So much for the US trade renaissance. After posting a better than expected October trade deficit of ($42.1) billion, November saw the net importer that is the US revert to its old ways, with a massive deficit of some $48.7 billion - the worst number since April, far more than the $41.3 billion in expectations, which makes it the biggest miss to expectations since June 2010, driven by a $1.8 billion increase in exports to $182.6 billion, and a surge in imports which rose from $222.9 billion to $231.3 billion. Specifically "The October to November increase in imports of goods reflected increases in consumer goods ($4.6 billion); automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($1.5 billion); industrial supplies and materials ($1.3 billion); foods, feeds, and beverages ($0.6 billion); capital goods ($0.4 billion); and other goods ($0.1 billion)." And with this stark reminder that the US has to import the bulk of its products, something which a weak USD does nothing to help, expect a bevy of lower Q4 GDP revisions, as this number may push Q4 GDP in the sub-1% category.
After out sized moves in the foreign exchange market yesterday, a consolidative tone has emerged with a few exceptions. The big winner yesterday was the euro and with a narrow range of about a third of a cent today, the market seems as if it is catching its breath before assaulting important resistance near $1.33, which capped it in mid-December and at the very start of the new year. Sterling recovered from a test on $1.60 at mid-week, but lagged behind the euro. The pullback today is also more pronounced after the disappointing industrial output figures. Industrial production rose 0.3%, half the recovery the consensus expected after the 0.9% decline in October. The key disappointment was in manufacturing, which contracted 0.3% compared with consensus expectations for a 0.5% gain, following the 1.4% slide in October. The increases concerns that the UK economy slipped back into contraction following expansion in Q3. Support is now seen near $1.6080.
Mercantilist trade policies have returned in a big, big way. States around the world including in the West, and especially America, have massively adopted corporatist domestic policies, even while spouting the rhetoric of free trade and economic liberalism publicly. A key difference between a free market economy, and a corporatist command economy is the misallocation of capital by the central planning process. While mercantile economies can be hugely productive, the historic tendency in the long run has been toward the command economies — which allocate capital based on the preferences of the central planner. This means that the competition is now over who can run the most successful corporatist-mercantilist system. This is the worst of both worlds for America. All of the disadvantages of mercantilism — the rent-seeking corporate-industrial complex, the misallocation of capital through central planning, the fragility of a centralised system — without the advantage of a strong domestic productive base.
It is hard to find a policymaker who hasn’t actively tried to talk his currency down. The few who don’t talk, act as if they were intent on driving their currency lower. Citi's Steven Englander argues below that the ‘currency wars’ impact is collective monetary/liquidity easing. Collective easing is not neutral for currencies, the USD and JPY tend to fall when risk appetite grows while other currencies appreciate. Moreover, despite the rhetoric on intervention, we think that direct or indirect intervention is credible only in countries where domestic asset prices are undervalued and CPI/asset price inflation are not issues. In other countries, intervention can boost domestic asset prices and borrowing and create more medium-term economic and asset price risk than conventional currency overvaluation would. So the MoF/BoJ may be credible in their intervention, but countries whose economies and asset markets are performing more favorably have much more to lose from losing control of asset markets. So JPY and, eventually CHF, are likely to fall, but if the RBA or BoC were to engage in active intervention they may find themselves quickly facing unfavorable domestic asset market dynamics.
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."
There are seven items that will be on the radar screen of global investors in the week ahead. 1. There is confusion over Fed policy. Despite the leadership (Bernanke, Yellen and Dudley) demonstrating their unwavering commitment to use heterodox monetary policy in an attempt to promote a stronger economy in the face of household de-leveraging and fiscal consolidation, many have read the FOMC minutes to imply an early end to the $85 bln a month in long-term asset (MBS and Treasuries). That December meeting was historic not because it marked the beginning of the end of QE, but the exact opposite, the nearly doubling monthly purchases and the adoption of macro-economic guidance (6.5% unemployment and 2.5% inflation) before rates are lifted.
Why must the debt grow every year? To keep the debt-servitude paradigm going. To increase economic activity in a country operating in this type of system, you need to increase the level of credit and thus debt grows in tandem. This is self serving: if debt is the “fuel” to increase economic activity, interest payments will become larger and larger, until eventually it reaches a point where debt can no longer be increased. This point is known as the Minsky moment–when there is no net benefit to extra debt. So there we have it, in our “creditopia” world, if debt does not expand, the economy cannot grow and jobs cannot be created. In order to increase debt, foreigners have to continually finance the ever growing debt by purchasing government bonds and selling consumer products to the US. In turn, the US must increase the level of consumption, decrease savings, and eliminate the threat of any nation posing a risk to the US dollar hegemony. Is this a symbiotic or a parasitic relationship? Is is certainly a relationship that cannot grow forever. It poses an economic risk for ALL nations due to the interconnectedness of the global economy.
The fiscal cliff deal appears to be a done deal and markets have reacted accordingly (although President Obama is apparently awaiting a photo-op later today to sign it). However, the deal leaves a large number of loose ends that ensure high drama for the next two months on the US fiscal front. The immediate impact of all the loose ends and deadlines may be smaller than the Dec 31 fiscal cliff, but all of these loose ends are important and could lead to short-term price action. Several of them are very important for the long run USD outlook as well.
On May 10, 2000 a GATA delegation consisting of Reg Howe, Frank Veneroso, Chris Powell and Bill Murphy met with Denny Hastert, The Speaker of the House in the United States Congress; Spencer Bachus, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy; and Dr. John Silvia, the Chief Economist of the Senate Banking Committee. We presented each of them our 100 page "Gold Derivative Banking Crisis" document and personally delivered it to the staff of every House and Senate Banking Committee member.
What a year 2012 has been! The mainstream media continues to tell us what a “great job” the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve are doing of managing the economy, but meanwhile things just continue to get even worse for the poor and the middle class. Right now we are living in a bubble of debt-fueled false prosperity that allows us to continue to consume far more wealth than we produce, but when that bubble bursts we are going to experience the most painful economic “adjustment” that America has ever gone through. We need to be able to explain to our fellow Americans what is coming, why it is coming and what needs to be done. Hopefully the crazy economic numbers that we have included in this article will be shocking enough to wake some people up.
An abysmal indicator for Europe
Turkey’s trade balance may turn on whether President Barack Obama vetoes more stringent sanctions against Iran after the U.S. Senate passed a measure targeting loopholes in gold exports to the Islamic Republic. Turkey’s gold trade with neighbouring Iran has helped shrink its trade deficit over the past year according to Bloomberg. Incredibly, precious metals accounted for about half of the almost $21 billion decline. That’s calmed investor concern over its current-account gap, and helped persuade Fitch Ratings to give Turkey its first investment-grade rating since 1994. The U.S. Senate voted 94-0 on Nov. 30 to approve new sanctions against Iran, closing gaps from previous measures, including trade in precious metals. Obama, who opposes the move on the grounds it may undercut existing efforts to rein in the nation’s nuclear ambitions, signed an executive order in July restricting gold payments to Iranian state institutions. Turkey exported $11.9 billion of gold in the first 10 months of the year, according to the Ankara-based statistics agency’s website. A very large 85% of the shipments went to Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Iran is buying the gold with payments Turkey makes for natural gas it purchases in liras, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told a parliamentary committee in Ankara on Nov. 23.
There is a one way conveyor belt taking businesses, jobs and money out of this country.
So just what is below "stall-speed" growth in the New Normal? And with 48 out of 49 economists now predicting what we said would happen back in September, namely that the Fed will go all in with QEternity+1 and take its balance sheet to $4 trillion (and then $5 trillion in 2014) yet firmly holding their 2013 year end GDP forecast at 2.0%, lower than Q3 2011's 2.7%, does it mean that even $1 trillion in additional flow and stock from the Fed can barely keep the economy above the Old Normal stall speed definition? What exactly would happen if the Fed were to not monetize hundreds of billions in debt? We shiver to even think.
The US Census Bureau reported that in October, the total deficit with China hit a record $29.5 billion. What did America need to export so much that it is willing to impair its GDP (net imports are a GDP drain) and boost the GDP of China? "Primarily computers and toys, games, and sporting goods." In other words, gizmos and iPhones. And no, China did not buy US bonds - recall that China has boycotted US Treasurys for precisely one year - so the age old equality that we export China worthless paper in exchange for just as worthless gizmos, yet somehow everyone benefits, is no longer valid. What the US does, however, export to China, is inflation, courtesy of the USDCNY peg, and is the reason why the PBOC is still terrified, and certainly will be after Bernanke announces QE4EVA (RIP QEternity) tomorrow, to ease more as the last thing it can afford is to create its own inflation in addition to importing America's.