Ben Bernanke told those that could afford to hear that rates would not "normalize" in his lifetime and just last week we noted the market's shifting attitude towards what a post-rate-hike 'rate normalization cycle' might look like. As longer-term bond yields tumble, the Fed's Bill Dudley just confirmed the lower post-rate-hike "terminal rate" meme:
DUDLEY: LONG-TERM RATES LIKELY TO BE LOWER THAN HISTORIC NORM, SAYS EQUILIBRIUM REAL RATE MAY BE LOWER THAN NORMAL
In other words, if and when the Fed starts raising rates, the highest rate to which it will raise rates in the next cycle is now expected to be notably below previous historical 'norms'. And stocks didn't like it and long-term bond yields tumbled...
Over the weekend we titled our summary of GM's unprecedented avalanche of recalls so far in 2014 - the year in which the company's criminal practice of covering up its faulty products became a congressional scandal - as follows: "GM Set To Surpass Total Recall Record This Year." Three days later we are happy to report that while Detroit, we not only have a big recall problem, we also have a new record, after moments ago GM just announced another 4 recalls affecting 2.4 million cars. This brings the total number of vehicle investigations since the start of the year to 35, and with today's four latest fiascos, has initiated a whopping 29 recalls. More importantly, this also means that the number of domestic recalls rises to 13.6 million, smashing the previous record of 11.8 million recalls in 2004, and brings the number of global recalls to 15.2 million: or a stunning 56% greater than the 9.7 million cars GM sold in all of 2013!
The last few days have been the worst for peripheral European bonds in well over a year. Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal have all seen yields jump and credit spreads soar in the last week as 'faith' in Draghi appears to be faltering. The reason this is concerning is, as we explained here, in the new normal, negative feedback loops have gone and instead we have hyperbolic loops which, when broken, end much more badly than a self-correcting un-rigged market would.
With Russia massing troops on the border with Ukraine, China doing the same with Vietnam, the already volatile situation in Libya and Syria imploding with every passing day, the only geopolitical variable that was missing was a martial law and/or national coup. Moments ago Thailand just declares the former and while the latter is still absent it too is likely just a moment of time. AP reports that "Thailand's army has declared martial law after six months of anti-government protests and political crisis, Associated Press said on Tuesday, citing an army statement issued in Bangkok." In other words, after not sternly not taking sides in the near civil war situation in Thailand for the longest time, the army finally picked a side: its own.
Forget all the talk about "dots", "6 months", or any other prognostication from the Fed's new leadership about what will happen in the near and not so near future. For the real answer prepare to shelve out the usual fee of $250,000 for an hour with the Chairsatan, or read Reuters' account of what others who have done so, have learned. The answer is a stunner. "At least one guest left a New York restaurant with the impression Bernanke, 60, does not expect the federal funds rate, the Fed's main benchmark interest rate, to rise back to its long-term average of around 4 percent in Bernanke's lifetime. "Shocking when he said this," the guest scribbled in his notes. "Is that really true?" he scribbled at another point, according to the notes reviewed by Reuters."
When is marginable collateral not marginable collateral? When it is an ETN, or Exchange Trade Note: the cousin of the Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). The very mutated, and unabashedly evil cousin of the ETF that is. At least such is the view of US brokerage Interactive Brokers " Pursuant to a recent decision by FINRA whereby Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs) will no longer be eligible for Portfolio Margining, these securities, including options having an ETN as an underlying, will be phased out of the program by OCC during the week of May 19, 2014."
According to the Chinese financial publication Securities Daily, emergency real estate rescue packages have been launched in large cities such as Wuxi, Nanning, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Tongling and Zhengzhou in the last month alone..."if a borrower does not fulfill the loan repayment obligations as agreed in the contract, the guarantee institutions will have to repay the housing loans..." What a surprise – a government guarantee. The market is imploding and defaults are going through the roof. Property vacancy rates in Zhengzhou are an astounding 23%. So the government is putting taxpayers on the hook. In other words, the government is panicking. But it’s not working... so much excess inventory has built up, a major slowdown was inevitable. And like the butterfly that flaps its wings, a slowdown in China has substantial effects on the rest of the world.
The blue line is conventional, single-family housing starts and/or permits.
The red line is "New Normal", "Blackstone is America's landlord" multi-family (i.e. rental) housing starts and/or permits.
When it comes to the topic of the marginal utility of debt, or how much GDP does a dollar of debt buy (an example of which can be seen here), most people are aware that the developed world is facing ruin: with debt across the west already at record, nosebleed levels, and with GDP growth slowing down (due to capital misallocation, thank you Fed, demographic and productivity reasons), it is only a matter of time before it doesn't matter how many trillions in debt a given treasury will issue (and a given central bank will monetize) - the credit impulse will simply not translate into incremental economic growth. But did those same people also know that Asia is almost as bad if not worse as the west when it comes to the marginal utility of debt?
Dwindling resources produce the least admirable human behaviors, something science has tested and understands quite well. Ukraine is a bellwether; we will see other conflicts like it elsewhere in the world, and likely, in time, within our own nation. Which is why understanding the nature of social unrest is so important, particularly to those considering relocation (within or outside of their home country). You certainly don't want to leap from the frying pan into the fire as resource scarcity and conflicts are now part of the global equation.
With stocks at record highs and priced for some nirvanic perfection of future growth reaching escape velocity at some point soon, the question of why bonds keep rallying is vexing to the status quo minders who just can't fathom it. However, as Bloomberg notes, the world’s most actively traded short-term interest-rate futures are signaling the path higher for the Federal Reserve’s benchmark rate won’t be that high. "The market now sees diminished macroeconomic expectations and expects the Fed to ending the upcoming tightening cycle at around 3 percent." In other words, the bond market believes in the Japanization of America and another lost decade as the new normal low/no growth world slugs along with no escape velocity dreams anytime soon.
"by July we expect the US economy to be in full recovery from the weather- and inventory-induced slowdown in Q1, and this should push US rates higher and boost the Dollar, including against the Yen." - Goldman Sachs
While Asia in general may be slowing now that China's epic debt creation machine is starting to break down, when it comes to trends within Asia not everyone is equal. And nowhere is this more visible than when comparing Japan, that dynamo of Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, and China, that other "New Normal" dynamo which carried the world across the Great Depression chasm. For the best representation of Japan's epic fall from economic relevance and, inversely, China's superpower ascendancy, here is one chart showing how vastly more relevant to Asia China now is compared to Japan just under 20 years ago.
If, in the New Normal, newsflow and facts mattered, facts such as the German Zew Investor Expectations index crashing from 43.2 to 33.1, smashing expectations of a 40.0 print to the downside and down to the lowest since January 2013 nearly half the 7 year half reported as recently as December confirming Germany can no longer be Europe's growth dynamo courtesy of a still nosebleed high EURUSD, or facts such as overnight Chinese data missed in every category with industrial output up 8.7% y/y in April vs an estimated 8.9%, retail sales up 11.9% below the estimated 12.2% rise and ; Jan.-April fixed-asset investment growing 17.3% vs est. 17.7%, then futures may just posted a downtick. However, since it is a Tuesday, with a ~$1 billion POMO, one can ignore the fundamentals and proceed straight to buying anything and everything with indiscriminate abandon. The only question is whether the NY Fed orders Citadel to slam the VIX under 11 to start off the morning S&P rampage which should push the broad market index above Goldman's 1900 price target for the end of the 2014.