In almost every asset class, volatility has made a phoenix-like return in the last few days/weeks and while equity markets tumbled Friday into month-end, the bigger context is still up, up, and away (and down and down for bonds). From disinflationary signals to emerging market outflows and from fixed income market developments to margin, leverage, and valuations, here is the 'you are here' map for the month ahead.
The missing link to Japan's Abenomic recovery is and will be wage inflation: without it, soaring import costs which have more than offset any benefits from a modest rise in exports (and a still negative trade balance), will be for nothing, and if the wealth effect begins slowing or, heaven forbid, reversing, and the USDJPY slides back under 100 dragging the Nikkei down with it and all those hedge funds who scrambled into Japan with hopes of get rich quick dreams exit stage left, all bets are off. The result, ironically, would be an even worse bout of deflation than the country had in the recent past as all Abenomics will have done is pulled demand forward driven by transitory stock market gains, while far stickier import energy costs hammer the consumer's discretionary cash flow. In the meantime, corporations aren't waiting, and in a need to protect their bottom lines are doing to selling prices what they have zero intention of doing to wages and costs: hiking them. So following in the footsteps of many other luxury, and not so luxury, goods makers, Apple was the latest to announce overnight that it is hiking the prices of select iPad and iPod models by 16% and 14% respectively.
Everything was going so well in the overnight session, following some mixed Japanese data (stronger than expected production, inline inflation, weaker household spending) which kept the USDJPY 101 tractor beam engaged, and the market stable, until just before 2 am Eastern, when Tokyo professor Takatoshi Ito, formerly a deputy at the finance ministry to the BOJ's Kuroda, said overvaluation of the yen versus the dollar has been corrected, which led to a very unpleasant moment of gravity for the currency pair which somehow drives risk around the world based on what several millions Japanese housewives do in unison. The result was a slide to just 30 pips away from the key 100 support level, below which all hell breaks loose, Abenomics starts being unwound, hedge funds - short the yen and long the Nikkei - have no choice but to unwind once profitable positions, the wealth effect craters, and streams are generally crossed.
Is the coming financial collapse going to be inflationary or deflationary? Are we headed for rampant inflation or crippling deflation? This is a subject that is hotly debated by economists all over the country. Some insist that the wild money printing that the Federal Reserve is doing combined with out of control government spending will eventually result in hyperinflation. Others point to all of the deflationary factors in our economy and argue that we will experience tremendous deflation when the bubble economy that we are currently living in bursts. So what is the truth? Well, for the reasons listed below, we believe that we will see both.
The pattern is obvious. The dollar is going up. The question is why. In one word, the answer is arbitrage.
Inflation slowed in 24 (of 27) EU nations in April to leave the average EU rate at 1.4% (versus 1.9% in March). Greece entered deflation in March for the first time in 45 years and Latvia consumer prices fell 0.4% in April (versus +2.8% a year ago). This notable plunge, while 'helpful' for the average spender in the short-term, is a problem, as Bloomberg's Niraj Shah notes, sustained falling prices will increase the nation's debt burden. At the other end of the spectrum, Romania and Estonia both have inflation running above 4% and 3% respectively. Of course, none of this serial 'depression' matters, since Draghi has your back and Hollande says "the crisis is over."
With the shadow (or blue) market for Argentina Pesos already devalued by an incredible 50%, it is little surprise that the population is bidding for any store of value. Demand for luxury cars is soaring (BMW sales up 30% in the last 20 months) and Bitcoin activity is often discussed as the population transfer increasingly worthless Pesos into a fungible "currency" or domestic CPI protection; but it is USD that are the most-cherished item (despite a ban on buying USD) as hyperinflation hedges. But as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, a lot of US Dollar bills are tucked away somewhere in Argentina (in stacks of $100 bills since the number in circulation has risen from 58% of the total to 62% since 2008). One table is a 2012 Fed paper on demand abroad for US currency shows net inflows to Russia and Argentina has increased by 500% since 2006 (compared to US demand up around 10%). In fact, demand for large dollar transfers to Argentina since 2006 has outstripped demand for dollar cash overall in the world. It is safe to surmise from the data (that is relatively well guarded by the government) that over $50bn is being hoarded in Argentina (or well over one in every fifteen dollars). It is little wonder that the government is furiously digging at the country's undeclared (stashed under the mattress) wealth.
Despite efforts by the government to quell the black-market (or blue-dollar) for Argentina's foreign exchange, the unofficial rate surged yesterday to 10.45 Pesos per USD. This is now double the official rate of 5.22 Pesos per USD. This implicit 50% devaluation comes amid the growing realization that there is no savings option to maintain the purchasing power of the peso in the context of sustained high inflation (no matter what the officials say) and negative real interest rates. The government is not amused, suggesting the devaluation won't happen (just as Mexico did right up until the day before they devalued), "those who seek to make money at the expense of devaluations must wait for another government." Perhaps the government should be careful with their threats? And of course, this could never happen in the US or Japan, right?
India's economic boogeyman, the monthly trade deficit, continues to rear its ugly head, this and every time, driven be the country's insatiable desire for gold which is so powerful, the country took full advantage of the plunge in gold prices, and saw business imports of gold soar by 138% y/y in April, forcing the trade deficit to hit a 3 month high of $17.8 billion as more fiat left the country in return for bringing in more of the "barbarous relic." Gold imports more than doubled on both a Y/Y and sequential basis, with gold accounting for $7.5 billion, or 18% of total imports, compared to $3.1 billion in March.
Overnight risk continues to ignore all newsflow (today the economic reporting finally picks up with advance retail sales due at 8:30 am as expectations for a second modest decline in a row of -0.3%) and is focused entirely on what the consensus decides to make of the Hilsenrath piece, even as the difficulty level was raised a notch following another late Sunday Hilsenrath piece, which puts more variable into the "tapering" equation, and whose focus is whether Bernanke will be replaced by Janet Yellen, Geithner or Summers, or anyone. With all three classified as permadoves, one does scratch their head how the market can be confused: worst case Fed tapers by $10/20 billion per month, market tumbles, then Bernanke's replacement or Ben himself ploughs on even more aggressively with QE. QED.
With another listless macro day in the offing, the main event was the previously mentioned Bank of Korea 25 bps rate cut, which coming at a time when everyone else in the world is easing was not too surprising, but was somewhat unexpected in light of persistent inflationary pressures. Either way, the gauntlet at Abenomics has been thrown and any temporary Japanese Yen-driven export gains will likely not persist as it is the quality of products perception (sorry 20th century Toshiba and Sony), that is the primary determinant of end demand, not transitory, FX-driven prices. And now that Korea is set on once again matching Japan in competitiveness, the final piece of the Abenomics unwind puzzle has finally clicked into place. Elsewhere overnight, China reported consumer price inflation increasing by 2.4%, on expectations of a 2.3% rise, driven by a 4% jump in food costs: hardly the thing of Politburo dreams. Or perhaps the PBOC can just print more pigs, soy and birdflu-free chickens? On the other hand, PPI dropped 2.6% in April, on estimates of a 2.3% decline, as China telegraphs it has the capacity, if needed, to stimulate the economy. This is ironic considering its inflation pressures are externally-driven, and come from the Fed and the BOJ, and soon the BOE and ECB. And thus its economy stagnates while prices are driven higher by hot money flows. What to do?
The overnight economic data dump started in China, where both exports and imports rose more than expected, at 14.7% and 16.8% respectively, on expectations of a 9.2% and 13% rise. The result was a trade surplus of $18.16 billion versus expectations of $16.15 billion. The only problem with the data is that as always, but especially in the past few months, it continued to be completely made up as SocGen analysts, and others, pointed out. The good data continued into the European trading session, where moments ago German Industrial Production rose 1.2% despite expectations of a -0.1% drop, up from 0.6% and the best print since March 2012. The followed yesterday's better than expected factory orders data, which also came at the best level since October. Whether this data too was made up, remains unknown, but it is clear that Germany will do everything it can to telegraph its economic contraction is not accelerating. It also means that any concerns of an imminent ECB rate cut, or a negative deposit rate, are likely overblown for the time being, as reflected in the kneejerk jump in the EURUSD higher.
If you're trading gold, you're really trading the dollar (euro, etc.). There is something fundamental you should know.
Two days ago we first posted a Youtube clip in which a Greek reporter asked Argentina's Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino a simple question: "what is inflation in Argentina" - a sensitive topic to a country with price and capital controls, and where inflation ranges between 0 and 20% depending on whether one uses official, or unofficial but based on reality, data. The result was a why we dubbed the clip "Thursday humor" as after several minutes of meandering gibberish, Lorenzino concluded by telling his aided that "he wants to leave", which in turn promptly became a twitter hashtag meme #mequieroir, in which the minister's response to a simple request for the truth was promptly lampooned around the world. However, that may have been just the beginning of Hernan's problems. As Bloomberg reports, citing Clarin, Argentina's president CFK, was also quite taken aback by the bumbling economist that she met with him subsequent to the interview going viral, and told him he has lost credibility and the most likely next step is his resignation.