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.
Earlier we asked a simple question:
What time is the all time highest UMich Consumer Sentiment out?
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) November 9, 2012
the answer is 9:55... and while not an all time high, LOLfidence, pardon, CONfidence just printed the highest number since July 2007!
With expectations that Europe will once again become a flaming powderkeg after the US elections are over running high, Europe has so far not disappointed. And as usual, the focal catalyst of greatest pain remains Greece, which is only now learning what ZH readers knew days ago, namely that the Greek "austerity" vote was merely theater, and that Europe, i.e., Germany, has certainly not decided to release any of the much needed cash that Greece needs not only to run its society but to make a key bond payment on November 16. Confirming this was German finance ministry spokeswoman Marianne Kothe, who said on Friday that Eurozone finance ministers will probably not be able to decide at their upcoming Eurogroup meeting on Monday whether to disburse a badly-needed €31.5 billion loan tranche to Greece, as MNI reported earlier. "Speaking at a regular government press conference here, Kothe reminded that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble needs the approval of the German Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, before being able to approve any further aid for Greece. “It will be difficult to achieve this by next Monday,” she said." In other words, the Greek default is suddenly in the hands of the German people, of whom at last check about 60% wanted Greece gone. There is yet hope for Greece, with a story overnight running that George Soros is ready to commit "serious funds to aid Greece." Surely that generosity too will end well for the Greek people who by now must feel as if they are in the 5th circle of a NWO globalization hell.
While real consumer spending growth remains perilously close to recessionary levels for another year, one of our favorite indicators of real consumer sentiment (as opposed to the anchoring bias-driven surveys we are force-fed a few times per month) is the growth in spending on eating meals out. As Bloomberg Briefs notes, spending on dining out has fallen from 4.5% growth at the beginning of the year to under 1.8% growth currently (the lowest since May 2010). Add to this the slowdown in jewelry spending and the drag on discretionary spending likely from Sandy and we suspect the modicum of estimate revisions that have started to be published by sell-side analysts will need a little more adjustment.
If it wasn’t because the government sponsorship doping Q3 US GDP, we wouldn’t have much on the bright side.
European equities still desperate to shoot up. Feels like too many fickle shorts and too many uncomfortable longs at the same time.
Markets uneasy after round-tripping back to OMT / QE unleash levels and no follow-up stimuli to be seen.
There have been no major overnight events or surprises, with Europe continuing a war of semantics whether the Spanish bailout is a bailout, and attempting to avoid it as long as possible while reaping the benefits of Spanish bonds which are trading at post-bailout levels for a 3rd months now, as well as whether Greece will receive more Troika money (the WSJ reported that Greece requires €30 billion through 2016 to close its funding gap: a number which will eventually double, then triple), and yet as of moments ago the EURUSD slipped under the psychological 1.2900 support, which also means that 1400 on the SPX cash is in play. Italy did not help after business confidence declined from 88.3 to 87.6 on expectations of a rise to 88.7 What news there has been is largely the realization that reality is here to stay, following misses and guides lower from Amazon and Apple, and no matter what some low-volume algo tries to represent by buying the stock in the after hours session, profitability and cash flow creation for both companies will be lower going forward. In terms of newsflow, the NYT released a report last night that China's Premier may have been hiding billions in "related-party" transactions - imagine that, and one which promptly got the NYT blocked from China's internet. Obviously this is a touchy topic for China days ahead of its internal party vote, and one which will hardly score the US brownie points with the domestic administration. Concurrently, Japan announced a new fiscal "stimulus" for a whopping ... $9.4 billion. That is roughly the amount of money needed to evade deflation for 2-3 hours. More apropos, Bild reports what Bloomberg noted earlier, namely that Merkel has no majority for reported Greek aid, further blowing up the hole that Greek finmin Stournaras dug himself in with his lies earlier this week. So while everyone is once again on edge, with the Shanghai composite sliding 1.7%, and key technical levels either breached or in play, today's session promises to be quite interesting.
Each and every day, a veritable smorgasbord of CEOs are trotted out before our very eyes to spew forth their company's vision and how it's all looking so rosy. Of course we hang on every word as gospel and react accordingly. Similarly, a rise in consumer sentiment is more ammunition for bulls to argue that animal spirits are here and we can go back to the old re-leveraging ways of spending-more-than-we-have (or ever will have). There's only one problem - when push comes to shove and real capital has to be put to work, its not happening! Expectations for capital expenditure (investment in growth and maintenance) has plunged in the last few months, while at the same time, consumer sentiment has surged (no doubt led by an ebullient equity market and inherent recency bias). As we wrote previously, in an environment of soaring liquidity and free money, the hurdle rate on new investments collapses, as does the requirement to invest in CapEx, both growth and maintenance. In fact, as we have shown over the past year, the age of the global asset base has hit a record high across the world, both in the developed and developing countries, leading to record low return on assets on record low assets (and record debt encumbrance, but that's a different story). And since companies are forced to dividend cash to shareholders at a record pace (in lieu of fixed income in a ZIRP environment), there is less and less cash left to support CapEx spending (or hiring!).
"The consensus view was that QE3 was going to send the stock market to the moon. Yet the peak level on the S&P 500 was 1,465 on September 14th, the day after the FOMC meeting. The consensus view was that the lagging hedge funds were going to be forced to play some major catch-up and take the stock market to the moon too. Surveys show that the hedge funds have already made this adjustment...Q3 EPS estimates are still coming down and now stand at -3% YoY from -2% at the start of October....this is the first time the Fed embarked on a nonconventional easing initiative with the market overbought and with profits and earning expectations on a discernible downtrend. Not only that, but the fact the pace of U.S. economic activity is still running below a 2% annual rate, which is less than half of what is normal at this stage of the business cycle with the massive amount of government stimulus, is truly remarkable. Keep an eye on the debt ceiling being re-tested — the cap is $16.394 trillion and we are now at $16.119 trillion. This is likely to make the headlines again before year-end — the rating agencies may not be taking off much time for a Christmas break."