Corporates are in relatively good financial shape and theory says should respond to high profits and cheap debt by investing more. However, while high 'profits' and low cost of debt are reasons for capex and opex to be rising more quickly than they are, these two critical drives of recovery show no signs of responding to these profit/debt incentives - and so as Citigroup notes "recovering is not booming". Top-down, compared to history, capex is low, following P/E's sentiment - especially in Europe (indicating a lack of confidence in the future). However, at the sector level this reverses: high capex has been given a low PE, while low capex has a high PE. The market is effectively encouraging companies to invest less and return more money. Longer term the consequences for economic growth, inflation and earnings growth are negative - as we trade (once again) short-term equity gain for long-term sustainable economic gain.
Poison the country's well.
While many claim that inflation is at historic lows, those who spend a large share of their income on necessities might disagree. Inflation for those who spend a large proportion of their income on things like medical services, food, transport, clothing and energy never really went away. And that was also true during the mid 2000s — while headline inflation levels remained low, these numbers masked significant increases in necessities; certainly never to the extent of the 1970s, but not as slight as the CPI rate — pushed downward by deflation in things like consumer electronics imports from Asia — suggested. This biflationary (or polyflationary?) reality is totally ignored by a single CPI figure. To get a true comprehension of the shape of prices, we must look at a much broader set of data.
Iron Ore inventories to the roof; steel production still ramping; food and energy prices soaring; economy deteriorating rapidly. So why no major stimulus from the PBoC? Too busy in-fighting or perhaps waiting on The Fed or The ECB to rescue us all; we suspect neither of the above. This chart, via Goldman Sachs, indicates the relative looseness of financial conditions (easing / tightening) compared to China's current activity. These two proprietary indicators provide a 'cleaner' view of the various aspects of China's monetary/fiscal policies (from fiscal stimulus to RRR hikes or reverse repos) and its 'real' level of economic growth (unbiased by political need). As is extremely evident, since the initial collapse and huge stimulus in 2008/09, the PBoC has become less and less capable of generating any additional economic activity. Whether this is due to the same shadow-banking effect Europe and the US suffer from in their transmission channels; or more simply that the Chinese may have also hit their bubble-created balance-sheet-recession debt-minimization limit (no matter how mandated from the top-down that spending is).
Upcoming calls from Ben and Mario to the governments?
Get your act together, there’s just so much that can be done.
Odd and contradictory ROn / ROff close
In the immortal words of the Jackson 5: "I'll Be There" seems to be the meme du jour - which appears to us to be the same message that Bernanke (and his proxy Hilsenrath) have been on for a few years now. However, in case you hadn't had enough sycophantic central-bank-fellating 'hope', the WSJ's front-man just reiterated for one and all that Ben's our man. In our subtle opinion, it seems however that perhaps Bernanke was a little disingenuous with his talk of 'policy tool effectiveness' - as clearly his efforts have not had the desired economic effect so far (or he would not need to reiterate the ability to do more of the same).
Ben's prepared remarks went off embargo at 10:00 am Eastern. The text (just the body, excluding appendices) had 4,549 words, 254 commas and 173 periods. It took Goldman 40 minutes to read it, write a 579 word response, proofread, get it through compliance, and shoot it to all clients. The title? "Bernanke Makes Case for Effectiveness of Unconventional Easing" of course, even though the real shocker in the speech was that Bernanke for the first time as far as we recall admitted that the sentiment that QE is not working may result in a Catch 22 where every incremental and larger QE episode has diminishing returns (just as we have been warning for years).
Bernanke takes the wind out of the market's euphoric sails: "Substantial further expansions of the balance sheet could reduce public confidence in the Fed's ability to exit smoothly from its accommodative policies at the appropriate time. Even if unjustified, such a reduction in confidence might increase the risk of a costly unanchoring of inflation expectations, leading in turn to financial and economic instability."
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.
Following a series of bad economic news (Eurozone unemployment, rising inflation, plunging retail sales in Germany, Spain and Greece) out of Europe, and the usual sound and fury out of the ECB signifying nothing (was there finally news that Weidmann and/or the Buba are endorsing anything Draghi is doing - instead of seeking to potentially quit his post leaving the ECB in limbo? No? Then stop flashing red headlines which are completely irrelevant), the EURUSD has decided to go on its usual countersensical stop hunt higher in hopes an algo or two will push it even higher on nothing but momentum, with has one purpose only: to allow the pair enough of a buffer so that when it does fall after the J-Hole disappointment, it has more room to drop. And as European newsflow fades into the periphery, everyone is once again focusing on Wyoming where Bernanke is now broadly expected to do absolutely nothing. What else are market participants focusing on? Here is the full ist courtesy of Bloomberg daybook.
The following chart from Bank of America shows that with a few short hours ahead of the dangling strawman known as Bernanke's J-Hole address (now that Mario Draghi has more pressing issues to deal with elsewhere), expectations for QE3, in the form of what is actually priced in, just hit an all time high. So is, by implication, the potential for disappointment and that the petulant market, no longer caring about such trivia as fundamentals, technicals, newsflow or frankly anything except what the Chairsatan ate or what side of the bed Bill Dudley woke up on, will not get what it demands. It then begs the question: if the S&P is at 1400 with virtually all of QE3 priced in, what is the "fair value" if there is, gasp, no QE3 announced either today, in two weeks when the FOMC delivers it periodic oracular address to the plebs, or until the post-election FOMC meeting, which will take place on December 12, and just days ahead of the Fiscal Cliff arrival (which will certainly not be resolved by then)?
Expectations for tomorrow's J-Hole speech by the venerable Ben Bernanke vary from the mundane "things-we-can-still-do; monitoring-situation" to the exuberant "we'll-print-our-way-out-of-this-mess-no-matter-what-and-I've-got-your-back-for-anything-more-than-a-1%-drop-in-the-Russell". We suspect, like Morgan Stanley's Vince Reinhart that a lot of people are going to be grossly disappointed as the FOMC (C for Committee) meeting is so close and the election being just around the corner means playing-down any miracle-making. Instead we suspect it will be more of the same - disappointment in economic performance, could do better, closely monitoring, Fed-has-tools; i.e. a replay of most of his recent speeches in tone. Reinhart does see some room for surprise though - especially on conditional policy rules (and the potential problems with over-reaching their mandate).
We don't need recession
Or means of repression
Just give us some money
Our life could be sunny too...
A new and important bullish indicator for the gold market is that gold calls are at highs not seen since the October 2008 low as option traders go long gold in the belief that it will go higher. It suggests that option traders believe that U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will hint at or announce additional money printing and monetary easing at the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, symposium. Alternatively, it suggests that they are bullish on gold due to the risks posed to the dollar and the risk of inflation taking off. The ratio of outstanding calls to buy the SPDR Gold Trust versus puts to sell jumped to 2.69 to 1 on August 24th and reached 2.76 earlier this month, the highest level since October 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ownership of calls is up 26% since the July 20th options expiry. Ten of the most owned actively owned ETF option contracts are bullish. Option traders are regarded as savvier and tend to be more sophisticated then the more speculative futures traders.
We destroyed the myth that the LTRO would not in fact stigmatize bank balance sheets when it was first introduced as the encumbrance was evident from the start - though took the market a while to comprehend and reprice (exuberant on the new-found liquidity optics). The expectations that the ECB will embark on a new scheme of sovereign debt purchases, implicitly funding governments - no matter how many times they tell us that it is to ensure transmission mechanisms flow, have three objectives or rationales, according to Goldman's Huw Pill: Easing private financing conditions through monetary expansion, Financing governments, and/or Reactivating private markets. However, there is one glaring unintended consequence of this 'aid' - the risk exists that well-intentioned sovereign debt purchases result in perverse incentives and a perpetuation of chronic fiscal and structural problems (much as Bernanke's band-aids have eased the fiscal pressure on our own government and led us further down the rabbit hole). The lack of political legitimacy and blunting of incentives for more fundamental consolidation and reform to take place can only turn the acute pain of the moment in Spain into a truly chronic problem for Europe as a whole - be careful what you wish for.