When it comes to the San Francisco Fed, it is best known throughout the financial community as the group of crack economists who spend millions of taxpayer funds to investigate such probing, for kindergarteners at least, topics as: is water wet, do trees make a sound when they fall in the forest, is it still worth going to college, and are hedge funds important in a crisis. Little did we know that, at least some of them, are homicidal psychopaths with suicidal tendencies. Because this is precisely what was revealed moments ago when Bloomberg reported that the chief operating officer of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and 26-year San Fran Fed veteran, Richard Hornsby, is facing a felony charge for threatening to kill the agency’s former top official, Ed DeMarco, and then kill himself.
It wouldn't be the first time the Fed has "stretched" the truth...
On the 'growth' side, Commercial and Industrial loans are rising at a double digit annual rate of change (although it is unclear whether this is an indication of business optimism or stress - after all, we did see a big jump in these loans leading into the last recession). On the flip side, the bond market and the US dollar index seem to be flashing some warning signs about future growth. Simply put, the outlook for the economy is decidedly uncertain right now and we think so is the confidence in Janet Yellen. We think the more dire outcome for stocks would be if Toto fully pulled back the curtain on monetary policy and revealed it to be nothing more than a bunch clueless economists sitting in a conference room with no ability to control the economy or the markets. If US growth disappoints after all the Fed has done, how could anyone continue to view the Fed wizards as omnipotent? That would send the stock market back over the rainbow to the reality of an economy with big structural problems that can only be solved through political negotiation, something that has been notable only by its absence over – at least – the last 6 years. Are we headed back to Kansas?
By this point, one has to be impressed at the resilience with which algos repeat the same pattern over and over again, hoping for a different outcome. It is now the 6th day in a row that the JPY-carry trade (be it USDJPY, EURJPY or AUDJPY) driven levitation has pushed equity futures smartly up in overnight trading. And by all accounts - in the absence of ugly macro news which in today's sparse data line up (just Personal Income and Spending and UMich consumer condfidence) - the same post early highs fade we have seen every day in the past week will repeat again. The overnight euphoria was driven primarily by Europe where Bloomberg reported 2 Year Spanish yields have traded below those of the UK for the first time since 2009. And since it is obviously not the strong fundamentals, what is continuing to happen, as has been the case since October 2013, is everyone is pricing in the ECB's QE, which even Weidmann is openly talkin about now, which simply means it will most likely never actually happen, certainly not until it is too late.
It’s evident that the economy isn’t growing strongly because of conditions that central bankers themselves created, by encouraging excessive borrowing and disregarding moral hazard. In other words, the problem isn’t so much that the Fed can’t deliver another debt-fueled boom, but that it shouldn’t be trying to cure a credit bust with more borrowing in the first place. Sadly, though, this idea falls in the same category as the notion that the Fed’s balance sheet isn’t the right tool for job creation. It’s too damning a thought to be accepted by central bankers who’ve shackled themselves to a philosophy of ceaseless intervention. It’s also too basic for economists who prefer abstract theories and mathematical models over reality-based thinking.
Yesterday's news from the NAR that in February all cash transactions accounted for 35% of all existing home purchases, up from 33% in January, not to mention that 73% of speculators paid "all cash", caught some by surprise. But what this data ignores are new home purchases, where while single-family sales have been muted as expected considering the plunge in mortgage applications, multi-family unit growth - where investors hope to play the tail end of the popping rental bubble - has been stunning, and where multi-fam permits have soared to the highest since 2008. So how does the history of "all cash" home purchases in the US look before and after the arrival of the 2008 post-Lehman "New Normal." The answer is shown in the chart below.
Why Mainstream Economists Like Krugman Are So WRONG and So DANGEROUS
As we explained in great detail recently, the abundance of so-called cash-on-the-sidelines is a fallacy, but even more critically the we showed the belief that these 'IOUs of past economic activity' would immediately translate into efforts to deploy them into future economic activity is also entirely false. Simply put, there is no relationship between corporate cash and subsequent capital expenditure, nor is the level of capital expenditure even well-correlated with the level of real interest rates. At this point, as John Hussman explains, it should be clear that the mere existence of a mountain of IOUs related to past economic activity is not enough to provoke future economic activity. What matters instead is the same thing that always matters: Are the resources of the economy being directed toward productive uses that satisfy the needs of others?
Stocks in Europe failed to hold onto early gains and gradually moved into negative territory, albeit minor, as concerns over money markets in China gathered attention yet again after benchmark rates fell to lowest since May 2012. Nevertheless, basic materials outperformed on the sector breakdown, as energy and metal prices rebounded following yesterday’s weaker than expected Chinese data inspired sell off. At the same time, Bunds remained supported by the cautious sentiment, while EUR/USD came under pressure following comments by ECB's Constancio who said that financial markets misinterpreted us a little, can still cut rates and implement QE or buy assets. Going forward, market participants will get to digest the release of the weekly API report after the closing bell on Wall Street and the US Treasury will kick off this week’s issuance with a sale of USD 30bln in 3y notes.
With European peripheral bond yields collapsing every single day to new all time lows (primarily driven by Europe's near-certainty that a US-style QE is imminent as we first showed here in November, despite Mario Draghi's own words from November 2011 that a QE intervention is virtually impossible), increasingly more of Europe is trading just as safe, if not more, as the United States. And in keeping with the analogies, considering a major US metropolitan center, Detroit, recently went bankrupt, it is only fair that Europe should sacrifice one of its own historic cities to the gods of negative cash flows. The city in question, Rome, which as the WSJ reports, is "teetering on the brink of a Detroit-style bankruptcy."
The chart is very disturbing: it shows that as the S&P rises higher and higher (on ever declining volumes), foreigners are buying fewer and fewer US securities. In fact, on a 12 Month Moving Average basis, foreigners bought less long-term US securities than they did when Lehman crashed! And so we have come full circle, because while, understandably, nobody had any apetite for US securities around the Lehman crash when until the Fed stepped in and singlehandedly took over the US capital markets it was unclear if there even would be a US capital markets, now that five years later the S&P has risen to a level nearly three times the March 2009 lows thanks entirely to the Fed's $4.1 trillion balance sheet backstop, the interest in US securities is... lower than it was in the days just after Lehman!
The 'cash on the sidelines' myth has more lives than a cat. No matter how often the logical fallacy underlying it is pointed out, Wall Street continues to propagate it. Nevertheless, money and credit are of course extremely important factors in the analysis of asset markets. The below provides what are hopefully a few useful pointers as to which data one should keep an eye on in this context.
Today the lingering problems of the "emerging" world and concerns about the Fed's tapering take a back seat to what the European Central Bank may do, which ranges from nothing, to a rate cut (which sends deposit rates negative), to outright, unsterilized QE - we will find out shortly: with 61 out of the 66 economists polled by Bloomberg looking for no rate changes from the ECB today it virtually assures a surprise . However, despite - or perhaps in spite of - various disappointing news overnight, most notably German factory orders which missed -0.5% on expectations of a +0.2% print, down from 2.4%, the USDJPY has been supported which as everyone knows by now, is all that matters, even if it was unable to push the Nikkei 225 higher for the second day in a row and the Japanese correction persists.
Alarms are going off in assorted plunge protecting offices, now that the USDJPY has breached the 102.000 "fundamental" support level, below which the Yen can comfortably soar to sub 100.000 in perfectly even 100 pip increments. The first trading day of February has brought another weaker session across Asia though some equity indices such as the KOSPI (-1.1%) are in catch-up mode given they were shut towards the back-end of last week. Over the weekend, the Chinese government published its latest official manufacturing PMI which showed a 0.5pt drop to 50.5, a six-month low, and consistent with consensus estimates. DB’s Jun Ma believes there was some element of seasonality affecting this month’s result including the fact that Chinese New Year started at the end of January (vs February last year), anti-pollution measures in the lead up to CNY and efforts to control government consumption around the holiday period. The official service PMI was released overnight (53.4) which printed at the lowest level since at least 2011. The uninspiring Chinese data has not helped market sentiment this morning, with the Nikkei plunging -2% and ASX200 once again under pressure. S&P500 futures have fluctuated around the unchanged line this morning although if support below the USDJPY fail solidly, then watch out below. Markets in Mainland China and Hong Kong remain closed for Lunar New Year.
"I happen to think that 2014 is a VERY different year than 2013 from a variety of viewpoints. First, there appears to be a dispersion of opinion about markets, valuations, policy frameworks and more. This is a healthy departure from YEARS of artificiality. Artificiality in valuations, artificiality in market and policy mechanics and essentially artificiality in EVERY financial, and real, relationship on the planet based on central bank(s) balance sheet expansion and other measures intended to be a stop-gap resolution to tightening financial conditions, adverse expectations of economic activity, and the great rollover" - Russ Certo, Brean Capital