Back in June 2011, Zero Hedge first pointed out something very troubling: the labor share of national income had dropped to an all time low, just shy of 58%. This is quite an important number as none other than the Fed noted few years previously that "The allocation of national income between workers and the owners of capital is considered one of the more remarkably stable relationships in the U.S. economy. As a general rule of thumb, economists often cite labor’s share of income to be about two-thirds of national income—although the exact figure is sensitive to the specific data used to calculate the ratio. Over time, this ratio has shown no clear tendency to rise or fall." Yet like pretty much every other relationship in the new normal, this rule of thumb got yanked out of the socket, and the 66% rapidly became 58%. This troubling shift away from the mean prompted David Rosenberg to say that "extremes like this, unfortunately, never seem to lead us to a very stable place." Which is why we are happy to note that as of last quarter, the labor share of income has finally seen an uptick, and while certainly not back at its old normal, has finally started to tick up, which leads us to ask: have we passed the moment of peak Marxism of this particular period in US history?
There is no free-lunch - especially if that lunch is liquidity-fueled - is how Gluskin-Sheff's David Rosenberg reminds us of the reality facing US markets this year and next. As (former Fed governor) Kevin Warsh noted in the WSJ "The 'fiscal cliff' in early 2013 - when government stimulus spending and tax relief are set to fall - is not misfortune. It is the inevitable result of policies that kick the can down the road." Between the jobs data and three months in a row of declining ISM orders/inventories it seems the key manufacturing sector of support for the economy may be quaking and add to that the deleveraging that is now recurring (consumer credit) and Rosenberg sees six rather sizable stumbling-blocks facing markets as we move forward. On this basis, the market as a whole is overpriced by more than 20%.
In Its Latest Nonfarm Payroll Mea Culpa, Goldman Stumbles On THE Answer... And Changes The Rules Of The GameSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/06/2012 18:12 -0400
The one sentence that may change everything: "...we have found some evidence that at the very long end of the yield curve, where Operation Twist is concentrated, it may be not just the stock of securities held by the Fed but also the ongoing flow of purchases that matters for yields..."
What a quarter! The Dow up 8% and enjoying a record quarter in terms of points — 994 of them to be exact and in percent terms, now just 7% off attaining a new all-time high. The S&P 500 surged 12% (and 3.1% for March; 28% from the October 2011 lows), which was the best performance since 1998. It seems so strange to draw comparisons to 1998, which was the infancy of the Internet revolution; a period of fiscal stability, 5% risk-free rates, sustained 4% real growth in the economy, strong housing markets, political stability, sub-5% unemployment, a stable and predictable central bank. And look at the composition of the rally. Apple soared 48% and accounted for nearly 20% of the appreciation in the S&P 500. But outside of Apple, what led the rally were the low-quality names that got so beat up last year, such as Bank of America bouncing 72% (it was the Dow's worst performer in 2011; financials in aggregate rose 22%). Sears Holdings have skyrocketed 108% this year even though the company doesn't expect to make money this year or next. What does that tell you? What it says is that this bull run was really more about pricing out a possible financial disaster coming out of Europe than anything that could really be described as positive on the global macroeconomic front. What is most fascinating is how the private client sector simply refuses to drink from the Fed liquidity spiked punch bowl, having been burnt by two central bank-induced bubbles separated less than a decade apart leaving David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff, still rightly focused on benefiting from his long-term 3-D view of deleveraging, demographics, and deflation - as he notes US data is on notably shaky ground. This appears to have been very much a trader's rally as he reminds us that liquidity is not an antidote for fundamentals.
Think the Fed's policy of market intervention is only impacting savers and investors? Think again: courtesy of ZIRP, companies are investing increasingly less in CapEx, and thus long-term growth, and merely focusing on instant bang for the buck projects, like M&A and dividends. Sustainable? You decide.
Back in early 2011, even as the global economy was at best flatlining, the one goalseeked explanation to justify a levitating stock market (which was rising solely due to the short-term effect of transitory QE2 liquidity), was soaring corporate profitability (which only lasted as long as companies could trim some residual SG&A fat; they have now cut into the bone in terms of layoffs). This time around, with corporate margins having peaked, there had to be some other validation to explain away the "narrative" of the latest bout of central bank infused stock market levitation: it just happened that this time it was once again that old faithful, and always wrong, justification - decoupling. After all one just has to listen to 5 minutes of CNBC to hear it taken for granted that the US economy is doing oh so swimmingly. Here is a newsflash for all the permabulls out there. It isn't. Not only that, but as David Rosenberg highlights, 11 of the 13 most recent economic indicators have missed consensus expectations, and one can demonstrate that the other 2 - car sales and jobs - have been simplistically manipulated into a favorable outcome. So now that the market is turning over, with Europe and China both solidly into contractionary territory, with Corporate profit margins turning over, and with US data missing virtually every print, how long until the permabullish validations all go up in smoke, and the one true source of stock market "nirvana" - cheap money - is once again in high demand from the central planning cabal. In turn, the Chairsatans of the world will do as requested, as they always do, however not with crude (the real one - Brent, not that Cushing-buffered substitate) at $125, and with the risk that Israel may attack Iran any day now, with or without the blessing of the Fed's Class A director.
The money-on-the-sidelines argument has reached deafening and self-confirming as anchoring bias among any and every swollen long-only manager seems to have made them ignore the realities of the situation. David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff to the rescue with good old fashioned facts - as much as they might disappoint the audience. Barton Biggs quote in the USA Today article points out how bullish he is and how cash levels are very high and "idled money is ready to be put to work". However, as Rosie points out equity fund cash ratios are at a de minimus 3.6%, the same level as in the fall of 2007 and near its lowest level ever. The time when cash was heavy and 'ample' was at the market lows in 2009 when the ratio was very close to 6%. Bond fund managers, it should be noted this includes the exuberant HY funds, are now sitting on less than 2% cash so if retail inflows continue to subside as they did this week, buying power could weaken over the near-term. What David points out that is more interesting perhaps is the converse of most people's contrarian dumb money perspective - the household sector appears to have used the rally of the past three years, for the most part, to diversify out of the equity market (getting out at price levels they could only dream of seeing again). As we have pointed out again and again, the retail investor has been a net redeemer in equity funds for nine-months running and has been rebalancing since the March 2009 lows in a clearly demographic shift towards income strategies as the memory of two bursting bubbles within seven years is seared into most private investors' minds.
No Record Profits For Old Assets: Jim Montier On Unsustainable Parabolic Margin Expansion For DummiesSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/20/2012 21:37 -0400
It is widely known that US corporate profits recently hit an all time high. What is less known is that in Q4, profit margins for the first time rolled over by 27 bps, and double that if one excludes Apple. What is very much irrelevant, is that to Wall Street none of this matters, and the consensus (of which GMO's Jim Montier says "the Wall Street consensus has a pretty good record of being completely and utterly wrong") believes that Q4 will be largely ignored, and margins will continue soaring ever higher. Well, the same Montier, has a thing or two to say about this consensus surge in profits ("it is almost unthinkable that it will remain at current levels over the course of the next few years"). More importantly he looks at the Kalecki profits equation, and finds something rather peculiar. Namely Japan. Because while taking the profits equation at its face value would surely explain the 10.2% in corporate profits, of which a whopping 75% is thanks to America's burgeoning deficit, it would imply that Japanese corporate profitability, where there has been not only a long-running current account surplus, but zero household savings, and massive fiscal deficits, should be off the charts. Instead it is collapsing. Why? Montier has some ideas which may force Wall Street to renounce its bullish views, although probably won't. However, the implications of his conclusion are far more substantial, and if appreciated by corporate America (whose aging asset base is the problem), may ultimately result in a revitalization of the corporate asset base, however not before the dividend chasing frenzy pops in the latest and greatest bubble collapse.
When it comes to predicting consumer spending patterns, especially those of the baby boomers who are traditionally reliant on fixed income (but lately have had to migrate back into the workforce, as retirement prospects diminish, in effect displacing the young 18-24 year old Americans where unemployment is now at a substantial 46%), the following two charts from today's David Rosenberg letter do a great job at explaining the schism between interest and dividend income. The former, as is well-known, has been crippled and is plunging courtesy of Bernanke's ZIRP policy, which makes cash yields on savings and fixed income instruments virtually negligible, and the latter, which while rising, has a long way to rise if it is to catch up to lost annuity potential. It is here that the primary tension for the Fed resides: it has to force investors to switch their mindsets from the capital preservation of fixed income, to the risky behavior of pursuing stock dividends. It is also here that we see the lost purchasing power of the US consumer: interest income is down $450 billion from 2007-2008 levels to roughly $1 trillion, while dividend income has risen to $825 billion, which is where it was at the prior peak. In other words, when all is said and done, Bernanke's ZIRP policy has eliminated $450 billion in purchasing power, even if he has succeeded in reflating the equity bubble. Yet while bonds at least have capital preservation optics, what happens to dividend stocks whose cash flow yields can be eliminated at the bat of an eye, if and when the next flash crash materializes, or the next financial crisis is finally too big for the central planners to control?
Last year, everyone blamed anything that came in even modestly worse than expected, be it EPS or economic data, on the occasional inclement weather, completely oblivious that that is precisely the reason for seasonal adjustments, and for forecasters to be paid seven digits - i.e., to anticipate various outcomes. So far this year we had not heard anyone accusing the near-record warm winter for much, especially since the data has been coming blisteringly hot (something which everyone from Goldman, to Bank of America, to David Rosenberg is convinced will cause a major "Cash to Clunkers"-like hangover in the spring and summer courtesy of front-end loaded consumer demand). Until now: the following Hudson Square Research report blames the deterioratin in Netflix traffic patterns on, you guessed it, warm weather.
The market is ripping. That much is obvious. What some may have forgotten however, is that it ripped in the beginning of 2011... and in the beginning of 2010: in other words, what we are getting is not just deja vu (all on the back of massive central bank intervention time after time), but double deja vu. The end results, however, by year end in both those cases was less than spectacular. In fact, in an attempt to convince readers that this time it is different, Reuters came out yesterday with an article titled, you guessed it, "This Time It's Different" which contains the following verbiage: "bursts of optimism have sown false hope before... Today there is a cautious hope that perhaps this time it's different." (this article was penned by the inhouse spin master, Stella Dawson, who had a rather prominent appearance here.) So the trillions in excess electronic liquidity provided by everyone but the Fed (constrained in an election year) is different than the liquidity provided by the Fed? Got it. Of course, there are those who will bite, and buy the propaganda, and stocks. For everyone else, here is a rundown from David Rosenberg explaining why stocks continue to move near-vertically higher, and what the latent risks continue to be.
Back in early February, Zero Hedge was among the first to suggest that abnormally warm temperatures and a record hot winter, were among the primary causes for various employment trackers to indicate a better than expected trendline (even as many other components of the economy were declining), in "Is It The Weather, Stupid? David Rosenberg On What "April In January" Means For Seasonal Adjustments." It is rather logical: after all the market is the first to forgive companies that excuse poor performance, or economies that report a data miss due to "inclement" weather. So why should the direction of exculpation only be valid when it serves to justify underperformance? Naturally, the permabullish bias of the media and the commentariat will ignore this critical variable, and attribute "strength" to other factors, when instead all that abnormally warm weather has done is to pull demand forward - whether it is for construction and repair, for part-time jobs, or for retail (and even so retail numbers had been abysmal until the just released expectations meet). Ironically, while everyone else continues to ignore this glaringly obvious observation, it is Bank of America, who as already noted before are desperate to validate a QE as soon as possible (even if their stock has factored in not only the NEW QE, but the NEW QE HD), that expounds on the topic of the impact of record warm weather. In fact, not only that, but BofA makes sense of the fact why GDP growth continues to be in the mid 1% range while various other indicators are representative of much higher growth. The culprit? Global Warming.
Citigroup have said that they believe that gold will rise to $2,400/oz in 2012 and by $3,400/oz in “the coming years”. However, Citi’s Tom Fitzpatrick warned of price weakness in the short term and said there is a “real danger” that there may be a correction to $1,600/oz which would provide an even better buying opportunity. Citi are also cautious near term on oil and silver. Production of gold in Australia slid again last year, despite gold fetching higher nominal prices than ever before. According to gold experts, Surbiton Associates, 264 tonnes of gold were produced last year, two tonnes less than in 2010. The 264 tonnes equated to about 8.5 million ounces and ensures that Australia remains a major player in gold, with only China producing more last year. The United States was the world's third-biggest producer with 240 tonnes. Australia's gold production was well below the nation's production peak in the late 1990s. This further suggests the possibility of peak gold production. Of the world’s four biggest gold producers (China, Australia, the U.S. and South Africa), only China has managed to increase gold production in recent years and this Chinese gold is used in China to meet the rapidly growing demand for gold jewellery and coins and bars as stores of value in China.
Rosie: "Somehow a long gold, short euro barbell looks really good here. Bernanke, after all, now seems reluctant to embark on QE3 barring a renewed economic turndown while the ECB is moving further away from the role of a traditional central bank to take on the role of quasi fiscal policymaking, The German central bank, after all, is responsible for 25% of any losses that would ever be incurred by the massive Draghi balance sheet expansion. Why would anyone want to be long a currency representing a region with a 10.7% unemployment rate, rising inflation rates and free money? Mind you — the same can be said for the US (where U-6 jobless rate is even higher), which is why the best currency may be physical gold."