While the main topic of conversation overnight was the Apple implosion after earnings (which was mercifully spared inbound calls from repo desk margin clerks who had all gone home by the time the stock hit $460), there was some macro data to muddle up the picture, which, like everything else in this baffle with BS new normal came in "good/bad cop" pairs. In early trading, all eyes were focused on Japan, whose trade and especially exports imploded when the country posted a record trade gap of 6.93 trillion yen ($78.27 billion) in 2012 and the seventh consecutive monthly drop in exports which showed that improved sentiment has yet to translate into hard economic data. Finance ministry data on Thursday showed that exports fell 5.8 percent in the year to December, more than economists' consensus forecast of a 4.2 percent drop. Trade with China was hit particularly hard following the ongoing island fiasco, which means that all the ongoing Yen destruction has largely been for nothing as organic growth markets simply shut off Japan. This ugly news was marginally offset by a tiny beat in the HSBC China manufacturing PMI which came slighly above consensus at 51.9 vs exp. 51.7, the highest print in 24 months, but as with everything else coming out of China one really shouldn't believe this or any other number in a country that will not allow even one corporate default to prevent the credit-driven illusion from popping.
Currency wars have captured the imagination of many. However, the modern history of the foreign exchange market demonstrates that is has always been an arena in which nation-states compete. Typically central banks want the currency's exchange rate to affirm not contradict monetary policy. The synchronized crisis and easier monetary policy makes it appear that nearly ever one wants a weak currency. Yet most officials are on low rungs of the intervention escalation ladder. Moreover, there is no sign of it spilling over to a trade war. Has any one else noticed that Japan's largest trading partner and regional rival China has been quiet, not joining the the chorus of criticism?
Germany and Japan have a long tradition of cooperating, at least when it comes to various iterations of world war, generically in the conventional sense (and where they tend to end up on the less than winning side). Which is why it may come as a surprise to some that earlier today German politician Michael Meister launched what is now the third shot across Japan's bow in what is rapidly escalating as the most dramatic case of global currency warfare between the world's net exporters (at least legacy net exporters: thanks to Japan's recent political snafus, it has now become a net importer as it is rapidly losing the Chinese market which accounts for some 20% of its exports) which started as long ago as 2010 when it was quite clear that currency warfare is what the insolvent world can expect, before it devolves into outright protectionism, and finally regular war as Kyle Bass explained recently. To wit: “What can Japan’s competitors do?” Meister said today in a telephone interview. “Either we’re all smart and do nothing, or we follow suit and create a spiral that hurts us all.”
Well, my fellow Slope-a-Dopes, your selfless Idiotic Savant servant, whom is securely chained to his desk, has spent a significant part of the long weekend, perusing nearly every finance blog on the world wide web for you. Therefore, I can reliably report to the SOH, that the overwhelming consensus out there in the financial blogosphere, which has now reached a nearly universal feverish pitch, is boldly & proudly heralding that a most encouraging new economic dawn is finally upon us. It seems, a pristine permanent plateau of prosperity has been patently perfected.
Biggest loser? China.
“Here we go again”
The newly elected Japanese Prime Minister, Shinz? Abe, has caused quite a stir. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, which scored a landslide victory in 2012’s election, he’s promised to restart the Japanese economy, whatever it takes. How will he do this? By “bold monetary policy”, what he means—and what he has said—is to end the independence of the Bank of Japan, and have the government dictate monetary policy directly. The perception is, the Bank of Japan will not only print yens and buy government bonds à la Quantitative Easing of old - it is also generally thought that Mr. Abe and the incoming Japanese government fully intend to target the yen against foreign currencies, like Switzerland has been doing with the euro. This perception is what has been driving the Nikkei 225 index higher, and driven the yen lower. But why was this decision triggered?
The question many of us had going into today was whether the no follow-through allowed rule would be implemented yet again by The Gold Cartel for the zillionth time in a row.
Look forward to hope being forced to surge even more to offset for this cut by nearly 50% ot the consensus Q4 GDP estimate of 1.5% prior to today. And while we wait for Bloomberg to compile today's massive downward revision to economic growth, this is how Q4 GDP tracking estimates looked like in the past 6 months before today's downward revision which will take the consensus line to 1% or under.
It was only a month ago when JPM's Michael Feroli humorously predicted that Q4 GDP would be boosted by 0.5% due iPhone 5 sales, a comment which even the most clueless economists saw right through, and which we commented on as follows: "don't laugh: yes, US GDP, not that of China where the iPhone is actually produced, but the US where the consumer merely incurs more record student loans to be able to afford it." Well, in a prime example of goal-seeking data to fit reality, here comes that other quite humorous "economist", Deutsche Bank's Joe LaVorgna (recall that Joe is sadly a loser when pitted against the groundhog), who has come up with a slightly different solution: namely that the iPhone led to a drop in Q4 GDP. Step aside Bush, now everything (both good and bad) is the iPhone's fault.
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."