Bernanke takes the wind out of the market's euphoric sails: "Substantial further expansions of the balance sheet could reduce public confidence in the Fed's ability to exit smoothly from its accommodative policies at the appropriate time. Even if unjustified, such a reduction in confidence might increase the risk of a costly unanchoring of inflation expectations, leading in turn to financial and economic instability."
The market over the summer has been quieter than we had expected - thanks to Draghi's threats placating-words and Bernanke's promises. Equities rallied, Bunds and Treasuries sold off, and government spreads in Europe declined. All these markets look more constructive. However, the event calendar in the near future is very heavy, notably the political one. This article from UBS' global strategy group does three things. First, they provide a list of events until the end of the year. Second, the relative importance of the various events are ranked; and finally, they provide, where needed, a comment on what to expect. We still believe three topics will drive markets: (1) the ongoing European sovereign crisis, where we see some progress (albeit slow) as Draghi has pushed forward his agenda and found some support from politicians; (2) the political issues in the US, although the main change is the more dovish Fed; and (3) world growth, which has been disappointing and is a major risk to monitor.
It is one thing for various anti-Central Planning (and thus central bank) outlets to warn, over 3 years ago, that easy monetary policy is merely an enabling substance, and is addictive as any drug to a dysfunctional political establishment which is more than happy to avoid fiscal prudence if monetary policy is readily available to delay the inevitable day of reckoning when monetizing the debt will no longer work. It is a different matter entirely when the head of the world's only solvent central bank - the German Bundesbank, which happens to be the biggest guarantor of that other mega hedge funds the ECB, and which of all developed economies also happens to have had the closest recent encounter with hyperinflation (unlike all the "other" theoretical experts who enjoy talking extensively about matters they have zero experience with). In an interview with German Spiegel magazine, Buba head Jens Weidmann, once again has loudly warned what as recently as 2009 very few dared to even think: namely that rampant and gratuitous deficit plugging using central bank debt issuance, and thus explicitly monetizing the debt, "can be addictive as a drug." Obviously, like any drug overdose, the aftereffects are always fatal.
The S&P 500 is at its 2012 highs, and rapidly approaching all time highs, even as nothing has changed over the biggest near-term challenge facing America: the fiscal cliff. Ironically, with every tick higher in the market, the probability that Congress will come to a consensus over what would be a haircut of up to 4% to next year's GDP as soon as January 1 2013 gets smaller. Why - the same reason that Spain is unlikely to demand a bailout now that its 10 Year bond is back to the mid 6% range (ironically on expectations it will demand a bailout!): complacency - both by investors, and by politicians. After all, it's is all a matter of perception, and the market is seen to be "perceiving" an all clear signal. It means that the impetus to do something constructive simply does not exist, as we explained recently in the case of Spain (and Italy). It also means that Congress has no reason to be proactive about the biggest threat facing the economy: just look at the S&P - it sure isn't worried, and the market is supposed to be far more efficient than elected politicians. At least on paper. This line of thinking is also the reason why Goldman's head of equity strategy David Kostin (not to be confused with the person he replaced: permabull A Joseph Cohen, who off the record sees the S&P rising to 1600 or more) refuses to raise his year end forecast for the S&P, which has remained firmly at 1250 for the entire year. More muppetry, more dodecatuple reverse psychology, or is Goldman telling the truth? You decide.
The market may have found itself in the purgatory of the summer doldrums, where unlike last year this time, not only are volumes over 50% lower, but volatility is non-existent, but that doesn't mean that investors are sleeping easy. In fact, quite the opposite because as the following chart from MS confirms, the lack of market volatility merely mimics the complete chaos and lack of decisiveness in Congress, where each passing day brings America not only closer to the most contentious presidential election in ages, but to another debt ceiling hike debate, and, of course, the fiscal cliff. All of these combined have brought US policy uncertainty to the third all time highest level, on par with September 11 and the collapse of Lehman/TARP, and just short of last year's imminent European collapse, which was only staved off courtesy of the coordinated global central bank intervention on November 30.
With less than three months to go, the outcome of the November election remains highly uncertain. SocGen notes that, as always, economic performance over the coming months will be a key determinant of who wins and who loses. If the elections were held today, the most likely outcome would be a Republican win in both Congressional races and a Democratic win in the race for the White House. This means that any new significant legislation will almost certainly have to be a product of compromise. In this sense, we may very well be looking at a status quo in terms of bipartisanship and gridlock which have dominated Washington politics over the past few years. This would be bad news at a time when the country faces a number of serious challenges with significant long-term implications. From the economy to long-term fiscal health, and from the debt-ceiling to Housing, Healthcare, and Energy policy differences, the following provides a succinct review.
After many instances of prodding from readers, I finally bought and read The Fourth Turning, and I'm sorry that I waited so long.
Q2 earnings seasons is now (with 93% of firms reporting) over, and it is time for post mortem. The bottom line for those strapped for time is the following: In order to salvage the 2012 earnings consensus for the S&P, the sell side crew and asset managers, as wrong but hopeful as ever, are now expecting Q4 2012 earnings to grow 15% versus 4Q 2011, which is more than twice as fast as any other quarter. Indicatively, Q2 2012 earnings rose at a rate of 3% compared to Q2 2011. Elsewhere, revenues came 2% lower than consensus estimates at the start of the earnings season. In other words, the entire year is now a Hail Mary bet that in Q4, the time when the presidential election, its aftermath, as well as the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff acrimony will hit a peak, a Deus Ex Machine will arrive and lead to a 15% rise in earnings. Why? Because global central bankers will have no choice but to step in and thus lead to a surge in EPS multiples even if the underlying earnings are collapsing. With the presidential election around the corner making Fed QE before 2013 now virtually impossible, with Spain (and Italy) refusing to be bailed out and cede sovereignty thus precluding ECB intervention, and with China spooked by what may be a surge in food costs, this intervention, and any hope that the Hail Mary pass will connect, all look quite impossible.
When we wrote Part I of this paper in June 2009, the total U.S. public debt was just north of $10 trillion. Since then, that figure has increased by more than 50% to almost $16 trillion, thanks largely to unprecedented levels of government intervention. Once the exclusive domain of central bankers and policy makers, acronyms such as QE, LTRO, SMP, TWIST, TARP, TALF have found their way into the mainstream. With the aim of providing stimulus to the economy, central planners of all stripes have both increased spending and reduced taxes in most rich countries. But do these fiscal and monetary measures really increase economic activity or do they have other perverse effects?... The politically favoured option of financial repression and negative real interest rates has important implications. Negative real interest rates are basically a thinly disguised tax on savers and a subsidy to profligate borrowers. By definition, taxes distort incentives and, as discussed earlier, discourage savings.... The current misconception that our economic salvation lies with more stimulus is both treacherous and self-defeating. As long as we continue down this path, the “solution” will continue to be the problem. There is no miracle cure to our current woes and recent proposals by central planners risk worsening the economic outlook for decades to come.
While we are not certain how many times we have used the above headline in the past we know it is not the first time. Nor the fifth. Yet here we are again, reporting that Greece is out of money again. "Near-bankrupt Greece is fast running out of cash while it waits for its next installment of aid from international lenders, a deputy finance minister said on Tuesday, sounding the alarm on the country's precarious financial position. Greece's European partners have repeatedly promised the country will be funded through August, when it must repay a 3.2 billion euro bond, but the details of the funding have yet to be disclosed. In the absence of that money, Greece would run out of funds to pay everyday public expenses ranging from police and other public service wages to pensions and social benefits. "Cash reserves are almost zero. It is risky to say until when (they will last) as it always depends on the budget execution, revenues and expenditure," Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras told state NET television" In other words just like the US yesterday, Greece has also overestimated its revenues and underestimated its expenditures; also Greece in August is what the US itself will be in about 3-4 months, when the debt ceiling is hit. Luckily, the political environment in D.C. is open and cordial, and a prompt resolution to both the debt ceiling issue and the fiscal cliff, especially as they all coincide just in time for the presidential election is guaranteed.
Treasury Admits It Underestimated Debt Needs, Predicts Ceiling Breach In 2012; $600 Billion More Debt In Second HalfSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 07/30/2012 15:15 -0500
Back on April 30, when the US Treasury, together with the TBAC chaired by Matt Zames (who as everyone knows is being groomed to take over JPMorgan after Jamie gracefully steps down) sat down put together its latest debt funding needs projection, we openly mocked the numbers when we said "Now obviously we are all for the US needing less debt, however we wonder: did the US discover some magical source of tax revenue: last we checked the companies with $100+ billion in cash were paying virtually zero taxes, and US workers were making less and less courtesy of more and more jobs being converted into temp jobs with lower wages, and less withheld tax as a result." Sure enough, minutes ago the Treasury just admitted what we and our readers knew all along: in its quarterly Treasury refunding appetizer, it noted that during the "September 2012 quarter, Treasury expects to issue $276 billion in net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-September cash balance of $60 billion. This borrowing estimate is $12 billion higher than announced in April 2012. The increase is primarily due to lower receipts, higher outlays, redemptions of portfolio holdings by the Federal Reserve System, and higher issuances of State and Local Government securities." In other words: if only it wasn't for that pesky lack of revenue and excess spending our mocking would have been for nothing. Alas, it was spot on, and as a result instead of needing $253 billion in fiscal Q4, the US will need $272 billion (after having a $5 greater financing need in Q3 as also expected).
Yes, we know it doesn't matter because Ben & Mario have got our backs at whatever multiple is required to levitate the economy market, but as Citi's credit desk points out; despite the constant chatter about EPS beats (despite top-line misses), the trick is that analysts have been dragging down expectations since the earnings-cycle began and so judging 'misses' must be done against a 'frozen' pre-earnings number. If we do this 'fair' approach to considering expectations, the percentage miss in the S&P 500's EPS for Q2 2012 is as bad as the Q2/Q3 2011 Tsunami-driven miss - and the worst we have seen since Lehman Brothers shuffled off this mortal coil. So as usual, be careful what truth you believe and consider just how much more 'hope' is now in this market given this reality.
While Dos Equis has its most-interesting-man, we think we have found the 'most hypocritical'. Until today we thought Sandy Weill was the undisputed champion in this category, but after seeing this clip we think he has strong competition. At around 40 seconds into this lengthy diatribe, everyone's favorite Libertarian Las Vegan utters the most two-faced hypocritical words that he could possible have uttered: "I think we should audit the Federal Reserve". Between Harry Reid's recent vehement anti-Paul behavior and the whip-order that Democrats received on Ron Paul's bill yesterday, this is stunning. While the sell-out nature of this kind of politician does not surprise us, we thought it prudent for all US citizens to understand the true nature of the political class that decides an increasing amount of our day to day lives.
The avuncular Art Cashin is sounding a lot less sangune than many of his market-watching peers. UBS' main man notes that traders are particularly struck by the continued weakness in the transports group (with FedEx and UPS down 8 of the last 11 sessions - and the Dow Transports down the equivalent of 300 points for the Industrials on Friday alone). "The sharp contraction in the Transport area and recent sharp drops in several trucking statistics add to growing fears that the economy may have stalled over the last four weeks," is how he puts it, but it is his cocktail-napkin charting that concerns the most. Historically, even in years that don't have multiple "end of the world as we know it" headlines in the news, the equity markets decline in the week after July option expiration. Twice in the last five years the S&P lost more than 4% in the week after July expiration. So, does that mean we should tether the elephants? No, but we should be alert and nimble on a week with a somewhat spotty history - with 1332/1335 as his key line in the sand for more downside in cash S&P.
The World Gold Council have just published their commentary on gold’s price performance in various currencies, its volatility statistics and correlation to other assets in the quarter - Gold Q2, 2012 - Investment Statistics and Commentary. It provides macroeconomic context to the investment statistics published at the end of each quarter and highlights emerging themes relevant to gold’s future development. One of their key findings is that gold will act as hedge against possible coming dollar weakness and gold will act as a "currency hedge in the international monetary system." The key findings of the World Gold Council’s report are presented inside.