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Consumer Health Diagnosis "Grim" As Four Out Of Five Spending Indicators Disappoint

Following up on Friday's abysmal consumer income data, we now take look at the spending side of the equation, without much optimism. Not surprisingly, as Bloomberg's Richard Yamarone summarizes, the consumer health picture in January was "grim" and "after adjusting for inflation and taxes, is simply insufficient to sustain the expansion." He adds that "over the last couple of weeks, no fewer than a dozen consumer-related companies made mention of the deterioration in incomes as a risk to  business and performances." Yamarone concludes: "Spending on discretionary items has softened in recent months. Four of our ‘Fab Five’ spending barometers fell or were unchanged in January from December. Comments from the Bloomberg Orange Book suggest further deterioration ahead." That this is happening with rates at zero, and with an effective countrywide mortgage payment moratorium allowing millions to live mortgage payment free, means that if and when things normalize, consumption - the driver of 70% of the US economy - will fall off the proverbial cliff.

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Chart Of The Day: China’s $3.3 Trillion FX Reserves Could Buy All World’s Gold Twice

China’s foreign currency reserves have surged more than 700% since 2004 and are now enough to buy every central bank’s official gold supply -- twice. The Bloomberg CHART OF THE DAY shows how China’s foreign reserves surpassed the value of all official bullion holdings in January 2004 and rose to $3.3 trillion at the end of 2012. The price of gold has failed to keep pace with the surge in the value of Chinese and global foreign exchange holdings. Gold has increased just 263% from 2004 through to February 28, with the registered volume little changed, according to data based on International Monetary Fund and World Gold Council figures. By comparison, China’s reserves rose 721% through 2012, while the combined total among Brazil, Russia and India rose about 400% to $1.1 trillion.

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Frontrunning: March 4

  • Must defend against Chinese colonial expansion and get the Nigerian oil: U. S. Boosts War Role in Africa (WSJ)
  • BOJ nominee Kuroda sets out aggressive policy ideas (Reuters)
  • China becomes world’s top oil importer (FT)
  • Baby Cured of HIV for the First Time, Researchers Say (WSJ)
  • Obama to nominate Walmart's Burwell as White House budget chief (Reuters)
  • Wal-Mart Anxious to Combat Amazon’s Lead in Web Vendors (BBG)
  • Nasdaq executing trades at a loss (FT)
  • Spending cut debate casts pall over Obama's second-term agenda (Reuters)
  • Russell Indexes to Reclassify Greece as Emerging Market (BBG)
  • Bond Bears Collide With Swaps Showing Low Rates (BBG)
  • Buffett Deputies Leaving Billionaire in the Dust Get More Funds (BBG)
  • Brazil's leftist president fights to win back business (Reuters)
  • U.S. Special Forces train Syrian Rebels in Jordan (Le Figaro)
  • Carlos Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (BBG)
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Sentiment Hobbled By Hawkish China Sending Futures Lower To Start The Week

Earlier we reviewed the overnight plunge in China stocks, especially those related to the real-estate market in the aftermath of the latest move by the State Council to be far more hawkish than expected, in its effort to curb property inflation. The economic and market weakness that resulted has followed through to overnight US and European futures, even as peripheral bonds are trading roughly unchanged, surprising many who thought this weekend's Beppe Grillo statement on the future of Italian debt and presence in the Eurozone would be market moving: it wasn't as Grillo said nothing that he had not already made quite clear. In other, more recent economic news, UK construction PMI imploded to recession levels, plunging to 46.8 from 49.0, far below expectations and the lowest print since October 2009, setting the stage for much more Goldman-led reflation by the BOE. Also negative was the drop in the Eurozone Sentix Investor Confidence index which tumbled to -10.6 from -3.9 on expectations of -4.3, sending the EURUSD deep into 1.29 territory. It appears the Sentix excludes the soaring German confidence, which two weeks ago was the sole driver of all upside, not once but twice in one week. Today we get the first day of the sequester being digested by the market - this togetger with an empty macro calendar in the US means rumors and headlines will determine how far GETCO's algo push the stop hunts during the first and last 30 minutes of trading.

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In France, Horse Tartare And Carpaccio Are Galloping To A Menu Near You

Even as the blissfully unaware people of one nation after another have learned much to their disgust that over the past however many years they had been consuming horseburgers, horse lasagna and maybe even Kentucky Fried Horse, in France the local chefs are wondering: what's the big deal? As BBC reports, "horse has long been enjoyed in some European countries. In Paris, fashionable chefs have actually been putting it back on their menus. So will more diners now be jumping for the horse tartare?" The French reality is that while horsemeat consumption has been declining and accounts for "just" 0.4% of all meat eaten, there are still 750 horse-butchers operating in the country, 17% of the population claim to have eaten horse at some time or another, and about 11,000 farmers continue to raise horses for the meat trade. But that may be about to change: the horsemeat renaissance is coming to a bistro near you.

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RANsquawk EU Market Re-Cap - 4th March 2013

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Previewing The Key Macro Events In The Coming Week

In the upcoming week the key focus on the data side will be on US payrolls, which are expected to be broadly unchanged and the services PMIs globally, including the non-manufacturing ISM in the US. Broadly speaking, global services PMIs are expected to remain relatively close to last month's readings. And the same is true for US payrolls and the unemployment rate. On the policy side there is long lost with policy meetings but we and consensus expect no change in any of these: RBA, BoJ, Malaysia, Indonesia, ECB, Poland, BoE, BoC, Brazil, Mexico.  Notable macro issues will be the ongoing bailout of Cyprus, the reiteration of the OMT's conditionality in the aftermath of Grillo's and Berlusconi's surge from behind in Italy. China's sudden hawkishness, the BOE announcement and transition to a Goldman vassal state, and finally the now traditional daily jawboning out of the BOJ.

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China Tumbles On Real-Estate Inflation Curbs: Biggest Property Index Drop Since 2008; Japan Downgraded On Abenomics

As we have been warning for nearly a year, the biggest threat facing China has been the fact that contrary to solemn promises, the problem of persistent, strong and very much relentless real-estate inflation has not only not been tamed but has been first and foremost on the minds of both the PBOC and the local government. After all with the entire "developed" world flooding the market every single day with countless billions in new cheap, hot money, it was inevitable that much of it would end up in the mainland Chinese real estate market. And since both the central bank and the politburo are well aware that the path from property inflation to broad price hikes, including the all critical to social stability pork and other food, is very short, it was inevitable that the issue of inflation would have to be dealt with eventually. Tonight is that "eventually", when following news from two days ago that yet another Chinese PMI indicator missed, this time the Services data which slid from 56.2 to 54.5, the government announced its most aggressive round of property curbs yet. The immediate result was that the Shanghai Stock Exchange Property Index slumped by a whopping 9.3%, the steepest drop since June 2008, and pushing it down to -11% for the year. The weakness also spread to the broader market, with the Composite closing down 3.65% the biggest drop in months, and now just barely positive, at +0.2%, year to date. We expect all 2013 gains to be promptly wiped out when tonight's risk off session resumes in earnest.

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What Happens If "Whatever It Takes" Is Not Enough?

Since promises are as good as gold (or better apparently) for the world's central bankers, the BoJ's new man Kuroda dropped those three little words that worked so wonderfully for Draghi back in July. At 1943ET, Kuroda told the world he would do "whatever it takes" to rid his nation of the ravages of deflation. However, unlike the 200 pip rally in EURUSD that Mr. Draghi's soothing words created (and a risk on rally that last for months); it appears the world's investors are a little tired of that ol' chestnut. Since Kuroda opened his mouth and kept promising moar and moar (open-ended buying of longer-dated bonds), the Nikkei has dropped over 100 points and USDJPY has strengthened 60 pips and rising. The question now becomes, what happens if 'whatever it takes' is not enough? Meanwhile the JPY strength is wreaking mild havoc with US equity futures which have dropped 6 points from Friday's close.

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Forget Bond Vigilantes, Oakland Residents Now Policing Themselves

So this is what is happening in Oakland, one of the many forgotten about, left-behind corners of America, "Oakland’s crime problems have gotten so bad that some people aren’t even bothering to call the cops anymore; instead, they’re trying to solve and prevent crimes themselves." Since we all know by now the bureaucracy will not be coming to the rescue, the sooner we figure out solutions on our own the better. Welcome to the recovery!


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Name That Market? +8.6% Average Annual Return Over 33 Years, Worst Drawdown -4%

'Buy-and-Hold'; Bonds-Schmonds. Sometimes a longer-term perspective is useful for context. Whether you are a safety-seeking, "some-return-is-better-than-no-return" bond-holder; or a "Jim Cramer said 'all clear' so I'm nuts deep in stocks" wannabe trader; the charts below at least provide from insight into why all that 'crazy' money might prefer the bond market to the stock market. Since rear-view-mirror investing appears the meme of the moment (and hope is now a strategy), it makes one wonder, when fixed income returns average 8.6% per annum for 33 years with a maximum 4% drawdown annually as opposed to stocks with a 8.9% per annum return and four 10%-plus annual drawdowns (and two 50% intra-period collapses within a decade). While we hold no judgment here, arguing that rates are so low they can't go any further is futile (ask Ben and see Japan) and applies just as well to equity multiples, margin expectations, and fundamentals. Context is king, be informed.

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Good Italy, Bad Italy, 'Girlfriend-In-A-Coma' Italy

"Imagine you have a girlfriend; and she is Italy. You love her dearly, but she is in a coma. She has been sick for a long, long time." Former Economist Editor Bill Emmott's expansive BBC documentary asks where has Italy gone wrong and examines (deep down inside) the good sides about the country as well as the disasters. With the next few weeks/months dominated by talking heads claiming to be experts on Italy, Italian politics, and Italian society; perhaps spending a few minutes on a Sunday night learning as opposed to guessing which blond will pick which buff young man in a reality show (or who Trump will fire) is time well spent (with a big glass of Chianti obviously).


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This Time It's The Same - And That's Not Good

There has been much discussion by the mainstream media of the rise in gas prices since we initially showed the equity market's dependence (or transitory correlation if you are a Keynesian) on this consumer-crushing unintended consequence of the new normal liquification of our economy. However, while most have focused on the absolute levels (as we noted the $3.75-80 Regular appears to be a limiter in recent years), over time this has not been the case. The stagnation of average hourly earnings combined with the price of gas shows why the last two years have not had the consumer-driven surge of the initial 2009 lurch (or the pre-crisis economy). We are trapped in an era when the average hourly wage buys a de minimus amount of energy and just as we saw heading into 2008, this relative price surge is occurring just as the macro-economic data itself is rolling over. This time it's the same - a double-dip in macro surprises driven by relative gas prices.

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So You Want To Short The Student Loan Bubble? Now You Can

Even as the gargantuan $1+ trillion student debt load has been the bubbly elephant in the room that few are still willing to talk about, there have been until now zero opportunities for a the proverbial highly convex "ABX" short in the student debt space. This of course is the trade that was put on by those who sensed the subprime bubble is about to pop in early/mid 2007 and made billions as the yield chasers were summarily punished one by one as first New Century blew up, and then everyone else. Yet while one was able to buy synthetic "hedge" exposure with limited downside and unlimited upside (by shorting synthetic index spreads) in subprime, so far the only way to be bearish on student debt has been to short the equity of various private sector lenders - a trade with very limited upside and unlimited downside, and which in the current idiotic New Normal is more likely to leave one insolvent and crushed in a smoldering heap of margin calls following yet another epic short squeeze as GETCO's stop hunting algo run amok. This may be about to change. As WSJ reports, SecondMarket Holdings, the private-market securities trading firm best known for allowing numerous overzealous fans to buy FaceBook at moronic valuations, on Monday "will roll out a platform allowing lenders to issue securities backed by student loans directly to investors." 

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Guest Post: Playing Financial Chicken In Your Golden Years

My generation, born during or near post World War II, has been quite fortunate. Those of us lucky to have been born in the US during this period hit a sweet spot of both place and history. The economy thrived, standards of living soared and many avoided the numerous wars that dominated the Twentieth Century. Today, the future does not look so bright. Economies are stagnant, standards of living are declining and the threats of war increase. Younger generations will have more difficult lives than my generation. Life has its own ways of ensuring that TANSTAAFL (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”) is enforced. My twilight years now present major challenges. Because high inflation and a market collapse are real possibilities, I (and millions of others who believe similarly) am forced into playing the wildly dangerous game of financial chicken. When we should be enjoying our retirement and grandchildren, government has forced us to take risks that even wild teenagers likely would avoid.

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