Balestra Capital: "If Government Programs Were Cancelled, The Economy Would Collapse Back Into Severe Recession"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 03/12/2012 19:52 -0500
While hardly an opinion that would be questioned around these parts, it is still good to see that even some of the smart money shares our views about the Schrodinger Economy ('alive' and 'dead' at the same time, depending if the BLS or anyone else is observing it) and we are not totally insane vis-a-vis one-time, non recurring government bailouts, which just incidentally have become perpetual and endless: "The Federal government has manfully stepped up to fill the gap left by consumers who have been forced to retrench and who are trying to repair their finances by paying down debt and increasing their savings. So the next question has to be: Is this recovery self-sustaining or is the economy still on life support, held together by periodic massive liquidity injections and ultra low interest rates, and accompanied by a dangerous, if not reckless, expansion of government debt? We think that if government programs were canceled, the economy would collapse back into severe recession." And here Balestra's Chris Gorgone explains quite astutely why anyone betting on a decoupling or perpetual USD reserve status may want to reconsider: "the U.S. is no longer in complete control of its own destiny. We exist now in a world of increasing correlation in the arenas of economics, finance, trade, politics, etc. What happens in Europe, China, the Middle East, etc. will have major impacts on American economic, political, and social outcomes. The world is changing rapidly. The old rules that so many investors rely upon may no longer apply the way they did during the great growth years after World War II." Alas, this too is spot on.
Global risk markets and US equity futures were drifting lower together (post China trade deficit data) into this morning's confusion in Europe but around 430ET, equities pushed higher, Treasuries rallied rapidly as we approached the US day session open and broadly speaking risk was off (in everything except stocks). Commodities dropped notably with Oil and Silver losing over 1.5% from Friday's close before heading into the US open. The across-the-board weakness in credit and our broad risk asset proxy (CONTEXT) reversed, as if by magic, as the day-session open in the US dawned and led generally by Treasuries, which staged a 4-5bps sell-off from overnight low yields (with 2s10s30s notably rising on 30Y outperformance and 10Y underperformance), we leaked back to unchanged in ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) having traded in a very narrow range all day on low volumes (across MAR and JUN). VIX made headlines for its low levels but the steepness of the term structure should be a much bigger concern. AUD weakness spurred much of the early risk-off but accelerated stringer into the US close to maintain equities as close to green as possible. A very noisy day given very little news/event risk and the general confusion in European sovereign markets which all leaked wider. Credit and the vol term structure remain notable canaries as it appears EURJPY has become carry trade-of-the-day once again.
Folks, this is a DE-pression. And those who claim we’ve turned a corner are going by “adjusted” AKA “massaged” data. The actual data (which is provided by the Federal Reserve and Federal Government by the way) does not support these claims at all. In fact, if anything they prove we’ve wasted money by not permitted the proper debt restructuring/ cleaning of house needed in the financial system.
While 'good is good, and bad is better'-market continues to price a higher and higher strike price for Ben, Mario, and Xiaouchuan, the twin (d)evils of energy and food price inflation could be tamping their enthusiasm for their new-found experiment. Critically, for all those 'hoping' for the pump to be primed and a self-sustaining recovery to take hold, we present three charts to rain on that parade. Whether the world's central bankers come back to the table is unclear, given their clear concerns at what they have done recently, but we suspect this is much more a 'when' than 'if' question and given the performance of asset and volatility markets, it seems this is more than priced in.
Jon Hilsenrath Is Scratching His (And The NY Fed's) Head Over The Job Number Discrepancy And Okun's LawSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/12/2012 07:40 -0500
A month ago Zero Hedge, based on some Goldman observations, asked a simple question: is Okun's law now terminally broken? Today, with about a one month delay, the mouthpiece of the New York Fed (which in itself is nothing but a Goldman den of central planners, and Bill Dudley and Jan Hatzius are drinking buddies), Jon Hilsenrath shows that this is just the issue bothering his FRBNY overseers. In an article in the WSJ he ruminates: "Something about the U.S. economy isn't adding up. At 8.3%, the unemployment rate has fallen 0.7 percentage point from a year earlier and is down 1.7 percentage points from a peak of 10% in October 2009. Many other measures of the job market are improving. Companies have expanded payrolls by more than 200,000 a month for the past three months, according to Labor Department data. And the number of people filing claims for government unemployment benefits has fallen. Yet the economy is barely growing. Many economists in the past few weeks have again reduced their estimates of growth. The economy by many estimates is on track to grow at an annual rate of less than 2% in the first three months of 2012. The economy expanded just 1.7% last year. And since the final months of 2009, when unemployment peaked, the economy has expanded at a pretty paltry 2.5% annual rate." Hilsenrath's rhetorical straw man: "How can an economy that is growing so slowly produce such big declines in unemployment?" The answer is simple Jon, and is another one we provided a month ago - basically the US is now effectively "printing" jobs by releasing more and more seasonally adjusted payrolls into the open, which however pay progressively less and less (see A "Quality Assessment" Of US Jobs Reveals The Ugliest Picture Yet). After all, what the media always forgets is that there is a quantity and quality component to jobs. The only one that matters in an election year, however, is the former. As for whether Okun's law is broken, we suggest that the New York Fed looks in the mirror on that one.
Since the much-heralded 3Y LTRO program was envisioned and enacted, we have been clear in our perspective that while this appears to have signaled a removal of downside (contagion-driven) tail-risk for banks (and implicitly to sovereigns), the market's perceptions are once again short-termist. Missing the 'unintended-consequence' for the 'sugar high' is the forest-and-trees analogy that we have seen again and again for the past few years but we worry that this time, given the sheer size of the program, that the ECB has got a little over its skis. By demanding collateral for their bottomless pit of low-interest loans, the ECB has not only reduced banks' necessary deleveraging needs (and/or capital raising) but has increased risk for all bond-holders (and implicitly equity holders, who are the lowest of the low in the capital structure remember) as the assets underlying the value of bank balance sheets are now increasingly encumbered to the ECB. Post LTRO, Barclays notes that several banking-systems (PIIGS) now have encumbered over 15% of their balance sheets but LTRO merely extends a broader trend among European banks (pledging collateral in return for funding) and on average (even excluding LTRO) 21% of European bank assets are now encumbered, and therefore unavailable for unsecured bond holders, ranging from over 50% at Danske (more a business model choice with covered bonds) to around 1% for Standard Chartered. As the liquidity-fueled euphoria starts to be unwound, perhaps this list of likely stigmatized banks is the place to look for higher beta exposure to the downside (especially as we see ECB margin calls start to pick up).
There was a time when Bank of America's archoptimist David Bianco would take any economic data point, no matter how fecal mattery, and convert it into 24-carat gold. Then, in late 2011 Bianco was fired because the bank realized that its only chance to persevere was if the Fed proceeded with another round of QE, (and another, and another, ad inf) and as such economic reporting would have to lose its upward bias and be reporting in its natural ugly habitat. And while many other banks have in recent days become content with every other central bank in the world easing but not the Fed in an election year due to the risks of record gas prices, BAC's push for QE has not abated and in fact has gotten louder and louder. So exposes us to some oddities. Such as the firm's 29 year old senior economist Michelle Meyer literally demolishing any myth that yesterday's job number was "good." Needless to say, this will not come as a surprise to Zero Hedge readers. Nor to TrimTabs, whose opinion on the BLS BS we have attached as exhibit B as to the sheer economic data propaganda happening in an election year. Yet it is quite shocking that such former stalwarts of the bullish doctrine are now finally exposing the truth for what it is. Presenting Bank of America as we have never seen it before - throwing up all over the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For all this talk and hype, QE 3 is nowhere to be found. And it won’t be showing up anytime soon unless a full-scale Crisis hits. The reason for this is that the political landscape in the US has changed dramatically with the Fed becoming more and more politically toxic. As a result of this, the Fed (with few exceptions) has begun to shift into damage control mode.
While everyone is focused on AAPL, or tech names, or energy sector growth, or multiple expansion as the driver of the next leg up in stocks, we take a slightly different tack. US equities are back above the highs of last year while US investment grade credit markets are still well below their best levels of last year. Until credit markets come along for the exuberant ride, and buy into the recovery/growth/no-tail-risk story we will not see a sustained rally (no matter how much fiat currency devaluation is undertaken) and as BARCAP notes today, there are 18 names that account for more than 50% of the discrepancy between equity's ebullience and credit curmudgeon-ness. Of these 18 names, 13 are financials (unsurprisingly) and indeed these are among the most liquid credits traded. So if you are bullish on a sustainable recovery, buying these credits seems the best high beta 'value' trade while bears should continue to watch the lack of confirmation of USD/fiat-numeraired equity market enthusiasm by risk-based credit markets.
Following continued strength in earnings (and analyst upgrades), Smith & Wesson is up 23% this morning (near three year highs). It seems all those freshly printed temporary workers are spending their hard-earned minimum wage on 'defense' instead of iPads.
*SMITH & WESSON BOOSTS REV. FORECAST :SWHC US
*SMITH & WESSON 3Q EPS CONT OPS 8C, EST. 4C :SWHC
While not shocking to most, the jump in temporary workers that we cited earlier is perhaps the biggest indicator of job 'quality' gains. As we discussed here last month, the US market economy remains mired in a low quality (“first-fired, first-hired categories rather than the type of core hiring that would build a stronger foundation for income growth,” as FTN's Jim Vogel describes it) recovery. About 160k of private jobs added in Feb are 'low-paying work' which left average hourly earnings up only 0.1% (notes David Ader at CRT) - hardly the recipe for a sustainable recovery and perhaps the slow leak in stocks post the number is the rude awakening to that reality. As w enoted before, "not only is America slipping ever further into a state of permanent "temp job" status, but that a "quality analysis" of the jobs created shows that the US job formation machinery is badly hurt, and just like the marginal utility of debt now hitting a critical inflection point, so the "marginal utility" of incremental jobs is now negative"
OpenEurope Verdict On Greek PSI - Pyrrhic Victory Sowing Seeds Of A Political And Economic Crisis In EuropeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/09/2012 07:35 -0500
Minutes ago we presented Goldman's twisted and conflicted take on Greece in a post PSI world. Needless to say, virtually everything goldman says is to be faded. Which is why not surprisingly, the next analysis, a far more accurate and realistic one, does precisely that. In a just released report from Europe think tank OpenEurope, the conclusion is far less optimistic: "The deal sets the eurozone up for a political row involving Triple-A countries. At the start of this year, 36% of Greece’s debt was held by taxpayer-backed institutions (ECB, IMF, EFSF). By 2015, following the voluntary restructuring and the second bailout, the share could increase to as much as 85%, meaning that Greece’s debt will be overwhelmingly owned by eurozone taxpayers – putting them at risk of large losses under a future default. This deal may have sown the seeds of a major political and economic crisis at the heart of Europe, which in the medium and long term further threatens the stability of the eurozone."
If a Greek default is not enough for the compulsive speculators out there, as a reminder today we have that all important February NFP number release, which on one hand we have ADP as indicating in line with expectations of a +210,000 print, on the other we saw both Gallup, Initial claims and the ISM as well as various diffusion indices as pointing to a weaker print. Here is Goldman, which has come in slightly below expectations, with a forecast of 200,000 offset by a further reduction in the unemployment rate to 8.2%. Of course, as we noted last month, once the US participation rate hits 58%, the unemployment rate will actually mathematically go negative. And strangers years have happened in an election year... From Goldman: "We expect tomorrow's employment report to show solid nonfarm payroll growth of 200,000 in February after 243,000 in January. Although unseasonably warm weather should again boost payroll growth in February, we expect a moderation in the rate of job creation due to (1) a likely payback in manufacturing employment; and (2) mixed labor-market news since the last report. Uncertainty around the extent and timing of the weather effect and manufacturing payback suggest risks are probably tilted to the downside of our forecast. We expect the gain in employment to push down the unemployment rate by 0.1 point to 8.2% in February."
"We, the people," are in deep trouble.