We have been warning of the pending fiscal cliff in the US and the somewhat inevitable debt ceiling debacle, election uncertainty, and the question of Fed independence in an election year as potential catalysts for risk flares in the US and abroad. For now, US equities are happy to ignore these events, still drawn in their Pavlovian-educated manner to US equities for their nominal enrichment. The trouble is - there are clear warning signs from some particularly noteworthy markets that all is not well (that appear more capable of comprehending fundamentals). Forget for a moment the overnight plunge and recovery in futures as this will bring only anchoring bias; a step back to 30,000 feet and we note that the spread on USA Sovereign CDS has risen by over 30% in the last month (now back at 40bps or 3-month wides) flashing a worrying warning signal for US equities if the past is any guide. Remember that US CDS are denominated in EUR and do not simply reflect the 'default' risk of the fiat-issuing USA but the devaluation or restructuring risks - and it appears market participants are getting nervous once again of the profligacy of the US government and the ineptitude of the central banks with their one-trick-pony experimentation. At the same time, central banks' broad repression has crushed volatility in every asset class - except, as Morgan Stanley notes - credit which is inferring considerably higher chance of a risk flare in the short-term. So while this week will bring cheers of growthiness and cooperation and decoupling, the all-seeing eye of credit markets remain far less sanguine.
With earnings season now virtually over, it is time to ask why, despite a majority of the companies beating expectations, is the S&P inline with where it was when earnings season started. There are two main reasons why the market has not been impressed: the percentage of "beaters" is nothing spectacular on a historical basis as was shown previously, especially in the aftermath of aggressive cuts to Q1 top and bottom line forecasts heading into earnings reports; more importantly, even with Q1 earning coming out as they did, the bulk of the legwork still remains in the "hockeystick" boost to the bottom line that is completely Q4 2012 loaded, as bottom up consensus revisions to the rest of 2012 are negative despite Q1 beats. As Goldman summarizes: "1Q 2012 will establish a new earnings peak of $98 on a trailing-four-quarter basis. With 88% of S&P 500 market cap reported, 1Q EPS is tracking at $24.10, 1% above consensus estimates at the start of reporting season and reflecting 7% year/year growth." So far, so good. And yet, "Despite the positive surprises, full-year 2012 EPS estimates are unchanged relative to the start of earnings season, and currently stand at $105 vs. our top-down forecast of $100. Over half of consensus 2012 earnings growth is attributed to 4Q. Margins at 8.8% have hovered near peak levels for a year, but consensus expects a sudden jump in 4Q to a new peak of 9.1%. We forecast a further decline to 8.7%."
Excessive spending has created record levels of debt and deficits, and the worst is yet to come, threatening opportunity and prosperity for younger generations. In these 10 charts, via The Heritage Foundation, we highlight the third (and arguably most frightening) in our four-part series on the Federal Budget - Debt & Deficits.
Something funny happened when last August CNBC hired access journalist extraordinaire Andrew Sorkin to spiff up its 6-9 am block also known as Squawk Box: nothing. At least, nothing from a secular viewership basis, because while the block saw a brief pick up in viewership driven by the concurrent (first of many) US debt ceiling crisis and rating downgrade, it has been a downhill slide ever since. In fact, as the chart below shows, the Nielsen rating for the show's core 25-54 demo just slid to multi-year lows. And as NY Daily News, the seemingly ceaseless slide has forced CNBC to start panicking: "CNBC insiders tell us executives at the cable business channel are “freaking out” because viewership levels are down essentially across-the-board, particularly with its marquee shows, “Squawk Box” and “Closing Bell." “Their biggest attractions have become their biggest losers,” says one TV industry insider familiar with the cable channel’s numbers. According to Nielsen ratings obtained by Gatecrasher, from April 2011 to April 2012, “Squawk Box” is down 16 percent in total viewers and 29 percent in the important 25-54 demographic bracket that advertisers buy." Yet is it really fair to blame the slide of the morning block's show on just one man?
There is nothing quite like a $70 billion debt auction settlement at the last day of a month to bring total US debt to a record $15.692 trillion, which happens to be just $600 billion shy of the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling. (and no, contrary to simple economic textbook lesson, this does not mean that the private sector just got another $70 billion in debt capacity courtesy of taxpayers, as explained here). And now that we know what Q1 GDP was at the end of Q1, or namely $15.462 trillion, it is simply math to divine that today alone total US/debt to GDP rose by 50 bps to a mindboggling 101.5%.
Treasury Forecasts $447 Billion In Funding Needs Thru End Of September - $300 Billion Shy Of TrendlineSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/30/2012 15:50 -0500
Earlier today, the Treasury forecast that in the third and fourth fiscal quarter of 2012 (April-September), the US would need a total of $447 billion in new debt (split $182 billion in Q3 and $265 billion in Q4), bringing the total debt balance to just over $16 trillion by the end of September. While this is a commendable forecast, and one which certainly has provided to alleviate rumors that the US debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion would be breached by the mid/end of September, the chart below shows that it may be just a tad optimistic.
The good days are over, at least according to Goldman's Jan Hatzius. Now that "Cash For Coolers", aka April in February or the record hot winter, has ended, aka pulling summer demand 3-6 months forward, and payback is coming with a bang, starting with what Goldman believes will be a 125,000 NFP print in April, just barely higher than the disastrous March 120,000 NFP print which launched a thousand NEW QE rumors. But before you pray for a truly horrible number which will surely price in the cremation of the USD once CTRL+P types in the launch codes, be careful: from Hatzius - "Despite the weaker numbers, we have on net become more, not less, worried about the risks to our forecast of another round of monetary easing at the June 19-20 FOMC meeting. It is still our forecast, but it depends on our expectation of a meaningful amount of weakness in the economic indicators over the next 6-8 weeks. In other words, our sense of the Fed’s reaction function to economic growth has become more hawkish than it looked after the January 25 FOMC press conference, when Chairman Bernanke saw a “very strong case” for additional accommodation under the FOMC’s forecasts. This shift is a headwind from the perspective of the risk asset markets....So the case for a successor program to Operation Twist still looks solid to us, and the FOMC’s apparent reluctance to deliver it is a concern."
Here is the point; Bernanke thinks he can deal with this falling growth outlook and a deleveraging consumer by adding to QE to keep rates very low. I am not sure it will work and if it doesn’t yields could start to rise and the more he throws at it the more yields actually rise as vigilantes will fear pent up inflationary pressures. This is a potential disaster for central bankers and at some point the impact of QE may be proven limited. When it is the central banks will have shot the last bullet. Why is no one discussing this?
Today's futures pop on short-term bill auctions in Europe (that remain in a world of their own and should not be considered as anything but emergent in nature rather than indicative of investor demand) and ad hoc data in Germany that disconnects from any sense of reality in true economic environs only confirms Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson's perspective that there still isn't much fear out there. We remain in the midst of a longer-term deleveraging cycle, of that there can be little argument in reality (unless of course exponential trends are natural) and as Wilson points out we are likely to remain in the wide trading range that we have been in the past two years - however, many investors appear to disagree (not the least of which the effusively exuberant 'Ace' Greenberg this morning). Few expect a correction more than 5-10%, Buy-lists are already in great demand, and put-call ratios remain muted. "Of course, this is what happens when an animal becomes conditioned to buy the dip in a pavlovian manner over years during which they have remain unscathed by some of the biggest financial risks we have ever witnessed. As the saying goes, “the only fools bigger than those that are playing are those that are watching.” Of course, having some Fed official speaking every other day to remind us they are there to save the day in the event of trouble helps perpetuate this unnatural one way market." However, his bottom line is that slowing/disappointing economic data, zero percent earnings growth and a liquidity lull sounds like a recipe for more than a 5% correction.
Oil Speculator Crackdown Cometh: Central Planner In Chief Announces Self-Promotion To Margin Hiker In Chief At 11:10AMSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/17/2012 07:23 -0500
When it comes to evil, evil speculators driving stocks higher on endless gobs of cheap zero-cost liquidity, one will hear nary a peep out of the administration: after all: wealth effect or bust. However, when someone hears oil speculators, run and hife. Indeed, now that Obama's uber-central planning mandate has proven completely powerless to redirect the flow of zero-cost money from acquiring real, as opposed to paper-based, assets (read crude), the Teleprompter in Chief will have a sit down with the nation at 11:10 am and in the latest sermon from the White House mound, will "confront" oil speculators once and for all. His plan: why encourage margin hikes of course - the same principle that crushed the spine of the gold and silver spike in 2011. Unfortunately, unlike gold and silver, whose trading is still dominated by the Comex, energy has numerous alternative venues, such as the ICE, and increasing exchanges in China, which also happens to be the marginal demand setter with 3 consecutive months of near record imports. Which is why we are 100% confident that just like every failed attempt at central planning, all Obama will achieve is another spike in crude prices, just in time for the next global reliquification cycle, just in time for 2012's debt ceiling scandal, and just in time for the reelection.
What a difference a month makes. About 4 weeks ago the European crisis was "over" - French President Sarkozy exclaimed that: “Today, the problem is solved!” Christine Lagarde, former French finance minister, and current IMF head following the framing of DSK, added that “Economic spring is in the air!”... Fast forward to today when following the inevitable end of the transitory favorable effects of the LTRO (remember: flow not stock, a/k/a the shark can not stop moving forward), the collapse of the Spanish stock market, the now daily halting of Italian financial stocks, the inevitable announcement that shorting of financials in Europe is again forbidden, and finally the record spike in Spanish CDS, Europe is broken all over again. Which brings us again the Sarkozy and Lagarde. The Frenchman who is about to lose the presidential race to socialist competitor Hollande (an event which will have major ramifications for Europe as UBS' George Magnus patiently explained two months ago), no longer sees anything as solved, and instead is openly begging for the ECB to inject more, more, more money into the system to pretend that "problems are solved" for a few more months. Incidentally, so is Lagarde, for whom in an odd change of seasons, economic spring is about to be followed by a depressionary winter. The problem is both will end up empty handed, as the well may just have run dry.
Tim Geithner Glitch In The Matrix Special: Will America Become Greece In Two Years - "No Risk Of That"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/15/2012 16:45 -0500
Geithner April 2011: Q: “Is there a risk that the United States could lose its AAA credit rating? Yes or no?” - Tim Geithner: “No risk of that.”
Geithner April 2012: Q: “If we don't deal with these debt problems we are going to be Greece in two years” - Tim Geithner: “No risk of that.”
From the first day of 2012 we predicted, and have done so until we were blue in the face, that 2012 would be a carbon copy of 2011... and thus 2010. Unfortunately when setting the screenplay, the central planners of the world really don't have that much imagination and recycling scripts is the best they can do. And while this forecast will not be glaringly obvious until the debt ceiling fiasco is repeated at almost the same time in 2012 as it was in 2011, we are happy that more and more people are starting to, as quite often happens, see things our way. We present David Rosenberg who summarizes why 2012 is Deja 2011 all over again.
We cannot collect enough taxes to catch up with spending
A Monetary Cliff or a Fiscal Cliff: these are the two poisons that Barton Biggs sees rushing straight toward America, with little hope of an uneventful collision. While we have not been shy of our opinions on Barton Biggs' flip-flopping positions, his note on the US "as a nation of totally self-centered special interest groups that terrorize our politicians" struck a chord and deserves praise in its clarity. Noting that Europe seems stuck again, he points to the US market being data and Europe-dependent for the next month and believes the correction is little less than half way over (in terms of size not time). In Biggs opinion "although the Monetary Cliff is more long-term dangerous, the proximity of the Fiscal Cliff, if not dealt with, will trigger the dreaded double-dip recession we are all terrified of and bring on another financial crisis."