For the right answer, we look to the past....
Moments ago the Treasury reported its deficit for the month of August, which was $148 billion, slightly less than the $150 billion expected. More importantly, it was over 22% less than the deficit from August 2012 when it was $191 billion. And that, in a nutshell, is the main reason why the Fed has no choice but to taper. What the chart below shows is the cumulative deficit of the US for fiscal 2012 and 2013. What becomes immediately obvious is that with the total deficit Year to Date of $755.3 billion running 35% below the $1,165 billion from a year ago, the Fed has far less room to monetize gross issuance.
With everyone focused on the 5th anniversary of the Lehman failure, we are taking a quick look at how the world's developed (G7) nations have fared since 2008, and just what the cost to restore "stability" has been. In a nutshell: the G7 have added around $18tn of consolidated debt to a record $140 trillion, relative to only $1tn of nominal GDP activity and nearly $5tn of G7 central bank balance sheet expansion (Fed+BoJ+BoE+ECB). In other words, over the past five years in the developed world, it took $18 dollars of debt (of which 28% was provided by central banks) to generate $1 of growth. For all talk of "deleveraging" G7 consolidated debt has been at a record high 440% for the past four years. So in the G7, which is a good proxy for the developed world, debt continues to increase whilst nominal growth remains extremely low thus ensuring that the deleveraging process has yet to start. As Deutsche Bank states, "at best we’re stabilising the ratio at or around record highs."
There's a growing view that America's energy boom will result in a higher U.S. dollar in coming years. There are some key holes in the argument though.
Draghi is a clever man in charge of a pretend central bank (for it’s only equipped to fight inflation, not a banking-turned-sovereign-debt-and-unemployment crisis). He must guess that bond investors will soon figure out that a stateless central bank defending a stateless currency is so hamstrung politically that it carries far less firepower than, say, the Federal Reserve has over the US economy and US dollar. If his outright-monetary-transactions bluff collapses, he may well have other tricks ready to suppress yields on struggling sovereign debt and save the euro (without which there is no need for the ECB). If Draghi is out of surprises, he can be thanked for buying time for politicians to come up with durable solutions to the eurozone’s woes. Oh, that’s another flaw with Draghi’s scheme; it removed the pressure for politicians to act. So they haven’t.
A recent survey of asset managers globally, managing USD 27.4 trillion between them, found that 78% of defined-benefit plans would need annual returns of at least 5% per year to meet their commitments, while 19% required more than 8%, "a target of 5% per year can be reached but only by using leverage, shorting, and derivavtives." And sure enough, as Deutsche Bank (DB) reports, in short, investors have rarely been more levered than today! According to DB, a MoM change in NYSE margin debt >10% has to be taken as a critical warning signal as there are astonishing similarities in the sequence of events among all crises. As the S&P 500 just hit a new all-time high, investors might want to ask themselves when it is a good time to become more cautious – yesterday, in our view. Simply put, the higher margin debt levels rise, the more fragile the underlying basis on which prices trade; with even a less severe sell-off in equities capable of triggering a collapse.
From goal-seeked GDP, manipulated inflation, liquidity-flow-exaggerated trade data, and hidden (and divergent) PMI details, the question of the unreliability of Chinese data is not a new one. However, anecdotes aside, a new study from Peking University finds, conservatively, correcting for housing price inflation in the Chinese CPI data adds approximately 1% to annual consumer price inflation in China, reducing real GDP by 8-12% or more than $1 trillion.
Two upcoming events could prove catalysts for a Japanese sovereign debt crisis.
The rapid pace of China credit expansion since the Global Financial Crisis, increasingly sourced from the inherently more risky and less transparent "shadow banking" sector, has become a critical concern for the global markets. From the end of 2008 until the end of 2013, Chinese banking sector assets will have increased about $14 trillion. As Fitch notes, that's the size of the entire US commercial banking sector. So in a span of five years China will have replicated the whole US banking system. What we're seeing in China is one of the largest monetary stimuli on record. People are focused on QE in the US, but given the scale of credit growth in China Fitch believes that any cutback could be just as significant as US tapering, if not more. Goldman adds that China stands to lose up to a stunning RMB 18.6trn/$US 3trn. should this bubble pop. That seems like a big enough number to warrant digging deeper...
So, somehow the US economy is roaring back in a big way? Hard to see. Over 70% of the economy is consumer spending. And spending is driven by incomes. And incomes are… falling.
Compared to last week's macro-event juggernaut, this week will be an absolute bore, although with a bevy of Fed speakers on deck - both good and bad cops - there will be more than enough catalysts to preserve the "upward channel" scramble in the S&P and the zero volume levitation to new all time daily highs despite the lack of daily bad news. Speaking of Fed speakers, we have Fisher today, Evans’ tomorrow followed by both Plosser and Pianalto on Wednesday. The key overnight data point was the continuation of July PMIs out of Europe, this time focusing on the service industry. As Goldman summarizes, the Final Euro area Composite PMI for July came in at 50.5, marginally above the Flash reading and consensus expectations (50.4). Relative to the June final reading, this was a sold 1.8pt increase, and building on consecutive increases in the past three months, the July Euro area PMI stands 4.0pts above the March print. Solid increases were observed across all of the EMU4 in July, most notably Italy. The July reading is the highest Euro area PMI level observed since July 2011.
Crashing Australian and a miss in South Korean PMIs, following days of weak Japanese data, and a divergence in the official and HSBC Chinese manufacturing indicators to a 15 month high (HSBC PMI sliding to 11 month low) was just the bad news Asian market needed to break out higher from the recent range and thanks to the return of overnight USDJPY levitation as well as a modest reverse repo liquidity injection by the PBOC overnight, not only did the Nikkei and Shanghai rise 3% and 1.8% respectively, but US futures are right back to where they were before yesterday's dramatic turnaround in the market following a strongly dovish FOMC statement and just shy of the 1700 once more. As for Europe, while there a smattering of noise following the release of final PMIs which did not change the preliminary picture much (Spain 49.8, vs 50.6 exp; Italy 50.4 vs 49.8 exp; France 49.7 vs 49.8 exp; Germany 50.7 vs 50.3 exp) it is all up to the ECB today to preserve the myth of a European improvement coupled with a EUR currency at or near multi-month highs.
Elliott Management's 22-page letter to investors has something for everyone as Paul Singer ascribes his uniquely independent wisdom. From the fragility of the financial system to the hubris of academic pretenders; from inflation's various devious impacts on assets and reality to the floundering of the world's bankers; from America's "cooked data" to the pending social unrest in Europe and the perils of centralized power, Singers stresses "the temptation to debase fiat currencies... means owning claims on paper money is an act of either faith or denial." Recent market movements, Singer warns "indicate a world on life-support," and "for every day, month and year that policymakers try to substitute failed, inappropriate and risky QE policies for pro-growth policies, the debt mounts, as does resentment among middle-income families that their situation is not improving." The fact of the matter is that "no government has ever reached fiscal 'nirvana,' yet our central bank (and its peers) continues to push the envelope of risk, confidence and inflation." Despite the confident and brave words in which they are wrapped, central bank actions currently seem underscored by quiet panic.
One of the unpleasant side-effects for the Fed's forecasting (insert laughter here) abilities, is that following today's GDP revisions, H1 annualized GDP is now 1.4%. It means that there is no way that the economy can grow fast enough in the second half (especially with such early disappointments to the second half as the just released Chicago PMI miss) to meet the Fed's forecast growth of 2.3%-2.6%. Which, in turn, means more egg on the face of Bernanke and the FOMC's 2013 forecasts. Which is precisely what Goldman just said.
As readers are well aware by now, at 8:30 am today we get to see the rewriting of US GDP history back to 1929 with the revisions from the BEA. It’s a big last day of July with the Fed meeting coming after the GDP release. For GDP, real growth is expected to be as low as 1.0% in Q2. Opinions vary widely on today’s GDP number with one major US investment bank’s estimate as low as 0.2%, a number of bulge bracket banks at 0.5% while there are also plenty of economists above 1.5%. It is not news to anyone that nominal GDP is very low at the moment - especially in a world of nosebleed high debts - and today could see this have a 1-handle YoY (and at best a 2-handle) - a level not even normally seen at the depths of most recessions.