That the official rate of inflation doesn't reflect reality is obvious to anyone paying college tuition and healthcare out of pocket. The debate over the accuracy of the official consumer price index (CPI) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE--the so-called core rate of inflation) has raged for years, with no resolution in sight. So why does the government maintain such a transparently inaccurate and misleading metric? For three reasons.
*YELLEN SAYS FED COMMITTED TO ACCOMMODATION TO SUPPORT RECOVERY
Markets will be hanging on every word of what is likely Janet Yellen's first monetary policy speech and even more so the Q&A afterwards as she suggests that a considerable time is more than 6 months, and the delicate balance she has to play between admitting the economy is ugly while admitting that QE is over no matter what... all the while maintaining some semblance of credibility. One has to wonder if the ripfest rally of the last 24 hours is a buy the rumor ramp ahead of a sell the Yellen news event as once again she is tested...
Employment is a function of demand by customers on businesses. As opposed to many economists and politicians, businesses do not hire employees to be "good samaritans." While such a utopian concept is fine in theory, the reality is that businesses operate from a "profit motive." The problem is quite clear. With the consumer heavily leveraged, the inability to "spend and borrow" is reducing aggregate demand. As stated, the current level of aggregate demand simply isn't strong enough to offset the rising costs of taxes, benefits and healthcare (a significant consideration due to the onset of the Affordable Care Act) associated with hiring full-time employees. Therefore, businesses initially opt for cost efficient productivity increases, and only hire as necessary to meet marginal increases in customer demand which has come from population growth.
If the current pace of reductions continues it is reasonable to assume that the Fed will terminate the current QE program by the October meeting. If we assume the current correlation remains intact, it projects an advance of the S&P 500 to roughly 2000 by the end of the year. But... the question is, can the US economy can stand on its own when QE completely winds down, not to mention when the Fed actually hikes rates? Amid such weak levels of economic growth does not leave much wiggle room to absorb an exogenous event, or even just a normal downturn, in an economic cycle. If the Fed is indeed caught in a liquidity trap, then the current withdrawal of support will quickly show the cracks in the economy pushing the Fed back into action. It is at the point of "monetary impotence" where the word "risk" takes on a whole new meaning.
And so the various estimates of Q4 GDP have made an almost full circle: starting at 3.22% in the first forecast, plunging to 2.38% in the second, and finally settling at 2.63%, a miss from the expected 2.7%. This is down from 4.1% recorded in Q3 which however as everyone knows by now was purely due to a unprecedented, record inventory build up.
After tumbling overnight to just around 101.80, the USDJPY managed to stage a remarkable levitating comeback, rising all the way to 102.3, which in turn succeeded in closing the Nikkei 225 at the highs, up 1% after tumbling in early trade. The Shanghai Composite was not quite as lucky and as fear continue to weigh about a collapse in China's credit pipeline, the SHCOMP was down more than 0.8% while the PBOC withdreww even more net liquidity via repos than it did last week, at CNY 98 billion vs CNY 48 billion. That said, this morning will be the fifth consecutive overnight levitation in futures, which likely will once more surge right into the US market open to intraday highs, at which point slowy at first, then rapidly, fade again as the pattern has seemingly been set into algo random access memory. Which in a market devoid of human traders is all that matters.
A dispassionate look at the main considerations for investors in the week ahead.
Over the past few years we have grown used to the odd dissent among Fed members as hawks complain at the uber-easy policies and the costs outweighing the benefits but it's different this time. Among the most dovish of Fed heads, Narayana Kocherlakota, dissented, warning that the new "guidance" of the Fed (rather than lowering existing and entirely discredited 'thresholds') will hurt Fed credibility, foster undertainty, and lower growth. Perhaps, then, this is moment when the doves cry and in fact the Fed is becoming more hawkish than that investing public really believes is possible.
Goldman Cuts Q1 GDP Forecast To 1.5% On Weaker Retail Sales; Half Of Goldman's Original Q1 GDP ForecastSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/13/2014 09:29 -0400
As we predicted when we highlighted the cumulative decline in the control retail sales group, it was only a matter of time before the banks started cutting their Q1 GDP forecasts. Sure enough, first it was Barclays trimming its Q1 GDP tracking forecast from 2.3% to 2.2%, and now it is Goldman's turn which just cut its latest Q1 GDP forecast from 1.7% to 1.5%.
So much for that blow out initial estimate of Q4 GDP that had annualized GDP at 3.2%. One month later and the number has been cut by 25% to 2.4% following a substantial downward revision to Personal Consumption, which dropped from 3.3% to 2.6%, well below the 2.9% expected. As a percentage of the acual annualized GDP number, it dropped from 2.26% to 1.73%. The other components in the calculation that had material revisions were inventories which added just 0.14% to GDP vs 0.42% in the last revision and 1.67% in Q3, as the destocking from record high inventory build up levels continues to take a bite out of growth; offsetting this was an increase in the Fixed investment estimate from 0.14% to 0.58%. Which in turn means that even more CapEx growth was pulled back into last year than previously expected, suggesting further downward cuts to Q1 2014 GDP are coming. Finally, the government deducted -1.05% from Q4 GDP as opposed to the 0.93% estimated previously.
In addition to the already noted fireworks out of China, where the Yuan saw the biggest daily plunge since 2008 and the ongoing and very rapid newsflow out of the Ukraine, focus this morning was very much of the latest Eurozone CPI data, which despite matching previous low levels, came in above expectations and in turn resulted in an aggressive unwind of short-EUR bets as market participants were forced to re-asses the likelihood of more easing by the ECB. Still, even though the Euribor curve bear steepened and Bunds came under significant selling pressure, the EONIA forward curve remained inverted, signifying that there is still a degree of apprehension over what is unarguably very low inflation data.
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.
It was only two weeks ago when Goldman's Jan Hatzius, as we predicted he would, took a hammer to its GDP forecasts for Q1 GDP upon the shocking realization that Q4 "growth" was all inventory driven. This morning, the hammering resumes as Goldman, in the aftermath of today's disastrous retail sales, not only cut its Q4 2013 GDP forecast from 2.8% to 2.4% (vs the 3.2% initially reported), but slashed its current quarter estimate from 2.3% to 1.9%. As a reminder, this number was 3.0% three weeks ago. Once again, nothing beats an economist forecast to know what the future will not be.
Once again the smell of NAPALM is in the air