Real Interest Rates

Two Months After We Said It Would, Goldman Cuts Its GDP Forecast (With Much More To Come)

Back in December 2013, as we do after every periodic bout of irrational exuberance by Goldman's chief economist Jan Hatzius et al (who can forget our post from December 2010 "Goldman Jumps Shark, Goes Bullish, Hikes Outlook" in which Hatzius hiked his 2011 GDP forecast from 1.9% to 2.7% only to end the year at 1.8%, and we won't even comment on the longer-term forecasts) designed merely to provide a context for Goldman's equity flow and prop-trading axes, we said it was only a matter of time before Goldman (and the rest of the Goldman-following sellside econo-penguins) is forced to once again trim its economic forecasts. Overnight, two months after our prediction, the FDIC-backed hedge fund did just that, after Goldman's Hatzius announced that "we have taken down our GDP estimates to 2½% in Q1 and 3% in Q2, from 2.7% [ZH: actually 3.0% as of Thursday] and 3½% previously."

Goldman Defends Its "Stocks Are Overvalued" Call From Angry Clients

Ten days ago, the few carbon-based habitual gamblers left in the market stopped and read Goldman's report which, as we said, may have 'just killed the music' with its slam of the market saying the "S&P500 is now overvalued by almost any measure." Recall: "The current valuation of the S&P 500 is lofty by almost any measure, both for the aggregate market as well as the median stock: (1) The P/E ratio; (2) the current P/E expansion cycle; (3) EV/Sales; (4) EV/EBITDA; (5) Free Cash Flow yield; (6) Price/Book as well as the ROE and P/B relationship; and compared with the levels of (6) inflation; (7) nominal 10-year Treasury yields; and (8) real interest rates. Furthermore, the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio suggests the S&P 500 is currently 30% overvalued in terms of (9) Operating EPS and (10) about 45% overvalued using As Reported earnings." Since then, many of Goldman's client must have been displeased that David Kostin refuses to drink from the punchbowl anymore, and sent in their complaints. However, Goldman has refused to budge and issued a follow up defense to its thesis that stocks are overvalued more than at any other time except the tech bubble with "Valuation fact vs. fiction part 2: Responding to common questions about S&P 500 valuation."

Short-Sellers Set-Up Shop As Sentiment Starts To Shift

"It's dangerous to be short still, but we might be building toward a moment where the market becomes quite vulnerable," warns Bill Fleckenstein who is finishing up the documentation on a new short fund he is about to start marketing. With the slowing growth of the Fed balance sheet, over 70% of the S&P's gains since 2011 from hope-driven multiple-expansion alone, bond and equity market sentiment at extremes, and (as Goldman warned) valuations anything cheap; it is hardly a surprise that, as Reuters reports, after years of hiding under their desks, short sellers are re-emerging - slowly. Whether outright short or long/short funds, the market-share of this corner of the business bottomed at approximately 25% in 2013, but in the last weeks, several S&P 500 companies have seen large increases in shares borrowed for short bets; and the "tide might be turning."

Lockhart "Positive" Hawkishness Sparks Tapering Tumble In Stocks (Dow At Lows Of Year)

It was all looking so good. NASDAQ was green for the year (so were Trannies), stocks in general were rising and everyone on TV could proclaim how well the 'market' was handling the taper. Then Dennis Lockhart spoke...

*LOCKHART SEES `GROWING CONFIDENCE' IN 2014 OUTLOOK, U.S. ECONOMY ON `MORE SOLID' FOOTING
*LOCKHART BACKS $10 BLN TAPER AS CONFIDENCE IN 2014 GROWS

That's great news right? Wrong? Stocks didn't like it... and NASDAQ rapidly gave up its gains... Fun-durr-mentals remain in control eh? It shouldn't be a big surprise given what Goldman Sachs warned about over the weekend!

Goldman Downgrades US Equities To "Underweight", Sees Risk Of 10% Drawdown

"We downgrade the US equity market to underweight relative to other equity markets over 3 months following strong performance. Our broader asset allocation is unchanged and so are almost all our forecasts. Since our last GOAL report, we have rolled our oil forecast forward in time to lower levels along our longstanding profile of declining prices. We have also lowered the near-term forecast for equities in Asia ex-Japan slightly. Near-term risks have declined as the US fiscal and monetary outlook has become clearer. Over 3 months our conviction in equities is now much lower as the run-up in prices leaves less room for unexpected events.... Our US strategists have also noted the risk of a 10% drawdown in 2014 following a large and low volatility rally in 2013 that may create a more attractive entry point later this year."

Did Goldman Just Kill The Music? - "The S&P500 Is Now Overvalued By Almost Any Measure"

S&P 500 valuation is lofty by almost any measure, both for the aggregate market (15.9x) as well as the median stock (16.8x). We believe S&P 500 trades close to fair value and the forward path will depend on profit growth rather than P/E expansion. However, many clients argue that the P/E multiple will continue to rise in 2014 with 17x or 18x often cited, with some investors arguing for 20x. We explore valuation using various approaches. We conclude that further P/E expansion will be difficult to achieve. Of course, it is possible. It is just not probable based on history.

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Unstable eurozone states are particularly vulnerable to default because they no longer have their own sovereign currencies, putting them in a similar position as emerging countries that borrowed in U.S. dollars in the 1980s and 1990s.

5 Things To Ponder This Weekend - The Taper Edition

This past week the Federal Reserve began tapering their current large scale asset purchase (LSAP) program, more commonly referred to as Quantitative Easing (QE), by trimming $10 billion in bond purchases from the previous monthly totals.  This week's "Things To Ponder" is a diverse set of views on the potential effect of the taper on the financial markets and the impact to investors.  Regardless of your personal expectations as to the impact of the reduction of liquidity in the months ahead, it is always a good mental exercise to consider opposing viewpoints to balance your own views by eliminating confirmation bias.  Here are 5 disparate views on the effect, and potential outcome, of the Federal Reserve's latest move.

Larry Summers On Why "Stagnation Might Be The New Normal"... And Bubbles

"If secular stagnation concerns are relevant to our current economic situation, there are obviously profound policy implications... Some have suggested that a belief in secular stagnation implies the desirability of bubbles to support demand. This idea confuses prediction with recommendation. It is, of course, better to support demand by supporting productive investment or highly valued consumption than by artificially inflating bubbles. On the other hand, it is only rational to recognize that low interest rates raise asset values and drive investors to take greater risks, making bubbles more likely. So the risk of financial instability provides yet another reason why preempting structural stagnation is so profoundly important."

Guest Post: Who Needs The Debt Ceiling?

Those who adhere to the don’t-stop-til-you-get-enough theory of sovereign borrowing, and by extension argue for a scrapping of the debt ceiling, couldn’t be more misguided. In free markets with no Fed money market distortion, interest rates can be a useful guide of the amount of real savings being made available to borrowers. When borrowers want to borrow more, real interest rates will rise, and at some point this crimps the marginal demand for borrowing, acting as a natural “debt ceiling.” But when markets are heavily distorted by central bank money printing and contrived zero-bound rates, interest rates utterly cease to serve this purpose for prolonged periods of time. What takes over is the false signals of the unsustainable business cycle which fools people into thinking there is more savings than there really is. Debt monetization has a proven track record of ending badly. It is after all the implicit admission that no one but your monopoly money printer is willing to lend to you at the margin. The realization that this is unsustainable can take a while to sink in, but when it does, all it takes is an inevitable fat-tail event or crescendo of panic to topple the house of cards. If the market realizes it’s been duped into having too much before the government decides it’s had enough, a debt crisis won’t be far away.

JPM Comes Out Against Bernanke's Helicopter: "Raising Inflation Expectations Is A Bad Idea"

As we explained over two months ago, and as the Fed is no doubt contemplating currently, the primary topic on the agenda of central bankers everywhere and certainly in the Marriner Eccles building, is how to boost inflation expectations as much as possible, preferably without doing a thing and merely jawboning "forward expectations" (or more explicitly through the much discussed nominal GDP targeting) in order to slowly but surely or very rapidly and even more surely, get to the core problem facing the developed world: an untenable mountain of debt, and specifically, inflating it away. Of course, higher rates without a concurrent pick up in economic activity means a stock market tumble, both in developed and emerging countries, as the Taper experiment over the summer showed so vividly, which in turn would crush what many agree is the Fed's only achievement over the past 5 years - creating and nurturing the "wealth effect" resulting from record high asset prices, which provides lubrication for financial conditions and permits the proper functioning of capital markets. Perhaps this is the main concern voiced by JPM's chief US economist Michael Feroli who today has issued an interesting piece titled simply enough: "Raising inflation expectations: a bad idea." Is this the first shot across the bow of a Fed which may announce its first taper as soon as two weeks from today, in order to gradually start pushing inflation expectations higher?

 

Bill Gross Explains What "Keeps Him Up At Night"

"What keeps us up at night? Well I can’t speak for the others, having spoken too much already to please PIMCO’s marketing specialists, but I will give you some thoughts about what keeps Mohamed and me up at night. Mohamed, the creator of the “New Normal” characterization of our post-Lehman global economy, now focuses on the possibility of a” T junction” investment future where markets approach a time-uncertain inflection point, and then head either bubbly right or bubble-popping left due to the negative aspects of fiscal and monetary policies in a highly levered world.  ... investors are all playing the same dangerous game that depends on a near perpetual policy of cheap financing and artificially low interest rates in a desperate gamble to promote growth. The Fed, the BOJ (certainly), the ECB and the BOE are setting the example for global markets, basically telling investors that they have no alternative than to invest in riskier assets or to lever high quality assets. “You have no other choice,” their policies insinuate....  Deep in the bowels of central banks research staffs must lay the unmodelable fear that zero-bound interest rates supporting Dow 16,000 stock prices will slowly lose momentum after the real economy fails to reach orbit, even with zero-bound yields and QE." - Bill Gross

Ron Paul Rages "'Easy' Money Causes Hard Times"

One economic myth is that paper money is wealth. The proponents of big government oppose honest money for a very specific reason. Inflation, the creation of new money, is used to finance government programs not generally endorsed by the producing members of society. It is a deceptive tool whereby a “tax” is levied without the people as a whole being aware of it. Since the recipients of the newly created money, as well as the politicians, whose only concern is the next election, benefit from this practice, it’s in their interest to perpetuate it. For this reason, misconceptions are promulgated about the “merits” of paper money and the “demerits” of gold. Simply put, “Easy” money causes hard times.