The last time the stock market reached a fevered peak and began to wobble unexpectedly was August 2007. Markets were most definitely not in the classic “price discovery” business. Instead, the stock market had discovered the “goldilocks economy." But what is profoundly different this time is that the Fed is out of dry powder. Its can’t slash the discount rate as Bernanke did in August 2007 or continuously reduce it federal funds target on a trip from 6% all the way down to zero. Nor can it resort to massive balance sheet expansion. That card has been played and a replay would only spook the market even more. So this time is different. The gamblers are scampering around the casino fixing to buy the dip as soon as white smoke wafts from the Eccles Building. But none is coming. For the first time in 25- years, the Wall Street gamblers are home alone.
Since weather has become the most crucial factor in forecasting economic growth, we thought it crucial to the future of central bank policy to note that Summer 2014 was officially the hottest one ever, according to NOAA. This of course means there is "pent-up" cold weather, which may explain the collapse in global growth expectations. However, this chatter about heat may surprise Americans (aside from those that live in the Western States) as the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. were running cooler than normal (thus concerns about growth). According to NOAA’s records, this is the 38th consecutive August and 354th consecutive month with a global average temperature above the 20th century average.
“At This Point You Just Have to Laugh”. In every important respect, the Fed and the ECB and their brethren are no longer central banks at all. They are Ministries of Markets, no different from a Ministry of Industry or – even more eerily similar – the Ministry of Culture you would find in most European governments. At this point the Narrative hegemony is complete. There’s no longer even a cursory bow to the idea that fundamentals matter. So I’m calling a top. Not a top in markets, because I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen next. But I’m calling a top in the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence because it has, in fact, reached its asymptotic limit of influence and belief.
- Scotland split jitters send sterling to 10-month low (Reuters)
- S&P 500 Beating World Most Since 1969 Doesn’t Spark Flows (BBG)
- Happy ending guaranteed: Vietnam building deterrent against China in disputed seas with submarines (Reuters)
- China Posts Record Surplus as Exports-Imports Diverge (Bloomberg)
- Russia, U.S. to hold talks on 1987 arms accord (Reuters)
- Halcon’s Wilson Drills More Debt Than Oil in Shale Bet (BBG)
- Deadly Disappointment Awaits at Ebola Clinics Due to Lack of Space (WSJ)
- Latinos furious at Obama on immigration delay, vow more pressure (Reuters)
- Japan GDP Shrinks at Fastest Pace in More Than Five Years (WSJ)
While everyone's (algorithmic) attention will be focused on today's minutes from the July 29-30 FOMC meeting for views on remaining slack in U.S. economy following recent changes in the labor market (especially a particularly solid JOLTS report which indicates that at least on the openings front, there is no more) and any signal of policy change by the Fed ahead of Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s speech in Jackson Hole on Aug. 22, a curious thing happened overnight when a few hours ago the BoE's own minutes show the first vote split since 2011, as Weale and McCafferty argue for a 0.75% bank rate. Then again, if the Russians are finally bailing on London real estate, the inflationary pressures at the top of UK housing may finally be easing. In any event, every FOMC "minute" will be overanalyzed for hints of what Yellen's speech on Friday morning will say, even if stocks just shy of all time highs know quite well she won't dare say anything to tip the boat despite her warnings of a biotech and social network bubble.
While consensus is 230k, the whisper number for non-farm payrolls has ticked up to 270k from London's earlier 260k according to Bloomberg's Richard Breslow. Here's how the numbers may play out...
It appears - judging by today's shenanigans - that good news for Main Street (rising employment costs) is bad news (for stocks), though obviously there are other factors; but tomorrow's payrolls data is the last best hope before the Fed finishes its taper for them to pull a 'data-driven' U-turn out of the bag. Consensus is for a drop from last month's exuberance at 288k to 230k (with Barclays slightly cold and Deutsche slightly hot). The fear, for market bulls, is that the print is anti-goldilocks now - not bad enough to provide excuses for lower-longer Fed rates; and not high enough to justify the hockey-stick of miraculous H2 growth priced into stocks. Average S&P gains on NFP Friday are 0.5% but recently have become more noisy.
We are sure President Obama must be happy that the European leaders finally stepped in line behind him and layered new goldilocks sanctions on Russia. With business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic urging him not to, for fear of the dreaded 'boomerang' from Putin (which has already been targeted at MSFT, IBM, MCD, INTC, AMD, and car manufacturers), President Obama is set to explain how his new-new sanctions (which include several Russian banks including VTB, Russia's second largest ) and will be the message that Putin needs to leave, fold to NATO, handover everything, and retire to the Gulag. Yet, oddly enough, Gazprom is once again missing from the sanctions list. The whole market is sliding heading into his speech (including the Russian ETF). We await the retaliation.
After unleashing a 10-page report of the death and destructive economic impact they could have on Russia via sanctions, the European leaders have agreed to issue travel bans, some asset-freezes, and trade curbs on various new individuals and business entities. The Goldilocks sanctions... just enough to please Washington, not enough to infuriate Putin into 'boomerangs'.
One of the biggest mistakes that investors make is falling prey to cognitive biases that obfuscate rising investment risks. Here are 5 counter-points to the main memes in the market currently...
While the Bank of England's chief economist, Andrew Haldane, admitted that reviving investors’ appetite for risk was one of the forgotten goals of central banks, he notes there are concerns that risk is not being "removed" but changing shape and migrating to more liquid markets but that should not be a problem as "monetary policy can on occasions have a role to play in ensuring against these financial stability risks..." i.e. the market put. His biggest concern is the aggregation of derivatives clearing which could be a "problem from hell" but he notes the future will not be the same as the past as "volatility in financial-market asset prices will be somewhat greater," and that interest rates will not 'normalize' to the levels of the past.
Pending home sales surged by 6.1% MoM in May; this is the largest jump since April 2010 (when first-time buyers scrambled to sign contracts before tax credits expired. However, exuberant spike aside, this is the 8th month in a row of a year-over-year drop in home sales. NAR is ever-optimistic suggesting "sales should exceed an annual pace of five million homes," amid low rates, inventory and job creation (goldilocks?). The sales, unsurprisingly, are all high-end: "The flourishing stock market the last few years has propelled sales in the higher price brackets," as lower-cost home sales plunge.
As individuals, it is entirely acceptable to be "optimistic" about the future. However, "optimism" and "pessimism" are emotional biases that tend to obfuscate the critical thinking required to effectively assess the "risks". The current "hope" that Q1 was simply a "weather related" anomaly is also an emotionally driven skew. The underlying data suggests that while "weather" did play a role in the sluggishness of the economy, it was also just a reflection of the continued "boom bust" cycle that has existed since the end of the financial crisis. The current downturn in real final sales suggests that the underlying strength in the economy remains extremely fragile. More importantly, with final sales below levels normally associated with the onset of recessions, it suggests that the current rebound in activity from the sharp decline in Q1 could be transient.
"Why would anyone pay an advisor and reduce their returns when all one had to do was point-and-click their way to wealth." Near each major market peak throughout history, there has been some "new" innovation in the financial markets to take advantage of individual's investment "greed." In 1929, Charles Ponzi created the first "Ponzi" scheme. In the 1600's, it was "Tulip Bulbs." Whenever, and where ever, there has ever been a peak in "investor insanity," there has always been someone there to meet that need. In that past it was railroads, real estate, commodities, or emerging market debt; today it is investment advice. The latest innovation to come to market is what is termed "Robo-Advisors." That is the cycle of innovation in the financial market place. Despite the best of intentions, and advances in innovation, humans will always seek out the comfort of other humans in times of distress. The rising notoriety of Robo-advisors is very likely the symbol of the current late stage "market exuberance."