Uber-bullishness is the order of the day in the markets. Last week we noted that the DJIA has climbed to a new post-2007 high. And now, the “fear index” VIX is hitting lows (as we discussed in depth last night). This implies that the market has become dangerously euphoric, and that risk is being improperly priced. The last time VIX fell to an all-time low and market-confidence hit an all-time high, it presaged a financial crisis. This time may not be so different.
- Doubt Greets Bank of Japan's Easing Shift (WSJ)
- Japan hits back at currency critics (FT)
- Japan upgrades economic view for first time in eight months (Australian) - only to lower them in a few months again
- GOP critics get opportunity to grill Secretary Clinton on Benghazi (Hill)
- Global economy set for ‘slow recovery’ (FT)
- Obama to back short debt limit extension (FT)
- Unfinished Luxury Tower Is Stark Reminder of Las Vegas’s Economic Reversal (NYT)
- Draghi Says ‘Darkest Clouds’ Over Europe Have Subsided (BBG)
- High-Speed Dustup Hits a Clubby Corner (WSJ)
- U.S. Budget Discord Is Top Threat to Global Economy in Poll (BBG)
- Sir Mervyn King says abandoning inflation target would be 'irresponsible' (Telegraph)
- Spain Says It May Cover 13% of 2013 Funding in January (BBG)
The day Lehman failed saw the launch of the most epic central bank intervention in history with the Fed guaranteeing and funding trillions worth of suddenly underwater capital. However, what Bernanke realized quickly, is that the "emergency, temporary" loans and backstops that made up the alphabet soup universe of rescue operations had one major flaw: they were "temporary" and "emergency", and as long as they remained it would be impossible to even attempt pretending that the economy was normalizing, and thus selling the illusion of recovery so needed for a "virtuous cycle" to reappear. Which is why on November 25, 2008, Bernanke announced something that he had only hinted at three months prior at that year's Jackson Hole conference: a plan to monetize $100 billion in GSE obligations and some $500 billion in Agency MBS "over several quarters." This was the beginning of what is now known as quantitative easing: a program which as we have shown bypasses the traditional fractional reserve banking monetary mechanism, and instead provides commercial banks with risk-asset buying power in the form of infinitely fungible reserves... So how does all this look on paper? We have compiled the data: of the 1519 total days since that fateful Tuesday in November 2008, the Fed has intervened in the stock market for a grand total of 1230 days, or a whopping 81% of the time!
The optimism over the housing recovery has gotten well ahead of the underlying fundamentals. While the belief was that the Government, and Fed's, interventions would ignite the housing market creating an self-perpetuating recovery in the economy - it did not turn out that way. Today, these repeated intrusions are having a diminished rate of return and the risk now is that interest rates rise shutting potential homebuyers out of the market. It is likely that in 2013 housing will begin to stabilize at historically low levels and the economic contribution will remain fairly weak. The downside risk to that view is the impact of higher taxes, stagnant wage growth, re-defaults of the 6-million modifications and workouts, elevated defaults of underwater homeowners and a slowdown of speculative investment due to reduced profit margins. While many hopes have been pinned on the 2012 stimulus fueled, China investing, and supply-deprived housing recovery as "the" driver of economic growth in 2013 - the data suggest that may be quite a bit of wishful thinking.
Q: Can a ZIRP-driven bull market in US equities exist, side-by-side, with an economic rebound and a bullish outlook on HPA? A: "No"
Two fundamental beliefs have driven economic policy around the world in recent years. The first is that the world suffers from a shortage of aggregate demand relative to supply; the second is that monetary and fiscal stimulus will close the gap. Is it possible that the diagnosis is right, but that the remedy is wrong? That would explain why we have made little headway so far in restoring growth to pre-crisis levels. And it would also indicate that we must rethink our remedies. Policymakers initially resorted to government spending and low interest rates to boost demand. As government debt has ballooned and policy interest rates have hit rock bottom, central banks have focused on increasingly innovative policy to boost demand. Yet growth continues to be painfully slow. Why? What if the problem is the assumption that all demand is created equal? Put differently, the bust that follows years of a debt-fueled boom leaves behind an economy that supplies too much of the wrong kind of good relative to the changed demand.
So much for the latest "recovery." While everyone continued to forget that in the New Normal markets do not reflect the underlying economy in the least, and that the all time highs in the Russell 2000 should indicate that the US economy has never been better, things in reality took a deep dive for the worse, at least according to the Empire State Fed, the Philly Fed, and now the Richmond Fed, all of which missed expectations by a huge margin, and are now deep in contraction territory. Moments ago, the Richmond Fed reported that the Manufacturing Index imploded from a 9 in November, 5 in December and missed expectations of a 5 print at -12: this was the biggest miss to expectations since September 2009.
The recent landslide victory of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on a platform that promised positive change for the long-struggling Japanese economy has thrust a somewhat forgotten Japan back into the headlines. Indeed, as Goldman notes, asset markets have already responded aggressively to the prospective changes with Japanese equity markets climbing to multi-year highs and the Yen declining to multi-year lows against the US dollar and the EUR. But, as Kyle Bass has recently explained, very real questions remain about the ability of the LDP and new Prime Minister (PM) Shinzo Abe to deliver on promises and break the damaging cycle of low growth and deflation that has become well-entrenched in the Japanese economy over the last five-plus years. These doubts are reinforced by concerns about the health of the domestic banking sector and of Japan Inc. in general. "Abe-nomics 'appears' positive, but for how long?" Goldman asks and Hamada's recent concerns over 'going too far' are very real - though in general Goldman's positive 'take' is a useful counter-point to Bass' somewhat more realistic apocalyptic endgame thesis.
We thought it useful to succinctly summarize the words that have been spewed forth from The Capitol today (and in the past). There is plenty to consider; from Reagan's "freedom" and "government" to Schumer's unfortunate random use of the words: "America", "Today", "Finished", "People" and finally Obama's somewhat ironic punchline that "we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character." Maybe the invisible hand of wordclouds was right when it suggested from today's 2,078 word address that "America Must Believe."
An overview of the key factors and events that are shaping the investment climate in the week ahead. It looks at some emerging market developments as well. These are the main talking points and considerations that ought to be on your radar screen as investors or pundits.
The market has been rallying over the last few weeks as the bulls have definitely taken charge in the New Year. Most of the recent analysis has pointed to signs of an improving economy and stronger employment as the driving force behind the advance. My view has clearly been that it has been the impact of the Fed's liquidity injections pushing asset prices higher. There is one caveat here. Last winter was the warmest winter on record in 65 years which skewed much of the seasonal data by allowing work to continue when normally workers would have been shut in due to inclement weather. We are seeing the exact same anomalies occur this year as the winter is currently the warmest in the last 55 years combined, and when combined with lower energy prices, is giving a temporary boost to incomes. As we witnessed in 2012 - when the seasonal adjustments come back into alignment in the spring the drop off in reported economic activity will be fairly severe.
It’s all a money game on Wall Street.
The recovery since the 2008 financial crisis is just an illusion created by the papering-over of our insolvency by central-bank printing. Doug Casey adds that the current state is akin to being "in the eye of the hurricane thanks to this 'cover'" and believes the printing which will ultimately lead to very high inflation once bank lending starts to pick up again. This excellent interview moves from Casey's view of a looming loss of confidence in the dollar (and the impact of mass repatriation) to what must the Keynesians be thinking as the "apparency of prosperity" remains all that we have to lift animal spirits. With an eye to gold (and non-western central banks behavior towards it as they realize "the USD is just an unsecured liability of a bankrupt government"), he evaluates the likelihood of a western economic collapse in 2013 and what that would imply for an implicit gold standard in the world. From Austrian economist Hans Herman-Hoppe's view of a post-Keynesian-crash era to his potential triggers for this collapse (such as gold-energy barter and non-dollar blocs), Casey succinctly reminds us that there is not just one asset-class bubble but that "we are living in the middle of the biggest bubble in history."
After witnessing the fighting of undeclared never ending wars, passage of freedom destroying legislation like the Patriot Act & NDAA, approval of pork barrel spending to the tune of hundreds of billions, rule by Executive Order, using ZIRP to extract hundreds of billions from senior citizen savers and give it to criminal Wall Street banks, forcing the American people at gunpoint to replenish the Wall Street banks with $700 billion after they had committed the greatest financial fraud in history, and a continuing trampling of the U.S. Constitution, the American people continue to remain willfully ignorant of the truth. The American Dream is dead. We’ve allowed a rich, privileged, elite few to achieve hegemony over our economic and political system with their control of the media and manipulation of our financial markets. They will collapse the country because they will never be satisfied with the amount of wealth and power they’ve accumulated. Their voracious greed will be their downfall.
The so-called recovery is built on sand, and as stock markets climb and climb, and more traders and investors turn bullish, we come ever-closer to a new 2008-style collapse. Soaring markets, and soaring speculation. Big finance using loopholes to speculate bigger and harder. Mainstream financial journalists becoming more and more complacent about the “recovery”. We’ve been here before. Isn’t repeating the same behaviour and hoping for different results the very definition of insanity?