Hard landing, soft landing, civil unrest, dominant economic superpower – the forecasts flow freely regarding China. The fact that good data is hard to come by regarding China does not seem to inhibit many outside observers. In this piece I will look at China through the lens of economic structure, Chinese history and culture—concepts which a number of observers often overlook. My general conclusion is that Chinese GDP growth rates are about to undergo a gradual but nevertheless perceptible decline. But I now believe a hard landing crash is unlikely, assuming that Europe does not totally disintegrate and the US does not roll over into a full scale recession.
The recent LTRO by the ECB provided lquidity; but at a cost. It is apparent that the banks in Europe pushed up the prices for European sovereigns in the short term but also increased their own risks by doing so. Recent data suggests that almost 10% of foreign buyers exited many of the weaker sovereign credits in Europe while their domiciled banks picked up the slack but, in doing so, increased their own risk and as yields have gapped back out in Italy, Spain et al the banks are facing significant losses on their balance sheets. It is quite possible now that with this weekend’s elections in Europe that Germany will find itself backed into a corner and nationalism could become a self-centered affair in Berlin with surprising consequences that could result from finding itself backed up against the wall. As much of Europe now finds itself in recession I note the continuing possibility of social unrest that could burst at any time as the unemployment numbers for much of the youth in Europe are abysmal and idleness can ignite in the most controlled of societies.
With a Labour Day market holiday across the continent, focus turns to the FTSE-100. The UK market is trading modestly higher with some strong earnings reports overnight lifting the index. Lloyds Group posted stronger than expected profits and reported confidence in the delivery of their financial guidance. The report has boosted Lloyds shares to become one of the top gainers of the day. Despite this, the financials sector is being held back from outperforming as Man Group fail to deliver on their sales figures, pushing their shares lower throughout the session. The only notable data release of the European session was UK Manufacturing PMI, coming in below expectations with a reading of 50.5 as manufacturing output was dampened across April by Eurozone weakness and contracting new orders. Following the release, GBP weakness was observed, with GBP/USD touching upon session lows. Pre-market, the RBA cut their cash target rate by 50BPS, a larger cut than expected. The board cited skittish market conditions and below trend output growth as the triggers for the rate cut. As such, AUD weakness is observed across the board and AUD/USD stops just short of breaking through 1.0300 to the downside. Looking ahead in the session, participants look toward US ISM Manufacturing for March due at 1500BST/0900CDT as the next key data release.
- Europe focus of global May Day labour protests (BBC)
- Occupy movement's May Day turnout seen as test for its future (Reuters)
- BofA to Cut From Elite Ranks, will fire 2000 (WSJ)
- Man Group Has $1 Billion Outflows; Shares Slide on Cash Concern (Bloomberg)
- Obama Fails to Stem Middle-Class Slide He Blamed on Bush (Bloomberg)
- Berlin insists on eurozone austerity (FT)
- This must be really good for AMZN's 1.5% operating profit margins: Microsoft muscles in on ebooks (FT)
- Ohio Union Fight Shakes Up Race (WSJ)
- How to Lose $7.8 Billion and Still Be Top of the Rich List (WSJ)
- Hollande Seen Bowing to Debt Crisis in Socialists’ Balancing Act (Bloomberg)
- BP profit falls as Gulf spill costs still weigh (Reuters)
Looking at your screens and seeing nothing but black? Don't worry, your internet feed did not get cut - it is just that virtually everyone else in the world is taking today off (although judging by recent volumes one could be forgiven to assume that it is "just another day"). Which is not to say that nothing is happening, with a surprising bigger than expected rate cut (50 bps to 3.75%) by the RBA crushing AUD longs overnight, and a Manufacturing ISM on deck which is far shakier now than it was before yesterday's major PMI miss. Compounding the concerns was a UK PMI print just barely above contraction territory at 50.5, below expectations of 51.5, down from 52.1. Finally, expect another record bout of GM channel stuffing which continues to be the only "shining" aspect of the now inflecting US recovery. To summarize with DB's Jim Reid: "Ahead of an important day, it has been a fairly quiet session for markets overnight. Most Asian markets (include Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, and South Korea) are closed for Labour Day. Indeed much of Europe will be closed today. In terms of what's open overnight, the Nikkei is -1.2% but the ASX 200 is up +0.9%. China’s official PMI manufacturing inched a little higher in April to 53.3 from 53.1 in March but slightly below market consensus (53.6). For such a huge economy the Chinese official PMI series does seem to have been remarkably smooth of late as the reading has been gradually on the rise since hitting a recent low of 49.0 in November (50.3 in Dec, 50.5 in Jan, 51.0 in Feb, 53.1 in Mar, 53.3 in April). As we go to print the Reserve Bank of Australia has unexpectedly cut its key benchmark rate by 50bps to 3.75%. Indeed only 2 out of 29 economists polled by Bloomberg saw this coming. The market reacted aggressively post the announcement taking the front end bills 15-18bp lower in yields."
Few have been as steadfast in their correct call that the US economy sugar high of the first quarter was nothing but a liquidity-driven, hot weather-facilitated uptick in the economy, which has now ended with a thud, as seen by the recent epic collapse in all high-frequency economic indicators, which have not translated into a market crash simply because the market is absolutely convinced that the worse things get, the more likely the Fed is to come in with another round of nominal value dilution. Perhaps: it is unclear if the Fed will risk a spike in inflation in Q2 especially since as one of the respondents in today's Chicago PMI warned very prudently that Chinese inflation is about to hit America in the next 60 days. That said, here are some of today's must read observations on where we stand currently, on why 1937-38 may be the next imminent calendar period deja vu, and most importantly, the fact that Rosie now too has realized that the next credit bubble is student debt as we have been warning since last summer.
By definition, we cannot shrink our way back to the sort of growth required to service the West's accumulated debts. Something has to give. That something will ultimately be social and political disorder on a continent-wide basis, particularly as the taxpayer becomes increasingly frustrated in his obligations to fund the rapidly growing and untenable costs of Big Government. Such disorder is almost universally feared-- by politicians, by markets, by institutions. As the London-based marcoeconomic research consultancy Capital Economics recently commented: "The last thing that the markets need right now is increased political uncertainty at the heart of Europe at a time when the economic outlook is already bleak..." The only reasonable response to this is: tough. If social and political disorder is what it takes to shift an unsustainable status quo in which vampire banks and clueless bureaucrats suck the life out of the productive economy, bring it on.
“…we have not had to put any taxpayers’ money into our financial system in Canada, nor do I anticipate that we’ll be obliged to do so.”
—Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance
“Without wanting to appear arrogant or vain, which would be quite un-Canadian... while our system is not perfect, it has worked during this difficult time, I don’t want the government to be in the banking business in Canada.”
—Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance
“It is true, we have the only banks in the western world that are not looking at bailouts or anything like that...and we haven’t got any TARP money.”
—Stephen Harper, Prime Minister
As noted earlier, and in the aftermath of both the UK and Spain officially double dipping, very soon a majority of Europe will be submerged under the latest recessionary tide which has already engulfed Spain, UK, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia. The primary wildcard remains Germany, although there is a more than 50% chance that following some very weak PMI data, the country will follow up its already negative Q4 GDP print with another decline, officially pushing the European growth dynamo into recession as well (as for France which reps and warrants that everything is great, it is not as if anyone actually believes those numbers, especially after Hollande becomes president in one week). For everyone who wants to track the European double dip tsunami in real time, the following interactive chart from Reuters is just for you.
All major European bourses are trading lower with the exception of the DAX, which holds just above the open by a modest margin. Adidas ranks among the top performers in the German index, following the report of a strong set of sales figures, contributing to the positive trade. Spanish concerns continue to build up as Standard & Poor’s took ratings action on 16 of the country’s banks, downgrading the notable names of Banco Santander and BBVA. Although the move was not a surprise as this is the usual procedure following a sovereign downgrade, both Santander and BBVA, along with the IBEX are in negative territory. The Bund is seen higher amid a generally risk-off theme to markets this morning. Volumes have been relatively light, however a slight pick-up has been observed in recent trade, grinding the security upwards in the last hour or so. EUR/USD continues to experience weakness and now trades close to a touted option expiry of 1.3200, as traders seek the safety of the USD across a number of currency crosses.
The markets may decide to play along with the renewed talk of growth and the death of austerity, but it is shocking how quickly writers and the media have latched on to the idea that growth will somehow save us and that the entire problem is the fault of austerity. Although it seems like it has been around for awhile, austerity is fairly new. I don’t think Greece even got nailed with austerity until May of 2010. In September 2010 when EFSF and ESM were first officially launched, Portugal and Ireland were both contributing members. The first time austerity was mentioned in Spain and Italy had to be the summer of 2011, if not later? Until that time, I assume growth was part of the policy of most countries? I find it hard to believe any country engaged in an anti-growth policy? Was not every policy in Europe, up until at least 2010 if not beyond, actually a “growth” policy? Why did they fail to create enough growth to stop the debt crisis? Ah, that is the other problem. It isn’t just growth that is needed, certainly not to comfort the bond market, it is growth that surpasses the amount spent (borrowed) to create it.
The good news: Spanish Q1 GDP printed -0.3% on expectations of a -0.4% Q/Q decline. Unfortunately this is hardly encouraging for the nearly 25% of the labor force which is unemployed, and for consumers whose purchasing habits imploded following record plunges in retail sales as observed last week. The bad news: Spain now joins at least 10 other Western countries which have (re) entered a recession. Per DB: "Spain will today likely join a growing list of Western Developed world countries in recession. Last week the UK was added to a recession roll call that includes Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia. Debt ladened countries with interest rates close to zero have limited flexibility to fight the business cycle and this impotency will continue for many years." Alas, the abovementioned good news won't last: from Evelyn Hermman, economist at BNP - "The Pace of Spain’s economic contraction may increase in coming quarters as austerity measures bite more sharply." Of course, it is the "good news" that sets the pace each and every day, as the bad news is merely a further catalyst to buy, buy, buy as the ECB will allegedly have no choice but to do just that when the time comes. And something quite surprising from DB's morning comment: "If it were us in charge we would allow more defaults which would speed up the cleansing out of the system thus encouraging a more efficient resource allocation in the economy at an earlier stage." Wait, this is Deustche Bank, with assets which are nearly on par with German GDP, saying this? Wow...
If the now failed monetary union is the soul that Europe sold to the devil countless of times in the past decade just to plunder from the future as greedily as possible, consequences of unsustainable leverage be damned, the heart of Europe was the visa-free and customs unions that allowed the continent to be as one for the vast majority of people. Yet while the end of the monetary union will not be permitted as long as there are banks which stand to go out of business should that transpire, the end of visa-free travel will hardly impact banks much if at all. Which, unfortunately, explains why while the soul of Europe, already rehypothecated countless times to the lowest bidder, is still out there somewhere, the heart has just begun what may be terminal arrhythmia which has only one sad conclusion.
The European Central Bank prints money and hands it to the banks in undiminished size and at an interest rate which compels massive carry trades. The European banks buy sovereign debt that helps to lower the price of the sovereign’s funding costs, the banks use some of the money to increase their own capital and lend some of the money to individuals and corporations in the nations where they are domiciled. The money gets used and eventually dries up and a some of the capital is used to come into compliance with Basel III. The yields of the periphery nations fall but then begin to rise again. Germany, using Target-2, keeps lending money to the other central banks which use part of the money to support their currency, the Euro. The circle is then completed and the equity markets, notably in America, trade off of the strength of the Euro and some days at almost a point by point movement. Never before in the history of the world has such a grand scheme been implemented and in such an all-encompassing fashion. The unlimited amount of money that is available, because they can print all the money they want, has allowed Europe to game the world’s financial system while no one looked or caught on to the scheme. The world’s fiscal system has been rigged by Europe.
In perhaps the most courageous (and now must-read) speech ever given inside the New York Fed's shallowed hallowed walls, Economic Policy Journal's Robert Wenzel delivered the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the monetary priesthood. Gracious from the start, Wenzel takes the Keynesian clap-trappers to task on almost every nonsensical and oblivious decision they have made in recent years. "My views, I suspect, differ from beginning to end... I stand here confused as to how you see the world so differently than I do. I simply do not understand most of the thinking that goes on here at the Fed and I do not understand how this thinking can go on when in my view it smacks up against reality." And further..."I scratch my head that somehow your conclusions about unemployment are so different than mine and that you call for the printing of money to boost 'demand'. A call, I add, that since the founding of the Federal Reserve has resulted in an increase of the money supply by 12,230%." But his closing was tremendous: "Let’s have one good meal here. Let’s make it a feast. Then I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you all, walk out of here with me, never to come back. It’s the moral and ethical thing to do. Nothing good goes on in this place. Let’s lock the doors and leave the building to the spiders, moths and four-legged rats."