The world and their pet rabbit was convinced yesterday that today's jobs number was both the most-important-number-in-the-world and didn't matter (because whether it beat or missed it was bullish for stocks). Seconds after the release that appeared to be true as JPY instantly dragged stocks to record highs (and the USD up and bonds and gold down). However, trumped by confirmation that the taper is continuing, Gazprom warnings, Lavrov threats, and finally reports of a Russian invasion, stocks leaked lower to Tuesday's ramp-day closing levels. Thanks to some last-minute JPY and VIX banging, S&P closed green for the 15th of last 16 NFPs. Despite intraday volatility, the USD ended the week unchanged, gold +1%, silver -1.5% and Treasuries +14bps or so (its worst week in 6 months!). Credit markets continue to be non-believers (with the high-yield bond ETF plunging this week). Critically, after last night's default in China, Iron Ore and Copper futures were crushed and we suspect Sunday night's Asia open could see more fireworks.
The 17th of February, 2014, marked the annual observation of George Washington's birthday and the 5th anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. At a cost of $19.90 for each dollar of economic growth, almost $8 million for each job created and a loss of nearly $600,000 of fixed investment, it is hard to suggest that the government interventions have been successful. The WSJ sums it up succinctly, "The failure of the stimulus was a failure of the neo-Keynesian belief that economies can be jolted into action by a wave of government spending... The way to jolt an economy to life and to sustain long-term growth is to create more incentives for people to work, save and invest." Of course, 5 years on, the Keynesian argument remains "fool proof." The only reason that the economy is not growing faster is because the government is not doing enough. However, if the economy slips back into a recession, it will simply be because the government did not do enough. You simply can't argue against logic like that.
- Frustrated by Karzai, U.S. Shifts Afghanistan Exit Plans (WSJ)
- Yellen Testimony Guide From Payrolls Report to Emerging Markets (BBG)
- Gold hits three-month high, shares up ahead of Yellen (Reuters)
- Tightfisted New Owners Put Heinz on Diet (WSJ)
- Senator describes "gruesome" bin Laden photos (Reuters)
- More reasons for the ongoing economic contraction: U.S. Winter Storm Seen Spreading Snow, Sleet Across South (BBG)
- Barclays Cuts Up to 12,000 Jobs as Quarterly Profit Falls (BBG)
- Boeing Considering 787-Size Medium-Range Jetliners (WSJ)
- AOL Chief Apologizes for ‘Distressed Babies’ Comment (BBG)
The current Administration has taken on the "war on poverty" as its primary battle ground going into the mid-term elections later this year. As NFIB's Bill Dunkleberg recently noted, "since it is an election year, the main theme will be addressing the disparities in income and wealth (i.e. tax the rich and increase welfare programs) rather than promoting policies that would create jobs and raise incomes in a growing economy. This year, policy will be all about votes." This isn't a new fight. As Robert Rector stated recently - that particular war has been less than successful.
"Fifty years and $20 trillion later, LBJ's goal to help the poor become self-supporting has failed."
However, while the Administration will use the argument to garner votes in an election year, the most interesting aspect about the income inequality debate is that it is the very policies of the current Administration that is fueling the income shift.
While economists are raising their forecasts for 2014, there seems to be little change in the real underlying fundamentals. Much has been made of the modest uptick in NFIB optimism last month, but small businesshope remains 6 points below pre-recession average levels; and as Bill Dunkleberg notes so succinctly: "The President thinks the way to address the malaise in the economy is to give another $26 billion to the long-term unemployed, shown to produce new jobs by 'independent economists' (we know who that is) according to the President. If you borrow $26 billion from China and give it to consumers, it probably does have a positive impact, but does nothing to fix the economy or encourage labor force participation or improve the labor force." It is quite apparent from both individuals and businesses that the government is the real issue that is impeding economic progress. Maybe it's time that the current Administration did a little less talking and did a little more listening to what the real drivers of the economy are saying.
Following yesterday's major market drubbing, in which the sliding market was propped up by the skin of Nomura's (and BOJ, and Fed's) teeth at 103.00 on the USDJPY, it was inevitable that with Japan returning from holiday there would be a dead cat bounce in the Yen carry pair, and sure enough there was, as the USDJPY rose all the way back up to 103.70, and nearly closed the Friday gap, before starting to let off some air. However, now that US traders are coming back online, Japan's attempts to keep markets in the green may falter, especially since it only has a couple of ES ticks to show for its efforts, as for the Nikkei which dropped 3% overnight, it has now lost all US "Taper" gains.
There has been much debate in Washington about how to get the economy growing again. Unfortunately, fiscal policy has done little to address the core of economic growth, which is the consumer, or the productive investment required to generate real employment and wage growth. As Schumpeter observed, "there are no entrepreneurs without capital." Simply put, there are no companies, and no jobs, without investment first. For anyone irrespective of ideology to deny the latter brings new meaning to willful blindness. Until we focus on creating an environment that leads to greater investment opportunities by business owners we will likely see a further deterioration in personal consumption. There is currently a fine line between expansion and contraction within the overall economy, and while hopes are that 2014 will be a "breakout" year for the economy, the current economic data trends suggest otherwise.
The grind higher in equities, and tighter in credit, continues as markets brush aside concerns about a December taper for the time being. Overnight futures levitation has pushed the Fed balance sheet driven record high S&P even higher, despite as Deutsche Bank points out, the fact that we had three Fed speakers advocate or talk up the possibility of a December taper, including the St Louis Fed’s James Bullard who is viewed as a bit of a bellwether for the FOMC. Bullard said the probability of a taper had risen in light of the strengthening of job growth in recent months. Indeed, he noted that the best move for the Fed could be a small December taper given the improving jobs data but below-target inflation readings. The Fed could then pause further tapering should inflation not return toward target during the first half of 2014. Looking at today’s calendar, the focus will be on US JOLTs job openings - a report which Yellen has previously highlighted as an important supplement to more traditional labour market indicators. US small business optimism and wholesale inventories are the other major data releases today. As mentioned above, US financial regulators are due to announce Volcker rules at some point today although as we just reported, the CFTC's meeting on Volcker was just cancelled due to inclement weather.
The US data flow is relatively light which is typical of a post-payrolls week but it’s worth noting wholesale inventories on Tuesday and retail sales on Thursday. Importantly US House and senate negotiators are supposed to come to an agreement on a budget before the December 13th deadline. A lot of optimism has been expressed thus far from members of congress, and there are reports that a budget deal will be unveiled this week.
In yet another miracle of modern-day macroeconomics, despite the soaring stock market and better-than-expected government-provided data (soft surveys mostly), the small-business (supposedly the core driver of jobs and growth in the US economy) saw optimism collapse at the fastest rate since Sandy (supposedly due to the government shutdown). This is the fifth month in a row that NFIB optimism has missed expectations (the worst - absent Sandy - since March 2012). 7 of the 10 sub-components were negative with the biggest plunge coming from those who expect the economy to improve. Seems like another good reason to BTFATH...
Following a brief hiatus for the Veterans Day holiday, the spotlight will again shine on treasuries and emerging markets today. The theme of higher US yields and USD strength continue to play out in Asian trading. 10yr UST yields are drifting upwards, adding 3bp to take the 10yr treasury yield to 2.78% in Japanese trading: a near-two month high and just 22 bps away from that critical 3% barrier that crippled the Fed's tapering ambitions last time. Recall that 10yr yields added +15bp in its last US trading session on Friday, which was its weakest one day performance in yield terms since July. USD strength is the other theme in Asian trading this morning, which is driving USDJPY (+0.4%) higher, together with EM crosses including the USDIDR (+0.6%) and USDINR (+0.6%). EURUSD is a touch weaker following a headline by Dow Jones this morning that the Draghi is concerned about the possibility of deflation in the euro zone although he will dispute that publicly, citing Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung who source an unnamed ECB insider. The headline follows a number of similar stories in the FT and Bloomberg in recent days suggesting a split in the ECB’s governing council.
To many institutional investors, buying the Russell 2000 is merely the highly levered bet with which the bulk of institutions (recall that almost all hedge funds, and a majority of mutual funds, are underperforming the S&P for a 5th consecutive year) seek to make up for losses in their portfolios by chasing high (and even higher with leverage) beta. Which is why as the next chart below shows, in a furious scramble to catch up by year end, the institutional Russell net futures (i.e. levered) positioning just hit a record high: the biggest investors are now all-in the smallest names. So is the massively overbought small cap sector due for a correction? With these manipulated, centrally-planned markets, nobody has any idea. However, for those who have once again bet all in, which just happens to be most plain vanilla dumb money, it may be time to reevaluate.
Markets are so obsessed by developments with the US debt ceiling, that absolutely nobody noticed that the Japanese Current Account (JPY152Bn, Exp. JPY520bn), Industrial Outuput in Spain (-2.0%, Exp. -1.6%), Factory Orders in Germany (-0.3%, Exp. +1.2%), Trade Balance in Germany (€13.1bn, Exp. €15.0 bn) and that the Jan-Aug tax revenue in Greece below expectations by 5.7%, all missed horribly, and that for all the talk of a European recovery (which was merely driven by a brief surge in Chinese credit spending making its way into the European pipeline) is once again fully and entirely premature. But with Congress on everyone's mind, even increasingly China and Japan, who cares about fundamentals: after all there is a Federal Reserve to mask the fact that nothing but liquidity injections matters. Even if that means a complete collapse in the actual economy as those separated from the Fed by one or more layers of banks, crash and burn.
Overnight trading over the past week has been a bipolar affair based on algo sentiment about what is coming out of D.C. But which the last session was optimistic for some inexplicable reason that a deal on both the government shutdown and the debt ceiling out of DC was imminent, today any optimism is gone in the aftermath of the latest comments by Boehner on ABC, in which he implied that a US default is not unavoidable and that it would be used as more political capital, as it would be once again blamed on Obama for not resuming negotiations. As a result both global equities and US futures are down sharpy in overnight trading. And since the government shutdown, better known as a retroactively paid vacation, for everyone but the Pentagon (whose 400,000 workers have been recalled from furlough) continues it means zero government economic statistics in today's session with the only macro data being the Fed-sourced consumer credit report at 3 pm. This week also marks the unofficial start of the Q3 reporting season in the US with Alcoa doing the usual opening honous after the US closing bell tomorrow. JPMorgan’s and Wells Fargo’s results on Friday are the other main ones to watch to see just how much in reserves are released to pretend that banks are still making money. As usual, expect disinformation leaks that send the market sharply higher throughout the day, which however will only make the final outcome that much more painful, because as during every US government crisis in the past, stocks have to plunge so they can soar again.
While the world is currently glued to the events surrounding Syria; the reality is that such an event has very little to do with the real economy. The surges in expectations by business is very interesting given the actual demand that drives the real economy. Real employment remains weak and corporate earnings are struggling given the diminishing returns of cost cutting. The recent increases in interest rates also have a very important "tightening" effect on the "Main Street" economy which will also likely suppress consumption in coming months somewhat. Also not likely factored in to current survey's is the upcoming debt ceiling debate and the onset of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA is a de facto increase in taxes and there is a potential for further tax hikes coming from the budget debate. The current NFIB survey suggests that the economy is still stuck in "struggle mode" and an acceleration above 2% real economic growth is currently unlikely. The divergence between expectations and real demand will likely converge in the next couple of months so we will see businesses follow through with their optimisitic outlooks - "Overall, the Index of Optimism says the small business sector is going nowhere and that's what it feels like."