... is not the economy, which as we pointed out earlier just crossed into "worst recovery ever" territory, or even actual layoff events. The reason is, as always when there is a massive "beat" in any US economic data, the same tried and true estimation magic out of the BLS appearing so conveniently at appropriate times, which estimated the claims numbers of 3 states, among which those of the most populous: California.
If there was any debate whether the Fed's policies have helped the economy or just the market (and specifically the Bernanke-targeted Russell 2000), the following two charts will end any and all debate. As the following chart from the St Louis Fed shows, as of the just completed quarter, US GDP "growth" since the "recovery" is now the worst in US history, having just dipped below the heretofore lowest on record.
- When the cash runs out: Nokia to Omit Dividend for First Time in 143 Years (BBG)
- Passing Debt Bill, GOP Pledges End to Deficits (WSJ)
- Japan logs record trade gap in 2012 as exports struggle (Reuters)
- so naturally... Yen at 100 Per Dollar Endorsed by Japan Government’s Nishimura (BBG)
- Japan rejects currency war fears (FT)
- In Amenas attack brings global jihad home to Algeria (Reuters)
- Investors grow cagey as Italy election nears (Reuters)
- Mafia Victim’s Son Holds Key to Bersani Winning Key Region (BBG)
- Bernanke Seen Pressing On With Stimulus Amid Debate on QE (BBG)
- U.S. to lift ban on women in front-line combat jobs (Reuters)
- Red flags revealed in filings of firm linked to Caterpillar fraud (Reuters)
- Apple Sales Gain Slowest Since ’09 as Competition Climbs (BBG)
- Spanish Jobless Rate Hits Record After Rajoy’s First Year (BBG)
- North Korea Threatens Nuclear Test to Derail U.S. Policies (BBG)
From a valuation perspective, Chinese equities do not, at first glance, look to be a likely candidate for trouble. The PE ratios are either 12 or 15 times on MSCI China, depending on whether you include financials or not, and do not scream 'bubble'. And yet, China has been a source of worry for GMO over the past three years and continues to be one. China scares them because it looks like a bubble economy. Understanding these kinds of bubbles is important because they represent a situation in which standard valuation methodologies may fail. Just as financial stocks gave a false signal of cheapness before the GFC because the credit bubble pushed their earnings well above sustainable levels and masked the risks they were taking, so some valuation models may fail in the face of the credit, real estate, and general fixed asset investment boom in China, since it has gone on long enough to warp the models' estimation of what "normal" is. Of course, every credit bubble involves a widening divergence between perception and reality. China's case is not fundamentally different. In GMO's extensive discussion below, they have documented rapid credit growth against the background of a nationwide property bubble, the worst of Asian crony lending practices, and the appearance of a voracious and unstable shadow banking system. "Bad" credit booms generally end in banking crises and are followed by periods of lackluster economic growth. China appears to be heading in this direction.
After digesting the opinions of the shills, shysters and scam artists, I am ready to predict that I have no clue what will happen during 2013. The fog of uncertainty is engulfing the nation, making consumers hesitant to spend and businesses reluctant to hire or invest. Virtually all of the mainstream media, Wall Street banks and paid shill economists are in agreement that 2013 will see improvement in employment, housing, retail spending and, of course the only thing that matters to the ruling class, the stock market. Even among the alternative media, there seems to be a consensus that we will continue to muddle through and the day of reckoning is still a few years off. Those who are predicting improvements are either ignorant of history or are being paid to predict improvement, despite the overwhelming evidence of a worsening economic climate. The mainstream media pundits, fulfilling their assigned task of purveying feel good propaganda, use the 10% stock market gain in 2012 as proof of economic recovery. The facts prove otherwise... Every day more people are realizing the con-job being perpetuated by the owners of this country. Will the tipping point be reached in 2013? I don’t know. But the era of decisiveness and confrontation has arrived. The existing social order will be swept away. Are you prepared?
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.