The last month has seen a considerable amount of the post-LTRO gains in Italian and Spanish Sovereign and Financial credit markets (and stocks for the latter) given back. The stigma priced into LTRO-encumbered banks has also surged to post LTRO record wides - more than double its best levels now. This is hardly surprising - while the LTRO was nothing but a thinly-veiled QE printfest, it is the action that was taken with that newly printed money that has created dramatially more contagion risk and sovereign-financial dependence as an unintended consequence. The collosal (relative and absolute) size of the reach-around Sarkozy carry-trade buying in local sovereign debt for Italy and even more so Spain is highlighted dramatically in these 3 charts for BNP, most notably the increase in banks' holdings of sovereign debt compared to their share of Eurozone sovereign debt - i.e. the banks in Italy, and more so Spain, are hugely more exposed to their sovereign's performance and with Spain's massive budget cuts - a vicious cycle of austerity to growth-compression to credit-contraction to Greece (firewall or not) is leaking into their bond markets, even with an active ECB doing SMP although inflation-constrained from LTRO3 perhaps.
As expected, the latest economic data point, ahead of what we now believe will be an NFP miss, the Chicago March PMI, has come and gone and it was merely the latest in a long series of misses. While the headline disappointment was modest, printing at 62.2, below expectations of 63.0 and down from 64.0, it was at the subcomponents that the pain was most acute: New Orders dropped from 69.2 to 63.3, Prices Paid soared from 65.6 to 70.1, the highest since August, any growth focusing again on inventory build up - hence hollow - from 49.6 to 57.4, the largest gain since December 2010 as the restocking continues furiously in what appears forever, but most importantly, the Employment Index which slid from 64.2 to 56.3, the biggest drop since February 2009, and virtually all job gains in 2012 have now been given up. Yet the biggest caution was not anywhere in the indices, but in one of the survey responses: "Tipping point for oil pricing and impact on raw materials and Total Cost of Operations (TCO) is fast approaching." Once the tipping point for oil comes and passes, that's the ballgame, and the only option for the Fed will be to create another Lehman-like deflationary collapse.
Presented with little comment except to note that the next time someone uses the phrase "...but the data is coming in strong..." please show this chart as US and European macro data prints have consistently missed expectations for well over a month now...
In advance of ever louder demands for more, more, more NEWER QE-LTROs (as BofA's Michael Hanson says "If our forecast of a one-handle on H2 growth is realized, then we would expect the Fed to step in with additional easing, in the form of QE3") , it is an opportune time to demonstrate just what the traditional monetary "plumbing" mechanisms at the discretion of the Fed are, and more importantly, just how completely plugged they are. So without any further ado...
Following Greek Bond Humiliation, Europe's Biggest Equity Investor Is Slashing Its European ExposureSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/30/2012 09:20 -0400
Remember this from September 2010? "Norway, which has amassed the world’s second-biggest sovereign wealth fund, says Greece won’t default on its debts. “The point is, do you expect these guys to default?” said Harvinder Sian, senior fixed-income strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, in an interview. “Norway has taken the view that they will not. The Greek holdings are particularly interesting because the consensus in the market is that they will at some point restructure or default.” Norway says its long-term perspective will protect it from losses. “One could say we are investing for infinity."... Uhm, Big Oops. Needless to say, this stupidity was roundly mocked by Zero Hedge at the time. Yet we can only applaud the fact that unlike other European investors (read primarily Italian banks) which are merely sinking ever deeper into the quicksand by dodecatupling down on pyramid scheme assets, the Norwegian SWF finally "plans to sharply reduce its European exposure while raising investments in emerging markets and Asia-Pacific, the finance ministry said on Friday." While we ridiculed their stupidity in 2010, we applaud Norway's prudence in this case, as unlike other insolvent European entities, the crude-rich country is not falling for the latest round of central planning bullshit, and is finally acting as a fiduciary agent. "We're reducing our European exposure because we see that economic development in the global economy is changing and this should also be reflected in our investment strategy," Johnsen said. "Most likely we'll have to sell some assets in Europe." Remember: in game theory he who defects first, defects best. We expect to see many more funds openly declaring they will commence dumping European assets, all of which are buoyed 100% artificially by the ECB, and US taxpayers, shortly.
With the first quarter of 2012 just about in the books, Nic Colas (of ConvergEx) looks at how the Exchange Traded Fund 'Class of 2012' has done in terms of asset raising to date. There have been 82 new ETFs listed thus far for the year and they have collectively gathered $1.1 billion in new assets through Wednesday’s close of business. While 63% of those funds have been equity-focused, fully 67% of the asset growth for the year has flowed into fixed income products. Just over half the total money invested in these new funds has had two destinations: the iShares Barclays U.S. Treasury Bond Fund (symbol GOVT, with $297 million in flows) and Pimco’s Total Return ETF (symbol TRXT, with $267 million in flows). The standout new equity funds of 2012 in terms of flows are all iShares products – Global Gold Miners (symbol: RING), India Index (symbol: INDA) and World Index (symbol: URTH). Bottom line: even with the continuous innovations of the ETF space, investors are still targeting international and fixed income exposure, a continuation of last year’s risk-averse trends and while 'ETFs destabilize markets' might be the prevailing group-think, this quarter’s money flows into newly launched exchange traded products reveals a strong 'Risk Off' investment bias. Interestingly, the correlation between inception-to-date performance and money flows is essentially zero.
Why save when one can spend (and, more importantly, why save when one has ZIRP)? This appears to have been the motto of American consumers in the past three months when the US Savings rate has plunged from 4.7% in December to a tiny 3.7% in February: the lowest since December 2007's 2.6%, and just as the recession and the market crash was about to send everyone scrambling for the safety of bank savings. The reason: in February personal spending soared by 0.8% on expectations of a 0.6% rise, while incomes barely rose by 0.2% on a consensus rise of 0.4%. Which means the balance had to be savings funded. So even as we have seen retail weakness in the past three months, we now know that it was not only credit funded, but also forced US consumers to burn through their meager savings. And all this before the gasoline price shock hit. The question then is: with the remainder of US savings about to be tapped out on gasoline purchases, just where will the money come to fund all those priced in NEW iPad acquisitions? Or will Apple finally use up its cash hoard and start a captive lending unit, giving consumers credit to purchase its products? At the rate the US consumer is going broke it may soon have no other option.
European markets got off to a bad start following early reports that the Greek PM has not ruled out a further aid package for the country, however European cash equities are now trading higher as US participants come to market. Markets have been reacting to the announcement from EU’s Juncker that the Eurogroup has agreed upon Eurozone bailout funds of EUR 800bln. Elsewhere in the session, FPC member Clark commented that the FPC should not aim to stimulate credit growth in the UK, adding that direct intervention in the mortgage market is too politically volatile, but may be considered in the coming years. Following the reports, GBP/USD spiked lower around 15 pips, however it remains in positive territory, moving above the 1.6000 level in recent trade. In terms of data, the Eurozone CPI estimate for March came in just above expectations at 2.6%, 0.1% above the 2.5% consensus. The market reaction to this data, however, was relatively muted as participants await Eurogroup commentary. Looking ahead in the session, participants await commentary on the Spanish budget, US Personal Spending and Canadian GDP.
As noted earlier, futures this morning are higher despite a plethora of economic misses (and despite 57% of March US data missing as per DB), simply on regurgitated headlines of an "expanded" European €7/800 billion bailout fund. There is one problem with this: the headlines are all wrong, as none apparently have taken the time to do the math. Which, courtesy of think tank OpenEurope, is as follows: "The real amount of cash that is still available to back stop struggling states, should it come to that, is only around €500bn." Of course, that would hardly be headline inspiring: recall that that is simply the full size of the ESM as is. But even that number will hardly ever be attained, and the ECB will have to step in long before Europe needs anything close to a full drawdown: "The problem here is that if it’s too big and terrible to ever be used, it’s likely that it won’t ever be used. Even jittery markets will be able to figure out that a large fund which would damage French and German credit ratings if ever extended will never be fully tapped. So clearly some circular logic at play. And let's not forget that it’s still far too small to save Italy and Spain should if worse come to worse." Circular logic? Check. Another check kiting scheme? Check. Spain and Italy still out in the cold? Check. Conclusion -> buy EURUSD, and thus the ES, which has now recoupled with every uptick in the pair, but not downtick.
Gold has been trading in a tight box around $1,660/oz today, as eurozone finance ministers meet in Copenhagen to discuss the scale of the permanent “bailout fund” set for July. Gold has been stuck in range of roughly $1,630/oz to $1,700/oz in recent weeks as risk appetite has returned after the latest European debt “solution” which saw the battered can kicked down the shortening road once again. Nothing has been solved with regard to the European debt crisis, and debt crises in Japan, the UK and the US now loom. The misguided panacea of heaping debt upon debt and shifting debt onto government balance sheets, debt monetisation and currency debasement is leading to continuing currency devaluations internationally. Despite this or maybe because of this - risk appetite returned with a vengeance as evidenced in equities internationally rising to multi-month and multi-year highs and the slight weakness in gold in March. So far in 2012, gold has performed well and is set to end the first quarter in 2012 with gains in all major currencies. Gold is 6.3% higher in US dollars, 3.2% higher in euros, 3.1% higher in pounds, 2.25% higher in Swiss francs and 12% higher in Japanese yen which fell sharply in the quarter.
- Greek PM does not rule out new bailout package (Reuters)
- Euro zone agrees temporary boost to rescue capacity (Reuters)
- Madrid Commits to Reforms Despite Strike (FT)
- China PBOC: To Keep Reasonable Social Financing, Prudent Monetary Policy In 2012 (WSJ)
- Germany Launches Strategy to Counter ECB Largesse (Telegraph)
- Iran Sanctions Fuel 'Junk for Oil' Barter With China, India (Bloomberg)
- BRICS Nations Threaten IMF Funding (FT)
- Bernanke Optimistic on Long-Term Economic Growth (AP)
A bevy of economic data misses overnight, including German and UK retail sales, Japan industrial production, UK consumer confidence, and a European economy which is overheating more than expected (2.6% vs 2.5% exp, although with $10/gas this is hardly surprising), and futures are naturally green. The reason: the broken record that is the European FinMins who are now redirecting attention from the slowly fading LTRO impact to the good old standby EFSFESM, which according to a statement by de Jager has now been agreed on at €800 billion, lower than last week's preliminary expectation for €940 billion in joint firepower. That this is nothing but a headline grabber is as we have noted before, as there is much doublecounting, capital allocation to and by the PIIGS as well as funding already assigned. It will likely take stocks some time before the realization dawns that this is not new capital and liquidity entering the markets, unlike QE on either side of the Atlantic, while the amount is largely inadequate to fill the multi-trillion liquidity shortfall, let alone "solvency" of European sovereigns and banks. So for now enjoy the greenness all around.
David McWilliams (of Punk Economics) is back (previous discussions here and here) and this time he takes on the the flood of liquidity and the false recovery that has been created. Starting with a discussion of gas prices and the central banks' recklessness behind it, he swiftly shifts to the 'shambles in Greece' where more debt is supposed to solve the problem of too much debt yet again. From extreme highs in Greek rates to extreme lows in rates among the major developed economies he juggles with the conundrum of injecting liquidity to reflate a bubble in order to avoid the consequences of the bursting of a bubble - brilliant (as those Guinness chaps would say) - as this merely pushes the next crash out a few more years but making it bigger and more devastating. Global Central banks have pumped $8.7tn into the banking system to 'save the world'. Saving the banks has cost more money than it cost to fight WWII, the first Gulf War, put a man on the moon, clean up after last year's Japanese Tsunami, and the entire African aid budget for the last 20 years all put together. Context is key - is it any wonder asset prices have risen since there has been so much cash looking for a new home - why hold something that is printed everyday (cash) when you can hold something that is actually running out like oil or gold. The punchline is what goes in must come out - and that means inflation - as the 'trip' of excess liquidity comes home to roost. Must watch.