This afternoon the CBO reported a number that in itself is quite remarkable: in April, a preliminary estimate of US receipts and outlays showed that the US Treasury posted its first budget surplus in 42 months, or since September 2008. At $58 billion, the surplus was nearly $100 billion more than the the $40 billion deficit from a year earlier. Unfortunately, while superficially this number would have been worthy of praise, digging underneath the surface as always reveals 'footnotes'. Sure enough, in the aftermath of February which saw a record US deficit of $232 billion and March's $198 billion in net outlays, there was a "catch." As the CBO admits: "This April, the Treasury realized a surplus of $58 billion, CBO estimates, in contrast with the $40 billion deficit reported for the same month last year. The results in both years were influenced by timing shifts of certain payments; adjusted for those shifts, the surplus in April 2012 would have been $27 billion, compared with a deficit of $13 billion in April 2011.... The federal government incurred a budget deficit of $721 billion in the first seven months of fiscal year 2012, $149 billion less than the shortfall reported during the same period last year. Without shifts in the timing of certain payments, however, the deficit so far this year would have been only $92 billion smaller." In other words, without various temporal adjustments, the April surplus of $58 billion would have been completely netted out by the cumulative $57 billion in deficit time shifts. However, in an election year, every beneficial item such as this is an extended talking point as the president will gladly take the praise for a number which is indicative of anything but the underlying US financial "health." After all, others can bother with the explanations.
While the theatrics of the Greek parliamentary elections are all good and fine, keeping the masses distracted, and will most likely provide an encore performance in just about one month as no government will likely be formed under the current configuration of elected parties, the reality is that unless something drastically changes for the better in the Greek economy, the political situation will only get more and more chaotic until finally the country succumbs to outright anarchy, and possibly far worse. Unfortunately, as history has shown us, economic depressions usually become toxic death spirals where absent major external shocks, there is no hope of recovery. Sure enough, the latest news of Greece confirms just that. As Ekathimerini reports, the real news is that while superficially change may be coming to Greece, beneath the surface absolutely nothing is improving and in fact things are getting worse as measured by two key indicators: i) vacant Athens office space, which has soared to 20% in Q1 2012 compared to 15.5% a year earlier, which means far less corporate tax revenues and business spending, and ii) the lifeblood of the Greek economy - foreign tourism - is drying up, plunging by 12.5%, as foreigners suddenly have better things to do than go to countries better known for the Syntagma Square riot cam than the beaches of Santorini. Not surprisingly, the biggest source of foreign tourists, Germany, has seen its share dry to a trickle from 15% to just 3% - one can't imagine why those called Nazis by the neo-Nazis would have reservations about spending 2 weeks in the former tourist haven. The result: far less tax revenues, far greater reliance on debt as source of cash, and an economic collapse in 2012 that will put 2011 to shame. So much for the IMF estimate of an unchanged GDP print in 2013 on which the entire second Greek bailout package was based...
The entire bogus recovery is again being driven by subprime auto loans being doled out by Ally Financial (85% owned by the U.S. government) and the other criminal Wall Street banks. The Federal Reserve and our government leaders will continue to steer the country on the same course of encouraging rampant speculation, deterring savings and investment, rewarding outrageous criminal behavior, purposefully generating inflation, and lying to the average American. It will work until we reach a tipping point. Dr. Krugman thinks another $4 trillion of debt and a debt to GDP ratio of 130% should get our economy back on track. When this charade is revealed to be the greatest fraud and theft in the history of mankind, Ben and Paul better have a backup plan, because there are going to be a few angry men looking for them.
In France, no one can hear you scream.
While there may be a plethora of geopolitical reasons to be 'cautious' of getting over your skis in US equities, there are a number of more quantifiable reasons for not buying-the-f##king-dip here. Between the sustainability of US earnings and the sell-in-May mantra, we highlight five foods-for-thought before you push all-in this morning. Of course the only bullish reason left is Central-Bank-driven and remains the elephant in the room but as we get closer and closer to the election, the Fed will be increasingly snookered and require a market plunge of more than 1.5% to step in and save the civilized world with S&P 500 1285 as a target for Fed action based on last Summer's excitement.
About two years ago the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund did something truly remarkable: it invested for infinity: "Norway, which has amassed the world’s second-biggest sovereign wealth fund, says Greece won’t default on its debts. The Nordic nation’s $450 billion Government Pension Fund Global has stocked up on Greek debt, as well as bonds of Spain, Italy and Portugal. Finance Minister Sigbjoern Johnsen says he backs the strategy, which contributed to a 3.4 percent loss on European fixed income in the second quarter, compared with gains on bonds in Asia and the Americas. Norway says its long-term perspective will protect it from losses. “One could say we are investing for infinity,” Johnsen said." Well, we all know how the experiment ended: "Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund Purges All Insolvent Eurozone Debt Holdings." So much for infinity. But that has not stopped others to boldly catch falling knives where so many other have tried to catch falling knives before, and failed. Enter Greylock Capital and various other hedge funds who are positive they have rediscovered the wheel.
We have been warning of the pending fiscal cliff in the US and the somewhat inevitable debt ceiling debacle, election uncertainty, and the question of Fed independence in an election year as potential catalysts for risk flares in the US and abroad. For now, US equities are happy to ignore these events, still drawn in their Pavlovian-educated manner to US equities for their nominal enrichment. The trouble is - there are clear warning signs from some particularly noteworthy markets that all is not well (that appear more capable of comprehending fundamentals). Forget for a moment the overnight plunge and recovery in futures as this will bring only anchoring bias; a step back to 30,000 feet and we note that the spread on USA Sovereign CDS has risen by over 30% in the last month (now back at 40bps or 3-month wides) flashing a worrying warning signal for US equities if the past is any guide. Remember that US CDS are denominated in EUR and do not simply reflect the 'default' risk of the fiat-issuing USA but the devaluation or restructuring risks - and it appears market participants are getting nervous once again of the profligacy of the US government and the ineptitude of the central banks with their one-trick-pony experimentation. At the same time, central banks' broad repression has crushed volatility in every asset class - except, as Morgan Stanley notes - credit which is inferring considerably higher chance of a risk flare in the short-term. So while this week will bring cheers of growthiness and cooperation and decoupling, the all-seeing eye of credit markets remain far less sanguine.
We have been pounding the table that 2012 will be a replica of 2011 since before January 1: after all the central planners' script book has only so many pages. Sure enough, here is yet another indicator. Job gains remain anchored in the low cost labor sectors of the economy - retail, temporary, leisure, and hospitality - a pattern, as Bloomberg Brief points out, that has characterized growth during the current expansion. While this growth in jobs may optically appeal to many, it leaves a 2.9% spending growth pace unsustainable especially as we see, in the three charts below, a growing sense of deja vu in the labor market overall. Between a Spring-time swoon in non-farm payrolls, a cyclical crunch in service sector hirings, and a mirror-image trough and deterioration in initial claims, 2012 appears to be heading towards the same pattern of central-bank disappointment as the last three years of this nominal recovery. Same Deja Vu... Different year.
After plunging by 19 points in the overnight session, and just touching the 100 DMA, ES has managed to score a recovery, one which has so far clutched at straws, namely stronger than expected German factory orders (+2.2% vs Exp. 0.5%) despite German GDP due in a week which may well push the core European country into the same double dip tsunami which has swept the resto of Europe, if it prints even a slightly negative GDP print. News from Spain that the "bad bank" bailout has started, with Bankia as the first casualty is also lifting spirits as it means that more taxpayer cash will be used to support risk assets. How long this micro euphoria of "bad news is good news" lasts is anyone's guess, but mostly that of the BIS which after failing to defend the 1.3000 EURUSD, has again managed to get the all important pair over the critical support area.
European cash equities opened sharply lower this morning following electoral uncertainties arising from various corners of Europe, notably Greece and France. Volumes also remain light as the market closure across the UK reduces the number of participants today. The mainstream political parties from Greece, PASOK and the New Democracy, failed to establish a majority this weekend as voters firmly expressed their discontent with the political establishment, evident in the rise of fringe parties. As such, the leaders of New Democracy and PASOK will now attempt to establish a coalition party with the splinter group Independent Greeks (a party notable for its anti-EU/IMF stance), due to begin as soon as today. The uncertainty in Greece’s future has taken its toll across the markets today, with EUR/USD beginning the session sub-1.3000 and all European equities trading markedly lower throughout most of the morning session. Elsewhere on the political front, Francois Hollande has won the French Presidency and is to be inaugurated on May 15th, as such; participants now look out for any comments regarding the relationship between the new French leader and German Chancellor Merkel. The Spanish government are set to make an announcement on Friday concerning the continuing troubles over the Spanish banking sector, with a government source commenting that the plans will include the creation of a 10- and 15-year ‘bad bank’. Recent trade has seen a recovery across forex and stocks as EUR/USD grinds higher and stock futures move closer to unchanged. Strong German factory orders data has helped the moves off the lowest levels, as demand from outside the Eurozone helps lift the figure above expectations of +0.5% to +2.2% for March.
While clearly dramatic, the outcome of the French presidential election was very much anticipated and at this point the only real question is how many promises will Hollande reneg on before the week is over: if Berlusconi is any indication, all it will take is for OAT yields to spike by 20-30% and all shall be well for the status quo. Greece, on the other hand, where as we said the people have lost everything so are free to do anything, just did more or less that, and have shocked Europe with an outcome which as we warned could result in the lack of a pro-bailout coalition government, which means no IMF aid, which means "no bailout for the Greek people", which means no bailout for European banks under the guise of a Greek DIP loan. And with 63% of precincts reporting, ND + Pasok have 153 as of this moment which is enough for a majority although paradoxically the anti-bailout parties will have among them nearly 60% of the finaly vote which means they could form an anti-bailout coalition if they buried their diferences. Finally, there is still time, so for all those curious if the two Greek parties will be able to form an all important coalition government, can keep track of the vote count in real time at the link below.
While most will be following what appears to be an almost certain Hollande victory in the French presidential runoff elections tomorrow (InTrade odds around 10%), it is very likely that the Greek election will have a greater acute impact on the political and financial facade of Europe, especially in the short term. As we noted in what we dubbed our first (of many) Greek election previews, the biggest problem facing the new political regime will be its near certain inability to form a coalition government (with just 32.6% of the vote going to PASOK and New Democracy) that does not undo most of what has been achieved through popular sweat and tears over the past 2 years to assist Europe's bankers in transferring what little Greek wealth remains to fund the insolvent European bank balance sheets. This in turn could begin the latest cascading contagion waterfall, which coupled with an anti-austerity drive emanating from a newly socialist France will threaten to topple Angela Merkel's carefully constructed European hegemony.
Stocks are currently priced for a 10% growth rate which makes bonds a safer investment in the current environment which cannot deliver 10% rates of returns. We are no longer in the era of capital appreciation and growth. The “baby boomers” are driving the demand for income which will keep pressure on finding yield which in turn reduces buying pressure on stocks. This is why even with the current stock market rally since the 2009 lows - equity funds have seen continual outflows. The “Capital Preservation” crowd will continue to grow relative to the “Capital Appreciation” crowd.... According to the recent McKinsey study the debt deleveraging cycles, in normal historical recessionary cycles, lasted on average six to seven years, with total debt as a percentage of GDP declining by roughly 25 percent. More importantly, while GDP contracted in the initial years of the deleveraging cycle it rebounded in the later years.
With earnings season now virtually over, it is time to ask why, despite a majority of the companies beating expectations, is the S&P inline with where it was when earnings season started. There are two main reasons why the market has not been impressed: the percentage of "beaters" is nothing spectacular on a historical basis as was shown previously, especially in the aftermath of aggressive cuts to Q1 top and bottom line forecasts heading into earnings reports; more importantly, even with Q1 earning coming out as they did, the bulk of the legwork still remains in the "hockeystick" boost to the bottom line that is completely Q4 2012 loaded, as bottom up consensus revisions to the rest of 2012 are negative despite Q1 beats. As Goldman summarizes: "1Q 2012 will establish a new earnings peak of $98 on a trailing-four-quarter basis. With 88% of S&P 500 market cap reported, 1Q EPS is tracking at $24.10, 1% above consensus estimates at the start of reporting season and reflecting 7% year/year growth." So far, so good. And yet, "Despite the positive surprises, full-year 2012 EPS estimates are unchanged relative to the start of earnings season, and currently stand at $105 vs. our top-down forecast of $100. Over half of consensus 2012 earnings growth is attributed to 4Q. Margins at 8.8% have hovered near peak levels for a year, but consensus expects a sudden jump in 4Q to a new peak of 9.1%. We forecast a further decline to 8.7%."
In this recovery consumer services bought/supplied have grown by 3.2 percent from their level at the end of recession as of the 33rd month of the expansion. It is the weakest performance we have seen by a long shot in the last eight recoveries that lasted this long. The previous low point at this point in the cycle was in the 2001 recovery at 6.5% before that it was the 9.2% rise in the 1990 recovery. In those comparisons you get the sense of structural change as it is in the most recent recoveries that growth has become progressively weaker. The average for this point of the expansion cycle would be an 11.4% gain in services output if we had normal service sector growth. IF we had that, we would have had 5.5 million MORE jobs even after discounting for productivity growth in the sector and the loss of goods sector jobs from that demand shift to services. That means about 165K more jobs per month than what we have had all recovery long. This not a trivial problem it is a huge problem. And no one seems to be thinking about it.