Economists, market analysts, journalists and investors alike are all talking about it quite openly, generally in a calm and reserved tone that suggests that - to borrow a phrase from Bill Gross – it represents the 'new normal'. Something that simply needs to be acknowledged and analyzed in the same way we e.g. analyze the supply/demand balance of the copper market. It is the new buzzword du jour: 'Financial Repression'. The term certainly sounds ominous, but it is always mentioned in an off-hand manner that seems to say: 'yes, it is bad, but what can you do? We've got to live with it.' But what does it actually mean? The simplest, most encompassing explanation is this: it describes various insidious and underhanded methods by which the State intends to rob its citizens of their wealth and income over the coming years (and perhaps even decades) above and beyond the already onerous burden of taxation and regulatory costs that is crushing them at present. One cannot possibly "print one's way to prosperity". The exact opposite is in fact true: the policy diminishes the economy's ability to generate true wealth. If anything, “we” are printing ourselves into the poorhouse.
The biggest headlines (and refutations) have been saved for the struggling nations of Europe's periphery. Top-down, this makes sense as PPP-weighted PMIs show Europe notably decoupling (badly) from the rest of the world - with periphery and eurozone-ex-periphery having resynced at these lower levels. This convergence (down) of the core with the periphery is not good news but what is more concerning is that while many investors have assumed the 'pricing' of risk assets in the periphery relative to the core is due mostly to 'contagion', there is in fact a massive fundamental divide between the core and periphery's corporate debt credit quality. With ECB's OMT apparently removing much of the systemic risk premium (though we are clear on our views of this short-term LTRO-esque reaction), the idiosyncratic risk differential between Core and Periphery credit quality is large and getting larger. It seems the need for simultaneous private and public deleveraging in the periphery - especially in Spain - is as critical as ever.
Goldman's equity strategist David Kostin has been very quiet for the past year, having not budged on his 2012 year end S&P target of 1250 since late 2011. Today, he finally released a revised forecast, one that curious still leaves the year end forecast unchanged at a level over 200 points lower in the S&P cash, and thus assuming a ~15% decline. The reason: the same fiscal cliff (which would otherwise deduct 5% in GDP growth) and debt ceiling debate we have warned will get the same market treatment as it did in August of 2011 when the only catalyst was a 15% S&P plunge and a downgrade of the US credit rating. However, one the fiscal situation is fixed, Kostin sees only upside, with a 6 month target of 1450 ("We raise our medium-term fair value estimates for the S&P 500 in response to openended quantitative easing (QE) announced by the Fed."), and a year end S&P target of 1575, calculated by applying a 13.9 multiple to the firm's EPS forecast of 114. Of course, this being bizarro Goldman Sachs it means expect a continued surge into year end, then prolonged fizzle into the new year. Why? Because there is not a snowball's chance in hell the consolidated S&P earnings can grow at this rate, especially not if the Fiscal Cliff compromise is one that does take away more than 1% of GDP thus offsetting all the "benefit" from QE. Simply said, companies who have already eliminated all the fat, and most of the muscle, and are desperate for revenue growth to generate incremental EPS increase, have not invested in CapEx at nearly the rate needed to maintain revenue growth, having dumped all the cash instead in such short-sighted initiatives as dividends and buybacks. Also, recalling that revenues are now outright declining on a year over year basis, and one can see why anyone assuming a 14% increase in earnings in one year, is merely doing all they can to make the work of their flow desk easier.
While it is just as perplexing that Goldman still has clients, what is most surprising in this week's David Kostin "weekly kickstart" is that Goldman's clients have shown a surprising lack of stupidity (this time around) when it comes to the impact of QEtc. Shockingly, and quite accurately, said clients appear to be far more worried about the inflationary shock that endless easing may bring (picture that), than what level the S&P closes for the year. Incidentally with Q3 now over, and just 3 months left until the end of the year, Goldman's chief equity strategist refuses to budge on his year end S&P forecast, which has been at 1250 since the beginning of the year, and remains firmly there. From Goldman: "QE has succeeded in increasing asset prices and inflation expectations but has not convinced investors to raise their US growth expectations. Instead, equity investors have expressed concern about inflation risks while both gold prices and implied inflation rates show similar shifts."
With the combination of a strong quarter (week or two) for stocks, futures rolls (and CDS yesterday) and the OPEX / index re-weighting it seems we had a modest case of small doors, large crowds into the close today (S&P futures end 1pt above FOMC-day close). Volume picked up dramatically (NYSE highest in a year) as the Dow closed lower on a Friday for the first time in nine weeks! Treasuries outperformed - ending near the low yields of the week (having retraced all the post-QE move - down 10-15bps on the week) but Gold remained relatively bid ($1775) and Oil also rose in the last couple of days. VIX was unch but noisy thanks to OPEX (and remember it's still at a high premium to realized vol - not entirely complacent). Credit underperformed as risk-assets in general led stocks lower. On the quarter, Silver was the big winner (up ~26%) followed by Gold (up ~11%) both beating all the major US equity indices.
Equity markets rallied into the close (pre-OPEX and index re-weightings tomorrow) to end near their highs for the day but this was only enough to get back to practically unchanged. The Dow was the only index to manage a green close on the day-session (as AAPL dragged NASDAQ lower and the S&P couldn't get above Tuesday's or Wednesday's closing levels). With the CDS market rolling today (and indices being recomposed), we saw a somewhat unusual selling pressure into the roll - suggesting many credit longs were less than willing to roll that long into the new index (though technicals do make this uncertain). HYG underperformed. Stocks seemed to levitate back up to track Gold and the afternoon's weakness in Treasuries (unch on the day but 3-4bps higher in the afternoon) and strength in Oil dragged risk-assets more in sync with stocks (after suggesting weakness in the middle of the day).
Portuguese bond spreads have been weak all week; Spain has been bleeding in the front-end and belly of the curve; and today saw Italian bonds start to lose some gains. What is perhaps more notable is the weakness in Italian stocks (most notably banks) since the short-sale ban was lifted on Friday. FTSEMIB is down 3.5% from pre-FOMC and -5% from post-FOMC spike highs. EURUSD is back below 1.30 (and stands 1.5 sigma rich to swap-spread-implied levels). Meanwhile, Europe's VIX plummets to six-month lows as realized vol plunges - but the volatility risk premium is still high.
As Cantor's Peter Cecchini notes today "when things are this senseless, a reversion to sensibility will occur again at some point." His view is to be long vol and as the disconnect between the economic cycle and stocks continues to grow, we present three mind-numbing charts of the exuberant hopefulness that is now priced in (oh yeah, aside from AAPL actually selling some iPhones in pre-order). Whether it is earnings hockey-sticks, global growth ramps, or fiscal cliff resolutions, it seems the market can only see the silver-lining. We temper that extreme bullish view with the fact that all the monetary policy good news has to be out now - for Ben hath made it so with QEternity.
We destroyed the myth that the LTRO would not in fact stigmatize bank balance sheets when it was first introduced as the encumbrance was evident from the start - though took the market a while to comprehend and reprice (exuberant on the new-found liquidity optics). The expectations that the ECB will embark on a new scheme of sovereign debt purchases, implicitly funding governments - no matter how many times they tell us that it is to ensure transmission mechanisms flow, have three objectives or rationales, according to Goldman's Huw Pill: Easing private financing conditions through monetary expansion, Financing governments, and/or Reactivating private markets. However, there is one glaring unintended consequence of this 'aid' - the risk exists that well-intentioned sovereign debt purchases result in perverse incentives and a perpetuation of chronic fiscal and structural problems (much as Bernanke's band-aids have eased the fiscal pressure on our own government and led us further down the rabbit hole). The lack of political legitimacy and blunting of incentives for more fundamental consolidation and reform to take place can only turn the acute pain of the moment in Spain into a truly chronic problem for Europe as a whole - be careful what you wish for.
Although the supply and demand factors do not seem to support the current price levels, there are plenty of other events to sustain and add premium.
By now it should be painfully clear to involved that the Greek economy is nothing but a zombie, whose funding shortfalls and other deficit needs are sustained each month only courtesy of constantly new and improved "financial engineering" ponzi creations out of the ECB, the ELA, and other interlinked funding mechanisms which are merely a transfer of German cash into empty peripheral coffers. And while the attention of the world has moved on, at least for the time being, from the small country which has been left for dead with the assumption that Europe will do the bare minimum to keep it alive, but not more, Greece once again reminds us that not only does it still pretend to be alive, but that the zombie is getting hungry, and want to eat.
For months everyone was confused, like lost lambs in a sea of noise and 500x leverage, not knowing how to navigate the stormy, choppy FX seas. Now we know. For that beacon of anti-precision, the man, the myth, the legend who bats 0.000 and thus is the most certain contrarian bet in history, Goldman's Tom Stolper has spoken: "We would now recommend going long EUR/$ at current levels with a one-day stop on a close below 1.18 for an initial target of 1.30." Start your selling.
Summary of what has been said so far: Nothing, just as we said last week. Draghi basically repeated the June 29 summit bottom line that the EFSF should buy PIIGS bonds, the ECB "May" act, which means Germany is still not on board, and that after talking markets up by 5%, he has delivered nothing but a delay. This is a huge blow to his and the ECB's credibility.
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With speculation ripe out of everyone from Reuters to the FT about what Draghi may or may not say, with or without Germany's blessing, the best at this point is just to hand over the microphone to the former Goldmanite. Here is the live webcast of Draghi's press conference. Pay attention as a word out of place will send the EURUSD plunging by 200 pips. Or soaring.
Want to buy stocks on anything than a greater fool theory, or hope and prayer that someone with "other people's money" will bail you out of a losing position when the market goes bidless? That may change after reading the latest monthly letter from Pimco's Bill Gross whose crusade against risk hits a crescendo. Yes, he is talking his book (and talking down his equity asset allocation), but his reasons are all too valid: "The cult of equity is dying. Like a once bright green aspen turning to subtle shades of yellow then red in the Colorado fall, investors’ impressions of “stocks for the long run” or any run have mellowed as well. I “tweeted” last month that the souring attitude might be a generational thing: “Boomers can’t take risk. Gen X and Y believe in Facebook but not its stock. Gen Z has no money.”.... So what is a cult chasing figure supposed to do? Well, the cult of equities may be over. But the cult of reflating inflation is just beginning: "The primary magic potion that policymakers have always applied in such a predicament is to inflate their way out of the corner. The easiest way to produce 7–8% yields for bonds over the next 30 years is to inflate them as quickly as possible to 7–8%! Woe to the holder of long-term bonds in the process!... Unfair though it may be, an investor should continue to expect an attempted inflationary solution in almost all developed economies over the next few years and even decades. Financial repression, QEs of all sorts and sizes, and even negative nominal interest rates now experienced in Switzerland and five other Euroland countries may dominate the timescape. The cult of equity may be dying, but the cult of inflation may only have just begun."
It's all about the central banks this week.