A. Gary Shilling's discussion of how to invest during a deleveraging cycle is a very necessary antidote to the ecstacy and euphoria that surrounds the nominal surges in risk-assets around the world sponsored by central banking largesse. Shilling ties six fundamental realities together: Private Sector Deleveraging And Government Policy Responses, Rising Protectionism, the Grand Disconnect Between Markets And Economy, a Zeal For Yield, the End Of Export Driven Economies, and why Equities Are Vulnerable. The risk on trade is alive and well - but will not last forever. We are still within a secular bear market that begin in 2000 with P/E ratios still contained within a declining trend. Despite media commentary to the contrary - this time is likely not different.
FX market overreacted yesterday to ECB developments. Europe has corrected it and now participants will take a fresh look after the US employment report.
The man who is the chief advisor to the US Treasury on its debt funding and issuance strategy was just promoted to the rank of second most important person at the biggest commercial bank in the US by assets (of which it was $2.5 trillion), and second biggest commercial bank in the world. And soon, Jamie willing, Matt is set for his final promotion, whereby he will run two very different enterprises: JPMorgan Chase and, by indirect implication, United States, Inc.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you take over the world.
US commercial bank loans and leases flat since Lehman, and yet US GDP higher by $2 trillion since the biggest bankruptcy in history. How does one reconcile this monetary and growth quandary? Simple. Enter the Fed.
The week ahead brings key leading indicators of global activity. The flash PMI's in China and Euro area will be published on Tuesday. Bloomberg consensus expects the China flash to be slightly lower than the previous reading and that the Euro area flash releases for manufacturing and service activity will rise slightly. In addition, Korean 20-day export data for April will provide a good guide to both the external sector in Korea and the likely momentum of Asian exports more broadly. For the same reasons, Taiwan export orders are worth a look as well. The week ahead also provides Q1 GDP prints in US, UK, and Korea. Goldman expects US GDP to rise by 3.2%. The Australia CPI print may open the door to an RBA rate cut as soon as May and Japanese CPI is likely to underscore why the BoJ policy has shifted aggressively. Friday also brings an update of the BoJ's outlook, along with the next BoJ meeting (unchanged policy expected).
When the BOJ announced two weeks ago the full details of its expanded easing program, which amounts to monetizing a whopping $720 billion in government bonds over the next year (a move which makes even the Fed's own open-ended QE appear like child's play in perspective), one thing it did was lay to rest any hope of a rotation, great or non-great, out of bonds and into equities. The reason is simple: while the Fed is en route to monetize $1,080 billion in UST and MBS debt in the current year, when there is just $760 billion in net US issuance, what the BOJ has done is add a bid for another $720 billion when Japanese net supply of debt is just $320 billion in the next 12 months. In other words, between Japan and the US, there is now some $660 billion in secondary market debt that the two banks will have to purchase over and above what their respective treasury departments will issue.
Curious how Abenomics is progressing six months after its announcement? These charts courtesy of Diapason should provide a convenient status update.
Ever since Moody's head economist Mark Zandi, together with Princeton's Alan Blinder, authored a paper in July 2010 titled "How We Ended The Great Recession" (which incidentally is wrong on two key counts: i) it is a great depression not recession, and ii) it has not ended) it became clear that the Keynesian sycophant would not rest until he somehow found a way to penetrate deep inside one or more of the darkest administrative orifices of the Obama regime. Surely, Zandi must have been heartbroken when it was not him but Jack Lew picked to replace Tim Geithner - a post the Keynesian had a desperate craving for. Yet his recent appointment to head up the ADP "payroll" joint venture, which was nothing more than a test of his propaganda skills, should have given us advance notice something was cooking. Further notice should have emerged when the US Department of Injustice launched its rating agency witch-hunt campaign only against S&P, not Moody's, where the abovementioned Zandi still officially works. Last night all of this finally fell into place, when the WSJ reported that Zandi has emerged as the leading candidate to head the FHFA - the regulator in charge of the two zombiest of zombie US institutions: the still insolvent Fannie and Freddie, in the process kicking out current FHFA head Ed DeMarco who recently emerged as Obama's persona non grata number 1 for his stern refusal to espouse socialist practices and wholesale debt forgiveness and principal reduction.
Many have argued that sovereign CDS markets 'caused' the problems in Europe - as opposed to simply 'signaled' what was in fact being hidden by cash market manipulation. But as the IMF notes in a recent paper, there are times when the CDS market leads the cash bond market and other times when it lags. But as far as looking at risk in Europe and the US, based on a wonderful model that uses Markov-switching to predict what the probability of the world being in a low-risk or high-risk state, we are as 'low risk' as we have been since the crisis began. Each time that level of complacency was reached before, equity markets have rapidly sold off. What is perhaps most notable is the systemic compression of every risk indicator, first VIX (Kevin Henry and the fungible excess reserves of every prime dealer whale), then the liquid SovX index (via Greece CDS auction uncertainty and 'naked' short bans), then the Euro TED Spread (via LTRO), then individual Sovereign CDS (via Draghi's 'promise'). The result, the 'free-market' signal of risk is non-existent.
There is "not a chance," that the Fed will be able to unwind its balance sheet in an orderly manner, "because everybody is front-running [them]," as the Fed is creating "serial bubbles," that are increasingly hard to manage since "we're getting in deeper and deeper every time." David Stockman has been vociferously honest in the last few days and his Bloomberg Radio interview with Tom Keene was extremely so. While Keene tries his best to remain upbeat and his permabullish self, Stockman just keeps coming with body blow after body blow to the thesis that this 'recovery' is sustainable. "They are using a rosy scenario forecast for the next ten years that would make the rosy scenario of the 1981 Reagan administration look like an ugly duckling," he exclaims, adding that the Keynesian Krugmanites' confidence is "disingenuous" - "the elephant in the room - the Fed," that are for now enabling rates to stay where they are. The full transcript below provides much food for thought but he warns, if the Fed ever pulled back, even modestly, "there would be a tremendous panic sell off in the bond market because it is entirely propped up... It's to late to go cold turkey."
What is the meaning of the markets hitting new all-time highs. The general consensus of the analysts and economists is that the rise in capital markets, given weak current economic data and a resurgence of the Eurozone crisis, is clearly a sign of economic strength; and, combined with rising corporate profitability, makes stocks the only investment worth having. There is, however, a more pragmatic perspective. Suppressed wage growth, layoffs, cost-cutting, productivity increases, accounting gimmickry and stock buybacks have been the primary factors in surging profitability. However, these actions are finite in nature and inevitably it will come down to topline revenue growth. However, since consumer incomes have been cannibalized by suppressed wages and interest rates - there is nowhere left to generate further sales gains from in excess of population growth. The reality is that all the stimulus and financial support available from the Fed, and the government, can't put a broken financial transmission system back together again. Eventually, the current disconnect between the economy and the markets will merge. Our bet is that such a convergence is not likely to be a pleasant one.
Politics aside, the bottom line is that the Rubicon has been crossed, and deposits have now been forcefully confiscated in what Europe promises to be a standalone case. What is certain, is that nobody will wait to find out how long it takes before Europe's class of increasingly more desperate and ill-meaning despots is found to be have lied once more (as it has about everything else since the start of the European crisis). And while the mainstream media will be focused primarily on Europe in the coming days, as BCG and we have warned, the topic of "wealth taxation" is now front and center, and it stars not only Europe, but the US as well. The question then becomes: what does the funding structure of the US private depository institutions look like, and is there any possibility of Cyprus "wealth tax" recurring on the other side of the Atlantic. To answer this question, we present the summary layout of the consolidated US depository system, which according to the Fed's December 31, 2012 Flow of Funds report had a grand total of $15 trillion in assets, and a matched number of liabilities, of which 72%, or a total of $10.9 trillion was in the form of deposits. So, if the US was to go the Cyprus route, and begin impairing balance sheet liabilities to remark assets, there would be precious little space (with just $4.3 trillion in total other funding liabilities), before one would need to start eating into the deposit base, should Congress decide to implement a very "fair and just" financial asset tax in the US next.
Short answer: we don't know.
We do, however, know something we have been pointing out since early 2012 - when it comes to the funding strcuture of European banks, there is a dramatic difference between the US and Europe. In the US, as we showed most recently two months ago, the Big Three depositor banks (JPM, Wells and Bank of America, excluding the still pseudo-nationalized Citi), have a record $858 billion in excess deposits over loans. So what about Europe? Here things get bad. Very bad. So bad in fact that we covered it all just one short year ago. What is the reason for this? Well, as readers can surmise based on what just happened in Europe, it once again has to do with deposits, and specifically the loan-to-deposit ratios of European banks. Because if the US has an excess of deposits over loans, Europe is and has always suffered from the inverse: a massive excess of loans (impaired assets) compared to the most critical of bank liabilities - deposits... One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that in a world in which European loans are massively mismarked relative to fair value, and where bad and non-performing loans are an exponentially rising component of all "asset" exposure, it will be the liabilities that are ultimately impaired. Liabilities such as deposits.
Just like yesterday, it will be up to the US session to provide the perfectly expected, VIXterminating, volumeless ramp as the rest of the world just did not have it in i to take the S&P to all time highs in overnight trading. To summarize: currency talkfare out of Asia, hope springs eternal out of Europe despite the usual spate of ugly numbers, PIIGS bond auctions backstopped by the ECB and always "that much better" than the expected, a UK economy that is just imploding to provide an alibi for more open-ended QE and a crushed pound, and with the US due to make everything better by sending the SP to its all time high (just 9 points away) on the one week anniversary of the record high DJIA, as the NY Fed clobbers the VIX to a 10 handle or lower on even more ugly, unadjusted economic data.
Just like a week ago, when the futures experienced an unprecedented event when they actually slid overnight (only to recoup all the losses and then some, in the US trading session), so today sentiment appears to be driven by China which over the weekend once more posted its worst economic numbers to start the year since 2009, with purposeful economic weakness telegraphed by the politburo coupled with higher than expected inflation in what is a harbinger to the end of the global reflation, just as it was in 2011. The Shanghai Composite closed down 0.3%, while the Nikkei was in a world of its own, closing up 0.5%, tracking nothing but the USDJPY nowadays. Additionally, while the US stock market took Friday's downgrade of Italy in stride, and in fact Getco's algos used it to catalyze a late day ramp to close the DJIA just around the "psychological" 14,400 (just like Dow 36,000 is apparently psychological), Europe is less sanguine, and so far Italian bonds have been pressured compared to the rest of PIIGS, rising with yields rising to 4.65%, hitting 4.694% earlier. That's ok though: as we reported over the weekend, there is nothing for widening BTP spreads that a few hundred billion in Fed reserve reallocations to European banks can't fix. And with no macro events or news on today's calendar, perhaps the most notable event so far is the lack of the overnight ramp, which we have all grown to love and expect almost as much as the mysterious 3:30 pm intraday clockwork DJIA ramp.