"We’re in a world where there are very few unambiguously cheap assets...If you ask me to give you the one big bargain out there, I’m not sure there is one." But frustrating as the situation can be for investors hoping for better returns, the bigger question for the global economy is what happens next. How long will this low-return environment last? And what risks are being created that might be realized only if and when the Everything Boom ends?
This week's "Things To Ponder" is focused on things that, in my opinion, far too many individuals are ignoring. Bob Farrell once wrote that "when all experts and forecasts agree; something else is bound to happen." Today, that is the case as much as it ever was. Despite rising geopolitical risks, weak economic data, deteriorating fundamentals and softer internals - the overwhelming belief is "equities are the only game in town." Of course, we have seen this mentality many times in past history whether it was 1929, 1987, 2000 or 2007. While every market peak was different, there were all the same.
Even if you don't have a Nobel Prize, it should be glaringly apparent to anyone with half a brain - the financial markets have been soaring while the overall economy has been stagnating. Despite assurances from the mainstream media and the Federal Reserve that everything is just fine, many Americans are beginning to realize that we have seen this movie before. We saw it during the dotcom bubble, and we saw it during the lead up to the horrible financial crisis of 2008. So precisely when will the bubble burst this time? Nobody knows for sure, but without a doubt this irrational financial bubble will burst at some point. Remember, a bubble is always the biggest right before it bursts, and the following are 15 signs that we are near the peak of an absolutely massive stock market bubble...
The correlation between stock prices and margin debt continues to rise (to new records of exuberant "Fed's got our backs" hope) as NYSE member margin balances surge to new record highs. Relative to the NYSE Composite, this is the most "leveraged' investors have been since the absolute peak in Feb 2000. What is more worrisome, or perhaps not, is the ongoing collapse in investor net worth - defined as total free credit in margin accounts less total margin debt - which has hit what appears to be all-time lows (i.e. there's less left than ever before) which as we noted previously raised a "red flag" with Deutsche Bank. Relative to the 'economy' margin debt has only been higher at the very peak in 2000 and 2007 and was never sustained at this level for more than 2 months. Sounds like a perfect time to BTFATH...
This morning US futures are an unfamiliar shade of green, as the market is poised for its first red open in recent memory (then again the traditional EURJPY pre-open ramp is still to come). One of the reasons blamed for the lack of generic monetary euphoria is that China looked likely to buck the trend for more monetary policy support. New Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech published in full late on Monday that adding extra stimulus would be more difficult since printing new money would cause inflation. "His comments are different from what people were expecting. This is a shift from what he said earlier this year about bottom-line growth," said Hong Hao, chief strategist at Bank of Communications International. Asian shares struggled as a result slipping about 0.2 percent, though Japan's Nikkei stock average bounced off its lows and managed a 0.2 percent gain. However, in a world in which the monetary tsunami torch has to be passed every few months, this will hardly be seen as supportive of the "bad news is good news" paradigm we have seen for the past 5 years.
"Inherent in the nature of government itself is the fact that it is incapable of effectively providing services," Biderman blasts, noting that "by 'effective', he means dollars and hours." The TrimTabs CEO is breathless in his beration of "the biggest of the big lies," that continues to be believed by most of America ("given their re-election of Barack Obama" he adds), that government can effectively provide services. The reality is "governments are not capable of getting anything done cost-effectively," and Biderman, focused on Obamacare as a recent example, concludes "its all FUBAR."
With TrimTabs seeing real wage and salary growth at a mere 0.7% year-over-year in August, some of the more 'robust' expectations for tomorrow's non-farm payroll report appear a little exuberant. However, Goldman's 200k estimate (based on 24 labor market indicators) suggests there will be enough to provide cover (aside from the cornering via sentiment, deficits, technicals, and international resentment) for a Fed "Taper." SocGen's Brian Jones is top-dog at a stunning 220k expectations (2-sigma above the 180k median expectation for 'probably the most important data point in the world'). At the other end of the scale of 95 estimates summarized below by Bloomberg, is TrimTabs' Madeline Schnapp who sees a 5-sigma miss at a mere 79k jobs added. Goldman expects the unemployment rate to hold steady at 7.4%.
The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is skyrocketing, the Dow has been down for 5 days in a row and troubling economic news is pouring in from all over the planet. The much anticipated "financial correction" is rapidly approaching, and investors are starting to race for the exits. We have not seen so many financial trouble signs all come together at one time like this since just prior to the last major financial crisis. It is almost as if a "perfect storm" is brewing, and a lot of the "smart money" has already gotten out of stocks and bonds. Of course a lot of people believe that we will never see another major financial crisis like we experienced in 2008 ever again. A lot of people think that this type of "doom and gloom" talk is foolish. It is those kinds of people that did not see the last financial crash coming and that are choosing not to prepare for the next one even though the warning signs are exceedingly clear. The following are 18 signs that global financial markets are heading for a vicious circle...
It is well-known that as part of the S&P500's ascent to new records, investor margin debt has also surged to all time highs, surpassing for the past three months previous records set during both prior, the dot com and the housing, stock market bubbles. And as more attention has shifted to the topic of speculator leverage once more, inquiries into the correlation between bets upon bets and stock performance are popping up once more, in this case in a study by Deutsche Bank titled "Red Flag! - The curious case of NYSE margin debt." Of particular note here is a historical comparison of margin-debt warnings that have recurred throughout history but especially just before major stock bubble crashes, such as in the period 1999/2000, 2007/2008 and of course today, which have time and again been ignored. Here is what was said then, what is being said now, and what is ignored always.
While Tepper and his breathless team-mates celebrate a 'sustainable' euphoria-inducing drop in the deficit that heralds the new America, TrimTabs CEO Charles Biderman upsets the bull's apple-cart by explaining the three one-off items that created this smaller deficit and implicitly show its unsustainability. In his usual fact-based exclamations, he reminds us "do not confuse higher tax payments for liftoff." The bullish twist, he notes reported in the popular press, is "deficit reduction must mean we are having an economic liftoff," and has become an overnight "feel-good phenomenon for those long stocks and needing news to justify their positions." Sustainable? "If only it were true...", as he enthralls, "this is a tale of three one-off items masking a slow-growth economy." Here are the facts...
Have you ever done something really stupid, just because you were in love? Something you look back on and cringe, thinking “why on earth did I do that?” Of course. Who hasn’t? In the world of economics and finance, they call this ‘sentiment’. Consumer confidence, business confidence, investor confidence… these are basically emotional readings. Screw the numbers. To hell with the truth. It’s all about how people feel. It seems crazy, but it’s true. Right now, for example, ‘sentiment’ is telling us that the euro crisis is over. It’s telling us that the debt ceiling is pretty much resolved. And, after taking five years to reach pre-crash levels, it’s telling us that the stock market is once again safe for the average investor. Yet the numbers tell a completely different story. Something just doesn’t add up. Investors are throwing caution to the wind right now... ignoring the basic fundamentals and focusing exclusively on euphoric sentiment. (Or central bank policy). We can personally attest, and any boxer will tell you, that it’s the punch that you don’t see coming which knocks you out.
Biderman's back and belligerent as ever. The TrimTabs CEO is perplexed at Krugman's (empirically) flawed assumptions that the US government can manage the US economy (better than a free market), destroys Krugman's cornerstone argument that the deficit is reducing to sustainable levels (thanks only to a big jump in taxes and not growth), and suggest he win an award for perpetuating "The Big Lie" that deficits don't matter because 'we owe it to ourselves'. The bottom line is thanks to simple supply and demand, the Fed is blowing a huge bubble in stocks "that will explode," since the typical growth in incomes is not there. Biderman wholeheartedly agrees with David Stockman and goes on to warn of the "Ides of April" as, while many proclaim the calendar as indicative of it being a great month; in bull runs, he notes, taxpayers are 'trained' to sell at the last moment and with tax-day arriving soon, he expects this week to remain bid (on quarterly flows) and next week to be trouble (as taxes weigh).
There are numerous myths flying around the screens we all remain glued to - from inflows suddenly becoming correlated with equity market performance to a 'real recovery' in housing. TrimTabs CEO Charles Biderman paid a brief but fact-full visit to CNBC's Rick Santelli and the two somewhat skeptical gentlemen expounded on four of the critical fallacies supporting hope in our markets currently. First, the last time inflows were this big we saw dramatic reversals in stocks; and coincidentally, secondly, we also saw companies buying back less stock (in fact we saw float rising at those periods) and sure enough that is what Biderman notes is happening in January too. Third, current 'economic' euphoria appears due to the drag forward of incomes into Q4 2012 due to tax concerns (which is being spent/saved now) - however that means Q1 2013 and on will be negatively impacted (even if we see a decent print in Q4 GDP) as that pull-forward reverts; and finally, fourth, interest rates are rising and simultaneously refinances have plunged - hurting the 'housing recovery' meme which has been the driver of a lot of euphoria (be careful what you wish for). It appears facts, once again, get in the way of a good story.
Wondering where the somewhat out-of-character economic improvements of Q4 2012 data came from - given Sandy and the fiscal cliff uncertainty? Wonder no longer. Charles Biderman, CEO of TrimTabs, has done the data-mining and explains, quite succinctly in this clarifying clip, just what happened in Q4 2012. To wit, after-tax income saw a somewhat impressive (but "don't get too excited" he adds) post-election spike as individuals (and small businesses) front-ran expectations of tax-rises in 2013 by pulling forward income and bonuses etc. into 2012. Q4 income rose by over 6% YoY, which , he believes means Q1 2013 income will be correspondingly lower. Following an epic rant/exposition of the higher taxes US citizens will be paying, Biderman batters GDP (and the government's infinite idiocy) instead focusing on the real recession of lower after-tax take-home-pay and expects Q1 to see the US plunge with the "US economy starting out the new year on its butt!" Then, as a bonus, he destroys the nonsense myth that the US housing recovery is leading us forward.
Presenting Dave Collum's now ubiquitous and all-encompassing annual review of markets and much, much more. From Baptists, Bankers, and Bootleggers to Capitalism, Corporate Debt, Government Corruption, and the Constitution, Dave provides a one-stop-shop summary of everything relevant this year (and how it will affect next year and beyond).