After posting a surprising drop in November to -2.21, or only its first negative print since a freak first half of 2013 aberration, the spin was quick to explain away the drop with the government shutdown, which surprisingly affected precisely nothing else in the economy but just a few diffusion indices (and led to epic surges in various PMI prints). Moments ago, the December Empire Fed PMI print came out, and it was once again a dud, printing at 0.98 on expectations of a rise to 5.00 which also was the fifth consecutive miss to expectations in a row. The decline was driven by ongoing weakness in New Orders, which remained negative at -3.54, while Unfilled Orders tumbled deep into the red, from -17.11 to -24.10, while inventories supposedly cratered from -1.32 to -21.69. We say supposedly because other recent surveys have shown that the surge in inventory accumulation from Q3 into Q4 has continued.
Thinking like the Fed
To know your enemy, you must become your enemy -Sun Tzu
In war, poker, chess and many other endeavors, wise old hands will advise you to think like your opponent. We’ll try a related idea here by seeing if we can think like the members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). Specifically, we’ll pretend to write part of the statement for the FOMC’s December 17/18 meeting.
Rebellious Fed head Lacker fired at “implicit guarantees” to bail out bank creditors. Covered liabilities, the size of US GDP.
There are a couple of disturbing points that came out of her take on bubbles and the rationale behind not tapering a mere 10 or 15 Billion dollars given the monthly commitment of 85 Billion in Fed Purchases every month.
In Feb 2007, Oaktree Capital's Howard Marks wrote 'The Race to the Bottom', providing a timely warning about the capital market behavior that ultimately led to the mortgage meltdown of 2007 and the crisis of 2008 as he worried about "carelessness-induced behavior." In the pre-crisis years, as described in his 2007 memo, the race to the bottom manifested itself in a number of ways, and as Marks notes, "now we’re seeing another upswing in risky behavior." Simply put, Marks warns, "when people start to posit that fundamentals don’t matter and momentum will carry the day, it’s an omen we must heed," adding that "the riskiest thing in the investment world is the belief that there’s no risk."
It took Hilsenrath just under a minute to pump out his 1057 (excluding the title) word thesis on the FOMC minutes. As usual, this is indicative of a comfortable embargo cushion which one can be assured was unbreached, as anything else would be very illegal. "Federal Reserve officials had a wide-ranging discussion about the outlook for monetary policy at their Oct. 29-30 policy meeting. The bottom line was that they stuck to the view that they might begin winding down their $85 billion-per-month bond-buying program in the “coming months” but are looking for ways to reinforce their plans to keep short-term interest rates low for a long-time after the program ends. They struggled to build a consensus on how they would respond to a variety of different scenarios. One example: What to do if the economy didn’t improve as expected and the costs of continuing bond-buying outweighed the benefits? Another example: How to convince the public that even after bond buying ends, short-term interest rates will remain low."
With the schizophrenia that seems to have availed across the FOMC members (hawks are doves, doves are hawks, tapering is not tightening, etc.) it is not surprising that the minutes reflect some confusion:
- *FOMC SAW `SEVERAL SIGNIFICANT RISKS' REMAINING FOR ECONOMY
- *FED TAPER LIKELY IN COMING MONTHS ON BETTER DATA, MINUTES SHOW
- *METLIFE FOUNDATION, SESAME WORKSHOP PARTNER TO PROVIDE FINL
- *FOMC SAW DOWNSIDE RISKS TO ECONOMY, LABOR MARKET `DIMINISHED'
- *FOMC SAW CONSUMER SENTIMENT REMAINING `UNUSUALLY LOW'
- *FOMC SAW RECOVERY IN HOUSING AS HAVING `SLOWED SOMEWHAT'
So summing up - when we get to an unknown point in the future with an unknown state of parameters, we may do an unknown amount of tapering - maybe possibly. Pre-Minutes: SPX 1791, 10Y 2.75, EUR 1.3444, Gold $1262
Somehow, Fed head Bill Dudley has managed to encompass the entire "we must keep the foot to the floor" premise of the Fed in one mind-bending sentence:
- *DUDLEY SEES 'POSSIBILITY OF SOME UNFORESEEN SHOCK'
So - based on an "unforeseen" shock - which he "sees", and while there are "nascent signs the economy may be doing better", the Fed should remain as exceptionally easy just in case... (asteroid? alien invasion? West Coast quake?)
The headline Empire manufacturing data missed expectations by the most since January (the 4th month in a row) and plunged to its lowest since January. Across the board sub-indices collapsed (every one of them) into contraction with shipments down from over 13 to -0.5, and New Orders down from 7.75 to -5.5. "Hope" didn't save it this time either as the outlook droped to 3 month lows. Labor market conditions were subdued. The index for number of employees drifted downward for a third consecutive month, coming in at 0.0 in November in a sign that employment levels were flat (falling at fastest rate in 2013). The average workweek index fell nine points to -5.3, pointing to a decline in hours worked. This can only be great news for the bulls and guarantees that the S&P 500 will hit 1800 today...
TedBits - Newsletter
We noted yesterday that if the EUR got much stronger then peripheral Europe was going to lose much of its 'competitive' gains and while this is a notable surprise to many, we can't wait to hear how Draghi explains the decision given the world's insistence that Europe has turned the corner already... (which it clearly has not).
*DRAGHI SAYS EURO AREA GROWTH RISKS REMAIN `ON THE DOWNSIDE'
*DRAGHI SAYS EURO AREA INFLATION RISKS ARE `BROADLY BALANCED'
*DRAGHI: MARKET CONDITIONS POTENTIALLY NEGATIVE FOR ECONOMY
*DRAGHI SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT REMAINS HIGH
*DRAGHI: EURO AREA MAY FACE PROLONGED PERIOD OF LOW INFLATION
With only 3 of 70 economists surveyed by Bloomberg expecting a rate cut at tomorrow's ECB press conference, Credit Agricole's Frederik Ducorzet suggests seven signals to watch for from Draghi that could signal ECB easing ahead. Crucially, as BofAML puts it, "further euro appreciation is a problem, particularly for the periphery," and with empirical Phillips curves in hand, there is little room for further compensation via wage reduction. In other words, if Draghi stands pat (or doesn't offer up some sacrificial forward guidance hint of easing being likely), the drumbeat of social unrest in the periphery will grow ever louder.
Widely credited with being the seminal paper at the 2012 Jackson Hole conference and setting the scene for "threshold-based" policy, Michael Woodford discusses his views on the costs and benefits of "forward guidance" in this Goldman Sachs interview. The Columbia professor explains how he thinks about asset purchases versus forward guidance (it’s a mistake to think of asset purchases as a way to avoid having to talk about future policy intentions), and why the market and the Fed have seemed so disconnected at various points this year despite substantial attempts by the Fed to communicate more clearly (there were mistakes in communication, but that does not mean the situation would have been better if the Fed had instead kept its mouth shut, especially in such unprecedented times.) Ultimatley he warns, "by blinking when they did, I fear that they have made a negative reaction more likely in the future, because they are now back to square one, with people once again lacking a clear sense of how close the Fed is to tapering and thus vulnerable to surprise."
With the recent adoption of explicit forward guidance as a stimulative policy tool by the major European central banks, virtually every major central bank is now using the tool in some form. The potential benefits and dangers of such policies as central bank communications have evolved are unclear as "the form of guidance" matters. As Robin Brooks notes, and is so well illusrated below in the example of the Riksbank's and Norges Bank's 'failures', "[In terms of implications for rates] the jury is still out on how well forward guidance works. What is clear, though, is that markets prefer 'deeds' to 'words'."
In addition to the bevy of ugly European unemployment and inflation news just reported, the overnight session had a dollop of more ugly macro data for the algos to kneejerkingly react to and ramp stocks to fresh time highs on. First it was China, where the PBOC did another reverse repo, however this time at a fixed 4.3% rate, 0.2% higher than the Monday iteration and well above the 3%-handle from early October, indicating that China is truly intent on tightening its monetary conditions. Then Japan confirmed that despite the soaring imported food and energy inflation, wages just refuse to rise, and have declined now for nearly 1.5 years. Then, adding core insult to peripheral injury, Germany reported retail sales that missed expectations of a +0.4% print wildly, declining -0.4% from a prior downward revised 0.5% to -0.2%. And so on: more below. However, as usual what does matter is how the market digests the FOMC news, and for now the sense is that the risk of a December taper has risen based on the FOMC statement language, whether warranted or not, which as a result is pushing futures modestly lower following an epic move higher in the month of October on nothing but pure balance sheet and multiple expansion. The big data week in the US rolls on with the highlights being the Chicago PMI and initial jobless claims, which are expected to print their first accurate, non-impaired reading since August.