Irony of all ironies; on the 1-year anniversary of AAPL replacing XOM as the world's most-expensive market capitalized company, the incessant fall of the formerly invincible has dragged it back below XOM once again. This one-year of glory is disappointing as when MSFT managed to top XOM in 1998, it held on to the top-spot for almost 3 years before relinquishing it back to the company that runs the world's most valuable limited resource.
While Chinese economic data seems designed to blow minds in its Schrodinger-like good/bad oscillation at the same time, it seems Europe's investors have now taken up the mantle. There is ammunition across every asset class to suggest all is well and things are progressing yet at the same time that risk is rearing its ugly head and momentum is fading. On the bright side, Swiss 2Y rates are at +4bps (having surged 25bps this year) and are back at 'normal' 10-month high rates; European stocks pushed 1-2% higher on the week; Europe's VIX dropped; and EURUSD gained over 1% (not necessarily a positive but seemingly signaling to the world that all is well) mostly in the last 24 hours. The LTRO repayment has pushed EONIA swaps up to six-month highs (liquidity needs remain high - though normalizing) but European credit markets are absolutely not playing along. European corporate and financial credit spreads pushed notably wider on the week and are grossly divergent from stocks now on the year. At the same time, European sovereign spreads ended the week practically unchanged - dislocated from EURUSD exuberance. Europe remains spellbound by the promise of OMT yet the very markets that benefit from that promise are losing their momentum...
There has been an burst of exuberance as of late as the market, after four arduous years, got back to its pre-crisis levels. Much has been attributed to the recent burst of optimism in the financial markets from: better than expected earnings, stronger economic growth ahead, the end of the bond bubble is near, the long term outlook is getting better, valuations are cheap, and the great rotation is here - all of which have egregious holes. However, with the markets fully inflated, we have reached the point that where even a small exogenous shock will likely have an exaggerated effect on the markets. There are times that investors can safely "buy and hold" investments - this likely isn't one of them.
We could bore readers with the details of the just announced New Homes Sales data from the Census Bureau, which put a somewhat largish dent in the "undisputed" housing recovery fairytale taking place in America (perhaps in the Hamptons, and triplexes in Manhattan where the NAR continues to launder Chinese and Russian oligarch money).... or we could just show this chart of the non-seasonally adjusted, unannualized New Home Sales in the past decade, and ask: just where is this recovery everyone keeps on talking about?
In a quiet corner of Davos this week, Davide Serra (hedge fund manager) and Nouriel Roubini (doom-monger) laid out to the great and good attending just exactly what their puppet central-banking transmission channels were doing to our world. As The Telegraph reports, "Money printing is theft from our children and may merely be storing up problems for an even bigger crisis." QE has led to gross mis-allocation of capital, the two gentlemen go on to note, adding that they comprehend the reasoning why Bernanke's Put has replaced Greenspan's but add that in doing this money-printing-by-another-name, they have "made it difficult for bond vigilantes to do their job - force fiscal reform." QE just buys time - but the time must be used wisely. Roubini warned that central bankers need to think about turning off the cheap money tap or risk creating another, possibly even worse, bubble.
Europe has now officially become the Schrodinger continent, demanding both sides of the economic coin so to speak, and is stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place (or "a cake and eating it"). On one hand it wants to telegraph its financial system is getting stronger, and doesn't need trillions in implicit and explicit ECB backstops, on the other it needs a liquidity buffer against an economy that, especially in the periphary, is rapidly deteriorating (Spanish bad debt just hit a new all time high while Italian bad loans rose by 16.7% in one year as more and more assets become impaired). On one hand it wants a strong currency to avoid any doubt that there is redenomination risk, on the other it desperately needs a weak currency to spur exports out of the Eurozone (as Spain showed when the EUR plunged in 2012, however that weak currency is now a distant memory and it is now seriously weighing on exports). On the one hand Europe wants to show its banks have solidarity with one another and will support each other, on the other those banks that are in a stronger position can't wait to shed the stigma of being associated with the weak banks (in this case by accepting LTRO bailouts).
Ours is a dysfunctional debt-based Empire that buys the complicity of its debt-serfs with entitlement bread and circuses. The road to debt-serfdom is paved by the banks and enforced by the Central State. If there is any point that is lost on ideologues, Progressive and Conservative alike, it is this: the first-order servitude and second-order tyranny of debt-serfdom can only occur if the banks' power is extended and protected by an expansive Central State.
The World Gold Council and leading academics and international think tanks believe that using a portion of a nation's gold reserves to back sovereign debt would lower sovereign debt yields and give some of the Eurozone's most distressed countries time to work on economic reform and recovery. According to research done by the World Gold Council using the European gold reserves as collateral for new sovereign debt issues would mean that without selling an ounce of gold, Eurozone countries could raise €413 billion. This is over 20% of Italy's and Portugal's two year borrowing requirements. The move to back sovereign bonds with gold would lower sovereign debt yields, without increasing inflation, which would help to calm markets. This should give European countries some vital breathing space to work on economic reform and recovery. Some citizens would be concerned that there may be a risk that the sovereign nations who pledge their gold as collateral could ultimately end up losing their gold reserves to the ECB, or whoever the collateral of the gold reserves are pledged to, in the event of a default. Unlike currency debasement and the printing and electronic creation of money to buy sovereign debt, under schemes such as Draghi's “outright monetary transactions” (OMT), the use of gold as collateral would not create fiscal transfers between Eurozone members, long term inflation or currency devaluation risk.
It is funny what one finds when one actually looks at the data behind the headlines, such as in this case the trumpeted amazing return of investors to the US stock market. Because what one does find is that after that one blistering week after the new year, in which wealthy individuals dumped cash they had put aside (for lack of knowledge of what the dividend tax would be in 2013), we now have, for the second week in a row, seen a material outflow from US equity funds as tracked by Lipper, bringing the total two week outflow from the domestic equity sector to some $5.8 billion. Oh, and the great non-rotation out bonds continues with some $8.5 billion pumped into taxable bond funds and $2.3 billion into municipal bonds in the past two weeks.
- Fed Pushes Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ With Record Assets (BBG)
- Next up in the currency wars: Korea - Samsung Drops on $2.8 Billion Won Profit-Cut Prediction (BBG)
- China Warns ‘Hot Money’ Inflows Possible on Easing From Abroad (Bloomberg)
- BOJ Shirakawa affirms easy policy pledge but warns of costs (Reuters)
- Merkel Takes a Swipe at Japan Over Yen (WSJ)
- Wages in way of Abe’s war on deflation (FT)
- Italian PM under fire over bank crisis (FT)
- Senior officials urge calm over islands dispute (China Daily)
- Spain tries to peel back business rules (FT)
- Rifts Over Cyprus Bailout Feed Broader Fears (WSJ)
- Soros Says the Euro Is Here to Stay as Currency War Looms (BBG)
At this point it has gotten painfully tedious, and the one phrase to describe trading is - Same Pattern Different Day. With equity futures closing decidedly weak on earnings reality after US market close, the slowly, steady overnight ramp seen every single day for the past month has returned as always, this time on yet another largely expected German confidence indicator beat (following the just as irrationally exuberant ZEW some time ago, and yesterday's far better than expected PMI), this time the IFO Business Climate, which printed at 104.2, on expectations of 103 and up from 102.4. This was driven by both the current assessment rising from 107.1 to 108 and the Expectations rising from 97.9 to 100.5. Naturally, all confidence indicators will be skewed in a way to prevent the market from doubting for a second that Germany may actually succumb to the same recession that has gripped all other European countries (which Germany is an inch away from after its negative Q4 GDP). In other words: there is hope. As for reality, UK Q4 GDP came in at -0.3% on expectations of a far lower drop to -0.1%, and down from the olympics-boosted 0.9% in Q3. The UK certainly can't wait for Mark Carney to come and show them how cable devaluation is really done, cause this time it will be different, if only it wasn't different for everyone else.
As expected, moments ago the ECB announced the results of the first LTRO repayment option. According to media reports, a total of €137.2 billion will be repaid as 278 banks participate in the repayment. The consensus expectation was for a repayment figure of €84 billion, so a figure substantially more than both the expected, as well as the whispered goldilocks number of €100 billion. The banks that will free themselves of the LTRO stigma will be disclosed in time - there is no public list, however as a reminder some 523 banks participated in the first LTRO. Since Europe is currently in the risk on phase, don't expect an immediate retaliation against the primarily non-core banks that opt to keep the LTRO funds. The market response so far has been one of risk on, due to the perceived implication that the interbank market is healhtier than expected, coupled with a push up in the EURUSD as the repayment is, as noted previously, a gross deleveraging of the ECB balance sheet coming at a time when every other bank is explicitly devaluaing their currency. Indeed, moments after the announcement the EURUSD ramped up to 1.3460 despite some ugly UK GDP news earlier.
The robosigning/fraudclosure fiasco came, saw, and eventually left following a comprehensive slap-on-the-wrist settlement with all mortgage originating banks. In the process, it gave an inadvertent hint to the banks how they can boost house property values: by keeping homes from exiting the foreclosure pipeline, and off the market due to a legal mandate forcing them to do just that, it created a shortage of homes available for sale and thus provided an explicit subsidy funded by the banks themselves. The resulting "foreclosure stuffing" remains with us to this day. Yet while it did manage to artificially boost prices, the process succeeded in one thing: making a mockery out of property rights, as it became quite clear that nobody knows who owns what, hence demanding a global settlement release from the very top. But not even the 10th incarnation of Linda Green could possibly conceive of the following episode showing just how surreal U.S. housing reality can be, when one mixes combustible and outright idiotic property laws, with a real estate market that, when one pulls away the facade of "made for TV pundtiry", is in absolute shambles.