Further confirmation of gold’s continuing but gradual renaissance as a safe haven asset was given by the IMF yesterday who warned that a “growing shortage of safe assets” poses a threat to “global financial stability.” The IMF identified $74.4 trillion of potentially safe assets today, including gold, investment grade government and corporate debt, and covered bonds. Sovereign debt crises are reducing the number of governments that investors trust to issue "risk-free" bonds just as new financial regulations are increasing demand for safe securities from banks. Importantly, the IMF’s latest Global Financial Stability Report’s introduction finds that "In the future there will be rising demand for safe assets, but fewer of them will be available, increasing the price for safety in global markets.” “Both the lack of political will to reshape fiscal policies at times of rising concern over debt sustainability and an overly rapid reduction of fiscal deficits limit governments’ capacity to produce assets with low credit risk.” The IMF has warned regarding illiquidity in “safe haven” markets. Gold remains one of the most liquid markets in the world and the illiquidity in bond markets would see increased safe haven demand for gold. The IMF is warning regarding deteriorating public finances. As many governments see themselves being downgraded - safe haven bonds may become less safe.
Heading into the US open, European stock markets are experiencing a mixed session with particular underperformance noted once again in the peripheral IBEX and FTSE MIB indices. The Portuguese banking sector specifically is taking heavy hits following overnight news from Banco Espirito di Santo that they are to issue a large quantity of new shares, prompting fears that further banks may have to recapitalize. The financials sector is also being weighed upon by a downbeat research note published by a major Japanese bank on the Spanish banking sector. Elsewhere, the Italian BTP auction was released in a fragmented fashion showing softer bid/covers and the highest yield since mid-January in the only on-the-run line sold today. Similarly to yesterday’s auction, the sale was not quite as poor as some as feared. Italy sold to the top of the range and as such, the Italian/German 10-yr yield spread is now tighter by 13BPS, currently at 361BPS. From the UK, the DMO sold 20-year gilts with a lower bid/cover ratio and a large yield tail, prompting gilt futures to fall by around 10 ticks after the release. Later in the session, participants will be looking out for US PPI data and the weekly jobless numbers.
Last night it was uber-dove Janet Yellen, today it is uberer-dove, former Goldmanite (what is it about Goldman central bankers and easing: Dudley unleashing QE2 in 2010, Draghi unleashing QE LTRO in Europe?) Bill Dudley joining the fray and saying QE is pretty much on the table. Of course, the only one that matters is Benny, and he will complete the doves on parade tomorrow, when he shows that all the hawkish rhetoric recently has been for naught. Cutting straight to the chase from just released Dudley comments:"we cannot lose sight of the fact that the economy still faces significant headwinds and that there are some meaningful downside risks... To sum up, the incoming data on the U.S. economy has been a bit more upbeat of late, suggesting that the recovery may be getting better established. But, while these developments are certainly encouraging, it is far too soon to conclude that we are out of the woods in terms of generating a strong, sustainable recovery. On the inflation front, the year-over-year rate of consumer price inflation has slowed in recent months, and despite the recent rise of gasoline prices, we expect inflation to moderate further in 2012." Translate: NEW QE is but a CTRL-P keystroke away now that all the inflation the Fed usually ignores continues to be ignored.
Now that every morning the US market is once again in full on European debt issuance stress mode, it makes sense to see just when the real stress will hit the tape, or in other words, how long until the LTRO money fully runs out. Remember that the latest contraption in the European ponzi, the LTRO, took worthless collateral from European banks, and flooded them with fresh money good cash so they could use this cash to buy their own sovereign debt, and specifically to prefund the hundreds of billions in 2012 issuance net of debt maturities. So how does the math work out? Deutsche Bank summarizes the unpleasant picture.
- Fed's No. 2 Strongly Backs Low-Rate Policy (Hilsenrath)
- World Bank Cuts China 2012 Growth Outlook on Exports (Bloomberg)
- BlackRock's Street Shortcut: Big Banks Would Be Bypassed With Bond Platform; 'Not Going to Cannibalize' (WSJ)
- George Soros - Europe’s Future is Not Up to The Bundesbank (FT)
- Fed May Have Aggravated Income Inequality, El-Erian Says(Bloomberg)
- Shirakawa Pledges Japan Easing Amid Political Pressure (Bloomberg)
- Spain’s Debt Struggle Opens Door to Sarkozy Campaign Message (Bloomberg)
- Iran Woos Oil Buyers With Easy Credit (FT)
- Syria Pledges to Observe Ceasefire (FT)
All eyes were on Europe again today, where Italy sold debt for the second day in a row, only this time instead of 1 year and lower Bills, the Tesoro came to market with On and Off the run issuance maturing in 3 through 11 years. And as was to be expected, with a substantial portion of the debt maturing after the LTRO 3 year window, the auction was mixed, far weaker than yesterday's LTRO-covered Bill issuance, and the maximum target of €5 billion was not met, instead a total of €4.884 billion was sold. Furthermore yields surged compared to previous auctions. "The funding environment is getting tougher for the periphery. Overall we believe the spreads are biased towards further widening although we still prefer Italian debt over Spanish," said Michael Leister, a strategist at DZ Bank.What is most worrying is that the funding picture is again deteriorating rapidly, although not as fast as in Spain, even as LTRO cash is still sloshing around European banks. What happens when it runs out?
While the naive public has been inundated with stories that the foreclosure pipeline has been finally unclogged following the robo-settlement (see here and here) and as a result the home "price discovery" process is well on its way, reality is just a tad different. Make that totally different. As usual, the only foreclosure report that matters, and that is even remotely close to reality, comes from RealtyTrac, and we are sad to say, it brings no good news. Quite the contrary. According to the real estate specialists, March 2012 foreclosures plunged from 206,900 in February to 198,853 in March, the first time the total number of foreclosures (either Default Notices, Foreclosure Auctions, or REOs) has dropped under 200,000 since July 2007! Which sadly means that the foreclosure dam wall has yet to crack. Of course, when it does, well "The Second Foreclosure Tsunami Is Coming, And Is About To Kill Any Hopes Of A "Housing Bottom."
In an attempt to not steal too much thunder from Gary Shilling's thought-provoking interview with Bloomberg TV, his view of the S&P 500 hitting 800, as operating earnings compress to $80 per share, is founded in more than just a perma-bear's perspective of the real state of the US economy. As he points out "The analysts have been cranking their numbers down. They started off north of 110 then 105. They are now 102. They are moving in my direction." The combination of a hard landing in China, a recession in Europe, and a stronger USD will weigh on earnings and inevitably the US consumer (who's recent spending spree has considerably outpaced income growth) with the end result a moderate recession in the US. The story is "there is nothing else except consumers that can really hype the U.S. economy" and that is supported by employment but last week's employment report throws cold water in that. "Consumers have a lot of reasons to save as opposed to spend. They need to rebuild their assets, save for retirement. A lot of reasons suggest that they should be saving to work down debt as opposed to going the other way, which they have done in recent months. So if consumers retrench, there is not really anything else in the U.S. economy that can hold things up." While the argument that the US is the best of a bad lot was summarily dismissed as Shilling prefers the 'best horse in the glue factory' analogy and does not believe investors will flock to US equities - instead preferring US Treasuries noting that "everyone has said, rates cannot go lower, they will go up, they will go up. They have been saying that for 30 years."
While every soon-to-be-retired boomer and his or her long-only asset-manager stock-broker commission-leecher lies awake at night in the forlorn hope that Ben "I'm-all-in" Bernanke finds another pile of printing presses to make use of in his game of Global No-Limit Texas Central-Banking; the economy, judging by 'selective' macro data and today's Beige Book, is limping along quite happily with no need for QE3 anytime soon (and that spells trouble for a market that is entirely dependent on the spice flow of liquidity and not just the stock of central bank assets). The sad truth is, as we first pointed out back in early February, that the economy is significantly less upwardly mobile than it 'optically' appears (or the market signals it to be) thanks to the extreme weather that has occurred and so while the spin-masters will attempt to make every headline look like we are in self-sustaining recovery mode, the Fed knows full well the reality is far different (hence Bernanke's recent comments) and yet they have not admitted to this animal-spirits-shattering reality (yet). Perhaps this shockingly simple 'chart-that's-worth-a-thousand-words' will force their hand as the correlation between regions showing extreme positivity within today's Beige book and the regions with the extremest weather disconnects is, well, extreme itself. It seems the Fed is caught between a rock of stagnating inaction and a hard-place of independence-removing LSAP.
Following the all time record high February budget deficit of $232 billion, the US March budget deficit number is in, and in addition to being bigger than expected, coming at $198.2 billion on expectations of "only" $196 billion, the government outlay in the past month also is the largest March deficit on record. This brings the total deficit in fiscal 2012 to $779 billion, which is to be expected for a country gripped in total political chaos and which is unable to either raise revenues or lower spending. What is more disturbing is that over the same period (Oct 1 2011 - March 31, 2012), the US government issued $792 billion in debt, a trend that will continue. What is most disturbing is that the comparable tax revenues net of refunds, "matching" this increase in deficit and spending, are only $693 billion, in other words the US government is funding well more than half of its cash needs with debt rather than with tax revenue. Just like Japan.
Last week we had the Fed's hawks line up one after another telling us how no more QE would ever happen. We ignored them because they are simply the bad cops to the Fed's good cop doves. Sure enough, here comes Bernanke's right hand man, or in this case woman, hinting that one can forget everything the hawkish stance, and that ZIRP may last not until 2014 but 2015! Which, by the way, is to be expected: since ZIRP can never expire, it will always be rolled to T+3 years, as the short end will never be allowed to rise, until the Fed has enough FRNs in circulation to absorb the surge in rates without crushing the principal, as explained yesterday.
In its latest note, Goldman is not providing any actionable "advice" which is naturally to be faded and would have been thus quite profitable, but merely updates its outlook for the second quarter, which is not pretty. The firm now expects a slowing down in the overall economy to a 2% GDP rate, and an "additional loss of momentum during the next few months", which is to be expected as every bank wants to keep the perception that NEW QE is just around the corner, as economic stagnation can rapidly become a contraction. Most importantly, the firm expects just 150,000 payrolls to be created every month, which net of the 90,000 monthly labor force increase (yes, forget what the BLS tells you - every month courtesy of demographics the American labor force grows by an average of 90k people) means that only 60k jobs will be added to offset the structural job collapse since December 2007. It also means that the pre-election rhetoric will change significantly as the economic strength from the start of the year disappears, and with it any hope of an economic upswing, providing additional ammo for exciting GOP pre-election theater.