Just when you thought the R&R debate was finished, it seems Paul Krugman's latest "spectacularly uncivil behavior" pushed Reinhart and Rogoff too far. In what can only be described as the most eruditely worded of "fuck you"s, the pair go on the offensive at Krugman's ongoing tete-a-tete. "You have attacked us in very personal terms, virtually non-stop... Your characterization of our work and of our policy impact is selective and shallow. It is deeply misleading about where we stand on the issues. And we would respectfully submit, your logic and evidence on the policy substance is not nearly as compelling as you imply... That you disagree with our interpretation of the results is your prerogative. Your thoroughly ignoring the subsequent literature... is troubling. Perhaps, acknowledging the updated literature on drawbacks to high debt-would inconveniently undermine your attempt to make us a scapegoat for austerity."
A week later and everyone is a bit more nervous, with the speculation that US sovereign debt purchases by the Federal Reserve will wind down and with the Bank of Japan completely cornered. In anticipation to the debate on the Fed’s bond purchase tapering, on April 28th (see here) we wrote why the Federal Reserve cannot exit Quantitative Easing: Any tightening must be preceded by a change in policy that addresses fiscal deficits. It has absolutely nothing to do with unemployment or activity levels. Furthermore, it will require international coordination. This is also not possible. In light of this, we are now beginning to see research that incorporates the problem of future higher inflation to the valuation of different asset classes. Why is this relevant? The gap between current valuations in the capital markets (both debt and credit) and the weak activity data releases could mistakenly be interpreted as a reflection of the collective expectation of an imminent recovery. The question therefore is: Can inflation bring a recovery? Can inflation positively affect valuations? The answer, as explained below, is that the inflationary policies carried out globally today, if successful will have a considerably negative impact on economic growth.
France is engulfed by a political, economic and moral paralysis. The president has record low popularity, unemployment is making new highs and the tax czar of a supposedly left wing government just quit after repeatedly lying about a pile of cash he had stashed in a Swiss bank account. From such a sorry state of affairs, you might think that things could only get only get better. Unfortunately, economic cycles do not work this way and it is my contention that France is about to enter what was known during the gold standard era as a “secondary depression.” The rigid design of the euro system means the whole eurozone is prone to the kind of brutal cyclical adjustments seen in that hard money era of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But having reached the logical limits of its decades long experiment in state-run welfare-capitalism France is far more exposed than even its struggling neighbors. Until quite recently, our working assumption was that a full-blown French debt crisis would occur between 2014 and 2017. In light of the extraordinary malfeasance of the current government we have changed our mind and believe that France is now extremely near to that abyss. Fasten your seat belt in Europe - the world’s last truly Communist country is about to implode.
A lot of analysts have given the European situation a rest since last year. There were certainly some 'market' signs that the ECB and IMF had slowed (if not stopped) the deterioration by providing liquidity backstops to the addled banking system. But perhaps that was just the calm before the storm. In truth, things were still probably just as perilous as ever up until yesterday when the ECB and IMF decided to start a banking panic by enforcing a haircut of up to 10% on bank depositors. That was literally the stupidest thing that anyone has done since the Euro crisis began, and while it may not lead to utter disaster, there is a significant chance that it will. If bank runs materialise across Europe next week, the unemployment situation is most likely to worsen even further. If that happens, expect more and more unemployed, underemployed and angry Europeans to start voting for increasingly radical political parties. This is suicidal.
German state employees got a wage increase that is above current and expected inflation. This has domestic and boarder implications. Although few are talking about it, I think it is an important development. It may help lighten the pressure on the peripheral countries from bearing the sole burden of the adjustment process.
Much has been made of President Obama's non-deficit-increasing desire to raise the minimum wage by around 20%. This all sounds so good in front of a teleprompter but, as we noted here, a higher price for a good (low cost labor) simply means less of it will be demanded (higher unemployment). However, while setting a federally mandated minimum wage may make sense in the mind's eye of a President's panderers, a glance at Europe will blow most people's minds. The disparity across the nations of the European Union is 12-to-1: from Romania's EUR157 to Luxembourg's EUR1874 per month. This compares with an equivalent EUR998 for the US. As Bloomberg's Niraj Shah notes, this disparity drops to 6-to-1 if adjusted for local prices but two critical points come to mind; first, how can a 'union' with such massive disparity in labor function under a single monetary policy (hint: it can't); and second, with nations such as France, UK, and Ireland offering higher minimum wages than the US, it is hardly inspiring for any benefits Obama hopes to reap from his new deal.
Ugly unemployment numbers are politically inconvenient in democracies.
In this piece, I re-examine what many economists call "financial repression" and I find it to be sorely lacking as a description of what is happening. I also look at a related concern about the loss of central bank independence. Color me skeptical.
The median Bloomberg expectation for NFP is 153k, Citi is at 140k; the central tendency of the forecasts is about 125-185k. Now that the Minutes are out and have raised market fears that the fed will pull back from ease earlier than anticipated, investors are worried about a repeat of 1994, when a surprise Fed tightening after a long period of easy money (by standards of those days) devastated fixed income markets. Then 10yr Treasury yields rose 170bps over a two month period. In that light, you have to respect bond market skittishness. However, you have to respect the market response. And if payrolls come anywhere near close to a 200k handle we will very likely see further a further equity and fixed income sell off. So there is the possibility that we will have a much more exciting morning after payrolls than anyone had anticipated.
Bill Gross' latest monthly missive begins with some political commentary on the latest presidential election, pointing out the obvious: after the euphoria comes the hangover, completely irrelevant of what happens to the Fiscal Cliff: 'whoever succeeds President Obama, the next four years will likely face structural economic headwinds that will frustrate the American public. “Happy days are here again” was the refrain of FDR in the Depression, but the theme song from 2012 and beyond may more closely resemble Strawberry Fields Forever, as Lennon laments “It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out.” Why is it so hard to be someone these days, to pay for college, get a good-paying job and retire comfortably?" And while political campaigns were just that, the truth is that nobody has the trump card to a perfect quadrangle of problems which will mire the US economy for years to come, among which i) debt/deleveraging; ii) globalization, iii) technology, and iv) demographics. Gross' outlook is thus hardly as optimistic as all those sellside reports we have been drowned by in the past 2 weeks, hoping to stir the animal spirits one more time: 'We may need at least a decade for the healing.... it is getting harder to maintain the economic growth that investors have become accustomed to. The New Normal, like Strawberry Fields will “take you down” and lower your expectation of future asset returns. It may not last “forever” but it will be with us for a long, long time." Sad: looks like it won't be different this time after all...
We have again reached a point where attempting to explain away an utterly irrational market, in which sentiment and momentum shifts on a dime overriding any fundamental newsflow, and summarizing overnight catalysts has become a moot point. With stocks acting and reacting like petulant, schizophrenic children with ADHD, fundamentals are totally meaningless: yesterday and the overnight trading session have become perfect examples as prepared bulletins by two politicians, which said absolutely nothing of significance or constructive - have been enough to override 72 hours worth of actual fundamental deteriorating data, and also offset each other. Will Congress resolve the Fiscal cliff in its 10 remaining days in session without a major impetus to move such as a market plunge? Of course not, but once again the question has become one of who sells first, and the momentum piles on - and if there is no downside momentum, there are no volume ramps. In the meantime all the sellside firms have gone uber bullish on 2013, setting up the Fiscal Cliff as a perfect strawman. Of course the "Cliff" will be surmounted eventually, and after some near-term pain, but the reality is that the resulting rising taxes across the world in 2013 will be a major economic headwind, just the opposite of what the sellside crew is saying as one after another strategists push out optimistic outlooks on the next year to sucker in what little remaining retail interest in the farce formerly known as the market may be left.
Together, the market and democracy are what we like to call "the system." The system has driven and enticed bankers and politicians to get the world into trouble. One of the side effects of the crisis is that all ideological shells have been incinerated. Truths about the rationality of markets and the symbiosis of market and democracy have gone up in flames. Is it possible that we are not experiencing a crisis, but rather a transformation of our economic system that feels like an unending crisis, and that waiting for it to end is hopeless? Is it possible that we are waiting for the world to conform to our worldview once again, but that it would be smarter to adjust our worldview to conform to the world? At first glance the world is stuck in a debt crisis; but, in fact, it is in the midst of a massive transformation process, a deep-seated change to our critical and debt-ridden system, which is suited to making us poor and destroying our prosperity, social security and democracy, and in the midst of an upheaval taking place behind the backs of those in charge. A great bet is underway, a poker game with stakes in the trillions, between those who are buying time with central bank money and believe that they can continue as before, and the others, who are afraid of the biggest credit bubble in history and are searching for ways out of capitalism based on borrowed money.
One in four Spaniards are now officially out of work - well over double the euro-area's average 11.4% rate. This is the highest rate of unemployment since the Franco dictatorship ended in the mid-1970s as 5.8 million now stand idle. Perhaps more stunning is the fact that eight of the bailout-nation's regions have higher unemployment rates than the national average with Cueta at a stunning 41.03% (with women's unemployment rate in that region an almost incomprehensible 56.92%)!! The YoY increase of almost 800,000 people unemployed leaves 1.74 million households with no members employed. As one would expect, loan delinquencies are also surging as Caixabank just almost doubled its pool of bad loans in the third quarter. While Rajoy fiddles...
The Mañana approach endorsed by the Spanish government is finally beginning to have its toll on investor confidence and after being contained by the so-called Draghi put, 2y bond yields are up over 20bps for the second consecutive day. The decoupling that is being observed is being driven by yesterday’s downgrade of several Spanish regions by Moody’s, citing deterioration in their liquidity positions. As a result, Spain runs a risk of being forced to raise the size of its regional bailout fund which stands at EUR 18bln, with EUR 17.2bln already tapped, as the latest downgrade will likely put an upward pressure on borrowing costs. Major equity markets in Europe are down close to 1%, led by basic materials and oil & gas sectors, as WTI continues to consolidate below the key USD 90 level, while spot Gold continues to lose its shine and is looking to make a test USD 1700. The second half of the session sees the release of the latest Richmond Fed report, as well as the weekly API report.
The recent trade report does not provide much support for the economic and stock market bulls. As we have stated many times - the current fundamental and economic backdrops are not supportive of higher asset prices at current levels. However, while the market may advance due to the injections of liquidity into the financial system - it doesn't make it a "healthy" market. The outlook, and ultimately actions taken, by businesses are driven by demand for their products, goods and services. Unfortunately the Fed's bond buying program does not impact these core issues.