There is no mystery to the “headwinds” that continue to plague and mystify monetary policymakers. The global economy is not pulled into re-recession by some unseen magical force, conspiring against the good-natured efforts of central bankers. Instead, the very thing central banks aspire to is the exact poison that alludes their attention. Conventional economics will continue to believe and empirically “prove” that the theory of the neutrality of money is valid, giving them, in their minds, unrestricted ability to intervene and manipulate over any short-term period (though it is getting harder to argue that these emergency measures are “short-term” nearly five years into their continued existence). The occurrence of panic in 2008 and the unresolved and unremoved barriers to recovery in the years since, however, fully attest to nonneutrality, an ongoing form of empirical proof that their models will never be able to refute. And we are all condemned by it.
Bulgaria speaks up in the euro fiasco. A balanced budget, growth, and an income tax rate of 10%?
It has been a tempestuous week where good is bad, worse is better, but European news is to be sold. Here is your one stop summary of all the notable bullish and bearish events in the past seven days.
The decoupling between revenues and earnings (that we discussed here) continues and while we have seen analyst reduce estimates, Nic Colas of ConvergEX notes that the estimates for the upcoming quarters of 2012 and into next year have taken a disturbing turn for the worse. On average, the Street expects the 30 companies of the Dow to post only 1.0-1.5% year-over-year top line growth for Q3 2012, down from the 3.0-3.7% expectations it had baked into its financial models just 60 days ago. Also, these analysts now peg Q4 2012 at 3.9% growth, but those numbers are falling quickly as companies report their earnings this month. Also worrisome: analysts are reducing their revenue expectations across the board – only 3 of the Dow 30 companies saw increased expectations for Q3 2012 revenues in the past 30 days, with a similarly dismal count for Q4 2012 expectations. If this is the best these large, well-capitalized companies can muster in terms of sales growth, can a U.S. recession be far behind? And expectations for further monetary policy easing as the last-and-best explanation for the recent rally in U.S. stocks.
The World Gold Council have just published their commentary on gold’s price performance in various currencies, its volatility statistics and correlation to other assets in the quarter - Gold Q2, 2012 - Investment Statistics and Commentary. It provides macroeconomic context to the investment statistics published at the end of each quarter and highlights emerging themes relevant to gold’s future development. One of their key findings is that gold will act as hedge against possible coming dollar weakness and gold will act as a "currency hedge in the international monetary system." The key findings of the World Gold Council’s report are presented inside.
For investors, the continued increases in profitability, at the expense of wages, is very finite. It is revenue that matters in the long term - without subsequent increases at the top line; bottom line profitability is severely at risk. The stock market is not cheap, especially in an environment where interest rates are artificially suppressed and earnings are inflated due to "accounting magic." This increases the risk of a significant market correction particularly with a market driven by "hopes" of further central bank interventions. This reeks of a risky environment, which can remain irrational longer than expected, that will eventually revert when expectations and reality collide.
We thought it was coming (as we wrote yesterday); we heard the rumors; but now the 'temporary liquidity problem' that faced Sicily has been resolved by... yes, you guessed it - the transfer of EUR400 million from the Italian government. Do not worry though. As one official noted "there's no default risk for Sicily, whose budget was in surplus in 2010 and 2011". Unbelievable.
"The developments in Sicily are very serious," said Prof Giuseppe Ragusa from Luiss University in Rome. "It is just the sort of negative shock we don’t want right now. Everything has to go perfectly for Italy to pull through."
There is a strange delayed reaction between the initial exposure of weakness in the financial system and the public’s realization of the truth, sort of like Wile E. Coyote dashing off a cliff in the cartoons only to continue running in mid-air above the abyss below. It is a testament to the fact that beyond the math, there is an undeniable power of psychology in our economy. The investment world naively believes it can fly, even with the weight of endless debt around its ankles, and for a very short time, that pure delirious oblivious belief sustains the markets. Eventually, though, gravity always triumphs over fantasy…
Despite the world and their lemur believing that, with a self-referential EUR100 billion bailout (loan) for its banks and a ponzi guarantee scheme for its insolvent regions, all will be well and more debt fixes too much debt, Spanish 10Y yields are back near 7% and spreads over 575bps. The reason - simple - the backbone of their credit-fueled economic growth has crumbled and is now crumbling faster. As the FT reports today, Spain's housing and banking sectors continue to deteriorate, grim new government data showed Wednesday, providing the latest indication that the country's economy remains caught in a protracted recession. House prices declined at the fastest pace since the start of the crisis in the second quarter, the public ministry said, and bad loans increased for a 14th month in a row, the Bank of Spain reported. What is more worrisome is that in spite of a bank rescue plan (that is obviously tyet tto be implemented), bank deposits saw a record decline shrinking 5.75% from a year earlier. The vicious cycle of rising borrowing costs and continued economic recession prompted the International Monetary Fund earlier this week to predict that the downturn will last into next year. "This government can't decide between a good and a bad choice," Mr. Rajoy said. "This government has to choose between the bad and the even worse."
During an economic boom, exuberance finds itself lodged in all types of industries. When profits soar, so does the public’s disregard for prudence. And as tax revenues rise, politicians can’t help but give in to their bread and butter of buying votes. In the case of a credit-expansion boom fueled primarily by fractional reserve banking and interest rate manipulation through a central bank, the boom conditions are destined toward bust. Liquidation then becomes necessary as the bust gets underway and malinvestments come to light. What the city of Scranton has in common with San Bernardino, Detroit, et al. is that its dire fiscal condition is due to one thing and one thing only: benefits promised to unionized workers, and, it appears, "the salad days of the government employee are coming to an end, as they have already in Greece, Italy and Spain." To those sick and tired of the tax-eater mentality that is destroying the very core of society’s productive capacity and moral base, those days can’t come soon enough.
In the eyes of our most decorated ‘scientists’, the brilliance and guile of Ingvar Kamprad, Sam Walton, Ray Kroc, Asa Candler, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and millions of others are far less important than an effective government bureaucracy. His entire book, in fact, is an impassioned argument for even more government control and redistribution of wealth. Right… because it’s been working so well. These ideas are totally absurd. Yet this what passes as science today. And because it’s science, society simply believes it to be true. No doubt, people in the future will look back, and they’ll wonder… but they won’t understand one bit.
Ben Bernanke will deliver the semiannual report on monetary policy to the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday. The market is hoping and praying that the Chairsatan will make it rain. He won't. In fact, as explained earlier, it is likely that Ben will say absolutely nothing of significance today and in a world in which only the H.4.1 matters, this is not going to be taken well by the market. Of course, if Benny does crack and promises to push the S&P to 1450 just in time for the re-election, all bets are off.
While bad news may be good news for the market hoping that it will spur more stimulative measures from the Fed to boost asset prices - for Main Street America bad news is just bad news. More importantly, the decline in consumer confidence continues to perpetuate the virtual economic spiral. As the consumer retrenches the decline in aggregate end demand puts businesses on the defensive who in turn reduces employment. The reduction in employment, and further stagnation of wages, puts the consumer further onto the defensive leading to more declines in demand. It is a difficult cycle to break.
Over the last five years, there have been so many ‘projections’ from the economic and political glitterati that have failed spectacularly as to be almost unbelievable - from Bernanke's 'subprime is contained' to Rajoy's November promise that 'Spain will stop being a problem and instead form part of the solution'. Projection was historically the moment when, despite all the work that went into getting to that last point in the program, hope and faith took over as the alchemist found himself having to rely on just a little bit of magic in order to get the outcome he so desperately wished for. Grant Williams believes that, when QE3 finally arrives (and arrive it will), it will mark the top of the S&P500 for a VERY long time and its positive effects will be far shorter-lived than many - including the Fed - are projecting. Far from an overwhelming rising tide that will float all boats, QE3 will be a dismal failure and the last bullet in the Federal Reserve’s gun will turn out not to be the hollowpoint that many are projecting, but instead simply a ‘bang flag’.
To those on the hill and elsewhere who suggest this growing 'fiscal cliff' and 'debt ceiling' crisis will all get solved, former Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director David Stockman tells Bloomberg TV that "they will punt, punt, punt and kick the can with partial solutions driven by eleventh hour crisis-based extensions that will go on for the whole of the next term!" When asked whether this economy will be mired in the doldrums, he rather ominously states "it will be worse, because we will be in recession" and notes that when the lame ducks re-look at the budget numbers with a realistic recession (instead of the current assumption of no recession within 12 years) it will be far worse and in a political environment where 'we cannot possibly raise taxes - and we cannot possibly cut spending'. With a 78% disapproval rating for the 'do nothing' Congress, Stockman is surprised that 16% somehow approve - approve of what? His warning is that unlike in past periods, today "we are completely paralyzed, there is an ideological divide on taxes and entitlement like we've never had before" and while he realizes that "the debt problem doesn't become a debt problem until the market suddenly have a wake up call and realize that if the Fed doesn't keep printing, it's game over."