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.
Quick: which BRIC nation has the highest consumer loan default rate?
If you said China, India or Russia, you are wrong. Actually, if you said China you are probably right, but since absolutely all economic "data" in China is worthless, manipulated propaganda, only a retrospective post-mortem after the Chinese credit, housing, commodity, consumption bubbles have all burst will we know the answer. So excluding China, which country's consumers after a multi-year shopping spree funded entirely on credit, are suddenly suffering the epic hangover of soaring non-performing loans as they suddenly find themselves unable to even pay the interest on the debt? Just ask former billionaire Eike Batista whose OGX oil corporation is days away from filing bankruptcy. The answer, with 5.6% of all loans in default, above Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey and India, is Brazil.
Normally, we would report the change in total consumer debt (revolving and non-revolving) in this space, but today we will pass, for the simple reason that the number is the merely the latest entrant in a long series of absolutely made up garbage. It appears that in the "quiet period" of data releases, when the BLS realized its "non-critical", pre-update 8MHz 8086-based machines are unable to boot up the random number generator spreadsheets known as "economic data", Ben Bernanke decided to quietly slip a modest revision to the monthly consumer credit data. A modest revision, which amounts to a whopping $180 billion cumulative increase in non-revolving credit beginning in January 2006.
While the ongoing government shutdown, now in its second week, means even more macro data will be retained by the random number generators, central banks are up and running. This means that in the upcoming week the key event will be the release of the FOMC minutes from the last meeting at which the Fed surprised almost the entire market by not tapering asset purchases as effectively pre-announced. There are MPC meetings in the UK, Brazil, South Korea and Indonesia. The main focus, however, will be on the US political situation still. Data that will most likely be delayed this week includes the US Trade balance, JOLTs, Wholesale and Business inventories, Retail sales, PPI, Import Prices, and the Monthly Federal budget.
Overnight trading over the past week has been a bipolar affair based on algo sentiment about what is coming out of D.C. But which the last session was optimistic for some inexplicable reason that a deal on both the government shutdown and the debt ceiling out of DC was imminent, today any optimism is gone in the aftermath of the latest comments by Boehner on ABC, in which he implied that a US default is not unavoidable and that it would be used as more political capital, as it would be once again blamed on Obama for not resuming negotiations. As a result both global equities and US futures are down sharpy in overnight trading. And since the government shutdown, better known as a retroactively paid vacation, for everyone but the Pentagon (whose 400,000 workers have been recalled from furlough) continues it means zero government economic statistics in today's session with the only macro data being the Fed-sourced consumer credit report at 3 pm. This week also marks the unofficial start of the Q3 reporting season in the US with Alcoa doing the usual opening honous after the US closing bell tomorrow. JPMorgan’s and Wells Fargo’s results on Friday are the other main ones to watch to see just how much in reserves are released to pretend that banks are still making money. As usual, expect disinformation leaks that send the market sharply higher throughout the day, which however will only make the final outcome that much more painful, because as during every US government crisis in the past, stocks have to plunge so they can soar again.
David Stockman, author of The Great Deformation, summarizes the last quarter century thus: What has been growing is the wealth of the rich, the remit of the state, the girth of Wall Street, the debt burden of the people, the prosperity of the beltway and the sway of the three great branches of government - that is, the warfare state, the welfare state and the central bank...
What is flailing is the vast expanse of the Main Street economy where the great majority have experienced stagnant living standards, rising job insecurity, failure to accumulate material savings, rapidly approach old age and the certainty of a Hobbesian future where, inexorably, taxes will rise and social benefits will be cut...
He calls this condition "Sundown in America".
In the upcoming week markets will continue to focus on these fiscal issues in the US, now that a temporary Government shutdown past Tuesday is assured. Still on the fiscal side but outside the US, look forward to Prime Minister Abe announcing his final decision on the VAT hike as well as unveiling a widely anticipated economic stimulus package. Finally, fiscal policy also played a role in the Italian political instability with four ministers resigning from the coalition Government. The backdrop to these events is a rapid deterioration of the political climate after former PM Berlusconi was convicted of tax evasion by a High Court.
With so many candidates dropping out of the race, one has to wonder why the attraction of the 'most-powerful' job in the world is fading. Perhaps it is not wanting to stuck between the rock of the 'broken-market-diminishing-returns' of moar QE and the hard place of an economy/market that is sputtering and needs moar. As Bloomberg's Rich Yamarone notes, There’s a little known rule of thumb in the economics world: when the annual growth rate of key U.S. indicators falls below 2 percent, the economy slides into recession in the next 12 months... and more than one of them is flashing red.
There has been much jubilation in recent months over the so-called end of the consumer deleveraging (and implicitly, the start of releveraging) - that key missing link so needed for a truly sustainable, Fed-free recovery. The problem, unfortunately, is that this jubilation has been once again misplaced (read wrong) and following the just released July Consumer Credit data, we know that US consumers continued to pay down their credit cards (i.e., delever) for the second month in a row, reducing total outstanding revolving debt by $1.8 billion, which when added to June's revised $3.7 billion reduction in credit card borrowings, is the biggest two month drop in revolving debt since January 2011. The offset? Same as always: non-revolving i.e., student and car loans, debt soared once more by $12.3 billion this month, representing 118% of the total increase of $10.4 billion (less than the $12.7 billion expected), and down from last month's downward revised $11.9 billion.
In the US, retail sales on Friday will be the main data release. In addition, Congress will return from its 5-week recess on Monday and will likely keep their focus on Syria this week. Finally, San Francisco Fed President Williams (who does not vote on FOMC policy this year) will speak on Monday. Last week, Williams argued that the FOMC should maintain its focus on the unemployment rate, despite its limitations. After Friday's employment report saw the unemployment rate drop again due to falling participation, this issue is likely to resurface. The Fed's communication blackout period begins on Tuesday so Williams will be the last FOMC speaker before the September meeting ends on the 18th.
As macro news continues to trickle in better than expected, the latest batch being benign (if completely fake) Chinese inflation data (CPI 2.6%, Exp. 2.6%, Last 2.7%) and trade data released overnight which saw ahigher than expected trade balance ($28.5bn vs Exp. $20.0; as exports rose from 5.1% to 7.2%, and imports dipped from 10.9% to 7.0%, missing expectations), markets remain confused: is good news better or does it mean even more global liquidity will be pulled. As a result, the release of an encouraging set of macroeconomic data from China failed to have a meaningful impact on the sentiment in Europe this morning and instead stocks traded lower, with the Spanish IBEX-35 index underperforming after Madrid lost out to Tokyo to win rights to host 2020 Olympic Games. Even though the news buoyed USD/JPY overnight, the pair faced downside pressure stemming from interest rate differential flows amid better bid USTs. The price action in the US curve was partly driven by the latest article from a prolific Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath who said many Fed officials are undecided on whether to scale back bond purchases in September. Hilsenrath added that the Fed could wait or reduce the programme by a small amount at the upcoming meeting. Going forward, there are no major macroeconomic data releases scheduled for the second half of the session, but Fed’s Williams is due to speak.
As Western economies start to regress in earnest following decades of failed and destructive monetary inflation and debt accumulation, yield-starved investors are allocating real capital to the one industrially untapped continent in the world: Africa. However, we’re not seeing industry moving to Africa to set up shop. Rather, politically-directed capital flowing into the African resources sector is fueling and financing the strongest consumer boom in the world. It’s a vendor financing model for Asia, and it portends a major boom and bust cycle for the African continental economy.
Let’s see. Consumers are carrying more debt than they did in 2007. Corporations are carrying more debt than they did in 2007. The Federal government is carrying 60% more debt than it did in 2007. Cities and States are carrying more debt than they did in 2007. Interest rates have jumped by 80% in the last three months. The economy is clearly in recession, as retailer after retailer reports horrific results. Stocks are as overvalued as they were in 1929, 2000, and 2007. China is experiencing a real estate collapse. Japan is experiencing a cultural/economic/societal collapse. The Middle East is awash in blood. The European Union is held together by lies, delusion and false promises. What could possibly go wrong?
The Russian Bear is stronger and more powerful than it has ever been before. Sadly, most Americans don't understand this. They still think of Russia as an "ex-superpower" that was rendered almost irrelevant when the Cold War ended. And yes, when the Cold War ended Russia was in rough shape. Today, Russia is an economic powerhouse that is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Their debt to GDP ratio is extremely small, they actually run a trade surplus every year, and they have the second most powerful military on the entire planet. Anyone that underestimates Russia at this point is making a huge mistake. The Russian Bear is back, and today it is a more formidable adversary than it ever was at any point during the Cold War. Just check out the following statistics...
So much for hopes that US consumers were loosening the purse strings and starting to "charge it." Moments ago we got the latest, June, consumer credit which was expected to increase $15 billion following the May revised $17.6 billion. More importantly, there was an expectation that following the surge in May revolving credit which rose by $6.4 billion or the second most in the past three years (only matched by the comparable pre-summer surge in 2012). Sadly, neither expectation was met: total consumer credit rose by "only" $13.8 billion, but more importantly, the revolving component posted a $2.7 billion decline. This also matched last year's pattern when June saw a major reduction of $2.8 billion. In other words, the only credit creation in the month of June was, once again, entirely for student and car loans, which rose by a whopping $16.5 billion - the most since February and the second highest increase since July 2011. So much for US consumers seeking to relever for discretionary purchases.