While there will be much debate over the economic pros and cons to tumbling oil prices (there is no debate if the plunge is confirmed to be the result of a global collapse in demand: that would scream global recession) with a definitive answer unlikely to be forthcoming for at least several quarters, when it comes to corporate profitability the outcome is already known, because between plunging oil prices and the soaring dollar, what is most likely next in store for the US economy may or may not be a full-blown economic recession, but a profit recession seems virtually inevitable.
Today's markets exist in an Oz-like, fantasy world. For 5 years now, stock and bond prices have risen like Dorothy's balloon, with hardly a puff of downdraft to spoil the fun. Everybody likes higher prices, so let's have them always go up! Forever! But what if...
While not exactly a "bear", Deutsche Bank's David Bianco - until this weekend - had the lowest S&P 500 target for 2014 year-end at 1,850. That's all changed now...
Thanks to buybacks, multiple expansion has been the driver of equity market strength as non-economic actors know one thing - buying stocks at record highs pays better than 'investing' in Capex or growth. However, the Treasury market's yield curve is sending a message loud and clear that multiple-expansion is due to end. As Wells Fargo's Gina Martin Adams notes, "Index P/E is likely to fall," as the spread between 10Y and 2Y yields compresses. Historical data shows the P/E ratio contracted in seven out of eight periods when the curve flattened since 1975. As Bloomberg adds, Martin Adams expects the S&P to close 2014 -7.5% from here at 1850 (tied with Deutsche's David Bianco for lowest prediction among 20 strategists).
The algos and chart traders are making another run at 2000 on the S&P 500, attempting to convince the wary investor one more time that buying on the dips is a no brainer. And in that proposition they are, ironically, correct. To buy this utterly manipulated market at these nosebleed valuation levels is about as brainless of an undertaking as is imaginable.
Is there something particularly notable about a 17x trailing PE multiple on the S&P 500? According to Deustche's David Bianco, there is especially during mid to late cycle expansions, i.e., after three (or much more in this case with the S&P 500 now repoting 5+ years of EPS growth) years of rising earnings. In fact, as DB calculates, the only two periods of a PE over 17 after 3 years from the last EPS decline are 1965-66 and 1996-98 (Figure 2) below. And right now. It should be self-explanatory that both of those historic periods ended with a sharp equity correction.
Risk assets have started the week off on a slightly softer footing but overall volumes are fairly low given the quiet Friday session last week and with the lack of any major weekend headlines. Equity bourses are down between 25-50bp on the day paced by the Nikkei (-0.4%). In China, a number of railway construction stocks are up 3-4% after reports that China Railway Corp will buy around 300 sets of high speed trains and may potentially launch 14 news railway construction projects soon as part of national investment plans.
With a closing P/E ratio over 17 and a VIX under 11, Deutsche Bank's David Bianco is sticking with his cautious call for the summer. Their preferred measure of equity market emotions is the price-to-earnings ratio divided by the VIX. As of Friday's close, this sentiment measure has never been higher and is in extreme "Mania" phase. Deutsche's advice to all the summertime-'chasers' - "wait for a better entry."
It took Virtu's idiot algos some time to process that the lack of BOJ stimulus is not bullish for more BOJ stimulus - something that has been priced in since October and which sent the USDJPY up from 97.000 to 105.000 in a few months, but it finally sank in when BOJ head Kuroda explicitly stated overnight that there is "no need to add stimulus now." That, and the disappointing news from China that the middle kingdom too has no plans for a major stimulus, as we reported last night, were the final straws that forced the USDJPY to lose the tractor-beamed 103.000 "fundamental level", tripping the countless sell stops just below it, and slid 50 pips lower as of this moment to overnight lows at the 102.500 level, in turn dragging US but mostly European equity futures with it, and the Dax was last seen tripping stops below 9400.
What does the true earnings picture of companies tell us about the market? Simple: it is overvalued relative to historical averages on every single basis, and not just the much discussed recently 10 year average used in the Shiller PE which has the market now at a 25x multiple. In short: the trailing EPS of 18x GAAP and 16.3x Non-GAAP is higher than the comparable GAAP and non-GAAP multiple for the long term, 1910-2013 average (15.8x and 14.5x), and while in line with the GAAP average for the 1960-2013 period, it is overvalued relative to the 15.9x non-GAAP average. However, if one excludes the 1997-2000 tech bubble, the historical average multiples drop even more to 17.7 and 15.2.
As we have discussed previously, the "partial government shutdown" that we are experiencing right now is pretty much a non-event - especially with the un-furloughing of The Pentagon. Yeah, some national parks are shut down and some federal workers will have their checks delayed, but it is not the end of the world. In fact, only about 17% of the federal government is actually shut down at the moment. This "shutdown" could continue for many more weeks and it would not affect the global economy too much. On the other hand, if the debt ceiling deadline (approximately October 17th) passes without an agreement that would be extremely dangerous. A U.S. debt default that lasts for more than a couple of days could potentially cause a financial crash that would make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic. If a debt default were to happen before the end of this year, that would bring a tremendous amount of future economic pain into the here and now, and the consequences would likely be far greater than any of us could possibly imagine.
The central bank "reason" goal-seeked for today's US overnight ramp - because it sure wasn't fundamentals with both German exports (-2.4%, Exp. +0.1%) and Industrial Production (-1.0%, Exp. -0.5%) missing - was the weekend Spiegel story that despite the unanimous decision by the ECB last week to keep rates unchanged, ECB chief economist Peter Praet and Mario Draghi himself had insisted on a 25 bps rate cut. They were, however, stopped by seven council members from the northern euro states, including Weidmann, Knot and Asmussen. As a result, Draghi was steamrolled in the final vote. Yet somehow this is bullish for risk, pushing equity futures higher and peripheral debt spreads lower, even as the EURUSD has drifted higher. Of course, one can't have an even more dovish ECB as a risk on catalyst alongside a rising Euro, but who cares about news, fundamentals, or logic at this point. All that matters is that US futures are higher, which was especially needed following yet another rout in the Shanghai Composite which dropped 2.44% back under 2,000 following news that China's Finance Ministry has told central government agencies to cut expenditures by 5% this year, and a 1.4% drop in the PenNikkeiStock225 on a weaker USDJPY. Remember: all is well in the global economy (whose forecast is about to be cut by the IMF) if the US is generating a record number of part-time jobs.
With no macro data on the docket (the NAR's self promotional "existing home sales" advertising brochure is anything but data), the market will be chasing the usual carry currency pair suspects for hints how to trade. Alas, with even more ominous economics news out of Europe, and an apparently inability of Mrs Watanabe to breach 100 on the USDJPY (hitting 99.98 for the second time in two weeks before rolling over once more), we may be rangebound, or downward boung if CAT shocks everyone with just how bad the Chinese (and global) heavy construction (and thus growth) reality truly is. One asset, however, that has outperformed and is up by well over 2% is gold, trading at $1435 at last check, over $100 from the lows posted a week ago, and rising rapidly on no particular news as the sell off appears to be over and now the snapback comes and the realization that Goldman was happily buying everything its clients were selling all along.
From the close on Dec 28th (pre-fiscal-cliff), the Dow is up over 7% (for its best January since 1994), the long bond is down 3.3% in price, gold is up marginally and the USD is down marginally. From around November 2012, the current in stocks is eerily reminiscent of the same run from November 2011's dip and co-ordinated easing. It would appear that if 2011/2 was the world normalizing to ZIRP, 2012/3 is the world's central banks fighting currency wars with their ever-expanding balance sheets (and while Europe won last year in stocks, the ECB's fading balance sheet is leading its stocks to underperform a renewed Fed expansion). Credit markets are notably not buying this risk-on move (and nor is VIX) in January but JPY-cross-based carry is leading the way, so the world better hope that no one doubts the BoJ's ability top unilaterally 'win' the currency wars. Energy and Healthcare are the month's winners as JPY loses 6.4% on the month and EUR gains 2.7% against the USD. ES clung to VWAP into the close. with a second down day in a row
The much anticipated Greek vote on "self-imposed" austerity came, saw and passed... and nothing: the EURUSD is now well lower than before the vote for one simple reason - the vote was merely a placeholder to test the resiliency of the government, which following numerous MP terminations, has seen its overall majority drop to 168 of 300, which includes the members of the Democratic Left who voted against the Troika proposal. Which means any more votes on anything split along austerity party lines and the vote will likely no longer pass. And, as expected, Germany already picked up the baton on kicking the can on funding the Greek €31.5 billion payment (due originally many months ago) when Schauble said that it will still be too early to make a Greek decision net week. Market-wise, Europe is limping into the US open, with the EUR weaker again due to a report that Spain may not seek an ECB bailout this year (as said here over and over, Spain will not seek a bailout until the 10 Year SPGB is back at or above 7%). Paradoxically, Spain also sold €4.76 billion in 2015, 2018 and 2032 debt (more than the expected €4.5 billion) at muted conditions, thereby the market continues to encourage Spain not to request a bailout, although this may not last, as promptly after the bond auction Spanish debt tailed off, the 2Y and 10Y both sold off, and the Spain-Bund spread is back to 445 bps, the widest since October, and means Spain can finally be getting back in selloff play: and probably not at the best possible time just as everything else, which was in suspended animation until the Obama reelection, also hits the tape. Today we get two key, if largely irrelevant, central bank decisions come from the BOE and ECB, both of which are expected to do nothing much. Finally, the most important event going on right now, is the Chinese Congress. For those who missed it, our previews are here: The Far More Important 'Election' Part 1: China's Political Process and The Far More Important 'Election' Part 2: China's Market Implications.