Fear, like greed, makes people, and that would include investors, behave irrationally. Two major equity bear markets in the last 13 years have traumatized investors. The belief in Modern Portfolio Theory in general and the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EMH) in particular has been shaken and finance theory will have to be re-written. So, Absolute Return Partners' Niels Jensen asks, what is it specifically that has changed? Human behavior certainly hasn’t. Greed and fear have been factors to be reckoned with since day nought. When faced with the unknown, people (in this case, fund managers) will use whatever information they can get hold of. Hence we shouldn’t really be surprised that fund managers extrapolate current earnings trends when forecasting future earnings, despite the evidence that it is a futile exercise. Occasionally, the Wisdom of Crowds turns into the Madness of Mobs and all rational behavior goes out the window. History provides many examples of that. EMH is entirely unsuited to deal with froth. What made economists love the EMH is that the maths behind it is so neat whereas the alternative truth is a little messy.
US jobs data is important, but other forces are at work that seem more powerful.
Following on from our annual update on the wealth (re)distribution of nations, we thought it important to look at the other side of the household balance sheet - that of 'debt' to see just how much 'progress' has been made in the world. In the aftermath of the credit crisis (and the ongoing crisis in Europe), government debt levels continue to rise but combining trends in household debt highlights countries that have sustainable (and unsustainable) overall debt levels - and thus the greatest sovereign debt problems. Whether the 'number' is from Reinhart & Rogoff or not, the reality is that moar debt is not better and the nations with the highest debt-per-capita may surprise many. Critically, despite the rise in 'wealth' from 2000-2008, the ratio of debt-to-net-worth rose on average by about 50% (and in many nations continues to rise). The bottom line - in almost all countries, government liabilities exceeded government financial assets in 2011, leaving the government a net debtor.
House prices - with respect to both levels and changes - differ widely across OECD countries. As a simple measure of relative rich or cheapness, the OECD calculates if the price-to-rent ratio (a measure of the profitability of owning a house) and the price-to-income ratio (a measure of affordability) are above their long-term averages, house prices are said to be overvalued, and vice-versa. There are clearly some nations that are extremely over-valued and others that are cheap but as SocGen's Albert Edwards notes, it is the UK that stands out as authorities have gone out of their way to prop up house prices - still extremely over-valued (20-30%) - despite being at the epicenter of the global credit bust. Summing up the central bankers anthem, Edwards exclaims: "what makes me genuinely really angry is that burdening our children with more debt to buy ridiculously expensive houses is seen as a solution to the problem of excessively expensive housing." It's not different this time.
Now that the BOJ's "interventionalism" in the capital markets is increasingly losing steam, as the soaring realized volatility in equity and bond markets squarely puts into question its credibility and its ability to enforce its core mandate (which, according to the Bank of Japan Act "states that the Bank's monetary policy should be aimed at achieving price stability, thereby contributing to the sound development of the national economy) Japan is left with one wildcard: the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), which as of December 31 held some ¥111.9 trillion in assets, of which ¥67.3 trillion, or 60.1% in Japanese Government Bonds. Perhaps more importantly, the GPIF also held "just" ¥14.5 trillion in domestic stocks, or 12.9% of total, far less than the minimum allocation to bonds (current floor of 59%). It is this massive potential buying dry powder that has led to numerous hints in the press (first in Bloomberg in February, then in Reuters last week, and then in the Japanese Nikkei this morning all of which have been intended to serve as a - brief - risk-on catalyst) that a capital reallocation in the GPIF is imminent to allow for much more domestic equity buying, now that the threat of the BOJ's open-ended QE is barely sufficient to avoid a bear market crash in the Nikkei in under two weeks.
There are some problems, however.
Here is what is shaping the global capital markets.
While the U.S. student loan debt “crisis” might be the primary concern associated with the youth population here, this morning's dreadful European data confirms that 15-24 year olds around the world are struggling with a more widespread and pressing issue: high unemployment. In 2012, the youth unemployment rate was 12.4%, projected to grow to 12.6% in 2013 – nearly 3 times the rate of adult unemployment, which stood at 4.5% in 2012. Developed economies, along with the Middle East and North Africa, have some of the worst youth unemployment rates in the world: the US’s unemployment rate for 15-24 year olds in 2012 was 15.4%, according to the Current Population Survey, more than 3 percentage points above the world average. ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes there is one exception to the U.S.’s high rates, though: for all the talk about how student loan debt has crippled young adults in the U.S., we actually have one of the lower unemployment rates for young adults with a tertiary (college) education – better, even, than many countries with free or low-cost universities (though the 'type' of jobs may be questionable).
Algirdas Šemeta, the European Commissioner responsible for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud has announced in a speech that there are ten nations in the EU that need to cut the tax burden on labor if they are going to aid the growth of the European Union. They are hindering investment and holding back output of firms across the EU, although he admits that it is not reducing the tax burden alone that will solve the problems of the economic crisis.
EU Extends Deficit Deadlines For Most European Countries, Admits Structural Adjustment Failure, Kills AusteritySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/29/2013 08:22 -0400
Moments ago, the following European Commission website hit the interwebs, which can be summarized as follows:
- EU EXTENDS DEFICIT DEADLINE FOR PORTUGAL TO 2015
- EU EXTENDS DEFICIT DEADLINE FOR NETHERLANDS TO 2014
- EU EXTENDS DEFICIT DEADLINE FOR SPAIN UNTIL 2016
- EU RECOMMENDS LIFTING EXCESSIVE-DEFICIT REGIME FOR ITALY
- EU SAYS 20 STATES CURRENTLY UNDER EXCESSIVE-DEFICIT PROCEDURES
Translation: the theatrical spectacle of Europe's austerity, which never really took place, is finally over. Going forward political incompetence will henceforth be known as just that: incompetence, and elected rulers will not be able to pass the buck to evil, evil, "austerity." More importantly, Europe has also proven without a doubt, that any "structural adjustments" on the continent are impossible, and that governments are locked in a spend till you drop mode.
Following yesterday's blow out in US bond yields, which have continued to leak wider and are now at 2.20% after touching 2.23%, the overnight Japanese trading session was relatively tame, with the 10Y JGB closing just modestly wider at 0.93%, following the market stabilization due to a substantial JPY1 trillion JOMO operation which also meant barely any change to the NKY225, while the USDJPY slipped in overnight trading below the 102 support line and was trading in the mid 101s as of this moment, pulling all risk classes lower with it. There was no immediate catalyst for the sharp slide around 3am Eastern, although there was the usual plethora of weak economic data.
The Belgian Central Bank said yesterday that about 25 tons of the European nation’s gold reserves have been lent to bullion banks according to Bloomberg. Nearly 10% or about 25 metric tons of the National Bank of Belgium’s remaining 227.5 tons of gold reserves are currently lent to bullion banks, Director and Treasurer Jean Hilgers told the central bank’s annual meeting in Brussels. The proportion of gold reserves on loan declined from 84.3 tons on December 31, 2011, and averaged 48.1 tons in 2012 as loans matured and some gold loans were reimbursed early. Hilgers said that the Belgian central bank sees gold lending decreasing further this year. During the 1990’s, Belgium sold some 1,000 tons of gold into the market - more than three quarters of its remaining holdings. The Belgian gold reserves, which had already seen sizeable liquidation in late 1978, fell from 33.7 million ounces on 12/31/88, to just 5.7 million ounces on 03/31/98, or a fall of 83% in less than 10 year.
Just when you thought the R&R debate was finished, it seems Paul Krugman's latest "spectacularly uncivil behavior" pushed Reinhart and Rogoff too far. In what can only be described as the most eruditely worded of "fuck you"s, the pair go on the offensive at Krugman's ongoing tete-a-tete. "You have attacked us in very personal terms, virtually non-stop... Your characterization of our work and of our policy impact is selective and shallow. It is deeply misleading about where we stand on the issues. And we would respectfully submit, your logic and evidence on the policy substance is not nearly as compelling as you imply... That you disagree with our interpretation of the results is your prerogative. Your thoroughly ignoring the subsequent literature... is troubling. Perhaps, acknowledging the updated literature on drawbacks to high debt-would inconveniently undermine your attempt to make us a scapegoat for austerity."
So much for Europe's "recovery." In a quarter when the whisper was that some upside surprise would come out of Europe, the biggest overnight data releases, European standalone and consolidated GDPs were yet another flop, missing across the board from Germany (+0.1%, Exp. 0.3%), to France (-0.2%, Exp. 0.1%), to Italy (-0.5%, Exp. -0.4%), and to the entire Eurozone (-0.2%, Exp. 0.1%), As SocGen recapped, the first estimate of eurozone Q1 GDP comes in at -0.2% qoq, below consensus of a 0.1% drop. The economy shrank by 1.0% yoy, the worst rate since Dec-09. The decline of 0.5% qoq in Italy means that the economy has been in recession continuously since Q4-11. A 0.2% qoq drop in France means the economy has ‘double-dipped’, posting a second back-to-back drop in GDP since Q4-08. The increase of 0.1% qoq in Germany was disappointing and shows the economy is not in a position to support demand in the weaker member states (table below shows %q/q changes).
There was a time three months ago, when "beating" German confidence served as an upward stock and EURUSD catalyst not once but twice in the same week. One would therefore assume a German confidence miss, such as with today's German ZEW, which barely budged from 36.3 to 36.4 on expectations of a rise to 40.0, with the current situtation dropping from 9.2 to 8.9, on expectations of a rise to 9.8, should be risk negative. Well, it wasn't: it is the new normal after all, and in fact the EURUSD jumped in a kneejerk reaction at 5 am, rising over 1.3000, albeit briefly, assisted by ZEW members saying that respondents do not see a further ECB rate cut - well, of course not - they are Germans, and Draghi isn't. Perhaps the news of a better than expected Eurozone Industrial Production print, which rose from 0.3% to 1.0%, on expectations of a more modest increase to 0.5%, is what catalyzed the subsequent drop in both the EUR, and US stock futures. The IP strength was driven by Germany, Spain and Netherlands offset be decline in France and Italy.
Currently, central banks around the world are walking in lock step down a dangerous path of money creation. Led by the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan, economic policy is driven by the idea that printed money can be the true basis of growth. The result is an unprecedented global orgy of currency creation. The only holdout to this open ended commitment has been the hard money bias of the German-dominated European Central Bank (ECB). However, growing political pressure from around the world, and growing dissatisfaction among domestic voters have shaken, and perhaps cracked, the German resolve. While German capitulations in the past have been welcome occurrences, in this instance the world would be better served if the Germans could stick to their guns. However, it seems presciently, that the ECB is looking for ways around Germany's oppostion to outright monetization by securitizing SME loans and buying ABS directly on to their own balance sheet.