This is the first consecutive monthly drop in 14 months and the largest miss vs expectations on record. Printing at 76.8 (against an expectation of 82.0), this is the lowest in 5 months and points to the picture we have been painting of a consumer increasingly affected by rising rates and soaring gas prices amid stagnant incomes. As Citi notes below, this is the exact same pattern we have seen play out in the last 2 cycles and suggest significant downside risk to US equities. The economic outlook sub-index collapsed to its lowest since January.
Thus, we see the “smart money” exiting the markets. We also see fewer and fewer companies participating in the market rally. Those who run these companies are more pessimistic than at any point in the last five years dating back to the nadir of the 2009 collapse. And finally we have investors as a whole displaying the most complacency about the market in history.
New SEC Chair May Jo White's motto "you have to be tough" and plans to toss out the SEC enforcement policy that allowed almost all defendants to settle cases without admitting wrongdoing sound great; but the reality is, as the WSJ reports, the policy shift comes as the SEC turns the page on its financial crisis work. New investigations into misconduct linked to the meltdown have slowed to a trickle. And a statute-of-limitations deadline that generally restricts the sanctions the SEC can get for conduct more than five years old is looming for many cases. The SEC's crisis-related actions are producing diminishing financial returns as the following charts suggest... As one law professor noted, "they've not had the big case that everybody wanted to see... a major player being held really accountable." Perhaps more reading and less porn would be a start?
In the summer of 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, sparking a worldwide crisis. Britain was a major stakeholder in the canal, and almost immediately, the British government put together a small coalition consisting of the UK, France, and Israel to regain Western control. Their subsequent military action, however, greatly displeased the US government. And Uncle Sam quickly asserted its new role as the world’s superpower. But to anyone paying attention, this status has waned. Asia is rising. Major centers of wealth and power have grown around the world. US finances are desolate. And its currency is now widely reviled by foreign governments. But US politicians have completely ignored this trend over the last decade. They spend and act as if US global dominance is an endless river. With Syria, though, the US may have finally reached its Suez moment.
Vladimir Putin Addresses America In NYT Op-Ed; Calls For Caution In Syria, Denounces "American Exceptionalism"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/11/2013 19:45 -0500
"If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.... No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored... The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.... It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
Moments ago The Hill reported that the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the US and one of Obama's staunchest supporters, is expected to consider a resolution, "subject to fierce internal debate, that will call for changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — setting up a potential floor vote this Wednesday before the convention closes." In other words, the one constituency that was supposed to be among the biggest benefactors from Obamacare is about to launch a formal criticism of Obamacare as "frustration has grown within labor as the Obama administration has failed to offer a fix to temper union worries over the law."
But at least "they passed it."
Policy officials believe that growth and inflation would fix the problem of large debts, but growth fueled by public spending that is financed by debt or central banks is not sustainable. Like most Ponzi schemes, it doesn’t end well. Reducing total debt was always a better solution, but it would have resulted in even slower economic activity and lower living standards. However, in the long run, the system would have been purged of unsustainable excesses. ‘Short term pain’ for ‘long term gain’ is often shunned for fear of electoral defeat and lobby group pressure. Now, we are stuck with financial repression. Investment is being directed toward funding the public sector. Policy rewards debtors over creditors. Such policy cannot go on forever. In reality, “unlimited” rarely means unlimited, because imbalances become too great. The Fed’s current quagmire has aspects resembling the Triffin Dilemma. The recent adverse spillover from Fed policies in emerging market economies and currencies may be the first hint of cracks in the global monetary system. At a minimum, foreign central banks have deviated from good policy in order to prevent sharp destabilizing fluctuations in the value of their currencies and to arrest volatile inflows and outflows of capital.
While the unemployment rate has been falling, currently at 7.3%, it has not been because of a strongly increasing workforce. Rather it has been a function of people leaving the workforce. This, of course, brings up the obvious question of how these people are live if they aren't working. A recent trip to Walmart answered that question...
"I estimate the US fiscal gap at US$200 tn, 17 times the reported US$12 tn in official debt in the hands of the public.... Our country is broke. It’s not broke in 50 years or 30 years or 10 years. It’s broke today. Six decades of take as you go has led us to a precipice. That’s why almost the entire economics profession is talking as one at www.theinformact.org. Economists from all political persuasions are collectively sending our government a warning about what is, effectively, a nuclear economic bomb. I’ve been around economics for a long time. I’ve never seen such a strong response to a proposed Congressional bill. This is the profession sending a statement to the President and Congress that’s not unlike the warning physicists sent via Einstein to Roosevelt about the bomb." Larry Kotlikoff
The man who could barely recall anything at his various Congressional hearings, has no problem with remembering one key aspect of the MF Global bankruptcy: Jon Corzine is innocent! And, as a result, yesterday his lawyers filed a motion to dismiss a civil case brought against him by the CFTC in which the legal team shows that the best defense is a good offense and openly critiques the commodities regulator. DealBook excerpts from the filing: "There is no evidence demonstrating that Mr. Corzine knowingly directed unlawful conduct or acted without good faith," wrote the lawyers from Dechert, Andrew J. Levander and Benjamin E. Rosenberg. "Rather than acknowledge that reality and move on, the C.F.T.C. has clung to its baseless presumptions and manufactured charges of wrongdoing that are supposedly connected to Mr. Corzine." Right: the commingling just happened on its own. Twas but a glitch.
Whenever something bad happens – Iran moving closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, North Korea firing another missile, civilian deaths reaching another grim milestone in Syria’s civil war, satellites revealing an alarming rate of polar-ice melt – some official or observer will call upon the international community to act. There is only one problem: there is no “international community.” In short, those looking to the international community to deal with the world’s problems will be disappointed. This is not reason for despair or grounds for acting unilaterally. But so long as “international community” is more hope than reality, multilateralism will have to become more varied.
According to the latest whip count on Syria attack proposal in the House, 237 reps oppose a such a strike and 169 are undecided with just 27 are for. While this number guarantees that no vote will ever come to pass, and humiliate Obama, who if anything will revoke the punt to Congress from September 1 and unilaterally engage in strikes to appease assorted Saudi/Qatari interests, all that would take for the 27 Yay votes to become 28, would be for Obama to return the Nobel Peace Prize. According to The Hill, a Republican lawmaker said he'll vote to authorize military action against Syria if President Obama returns his Nobel Peace Prize. The line between reality and an alternative Onionesque universe is thin, but this is not a joke.
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."
One reason why the US has been able to extend its true "drop dead" cash exhaustion date has been due to an increase in tax revenues due to the payroll tax cut as well as cash inflows from the GSEs (which are set to reverse and become outflows once the latest housing dead cat bounce reverses), and cash remittances from the Fed. However, the capacity under this extended "revolver" is rapidly running out, and as of August 31, 2013, approximately $108 billion in extraordinary measures remained available for use. In a report released today, the Bipartisan Policy Center has released another analysis of just when the US will hit the "X Date" or the date on which the Treasury will not have sufficient cash to pay all of its bills in full and on time. Should there be still no deal on the debt ceiling by this date, the Treasury will be forced to prioritize payments to avoid a debt default. According to this estimate, the X Date falls anywhere between November 5 to as recently as October 18, or just over a month from now (and there has been zero real discussion in Congress over the debt ceiling hike with all the excitement over Syria).