Starting with the Asian markets this morning, it appear the roller coaster ride for markets continued overnight. Asian equities started the day trading weaker but shortly after the open though, all of Asia bounced off the lows following the previously noted surge in Chinese A-shares soaring more than 5% in a matter of minutes in what was initially described as a potential “fat finger” incident. As DB notes, alternative explanations ranged from a potential restructuring of the government’s holdings in some listed companies, to market buying ahead of a rate cut this coming weekend. All indications point toward a fat finger. The A-share spike has managed to drag other indices along with it though some gains have been pared. Yet for all the drama the Shanghai Composite soared... and then closed red. The region’s underperformer is the Nikkei (-0.75%). Elsewhere, the NZDUSD dropped 0.5% after a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the city of Wellington this morning. Looking at the US S&P500 futures are trading modestly higher at 1660. Looking ahead to today there is very little in the way of Tier 1 data to be expected. Housing starts/permits from the US and the preliminary UofM Consumer Sentiment reading for August are the main reports. The moves in rates and perhaps oil will probably offer some markets some directional cues.
Despite rising gas prices, rising mortgage rates, slowing income growth and the rise of 'low-quality' part-time jobs, 'con'sumer 'con'fidence 'con'tinues to rise to post-recession highs. However, as Citi's FX Technicals group notes, for the 3rd time in the last 17 year period we may be looking at a 4-year-4-month rise in consumer confidence before a turn lower again; and in spite of the Fed's rosy forecasts (and the market's expectations), we should be careful being too quick to believe that the sluggish economic dynamic that has 'dogged us' for the last 6 years is yet fully behind us.
When it comes to changing the "measurement" rules in the middle of the game, nobody does it quite like Japan: in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear explosion, when radiation was soaring (and still is with Tritium levels just hitting a record high but who cares - Goldman partners have to earn record bonuses on the back of the irradiated island) Japan's solution was simple: double the maximum safe irradiation dosage. Done and done. Now, it is time to do the same to that other just as pesky, if somewhat less lethal indicator: inflation. Reuters reports that the Japanese government plans to adopt a different measure of inflation to the central bank's.
When enough of us realize the extent of inflation, bond buyers will likely demand higher coupon rates; the government's cost of debt service could soar.
Hedonically-adjusted inflation is in check, and the housing "recovery" is in doubt: the perfect cocktail for Bernanke to announce no tapering... Or to shock the world and in just over 24 hours say that as we prepares to wave bon voyage he will start to reduce the liquidity injection into the markets as he has been warning for the past 3 months.
The weakness in economic data (not to be confused with the centrally-planned anachronism known as the "markets") started overnight when despite a surge in Japanese consumer spending (up 5.2% on expectations of 1.6%, the most in nine years) by those with access to the stock market and mostly of the "richer" variety, did not quite jive with a miss in retail sales, which actually missed estimates of dropping "only" -0.8%, instead declining -1.4%. As the FT reported what we said five months ago, "Four-fifths of Japanese households have never held any securities, and 88 per cent have never invested in a mutual fund, according to a survey last year by the Japan Securities Dealers Association." In other words any transient strength will be on the back of the Japanese "1%" - those where the "wealth effect" has had an impact and whose stock gains have offset the impact of non-core inflation. In other words, once the Yen's impact on the Nikkei225 tapers off (which means the USDJPY stops soaring), that will be it for even the transitory effects of Abenomics. Confirming this was Japanese Industrial production which also missed, rising by only 0.2%, on expectations of a 0.4% increase. But the biggest news of the night was European inflation data: the April Eurozone CPI reading at 1.2% on expectations of a 1.6% number, and down from 1.7%, which has now pretty much convinced all the analysts that a 25 bps cut in the ECB refi rate, if not deposit, is now merely a formality and will be announced following a unanimous decision.
In what may be a first in at least 3-4 months, instead of the usual levitating grind higher on no news and merely ongoing USD carry, tonight for the first time in a long time, futures have drifted downward, pushed partially by declining funding carry pairs EURUSD and USDJPY without a clear catalyst. There was no explicit macro news to prompt the overnight weakness, although a German 10 year auction pricing at a record low yield of 1.28% about an hour ago did not help. Perhaps the catalyst was a statement by the Chinese sovereign wealth fund's Jin who said that the "CIC is worried about US, EU and Japan quantitative easing" - although despite this and despite the reported default of yet another corporate bond by LDK Solar, the second such default after Suntech Power which means the Chinese corporate bond bubble is set to burst, the SHCOMP was down only 1 point. The Nikkei rebounded after strong losses on Monday but that was only in sympathy with the US price action even as the USDJPY declined throughout the session.
Over the past four years one of the dominant "deflationists" has been Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg. And, for the most part, his corresponding thesis - long bonds - has been a correct and lucrative one, if not so much for any inherent deflation in the system but because of the Fed's actual control of the entire bond curve and Bernanke's monetization of the primary deflationary signal the 10 and certainly the 30 Year bond. The endless purchases of these two security classes, coupled with periodic flights to safety into the bond complex have validated his call. Until now.
February Inflation Rises By Most In One Year; Empire Fed Misses Even As Optimism Rises To Highest In 12 MonthsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/15/2013 07:47 -0500
Following last month's surprising surge in the Empire Fed from a deep negative number to 10.04, the March print was less exciting, declining modestly to 9.24, on expectations of an unchanged number. Per the report, the new orders and shipments indexes also remained above zero, though both were somewhat lower than last month’s levels. Price indexes showed that input price increases continued at a steady pace while selling prices were flat. Employment indexes suggested that labor market conditions were sluggish, with little change in employment levels and the length of the average workweek. The Number of Employees index dropped from 8.08 to 3.23, back to September 2012 levels. Naturally, with reality worse than expected, all hopes were put in the future as indexes for the six-month outlook pointed to an increasing level of optimism about future conditions, with the future general business conditions index rising to its highest level in nearly a year. This is only the 4th year in a row in which optimism about the future is orders of magnitude higher than the current reality. Thank the Fed's "wealth channel to support consumer spending." In other economic news, headline inflation came slighlty higher than the expected 0.5%, with the 0.7% sequential print the highest in one year, driven by a surge in the gasoline index which rose 9.1% in February, "to account for almost three-fourths of the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The indexes for electricity, natural gas, and fuel oil also increased, leading to a 5.4 percent rise in the energy index. The food index increased slightly in February, rising 0.1 percent."
A few weeks ago we pointed out something curious: despite the so-called massive "slack" in the US economy - the traditional alibi used by Bernanke & Co. to justify ongoing endless QE, labor productivity has slumped while labor costs have soared at the fastest pace in 11 months. This is a result that is directly at odds with the assertion that the structural unemployment for the US is still at 5%, and indicates that the New Normal baseline jobless rate is more likely well above, perhaps in the mid to higher 7% range (which also means that the Fed will never voluntarily end QE as the unemployment will not drop to 6.5%, and as for inflation, well, there's BLS' Arima-X-12 goalseeker for that). While the immediate implication of this is that central planning has merely broken yet one more law, that of Okun which maps productivity to GDP, a topic we have covered in the past, there is another aspect to what lies in the future, which is the topic of Albert Edwards' letter today. In it, he observes as we do, the rising labor costs, and the inherent inflationary pressures these bring, yet his thesis is that any inflation will be short-lived, and that unlike the mainstream which is advocating for a rotation out of bonds (apparently falling on deaf ears as inflows into bond funds are once more far greater than those into equities), he is suggesting to stay invested in bonds.
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.
2012 Q4 GDP has been weak in G3 and indeed Europe more broadly, (however it has generally surprised to the upside in Asia), consequently, the momentum of business sentiment will be key to watch. The Euro area flash PMI, German Ifo and the Philadelphia Fed survey are released this week (the China flash PMI will be released on Feb 25). The consensus expects a further small rise in the Euro area services and manufacturing readings. The week also brings a batch of central bank commentary, where the focus will be on references to currency strength; these include the RBA minutes followed by testimony, a speech by RBNZ governor Wheeler, Bank of Thailand policy decision and Bank of England minutes. The Federal Reserve will release the minutes from the last meeting and they may contain important clues on the bias of the Committee with respect to how long it expects the current QE program to last. Additionally, the Committee may have discussed the potential merits of outcome-based guidance for balance sheet policy, which may be reflected in the minutes.
At this point it has gotten painfully tedious, and the one phrase to describe trading is - Same Pattern Different Day. With equity futures closing decidedly weak on earnings reality after US market close, the slowly, steady overnight ramp seen every single day for the past month has returned as always, this time on yet another largely expected German confidence indicator beat (following the just as irrationally exuberant ZEW some time ago, and yesterday's far better than expected PMI), this time the IFO Business Climate, which printed at 104.2, on expectations of 103 and up from 102.4. This was driven by both the current assessment rising from 107.1 to 108 and the Expectations rising from 97.9 to 100.5. Naturally, all confidence indicators will be skewed in a way to prevent the market from doubting for a second that Germany may actually succumb to the same recession that has gripped all other European countries (which Germany is an inch away from after its negative Q4 GDP). In other words: there is hope. As for reality, UK Q4 GDP came in at -0.3% on expectations of a far lower drop to -0.1%, and down from the olympics-boosted 0.9% in Q3. The UK certainly can't wait for Mark Carney to come and show them how cable devaluation is really done, cause this time it will be different, if only it wasn't different for everyone else.
The two month wait is over and the most overtelegraphed central bank news since November 2012 finally hit the tape when the BOJ announced last night what everyone knew, namely that it would proceed with open-(y)ended asset purchases and a variety of economic targets, key of which was 2% inflation. However, the response so far has been one of certainly selling the pent up news, especially since as was further detailed, the BOJ will do virtually nothing for 12 months, except to increase the size of its existing QE (is the current episode QE 10 or 11?) by another €10 trillion for the Bills component. The USDJPY dropped as much as 170 pips lower than its overnight kneejerk highs hit just after the news.