Let's discuss what an increase in rates, even a slight nominal blip, really means for those of us in the EU and the US.
While the market's jarring response to Ben Bernanke's (very much un)surprising Taper pre-announcement has been extensively documented and discussed, and is most comparable to the tantrum unleashed during the summer of 2011 debt ceiling negotiation when the market's ultimatum that US spending must go on or the wealth effect gets it, the key question at the heart of the market's confusion is whether Bernanke has telegraphed the start of tightening or merely the end of easing. Stock bulls, obviously, defend the latter while those who dream for a return to normal, uncentrally-planned markets are hoping for the former. But what do the facts say? The charts below show the 10 previous Fed cycles with the dates of the last rate cut vs. first rate hike. The average time distance between the last rate cut and the first rate hike has been around 15 months.
The FOMC lives in a fantasy world. The economy is not improving materially and deflationary pressures are rising as the bulk of the globe is in recession or worse. The problem is that the current proposed policy is an exercise in wishful thinking. While the Fed blamed fiscal policy out of Washington; the reality is that monetary policy does not work in reducing real unemployment. However, what monetary policy does do is promote asset bubbles that are dangerous; particularly when they are concentrated in riskiest of assets from stocks to junk bonds. However, if you want to see the efficiency of the Federal Reserve in action it is important to view their own forecasts for accuracy. The reality is that Fed may have finally found the limits of their effectiveness as earnings growth slows, economic data weakens and real unemployment remains high. Reminiscent of the choices of Goldilocks - it is likely the Fed's estimates for economic growth in 2013 are too hot, employment is too cold and inflation estimates may be just about right. The real unspoken concern should be the continued threat of deflation and the next recession. One thing is for certain; the Fed faces an uphill battle from here.
This was one helluva week. Nevertheless current markets are still hooked on QE.
Yesterday's multi-year record-breaking rally in JPY stunned a few carry-traders around the world and the overnight session in Japan suggested things were not going quite according to plan. But have no fear. A perfectly hum-drum jobs report - not Goldilocks by any means in terms of its suggesting good growth (which most should want) or bad growth (which markets want) - was enough to spark an incredible 270 pip (so far) sell-off in JPY. This is a major nation's FX rate - not a penny stock, not a banana republic, not a tech IPO!!
As the world waits breathless for some Goldilocks print in tomorrow's non-farm payroll data, Gallup's most recent survey of employment trends does not paint a pretty picture for the real economy. Though, by the 'adjustment bureau' and their Arima-X goal-seeking, nothing is ever clear, not only is the payroll-to-population (the number of people working) worse than a year ago but the unemployment rate is also rising with under-employment - at 18.0% - near 15 month highs. If the NFP print plays out in line with this, the estimate of 165k will be woefully over-optimistic, leaving the question of whether bad-is-good, or have we crossed the Rubicon of belief in moar is better.
As the markets elevate higher on the back of the global central bank interventions it is important to keep in context the historical tendencies of the markets over time. Here we are once again with markets, driven by inflows of liquidity from Central Banks, hitting all-time highs. Of course, the chorus of justifications have come to the forefront as to why "this time is different." The current level of overbought conditions, combined with extreme complacency, in the market leave unwitting investors in danger of a more severe correction than currently anticipated. There is virtually no “bullish” argument that will withstand real scrutiny. Yield analysis is flawed because of the artificial interest rate suppression. It is the same for equity risk premium analysis. However, because the optimistic analysis supports the underlying psychological greed - all real scrutiny that would reveal evidence to contrary is dismissed. However, it is "willful blindness" that eventually leads to a dislocation in the markets. In this regard let's review the three most common arguments used to support the current market exuberance.
Even if the monetary fuel for this whirl of self-reinforcement is not lacking, the market still needs a narrative around which it can cluster psychologically. It needs a canon of shared myth about which the bard can weave a reassuringly familiar refrain so as to reinforce the sense of community when the members of the clan gather to listen to his warblings amid the flickering fires and guttering torchlight of the Great Hall at night. Despite the bubbles everywhere, hastily shrugged off by the Chairman-in-chief we must add, we are still all suckers for a good saga. As far as we can see, the current narrative contains several key themes... What could possibly go wrong?
In this past weekend's missive we showed, in rather excruciating detail in multiple charts, that complacency in the financial markets is at extremely elevated levels. Investors behave much the same way as individuals who addicted to gambling. When they are winning they believe that their success is based on their skill. However, when they began to lose, they keep gambling thinking the next “hand” will be the one that gets them back on track. Eventually - they leave the table broke. It is true that bull markets are more fun than bear markets. Bull markets elicit euphoria and feelings of psychological superiority. Bear markets bring fear, panic and depression. What is interesting is that no matter how many times we continually repeat these “cycles” – as emotional human beings we always “hope” that somehow this “time will be different.” Unfortunately, it never is, and this time won’t be either.
With the Fed now fully engaged, and few if any policy tools left, the effectiveness of continued artificial stimulation is clearly waning. Lower mortgages rates, interest rates and excess liquidity served well in priming the pumps of the real estate and financial markets when valuations were extremely depressed. However, four years and four programs later, stock valuations are no longer low, earnings are no longer depressed and the majority of real estate related activity has likely been completed. It is for this reason that the returns from each subsequent program have diminished. The reality is that Fed may have finally found the limits of their effectiveness as earnings growth slows, economic data weakens and real unemployment remains high. Reminiscent of the choices of Goldilocks - it is likely the Fed's estimates for economic growth in 2013 are too hot, employment is too cold and inflation estimates may be just about right. The real unspoken concern is the continued threat of deflation and the next recession.
For a while there, one might have been forgiven for believing that all was going to be well; that the recovery was V-shaped and the new-normal was nothing but the old-normal and Goldilocks would reappear. It appears, however, that the central bank lipstick slapped on the deflationary pig of the over-levered global economy is starting to wear off. As the following 4 charts show, things are not as 'recovering' as many hoped (and still hope).
HSBC's China Flash PMI just printed above expectations at 51.7, disappointing those hoping for more stimulus but just Goldilocks enough to satisfy the world that China is firing on all cylinders... But, and there's always a but, the following chart suggests that the diffusion-driven survey-based PMI data may be just a little different from the hard data on the ground. Of course, everything could have magically turned around in the last 3 weeks (aside from Copper demand and PBoC repo/rev. repo that is). For now, we tip our hat to the well planned PMI print as indicative that all is well in the smog-ridden pig-barren nation but scratch our chin at just what is powering all this growthiness...
The grind lower in initial jobless claims continues, which from an upwardly revised 342k (was 340K) last week, declined to 332K in the most recent week ended March 9, on expectations of an increase to 350K. This was the third consecutive beat in a row and the lowest total print since January, which in turn takes it all the way back to January 2008. Continuing claims were also better than expected, dropping from an upwardly-revised 3113K, to 3024K, on expectations of a 3090K print. According to the BLS, unlike the last time we had an abnormally low print, no states were estimated this time around.
Water is wet. Sky is blue. Spring follows Winter. All things we hold as true and yet, it appears the last of these has managed to foil the best laid plans of Dick's Sporting Goods amid their dismal earnings call. The company at once blamed 'warmer weather' than expected for shrinkage in its outerwear sales and because "it didn't look like Winter was going to come," the firm then blamed excessively cold weather and its lack of outerwear inventory to meet those needs. Just as the firm said, "we're not as smart as we look," as it appears that unless we get Goldilocks perfection year-round, retail sales are all but a pure guess on meteorological mysticism.
Below are the expectations of the biggest banks for today's Nonfarm Payroll number to be announced in just over two hours:
- Morgan Stanley +135K
- Barclays Capital +150K
- Goldman Sachs +150K
- Bank of America +160K
- JPMorgan +165K
- HSBC +179K
- Deutsche Bank +180K
- UBS +190K