Last week we suggested a reason why the market was unable to hold on to the Bernanke bid. The relative plunge in Goldman Sachs 'bottom-up' Analysts Index (GSAI) suggested that the macro 'strength' that market-savants were so focused on, could perhaps be election-biased (blasphemy). It seems this macro 'strength' divergence (highest since 1996!) from micro 'weakness' reality was enough to get the Goldmanites thinking - and unfortunately for all the cautiously optimistic managers out there, they are not hopeful. As Jan Hatzius explains, "the GSAI remains closely correlated with other bottom-up measures, including the S&P 500 sales guidance diffusion index; and while one possible explanation is that S&P 500 companies are more exposed to non-US demand than the US economy at large, and the US has been a relative outperformer. But it is unclear whether this accounts for all of the weakness, or whether the bottom-up weakness also holds some additional leading information for the macroeconomic data."
Last month, hours after the announcement of QEternity, we said that in validation of the 'Flow' model taking over from the Fed's flawed 'Stock' model, the Fed will have no choice but to continue the long-end $85 billion in monetary flow addition to the market, if not economy (i.e. expand the QE program from $40bn per month to $85bn per month starting in January - in order to maintain the 'flow' post-Operation Twist). Last night, Goldman has officially agreed with us (as has Bloomberg's chief economist Joe Brusuelas). It appears that starting January 2013 Ben is really going to town. But don't expect this to be announced today. It will, as Goldman speculates, be disclosed at the Fed's December FOMC meeting. For now, two weeks ahead of the election, expect more "autopilot" from Bernanke as coming up with any surprises 'now' would be seen as beyond political.
Some prefer to see the 'employment' glass half-full, some half-empty, and others see the glass smashed into a million shards on the keynesian kitchen floor. The zealousness with which the 'number' has been dismissed and praised has generated more questions than answers. Goldman's Jan Hatzius addresses the question of the pace of progress in the labor market, the reasons for the contrast between GDP and employment, the amount of slack left, and the implications for Fed policy.
The market appears convinced that it now has nothing to worry about when it comes to the fiscal cliff. After all, if all fails, Bernanke can just step in and fix it again. Oh wait, this is fiscal policy, and the impact of QE3 according to some is 0.75% of GDP. So to offset the 4% drop in GDP as a result of the Fiscal Cliff Bernanke would have to do over 5 more QEs just to kick the can that much longer. Turns out the market has quite a bit to worry about as Goldman's Jan Hatzius explains (and as we showed most recently here). To wit: "our worry about the size of the fiscal cliff has grown, as neither Democrats nor Republicans look inclined to budge on the issue of the expiring upper-income Bush tax cuts. This has increased the risk of at least a short-term hit from a temporary expiration of all of the fiscal cliff provisions, as well as a permanent expiration of the upper-income tax cuts and/or the availability of emergency unemployment benefits." This does not even touch on the just as sensitive topic of the debt ceiling, where if history is any precedent, Boehner will be expected to fold once more, only this time this is very much unlikely to happen. In other words, we are once again on the August 2011 precipice, where everything is priced in, and where politicians will do nothing until the market wakes them from their stupor by doing the only thing it knows how to do when it has to show who is in charge: plunge.
There was a time when Goldman, which recently went full retard with its bull thesis, seeing only upside in everything from stocks (and a once in a lifetime opportunity to sell bonds... just like in March, and then back in the summer of last year, and so on), to EURUSD, to housing, just like it did in December 2010, only to be humiliated a few short months later, had its Q3 GDP forecast at 2.3%. In fact the latest Q3 annualized forecast of 2.3% economic growth as recently as September 11. How much has changed in two short weeks. Apparently, out of leftfield, so many things have gotten worse that a whopping 0.4% or 20% of the growth in the quarter has bee eliminated in under three weeks. Just out from Goldman: "While nominal personal spending and core PCE prices rose in line with expectations in August, real spending gains were modest and income grew less than expected. We reduced our Q3 tracking estimate for real GDP growth from 2% to 1.9%." And that's why Jan Hatzius gets paid the big bucks. Only problem is now that Goldman has gotten the QEternity it lobbied for so long and hard, where will the upside growth come from?
When it comes to diving trends in the Fed's take over of the Treasury market, there are those who haven't got the faintest clue about what is going on, such as Paul Krugman, who naively looks (as Bernanke expects all economists to) at the simple total notional of securities held by the Fed and concludes that the Fed is not doing anything to adjust fixed income risk-preference, and then there are those who grasp that when it comes to defining risk exposure in the bond market, and therefore in equities, all that matters is duration, expressed in terms of ten-year equivalents. Sadly, this is a data set that not every CTRL-V major or Nobel prize winner (in order of insight) can grab from the St. Louis Fed - it is however available to those who know where to look. And as the chart below shows, even as the Fed's balance sheet has remained flat in notional terms, its Ten Year equivalent exposure has soared, rising by 50% during Operation Twist alone, from $900 billion to $1.313 trillion. What this means in practical terms, as Stone McCarthy summarizes, is that the Fed now owns 27.05% of the entire inventory in outstanding ten-year equivalents. This leaves less than 75% of the market in private hands.
The NFP number was released at 8:30 am. At 8:40 am Goldman Sachs' Jan Hatzius hit "send" on a 356-word email to clients which was checked, vetted, and given the sign off by compliance, in which the Goldman head economist read through the NFP data, and concluded that "Probability of QE3 Next Week Now Above 50%." Curious why the risk assets first dropped then soared as if stung? Because today, once again, good is great, but worse is greater. Let the global liquidity tsunami continue!
Is bad, good still? Did Draghi's omnipotence obfuscate Bernanke's banality? Goldman's Jan Hatzius provides some color on what to expect for tomorrow's employment report. Forecasting a Goldilocks 'middling' print around 125k and flat 8.3% unemployment rate, he reminds us that this report is a very important one from both a monetary policy and political perspective. An upside surprise would raise more doubts about the Fed's determination to ease aggressively at next week's meeting and would strengthen President Obama's hand in the run-up to the November 6 election, and the converse is also true.
Yesterday, when the market was plunging (by less than a whopping 1%, yet magically defending the 13K "retirement off" threshold in the DJIA), we wondered: where is the Fed's favorite messageboard: WSJ "journalist" Jon Hilsenrath. We found out at 3 am, when instead of releasing another soon to be refuted rumor of more easing, we discovered that the scribe was busy doing something very different: discussing the pros and cons of the Chairsatan's legacy.
With Draghi stepping aside, the headliner can shine and while Goldman does not expect Chairman Bernanke's speech on Friday morning, entitled "Monetary Policy Since the Crisis", to shed much additional light on the near-term tactics of monetary policy beyond last week's FOMC minutes; their main question is whether he breaks new ground regarding the Fed's longer-term strategy. An aggressive approach would be to signal that the committee is moving closer to the "unconventional unconventional" easing options that Goldman has been ever-so-generously advocating for months, although even they have to admit that expectations are that any moves in this direction will be gingerly.
One of the most vocal advocates of a NEW QE announcement next month, at either the FOMC meeting or Jackson Hole - Goldman Sachs - has just pulled the plug. From Jan Hatzius: "The US economic data continue to look a bit stronger. Tuesday’s retail sales report for July beat expectations, while inventory accumulation showed a further slowdown in June. Our Q3 GDP tracking estimate edged up to 2.3%. The recent news also has implications for Fed policy. While QE3 at the September 12-13 FOMC meeting remains possible, our best estimate is that it will take until late 2012/early 2013 before Fed officials return to balance sheet expansion." Just as we have been saying. Which means the Fed is now out of the picture until the end of 2012. And with corn prices where they are, so is the PBOC. As for the ECB - talk to Rajoy, who will do nothing as long as 10 Year yields are under 8%. Which means that, as explained previously, Spain and Italy, and in fact the entire world, must all be destroyed first, before they are saved.
As Messers Frank and Paul take on the Bernank this morning, we reflect on the four easing options that the illustrious fed-head laid out in a statement-of-the-obvious that still managed to get the algos ripping. As Goldman notes, his prepared remarks were terse (and lacking in 'easing options' discussion) - cautious on his outlook, concerned at Europe, and fearful of the 'fiscal cliff' - but his response in the Q&A were a little more revealing as he laid out his choices: asset purchases, discount window lending programs, changes in communication about the likely path of rates or the Fed balance sheet, or a cut in the interest rate on excess reserves. We discuss each below but note, just as Goldman believes, that while we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013 (and not before), barring a very rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook (which we assume implicitly brings the threat of deflation).
Today's release of the FOMC's minutes should be helpful in gauging the near-term monetary policy outlook. Goldman's Jan Hatzius (who just cut his Q2 GDP outlook to a way below consensus +1.3%) believes they will confirm his expectations, for the July 31-August 1 meeting, of an extension of forward rates guidance to 'mid-2015', but no move to further asset purchases yet (not expecting NEW QE until late 2012/early 2013). In the minutes, Hatzius notes four specific issues to focus on: how many FOMC members expect further eventual easing, and in what form; how close the committee was to either doing more or less than Twist 2 at the June meeting; how much discussion there was of qualitative changes in the forward guidance; and how much more negative the Fed staff has become about the economic outlook. In other words, the minutes may provide more information about whether the weak data that have arrived since June 20 - another subpar payroll gain of just 80,000 and sharp declines in high-profile business surveys such as the manufacturing ISM and the Philly Fed - are likely to be sufficient to trigger additional moves.
A preview of the key events in the coming week (which will see more Central Banks jumping on the loose bandwagon and ease, because well, that is the only ammo the academic econ Ph.D's who run the world have left) courtesy of Goldman Sachs whose Jan Hatzius is once again calling for GDP targetting, as he did back in 2011, just so Bill Dudley can at least let him have his $750 million MBS LSAP. But more on that tomorrow.
We know its is blasphemous to question the NAR and given the dismal state of the manufacturing sector data in the US in recent months, the entire recovery now seems predicated on good old 'residential real estate' rising phoenix-like from the ashes of negative equity. Goldman's Jan Hatzius ignores the 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' of the mainstream media's call for a glorious recovery in housing and lays out his own three monkeys. While recent data is encouraging, he is far from sounding the all-clear as the massive instability of seasonal factors; the gradual nature of the 'turn' and wide dispersion between strong and weak markets; and housing's considerably less important role in the broad economy (and macroeconomic spillover wealth effects); all leave the Goldman economist unamused as he sums up his perspective quite succinctly: "while housing may be getting better, it's no longer about housing."