"To critics who warn that pumping trillions of dollars into the economy in a short period is bound to drive up inflation, today's central bankers point to stagnant consumer prices and say, 'Look, Ma, no inflation.' But this ignores the fact that when money is nominally free, strange things happen, and today record-low rates are fueling an unprecedented bout of inflation across asset prices."
We have rich people, poor people, right-wing economists, left-wing economists and even revolutionaries, all contesting Piketty’s argument. It seems we the People do have a point against him. But will it prevail? We’re not optimistic on this one. It is far more likely that Piketty's ideas will gain traction rather than fade away. Why? Because it gives politicians and their Keynesian consorts yet another framework and justification as to why the state should be the key allocator of resources in society.
On the heels of the weakest print since May 2009 in March, April Industrial Production printed -0.3% (against expectations of a bounce to -0.03% from -0.64% - which was revised higher). This is the 5th monthly drop in a row - the longest streak since the Great Recession. This is the 2nd weakest YoY print, at a mere +1.93%, since Feb 2010. To add to the pain, Capacity Utlization missed expectations falling to its lowest since Jan 2014 (falling the most YoY since Dec 2009) and Manufacturing production was unchanged.
It is a cornerstone of orthodox economics that recessions are not just emotion and pessimism but spring out of an exogenous “shock.” There is none to be found here in sharp contrast to 2008 which at least had a deep financial panic. However, the trajectory of the economy since 2012 has been seeded by a distinct lack of growth especially in wages and incomes – what economists have been taking as slow but steady growth was actually much more nefarious. We may find out that recession shock includes just generic and basic attrition; that “demand”, despite all the attention and “stimulus” given it, can only hold out for so long without any actual (as opposed to purely statistical) alleviation.
Was that it for the "reflation" aka Bund-rout trade? One look at German bonds this morning and the sharp, panic selloffs seen in recent days are completely gone making one wonder if the ECB is done selling Bunds the CTAs who were riding the momentum train have all been squeezed out of their long positions and now the trend back to -0.20% can resume only to be followed by another abrupt 6-sigma move as the ECB once again sells inventory to buy itself more monetization runway. As a reminder, the ECB has to buy debt until September 2016 and it won't be able to if the 30-Year Bund is at -0.20% in a few months (or weeks).
It's worthwhile recalling that mainstream economists, the Federal Reserve, government agencies and the mainstream financial media all deny the economy is in recession until it falls off a cliff.
Sitting in Silicon Valley, it feels like we’ve reached the peak again. Hot money is chasing deals at ridiculous valuations. Housing prices are more than incomes can cover. Optimism is high. Jobless Claims are at cyclical lows. We’ve seen this before, in 2000 and 2007.
If March was supposed to herald at least the beginning of the anticipated yearly rebound, April put that idea to rest. We have pushed way past last year’s “aberration” in the polar vortices and way past even the immediate aftermath of the 2012 slowdown (which hit in the also-snowy winter of 2013). You can make the argument that the full US economy is not in recession but it is now exceedingly difficult to sustain any position that doesn’t put the consumer already there.
Something funny happened on the way to the global reflation (telegraphed so loudly by the recent surge in 10Y yields to the highest level of 2015): PPI just crumbled by a sequential 0.4% in the month of April, despite expectations it would rise by 0.1% and continue the 0.2% monthly increase seen in March. This was a -1.3% drop in PPI - the fastest fall in 5 years. Worse, the annual decline in final demand goods was -5.2% Y/Y, the biggest drop in the revised series in record!
The evidence continues to mount...
Zero Hedge first brought attention to the Atlanta Fed over two months ago, when the first massive divergence between bullish consensus and objective reality appeared. Since then it has been nothing but a downhill race for reality, with consensus scrambling to catch up. Moments ago, the Atlanta Fed just cut its Q2 GDP forecast once more, this time to 0.7% from 0.8%. This is on the back of a Q1 GDP which as of this moments is around -1.0%.
In short, the very project of counting “jobs” is essentially laughable in the context of the US economy as it is currently structured - for better or worse. But regardless of the equities and efficiencies of the current labor market, one thing is abundantly clear. The Payroll Friday report amounts to virtually meaningless noise. It is bad enough that the bubble vision Romper Room and the casino robo-traders are oblivious to this reality. What is scary is that the Eccles Building is just as clueless.
It is perhaps an emblematic description for our current bubble age; QE doesn’t work but “we” can’t wait for more. Maybe that is just the logical evolution of monetary magic, since QE was brought on with almost mythical properties that were going to cure a lot of financial and economic ills (Bernanke the former). Now resignation (Bernanke the latter) has left it with only the hope that it can just save us from the worst downside, even without any real expectation of a true upside in the economy. In other words, markets hope for the QE zombie, where the economy is kept from death by it, with full recognition now that it will never regain full life either.
US Import Prices fell 10.7% in April (missing expectations of a 9.7% decline) making this the longest streak of YoY declines outside of a recession in history. In fact, YoY Import Prices have only risen 5 times in the last 36 months. This is also the 10th monthly decline in import prices (-0.3% vs +0.3% expectations) with with Food and Beverage prices dropping the most and non-fuel-related import costs dropping the most since 2009 and imports ex-fuel and food fell 2.2% YoY in April. The biggest price deflationary pressures appear to come from ASEAN with overall manufactured goods sliding 0.4% against non-manufactured rising 0.5% in April.
Despite bouncing back last month at the fastest pace in a year, April just printed the slowest YoY growth since Nov09 at just 0.9% (retail sales has still missed expectations for 4 of the last 5 months). Against expectations of a 0.2% MoM rise in April (considerably slower than the 0.9% pop in March), Retail Sales missed with a 0.0% change. Ex-Auto and Gas MoM also missed with a mere 0.1% gain (aghainst +0.5% exp.) but it was the control group that saw the biggest miss, printing 0.0% (against hopeful expectations of a 0.5% gain). There was widespresd weakness with outright declines in autos, furniture, gas, food, electronics (AAPL hangover), and general merchandise.