it is suddenly not fun being a Fed president (or Chairmanwoman) these days: with yesterday's 2.1% CPI print, the YoY rate has now increased for four consecutive months and is above the Fed's target. Concurrently, the unemployment rate has also dipped well below the Fed’s previous 6.5% threshold guidance, in other words the Fed has now met both its mandates as set down previously. There have also been fairly unambiguous comments from the Fed’s Bullard suggesting that this is the closest the Fed has been to fulfilling its mandates in many years. Finally, adding to the "concerns" that the Fed may surprise everyone were BOE Carney’s comments last week that a hike “could happen sooner than the market currently expect." In short: continued QE here, without a taper acceleration, merely affirms that all the Fed is after is reflating the stock market, and such trivial considerations as employment and inflation are merely secondary to the Fed. Which, of course, we know - all is secondary to the wealth effect, i.e., making the rich, richer. But it is one thing for tinfoil hat sites to expose the truth, it is something else entirely when it is revealed to the entire world.
The market is highly confident that it has a good handle on tomorrow’s FOMC meeting, despite the fact that several factors will require modification. There is high conviction that the Fed will not surprise the market, but rather take a “steady as she goes” approach that delivers a market consensus outcome. The reasons for this view are obvious and logical; however, such complacency breeds risk as well as opportunity, because the arguments for accelerating tapering to $15 billion (per month) are quite compelling.
Market extremes generally share a common formula. One part reality is blended with one part misguided perception (typically extrapolating recent trends as if they are driven by some reliable and permanent mechanism), and often one part pure delusion (typically in the form of a colorful hallucination with elves, gnomes and dancing mushrooms all singing in harmony that reliable valuation measures no longer matter). This time is not different.
Back in Feb 2013 we introduced the "Brent Vigilantes" and reminded traders how stock markets (and macro economies) react to shifts in the oil price with the two trading together to a 'tipping point' at which point strocks belief in growth breaks. We further confirmed that this is even more worrisome in the case of an oil price shock which strongly suggests that VIX at 12 is not pricing in the volatility that we have seen in the past when the oil complex starts to shake.
While we noted last week the death of the Japanese bond market as government intervention has killed the largest bond market in the world; it is now becoming increasingly clear that the dearth of trading volumes is not only spreading to equity markets but also to all major global markets as investors rotate to derivatives in order to find any liquidity. Central planners removal of increasing amounts of assets from the capital markets (bonds and now we find out stocks), thus reducing collateral availability, leaves traders lamenting "liquidity is becoming a serious issue." While there are 'trade-less' sessions now in Japanese bonds, the lack of liquidity is becoming a growing problem in US Treasuries (where the Fed owns 1/3rd of the market) and Europe where as JPMorgan warns, "some of this liquidity may be more superficial than really deep." The instability this lack of liquidity creates is extremely worrisome and likely another reason the Fed wants to Taper asap as DoubleLine warns, this is "the sort of thing that rears its ugly head when it is least welcome -- when it’s the greatest problem."
Another conspiracy "theory" becomes conspiracy "fact" as The FT reports "a cluster of central banking investors has become major players on world equity markets." The report, to be published this week by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), confirms $29.1tn in market investments, held by 400 public sector institutions in 162 countries, which "could potentially contribute to overheated asset prices." China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange has become “the world’s largest public sector holder of equities”, according to officials, and we suspect the Fed is close behind (courtesy of more levered positions at Citadel), as the world's banks try to diversify themselves and "counters the monopoly power of the dollar." Which leaves us wondering where are the central bank 13Fs?
It's one of those days: despite the Iraq conflict spilling out of control and about to involve US drones and warplanes, despite China's naval conflict with Vietnam over an oil rig in disputed territory set to go "kinetic" at any moment, despite the Ukraine civil war having its deadliest day yet this weekend and adding insult to injury Russia halting gas supplies to Ukraine (letting Kiev and Berlin fight for the scraps), despite crude prices rising ever higher and about to unleash a "discretionary income" shockwave on America's summertime motorists, despite yet another massive tax inversion M&A deal in which the buyer has made abundantly clear its stock is overvalued and will be used as the purchasing currency, stocks are inexplicably not at all time highs this morning.
"The government bond markets right now present one of the most one sided trades I've ever seen in my professional life."
Believe it or not, the main driver of risk overnight had nothing to do with Iraq, with the global economy or even with hopes for more liquidity, and everything to do with a largely meaningless component of Japan's future tax policy, namely whether or not Abe (who at this pace of soaring imported inflation and plunging wages won't have to worry much about 2015 as he won't be PM then) should cut the corporate tax rate in 2015. As Bloomberg reported, Abe, speaking to reporters in Tokyo today after a meeting with Finance Minister Taro Aso and Economy Minister Akira Amari, said the plan would bring the rate under 30 percent in a few years. He said alternative revenue will be secured for the move, which requires approval from the Diet.
It seems blood on Iraq streets and infringements near oil reserves is enough to pop crude oil price, break the airlines bubble, stall the Trannies unstoppable surge, and spark volume selling through the US equity markets. We will be reassured that this is a buying opportunity and that 'nothing fundamental has changed' and the US is 'the cleanest dirty shirt' but when the Chinese are tamping down carry with flip-flopping CNY fixes, the ECB has shot his mini-bazooka, and we know the Fed ain't un-tapering anytime soon (as they are fearsome of complacency and financial fragility), it makes one wonder if the corporate buyback machine can overwhelm the geopolitical-risk selling pressure of the rest of the world. Trannies dropped to their worst day in 4 months as all major US equities reversed any Draghi gains. Treasuries were well bid (-6bps and lower in yield on the week) as gold also benefited from safe haven status rising up to $1275. Copper slipped further south. Oil was the big news, spiking up to $106.70 (9 month highs). It's not Tuesday - what did you expect? (and remember there are no Friday POMOs in June).
Volume is well above average pro rata as US equity markets are stumbling notably this morning. Was retail sales' miss the final straw that broke the hope back? Or was it China's CNY vol, failed auction, warehouse probe, or Japan's dismal data and misery, or Iraq's reignition, or Ukraine, or Q1 GDP downgrades, or earnings outlook downward revisions, or flows? Since Mario Draghi promised the world and made everyone believe that's what he gave them, US equity markets have rolled over hard today and Dow Transports are now notably in the red as the former high-flier unbreakable trend looks set to follow Biotechs in the momo meltdown club...
While the turmoil in Iraq continues to rise, US equity markets have brushed off most of the geopolitical concerns (more worried about dismal retail sales than the surge in oil prices that is now happening) but bond traders did not wait to sell. Iraq's bond prices have plunged in the last 2 days as concerns that fighting will reach the oil-rich regions of the nation (and thus the money). As Aberdeen Asset Management's Anthony Simond told Bloomberg, "if violence can stay away from the oil region, you'll probably see a rebound in prices; the ability to pay is there... and the willingness to pay for the moment."
With another day of little otherwise completely irrelevant macro news (because following last night's abysmal Australian jobs data one would think the AUD would be weaker; one would be wrong), market participants - all 3 of them - and algos (which have finally uncovered where Iraq is on google maps) are finally turning their attention to the latest conflict in Iraq (because they obviously no longer care about the martial law in Thailand or the civil war in Ukraine), where the Al Qaeda spin off ISIS overnight seized at least 310K B/D in refinery capacity in northern Iraq according to the Police, and what is more concerning, is now less than a 100 kilometers away from Baghdad. Will ISIS dare to venture further south? Keep an eye on crude for the answer.
Many of you probably heard the news yesterday that teachers unions received a nasty (and well-deserved) blow from the Los Angeles Superior Court. So when I was listening to the radio yesterday, and the reporter was saying that California teachers are granted "tenure at eighteen...." I naively assumed the next word was going to be "years." Nope. It was "months." After just eighteen months, these people get what is effectively guaranteed lifetime employment. Even, as in the court's case, the teacher just sleeps at their desk or browses the web.
Overnight saw China spook its markets by weakening the CNY (and breaking the trend again) and suffering a failed bond auction and that led on to weakness across Europe as USDJPY toyed with 102 and dragged stocks and peripheral bonds down. The US opened weak, saw the usual buying spree jerked higher by JPY then as the budge deficit hit (reducing room for monetization money) stocks tumbled to the session's lows and red fo rthe week. Of course that will never do and at around 330ET, as usual, the buying panic began (though in a tiny range). US cash equity markets saw a double dump-and-pump but were unable to scramble back to the green by the close. The USD closed unchanged as EUR tested once again down to Draghi spike lows. Gold and silver closed unch (with a midday dump of $175 million notional in gold futs); oil flatlined (iraq vs world bank) and copper slid (China). Treasury yields closed 2bps lower with the belly outperforming. VIX was slammed at 330 but stocks could not hold their gaisn as The Dow had its worst day in 3 weeks.