On December 20, when we posted on the miraculous surge in the Philly Fed, offsetting the far weaker NY Fed data, we were left scratching our heads as the upwardly inflecting data made little sense in the context of broader data. To wit: "Three days ago the New York Fed released the December print Empire State index which showed a broad contraction across all key verticals. Today, in fine "keeping them baffled with bullshit" form, the Philly Fed swing precisely the other way, and despite expectations for a second consecutive negative print of -3 to be precise, up from -10.7 last month, the General Business Activity indicator printed at 8.1, the highest print since April, with New Orders at 10.7, the highest since February, and Employment at 3.6, the highest since April. Naturally, the algos pretending to trade on news, took this news and ran futures higher..." We also added, rather providently, "Needless to say, all economic data in the US at this point is completely meaningless, with regional distortions, seasonal adjustments, political pressures and overall central planning making a mockery of the US economic data apparatus." Today, 20 days after the data release, we get the explanation for this very surprising jump, which naturally put the algos in a buying tizzy and sent the market higher by 1% (before it flash crashed late in the night) on the date of its release, as well as the latest validation of our skepticism, courtesy of the Philly Fed annual data revision. So how does December looks like pre and post-revision? Well, it is self-explanatory: look at the chart and decide for yourselves - blue is original, red is revised.
We already posted Howard Marks' most recent letter in its entirety previously, but it bears reposting a section from Art Cashin's daily letter which focuses on one segment of Marks' thoughts, which is especially relevant in light of today's most recent comment from one Warren Buffett - a person who very directly benefited from the government/Fed's bailout of the banking sector in 2008 - who said that "Bank Risk No Longer Threatens U.S. Economy." The same banks, incidentally, who are TBerTFer than ever. An objective assessment or merely yet another example of the "handcuff volunteerism" (not to mention crony hubris) Marks touches on? Readers can decide on their own.
The credit markets this week already look very different to how they ended last year. As BofAML's Barnaby Martin notes, beta-compression, flatter curves and credit outperformance versus equity have all been abundant themes of late. Relative value is still there, when one looks closely, but is unfortunately not what it used to be. He adds that "things in credit have started to feel a lot like 2007 again," and while he believes the trend is set to continue (though slower) and the liquidity-flooded fundamentals in the high-yield bond market have been holding up well, it is trends in the leveraged loan market, that continue to deteriorate, that are perhaps the only canary in the coal-mine worth watching as global central bank liquidity merely slooshes to the highest spread product in developed markets (until that is exhausted). The rolling 12m bond default rate among European high-yield issuers fell to 1.8% in December, whereas loan default rates rose to 8.5%. With leverage rising, the hope for ever more greater fools continues, even as everyone is forced into the risky assets.
The market has completely forgotten about the cliff (i.e., sequester and other, if any, spending cuts), about the debt ceiling, about the drag on the economy from the payroll tax increase, about central bank currency warfare, and is now fully engrossed by the hedge fund war between Ackman (and possibly Chanos, certainly Tilson) vs Loeb (and possibly Icahn) over the valuation of Herbalife: $0 or $60. Which is why today's HLF "analyst day" investor presentation - whose sole purpose is to refute Ackman's 300+ page monster accusing HLF of being a pyramid scheme - may be the most discussed event by carbon-based traders.
At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, Deutsche Bank made some extraordinarily large bets. As the WSJ reports, documents uncovered from the Libor rate manipulation investigation show huge outsized bets that would swing EUR68 million on a 1bps shift in the Libor rate that they have since been charged with manipulating. Sure enough, with regards the risk (which was large enough to be brought to management's attention), officials "dismissed those concerns because the bank could influence the rates they were betting on."
Initial claims came, saw and missed for the 4th week in a row, printing at 371K, on expectations of a decline from 372K to 365K. As happens at the end of every year when employers turn on the pink sheet machine, the not seasonally adjusted number soared from 490K to 552K in the week ending January 5, a difference to the seasonally adjusted print of 181K. This is to be expected. What was unexpected is that the last week print saw its first downward adjustment in what seems years (it actually is years), with the December 29 week claims number declining from 372K to 367K, probably as a result of all the year end guessing that goes on to assist the other guessing that goes into the seasonal adjustment guessing. In short: everyone is guessing. States that saw a surge in layoffs in the week ended December 29 were MI (+15K) and PA (+12K) due to "Layoffs in the manufacturing industry", and "Layoffs in the transportation, construction, food and beverage manufacturing, and metals industries." Finally those claiming extended benefits plunged by 76K in the last week of 2012, putting further pressure on the strength of the US consumer. Overall a report that confirms that 6 years after the start of the Depression, propped by some $15 trillion in central bank reserve liquidity injections the bulk of which has been used to prop stock markets, there is still no actual improvement in the economy.
Last time around, Draghi hinted at a fresh round of rate cuts. Nothing happened. In today's press conference, he will likely hint at it again, and nothing will happen once more: for now the ongoing threat of a Spanish bailout (now in its 6th month) has pushed Spanish 2 year yields to the lowest level since 2010, which means the ECB is safely out of the picture for a while, or at least until the Spanish social security funds runs out of all cash to buy Spanish bonds. Only then, will the ECB be forced out of hibernation.
Judging by ongoing momentum moves in various European stock and bond market indicators, one could be left with the impression that something in the continent is actually improving. And while hope of improvement is certainly be high, the reality is vastly different as confirmed by the just released Greek unemployment data, which saw the broad unemployment rate soar to a fresh record high of 26.8% in October (24.1% males, 30.4% females - that's nearly one in three), up from a pre-revision 26.0% in September, and up from 19.7% a year ago, the youth (15-24 age group) unemployment rising again to a new all time high of 56.6% (up from 56.4%), and the ratio of those employed (3.68MM) to unemployed (1.34MM) plunging to a record low 2.75x. At this rate it may well hit 1.00x quite soon. But even sooner, perhaps in a few months, the total number of inactive workers (3.34MM) will surpass all those who are working. In short, the Greek collapse is just getting worse and worse.
No change from the ECB as expected, and despite a hint by Draghi last time that the governing council may cut rates, it did not. The boredom continues until 8:30 am Eastern when Draghi takes the podium and resumes his rendition of Greenspan.
- Obama Picking Lew for Treasury Fuels Fight on Budget (BBG)
- Deutsche Bank Bank Made Huge Bet, and Profit, on Libor (WSJ)
- Spain Beats Maximum Target in First 2013 Debt Sale (BBG) - In other news, the social security fund is now running on negative?
- "Icahn is also believed to have taken a long position in Herbalife" (NYPost) - HLF +5% premarket
- Lew-for-Geithner Switch Closes Era of Tight Fed-Treasury Ties (BBG)
- Turkey Beating Norway as Biggest Regional Oil Driller (BBG)
- Greek State Firms are Facing Closure (WSJ)
- Draghi Spared as Confidence Swing Quells Rate-Cut Talk (BBG)
- China’s Yuan Loans Trail Estimates (BBG)
- SEC enforcement chief steps down (WSJ)
- CFPB releases new mortgage rules in bid to reduce risky lending (WaPo)
- Japan Bond Investors Expect Extra Sales From February (BBG)
The main macro event today will be the interest rate announcement by the ECB due out at 7:45 am (with the Bank of England reporting earlier on its rate and QE plan, both of which remained unchanged as expected, which will remain the case until Carney comes on board) which is expected to be a continuation of the policy, with no rate cut despite some clamoring by pundits that Draghi should cut rates even more. Overnight, we got Chinese December trade (better than expected) and loan (slightly worse than expected) data, coming in precisely as a country which has a new communist politburo leadership implied they would. Of particular note was that the US has now replaced the EU as the largest Chinese export market: what happens when the euro weakens even further? But at least the net benefit to European GDP as a result of declining imports will, paradoxically, help. Elsewhere, Spain auctioned off more than than the expected €4-5 billion in its first 2013 auctions of 2015, 2018 and 2026 bonds, sending the 10 year SPGB yield to under 5%, or the lowest since 2010, a process driven by expectations of a Spanish bailout. Thus the incredible odyssey of Schrodinger Spain continues, whose interest rates are improving on hopes it is insolvent. Fundamentally, things got better nowhere, with Greek unemployment rising to 26.8% in October from 26.0% previously, while bad loans in Italy soared by 16.7% Y/Y to €121.8 billion, while loans to businesses dropped at the fastest pace ever. And so the scramble to offset the trade and economic collapse of Europe using central bank tools continues.
It will not come as a surprise to too many Zero Hedge readers but we feel a big told-you-so dance coming on again. Via BATS:
- *BATS SAYS 'SYSTEM ISSUE' CAUSED PRICING PROBLEMS OVER 4 YRS:WSJ
- BZX Exchange (10/24/08 - 01/04/13) Average Daily Incidents: 410.1 Total Incidents: 433,039
In simple terms BATS admits that the Reg NMS trading principle of NBBO (National Best Bid or Offer) has failed; meaning the core premise of market structure since 2005 has been massively abused by at least one and likely all exchanges. The bottom-line is that the primary and really only safeguard in the market when HFT was unleashed was never operational and the SEC has had i) no actual supervision over who or what was abusing the NBBO and ii) no way of keeping track of what really happens in the market.
Every nation-state has a body of laws woven into the fabric of society. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has commented on extensively, the stronger the rule of law, the stronger the economy. And by "stronger" laws, I mean laws that are impervious to tampering for personal or political gains. The connection between a sound judiciary and economic health is readily comprehensible, except maybe to a politician... businesses and individuals are far more likely to invest capital in a country with understandable laws that are impartially and universally enforced than if the opposite condition exists. That's because the lack of a consistent body of law breeds uncertainty and adds a huge element of risk for entrepreneurs. Which brings us back to the matter at hand – American justice on a slippery slope.
The release of the National Federation Of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Survey for December was much like the report we discussed in November. In short - there were very few positives to be found. The current survey was completed prior to the last minute "fiscal cliff" deal that raised taxes on small business owners and employers. It is unlikely that higher tax rates will spur businesses to expand employment, make capital expenditures or increase production. Furthermore, with the resolution to the upcoming debt ceiling likely resulting in few, if any, real spending cuts the worries about future economic strength will likely persist.
In light of this evening's entertainment from Paul Krugman, we thought QBAMCO's Paul Brodsky's view of the present debt-ceiling policy-through-the-looking-glass extremely apropos. Speaking of monetary abstractionism, there has been recent talk of a fiscal gimmick called “The Trillion Dollar Coin,” in which a platinum coin valued at $1 trillion would be created by the U.S. Mint for the Treasury Department. Treasury would then rid itself of its pesky fiscal deficit in one fell swoop by simply keeping the coin on deposit at the Fed. The TDC idea is a marvel of political imagination and public ignorance. Obviously, the TDC idea is a political ploy with a targeted mission: to rid the US Treasury of its debt ceiling, which is an increasingly frequent and embarrassing public reminder of government ineptitude. Everyone knows government-led de-levering is not a serious threat. However, the irony of the scheme and its MMT (Modern Money Theory, is espoused by imaginative economists technically proficient in double-entry bookkeeping and deficient in confidence that free marketplaces can provide accurate valuations) / liberal Keynesian promoters could not be more delicious. The scheme exposes the forty year-old charade, otherwise known as the global monetary system, better than any mind-exercise we have been able to come up with.