Flight to Safety
Though the Fed is doing its best to mask its abject failure and lack of choices with public relations, the reality is it has no choice but to taper and eventually end its endless spew of credit and its unprecedented and destabilizing purchases of assets.
In case you were wondering why US equities are charging higer yet again today on mediocre news (while bonds shrug), we offer another potential reason... Russian stocks are now in bull market territory off the mid-March "sanctions" lows... not exactly the "costs" that the US had in mind and thus even more curcial that S equities are lifted (by any nunber of visible and invisible hands) to show just how powerful the status quo of the West still is (the S&P is up 5% in the same period). Perhaps even more importantly, this refutes any thesis that bonds are higher only due to Russian capital outflow (i.e. flight to safety).
Oil prices have increased recently as tension in Ukraine has escalated and raised concerns about the risks of disruption in Russian energy exports. There is a risk that the security situation in the east Ukraine will worsen even further ahead of the 25 May elections. As Nordea notes, Russia is as important an oil exporter to Europe (of both crude and refined products) as it is a gas exporter, and the consequences of a cut in Russian oil supplies could be as grave since the global oil market has little back-up capacity to lean on. As a result, a halt in the oil deliveries from Russia to Europe will spark a sharp spike in oil prices (potentially to $150/bbl) and in a worst case scenario an oil crisis and European recession (and major slowdown in global growth) and US shale oil or an SPR release will prevent the spike.
Last month it was a tribute to his cat. This month, the manager of the world's largest bond fund discusses sneezing: "A sneeze is, to be candid, sort of half erotic, a release of pressure that feels oh so good either before or just after the Achoo! The air, along with 100,000 germs, comes shooting out of your nose faster than a race car at the Indy 500. It feels sooooo good that people used to sneeze on purpose." He also discusses the aftermath: "The old saying goes that when the U.S. economy sneezes, the world catches cold. That still seems to be true enough, although Chinese influenza is gaining in importance. If both sneezed at the same time then instead of “God bless you” perhaps someone would cry out “God have mercy.” We’re not there yet, although in this period of high leverage it’s important to realize that the price of money and the servicing cost of that leverage are critical for a healthy economy. " He also talks about some other things, mostly revolving around long-term rates of return assumptions and what those mean for investors.
This is the multi trillion-dollar question.
- Ukraine anxiety triggers flight to safety, stocks tumble (Reuters)
- Woodrow Wilson’s Ukraine Failure Foreshadows West’s Dilemmas (BBG)
- Fortress Executives Join Peers Selling Stock After Rally (BBG)
- 303 Deaths Seen in G.M. Cars With Failed Air Bags (NYT)
- Putin Deports Executives for Speeding as Sanctions Loom (BBG)
- Russia blocks internet sites of Putin critics (Reuters)
- China Bond Risk Exceeds Ireland as Defaults Unavoidable (BBG)
- China H-Shares Post Biggest Weekly Drop Since October (BBG)
- Surge in Rail Shipments of Oil Sidetracks Other Industries (WSJ)
- Blackstone’s Home Buying Binge Ends as Prices Surge (BBG)
Since 1998, the markets have been in serial bubbles and busts, each one bigger than the last. A long-term chart of the S&P 500 shows us just how obvious this is (and yet the Fed argues it cannot see bubbles in advance?).
The first signs are emerging that the cult-like status given to the world's central bankers is starting to wane, with significant market implications.
We are astounded with the number of people saying that the Fed didn't say anything new. These people must be living in Borneo and far out into the jungle. The Fed came out and said as clearly as any Fed has ever said; "We are going to unwind the trade." Yes, sure, there was the usual huff and puff about a change in market conditions could change our viewpoint but that is not relevant. What was relevant is that the Fed stated and quite clearly that, "The party is over." Because we live in a global economy we will now also get impacted by China and Europe. The flow of money had protected our shores but now we will be exposed and the recession in Europe and the growth rate in China, probably around a real 3.5%-4.0%, is going to come bouncing into America. Liquidity has been the one and only god and the Fed has now told you that this god is going to close up shop.
Whether by intent or good fortune, gold's plunge in the last few days has reduced its appeal as a store of wealth and spurred the more central-planner-biased view that the US Dollar is the 'safest' place to deposit your hard-earned after-tax wealth. However, as Cypriots learned the hard way, trust in the entire system depends on the counterparty (in the case of bank deposits, you are implicitly lending your money for no return to a highly-leveraged entity) covered by an FIDC guarantee. As the following infographic makes very clear, that level of trust is remarkable when the reality is that gold is an asset without any counterparty risk and without any implied risk.
With every modestly positive datapoint being desperately clung to, now that even Goldman's Hatzius has once more thrown in the economic towel after proclaiming an economic renaissance in late 2012 just like he did in late 2010 only to issue a mea culpa a few months later (and just as we predicted - post coming up shortly), the key prerogative is to ignore the elephant in the room. That, of course, is that the JPY 1 quadrillion bond market had to be halted for the second day in a row as the Japanese capital markets are fast becoming a very big and sad joke. The resulting flight to safety from Japanese investors, who sense that their own bond market is on the verge of breaking down completely, has managed to send French and Belgian bonds to record lows, the Spanish 2 Year to sub 2%, the German 6 month bill negative in the primary market, the US 10/30 year constantly bid and so on. The immediate result is that the bond-equity disconnect continues to diverge until one day we may get negative 10 Year rates coupled with an all time high stock market. Gotta love the fake New Normal market, in which the Japanese penny stock market was up another 2.8% to well over 13,000 even as the Shanghai Composite plumbs ever redder territory for 2013 on fears the birdflu contagion will hurt the already struggling economy even more.
In one of a few early hints that Europe might surprise the world with its Cyprus bailout, on February 10th the Financial Times leaked the content of a secret EU memo. It reported that bank depositor haircuts were among three options being considered to reduce bailout costs. And the memo also warned ominously that “such drastic action could restart contagion in eurozone financial markets.” Clearly, policymakers decided to take their chances. And now we’re living through the contagion that the memo’s authors predicted. But what exactly does that mean? Sure, we can see volatility in asset prices, but how long will it last? Some pundits say it’ll blow over like a late afternoon shower on an otherwise sunny day. I disagree. I’ll suggest there’s more to it than rising market volatility and that we should take a closer look at the meaning of contagion. I’ll argue there are three different types at work today: vanilla contagion, latent contagion and stealth contagion. And when you add up the three effects, Cyprus will have a bigger global impact than many expect.
Most investors are nervous now and need to hold things together to include the Fed meeting announcement Wednesday. If bulls are lucky they’ll get their Turnaround Tuesday.
While the equity markets inch back to their 'safe' place of de minimus volumes and slow leakage higher, it seems real money is flooding into the safety of Switzerland (and gold). Swiss 2Y rates are testing back into negative territory once again and have dropped (on demand) their most since August 2012.
According to “Economics 101”, quantitative easing, on the heroic scale we have witnessed thus far, should already have led to rampant if not hyper inflation. That it hasn’t is down to the continuing decline in the velocity of circulation of money. In simple terms the banks aren’t lending (compared with the amount of money available to them), but instead are punting on financial assets, which is where “inflation” is ending up and benefitting their balance sheets. Markets generally front run the economy, but if, as many folk believe, including our commentator above, that quantitative easing has been a failure from the start, then why are equity markets indicating an upturn in economic activity? At the end of the day, if the central banks continue to believe they have no other option than money printing and you can put up with the volatility, it’s all aboard the equity train. Bond yields won’t rise much either; if at all. The gold price should give some indication of whether this strategy is working or not, but that is a market that is far easier to rig than sovereign debt – the Germans seem to think so as they contemplate repatriating some of their bullion held by other central banks.