What a quarter! The Dow up 8% and enjoying a record quarter in terms of points — 994 of them to be exact and in percent terms, now just 7% off attaining a new all-time high. The S&P 500 surged 12% (and 3.1% for March; 28% from the October 2011 lows), which was the best performance since 1998. It seems so strange to draw comparisons to 1998, which was the infancy of the Internet revolution; a period of fiscal stability, 5% risk-free rates, sustained 4% real growth in the economy, strong housing markets, political stability, sub-5% unemployment, a stable and predictable central bank. And look at the composition of the rally. Apple soared 48% and accounted for nearly 20% of the appreciation in the S&P 500. But outside of Apple, what led the rally were the low-quality names that got so beat up last year, such as Bank of America bouncing 72% (it was the Dow's worst performer in 2011; financials in aggregate rose 22%). Sears Holdings have skyrocketed 108% this year even though the company doesn't expect to make money this year or next. What does that tell you? What it says is that this bull run was really more about pricing out a possible financial disaster coming out of Europe than anything that could really be described as positive on the global macroeconomic front. What is most fascinating is how the private client sector simply refuses to drink from the Fed liquidity spiked punch bowl, having been burnt by two central bank-induced bubbles separated less than a decade apart leaving David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff, still rightly focused on benefiting from his long-term 3-D view of deleveraging, demographics, and deflation - as he notes US data is on notably shaky ground. This appears to have been very much a trader's rally as he reminds us that liquidity is not an antidote for fundamentals.
Now that the Mega Millions Jackpot has just hit a record $640 million, people, mostly those in the lower and middle classes, are coming out in droves and buying lottery tickets with hopes of striking it rich. After all, with $640 million one can even afford a few shares of Apple stock. Naturally, we wish the lucky winner all the (non-diluted) best. There is, however, a small problem here when one steps back from the Sino Forest trees. As ConvergEx' Nicholas Colas explains, "Lotteries essentially target and encourage lower-income individuals into a cycle that directly prevents them from improving their financial status and leverages their desire to escape poverty. Yes, that’s a bit harsh, and yes, people have the right to make their own decisions. Even bad ones… Also, many people tend to significantly overestimate the odds of winning because we tend to assess the likelihood of an event occurring based on how frequently we hear about it happening. The technical name for this is the Availability Heuristic, which means the more we hear about big winners in the press, the less uncommon a big payday begins to seem." Call it that, or call it what one wishes, the end result is that the lottery is nothing but society's perfectly efficient way of, to use a term from the vernacular, keeping the poor man down while dangling hopes and dreams of escaping into the world of the loathsome and oh so very detested "1% ers". Alas, the probability of the latter happening to "you" is virtually non-existant.
Order Granting Oakland County’s Motion for Summary Judgment Against Fannie/Freddie FHFA RE Transfer Taxes on DeedsSubmitted by 4closureFraud on 03/25/2012 17:08 -0400
In reaching its conclusion, the Court reviewed over eighty years of Supreme Court case law holding that excise taxes have historically been permitted, even when tax on the property has been forbidden.
Back in early 2011, even as the global economy was at best flatlining, the one goalseeked explanation to justify a levitating stock market (which was rising solely due to the short-term effect of transitory QE2 liquidity), was soaring corporate profitability (which only lasted as long as companies could trim some residual SG&A fat; they have now cut into the bone in terms of layoffs). This time around, with corporate margins having peaked, there had to be some other validation to explain away the "narrative" of the latest bout of central bank infused stock market levitation: it just happened that this time it was once again that old faithful, and always wrong, justification - decoupling. After all one just has to listen to 5 minutes of CNBC to hear it taken for granted that the US economy is doing oh so swimmingly. Here is a newsflash for all the permabulls out there. It isn't. Not only that, but as David Rosenberg highlights, 11 of the 13 most recent economic indicators have missed consensus expectations, and one can demonstrate that the other 2 - car sales and jobs - have been simplistically manipulated into a favorable outcome. So now that the market is turning over, with Europe and China both solidly into contractionary territory, with Corporate profit margins turning over, and with US data missing virtually every print, how long until the permabullish validations all go up in smoke, and the one true source of stock market "nirvana" - cheap money - is once again in high demand from the central planning cabal. In turn, the Chairsatans of the world will do as requested, as they always do, however not with crude (the real one - Brent, not that Cushing-buffered substitate) at $125, and with the risk that Israel may attack Iran any day now, with or without the blessing of the Fed's Class A director.
Housing remains a mess and recovery continues to be something found best in Disneyland at fantasy land (although not in Disney's movie-making business). The sector is showing only feeble growth as the American nightmare continues to chip away at the American dream. Or If every man's home is his castle, what am I doing in the moat,and why won't my banker lower the drawbridge?
The market is ripping. That much is obvious. What some may have forgotten however, is that it ripped in the beginning of 2011... and in the beginning of 2010: in other words, what we are getting is not just deja vu (all on the back of massive central bank intervention time after time), but double deja vu. The end results, however, by year end in both those cases was less than spectacular. In fact, in an attempt to convince readers that this time it is different, Reuters came out yesterday with an article titled, you guessed it, "This Time It's Different" which contains the following verbiage: "bursts of optimism have sown false hope before... Today there is a cautious hope that perhaps this time it's different." (this article was penned by the inhouse spin master, Stella Dawson, who had a rather prominent appearance here.) So the trillions in excess electronic liquidity provided by everyone but the Fed (constrained in an election year) is different than the liquidity provided by the Fed? Got it. Of course, there are those who will bite, and buy the propaganda, and stocks. For everyone else, here is a rundown from David Rosenberg explaining why stocks continue to move near-vertically higher, and what the latent risks continue to be.
The persistent negative investment flows at U.S. listed mutual funds specializing in domestic stocks is one of the most important long-term trends catalyzed by the Financial Crisis. AUM has dropped by $473 billion since January 2007 despite the S&P 500 Index’s essentially flat performance over this period. The news is no better since the beginning of 2012 – despite the ongoing rally in domestic equities – with $6.8 billion of further outflows year to date. In today’s note Nic Colas, of ConvergEx analyzes what will reverse this trend along two vectors: the desire and ability of individuals to invest. The rally in risk assets, along with declining actual volatility, is the best hope for a reversal in money flow trends. Offsetting that factor are continued stresses on household budgets and consumer psychology combined with problematic demographic trends. Bottom line: domestic money flows have likely become more economically sensitive than in previous cycles.
While hardly expecting anything quite as dramatic as the default of a Eurozone member, an epic collapse in world trade, or a central banker telling the world that "he has no Plan B as having a Plan B means admitting failure" in the next several days, there are quite a few events in the coming week. Here is Goldman's summary of what to expect in the next 168 hours.
The latest quarterly report out of CoreLogic is as usual full of curious insights about the state of US housing. Key among them is the finding that "negative equity and near-negative equity mortgages accounted for 27.8 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide in the fourth quarter, up from 27.1 in the previous quarter. Nationally, the total mortgage debt outstanding on properties in negative equity increased from $2.7 trillion in the third quarter to $2.8 trillion in the fourth quarter." In other words, courtesy of no Mark To Market, there is at least $2.8 trillion in debt held by investors (read banks and GSEs) that is marked at par and should be impaired. And one wonders why Fannie lost $16.9 billion in 2011 (up from $14.0 billion in 2010), and needed another taxpayer injection of $4.6 billion in Q4: it is so banks can pretend reality exists, and in the process avoid evicting tenants who live in these underwater homes, and who can pretend they don't have to pay their bills, but can spend money on iGadgets instead. Yet the scariest data point is that if one is currently in Nevada and looks at three houses right this second, two of them are underwater, or said otherwise, have negative or near-negative equity.
- Euro-Area Banks Tap ECB for Record Amount of Three-Year Cash (Bloomberg)
- Papademos Gets Backing for $4.3B of Cuts (Bloomberg)
- China February Bank Lending Remains Weak (Reuters)
- Romney Regains Momentum (WSJ)
- Shanghai Raises Minimum Wage 13% as China Seeks to Boost Demand (Bloomberg)
- Fiscal Stability Key To Economic Competitiveness - SNB's Jordan (WSJ)
- Bank's Tucker Says Cannot Relax Bank Requirements (Reuters)
- Life as a Landlord (NYT)
"It Ain't Over Till It's Over": Empirical Observations On Who The Next Occupant Of The White House May Be And WhySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/28/2012 22:44 -0400
It is appropriate that as a post-mortem to tonight's GOP primary, which according to initial reports has Romney as winning both Michigan and Arizona, we have ConvergEx' Nick Colas providing an extensive summary of the factors in favor and against both the presidential incumbent, and the challenger, and in doing so handicap the possibility of election victory for either Obama or the Republican candidate, whoever he may end up being. As Colas says, 'it ain't over till it's over' - "As the battle for the 2012 Presidential election begins to pick up speed, we read a flood of reports that President Obama is a lock for reelection. And just as many that he is destined to be a one-termer. Those who believe that the winner of the 2012 election will be Republican claim that the keys to Obama’s downfall will be unemployment, skyrocketing oil prices, and increased federal spending. However, according to historical data and some political science theory, it looks like Obama has a pretty good chance of staying in the White House.... The GOP isn’t out of the race yet, but it’s up against some strong historical opposition." And while we would agree that all else equal Obama likely is a shoo-in, never before will there have been a full blown debt ceiling crisis in a repeat of August 2011 in the weeks and months leading into the election - that factor alone, in our humble opinion, could end up being the swing variable that pulls the otherwise ironclad victory away from Obama's clutch, and explains why the GOP caved so quickly on the payroll tax extension which will add $100 billion in debt, and force a debt ceiling breach ahead of November, as was first predicted on Zero Hedge. That, of course, and runaway oil: should crude continue its relentless surge, which it will if QE3 occurs, or an invasion or Iran becomes reality, Obama can kiss another 4 years goodbye.
The seemingly endless GOP primary goes through the states of Michigan and Arizona tonight, where Romney and Santorum are the key competitors, while Gingrich and Paul focus elsewhere. BBC reports: "Both men have been campaigning intensively over the past few days. Pre-primary polls gave Mr Romney a marginal lead in Michigan, and a stronger advantage in Arizona. Analysts say a victory in his home state of Michigan is key for Mr Romney. He has long been seen as the front-runner and favourite for the nomination - and currently leads the race for delegates - but has struggled to win over a strong majority of conservative Republican voters. Most polls will close in Michigan at 20:00 EST (01:00 GMT), where 30 delegates are at stake. Delegates will be awarded to candidates in each congressional district, with two at-large delegates also awarded. In Arizona, where polls will close at 19:00 local time (02:00 GMT), 29 delegates will be awarded to the winner of the state's primary."
It had been a quiet week in terms of geopolitical developments out of Middle East. Too quiet, well aside for that whole US escalating once again bit, and forcing Iran to eventually go over the edge. And while the role of the US and Iran has been extensively digested in the past few weeks, it is Iran that has remained in the shadows recently. No longer: as Al Arabiya reports, "Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions, according to The Associated Press." Needless to say, the thoroughly effete and comical US foreign policy has no response to follow up queries: "The White House did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pentagon and Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, as did the Israeli Embassy." And while there may be no comments here, look for more warnings about Israeli citizens being targetted by deranged Iranian around the world. Because when all else fails, fearmonger. Next up: the Status Quo will be telling the world how not attacking Iran would be tantamount to global destruction. The only trade off - will the spike in crude to $150 outdo the surge in Obama's popularity rating as the Nobel Peace Prize winner puts his name in the hat for a nomination in the Nobel War Prize category as well.
"It Is completely ironic that we would be experiencing one of the most powerful cyclical upswings in the stock market since the recession ended at a time when we are clearly coming off the poorest quarter for earnings... There is this pervasive view that the U.S. economy is in better shape because a 2.2% sliver of GDP called the housing market is showing nascent signs of recovery. What about the 70% called the consumer?...Let's keep in mind that the jump in crude prices has occurred even with the Saudis producing at its fastest clip in 30 years - underscoring how tight the backdrop is... Throw in rising gasoline prices and real incomes are in a squeeze, and there is precious little room for the personal savings rate to decline from current low levels." - David Rosenberg