There are grounds for optimism about Europe’s single currency area. Yet beneath the surface of favorable sentiment towards the euro zone, the seeds of the next financial crisis are being sown. If markets connected all these dots - a weak and fragile economic recovery, the failure to break the “doom loop” between banks and sovereigns and, most importantly, scant prospect of a more secure political and economic union - the glaring disconnect between asset prices and underlying fundamentals in the euro zone would be a source of much greater concern.
This week's US data onslaught begins today, with the ADP private payroll report first on deck (Exp. 230K, down from 281K), followed by the number of the day, Q2 GDP, which after Q1's abysmal -2.9%, is expected to increase 3%. Anything less and in the first half the US economy will have contracted, something the purists could claim is equivalent to a recession. The whisper numbers are to the downside since consumption and trade never caught up and the only variable is inventory as well as Obamacare, whose impact was $40 billion "contribution" in Q1 was entirely eliminated and instead led to a deduction, something we expect will be reversed into Q2. Following the backward looking GDP (which will be ignored by the sellside penguins if it is bad and praised if good) at 2:00 pm Yellen Capital LLC comes out with a correction on her call to short social networking stocks, as well as admit once again that the "data-driven" Fed really has no idea what it is doing and how it will tighten, but that tightening is imminent and another $10 billion taper to QE will take place ahead of a full phase out in October. Joking aside, the Fed is expected not to do much if anything, which may be just the right time for Yellen to inject an aggressively hawkish note considering her inflation "noise" refuses to go away.
With hours to go until Argentina's grace period runs out and default occurs, investors are less than frantically selling Argentine bonds and pesos. They are lower but do not appear in full panic mode as we presume investors cling to hope that Argentina folds and pays off the holdouts (though there has been no sign of that so far). ARG 2033 bonds are down 3 points to 81 and the black-market peso is modestly weaker at 13.0 (near its record lows). Argentine CDS tightened modestly (as BofA warns the facts surrounding Argentina’s bond payments continue to be unique and deciding if CDS are triggered could take longer than expected) but 1Y CDS are holding at 4600bps (equivalent) - a 52% probability of default. Paul singer continues to defend himself (and the holdouts) from claims they are "dangerous fundamentalists" hell-bent on making it impossible for foreign sovereigns to restructure their debts.
Following yesterday's disappointing results by Visa, which is the largest DJIA component accounting for 8% of the index and which dropped nearly 3%, while AMZN's 10% tumble has weighed heavily on NASDAQ futures, it has been up to the USDJPY to push US equity futures from dropping further, which it has done admirably so far with the tried and true levitation pump taking place just as Europe opened. One thing to keep in mind: yesterday the CME quietly hiked ES and NQ margins by 6% and 11% respectively. A modest warning shot across the bow of what may be coming down the line?
For a centrally-planned market that has long since lost the ability to discount the future, and certainly respond appropriately to geopolitical events, yesterday was a rough wake up call with a two punch stunner of not only the MH 17 crash pushing the Ukraine escalation into overdrive, but Israel's just as shocking land invasion of Gaza officially marking the start of a ground war, finally dragging global stocks out of their hypnotized slumber and pushing risk broadly lower across the globe, even if the now traditional USDJPY and AUDJPY ramp algos have woken up in the past few minutes and will be eager to pretend as if nothing ever happened.
The problem for the ECB, of course, is that Espirito Santo and Erste are not isolated incidents, any more than Laiki and Fortis and Anglo Irish and WestLB and BMPS and... should we go on? ...were isolated incidents. "...with apologies to Lewis Carroll, here’s the choice facing our modern-day Alice (Mario Draghi) – does (s)he sing a lullaby that keeps the Red King (investors) sleeping for a few more years, albeit at the cost of drinking a terrible potion that will turn her into a hideous giant... or does she let the Red King wake up, shattering the dream and risking the existence of everything, herself included, but preserving the story of her beautiful face and form?" If we were betting men (and we are), we’d wager on Draghi drinking the potion and keeping the dream alive, no matter how complicit it makes him in preserving a very ugly and very politically-driven status quo. But there’s a non-trivial chance that it’s just too much to swallow...
A look at key events and data in the week ahead.
Long-duration Treasuries continue to look attractive; a view that Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann has unwaveringly maintained for the past six months for a variety of diverse reasons. Of all of the various reasons, private pension demand is the most interesting and compelling (and the least understood). The bottom line is that PBGC rule changes will cause persistent and incremental demand over time that overwhelms net visible secondary market supply. Concerns about funding status will trump the private defined benefit plan manager’s fiduciary desire to ‘maximize return per unit of risk’. There are other factors, but the point is that Treasuries as a relative asset class looks attractive.
Felix Zulauf, James Montier and David Iben: Three legendary investors share their views on financial markets. Everything is pricey ("we will continue to swim in a sea of liquidity; but there might be other events and developments that may not be camouflaged by liquidity which could cause a change of investor expectations.") the European periphery is a bubble ("The Euro crisis is not over...the European economies are not going to change for the better for years to come despite all the cheating and breaking of laws"), Value investors need to venture to Russia ("when you look at today’s opportunity set, you’re left with a set of assets where nothing looks attractive from a valuation point of view") or buy gold mining stocks (" The down cycle could be much bigger than anybody believes if the market realizes that all the actions taken in recent years do not work.") Summing it all up, "there is no question that [sovereigns] lack the fundamental economic base to finally service their debts," trade accordingly.
Ever since 2012, when we first revealed that the biggest problem plaguing Europe's financial sector is the $2 trillion+ in bad debt on the books of European banks (not our numbers, the IMF's), it became clear that the only way Europe can avoid a complete financial meltdown coupled with currency disintegration, is if it can constantly keep rolling over said bad debt (obviously the only way to do that would be to create an epic debt bubble leading managers of other people's money to do idiotic things like buy Spanish debt at 2.75%). This is why not only the BOJ launched its mega QE in 2013, but why Draghi also kicked in with NIRP a month ago: the logic - do anything and everything to reflate the biggest credit bubble possible as otherwise European banks will have no choice but to face up to their trillions in bad loans.
In his recent note “Treacherous Market Conditions,” Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann attempted to outline the precarious position the FOMC has put itself in. The Fed’s depleted ammunition applies greater pressure on its attempts to ensure a strong recovery; yet, as Haselmann hinted, the Fed is in a race against time, because risks to financial stability aggregate with each passing day, while economic benefits approach zero. Despite differences as to the extent and degree of financial risks, FOMC members have (finally) become aware that they have arisen. Draghi seems to share concerns about bubble conditions... and now the BIS fears that a "persistently aggressive monetary policy risks exacerbating collateral damage."