Back in late 2006 and early 2007 a few (soon to be very rich) people were warning anyone who cared to listen, about what cracks in the subprime facade meant for the housing sector and the credit bubble in general. They were largely ignored as none other than the Fed chairman promised that all is fine (see here). A few months later New Century collapsed and the rest is history: tens of trillions later we are still picking up the pieces and housing continues to collapse. Yet one bubble which the Federal Government managed to blow in the meantime to staggering proportions in virtually no time, for no other reason than to give the impression of consumer releveraging, was the student debt bubble, which at last check just surpassed $1 trillion, and is growing at $40-50 billion each month. However, just like subprime, the first cracks have now appeared. In a report set to convince borrowers that Student Loan ABS are still safe - of course they are - they are backed by all taxpayers after all in the form of the Family Federal Education Program - Fitch discloses something rather troubling, namely that of the $1 trillion + in student debt outstanding, "as many as 27% of all student loan borrowers are more than 30 days past due." In other words at least $270 billion in student loans are no longer current (extrapolating the delinquency rate into the total loans outstanding). That this is happening with interest rates at record lows is quite stunning and a loud wake up call that it is not rates that determine affordability and sustainability: it is general economic conditions, deplorable as they may be, which have made the popping of the student loan bubble inevitable. It also means that if the rise in interest rate continues, then the student loan bubble will pop that much faster, and bring another $1 trillion in unintended consequences on the shoulders of the US taxpayer who once again will be left footing the bill.
There is a good reason why we need not encourage Arianna Huffington to believe she is an important thinker of our time. I believe ridicule is a good way to inform her of that.
In the last few months we have presented various analyses, both ours and those of Goldman and even Jon Hilsenrath, on why one of the core economic empirical relationships: Okun's law, is now broken. Subsequently we presented another parallel line of inquiry - namely that in order to preserve the illusion of a recovery, the Obama administration (with help from the Fed) has engaged in a quality-for-quantity job transfer, where America is creating increasingly more jobs of lower quality (the bulk of which are part-time), which in turn is leading to less proportional personal income tax revenues, and thus to a secular shift in an indicator which is even more important for US economic growth than simply the number of jobs "gained" each month - labor productivity. Today, JPM's Michael Feroli ties these two perspectives together in an analysis that has extremely damning implications for the US, and global, economic growth prospects. In a nutshell, Feroli finds that "Productivity, which used to be procyclical, has now turned countercyclical" which in turn means that "if labor is no longer a quasi-fixed factor of production this may eliminate one type of non-convexity in production, thereby reducing the likelihood that the economy has multiple equilibria and is subject to self-fulfilling prophecies" or said somewhat simpler: "the conditions for self-fulfilling prophesies in the macroeconomy may no longer exist." Still confused: central planning, and the Obama vote grab has killed the "virtuous cycle"... Which in turn means that everything America is trying to accomplish is now a lost cause, as every incremental dollar spent, whether by fiscal and monetary policy, is pursuing an outcome that is now theoretically and practically impossible to achieve!
I firmly believe we will see Europe start to crumble during the May-June window of time. We have a confluence of political (French, Greece, Irish elections), fundamental, seasonal, technical, and monetary factors (Operation Twist 2 ends in June) occurring in that time period make the possibility of a banking Crisis in Europe higher than at any other point in the last three years.
In an interview with Louis James, the inimitable Doug Casey throws cold water on those celebrating the economic recovery. "Get out your mower; it's time to cut down some green shoots again, and debunk a bit of the so-called recovery."
The Fed's new price rule raises more questions than it answers. The real question is whether 'the rule' is a beard for the Fed's coming plan to ignore it and work on its unemployment 'mandate?' Can the expression of a rule, even one that is poorly articulated, cause expectations to cluster around it? And is that where the Fed is going...
All you need to read and some more.
Yesterday we discussed extensively how the narrative of US decoupling, which has so far trumped everything else, is finally fading, is coming to an abrupt end, and with no other "plotline" to take its place, as China, Europe and corporate profits are all in the dumps, the only option is for more easy money to come soon. However, with crude sticky this will be a problem in an election year. Today, this sentiment has become even more acute as new Greek 2023 bonds have for the first time trade over 20%, with weakness spreading to all the other PIIGS, and talk of yet another LTRO already picking up pace. The question of what if any assets European banks is luckily ignored for now. So as futures turned red once more, here is Bank of America summarizing the bearish market sentiment this morning.
European cash equity markets were seen on a slight upward trend in the early hours of the session amid some rumours that the Chinese PBOC were considering a cut to their RRR. However, this failed to materialise and markets have now retreated into negative territory with flows seen moving into fixed income securities. This follows some market talk of selling in Greek PSI bonds due to the absence of CDSs. This sparked some renewed concern regarding the emergence of Greece from their recovery. Elsewhere, we saw the publication of the BoE’s financial stability review recommending that UK banks raise external capital as soon as possible. This saw risk-averse flows into the gilt, with futures now trading up around 40 ticks.
There are relatively few natural buyers of Spanish long dated bonds here. Fast money is likely caught long, and it will take a potentially reluctant ECB and some already overly exposed Spanish institutions to step up and stop the slide. It may happen, but many of the policies that “bailed out” Greece created very bad precedents for bondholders, and some of those are coming home to roost, as is the understanding that LTRO ensures that banks can access liquidity, but does nothing to fix any problem at the sovereign level.
We have covered the topic of BLS seasonal adjustment to death and beyond, as well as the endless expansion of those dropping out like flies from the labor pool (did those not in the US labor force, one way or another, whether due to mistracking, statistical aberrations, or outright data manipulation, increase by 1.2 million in January? It did? Next question... or does the government now desperately need an apologist for its own upwardly biased data 'mismanagement'?). Yet some of the formerly relevant elements at the less than cutting edge of asset management-cum-blogging decided to call out Art Cashin for daring to point out just this glaringly obvious seasonal adjustment issue. Of course, Art does not need us rushing to his defense. He can do a good enough job on his own.
The global economy remains on shaky ground. China’s manufacturing activity contracted for its 5th straight month, the US recovery is still very early to call, and the euro zone debt crisis may not be finished. Eurozone PMI data is due later today which will show how the economy is doing after Greece averted default earlier this month. Thomson Reuters GFMS have said that gold at $2,000/oz is possible - possibly in late 2012 or early 2013. Thomson Reuters GFMS Global Head of metals analytics, Philip Klapwijk, featured on Insider this morning and advised investors to "buy this gold dip”. Gold should be bought on this correction especially if we go lower still as we may need a shake-out of "less-committed investors." Klapwijk suggested that a brief dip below $1,600 is on the cards but the global macro environment still favours investment, notably zero-to-negative real interest rates and he would not rule out further easing by either the ECB or the Fed before year end.
Remember Europe's so-called success story - Ireland? Time to scratch it off the list, as the "best performing" PIIG, and "peripheral reform" wunderkind, just reminded everyone that the only true success story in Europe is that other I country - Iceland, after its fourth quarter GDP unexpectedly dropped 0.2%, well below consensus estimates of a 1.0% GDP boost. Odd - recall that back in October, following the announcement that Greece would be allowed to extract a bondholder haircut, initially at 50% and ultimately at 78.5%, we said that "this means that Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy will promptly commence sabotaging their economies (just like Greece) simply to get the same debt Blue Light special as Greece." Looks like Ireland is well on its way to doing just that, and the GDP slide is actually not all that surprising. Next: prepare for more "surprising" GDP misses from Portugal, Spain and, of course, Italy.
European cash equity markets are making heavy losses as we head into the midpoint of the European session. Markets got off to a bad start as participants reacted to overnight Chinese HSBC manufacturing PMI recording a steeper contraction than the previous month. The manufacturing outlook has gotten even worse as the session has progressed, with France, Germany and the Eurozone as a collective recording contractions in their respective manufacturing PMI numbers for March. As such, commodity linked currencies are trading lower with AUD/USD down around 85 pips. WTI and Brent crude futures are moving in tandem with other markets as they also record losses going into the US open. In other news, there were reports that the ECB were looking to pull out their covered bond asset purchase program as less than a quarter of the fund has been used so far. A Bundesbank spokesman commented that it will not pressure the ECB into withdrawing the covered bond purchase program as it is the central bank’s decision to make. Looking ahead in the session, the market awaits the weekly US jobs data due at 1230GMT.
Futures continue exhibiting a very surprising and ever brighter shade of ungreen as the morning session progresses, starting with the 5th consecutive contractionary Chinese PMI data, going through disappointing European Manufacturing and Services PMIs which came below expectations (47.7 vs Est. 49.5 for Mfg; 48.7 vs Est. 49.2 for Services), with an emphasis on French and German PMIs, both of which were bad (German Mfg PMI 48.1, Est 51, prior 50.2; Services PMI 51.8, Est. 53.1, Prior 52.8), and concluding with UK sales which printed at -0.8% on expectations of -0.5%. And just like that Europe is "unfixed", prompting economists such as IHS' Howard Archer to speculate that following "worrying and disappointing" Euro PMI data, the ECB may cut rates to 0.75%, as Europe is finding it hard to return to growth after the Q4 contraction. And with that the beneficial impact of the €1 trillion LTROs is now gone, as Spain spread over Bunds has just risen to the widest in over 5 weeks, and the beneficial market inflection point passes - prepare for LTRO 3 demands any minute now.