In Europe there is hope, as demonstrated by every hope and optimism index over the past two months going vertical. In Europe there is faith, as demonstrated by yesterday's Draghi conference, in which the likelihood of further rate cuts was officially taken off the table (as expected: any further cuts would send rates negative, wreaking even more havoc with money markets). And in Europe, there is reality, as demonstrated by the following chart showing the index of Spanish Industrial Output, which disappointed broadly in November, down 2.3% sequentially and 7.2% Y/Y, sending it to levels not seen since 1993.
Back in December 2011, we previewed the rotation in the FOMC's voting block with "When Doves Laugh: 4 Weeks Until The Quiet Coup In The Fed Gives QE3 A Green Light", a post whose summary was that as a bevy of new voting doves came in, it made QE3, then very much a taboo topic - because, you see, "the economy was improving on its own" - virtually inevitable (despite some angry comments from even our own readers). Naturally, as 2012 played out, we got not only QE3 but QE4EVA. So now what? Well, with the new year comes the now traditional new roster of voting regional Fed president members. And while the supremacy of the Bernanke core supermajority group of 8 permanent voters (especially with the three new hires) will never be in jeopardy, 4 new regional presidents join the core group of Bernanke doves. The new voting FOMC members: Evans, Rosengren, Bullard and George. They replace Pianalto, Lockhart, Williams and consummate critic and sole voice of reason and opposition at the Fed in 2011, Lacker. So how does the layout of the 2013 FOMC nest of hawks and doves look like? SocGen summarizes.
Following on from our earlier discussion of how a Chinese hard landing would evolve, SocGen now examines how a Chinese hard landing would impact the global economy. They see the contagion in several ways: mechanically (since China is part of the global economy) and through trade, financial and market channels. Mechanically, a slump in Chinese GDP growth to just 3% would cut our global GDP growth forecast by 0.6pp. Add to that the channels of transmission to the global economy, and our expectation is that a Chinese hard landing would result in 1.5pp being slashed from global GDP growth in the first year.
You read that right: SocGen, the second largest French bank, not only has labor unions, but they have just announced a one-day national strike to protect their jobs. Which is odd, because it was our impression that in socialist France nobody is allowed to lose their job ever again. Perhaps that excludes bankers: the confusion surrounding the Fairness Doctrine, which may or may not tax millionaires at a 75% tax rate continues to grow.
The biggest highlight of the day is the launch of Q4 earnings season with Alcoa after the close. The question is by how much will the ES/SPY correlation have dragged individual stock prices higher from far lower cash flow implied valuations - we will get a glimpse this week, as well as get a sense of how Q1 is shaping up, this week but mostly next week as earnings reports start coming in earnest. There was the usual non-event newsflow out of Europe, which has no impact on risk levels, now driven solely by every twitch of Mario Draghi's face, and best summarized by this from SocGen: "In the wake of September's 3 point VAT increase in Spain, which saw a significant bringing forward of consumption to beat the tax hike, euro area activity in Q4 has been genuinely awful."
The main events of this week, monetary policy meetings at the BoE and the ECB on Thursday, are not expected to bring any meaningful changes. In both cases, banks are expected to keep rates on hold and to hold off on further unconventional policy measures. While significant economic slack still exists in the Euro area, and although the inflation picture has remained relatively benign, targeted non-standard policy measures are more likely than an interest rate cut. As financial conditions are already quite easy in the core countries, where the monetary transmission mechanism remains effective, the ECB’s first objective is to reverse the segmentation of the Euro area’s financial markets to ensure the pass-through of lower rates to the countries with the most need for further stimulus.
"The scaled-down deal passed in the Senate addressed the fiscal cliff but did nothing to address longer term fiscal health of the nation. This puts the US rating at risk for a downgrade. However, credit rating agencies may decide to wait and see what emerges from the subsequent talks. There is an implicit new cliff at the end of February related to the sequester and to the expected exhaustion of extraordinary measures related to the debt ceiling. This date is expected to be used by Republicans as leverage for spending cuts. President Obama has already signaled that a new round of spending cuts – those related to the sequester as well as entitlement spending – will have to be matched by additional revenue increases. Therefore entitlement and tax reform are likely to be at the center of discussions over the next two months."
And so after much pomp and posturing over the past 48 hours, much of which will likely reshape the layout of the GOP in both chambers, both the Senate and the House passed the first concurrent tax hike and permanent tax cuts in about two decades. The net result of this will be a roughly 1% drag on GDP, even as the US budget deficit increases relative to the CBO's old baseline, and the beneficial impact from the tax hikes offsets roughly two weeks of spending. In other words, while addressing the tax part of the equation, politicians delayed the spending part of the problem for exactly 60 days by punting on the expiration of the sequester, or the government spending cuts. They also delayed addressing the debt ceiling, perhaps the most integral part of the Fiscal Cliff, which has now been breached and which as of this moment means the US can't incur one additional dollar in additional debt. So looking forward it means the US now has about 4 separate cliffs: the debt ceiling cliff in February/March, the sequester cliff in March, the farm bill cliff in September and the expiration of jobless benefits on December.But that's all in the future, and it will all be a function of just how quickly the GOP rolls over to once again confirm that when it comes to the stock market, America has just one political party. The party of up at all costs, which in turn is manifested right now in the first futures print of the New Year, with both the S&P and the DJIA futures up nearly 2%, and with the E-Mini up some 50 points, or half a turn of S&P multiple expansion in two trading sessions: a nice rally to show just who Washington truly works for.
First it was Citi, then SocGen, now a third key investor has decided to pull their money from SAC - the once vaunted hedge fund which now everyone is now avoiding like the plague, and for which the only question now is "when" - when will Stevie close down shop, and will this happen before or after the paddywagons finally arrive at 72 Cummings Point road. The WSJ reports: "Titan Advisors LLC recently told clients that it had decided to withdraw its entire investment from SAC, said clients who received phone calls from Titan. "They've told us they still think SAC is a good firm but Titan doesn't need the headline risk, and we sure don't," said Tom Taneyhill, executive director of the Fire & Police Employees' Retirement System of the City of Baltimore, on Friday. Société Générale SA, which has client money in SAC through its Lyxor asset-management arm, also decided to pull its money from SAC, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month. At the time, an SAC spokesman declined to comment. Titan's departure is significant given SAC's long-standing relationship with one of Titan's founders. Titan co-founder George Fox began investing in SAC in the mid-90s, several years after Mr. Cohen started what became the firm in 1992."
By this point it has become clear to everyone that all fact-based news can be safely ignored, and all that matters is the ongoing Fiscal Cliff pantomime as has been the case for the past month. Sure enough, looking at the futures, it is clear that following yesterday's detailed disclosure, the market is convinced, that a deal is virtually assured. This is in stark contrast to 48 hours ago, when it thought the opposite. It will likely continue thinking this until Boehner has a TV press conference later today and bursts the latest bubble of bipolar enthusiasm which has now shifted to euphoric for the time being.
The Eurozone was once again engaged in burning the midnight oil, in yet another futile endeavor, this time setting the stage for a common bank supervisor in the face of the ECB, which is somehow supposed to "regulate" Europe's thousands of banks. That this was a total practical dud can be seen in the response of the EURUSD to the news. However, for those interested in the theoretical nuances, whose actual implementation has once again been kicked into the future, here is a quick and dirty primer from SocGen.
At the top of the agenda for today’s FOMC meeting is deciding what to do about the Maturity Extension Program (MEP). SocGen agrees with consensus (as we noted the day QE3 was announced means a ~$4tn Fed balance sheet is on its way) that the MEP (Twist) will be converted into outright QE. The size is more uncertain, but we see several reasons why the current pace of $45bn/month should be maintained (which combining with the $40bn MBS means the Fed’s balance sheet is expected to increase by $85bn/month from January onwards). There has been no “significant” improvement in the outlook for employment (recent data is likely to be played down by Bernanke). Scaling back monetary accommodation also seems at odds with the looming fiscal contraction which could dampen growth in early 2013, which SocGen suggests will lead to the FOMC’s economic forecasts being updated (and downgraded we suspect) as the 2013 GDP forecast of 2.5%-3.0% looks too high in the context of contractionary fiscal policy and is at risk of being revised down. As for the “Evans Rule,” we believe that it will be adopted eventually, but don’t expect an announcement for now.
In a session that has been largely quiet there was one notable macro update, and this was the German ZEW Economic Sentiment survey, which after months in negative territory, surprised to the upside in December, printing at 6.9, on expectations of a -11.5 number, and up from -15.7. This was the first positive print since May, and in stark contrast with the dramatic cut of German GDP prospects by the Bundesbank from last Friday, which saw 2013 GDP slashed by 75% from 1.6 to 0.4%. In fact, moments after the ZEW report, which is mostly driven by market-sentiment, in which regard a soaring DAX has been quite helpful, the German RWI Institute cut German 2012 and 2013 GDP forecasts from 0.8% to 0.7% and from 1% to 0.3%. In other words, any "confidence" will have to keep coming on the back of the market, and not the economy, which is set to slow down even further in the coming year. But for a market which will goalseek any and all data to suit the narrative (recall the huge miss in US Michigan consumer confidence which lead to a market rise), this datapoint will undoubtedly serve as merely another reinforecement that all is well, when nothing could be further from reality. Also, since we live in interesting "Baffle with BS" times, expect the far more important IFO index to diverge once again with its leading ZEW indicator (as it did in November) - after all everyone must be constantly confused and live headline to positive headline.
While trading during US hours is all about the Cliff On/Cliff Off debate, the rest of the world is simple: the overnight session begins (and largely ends) with whether or not China has done another reverse repo (if yes, then PBOC will not lower rates, and inject unsterilized billions into the market) and whether the Shanghai Composite is up or down. Last night, after jumping by 3% the session before, it was down 0.13% to 2029. Was this it for the great Chinese "bottom?" Japan may or may not figure in the equations, although with the 10 Year future just hitting a record overnight, it is amusing to see how the bond complex is indicating record deflation just in time for the market to anticipate a surge in inflation. Ah, the joys of frontrunning central planning's monetization of government bonds. And then we move on to Europe, which is a whole new level of basket case-ness...
Europe may be fixed for the next week or two (until someone once again figures out that by manipulating the market, the ECB is merely making it easier for peripheral governments to do nothing to fix their unprecedented intra-Eurozone imbalances, as has been the case all along with the only strategy Europe has deployed to date namely kicking the can), but that doesn't mean all event and newsflow ends. Here is what to expect out of the insolvent continent as it attempts to put a very volatile (and violent) 2012 to bed with just one more month. Of particular note: €123 billion in Euro coupon payments in the month of December, which serves as a timely reminder that in 2013 European banks better be ready to buy up the record gross and net issuance of their sovereigns with gusto, or else Europe may promptly become "unfixed" all over again.