Gross Domestic Product
The FOMC is now meeting for the first time with Janet Yellen as Chair. Goldman's US team expects the FOMC to deliver an accommodative message...alongside a continued tapering of asset purchases. However, they note, their market views here are likely to shift little in response, as much of that dovishness is arguably already priced, particularly in US rates. SocGen notes that "qualitative guidance" will probably consist of two components: the FOMC’s forecast for the fed funds rate (aka “the dots”) providing a baseline scenario, and a descriptive component signalling the elasticity of this rate path to the underlying economic outlook. SocGen also warns that this transition is worrisome for inflation in 2015. But BofA suggests this is not problem as The Fed will indicate the US economy "lift-off" in late-2015 will save us all.
A new era is dawning in Chinese foreign policy as the country’s economic growth enables it to move from past timorousness in declaring itself a global leader and a relative inability to defend its interests, to one in which Beijing can seek adjustments in the security environment it has faced for the last sixty years. In the Chinese-language media, politicians are increasingly talking of China as a great power. Yet Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put Beijing’s new foreign policy to the test and raised questions about the extent of China’s global role. China is close to meeting all the measures of what defines a global great power: political, economic, and military might with a global reach. But it does not appear to act like a great power in terms of its contribution to international leadership during conflict situations such as in Ukraine. Instead we repeatedly only see Beijing being assertive when it comes to defending its own narrow interests.
Nearly 40% of China lives off of $2 a day. Your average college graduate in China makes just $2,500 per year. In an economy such as this, a rise in prices in costs of living can be devastating for the population.
Ordinarily Grant Williams would bet the ranch on this spat being defused diplomatically and everybody leaving the negotiating table a little disgruntled (which would mean the outcome was just about perfect); but he suspects that markets have become dangerously conditioned — by one perfectly executed landing after another in recent years — to expect (and position for) the best. The trouble is we've been here before and pulled back from the brink every time, but this time that outcome is expected again by most, and that is extremely dangerous; as markets are most assuredly NOT ready for reality. Add to that the fact that every new Fed chief gets a serious test - perhaps it is Yellen's turn?
Despite much hope that the current breakout of the markets is the beginning of a new secular "bull" market - the economic and fundamental variables suggest otherwise. Valuations and sentiment are at very elevated levels while interest rates, inflation, wages and savings rates are all at historically low levels. This set of fundamental variables are normally seen at the end of secular bull market periods. It is entirely conceivable that stock prices can be driven higher through the Federal Reserve's ongoing interventions, current momentum, and excessive optimism. However, the current economic variables, demographic trends and underlying fundamentals make it currently impossible to "replay the tape" of the 80's and 90's. These dynamics increase the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. The good news is that it is precisely that reversion that will likely create the "set up" necessary to launch the next great secular bull market. However, as was seen at the bottom of the market in 1974, there were few individual investors left to enjoy the beginning of that ride.
Blaming the weather for the sullen state of corporate or economic affairs has become a daily occurrence by analysts, pundits and corporate chieftains. However, Bloomberg's Rich Yamarone notes that while there has undoubtedly been a larger-than-normal impact this year, some sub-components of headline indicators suggest underlying weakness without the influence of snowstorms. Sinking economic activity cannot be blamed solely on poor weather, he adds, noting one client's comment that, "If we adjusted for weather, Napoleon would have taken Russia in 1812."
For five long years, we have pursued the fantasy that we could return to "growth" without having to fix or change anything. The core policy of the fantasy is the consensus of "serious economists," i.e. those accepted into the priesthood of PhD economists protected by academic tenure or state positions: what we suffered in 2009 was not the collapse of leveraged crony-state financialization but a temporary decline of "aggregate demand" and productive capacity. The five-year fantasy that free money would fix all the distortions and systemic problems is drawing to a close. Why can't the fantasy run forever? The two-word answer: diminishing returns. Handing out subprime auto loans works at first because it pulls demand forward: anyone who wants or needs a new car buys one now, rather than put the purchase off a year or two. Eventually the marginal buyers default and demand falls off, and the distortions cause an even greater collapse in demand and auto loan quality.
While Marc Faber is adamant that "there’s lots of funny things that are happening in China. And when the whole thing unwinds it will be a disaster," it is his comments with regard Ukraine (and Russia) that are worth paying significant new attention to. As The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report editor notes in this brief Bloomberg TV interview, if you put yourself in Putin's shoes "he did the right thing from his perspective," given Crimea's strategic importance. However, as Faber concludes, "Crimea moving to Russia gives essentially a signal to China that one day they can also move and seize some territory that they perceive belongs to them."
Having offloaded its short-dated Ukraine bonds to clients (recommending they buy them in size when Yanukovych was ousted for a decent loss so far), the boys from Goldman are up to their old tricks with a lorry-load of German stocks to sell you... "Year to date, the DAX is one of the worst performing indices in Europe (down 4.6% relative to the European market which is flat)... but we think the overall German market will outperform the pan-European STOXX Europe 600 index, and also highlight a list of DAX stocks that are currently Buy rated by our analysts."
We have an economy that is weaker than the headline numbers claim with inflation that is higher than the headline numbers claim.
"All the Trumans – the economists, fund managers, traders, market pundits –know at some level that the environment in which they operate is not what it seems on the surface…. But the zeitgeist is so damn pleasant, the days so resplendent, the mood so euphoric, the returns so irresistible, that no one wants it to end."
Klarman is here referring to the waning days of this third and greatest financial bubble of this century. But David Stockman's take is that the crack-up boom now nearing its dénouement marks not merely the season finale of still another Fed-induced cycle of financial asset inflation, but, in fact, portends the demise of an entire era of bubble finance.
"X" continues to mark the spot of the death of global investor rationality...
The Zagat-style summary, the market is "extremely overvalued", but it will rise on an "increase in the level of profits" and "we expect an 8% rise in the level of earnings this year", even though "we expect many firms will issue negative earnings guidance ahead of 1Q 2014 reporting season that takes place from mid-April to mid-May."
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?