Having heard the great and good declare this morning's "beat" on the headline NFP data as indicative of 1) the recovery is awesome; 2) the reason why stocks have been rallying; and 3) the recovery is awesome... it appears between a rising unemployment rate, tumbling average hourly earnings, and Gazprom's threat in Europe, stocks are taking this "good news" as "bad news." Confirmed by Hilsenrath that the taper is on - which is what bonds, gold, and the dollar appeared to be saying - the S&P 500 having spiked 10 points is now 13 points off its highs and in the red for the day...
In order to normalize for the weekly hours worked, we decided to look at the big picture which ignores hours worked, and average hourly earnings. So we looked at average weekly earnings. In February, this number was $682.65, down from $683.74 for production and nonsupervisory employees. However, the real impact of declining wages is seen nowhere better than in the annual increase in average weekly earnings. The chart below needs no explanation: when wage growth is at 1%, or half of the Fed's inflation target, you will not get any sustained economic recovery. And what if one looks at the average weekly earnings of all employees? Well, we just hit a new post-Lehman low. 5 years into the "recovery", weekly earnings growth is the lowest it has been in 5 years!
Will London's current property bubble play out to be one of the most costly ever and end up costing UK and foreign investors billions?
Today's nonfarm payroll number is set to be a virtual non-event: with consensus expecting an abysmal print, it is almost assured that the real seasonally adjusted number (and keep in mind that the average February seasonal adjustment to the actual number is 1.5 million "jobs" higher) will be a major beat to expectations, which will crash the "harsh weather" narrative but who cares. Alternatively, if the number is truly horrendous, no problem there either: just blame it on the cold February... because after all what are seasonal adjustments for? Either way, whatever the number, the algos will send stocks higher - that much is given in a blow off top bubble market in which any news is an excuse to buy more. So while everyone is focused on the NFP placeholder, the real key event that nobody is paying attention to took place in China, where overnight China’s Shanghai Chaori Solar defaulted on bond interest payments, failing to repay CNY 89.9mln (USD 14.7mln), as had been reported here extensively previously. This marked the first domestic corporate bond default in the country's history - indicating a further shift toward responsibility and focus on moral hazard in China.
Core inflation, which excludes the effect of food and energy prices and is how every self-respecting economist measures price increases, is up 8.75% over the past five years. However, as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, this is a poor indicator for the true cost of living for many Americans. Having scrubbed the data, Colas has found the top 10 items that appreciated the most from 2008 to 2013 and the 10 items that became substantially less expensive, according to the government's Consumer Price Index (CPI). The data is deceiving though, as the CPI's "hedonic quality adjustment" distorts the amount of money people actually spend. Even more importantly, Colas warns, things that have a relatively low weighting in the CPI and that people use selectively – such as healthcare and education – don't have a big impact on the core number, but represent considerable expenses for many Americans. Thus we must use caution when using one figure to make policy decisions for an entire nation, and consider what happens to inflationary expectations if and when the still-sluggish economic recovery finally finds second gear.
Since 1999, the annual real economic growth rate has run at 1.94%, which is the lowest growth rate in history including the "Great Depression." While the Fed's ongoing interventions since 2009 have provided support to the current economic cycle, they have not "repealed" the business cycle completely. The Fed's actions work to pull forward future consumption to support the current economy. This has boosted corporate profitability at a time when the effectiveness of corporate profitability tools were most effective. However, such actions leave a void in the future that must be filled by organic economic growth. The problem comes when such growth does not appear. With the economy continuing to "struggle" at an anaemic pace, the effects of cost cutting are becoming less effective. This is not a "bearish" prediction of an impending economic crash, but rather just a realization that all economic, and earnings, forecasts, are subject to the overall business cycle.
Nothing says global 'economic recovery' like a major retailer drastically missing revenue expectations, slashing earnings projections and announcing it will shutter 225 stores nationwide. Staples, the largest US office supplies retailer, hit the triple whammy and didn't blame it all on the weather as the CEO notes "our customers are using less office supplies." Or maybe there are just less office workers? Isolating Staples is a little unfair but as the largest (and most belwhether-ish), it is perhaps time to question the constant meme of escape velocity, improving fundamentals, and cleanest-dirty-shirt growth...
Promises, promises. A lack of easing, aside from a promise of "lower for longer", has driven EURUSD back above 1.38 as the market is once again disappointed by Draghi's lack of exuberance.
- *DRAGHI SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT STABILIZING, REMAINS HIGH (umm, continues to rise every month?)
- *DRAGHI SAYS UPSIDE, DOWNSIDE INFLATION RISKS REMAIN LIMITED (umm, continues to plunge every month?)
- *DRAGHI SAYS RISKS TO ECONOMIC OUTLOOK ARE ON DOWNSIDE (umm, stocks are at record highs?)
- *DRAGHI SAYS REAL INCOME SUPPORTED BY LOWER ENERGY PRICES (umm, so no sanctions on Russia then?)
But apart from that, Draghi is "nailing it"...
- Spot the inaccuracies: Stocks rise on Ukraine diplomacy, ECB easing speculation (Reuters)
- Bank of England Extends Record-Low Rates Into a Sixth Year (BBG)
- China's Chaori Solar poised for landmark bond default (Reuters), explained here previously
- EU leaders meet in Brussels to address Ukraine crisis (FT)
- Nine-month-old baby may have been cured of HIV, U.S. scientists say (Reuters)
- China Raises Defense Spending 12.2% for 2014 (WSJ)
- China Stock Index Rises as Developers Jump on Policy Speculation (BBG)
- VTB Cancels New York Forum as U.S. Relations Sour (BBG)
- IBM workers strike in China over terms of Lenovo takeover (FT)
- College Board Redesigns SAT Exam Making Essay Portion Optional (BBG)
Following yesterday's abysmal employment and service data which led to an unchanged close it quite clear that the market has returned to a mode where it ignores all newsflow - at least the bad, which is due to the weather, the good news is due to the recovery - and instead is simply driven by such "fundamental drivers" as the momentum and position of the Yen carry trade. And overnight the USDJPY positively exploded following news that the Japan advisory committee has decided the nation's pension fund, the GPIF, does' t need a domestic bond focus. Implicitly this means that the GPIF will soon be able to purchase stocks like Facebook and Tesla, which is a guaranteed way of generated short-term gains and longer-term total losses for the Japanese pensioners. Of course, when the latter happens, nobody will have been able to foresee it and some scapegoat somewhere will be summarily fired. As for what this means for futures, the drift higher has made SPOOs rise once more and at last check was just below if not at new all time highs on an ongoing barrage of increasingly negative macro news.
Palladium has gained 5.5% during the last five days of the crisis and is up 7.9% year to date. Ore deposits of palladium are rare and are mostly located in Russia and South Africa. Russian resource nationalism, as has been seen with natural gas, could lead to supply disruptions and to palladium going higher in the coming months. Some analysts believe palladium may be in deficit for most of the next decade as Russia depletes stockpiles and industrial uses and investment demand for the precious metal increase.
For all the chest-thumping from policymakers about the declining unemployment rate and increase in GDP growth in the second half of last year, these statistics are easily misread. More telling indicators, such as private domestic demand, haven’t picked up at all. Nor would you expect a robust recovery as long as employers create mostly lousy jobs. In the horse race between the real economy and the risk of financial instability, the real economy seems to be falling behind. Financial risks are growing steadily, as we discussed in “Tracking ‘Bubble Finance’ Risks in a Single Chart.” The real economy, on the other hand, is held back by weak income growth.
Diversification with a solid strategy
"If you're sick in Greece, you have an expiration date," is the cheery message from Greece. As WaPo reports, while economists proclaim Europe is turning the corner, a look across the still-bleak landscape, from Greece to Spain, Ireland to Portugal, suggests a painful aftermath, where the plight of millions of Europeans is worsening even as the financial crisis passes with public health being hit in the most troubled corners of the European Union. Greece is the hardest hit and while Greek Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis is attempting to create a fund to help the most acute cases, his concluding remarks are chillingly blunt, "illnesses like cancer are not considered urgent, unless you are in the final stages."
Mainstream media discussion of the macro economic picture goes something like this: “When there is a recession, the Fed should stimulate. We know from history the recovery comes about 12-18 months after stimulus. We stimulated, we printed a lot of money, we waited 18 months. So the economy ipso facto has recovered. Or it’s just about to recover, any time now.” But to quote the comedian Richard Pryor, “Who ya gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?” However, as Hayek said, the more the state centrally plans, the more difficult it becomes for the individual to plan. Economic growth is not something that just happens. It requires saving. It requires investment and capital accumulation. And it requires the real market process. It is not a delicate flower but it requires some degree of legal stability and property rights. And when you get in the way of these things, the capital accumulation stops and the economy stagnates.