It was the Year of the Zombies. Not in the sense of most of humanity dying from a horrible plague and then reanimating as mindless flesh-eating ghouls. No, it was much worse than that...
The world economy has experienced another year of subdued growth, having failed to meet even the most modest projections for 2013. Most developed economies continued trudging along toward recovery, struggling to identify and implement the right policies. Meanwhile, many emerging economies encountered new internal and external headwinds, impeding their ability to sustain previous years’ economic performance. Nonetheless, some positive developments in the latter part of the year are expected to gain momentum through the coming year. But the global economy is still subject to significant downside risks. In short, while the global economic outlook for 2014 has improved, policymakers worldwide must remain vigilant about downside risks and strengthen international cooperation. Developments in 2013 provide strong incentive for policymakers to do so.
A look ahead into 2014.
From the first headline to the last, the following brief month-by-month summary of the year shows just how far markets and global happenings have come...
With both current conditions and future expectations indices jumping higher, the UMich consumer confidence headline final print rose at its equal fastest pace since Sept 2009. The surge in current conditions - the largest since Dec 2008 - has lifted it back to the highest level since July 2007. If there was anything to note that took the shine off such an exuberant surge it's the fact that the headline number did actually miss expectations (3rd miss of last 4) and the final outlook data dropped from the preliminary print. As we have noted before, it is confidence that 'inspires' the multiple-expanding hope as fundamental reality fades - bulls better hope it's different this time as we hit the year's highs in confidence.
Global monetary conditions remain easy and despite the Fed's decision to taper, peak monetary accommodation is not here yet.
"The powers of financial capitalism had (a) far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland; a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank... sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world." - Carroll Quigley, member of the Council on Foreign Relations
• the risk of runs and asset fire sales in repurchase (repo) markets;
• excessive credit risk-taking and weaker underwriting standards;
• exposure to duration risk in the event of a sudden, unanticipated rise in interest rates;
• exposure to shocks from greater risk-taking when volatility is low;
• the risk of impaired trading liquidity;
• spillovers to and from emerging markets;
• operational risk from automated trading systems, including high-frequency trading; and
• unresolved risks associated with uncertainty about the U.S. fiscal outlook.
Each quarter the Fed releases their assessment of the economy along with their forward looking projections for three years into the future. The reality is, however, is that the Federal Reserve simply cannot verbally state what they really see during each highly publicized meeting as it would roil the markets. Instead, they use their communications to guide the markets expectations toward reality in the hopes of reducing the risks of market dislocations. The most recent release of the Fed's economic projections on the economy, inflation and unemployment continue to follow the same previous trends of weaker growth, lower inflation and a complete misunderstanding of the real labor market. Reminiscent of the choices of Goldilocks - the reality is that the Fed's estimates for economic growth in 2013 was too hot, employment was too cold and inflation estimates were just about right. The real unspoken concern should be the continued threat of deflation and what actions will be available when the next recession eventually comes.
Those who adhere to the don’t-stop-til-you-get-enough theory of sovereign borrowing, and by extension argue for a scrapping of the debt ceiling, couldn’t be more misguided. In free markets with no Fed money market distortion, interest rates can be a useful guide of the amount of real savings being made available to borrowers. When borrowers want to borrow more, real interest rates will rise, and at some point this crimps the marginal demand for borrowing, acting as a natural “debt ceiling.” But when markets are heavily distorted by central bank money printing and contrived zero-bound rates, interest rates utterly cease to serve this purpose for prolonged periods of time. What takes over is the false signals of the unsustainable business cycle which fools people into thinking there is more savings than there really is. Debt monetization has a proven track record of ending badly. It is after all the implicit admission that no one but your monopoly money printer is willing to lend to you at the margin. The realization that this is unsustainable can take a while to sink in, but when it does, all it takes is an inevitable fat-tail event or crescendo of panic to topple the house of cards. If the market realizes it’s been duped into having too much before the government decides it’s had enough, a debt crisis won’t be far away.
The 10 Year may so far be contained below its multi-year high of 3.00% hit in September just before Bernanke's "no taper" announcement, but the ultra long end, or the 30 Year, keeps dropping. Sure enough, moments ago the latest 30 Year reopening of 29 Year-11 Month CUSIP RD2 priced at a high yield of 3.900%. This may have been half a bp through the 3.905% When Issued, it still was the highest pricing yield on the 30 Year since July 2011, right before the US downgrade and the 20% S&P plunge resulting from the near debt ceiling breach. The Bid To Cover of 2.35 was modestly higher than last month's 2.16 but had a ways to go to catch up to the TTM average of 2.48. In terms of allotment, Indirects got the bulk of the auction, with 46% or the highest take down since April 2011. Directs were allotted 12.5%, or the lowest since June, which meant Dealers would have to "sell" back to the Fed 41.4% of the auction. So while not as immediately stirring as yesterday's very weak 10 Year, the sentiment toward the long end continues to deteriorate.
Contrary to some expectations, the budget deal has done absolutely nothing to push global markets or US futures higher which was to be expected: markets are no longer driven by fundamentals but by such things as carry pairs which signal monetary policies. Sure enough, as a result of the strength in the Yen, overnight markets have reacted with a mixture of cautiousness and optimism. On the cautious side, Asian equities are down across the board which can at least be partially attributed to nervousness at the prospect of a December Fed taper. If Congress passes the budget over the next few days, the probability of a taper next week increase at the margin, given that we have lower fiscal uncertainty (and higher spending) over the next two years. Losses in equities are being led by the Nikkei (-0.7%) and the Hang Seng (-1.3%). Asian credit shows no sign of taper nervousness this morning with the Asia IG index 4bp tighter and high beta EM names such as Indonesia trading firmer (5yr CDS -10bp). 10yr UST yields are unchanged at 2.80% and the US dollar is slightly stronger against the major crosses. The Hang Seng China Enterprises index is down 2.3% ahead of the results of China’s central economic work conference which is expected to end tomorrow and may set a number of economic targets for 2014.
The United States’ reputation for sound economic policymaking took a beating in 2013. Some of this was warranted; some of it was not. And now a related distorted narrative – one that in 2014 could needlessly undermine policies that are key to improving America’s economic recovery – is gaining traction... to the danger of "government failure."
With just a tad more than three weeks left in the year it is time to start focusing on what 2014 will likely bring. Of course, what really happens over the next twelve months is likely to be far different than what is currently expected but issuing prognostications, making conjectures and telling fortunes has always kept business brisk on Wall Street.