Just because the endless Israel vs Iran foreplay seems to no longer be exciting the world as much as it did all throughout 2010, 2011 and 2012 when military action seemed imminent over and over, it appears the world has a new geopolitical tension point: the recent incursion into Mali by French (and soon many other) forces, to protect "European interests" against "extremists" operating in the North, and as a corollary - the retaliation by the locals against Western Democratic powers. At least such is the simplistic plot line. Sure enough moments ago Reuters reported that islamist militants attacked a gas field in Algeria on Wednesday, claiming to have kidnapped up to 41 foreigners including seven Americans in a dawn raid in retaliation for France's intervention in Mali, according to regional media reports. The raiders were also reported to have killed three people, including a Briton and a French national. Subsequent reports indicate that the Algerian captives have been let go, and that this is purely an escalation against the invaders, an act which the US state department will harshly condemn at a 1pm press conference, and likely use as a catalyst to unleash US forces in the air or on the ground, to support the French campaign which at last check was going horribly.
It would appear, given the equity market reactions, that investors are not expecting a dramatic impact to the gun-makers as Sturm, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and even Cabela's are all rising ahead of the Biden-Obama Gun-Control Decree. Perhaps, this is front-running of what is likely to be record-breaking gun sales in the next 48 hours if past history is anything to go by. From the NRA's view of Obama as an "elitist hypocrite", Republican calls for his impeachment, and many US citizens against gun control (even though emotions are raw - 51% of men polled want to protect the right to own guns), it would appear that the populist might be struggling, especially as Politico notes that there are strong indications that any comprehensive legislation restricting weapons and/or ammunition won't even see a vote on the House floor.
It will not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent more than a few cursory minutes reading ZeroHedge over the past few years (initially here, and most recently here, and here) but the rolling 'beggar thy neighbor' currency strategies of world central banks are gathering pace. To wit, Bloomberg reports that energy-bound Russia's central bank chief appears to have broken ranks warning that "the world is on the brink of a fresh 'currency war'." With Japan openly (and actively) verbally intervening to depress the JPY and now Juncker's "dangerously high" comments on the EUR yesterday, it appears 2013 will be the year when the G-20 finance ministers (who agreed to 'refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies' in 2009) tear up their promises and get active. Rhetoric is on the rise with the Bank of Korea threatening "an active response", Russia now suggesting reciprocal devaluations will occur (and hurt the global economy) as RBA Governor noted that there is "a degree of disquiet in the global policy-making community." Critically BoE Governor Mervyn King has suggested what only conspiracists have offered before: "we'll see the growth of actively managed exchange rates," and sure enough where FX rates go so stocks will nominally follow (see JPY vs TOPIX and CHF vs SMI recently).
As if the already documented record $220 billion year end equity market injection courtesy of deposits (being used by bank prop arms to invest in risk assets) was not enough to send markets into nosebleed territory to start the new year, which fully explains the institutional (note: not retail) capital flood into equity funds and ETFs as has been trumpeted every day for the past week by CNBC (we will update the retail data from ICI today), here is yet another reason why the 2012 to 2013 transition has everything to do with trading technicals and nothing to do with fundamentals. As the chart below shows, the reported level of NYSE short interest tumbled as of December 31, to 12.9 billion shares, a major 5% decline - the largest incidentally since December 30, 2011 - the lowest level since March, and a trend which has likely persisted as the shorts once again have thrown in the towel (except for Herbalife of course). Of course, this collapse in bearish sentiment, which goes hand in hand with the surge in NYSE margin debt to 5 years highs, is only sustainable if and only if the Fed has now fully eradicated all risk and all volatility in perpetuity. Which for now, judging by the epic ongoing smackdown in the VIX, is succeeding. That will change.
"By 2020, the Bundesbank intends to store half of Germany’s gold reserves in its own vaults in Germany. The other half will remain in storage at its partner central banks in New York and London. With this new storage plan, the Bundesbank is focusing on the two primary functions of the gold reserves: to build trust and confidence domestically, and the ability to exchange gold for foreign currencies at gold trading centres abroad within a short space of time. The withdrawal of the reserves from the storage location in Paris reflects the change in the framework conditions since the introduction of the euro. Given that France, like Germany, also has the euro as its national currency, the Bundesbank is no longer dependent on Paris as a financial centre in which to exchange gold for an international reserve currency should the need arise. As capacity has now become available in the Bundesbank’s own vaults in Germany, the gold stocks can now be relocated from Paris to Frankfurt."
From Goldman Sachs: "Allowing the sequester to hit would, in our view, have greater implications for growth than a short-lived government shutdown, but would not be as severe as a failure to raise the debt limit. Although Republicans in Congress generally support replacing the defense portion of the sequester with cuts in other areas, there is much less Republican support for delaying them without offsetting the increased spending that would result." And in bottom line terms: "Sequestration would reduce the level of spending authority by $85bn in fiscal year (FY) 2013 and $109bn for subsequent fiscal years through 2021. The actual effect on spending in calendar 2013 would be smaller--around $53bn, or 0.3% of GDP--since reductions in spending authority reduce actual spending with a lag. The reduction in spending would occur fairly quickly; the change would be concentrated in Q2 and particularly Q3 and could weigh on growth by 0.5pp to 1.0pp." In other words: payroll tax eliminates some 1.5% of 2013 GDP growth; on the other side the sequester cuts another 1%: that's a total of 2.5%. So: is the US now almost certainly looking at a recession when all the fiscal components to "growth" are eliminated? And what will the Fed do when it is already easing on "full blast" just to keep US growth barely above 0%?
Looking ahead, we can speculate what this new era will mean for all technology sectors. If this trend holds, then profits within the entire space will slide as the premium slips ever-faster toward near-zero, i.e. every device and software become commoditized. This slide in total product-cycle profits may inhibit innovation as the pay-off dwindles. This trend may also spark greater efforts to erect moats around innovations, for example, more lawsuits against global corporate competitors and louder demands for the U.S. and other advanced nations to limit the importation of knock-off products based on pirated/stolen designs and software. Many observers are of the view that intellectual property rights are impediments, and their weakening is a good thing. But that ignores the motive for innovation: will everyone have to be a Linus Torvalds and innovate in the open-source space? Hardware innovations often require substantial investments of capital. Will those with capital invest in innovations if the premium degrades too quickly to earn a high return? Or have we become greedy, and a lower total return on innovation is an outcome that we should welcome as both inevitable and positive? "Faster, better, cheaper" eventually wins-- but that should not be a justification for theft. Competition should be based on innovation, not on piracy and theft. If someone doesn't like the premium being charged for someone else's innovation, then they can create their own innovation that fills the moat with a lower-cost alternative. That is the sustainable path of "faster, better, cheaper."
While we will shortly present some practical perspectives on what the debt ceiling fiasco due in just about a month, means practically for the economy (think sequester, and another 1% cut to US GDP, which when added to the payroll tax cut expiration's negative 1.5%-2% impact on 2013 GDP, and one wonders just how the US will avoid recession in 2013), here is a must read perspective from Citigroup on how the markets may and likely will react to what is shaping up to be another "12:30th hour" (the New Normal version of the eleventh hour) debt ceiling resolution, which is now under a month away. To wit: "We think this means that 1) risk will sell off less approaching the debt ceiling deadline; 2) currency investors will hold on to risk in spot but buy tail risk hedges; and 3) there will be a wholesale cutting of positions in FX and other asset classes, if the debt ceiling is breached. So it may looks as if the debt ceiling breach is not worrying asset markets, but it means that investors are banking on the chestnuts being pulled out of the fire. If they are not pulled out, positions go up in smoke."
For the Fibonacci fans out there, here is something rather stunning from Newedge's Brad Wishak. In the chart below, the strategist looks at the duration in days of each stock rally leg since the 2009 bottom. What is rather amazing is follow through between one rally and the next in terms of, you guessed it, the Fib 61.8% retracement. As Wishak comments: "obvious is the diminishing marginal utility of each bath of QE manifesting itself in shorter and shorter rallies. Less obvious is the underlying rhythm of the start and stopping points. Applying the 61.8% retrace to time, called the the most recent September stock highs within 4 days. And projecting this pattern forward, we're now just around the corner from the next 61.8% top, which hits on January 22." Because if in a centrally-planned world DeMark indicators still have any relevance, then certainly so does Fibonacci.
The December CPI is out, and according to the BLS, or more specifically, it's X-12 Arima reality processors, there was no inflation in the past month, with headline CPI printing at 0.0%, as expected, and up from a 0.3% deflation in November. Excluding food and gas, CPI rose 0.1%, less than the expected 0.2%. Compared to a year ago, inflation was a tame 1.7%, the BLS would like you to believe, and 1.9% ex food and energy. Luckily these numbers exclude such soaring in price items as education, and it certainly excludes a proxy for reserve inflation such as the stock market, which while certainly not a part of staple purchased goods, shows just where the free Fed money is going. As such, the S&P is as good a proxy of real, free money generated "inflation", as anything else. Naturally, once the stock market bubble pops, things will change, but for now why buy food when one can buy FUD and pray there is a greater fool to sell it to in a day or to. The biggest reported change in inflation Y/Y is in the price of medical care services which increased 3.7% compared to December 2011, and Utility gas service, which in turn declined by -2.9% from a year earlier. Finally, for those confused why producers see the need to dilute coffee and bear, and add just a little more than the RDS of horse meat to burgers, the reason is that food at home prices increased by 1.3% in 2012, while dining out has gotten a whopping 1.8% more expensive. That's right: the price of the food you eat at home has increased by 1.3% in the past year - so says the BLS which apparently like the Fed, only eats hedonically adjusted iPads.
For those curious how it is that Goldman just reported a stunning beat across the board, here is a hint: the firm had flaming paperweight extraordinaire maker Boeing (a firm which has now had at least one component in 4 Dreamliners spontaneously combust, and has lead to the grounding of the entire ANA and JAL fleets) on its Conviction Buy list. At least until today, when the stock is indicated to open some 5% lower. Which means as of moments ago, Goldman is done selling BA stock to its clients. With conviction.
Unlike JPM, there is little that can be faulted with Goldman's just released Q4 earnings, which saw total top-line surge to $9.24 billion on expectations of $7.83 billion, while net earnings printed at $2.822 billion, or $5.60 diluted, nearly double the $1.458 billion reported in Q3 and far above the $978MM in Q4 2011. This beat was driven by solid performance around the board, which was to be somewhat expected: after all this was a quarter of success for the world's most connected hedge fund, which saw one of its own rise to the top of the world's most venerable central bank: the Bank of England, and is certainly pining to have a Goldmanite replace Shirakawa as head of the BOJ in one month. Rhetoric aside, Goldman's performance was impressive, posting the best results since Q1 2012, when total revenues hit $9.9 billion. Increases were seen across all segments, with Investment banking rising to $1.4 billion, Equities up to $2.3 billion, Investment Management at $1.5 billion, and Investing and Lending, aka Prop (yes, the firm discloses it has a prop group, much to the dismay of many people out there apparently) of $1.973 billion. The only weak spot was FICC which while posting a solid $2.0 billion in revenue, actually declined from the $2.2 billion in Q3. Finally, while the comp benefits accrual taken in Q4 was only $1.976 billion, or 21.4% of revenues, on a blended TTM basis and based on the firm's 32,400 employees (down from 32,600 in Q3), this means that the average Goldman bonus in 2012 will be just under $400,000. This is up from $367,057 a year ago: a nearly 10% increase. At least someone's wages are going up.
JPM Beats Thanks To Ongoing Loan Loss Reserve Releases; NIM And Trading Revenues Decline, CIO Posts LossSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/16/2013 08:35 -0400
The much anticipated JPM earnings are out and while the company beat superficially, posting Q4 revenue of $24.4 billion vs expectations of $24.3 billion, and adjusted EPS of $1.35 "ex-items" vs expected $1.22, the real story as usual is below the surface. And in this case below the surface means what happens with the firm's Net Interest Margin, Trading Revenues, Loan Loss Reserve Releases and, of course, the busted "CIO and Treasury" aka London Whale unit. Starting with the last we have this: "Treasury and CIO reported a net loss of $157 million, compared with net income of $417 million in the prior year. Net revenue was a loss of $110 million, compared with net revenue of $845 million in the prior year. Net revenue included net securities gains of $103 million from sales of available-for-sale investment securities during the current quarter and principal transactions revenue of $99 million. Net interest income was a loss of $388 million due to low interest rates and limited reinvestment opportunities." JPM also warned to "Expect Treasury and CIO net loss of $300mm +/- in 1Q13; likely to vary each quarter." Funny how the once amazingly profitable CIO is no longer is a cash cow when it can't invest excess deposits and recycle reserves via repo into cornering the IG market. Finally, the Net Interest Margin, firmwide and core, declined by 3 and 7 bps respectively QoQ due to, per JPM, lower loan yields, lower yields on investment securities; limited reinvestment opportunities; and higher balances in Fed funds sold and certain secured financings. In other words, ZIRP continues to take its toll on a bank which can no longer be a hedge fund and which can't make money on the NIM curve.
Those who went long Boeing in the last few days on hopes the "smoking battery" issue had been resolved, especially following Ray LaHood comment's he would fly the Dreamliner, which is rapidly becoming the Nightmareliner for Boeing, anytime anywhere, are about to be grounded, as is the entire 787 fleet of All Nippon Airlines and Japan Airlines following yet another incident forcing an emergency Dreamliner landing. This happened after ANA "alarms indicated smoke in the forward area of the plane, which houses batteries and other equipment, the airline said, and there was a "burning-like smell" in the cockpit and parts of the cabin. The plane landed at Takamatsu airport in western Japan, where the 129 passengers were evacuated using the plane's emergency chutes. The plane also carried eight crew members. ANA said that the exact cause was still undetermined. The event was designated as a "serious incident" by Japan's transport ministry, setting off an immediate investigation by the Japan Transport Safety Board, which dispatched a team to the scene." The result - a 4% drop in the stock so far premarket, and if any more airlines are to ground their fleet the implications for the backlog could be devastating, it will only get far worse for both the company and the Dow Jones average, of which it is part.