The ongoing message from the mainstream media, analysts and most economists is that the economy has turned the corner and we are set for substantially stronger growth in the coming year. While that sounds great on the surface the economic data has yet to hint at such a robust recovery. What is worrisome is that CNBC has started using the term "Goldilocks economy" again which is what we were hearing as we approached the peak of the market in early 2008. As David Rosenberg pointed out in his morning missive: "Maybe, it's just this: so long as there is a positive sign in front of any economic metric, no matter how microscopic, all is good. After all, you can't be 'sort of in recession' - it's like being pregnant... either you are or you are not." The bottom line is that ex-artificial stimulus, and other fiscal supports, there is little in the way of an economic recovery currently going on. In order for the economy to reach "escape velocity" it will be on the back of sharply rising employment and wages which are needed to prime consumer spending. This is not happening as the the gap between wages and rising cost of living continues to drive the consumer to shore up that shortfall with more debt.
The equity markets, despite a verey modest drop so far today, continue to hang in despite slowing profits growth. David Rosenberg notes that while many tout the +6% YoY earnings growth, once adjusted for special factors, the growth rate in earnings is a meager 40bps! So, he notes, it appears not to be about earnings but about what investors are willing to pay for the earnings stream and lays out four reasons for the market's 'comfort'. However, while Mr. Market is catching on to the Fed's overt attempt to reflate the economy by reflating asset values, he warns, we have seen in the past how these cycles turn out - and whether you are a trend-follower or contrarian, take note of the overwhelming consensus across almost every asset class right now. Dow Theory advocates have been doing high-fives all year long as the S&P Industrials and Dow Transports make new highs, reinforcing the notion (mirage is more like it) of economic escape velocity, but Rosenberg has more than a few (EIGHT) 'anomalies' that show things are actually stagnating (or contracting) and don't pass his smell test.
"I went through the January data one last time with a fine tooth comb. I fail to see what got everyone so excited, beyond the upward revisions to the back data. That only proves that productivity has been weaker than initially thought. And the income from those upward job revisions has probably already been spent. But as I highlighted yesterday, the broad-term trends are slowing down and doing so discernibly."
There has been an burst of exuberance as of late as the market, after four arduous years, got back to its pre-crisis levels. Much has been attributed to the recent burst of optimism in the financial markets from: better than expected earnings, stronger economic growth ahead, the end of the bond bubble is near, the long term outlook is getting better, valuations are cheap, and the great rotation is here - all of which have egregious holes. However, with the markets fully inflated, we have reached the point that where even a small exogenous shock will likely have an exaggerated effect on the markets. There are times that investors can safely "buy and hold" investments - this likely isn't one of them.
Unsure what the current blistering start for the S&P 500 means in the new year? Here is David Rosenberg putting the last two years in perspective to the last two weeks. Alas, with fat tails now solely emanating from politicians (as the Fed has guaranteed nothing wrong can ever happen again on the monetary side, until everything goes wrong of course), and politicians being inherently irrational and unpredictable, it is not exactly clear how anyone can factor for what in just one month is sure to be the biggest clash in history between two sides of a Congress that has never been more polarized.
- After the worst post-Christmas market performance since 1937, we had the largest surge to kick off any year in recorded history
- The myth is that we are now seeing the clouds part to the extent that cash will be put to work. Not so fast It is very likely that much of the market advance has been short-covering and some abatement in selling activity
- As equities now retest the cycle highs, it would be folly to believe that we will not experience recurring setbacks and heightened volatility along the way
- The reality is that the tough choices and the tough bargaining have been left to the next Congress and are about to be sworn in
- The myth is that the economy escaped a bullet here. The reality is that even with the proverbial "cliff" having been avoided, the impact of the legislation is going to extract at least a 11/2 percentage point bite out of GDP growth
Presenting Dave Collum's now ubiquitous and all-encompassing annual review of markets and much, much more. From Baptists, Bankers, and Bootleggers to Capitalism, Corporate Debt, Government Corruption, and the Constitution, Dave provides a one-stop-shop summary of everything relevant this year (and how it will affect next year and beyond).
How does one of the best strategists view the world as we close the page on 2012, and look toward 2013? Find out with the help of these 35 charts.
Ever wondered whether the Fed actually has/had a plan? Gluskin-Sheff's David Rosenberg attempts to overlay some intelligence to the last seven years to get a grasp for what the venerable institution is actually up to. To wit, the seven stages of Federal Reserve jiggery-pokery... Will the seven become twelve as the addicts take over the asylum? Seven-point plan or seven-year dud?
As in any other Ponzi scheme, when the weakest link breaks, the chain breaks. The risk of such a break-up, applied to economics, is known as systemic risk or “correlation going to 1”. As the weakest link (i.e. the Euro zone) was coupled to the chain of the Fed, global systemic risk (or correlation) dropped. Apparently, those managing a correlation trade in IG9 (i.e. investment grade credit index series 9) for a well-known global bank did not understand this. But it would be misguided to conclude that the concept has now been understood, because there are too many analysts and fund managers who still interpret this coupling as a success at eliminating or decreasing tail risk. No such thing could be farther from the truth. What they call tail risk, namely the break-up of the Euro zone is not a “tail” risk. It is the logical consequence of the institutional structure of the European Monetary Union, which lacks fiscal union and a common balance sheet.... And to think that because corporations and banks in the Euro zone now have access to cheap US dollar funding, the recession will not bring defaults, will be a very costly mistake. Those potential defaults are not a tail risk either: If you tax a nation to death, destroy its capital markets, nourish its unemployment, condemn it to an expensive currency and give its corporations liquidity at stupidly low costs you can only expect one outcome: Defaults. The fact that they shall be addressed with even more US dollars coming from the Fed in no way justifies complacency.
Sweeping changes are taking place at the state level as pension trustees and legislatures push for higher monthly contributions to pension plans, a later retirement age and lower annual cost-of-living adjustments for current and retired workers. Unions (those that don't make Twinkles, in any event), are making the concessions because they can see the future absent shared sacrifice — the termination of defined benefit plans in favour of defined contribution plans. Be that as it may, employee contributions are going up — a de facto tax hike. And this will work directly against any upturn in consumer spending when you consider that the state and local government sector employ nearly 20 million people or 15% of the national job pie. So we will have less government, fewer entitlements and more whisperings that it isn't just the $250,000+ high-income households that are going to experience tax increases and diminished disposable income growth. This is shared sacrifice. To think that the nation could have ever gone to war in Iraq and in Afghanistan under the Bush regime, putting our troops at great risk not to mention the emotional scars on their families, while here at home civilians would be allowed to enjoy tax cuts and a debt-financed consumption binge.... One has to wonder what events could provide positive momentum to GDP growth, push corporate earnings to record highs as the consensus predicts as early as next year, or generate any lasting inflation, for that matter. It's the people that make these pricing decisions. Businesses can only price up to what consumers are willing to pay. It is households that determine whether or not we have inflation, not some bureaucrat in Washington who believes he has control over some printing press.
As of late there has been a flood of commentary written about the housing recovery pointing to the bottom in housing and how the revival in housing will drive economic growth in the years ahead. It is true that the revival in the housing market is a positive thing and is certainly something that everyone wants. However, the hype surrounding the nascent recovery to date may be a bit premature. Much of the current buying in the housing market has come from speculators and investors turning housing into rentals. This, however, has a finite life and rising home prices will speed up its inevitable end as rental profitability is reduced. Furthermore, the majority of home building has come in multifamily units, versus single family homes, and that segment has been growing faster than underlying demand. It is important to understand that housing will recover - eventually. However, the reality of that recovery could be far different than what the current media and analysts predict. The point here is that while the housing market has recovered - the media should be asking "Is that all the recovery there is?"
We remain in the throes of a secular era of disinflation. We also are in a long-term period of sub-par economic growth and below-average returns. This has become so well entrenched that U.S. pension plans now have more exposure to bonds than to stocks, as we highlighted two weeks ago. Look, this is not about being bearish, bullish or agnostic. It's about being realistic and understanding that in our role as market economists, it is necessary to provide our clients with information and analysis that will help them to navigate the portfolio through these stressful times. Our crystal ball says to stick with what works in an uncertain financial and economic climate — in other words, maintain a defensive and income-oriented investment strategy.
Many economists are suggesting that the second estimate of Q3 GDP, which showed an initial estimate of 2.0% annualized growth, will be revised sharply upward to 2.8%. The problem is that the surge in demand isn't materializing at the manufacturing level. The month-over-month data has begun to show signs of deterioration as of late which doesn't support the idea of a sharp rebound in economic activity in recent months. The headwinds to economic growth are gaining strength as the tailwinds from stimulus related support programs fade. This has been witnessed not only in the manufacturing reports, such as the CFNAI and Dallas Fed Region surveys where forward expectations were sharply reduced, but also in many of the corporate earnings and guidance's this quarter.
Back in April, we did an extensive analysis of what, in our opinion, is the primary reason for the slow burn experienced by the US, and global economy, and why virtually every liquidity pathway used by central banks is hopeless clogged: the complete lack of capital expenditures at the corporate level, and lack of (re)investment spending. Specifically we said that in both the context of Japan's plunging corporate profitability over the past 30 years despite year after year of record budget deficits, and its implications everywhere else, that "we get back to what we have dubbed the primary cause of all of modern capitalism's problems: a dilapidated, aging, increasingly less cash flow generating asset base! Because absent massive Capital Expenditure reinvestment, the existing asset base has been amortized to the point of no return, and beyond. The problem is that as David Rosenberg pointed out earlier, companies are now forced to spend the bulk of their cash on dividend payouts, courtesy of ZIRP which has collapsed interest income. Which means far less cash left for SG&A, i.e., hiring workers, as temp workers is the best that the current "recovering" economy apparently can do. It also means far, far less cash for CapEx spending. Which ultimately means a plunging profit margin due to decrepit assets no longer performing at their peak levels, and in many cases far worse." Today, with the usual six month or so delay, this fundamental topic has finally made the mainstream media with a WSJ piece titled "Investment Falls Off a Cliff: U.S. Companies Cut Spending Plans Amid Fiscal and Economic Uncertainty."