It appears paying more for gasoline and higher taxes trumps the exuberance of the equity markets as UMich Consumer Sentiment crashed in February. Printing at 71.8 on expectations of 78.0 this is the biggest miss on record based on Bloomberg data. The 71.8 level is the lowest since December 2011 as it appears that the Fed's only remaining policy tool is just not sparking that animal spirit in the real economy's anchor - the US consumer - as while current conditions did drop, it is future expectations that plunged.
In the upcoming week the key focus on the data side will be the US February retail sales figures on Wednesday, which should provide clearer evidence on how the tax increases that took place on January 1 have affected the consumer. In Europe, industrial production and inflation data will be the releases to watch. On the policy side, the focus will be on the BoJ appointments in an otherwise relatively quiet week for G7 central banks. Italy’s newly elected lawmakers convene for the first time on Friday 15 March and the expectation remains that President Napolitano will formally invite Mr Bersani to try and form a new government. He may also opt for a technocrat government. Although clearly preferred by markets, winning political backing may prove challenging.
Incase you didn’t notice, the sequester is in place cutting the rise in government spending by all of 2%. I woke up this morning expecting the planet to have reversed its rotation, it was no longer winter and I had aged 30 years. But no, everything was the same, except for the bullshit emanating from various pundits or websites. One thing I’ve learned to do, whether its Obama, Boehner, or Reid is just to tune them out. If there’s a national emergency then I don’t know what I’d do or who I’d tune in—Big Sis? Good grief!
If the new year started off with a bang, March is setting up to be quite a whimper. In the first news overnight, we got the "other" official Chinese PMI, which as we had predicted (recall from our first China PMI analysis that "it is quite likely that the official February print will be just as weak if not more") dropped: while the HSBC PMI dropped to 50.4, the official number declined even more to just barely expansionary or 50.1, below expectations of a 50.5 print, and the lowest print in five months. This was to be expected: Chinese real-estate inflation is still as persistent as ever, and the government is telegraphing to the world's central banks to back off on the hot money. One country, however, that did not have much hot money issues was Japan, where CPI declined -0.3% in January compared to -0.1% in December, while headline Tokyo February data showed an even bigger -0.9% drop down from a revised -0.5% in January. Considering the ongoing surge in energy prices and the imminent surge on wheat-related food prices, this data is highly suspect. Then out of Europe, we got another bunch of PMIs and while French and Germany posted tiny beats (43.9 vs Exp. 43.6, and 50.3 vs 50.1), with Germany retail sales also beating solidly to cement the impression that Germany is doing ok once more, it was Italy's turn to disappoint, with its PMI missing expectations of a 47.5 print, instead sliding from 47.8 to 45.8. But even worse was the Italian January unemployment rate which rose from 11.3% to 11.7%, the highest on record, while youth unemployment soared from 37.1% to 38.7%: also the highest on record, and proof that in Europe nothing at all is fixed, which will be further confirmed once today's LTRO repayment shows that banks have no desire to part with the ECB's cash contrary to optimistic expectations.
Aided by QE and ZIRP, the-powers-that-be tried to end February with some bullish records designed to pump-up Main Street. Theoretically, if new market record highs were achieved this would then suck more money into financial products, as the WS marketing machine would be energized.
Is the U.S. economy about to experience a major downturn? Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of signs that economic activity in the United States is really slowing down right now. In many ways, what we are going through right now feels very similar to 2008 before the crash happened. Back then the warning signs of economic trouble were very obvious, but our politicians and the mainstream media insisted that everything was just fine, and the stock market was very much detached from reality. When the stock market did finally catch up with reality, it happened very, very rapidly. Sadly, most people do not appear to have learned any lessons from the crisis of 2008. Americans continue to rack up staggering amounts of debt, and Wall Street is more reckless than ever. As a society, we seem to have concluded that 2008 was just a temporary malfunction rather than an indication that our entire system was fundamentally flawed. In the end, we will pay a great price for our overconfidence and our recklessness.
Next week’s calendar is packed with important events and releases, aside of course from the biggest event of the week which are the Italian elections. In fact we already got the first one in the form of China's disappointing HSBC flash PMI which consensus expectations would print stable yet which dropped to a 4 month low. On Friday, the ISM is expected to come out mildly softer vs last month’s strong 53.1 print and consensus at 52.5. Chicago PMI will also be followed by markets on Thursday. On the central bank front markets will be primarily looking for further news on the BOJ leadership succession front. From the perspective of Fed speakers, Chairman Bernanke’s testimony ahead of the Senate Banking Committee will also be followed as markets continue to track the Fed’s assessment of the economic recovery. In the global currency warfare front, the Bank of Israel is expected to cut policy rates by 25bps on Monday, as well as the National Bank of Hungary on Tuesday.
The one-stop, comprehensive summary of the key positive and negative news and events in the past week.
Think the Walmart "disastrous" sales memo was a one-off event, which net of Walmart's damage should be completely ignored (something the market has been perfectly happy to oblige with)? Then listen to a separate perspective on the US consumer, this time from a very different angle: that of Town Sports International which operates such gyms as New York Sports Club, and specifically its CEO David Gallagher, who in last night's conference call just confirmed what everyone knows: "As we moved into January membership trends were tracking to expectations in the first half of the month, but fell off track and did not meet our expectations in the second half of the month. We believe the driver of this was the rapid decline in consumer sentiment that has been reported and is connected to the reduction in net pay consumers earn given the changes in tax rates that went into effect in January."
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. Also - from Citi's Steven Englander - what to worry about from this weekend's G-20 extravaganza...
In what has been a quiet start to week dominated by the G-20 meeting whose only purpose is to put Japan and its upstart currency destruction in its place, many are expecting a formal G-7 statement on currencies and what is and isn't allowed in currency warfare according to the "New Normal" non-Geneva convention. Because while there may not have been much overnight news, both the EURUSD and USDJPY just waited for Europe to open, to surge right out of the gates, and while the former has been somewhat subdued in the aftermath of the ECB's surprising entry into currency wars last week, it was the latter that was helped by statements from Haruhiko Kuroda (not to be confused with a Yankee's pitcher) who many believe will be the next head of the BOJ, who said that additional BOJ easing can be justified for 2013. He didn't add if that would happen only if he is elected. Expect much more volatility in various FX pairs as the topic of global thermonuclear currency war dominates the airwaves in the coming days.
With China offline celebrating its New Year, and potentially mobilizing forces in (not so) secret, and not much on the global event docket, the upcoming G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Moscow at the end of the week will be the key event for FX markets, which these days define every other aspect of risk. It should surprise nobody the last couple of weeks have seen increased attention on exchange rates and the frequent use of the “currency war” label by policymakers in many countries. No news announcements are expected at the BoJ meeting on Thursday, following the formal announcement of a 2% inflation target and an open-ended asset purchase program. On the data side, US retail sales on Wednesday will provide an important signal about the strength of the US consumer following the largest tax increase in decades. Although January auto and same store sales data was reasonably solid, new taxes will soon begin to weigh on spending. Also on Wednesday, Japan Q4 GDP will be released. On Thursday, Q4 GDP for France, Germany, Italy and the Euro area will be released. While Q4 contraction is assured, the key question mark is whether German can rebound in Q1 and avoid a full blown recession as opposed to a "brief, technical" one, as the New Normal economic term goes.
Compared to previous V-shaped recoveries, this one is not looking too rosy. From consumption to GDP, and from retail sales to consumer sentiment, the following charts show how we are doing in context. So, the next time someone on TV tells you how great we are doing, perhaps a glance at these charts will flush some of the recency bias away. There is one bright shining 'better than any other recovery' segment though... one that is dominated by record levels of stuffed channels - can you guess?
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.
The benefits of higher stock prices are soon negated by higher gasoline prices leading to a market sell-off.....