Uber-bullishness is the order of the day in the markets. Last week we noted that the DJIA has climbed to a new post-2007 high. And now, the “fear index” VIX is hitting lows (as we discussed in depth last night). This implies that the market has become dangerously euphoric, and that risk is being improperly priced. The last time VIX fell to an all-time low and market-confidence hit an all-time high, it presaged a financial crisis. This time may not be so different.
Those who went long Boeing in the last few days on hopes the "smoking battery" issue had been resolved, especially following Ray LaHood comment's he would fly the Dreamliner, which is rapidly becoming the Nightmareliner for Boeing, anytime anywhere, are about to be grounded, as is the entire 787 fleet of All Nippon Airlines and Japan Airlines following yet another incident forcing an emergency Dreamliner landing. This happened after ANA "alarms indicated smoke in the forward area of the plane, which houses batteries and other equipment, the airline said, and there was a "burning-like smell" in the cockpit and parts of the cabin. The plane landed at Takamatsu airport in western Japan, where the 129 passengers were evacuated using the plane's emergency chutes. The plane also carried eight crew members. ANA said that the exact cause was still undetermined. The event was designated as a "serious incident" by Japan's transport ministry, setting off an immediate investigation by the Japan Transport Safety Board, which dispatched a team to the scene." The result - a 4% drop in the stock so far premarket, and if any more airlines are to ground their fleet the implications for the backlog could be devastating, it will only get far worse for both the company and the Dow Jones average, of which it is part.
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.
The slew of economic releases over the last couple of days have all had two things in common: 1) the data has been markedly improved which has given a silver lining to the economic storm clouds we have witnessed over the last several months; and 2) the fingerprint of Hurricane Sandy has been very visible. This is not a surprise. The question that needs to be addressed, however, is whether these surges are sustainable in the months ahead?
At a time in the year when the market should be at a standstill, and when all trading should be over, the tension in the S&P is unprecedented, driven by two main factors: the ongoing Fiscall Cliff confrontation, which now appears set to not be resolved by Christmas, and very likely to persist into the new year, and what happens with hotel AAPLfornia, as suddenly it has become a liability to show LPs any holdings of the fruit in the year end statement. The two events combined will likely see furious market volatility persist well through the year end, and since volumes will further die down, we may well see massive stock moves on odd lots. And while AAPL is trading under $500 for the first time since February following last night's Citi downgrade, the confusion over the Fiscal Cliff persists, with The Hill first reporting that Boehner is willing to cave on the debt ceiling extension, even as Boehner himself subsequently tweeted that "Any increase in the debt limit will require a greater amount in spending cuts and reforms." So back to square one, with a red herring proposal that Boehner can say we offered to the president and the president turned down. Japan continues to attract a lot of attention with the ADHD market desperate to hope that the coming of Abe 2.0 will be much better than that of 1.0, when in one year he achieved nothing and then resigned due to diarrhea. Judging by the action in the USDJPY, we may be a few short hours away from closing the gap that sent the pair to 84.30 first thing, and proceeding to unwind the near record JPY commitment of traders short position as the JPY realizes this time will not be different. Quiet calendar in the US, with the Empire State Manufacturing Index expected to print at -0.5 at 8:30 am Eastern, TIC data to show China's ongoing TSY boycott at 9 am, and a hawkish Jeff "Mutiny on the Eccles" Lacker speech at 1 pm.
No politics, no "death crosses" - just simple fundamentals.
We remain in the throes of a secular era of disinflation. We also are in a long-term period of sub-par economic growth and below-average returns. This has become so well entrenched that U.S. pension plans now have more exposure to bonds than to stocks, as we highlighted two weeks ago. Look, this is not about being bearish, bullish or agnostic. It's about being realistic and understanding that in our role as market economists, it is necessary to provide our clients with information and analysis that will help them to navigate the portfolio through these stressful times. Our crystal ball says to stick with what works in an uncertain financial and economic climate — in other words, maintain a defensive and income-oriented investment strategy.
This objective one-stop-shop report concisely summarizes the important macro events over the past week.
First it was Greece, which Europe couldn't "resolve" on Monday night despite Juncker's vocal promises to the contrary, and was embarrassed into postponing until next Monday when everything will surely be fixed. Now, the time has come to delay the "resolution" of the EU budget, which was supposed to be implement last night, then a decision was delayed until today, and now every European government leader is saying a new meeting will likely be needed to resolve the budget impasse. As BBG summarizes, "Divisions between rich and poor countries flared over the European Union’s next seven-year budget, leading German Chancellor Angela Merkel to rule out an accord until the new year. France defended farm subsidies, Britain clung to a rebate and Denmark demanded its own refund, while countries in eastern and southern Europe said reduced financing for public-works projects would condemn their economies to lag behind the wealthier north. “Positions remain too far apart,” Merkel told reporters early today after the first session of a summit in Brussels. “Probably there will be no result at the end of this summit. There may be some progress but it is probable that we will need to meet again at a second stage." In other words the same old absolute and total chaos from the European Disunion we have all grown to love, in which the only solution each and every time is to delay reaching a solution, at least until after Merkel is reelected and in the meantime kicking the ever greater ball inventory in Draghi's court, where he too will promise to make everything better as long as he actually dosn't have to do anything.
Few would argue that markets are almost entirely apathetic to even the worst and most negative of headlines in this post-crisis world. As we noted earlier, it seems we are 'shell-shocked' at a 'recovery' that UBS describes as 'not exactly an uplifting experience' – global growth went straight from 'collapse' to 'mid cycle' without ever enjoying the healing properties normally associated with a one to two year recovery process. For economists, one interesting question is whether this 'new normal' is unduly influencing economic sentiment. We would somewhat expect traders/managers to be behaving in an increasingly agitated manner; jumping at sudden noises, overreacting to shifts in economic data and generally exhibiting signs of stress, economic hysteria, and volatility. In reality, both consumers and businesses have become quite blasé about the economy. Sentiment is actually a lot less volatile than the economic circumstances would normally suggest it should be, and so (via UBS) we present 'The Indifference Indicator' to track just how 'subdued' regions have become.
Spoiled little investors feeling good today.
Sentiment surveys are sending the all-clear; the US Consumer (that 72% of all economic activity in the US) is as happy as they were five years ago (pre-crash) and American Idol is due to start again soon. However, recency-biased surveys apart, the reality in the data is far more dismal. The Philly Fed's ADS business conditions index is back at its worst since the crisis and decidedly recessionary (critical since it tracks many of the same indicators as the recession-confirming NBER). Even more concerning, as Bloomberg Briefs notes, the stagnancy of real disposable income and contraction of revolving credit has led to a disaster-prone drop in industrial production of consumer goods (-0.9% in October) and a significant slide in the all-important retail sales data. Once adjusted for inflation, retail sales fell to a lowly 1.7% YoY gain and while Sandy's effect is tough to discern, it seems anecdotally to be a net positive due to home supply stores sales - offering little real hope of a surge. Of course with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Terrific Tuesday (we made that up) around the corner, we are sure the media will trot out as many CEOs and store-owners to explain how great things are - we will wait for the data.
The World Gold Council issued a report “Global gold demand reflects challenging global economic climate: ETFs up 56% and India up 9% in Q3 2012” which showed that global gold demand fell 11% in the three months to September from record levels seen during the same period last year, which was curbed by a sluggish Chinese economy and stronger Indian demand limited the drop. In Q3 2012, gold investment demand (total bar and coin demand plus ETFs and similar products) was 429.9 tonnes down 16% from Q3 2011. Although the year-on-year snapshot for investment demand suggests falling interest, this is not the case. Rather, it highlights the strong demand seen in Q3 2011. Interestingly, demand for ETFs rose 56% to 136t, compared to Q3 2011. Demand for gold-backed ETFs in Q3 grew significantly in the quarter partially due to institutions responding to the additional QE measures in the US and Europe. At 87 tonnes, Q3 2012 investment demand for gold surged from 78 tonnes in Q2, a rise of 12%. Examining this over the longer term, Q3 represents the first quarter-on-quarter increase in Indian investment demand since Q2 2011.
The slow data (and holiday) week will likely keep eyes focused on the 'fiscal cliff' supplying a stiff headwind to stocks as it only reminds investors of the peril which looms directly in front of them. One suggestion I could offer both sides of this debate to avoid any further damage is just to be quiet. Stop making stump speeches. We all know your views. We all know how stridently you will defend them, but your incessant reminders that you have dug in your heels does no good regardless of the negotiating tactic. Instead, hold a joint press conference and admit there are ideological differences, but announce that both parties will do their best to hammer out a deal palatable enough for everyone. Alas, this is wishful thinking. As a result, anytime they open of their mouths, most notably Mr. Obama’s, the words they spew will cause damage to share prices. Unfortunately, the President’s drawing a line in the sand on Friday has guaranteed that a countless number of E-Mini bandits will short the futures in front of his speaking which will erode the conviction among managers trying to put money to work. Ironically, it may take an equity market in free fall that ultimately forces compromise.