Presented with little comment aside to ask... if 'weather' can do this much damage to the US economy and 'faith' in the wealth effect-building benefits of the US equity market are this weak, then there are a few uncomfortable truths about to punch some talking heads in the mouth...
As Fortune's Stephen Gandel begins, "if you hate the Fed, you have a new hero." He is referring to none other than GMO's Jeremy Grantham who aggressively takes on the status-quo-hugging faith in the omnipotence in Central banking prowess with fact and anecdote in this brief interview..."Higher interest rates would have increased the wealth of savers. Instead, they became collateral damage of Bernanke's policies. The theory is that lower interest rates are supposed to spur capital spending, right? Then why is capital spending so weak at this stage of the cycle. There is no evidence at all that quantitative easing has boosted capital spending. We have always come roaring back from recessions, even after the mismanaged Great Depression. This time we are not..we have never had such a limited recovery."
The 'recovery' has reached a new cyclical high in consumer confidence. Despite the economic growth sapping, recovery dampening, Fed tapering, consumers have not been more exuberant since January 2008. Of course, the jump to new highs is all about the future - the Present Situation index dropped while the "Expectations" index jumped 7 points to 83.5 - its highest in 6 months.
February 2013 saw Russian visitors spend 16% more than in 2012 as "investor" visas flowed, property soared, and hot money slooshed into the UK recovery. However, as AFP reports, Russian spending in British shops fell by 17 percent last month compared to February 2013 as the "unstable situation in Russia has shown its effect on tourism spend this year," already. Shoppers from the Middle East (up 31%) and China (up 23%) continue to represent the highest proportion of international sales in Britain, but it is clear, as The Economist points out, Russian wealth has permeated the upper reaches of society in Britain more completely than in any other Western country, with the health of "Londongrad" now at stake if sanctions are extended.
Most of the market tends to focus on profits on a pro-forma basis. We have never been big fans of this. These are the earnings numbers companies like to publish that steer attention away from the ?bad stuff?. James Montier used to be highly scathing, describing them as “undefined, unregulated and untrue”. But because of their ready availability most in the market tend to quote pro-forma earnings numbers from the likes of Bloomberg and I/B/E/S and many base their equity valuations on this dodgy earnings metric. Yet even on this artificially inflated measure, trailing EPS grew only a paltry 5½% yoy in 2013, and 3% on a non-financial basis Andrew Lapthorne published an update on the US profits situation in the wake of the Q4 reporting season. He writes "?At first look, growth in US net income last year looks remarkably good. With nearly all S&P 500 names having reported year-end figures, net income grew 14% last year, or 12.8% on an ex-financial basis. This is fairly impressive growth given the lacklustre economic backdrop. So should we be celebrating? Well we?re not so sure, as the source of this growth is not a robust improvement in operating cash flow, but is to be found in the large goodwill write-downs of 2012?." Andrew then shows that the vast majority of this 14% growth in profits was driven by company-specific write-downs made back in 2012 ? with Hewlett Packard, AT&T and Verizon Communications leading the way.
The number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer in the US rose by 203,000 in February to 3.8 million. As we noted previously, this is the desperate shadow hanging over the so-called recovery. What is more problematic is the stunning findings of a new study that only 11% of the long-term unemployed in any given month found full-time work a year later.
When you ponder the implications of allowing a small group of powerful wealthy unaccountable men to control the currency of a nation over the last one hundred years, you understand why our public education system sucks. The average American has experienced a fourteen year recession caused by the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve. Our leaders could have learned the lesson of two Fed induced collapses in the space of eight years and voluntarily abandoned the policies of reckless credit expansion, instead embracing policies encouraging saving, capital investment and balanced budgets. They have chosen the same cure as the disease, which will lead to crisis, catastrophe and collapse.
It’s evident that the economy isn’t growing strongly because of conditions that central bankers themselves created, by encouraging excessive borrowing and disregarding moral hazard. In other words, the problem isn’t so much that the Fed can’t deliver another debt-fueled boom, but that it shouldn’t be trying to cure a credit bust with more borrowing in the first place. Sadly, though, this idea falls in the same category as the notion that the Fed’s balance sheet isn’t the right tool for job creation. It’s too damning a thought to be accepted by central bankers who’ve shackled themselves to a philosophy of ceaseless intervention. It’s also too basic for economists who prefer abstract theories and mathematical models over reality-based thinking.
Friday was an extremely volatile day with new record highs being achieved miraculously at the open only to be followed by free-fall in the market's most-loved momentum names into the close. It seems that the quad-witching was of particular interest to the algos as Nanex notes, a new record was set for most trades in a 1-second interval. What was even more unusual was the record number of 'unusual' price changes that occurred in the 3 seconds before the market opened and index futures expired. "Efficient" markets indeed...
As promised, the Johnson/Crapo bill has finally arrived. There are 442 pages of legal mumbo jumbo, guaranteed to cure all forms of insomnia and those suffering from low blood pressure. The agencies have been providing cheap financing to borrowers, courtesy of the Fed. The agencies have been providing cheap and bullet proof insurance for bond investors, courtesy of the Treasury. The Bill somehow expects some mysterious private capital will come in to insure the first loss position and the Government (including the FOMC) can gracefully exit its role in the mortgage monopoly. That is more than overly optimistic. Can anyone quantify that in dollars as well as mortgage rates? In summary, the Bill is going to increase mortgage compliance costs. It will confuse, rather than clarify, the mortgage application and approval process. It is a disaster. Fortunately, we suspect the Bill has no chance of passing in its present form.
The Idiot Savant has had more than enough. BDI has unequivocally decided to prick Big Bad Ben Bernanke's Bloviated Bubble Butt. I have outlined below seven fine needles and six sharp scalpels that I shall use to slice and slay his sorry sagging ass:
A dispassionate look at the main considerations for investors in the week ahead.
Weekly outlook for the major currencies, from a technical perspective.
The red flags contained in the national and global headlines that have come out thus far in 2014 should have spooked investors and economic forecasters. Instead the markets have barely noticed. It seems that the majority opinion on Wall Street and Washington is that we have entered an era of good fortune made possible by the benevolent hand of the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke and now Janet Yellen have apparently removed all the economic rough edges that would normally draw blood. As a result of this monetary "baby-proofing," a strong economy is no longer considered necessary for rising stock and real estate prices. But unfortunately, everything has a price, even free money.
In the 16 months since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his bold plan to reflate Japan’s shrinking economy the yen has depreciated by 22% against the dollar, 28% against the euro and 24% against the renminbi. The hope was to stimulate trade and push the current account decisively into the black. Yet the reverse has occurred. Japan’s external position has worsened due to anemic export growth and a spiraling energy import bill: in January it recorded a record monthly trade deficit of ¥2.8trn ($27.4bn). Having eked out a 0.7% current account surplus in 2013, Japan may this year swing into deficit for the first time since 1980. So why is the medicine not working?