Today's just announced revenue and EPS misses from both megacaps McDonalds and GE (in addition to MSFT, GOOG, INTC, IBM and everyone else) merely adds to what has so far been an abysmal earnings season, and one which is set to continue for far more weakness into Q4 (why? Hint: China, and its unwillingness to ease, and thus provide the much needed demand oomph US corporates need). Yet, the pundits will claim, economic conditions in the US have improved. How does one reconcile this disconnect? Simple: as Bloomberg Brief shows in two simple charts, what we are undergoing is not the first, but second case of annual deja vu, as the economy supposedly picks up in Q3 and Q4, courtesy of the latest and greatest artificial sugar high from the Fed, only to slide promptly back into decline once the initial euphoria fizzles. However, this time there is a major difference: corporate Y/Y revenue (and in many cases EPS) comps have turned negative, which means that unlike before when corporations would be the silver lining in a dreary macro environment once the economic downward trend resumed, this time around there won't be a convenient Deus Ex to provide a last gasp reason to hold on to the myth that things are getting better. This, in turn means, that with "dividend" assets no longer attractive, the investing/trading crowd will rush into hard assets like crude (recall the $125/barrell Brent barrier for economic decline)... and gold. But that is a story for another day.
If interest income as a percentage of total personal income had remained at its 2008 level, the total would now be over $1.5 trillion. It is this $550 billion annual delta that the Fed has directly, though its policies, taken away from US consumers in terms of purchasing power. So while the Fed has taken away the bond market as a venue in which to generate current income, it is the structural failures of equities in a post-HFT world (stories of mini, amd maxi, Flash Crashes are now a daily occurrence) that prevent investors from having the same confidence about current income in a market in which terminal and fatal capital loss are all too real fears. And there are those who still wonder why the US consumer is withering away, and absent such crutches as soaring Federal non-revolving debt, used for anything but its designated purposes, would have less purchasing power now than before the crisis as a result of the Fed's failed policies. As George Magnus so peotically summarizes it "What the left hand giveth, the right hand taketh away."
So the Fed is pinning its hopes on stimulating the economy via the wealth effect again, as it did when it revived the post-tech-wreck asset bubble in housing and credit in that now infamous 2003-07 period of radical excess. But here's the rub. While there is a wealth effect on spending, the correlation going back to 1952 is only 57%. But the correlation between spending and after-tax personal incomes is more like 75%. The impact is leagues apart. And that is the problem here, as we saw real disposable personal income decline 0.3% in August for the largest setback of the year. The QE2 trend of 1.7% is about half the 3.2% trend that was in place at the time of 0E2. Not only that, but the personal savings rate is too low to kick-start spending, even if the Fed is successful in generating significant asset price inflation. The savings rate now is at a mere 3.7%, whereas it was 6% at the time of QE1 back in 2009 and over 5% at the time of QE2 2010 — in other words, there is less pent-up demand right now and a much greater need to rebuild rather than draw down the personal savings rate. This is a key obstacle even in the face of higher net worth.
Venture capital (VC) has delivered poor returns for more than a decade. VC returns haven’t significantly outperformed the public market since the late 1990s, and, since 1997, less cash has been returned to investors than has been invested in VC. Speculation among industry insiders is that the VC model is broken, despite occasional high-profile successes like Groupon, Zynga, LinkedIn, and Facebook in recent years. As The Kauffman Foundations finds, from its 20-year history, investment committees and trustees should shoulder blame for the broken LP investment model, as they have created the conditions for the chronic misallocation of capital (no doubt driven by the failure of 'hope' over experience). All is not lost to the money-pumping narrative-followers though as five myths are destroyed and five recommendations made that may help LPs allocate and follow-through more effectively.
Bizarrely, and even after slapping my screens several times to make sure things were working, real opening levels in EGBs very quite simply FLAT. All flat! Haven’t seen that in ages!
Had to slap my screens again tonight, given the tons of “unchanged” data in EGBs. Have decorrelated from equities, as has the USD (closing about unchanged).
There were no surprises in the August Personal Income and Spending numbers, which came at 0.1% and 0.5%, respectively, on expectations of a 0.2% and 0.5% rise. Summarized: less income, more spending. This however, did not make the consumer income statement data any better: the bottom line is that adjusted for inflation, Real Disposable Income slid 0.3% in August, after a tiny 0.1% increase in July, the first such decline since November 2011, and as Bloomberg's Joseph Brusuelas says this is "another rough report for the consumer which doesn’t bode well for household spending going forward." Which means Bernanke knew precisely what he was doing when he launched QE3, which all advocated of QE3 will now say was fully justified. There is one problem with that logic however: for QE3 to be justified, it would mean QE1 and 2 were. Well, last we checked the US is still in a major depression, and neither QE1, 2, nor Twist 1 or 2 have done anything to prevent today's ugly data. Surely, this time it will be different. Finally, and as a result of the ongoing contraction in income, as expected the savings rate dropped from 4.1% to 3.7%: the lowest since May.
Ray Dalio, founder and co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates, L.P. and one of the most successful hedge fund managers of all time told Maria Bartiromo last week that he owns gold and that he sees no “sensible reason not to own gold”. The interview was part of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Corporate Program's CEO Speaker Series, which provides a forum for leading global CEOs to share their priorities and insights before a high-level audience of wealthy and influential CFR members. The respected hedge fund manager suggested that a depression and not a recession was likely and warned of social unrest and the risk of radical politics as was seen with Hitler and the Nazis in the Depression of the 1930’s. Dalio spoke about how “gold is a currency” and when asked by Bartiromo “do you own gold?”, he smiled and said “Oh yeah, I do.” The admission elicited a laugh from the CFR audience. Dalio’s interview is important as it again indicates how slowly but surely gold is moving from a fringe asset of a few hard money advocates and risk averse individuals to a mainstream asset. Wealthier people and some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world are slowly realising the importance of gold as financial insurance in an investment portfolio and as money. This will result in sizeable flows into the gold market in the coming months which should push prices above the inflation adjusted high of 1980 - $2,500/oz. The interview section where Dalio is asked about gold by an audience member begins in the 43rd minute and can be seen here.
The last time we saw a bevy of regurgitated European rumors shortly refuted was last Friday. Today we get a redux, following a hard push by none other than Spiegel (precisely as we predicted a month ago: "And now, time for Spiegel to cite "unnamed sources" that the EFSF is going to use 3-4x leverage") to imagine a world in which the ESM can be leveraged 4x to €2 trillion. This is merely a replay of last fall when Europe's deus ex for 2 months was clutching at a cobbled up superficial plan of 3-4x EFSF leverage, which ultimately proved futile. Why? Because, just like in 2011, one would need China in on this strategy as there is simply not enough endogenous leverage in either the US or Europe which would make this plan feasible. And China, we are sad to say, has a whole lot of its own problems to worry about right about now, than bailing out the shattered dream of a failed monetary unions still held by a few lifelong European bureaucrats, which this thing is all about. As expected, moments ago Germany refuted everything. Via Reuters: "Germany's finance ministry said on Monday that talk of the euro zone's permanent bailout fund being leveraged to 2 trillion euros via private sector involvement was not realistic, adding that any discussion of precise figures was "purely abstract." This also explains why we devoted precisely zero space to this latest leverage incarnation rumor yesterday: we were merely waiting for the refutation.
99 years ago the Fed was born. Then there was a world war. Two decades later, Keynesian economics (in a somewhat mutated form than that envisioned by the author, much like the Taylor rule) became the gold standard (pardon the pun) of the status quo, as it gave the political establishment a "scientific" justification to spend and accumulate gargantuan debt loads without fear of backlash by the public. Then there was another world war. Then the gold standard was obliterated, allowing the same establishment to dilute the instrument used as money and to cross the "gargantuan" barrier in spending and debt issuance. Then the world came to the verge of complete socio-economic and systemic collapse after a ponzi pyramid of $1 quadrillion in credit money nearly imploded in on itself. Then the final chapter of the corporate takeover of the sovereign model established by the Treaty of Westphalia arrived, as private deleveraging at the terminal expense of public debt took place at a record pace. This is a nutshell is the world history of the past century. And to summarize where we currently stand, we present the chart below. In the entire "developed" world, there is only one country that runs a budget surplus, even as the entire "developed" world is now, according to the Reinhart and Rogoff definition of sustainable public leverage, insolvent.
Europe took August off. Today, it is America's turn, as the country celebrates Labor day, although judging by recent trends in the new 'Part-time" normal, a phenomenon we have been writing about for years, and which even the NYT has finally latched on to, it would appear the holiday should really be Labor Half-Day. After today the time for doing nothing is over, and with less than one month left in the quarter, and trading volumes running 30% below normal which would guarantee bank earnings in Q3 are absolutely abysmal, the financial system is in dire need of volume, i.e. volatility. Luckily, things are finally heating up as the newsflow (sorry but rumors, insinuations, innuendo, and empty promises will no longer cut it) out of various central banks soars, coupled with key elections first in the Netherlands and then of course, in the US, not to mention the whole debt-ceiling/ fiscal cliff 'thing' to follow before 2012 is over. So for those who still care about events and news, here is the most comprehensive summary of the key catalysts over the next week and month, which are merely an appetizer for even more volatile newsflow in October and into the end of the year.
If one needs a shining example of why the days of Europe's artificial currency are numbered, look no further than the EU's poorest country which moments ago said "Ne Mersi" to the Eurozone and the European currency. From the WSJ: "Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest member state and a rare fiscal bright spot for the bloc, has indefinitely frozen long-held plans to adopt the single currency, marking the latest fiscally prudent country to cool its enthusiasm for the embattled currency. Speaking in interviews in Sofia, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Finance Minister Simeon Djankov said that the decision to shelve plans to join the currency area, a longtime strategic aim of successive governments in the former communist state, came in response to deteriorating economic conditions and rising uncertainty over the prospects of the bloc, alongside a decisive shift of public opinion in Bulgaria, which is entering its third year of an austerity program. "The momentum has shifted in our thinking and among the public…Right now, I don't see any benefits of entering the euro zone, only costs," Mr. Djankov said. "The public rightly wants to know who would we have to bailout when we join? It's too risky for us and it's also not certain what the rules are and what are they likely to be in one year or two."
We don't need recession
Or means of repression
Just give us some money
Our life could be sunny too...
Weidmann rejected suggestions that he was isolated on the ECB Governing Council in having such reservations. "I hardly believe that I am the only one to get a stomach ache over this," he said. Alexander Dobrindt, a senior German politician who has been the Executive Secretary of the Christian Social Union of Bavaria since 2009, was more direct, saying Draghi risked passing into the history books as the "currency forger of Europe". A conservative ally of Merkel, Dobrindt echoed Bundesbank’s Weidmann that Greece should leave the currency bloc by next year. The comments show the huge divisions in Germany over the debt crisis now in its 3rd year and the understandable concerns of inflation and even hyperinflation. The Bundebank and senior politicians and allies of Merkel may thwart Mario Draghi’s big plans to do “whatever it takes” to solve Europe’s financial collapse. One way or another, the euro is certain to fall in value in the long term.
Think the US has it bad with its "soaring" gas price, which is now back to $3.75 per gallon? Think again. Here, courtesy of Bloomberg, is a list of the countries whose gasoline cost puts what Americans pay at the pump to shame. In order of descending gas prices, below are the 20 places in the world where one does not want to "fill 'er up."
The phrase "Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?" and "It’s the Economy, Stupid" have become standards of American election discourse in recent decades. And seemingly for good reason. Although it is rare to unseat an incumbent, poor economic performance seems to play a role. We are less than four months away from the US Presidential election. Financial and economic developments have caused surprise political outcomes around the world from time to time. UBS took a look back at the first terms of the nine presidents that preceded President Obama to determine if the performance of economic variables had any predictive power in determining the odds of re-election for a second term. The news is not good, from GDP growth to real disposable income, and from unemployment to the Misery Index, it seems the bailer-out-in-chief may just have an uphill battle.