How quickly emerging markets’ fortunes have turned. Not long ago, they were touted as the salvation of the world economy – the dynamic engines of growth that would take over as the economies of the United States and Europe sputtered. Economists at Citigroup, McKinsey, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and elsewhere were predicting an era of broad and sustained growth from Asia to Africa. But now the emerging-market blues are back. This is not the first time that developing countries have been hit hard by abrupt mood swings in global financial markets. The surprise is that we are surprised. Economists, in particular, should have learned a few fundamental lessons long ago...
Two weeks ago we learned what many had already known just by extrapolating simple trends: in 2013 Chinese net imports of gold from Hong Kong alone rose to over 1000 tons of gold, or 1158 to be precise - 100 tons more than China's official gold holdings of 1054 tons which have not "budged" in the past four years - following another significant net monthly import of 94.8 tons of the precious metal in December (and 126.6 gross). This means total gold imports in 2013 was more than double the 557 tons imported in 2012, and as a result China has now officially surpassed India as the world's biggest buyer of gold (although the title may swing back to India once gold price controls are relaxed, or if the government were to count all the gold smuggled into the country via illegal channels).
Crisis was averted. Or was it just put off for another day?
The most notable event in this traditionally quiet post-payrolls week is Janet Yellen's Humphrey Hawkins testimony before Congress set for mid-week. In terms of economic data releases, the US retail sales (Exp. 0.05%) is on Thursday and consumer sentiment survey is on Friday (consensus 80.5). We also have IP numbers from Euro Area countries and the US. Most recent external account statistics are released from Japan, China, India and Turkey. It is also interesting to track CPI data in Germany, Spain and India, given the ECB and RBI currently face diverging inflation challenges and may be forced into further action. Finally, we have Q4 GDP data from the Euro Area economies (Friday).
UBS' George Magnus believes the next global economic "crisis"' lightning rod will be the emerging markets and as Jim Rogers tells BoomBust's Erin Ade in this brief interview, "the emerging market crisis has only just begun." While Rogers is careful to add that there are lots of emerging markets - "some better than others;" he warns that "there are some serious problems out there and they are going to get worse." Who is to blame? The Fed, of course - "by driving rates so low and providing as much liquidity as anyone in the world could want, the EMs have borrowed to cover up their real problems... be worried."
Although there are no policy making meetings, central banks will still dominate the agenda in the week ahead.
So what happened to the unemployment rate that it dropped so fast it surprised and embarrassed even the "venerable" Federal Reserve, which had initially expected a 6.5% unemployment rate some time in 2015. To get the answer we go back in time to the last (and only previous) time when the US unemployment rate dropped from roughly 10%, which was in June 1983, to 6.6%, which took place three and half years later, in December 1986 - let's call it the "Reagan Recovery" in short.
While The White House crows of the falling unemployment rate (which everyone now knows is entirely useless as an indicator of anything), the rapid-drop in this indicator is a major headache for the Fed. While forward-guidance is crucial in replacing the "common knowledge" that the Fed remains easier-for-longer as bond-buying is tapered, despite it's dismissal by vice-chair Stan Fischer and BoE's Carney (and even an almost admission of its weakness by Bernanke), Yellen faces a market that is betting massively (actually in record size) that short-term rates will rise and Fed heads like Lacker shift to "more qualitative ways" of maintaining the punchbowl.
No-one knows for sure how big a problem China's economy will eventually face due to the massive credit and money supply growth that has occurred in recent years and no-one know when exactly it will happen either. There have been many dire predictions over the years, but so far none have come true. And yet, it is clear that there is a looming problem of considerable magnitude that won't simply go away painlessly. The greatest credit excesses have been built up after 2008, which suggests that there can be no comfort in the knowledge that 'nothing has happened yet'. Given China's importance to the global economy, it seems impossible for this not to have grave consequences for the rest of the world, in spite of China's peculiar attributes in terms of government control over the economy and the closed capital account.
Over the last year, investors have been lulled to sleep wrapped in the warmth of complacency as the Federal Reserve stoked the fires of the market with $85 billion a month in liquidity injections. I have written many times in the past that investors were likely to be rudely awakened by an unexpected event of which was likely not even on the majority of mainstream analysts radars. That occurred this past week as a revulsion in emerging markets sent the "carry trade" running in reverse. What we will need to ponder this weekend is whether the current correction is simply just a dip within an ongoing uptrend OR have the "bears" finally awakened from their winter hibernation?
The taper program distances the bankers from responsibility for crisis in our financial framework, at least in the eyes of the general public. If a market calamity takes place while stimulus measures are still at full speed, this makes the banks look rather guilty, or at least incompetent. People would begin to question the validity of central bank methods, and they might even question the validity of the central bank’s existence. The Fed is creating space between itself and the economy because they know that a trigger event is coming. They want to ensure that they are not blamed and that stimulus itself is not seen as ineffective, or seen as the cause. We all know that the claims of recovery are utter nonsense. The taper is not in response to an improving economic environment. Rather, the taper is a signal for the next stage of collapse. The real reason stocks and other indicators are stumbling is because the effectiveness of stimulus manipulation has a shelf life, and that shelf life is over for the Federal Reserve.
According to a 2001 Fortune interview, Warren Buffett believes that Market-Cap-to-GDP is "probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment." As Doug Short shows in the following charts, we suspect Warren is a little more than worried about the valuation of his portfolio (unless of course, it's different this time). Both the "Buffett Index" and the Wilshire 5000 variant suggest that today's market is at lofty valuations, now above housing-bubble peak in 2007.
Moments ago, the Senate Banking Committee started a hearing on the topic of "Financial Stability And Data Security." We assume the topic discussed will be financial stability, the highly diluted final version of the Volcker Rule, Dodd Drank, the London Whale, and other things legislators have no understanding of. As such it will be a complete waste of time, and the only thing that can possibly force anyone to fix the broken system is the next systemic crash, one which the central banks, already all in with their bailout efforts, will be unable to resolve.
As the Fed continues to extract liquidity from the financial markets, it is likely that we will continue to see increased volatility in the markets. However, despite the ever bullish calls by the mainstream analysts, the current market rout has awoken many overly complacent, excessively bullish, investors. The 5-panel chart below really tells you all you need to know about the current market environment. We are overbought, over extended and exceedingly bullish. The combination of these metrics has a history of bad outcomes. Unfortunately, because these measures are generally overrun in the short term by price momentum and sentiment, they are disregarded as "this time is different."
Triffin’s Dilemma is that the country that issues the world’s reserve currency will have to choose between:
1 ) running a trade deficit in perpetuity - risking of a loss of confidence in its currency and solvency while the rest of the world enjoys an adequate supply of USDs.
2) running a trade surplus and enjoying an appreciation in the value of the dollar while the rest of the world suffers from a lack of liquidity and collateral.
Either way, there are negative implications for world growth. In the first example – in which the US runs a trade deficit in perpetuity – the US continues to add to its debt and risks undermining its ability to pay off that debt. In the second example – in which the US runs a trade surplus – emerging market currencies are put under pressure by the USD potentially leading to capital outflows, a higher cost of debt, and global financial instability.