Bernanke’s legacy is still to be made. But he has put the US economy in a position from which it can succeed. If Europe falls apart, it will be more difficult. If we fall of the fiscal cliff we will have our own Thelma and Louise moment. The Fed Chairman has already said he can’t save us from that shock. It’s really time for fiscal policy makers to step up. As long as they refuse it makes Bernanke’s job all the harder. And the pressure on him is intense.
Bernanke is under a lot of pressure and is given little credit for what have been remarkable achievements. Do risks remain? They sure do. But that result is yet to be decided. Meanwhile risks elsewhere are at least as pressing. Look at his successes...
There is really no argument whether there will be a recession in our future — the only question is the timing and cause of it. The latter point is the most important. Recessions do not just happen — they need a push. In 2011 the economy was just a breath away from a recession due to the dual impact of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the European debt crisis. Had it not been for the combined efforts of the Fed through "Operation Twist" and the Long Term Refinancing Operations via the ECB, a drop in oil prices and a plunge in utility costs due to the warmest winter in 65 years, it is entirely likely that that we may have already been discussing a "recession." The ECRI launched a debate that was literally heard around the world with their recessionary call in 2011. The weight of evidence as shown by our composite economic output indicator index shows that the ECRI call was most likely correct. However, the restart of manufacturing, primarily automotive, after the crisis in Japan combined with an effective $90 billion tax credit due to lower oil and utility costs, turned the previously slowing growth rate of the economy around over the last couple of quarters. Sustainability is becoming the question now as weather patterns return to a more normal cycle and the effects of the lower energy costs began to dissipate. In a more normal post recessionary recovery the third year should be closer to a 6-8% economic growth rate versus 2%. While 2% growth is much better than zero — the current sub-par pace of growth leaves the economy standing on the edge of the pool with very little stability to offset any unexpected "push" into the cold waters of recession. The problem is identifying what that "push" could likely be.
Everyone's favorite perma-bullish stand-in for Cramer, Fast Money's Scott Wapner, seemed lost for words when Boston Properties CEO Mort Zuckerman laid down some basic truthiness on the state of the US economy "We have the most stimulative fiscal and monetary policy in the history of this country and here we are three years into the recession and it's not ended. I think we may be heading for an even weaker economy this year than people expect." The righteous REIT ruler went on to note that it is not just the US but Europe (ridiculously high unemployment rates) where he analogizes (rather picturesquely) that it reminds him of "the man who jumps off a 25-story building and as he's hurtling by the sixth floor he says 'don't worry, nothing has happened yet'." Wapner is silenced and changes the topic as we suspect he is stunned at the honest sentiment given the nominal three-year-highs in REIT indices. Truth is indeed stranger than fiat-fiction.
NBER's Martin Feldstein Bashes The Deplorable US Economy, Says Bernanke Has Engineered Another Stock BubbleSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/02/2012 11:51 -0400
That the market is merely yet another transitory sugar high bubble creation of the Chairsatan and his central planning colleagues in various marble buildings around the world is no surprising to anyone, at least not anyone who maintains a pretense of objectivity, is not desperate to sell a weekly newsletter, and has a frontal lobe. What however is not only surprising, but outright shocking, is that such embedded members of the aristocratic status quo elite as Martin Feldstein - a professor of economics at that bastion of Keynesianism Harvard as well as president emeritus of the NBER - the folks who tell us when recessions start and end, are starting to get it. To wit: "The economy is slow and weak. We are not doing very well. The economy is just coming along at a snail's pace. The first quarter numbers that we just got last week were not very good at all" and warns "if we are going to see that jump in taxes, that is going to push the economy next year into a serious recession" but the punchline: "The stock market is, I think, responding to the Fed. I think the real danger is that this is a bubble in the stock market created by low long-term interest rates that the Fed has engineered....The danger is, like all bubbles, they burst at some point" Well, uh... if it is now common knowledge that everything is manipulated, and that the economy is collapsing, and would be outright imploding if it weren't for the Fed's goosing of the stock market, does that mean it is time for Zero Hedge to hang up our hat?
As we suggested yesterday, the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (basically Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, and the rest of the buy and sell side) did indeed come out with a unanimous decision, having decided to recommend FRNs. This simply means that Wall Street is either desperate to telegraph a surge in short-term rates, or, even worse, if actually anticipating a surge in short-term rates and is doing all it can to hedge before it happens. Nonetheless, "system limitations would prevent any possible issuance of FRNs until 2013" while those wondering what the reference rate will be will have no answer for a while: "In discussing the best index, the member recommendations were divided, with 4 members voting for Treasury bills, 3 members voting for a general collateral rate, and 6 members voting for the federal funds effective rate." Finally, anyone wondering why the market acted odd yesterday, i.e., experienced a freak sell off in the afternoon, the reason is that Brian Sack was also present at the TBAC meeting, and away from his trusty BBG terminal.
We have said, for months now, that Europe and the United States were heading in two different directions. That became quite clear today as the manufacturing numbers for Europe were dismal while unemployment for the entire Eurozone reached 10.9% which is up 9.1% from last year. The entire Continent is in a recession, with the exception of Germany, and we think their next release, in mid May, will show that they have joined the rest of their brethern. Austerity has its costs and two of them are increased unemployment and a decline in demand for goods and services which is then exacerbated by the drop in the number of people that are working. In the months ahead, for both political and economic reasons, we will see a flight back to American assets as the picture in Europe becomes both clearer and obviously worse. All of this, however, will affect American corporations and our banks so that expectations should be lowered in coming quarters for American earnings and profits. As “no man is an island,” no region of the world will be exempt from the European recession just as Europe was not exempt from our financial crisis.
The question for investors is how likely Draghi unleashes some new money and gives the market another brief relief rally? I’m not sure he is able to do anything meaningful and right now I believe the market will fade over the course of the day as realization sets in that not much can be done. I’m not quite ready to put this trade on, but am looking closely at going long Spanish stocks versus short German stocks. The belief that Germany will be fine while Spain is a disaster seems too common and priced in. I’m not quite there on that trade, but it is only that am looking at very closely.
Yesterday we poked fun of Goldman for suggesting that the reason for the late-day sell off was "Prudent profit-taking as folks remember Europe isn’t closed tomorrow." Turns out Goldman could not have been more right: around 4 am Eastern this morning Europe reported a series of economic updates which showed that the European economy continues to be nothing but a slow motion trainwreck and is getting far worse. Starting with final April Eurozone Manufacturing PMI which printed at 45.9 vs an initial print of 46.0, a 9 month low with a core breakdown is as follows: Italian manufacturing PMI 43.8 at a 6 month low, est 47.1 (prior 47.9), German manufacturing PMI at a 33 month low 46.2 vs initial 46.3 (prior 48.4), France manufacturing PMI 46.9 vs initial 47.3 (prior 46.7), which also followed Italy by recording sharpest drop in manufacturing new orders in 3 yrs in April, and so on as can be seen in the chart below. As every sellsider who has opined so far this morning, these numbers are all "hugely disappointing."
All you need to read and some more.
Gold’s London AM fix this morning was USD 1,661.25, EUR 1,253.02, and GBP 1,024.70 per ounce. Yesterday's AM fix was USD 1,662.50, EUR 1,256.61 and GBP 1,021.44 per ounce.
Silver is trading at $30.85/oz, €23.37/oz and £19.10/oz. Platinum is trading at $1,570.00/oz, palladium at $677.60/oz and rhodium at $1,350/oz.
While it might have slipped your notice, today was a holiday in most of the world as it celebrates May-Day. In Europe, The Economist notes, this day typically 'belongs' to 'international workers' of the world, and has been associated with left-wing anti-government protest. This year even more so as extreme political parties are on the rise and austerity seems to have no end in sight - but most of all because of the broad-based high-levels of unemployment. Outside of Greece (and perhaps the UK), violent confrontations have so far been rare in the wake of the financial crisis but tensions are mounting (notably in Spain) and as the following graphic shows - with Spain now the 12th nation in Europe to fall into recession - the dramatically bad changes in unemployment and GDP since the crisis began (especially among the youth) suggest more angst is to come as the political compact is pushed to its limits.
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)