As it now stands, the US economy faces a “fiscal cliff” in early 2013 – meaningful Government spending cuts AND tax increases at the household level. Nothing like a double whammy, now is there? Unquestionably this is one of the reasons why the Fed has pledged to leave short-term interest rates low for some time. So what happens if nothing is changed and both tax increases and spending cuts are allowed to materialize? Although it’s an approximation, the deadly combo could shave 1.5% plus from US GDP next year. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office are for a more meaningful contractionary impact. And that’s before the ultimate global economic fallout influence of Europe and China slowing. But there is a larger and very important issue beyond this, although the “cliff” is something investors will not ignore and could be very meaningful to forward economic and financial market outcomes, especially given the relative complacent market mood of the moment.
In the first of two major bankruptcy stories du jour (the next one coming up shortly), we learn that AFA Foods, best known for being the maker of "pink slime", and a portfolio company of labor unions and Clinton afficionado Ron Burkle and his PE firm Yucaipa, has just filed for bankruptcy. The reason? The sudden public realization what pink slime is, and just how prevalent it is - perhaps it is best to think of it as the Bernie Madoff of the food industry - it was always there, yet it took a wholesale shift in public awareness and consciousness for the firm to realize it would have been prudent to come up with a slightly different name for its ground-beef product. As for whether or not the company is going to the pink sheets, well no. But one thing is certain: the management team is about to get a pink slip.
As AAPL surges over 3% on the second lowest volume in 3 weeks, the start of Q2 was exuberance-exemplified as stocks, commodities, and Treasuries all enjoyed a bid - though most of the excitement was from the US open to the European close only. A weak start as European credit and equity markets leaked lower (as did ES - S&P 500 e-mini futures) was extinguished as the US day session opened and while construction spending was a bust, ISM managed a small beat. This didn't seem like the catalyst really but we were off to the races as everything rapidly levitated into the European close - except US credit markets which were far less sanguine once again. Stocks stalled at that point and limped on to test last Tuesday's overnight highs before sliding back 6pts or so into the close. Typical high-beta QE-driven sectors outperformed with Energy and Materials heavily bid but even they gave back some advantage into the close as did Tech and Financials. Oil staged a magnificent recovery (best performance from low to high today) topping out over $105 but just outperformed (from Friday's close) by Copper and Silver which ended up around 2.4%. Treasuries rallied 8bps from overnight weakness to their best of the day but son after the macro data, TSYs sold off with the long-end underperforming - though the entire complex ended lower in yield on the day. AUD and JPY strength matched on another providing little support from carry FX as the USD limped weaker - though Gold tripled the USD's performance managing +0.47% and a close above $1675 once again. VIX gapped notably higher at the open but rapidly compressed but from the close of the European session it pushed considerably higher to end the day fractionally higher (oddly on a decently higher equity market performance).
Foodstamp Usage Remains At All Time High, Record Number Of Households Receive $277 In Poverty Assistance MonthlySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/02/2012 16:45 -0400
While we do not know if foodstamp usage is seasonally adjusted, we do know that in January it was virtually unchanged at 46.5 million recipients. And while the actual number of recipients declined by a whisper, the number of households actually receiving benefits increased to a new record of 22.2 million. Lastly, the average monthly benefit per household slide to a multi-year low of $277.27. First the quality of jobs gets diluted, next the poverty benefits. All in line with the continued dilution of real wealth, simply so nominal indexes can hit fresh 5 year highs - today the S&P hit an intraday high not seen since December 31, 2007. Luckily, soon everyone will be rich and can retire.
What a quarter! The Dow up 8% and enjoying a record quarter in terms of points — 994 of them to be exact and in percent terms, now just 7% off attaining a new all-time high. The S&P 500 surged 12% (and 3.1% for March; 28% from the October 2011 lows), which was the best performance since 1998. It seems so strange to draw comparisons to 1998, which was the infancy of the Internet revolution; a period of fiscal stability, 5% risk-free rates, sustained 4% real growth in the economy, strong housing markets, political stability, sub-5% unemployment, a stable and predictable central bank. And look at the composition of the rally. Apple soared 48% and accounted for nearly 20% of the appreciation in the S&P 500. But outside of Apple, what led the rally were the low-quality names that got so beat up last year, such as Bank of America bouncing 72% (it was the Dow's worst performer in 2011; financials in aggregate rose 22%). Sears Holdings have skyrocketed 108% this year even though the company doesn't expect to make money this year or next. What does that tell you? What it says is that this bull run was really more about pricing out a possible financial disaster coming out of Europe than anything that could really be described as positive on the global macroeconomic front. What is most fascinating is how the private client sector simply refuses to drink from the Fed liquidity spiked punch bowl, having been burnt by two central bank-induced bubbles separated less than a decade apart leaving David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff, still rightly focused on benefiting from his long-term 3-D view of deleveraging, demographics, and deflation - as he notes US data is on notably shaky ground. This appears to have been very much a trader's rally as he reminds us that liquidity is not an antidote for fundamentals.
First the Costa Concordia was a sinking example of the failing European experiment, now we may have an even better case study of the continent's burning ambitions, as the Moscow Federation Tower, designed to be the tallest building in Europe, is engulfed in flames. As RT says, "As firefighters try to put out the flames on the top floors, the danger the incomplete building might collapse is growing every minute." Watch live here until the feed is shut off.
As the first day of the quarter brings new money and new hope for global asset allocators, Credit Suisse has shifted to a more negative 'underweight' stance to European equities. Laying out 10 reasons for their displeasure, they dig into the details a little with a positive view on domestic German equities and the broad DAX index (and USD earners) while notably negative on France and Spain in general (with Spain expected to underperform Italy). Varying from too much complacency on the resolution to the crisis, to political flash points, valuations, and relative economic momentum. This smorgasbord of anxiety-inducing 'facts' may well prove enough to topple the 'fiction' of a liquidity-levitated equity market - that credit seems to have already realized. Most notably the five factors that need to be 'fixed' before the Euro crisis is resolved, and the under-estimation of the de-leveraging required in the periphery, leaves mutualization of debt as the game-changer that still seems a long-way off. The complacency angle seems the most relevant to us - and we see equities once again pull away from any sense of reason indicated by the sovereign, financial, and corporate credit market, this complacency becomes more and more dangerous.
The Fed has undertaken the same front-loading of the US economy for three years in a row (QE1, QE2, and Operation Twist) and each of the three times the performance of the US equity market to this sudden flush of liquidity has been almost identical in terms of velocity (speed and direction) - even though the underlying macroeconomic impact has been lesser and lesser as we pointed out here earlier. What is also most notable is that as we head into April (as Biderman reminds us, a typically positive 'flow' month for US equities given the tax-based moves and quarter-start) we are nearing what has been the inflection point in the previous two pump-and-hope episodes. While sounding eerily bullish in the very short-term, Charles is critically clear that he expects the short-lived nature of money-printing's impact on the market economy to fade rapidly as he fully expects the government agencies to revise their growth expectations more in line with his 'fact'-based growth expectations which are considerably lower. Though he notes the timing of the election may mean more of a sustained 'hope', the fact that in 2012 (starting Nov2011) equity performance is better now than the previous two Fed-infused rallies is perhaps why corporate insider-selling is so dominating insider-buying now through March. The avuncular antagonist concludes with his expectations that once the April surge is done with (which it may already have done today?) he fully expects the stock market to give up all its first quarter gains (and need we remind you that high yield credit is sending the very same signals of concern that it did in Q2 of the previous 2 rallies).
Marc Faber Previews Q2, Is Long Japan, Cautious The US And Gold, And Sees A 5-10% Increase In InflationSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/02/2012 14:17 -0400
Mark Faber was on Bloomberg TV earlier, presenting his latest outlook on markets and the economy, but first he summarizes 2011's first quarter which as repeatedly observed here before has so far been a mirror image of 2012, with the only different that while it ran up on 2010's QE2 back then, now it has surged on the transitory flow (not stock) impact of two back to back $1.3 trillion LTROs. "I think that if you look back at a year ago we made a peak of 1370 on S&P on May 4 and then dropped sharply to 1074 on October 4. Then we recaptured the lows in November and December. Since then, the first quarter has been very powerful and has surprised investors because of its strong performance. And I think now the expectations are very high. The market is no longer oversold the way it was in December. And everybody thinks that the race is on, go along with equities, the hedge funds have positioned themselves on the long side and optimism is high. I would be very careful at this stage." As for his outlook, he is "reluctant to short" in a money-printing environment, believes that Japan will provide the best equity futures returns (more easing from the BOJ appears imminent), is confident margins will roll over (as they already have) on the back of record for this time of year input costs, and thus thinks earnings will disappoint, sees inflation running 5-10% more than a year earlier, and is still accumulating gold every month. Overall, mostly as expected from the pony-tailed one.
We all know there is no shortcut to anything worth having--mastery, security, wealth-- yet all we have in America is another useless, doomed shortcut. Insolvency is scale-invariant, meaning that being unable to live within your means leads to insolvency for households, towns, corporations, states and national governments. There is no shortcut to living within one's means. Expenses must align with revenues or the debt taken on to fill the gap will eventually bankrupt the entity--even an Empire. We know this, but all we have in America is the shortcut of borrowing more to fill the gap between revenues and expenses. The Federal government is borrowing a staggering 40% of its budget this year--and it has done so for the past three years. Despite all the fantastic predictions of future solvency, the cold reality is that no plausible level of "growth" will close the gap: either expenses must be cut by $1.5 trillion or tax revenues raised by $1.5 trillion or some combination of those realities.
Think the Fed's policy of market intervention is only impacting savers and investors? Think again: courtesy of ZIRP, companies are investing increasingly less in CapEx, and thus long-term growth, and merely focusing on instant bang for the buck projects, like M&A and dividends. Sustainable? You decide.
Watching pompous politicians, egotistical economists, arrogant investment geniuses, clueless media pundits, and self- proclaimed experts on the Great Depression predict an economic recovery and a return to normalcy would be amusing if it wasn’t so pathetic. Their lack of historical perspective does a huge disservice to the American people, as their failure to grasp the cyclical nature of history results in a broad misunderstanding of the Crisis the country is facing. The ruling class and opinion leaders are dominated by linear thinkers that believe the world progresses in a straight line. Despite all evidence of history clearly moving through cycles that repeat every eighty to one hundred years (a long human life), the present generations are always surprised by these turnings in history. I can guarantee you this country will not truly experience an economic recovery or progress for another fifteen to twenty years. If you think the last four years have been bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Hope is not an option. There is too much debt, too little cash-flow, too many promises, too many lies, too little common sense, too much mass delusion, too much corruption, too little trust, too much hate, too many weapons in the hands of too many crazies, and too few visionary leaders to not create an epic worldwide implosion. Too bad. We stand here in the year 2012 with no good options, only less worse options. Decades of foolishness, debt accumulation, and a materialistic feeding frenzy of delusion have left the world broke and out of options. And still our leaders accelerate the debt accumulation, while encouraging the masses to carry-on as if nothing has changed since 2008.
In a day like today, when stocks and bonds are rallying, indicating that the market is once again convinced Fed "bad cop" Fisher was full of it, and more easing is expected (as noted earlier), and with NFP set to fall on a market holiday, thus the number, if weak, can be spun as one ushering in more QE over the weekend, one can only sit back and have fun with Birinyi's ruler. Which in turn brings us to the following conclusion: with the market in 2012 once again in a straight diagonal line, just like in early 2011, gaining 50 SPX point each month regardless of news, climatic conditions, liquidity and frankly anything else, it is quite obvious that the S&P market will hit 5000 by December 2019, a date which is also notable because as the second Birinyi ruler chart shows, that is when trading volume will officially hit zero.
The question of who was the marginal buyer of equities in mid February and into March appears to have been answered. It was Macro hedge funds whose correlation of returns to the S&P 500 went from a negative 0.58 on 2/15 to a very high positive 0.75. It would appear that macro funds, just as they did in Q1 of 2011, went all-in. However, just as occurred in Q1/Q2 2011, the ebbing macro backdrop of the last few weeks, as evidenced by the Citi Economic Surprise Index tumbling rapidly, appears to have stymied their risk appetite and, again just as in 2011, as the surprise index rolled over, so Macro funds started to exit the equity market very rapidly. In fact, in the last two weeks the 30-day correlation between the Macro hedge fund return index (HFRXM) and the S&P 500 (SPX) has crashed back from +0.75 to -0.55 currently as macro funds clearly shift to a negative stance of US equities in general - selling into the momentum strength of the last few weeks. As we pointed out a week ago, institutions were indeed all-in, but it seems the reality of recent macro data and European risk flares is perhaps rapidly darkening the rose-colored lens with macro-funds the first to flee.