Residential real estate prices surged in China in August - up 18-19% in first-tier cities - as it appears the slowing of several tightening measures earlier in the year has sparked a full-fledged recovery in the bubble-growing in the Chinese property market. As The FT reports, some investors and analysts have started to express concern about whether China’s property market is veering into dangerous bubble territory, but the government has so far taken a much more dovish line. The fact that the government juxtaposed the soaring prices in the big cities with relative stability in smaller cities merely stoked the fires of hot-money inflows as one analyst noted, "continued effort to paint a picture of still-benign housing price conditions may imply that the central government wants to deal with other issues first before making a very clear stand on the overall housing policies." Restrictions on purchases remain but it seems clear that no new tightening has given developers and investors the green light to blow the bubble even bigger.
The day when the Fed will begin the unwind of its latest QE program (for the fourth time) has finally arrived (as has the day when an impeachment committee will vote whether to ban Berlusconi from public office, but understandably that is getting far less press). In a few short hours the answer to all those questions of whether and how much of the taper was priced in, will be revealed. But while the Taper discussions will dominate the airwaves, as they have for the past five months, there actually were some news in the world that had nothing to do with the US Politburo in charge of capital markets and the US economy, located in the Marriner Eccles building. Here is a brief summary.
Why Treasuries will likely rally and the dollar sell-off in response to the FOMC.
The July statement from the FOMC presented the following snapshot of the economy, "Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June suggests that economic activity expanded at a modest pace during the first half of the year. Labor market conditions have shown further improvement in recent months..." but as Stone McCarthy notes, tomorrow's FOMC post-meeting statement could well be less upbeat in tone, with hints of a slowing in the pace of improvements in the labor market, housing, consumer and business spending, and inflation remaining well below the 2% goal. A look at the housing and spending data certainly raises eyebrows but it is clear that the Fed remains cornered by deficits, sentiment, technicals, and international ire.
With Syria now quickly fading from the headlines and Wall Street believing that Yellen is a "shoe in" for the Fed, what headwinds still remain for the markets ahead...
Overnight trading started with Asian markets continuing where yesterday's S&P 500 fizzle ended, wishing Summers could withdraw from Fed running again, as both the Nikkei and SHCOMP were well lower by the close. Perhaps all the easy multiple-expanding, headline-driven money is made, or perhaps economic fundamentals will finally start having to justify a 17x multiple on the S&P (a good is good regime for those who may be too young, or old, to remember), but overnight US futures were dull, and no doubt anticipating today's start of the "Most important FOMC meeting ever", which concludes tomorrow with an announcement by the Fed of what and how much (if any) tapering it will commence with an eye toward halting QE next summer, although more realistically what will happen is an Untaper being announced before then. While the start of the FOMC meeting is the main event, today we get CPI, TIC flows and the NAHB housing market index. Today's POMO is another modest $1.25-$1.75 billion in the long-end sector.
Now that Syria has been disposed of - that is, indefinitely consigned to failed state purgatory - the world can focus its remaining attention on the almighty taper. We're with those who think we’ll get a taper test. That is, the Fed will cut back ten or fifteen percent on its treasury bond purchases to see what happens. What happens is perfectly predictable: interest rates shoot above 3 percent on the ten-year and holders of US paper all the world round fling them away like bales of smallpox blankets and... Houston, we’ve got a problem. After a month (or less) of havoc in the bond market, and the housing market, Mr. Bernanke will issue an advisory saying (in more words than these) “just kidding.” Then it will be back to business as usual, which is to say QE Forever, which might as well be saying “game over.” One must feel for poor Mr. Bernanke. He’s tried to run a long-distance foot-race against reality and now it’s breathing down his neck near finish line.
- Summers Quit Fed Quest After Democrats Spurned Obama Favorite (BBG)
- Geithner Still Not Interested in Fed Chair Slot (WSJ)
- Gross’s Trade Sours as Bonds Lose Faith in Fed Guidance (BBG)
- Bob Diamond calls for bank rules shake-up (FT)
- Russia says may be time to force Assad's foes to talk peace (Reuters)
- Iran Dials Up Syria Presence (WSJ)
- Kerry Seeks to Sell Syria Deal (WSJ)
- Shutdown of Japan’s Last Nuclear Reactor Raises Power Concerns (BBG)
- Emerging Stocks Rise to 3-Month High as Bonds Gain on Fed (BBG)
- Bernanke’s Maradona swerve hits bonds (FT)
US Fed's exit plan poses a critical dilemma and underscores important contradictions. The calendar says Europe should be talking about exits too--as aid packages for Spanish banks, and Ireland and Portugal are to wind down in the coming year--yet more rather than less assistance may be neeed.
Significant monetary stimulus, the end of fiscal austerity, a booming housing market, a cheap dollar, record corporate cash balances... BofAML warns - if the US economy does not significantly accelerate in coming quarters, it never will. Crucially, they note, asset prices will not do as well in the next 5 years, no matter what the “nouveau bulls” say. Central banks will be less generous, corporations less selfish. And when excess liquidity is removed it will get "CRASHy" as we discussed previously. In the meantime, five years after Lehman, Wall Street has soared, but Main Street has soured.
As we head for the fateful FOMC announcement on September 18, US data have continued to moderate. Accordingly, the consensus seems to be converging on a $10-15 billion initial reduction in monthly purchases (mostly focused on the Treasury side and less so on MBS) with any 'tightening' talk tempered by exaggerated forward-guidance discussions and the potential to drop thresholds to appear more easy for longer, since as CS notes, assuming Fed policymakers have learned anything in the last four months, they must know that the markets view “tapering” as “tightening,” even though they themselves for the most part do not. Thus, they are going to need to sugar-coat the message of tapering somehow. But as UBS notes, political risks have grown and there is little clarity on the Fed's thinking about the housing market. This leaves 3 crucial surprise scenarios for the FOMC "Taper" outcome.
Britain has been popping the champagne corks over the economic recovery that has been announced and the bubbly has been flowing. They might want to leave the EU but, they still import more champagne than any other country.
"The Bank of England now has the ability to take the froth out of future housing market booms, without having to resort to interest rate increases," is the way the UK's realtor association explains their demand that the BoE limit national house price growth to 5% a year. While they would benefit from short-term gains, it seems the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) sees the dangers of another unsustainable housing boom outweigh them. As The FT reports, RICS adds, "this cap would send a clear and simple statement to the public and the banking sector, managing expectations as to how much future house prices are going to rise. We believe firmly anchored house price expectations would limit excessive risk taking and, as a result, limit an unsustainable rise in debt." Or will it merely lead to further financial engineering and leverage?
This is the first consecutive monthly drop in 14 months and the largest miss vs expectations on record. Printing at 76.8 (against an expectation of 82.0), this is the lowest in 5 months and points to the picture we have been painting of a consumer increasingly affected by rising rates and soaring gas prices amid stagnant incomes. As Citi notes below, this is the exact same pattern we have seen play out in the last 2 cycles and suggest significant downside risk to US equities. The economic outlook sub-index collapsed to its lowest since January.
While Spain is the European nation making all the headlines with regard its housing market collapse, Italy has quietly been experiencing its own decline. As Bloomberg notes, however, Italy shows no sign of stopping as falling prices may not be enough to stem a decline in Italian home purchases as the country's biggest group of buyers - those aged 30 to 40 - is set to shrink until the end of the decade. As the chart below indicates, housing transactions have followed the growth and contraction of this important 'buyers group' as it has plunged by more than 1 million people since 2005 (and is set to drop to only 8.3 million by 2020) and prices are set to follow. Of course, officials proclaim that prices have dropped enough to trigger a rise in purchases (for the first time since 2006); but, this runs counter to the more-than-decade-long demographic trend. But apart from that, Europe is recovering...