Curious why recently the US stock market has dislocated from its most trusty correlation counterparty: the size of the Fed's balance sheet? Simple: the market is now starting to factor in the end of QE, because while tapering may have been delayed it has not been cancelled. And while the Fed has done everything in its power to destroy the market's discounting function, when it comes to frontrunning the Fed the market can still think ahead. Especially when frontrunning is no longer on the table. Which is precisely the basis for the just released forecast by SocGen's Alain Bokozba, which extrapolates what will happen when the Fed's balance sheet stops rising, and applies the same drop to stocks as was seen at the end of QE1 (-16%) and QE2 (-17%) and concludes that the "end of QE3 would cost the S&P500 15%" and that following that, absent even more QE of course, "the US equity index should remain relatively flat, burdened by higher yields (rate hikes in mid-2015), a higher US dollar and limited earnings growth (Return on Equity is already high), but supported by better economic prospects and a new shareholder value cycle, staving off a bear market." Or, as SocGen calls it, "the Big Sleep."
While the ongoing government shutdown, now in its second week, means even more macro data will be retained by the random number generators, central banks are up and running. This means that in the upcoming week the key event will be the release of the FOMC minutes from the last meeting at which the Fed surprised almost the entire market by not tapering asset purchases as effectively pre-announced. There are MPC meetings in the UK, Brazil, South Korea and Indonesia. The main focus, however, will be on the US political situation still. Data that will most likely be delayed this week includes the US Trade balance, JOLTs, Wholesale and Business inventories, Retail sales, PPI, Import Prices, and the Monthly Federal budget.
David Stockman, author of The Great Deformation, summarizes the last quarter century thus: What has been growing is the wealth of the rich, the remit of the state, the girth of Wall Street, the debt burden of the people, the prosperity of the beltway and the sway of the three great branches of government - that is, the warfare state, the welfare state and the central bank...
What is flailing is the vast expanse of the Main Street economy where the great majority have experienced stagnant living standards, rising job insecurity, failure to accumulate material savings, rapidly approach old age and the certainty of a Hobbesian future where, inexorably, taxes will rise and social benefits will be cut...
He calls this condition "Sundown in America".
In the upcoming week markets will continue to focus on these fiscal issues in the US, now that a temporary Government shutdown past Tuesday is assured. Still on the fiscal side but outside the US, look forward to Prime Minister Abe announcing his final decision on the VAT hike as well as unveiling a widely anticipated economic stimulus package. Finally, fiscal policy also played a role in the Italian political instability with four ministers resigning from the coalition Government. The backdrop to these events is a rapid deterioration of the political climate after former PM Berlusconi was convicted of tax evasion by a High Court.
Early weakness in Asia driven by US-follow thru selling and ongoing concerns about the us fiscal showdowns as well as the debt ceiling, if not by actual news, resulted in a red close in both the Nikkei and SHCOMP, as well as other regional indices such as the Sensex. This then shifted to Europe, where however stocks reversed the initial move lower and are seen broadly flat, with Bunds remaining bid on the back of month-end, as well as coupon and redemption related flows. However the move higher in stocks was led by telecommunications and health care sectors, which indicates that further upside will require another positive catalyst. There was little in terms of fresh EU related macroeconomic commentary, but according to a report published by the European Banking Authority, the EU’s biggest 42 banks cut their aggregate capital shortfall with respect to the “fully loaded” 2019 Basel III requirements to €70.4bln as of December 2012. This is amusing since not one European bank has actually raised capital, but merely redefined what constitutes capital courtesy of a liberal expansion of RWA, Tier 1 and various other meaningless definition which works until such time as the perilous European balance kept together by the non-existent OMT, is tipped over.
Following the FOMC surprise, no less than twelve Fed speeches will provide some "clarifications" on where the Fed now stands. It is very likely that this subject will continue to dominate the discussions of market participants. At the same time, US data will get scrutinized after the recent weakening and to see how warranted the Fed's concerns were. Two US consumer sentiment surveys, durable goods orders, and the third reading of Q2 GDP are important. In addition, monthly consumption and income data for August provide more information on the third quarter and of course there will be interest in the latest weekly claims numbers after some distortions in recent readings.
"I sometimes feel I am in a parallel universe. Maybe I am... It?s like they're on a train which they know to be heading for a crash, but it is accelerating so rapidly they?'re scared to jump off." - Albert Edwards
The Euro area is no longer the centre of all the stress... EM countries are! Despite their significant correction in recent months, SocGen notes that valuations remain far more extreme (or cheap) and outflows are dominating (despite a 24% discount on a price-to-book basis across EM stocks, they reain rich historically). Significant structural issues like balance of payments, deficit or inflation may lead to further turmoil in emerging markets, potentially destabilising the underlying economies. Simply put, SocGen warns, valuations have further to fall; do not catch the falling knife (yet).
Overnight trading started with Asian markets continuing where yesterday's S&P 500 fizzle ended, wishing Summers could withdraw from Fed running again, as both the Nikkei and SHCOMP were well lower by the close. Perhaps all the easy multiple-expanding, headline-driven money is made, or perhaps economic fundamentals will finally start having to justify a 17x multiple on the S&P (a good is good regime for those who may be too young, or old, to remember), but overnight US futures were dull, and no doubt anticipating today's start of the "Most important FOMC meeting ever", which concludes tomorrow with an announcement by the Fed of what and how much (if any) tapering it will commence with an eye toward halting QE next summer, although more realistically what will happen is an Untaper being announced before then. While the start of the FOMC meeting is the main event, today we get CPI, TIC flows and the NAHB housing market index. Today's POMO is another modest $1.25-$1.75 billion in the long-end sector.
The most important event of the "coming" week was unexpected, and did not even take place during the week, but the weekend. So with Summers unexpectedly, and uncharacteristically out, here is what else is in store.
VIX futures positioning hit another all-time record short just two weeks ago after collapsing to 12-month high levels as "Taper" concerns increased. From the start of July to the 3rd week of August VIX futures were sold in epic proportions providing the fuel to lift a plateaued stock market from taper-anxiety to new all-time highs (as nothing changed). Over 100 million contracts were sold in the 7-week period - a totally unprecedented amount of complacency. However, in the past 3 weeks, there has been an inflection; is this the end of selling, or are we about to pull VIX even lower with a concerted reflexive selling of even more shorts? As SocGen warns, this historic level of non-commercial short positions (read speculative) implies any market correction - or VIX-related spike - would increase short-covering and exaggerate the fall dramatically. With today's exuberant spurt lower in VIX, vol has caught back with stocks once again.
In the US, retail sales on Friday will be the main data release. In addition, Congress will return from its 5-week recess on Monday and will likely keep their focus on Syria this week. Finally, San Francisco Fed President Williams (who does not vote on FOMC policy this year) will speak on Monday. Last week, Williams argued that the FOMC should maintain its focus on the unemployment rate, despite its limitations. After Friday's employment report saw the unemployment rate drop again due to falling participation, this issue is likely to resurface. The Fed's communication blackout period begins on Tuesday so Williams will be the last FOMC speaker before the September meeting ends on the 18th.
The highlight of today's economic releases will be the 8:30 am non-farm payroll data, expected to print at 180K jobs, up from July's 162K, and result in an unchanged 7.4% unemployment rate. The "most important jobs number ever " is neither, because even if it comes as a wild outlier to the good or bad side, the Fed is unlikely to change its tapering intentions this late in the game. Still, it will provide fireworks in a very jittery market and if the number is far stronger than expected, expect the 10 Year to finally blow out from below the 3% range which it breached briefly overnight, and never look back, at least not until there is an August 2011 wholesale risk revulsion episode and stocks tumble. Speaking of jittery, overnight the WSJ reports that if picked as Bernanke's replscament, Larry Summers' faces an uphill battle to get the votes of three key democrats on the Senate Banking Committee (Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren). It would be only fitting that the dysfunctional Democratic dominated senate now lashes out against the president, and in the process scuttles the market's only hope of maintaining its Fed-derived gains over the past five years... And there is, of course, Syria which is becoming increasingly problematic for Obama whose support in Congress is looking ever shakier. Will he go it alone in the case of a no vote?
“At the peak of the cycle, when profits are far above average and the economy is doing well, it is hard to imagine earnings collapsing back below the average, as it is to imagine a depressed region recovering. Mean-reversion in earnings, though sometimes delayed, is as undeniable as the economic cycle itself. Cyclically adjusted (or trend) PE calculations will always give a conservative valuation estimate. But that is exactly the point of valuation – to offer a degree of safety (a margin of error) and to smooth the dangers of the economic cycle. That peak profits typically accompany peak valuations only reinforces the point." In the long run valuations mean everything.