in the uncertainty shock from businesses to consumers. Going over the cliff has many secondary, largely ignored, negative impacts, including tax changes that could damage the housing recovery, as well as negatively impact education and alternative energy, among many others.
Talks on the fiscal cliff have resumed, but as of this writing there is not yet an agreement. The current negotiations focus on the income threshold under which tax cuts should be extended, among other topics. As we have noted, the sides seem as far apart as ever, and as Goldman notes, while it is still possible that an agreement will be reached by year end, a retroactive deal in January looks more likely. The eventual resolution still looks likely to be a scaled down agreement that addresses only the policy changes scheduled for year-end and omits other issues, such as an increase in the debt limit or longer-term fiscal reforms. The greatest area of uncertainty is whether the spending cuts scheduled under the sequester will be addressed. The fiscal policy timeline below shows how we are rapidly approaching the more ominous debt ceiling debate and Goldman's Q&A asks and answers provides context for where we are from both an economic and ratings agency impact basis.
The beginning of the year has traditionally been a time of optimism when we all look forward to the exciting things that are going to happen over the next 12 months. Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of things about 2013 that we already know are going to stink. Taxes are going to go up, good paying jobs will continue to leave the country, small businesses will continue to be destroyed, the number of Americans living in poverty will continue to soar, our infrastructure will continue to decay, global food supplies will likely continue to dwindle and the U.S. national debt will continue to explode. Our politicians continue to pursue the same policies that got us into this mess, and yet they continue to expect things to magically turn around. But that is not the way that things work in the real world. Bad decisions lead to bad outcomes. Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that everything will be “okay” somehow is not going to help anyone.
- Lawmakers, Obama in last chance talks on "fiscal cliff" (Reuters)
- Obama Summons Congress Leaders as Budget Deadline Nears (BBG)
- Hopes for fiscal cliff deal fade (FT)
- Iran starts navy drills in Strait of Hormuz (Reuters)
- Looming Port Strike Deadline Pressures Obama to Intervene (BBG)
- Home Depot to Lowe’s Busiest Season Threatened by Strike (BBG)
- 'Whale' Capsized Banks' Rule Effort (WSJ)
- China tightens Internet controls, legalizes post deletion (Reuters)
- Goldman Sachs Buying Japan’s Exporters on Abe Policy Bets (BBG) and preparing one Goldman alumnus to take over the BOJ
- IPOs Slump to Lowest Level Since Financial Crisis After Facebook (BBG)
- Blackstone seen sticking with SAC despite insider trading probe (Reuters) - what a shock
- Mistry at Tata Helm as Investors Query $500 Billion Goal (BBG)
- High-Speed Traders Race to Fend Off Regulators (WSJ)
We could say that news is actually relevant or matters in this "market" but we would be lying, just as we would be lying if we said that this market has not become so utterly predictable, with yesterday's late day market surge - on yet another ridiculous catalyst - visible from so far away, it was almost painful to watch it take place in real time. Sure enough, futures are now sliding back, and giving back much of yesterday's gains - but don't worry, in a day full of even more meetings and flashing red headlines, at least some combination of carefully phrased MSM words will set off today's algo-driven buying frenzy, guaranteeing yet another "retail investor" decides they have had it with this farcical "free market" casino for ever.
Just as we saw with UMich, it appears the hope for change is wearing thin among the people. Today's Consumer Confidence data missed by its biggest margin in 7 months, dropped below the year's average, and saw the largest 2-month drop in over 15 months. All age cohorts lost confidence with the eldest most and it appears those earning over $35k are also beginning to worry (as those between $35k and $15k seem more confident). Over 40% expect stock prices to decline and it is expectations that have plummeted from a hope-filled 80.9 to a 13-month low of 66.5. In other news, we got the November New Homes Sales report from the Census Bureau. On the surface the number was good, but like the initial claims dats, below the surface its not as pretty - on an unadjusted, unannualized basis, November saw a tiny 27K houses sold - lowest since Feb 2012. In fact, the only thing that really did soar was the number of homes for sale at the end of the period which rose to 151K: the highest since November of 2011.
While the market will look with some last trace of hope to Obama's return from Hawaii to D.C. today, the reality is that even the mainstream media, which had so far gotten everything about the cliff spectacularly wrong (proving that sample polling and actual "predicting" are two very different things), is waking up and smelling the coffee. As Politico reports, "nearly all the major players in the fiscal cliff negotiations are starting to agree on one thing: A deal is virtually impossible before the New Year. Unlike the bank bailout in 2008, the tax deal in 2010 and the debt ceiling in 2011, the Senate almost certainly won’t swoop in and help sidestep a potential economic calamity, senior officials in both parties predicted on Wednesday. Hopes of a grand-bargain — to shave trillions of dollars off the deficit by cutting entitlement programs and raising revenue — are shattered. House Republicans already failed to pass their “Plan B” proposal. And now aides and senators say the White House’s smaller, fall-back plan floated last week is a non-starter among Republicans in Senate — much less the House. On top of that, the Treasury Department announced Wednesday that the nation would hit the debt limit on Dec. 31, and would then have to take “extraordinary measures” to avoid exhausting the government’s borrowing limit in the New Year."
As DB's Jim Reid summarizes, "it is fair to say that newsflow over the next 72 hours will be fairly thin before we head into a tense final few business days of the year." It is also fair to say, that the usual tricks of the new normal trade, such as the EUR and risk ramp as Europe walks in around 3 am, precisely what happened once again overnight to lift futures "off the lows", will continue working until it doesn't. In the meantime, the market is still convinced that some compromise will appear miraculously in the 2 trading sessions remaining until the end of the year, and a recession will be avoided even as talks now appear set to continue as far down as late March when the debt ceiling expiration, not cliff, will become the primary driving power for a resolution. That said, expect to start hearing rumors of a US downgrade by a major rating agency as soon as today: because the agenda is known all too well.