It seems, as JPMorgan's CIO Michael Cembalest notes, that ahead of yet another EU Summit; everyone understands now why Europe matters (even the once-bloviating decoupling diehards). The summit is likely to focus on bank recapitalization, easier repayment timetables for Greece, bank deposit guarantees and an alleged “roadmap” for EU integration. The challenge, Cembalest confirms, is that Germany cannot afford a blank check given debt levels already over 80% of GDP. However, if policymakers don’t do something about growth in the Periphery (bailouts primarily designed to aid German and French banks don’t count), the North-South divide will continue to widen, putting pressure on the ECB and EU taxpayers. Sometimes there are no easy answers. Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal are contracting at a 2%-5% annualized pace, and unemployment in Spain and Greece is sky-rocketing (1st chart). These levels are notable from an historical perspective. As shown in the 2nd chart, 20%+ unemployment was the level at which National Socialists in Germany began to take seats away from liberal democratic parties during the 1930’s. If the jobs picture does not improve, other EU policy decisions may not matter much (as we noted six months ago)!
As the following image from Spiegel summarizes, three things will happen simultaneously when the unthinkable finally occurs: i) economic output plummets, ii) unemployment rate soars, and iii) consumer prices explode. Of course, this is nothing but merely deferred consequences for Europe partying for over a decade under an unsustainable regime that borrowed from the future (sound familiar?). And now the inevitable hangover. In other words: payback is a bitch.
Goldman recaps the past tumultuous week, and looks at events in the next 7 days, of which the key feature will be the next "latest and greatest" and most disappointing European summit on Thursday and Friday, where not even Greece is going any longer, and which not even the most resolute Europhiles expect to resolve anything: "The key event of next week is the EU summit. The latest European Economics Analyst details our expectations. In brief we expect to see finalization of the much-anticipated growth compact, involving financing for infrastructure investment and a restatement of the agenda for structural reform. We also expect announcement of a plan for ‘banking union’ in the Euro area, even if, owing to unresolved political differences, details are likely to remain sketchy on key issues—notably on how the implicit cost of providing fiscal backing for the Euro area banking system will be shared across countries."
For how much longer can they try to hide it?
No one believes in their positions (other than people that hold hard assets like precious metals outside of the banking system and will not sell until the system is reset), rather investors and traders are forced to be involved in positions as a function of their mandates. Their decisions are no longer driven by economic or business prospects but rather by some view on what the Central Planners of the world will do next. The markets seem calm but there is a storm brewing beneath them and the pressure will be released one way or the other. We are now in the crucial six week period between Fed meetings. The reason I think this is such an important time is because not only will investors come to grips with the reality on the ground (recession) but it is also earnings season. As I pointed out during the last earnings period, stocks that had even a whiff of weakness in their numbers or outlook were decimated. Even names that had good results did not break out. This sent a clear signal that too much goodness is priced into many shares out there.
We have no doubt that everyone is tired of bad news, but we are compelled to review the facts: Europe is currently experiencing severe bank runs, budgets in virtually every western country on the planet are out of control, the banking system is running excessive leverage and risk, the costs of servicing the ever-increasing amounts of government debt are rising rapidly, and the economies of Europe, Asia and the United States are slowing down or are in full contraction. There's no sugar coating it and we have to stop listening to politicians and central planners who continue to downplay, obfuscate and flat out lie about the current economic reality. Stop listening to them.
Beginning in 2011 the Federal Reserve begin releasing its economic forecast for the present year and two years forward covering GDP, Unemployment, and Inflation. The question is after 18 months of forecasting - just how good has the Fed at forecasting these economic variables? I have compiled the data from each of the releases for each category and compared it to the real figures and used a current trend analysis for future estimates.... The Fed has been slowly guiding economic forecasts lower since 2011. The reality is that 2.6% economic growth is not a boon of economic prosperity, corporate profitability, increasing incomes or a secular bull market. It is also not the "death of America" or the return to the stone age. What is important to understand, as investors, is the impact on investment portfolios, expectated real rates of returns and the realization that higher levels of market volatility with more frequent "booms and busts" are here to stay.
The memo says: We will make your life miserable.
With West Texas Intermediate crude oil trading with an $80 handle, near two year lows, while stocks remain within a few percent of their four-year highs, one has to question just what it is that stocks believe about our bright new future of growth and demand that the all-important energy markets do not. Between Europe's recession, last night's dismal China PMI, and a significantly trending rise in US unemployment claims, it seems more likely that the global demand picture painted by the oil market is a better reflection of reality than the earnings/multiple picture painted by the nominal price of US equities. We know that bad is good when it comes to the front-running of Bernanke's print button but wouldn't bad being good raise the USD-nominal price of oil also?
The middle class has a gut feeling they are being screwed by somebody, they just can’t figure out who to blame. The ultra-wealthy elite keep up an endless cacophony of propaganda and misinformation designed to confuse an increasingly uneducated and willfully ignorant public while blurring the facts for those educated few capable of understanding the truth. They have been able to keep the masses dumbed down through government run education; distracted by sports, reality TV, Facebook, internet porn, and igadgets; lured by mass media messages of materialism; and shackled with the chains of debt used to acquire the goods sold by mega-corporations. We’ve become a society oppressed by a small faction of ultra-wealthy masters served by millions of impoverished, uneducated, sedated slaves. But the slaves are getting restless and angry. The illegally generated wealth disparity chasm is growing so large that even the ideologue talking head representatives of the elite are having difficulty spinning it. Even uneducated rubes understand when they are getting pissed on.
The revaluation that is underway now is beyond the simple scope of corporate earnings valuations, going to the very core of the system itself. Just like the equity pricing regime (and investor expectations for equity assets) needs to adjust to the twelve-year-old bear market reality, pricing within the global banking system as a whole needs to adjust to the reality that the artificial growth of the economic textbook is not replicable. The economic truth of 2012 is that much of the science of economics, and the foundation that gives to finance and financial pricing, was a temporal anomaly befitting only those specific conditions of that bygone era. In other words, the entire financial world needs to reset itself outside the paradigm of pre-2008. The secular bear market in US equities is one strand of this changing landscape, perhaps the first stirring of the collapse of the activist central bank experiment. In the end, the potential selling pressure of the dollar shortage is irresistible, no matter how “cheap” stock prices are to earnings, but none of it may matter in the grander scheme of a dramatic reset to the global system. The inability of that global system to escape this critical state, to simply move beyond crisis and function “normally” again, demonstrates conclusively, in my opinion, the foundational transformation that is still taking place well beyond the stock bear. Everything is a locked feedback loop of negative pressures in this age, no matter how much we want to see “value” where and how it used to exist.
Paradigm shifts are rarely orderly, but there are warning signs.
Today's FOMC circus concludes with Ben Bernanke saying a few generic words from prepared remarks, then answering Steve Liesman's and a few other journalists' questions, which all will boil down to the following: if the stock market drops by anything more than 1%, the stock market should rise immediately because will be there to prop it up, unemployment, inflation and the general economy be damned.
In April, the Fed saw 2012 GDP between 2.4-2.9% and unemployment of 7.8%-8/0%. The just released updated forecasts table has these two critical for the election campaign data points at 1.9%-2.4%, or a major drop since April, for GDP and unemployment declining to 8.0%-8.2%. One thing is certain: whatever GDP and unemployment are at the end of 2012, they will not be whatever the perpetially inaccurate Fed forecasts.
Goldman, which as recently as Monday night was pushing what clients it has left into believing the Fed may launch something as gargantuan as a $50-75 billion Flow-based QE program, has already come out with its take of today's action. For informative purposes, here it is.