That the US government's activities as a share of GDP have gone from well under 10% at the beginning of the last century to over 40% today – and will go over 50% by the time Obamacare is fully implemented – makes it clear that this country is now operating on principles that run completely contrary to those that promote success and economic well-being. The consequence of continuing to operate on this model will be a steady decline in the quality of life for most Americans, while favoring a ruling elite that produces nothing… except more roadblocks.
Two weeks ago we observed that the broadest money aggregate tracked by the Fed, M2, was less than $10 billion away from crossing the historic $10 trillion mark. As of this week, this number now officially has 14 digits for the first time ever, or $10,035,100,000,000 to be precise (technically the non-seasonally adjusted number crossed $10T last week, but for some reason bank deposits need to be seasonally adjusted, so waiting for the traditionally fudged data seemed appropriate). And we have a $50 billion increase in savings deposits, aka deferred buying power to those who still have the capacity to save, in one week to thank for putting $10 trillion in the rearview mirror.
As every Olympic athlete knows, size matters. The London 2012 medals are the largest ever in terms of both weight and diameter - almost double the medals from Beijing. However, just as equally well-known is that quality beats quantity and that is where the current global austerity, coin-clipping, devaluation-fest begins. The 2012 gold is 92.5 percent silver, 6.16 copper and... 1.34 percent gold, with IOC rules specifying that it must contain 550 grams of high-quality silver and a whopping 6 grams of gold. The resulting medallion is worth about $500. For the silver medal, the gold is replaced with more copper, for a $260 bill of materials. The bronze medal is 97 percent copper, 2.5 percent zinc and 0.5 percent tin. Valued at about $3, you might be able to trade one for a bag of chips in Olympic park if you skip the fish.
Most people, most markets, operate on the basis of reality and probable scenarios based upon fact. This is not true for the equity markets however as it is here where hopes and prayers and visions of Tinkerbell and little blue fairies that will come to the rescue reside. It is in the stock markets where great dreams take place and where Batman guards Metropolis. It is also here, however, where eyes tightly closed are pried open from time-to-time and where the horrors of the known universe stare back at you with disquieting eyes. Draghi represents the Southern contingency, the periphery nations, the troubled cousins who cannot live on what they make. This is all fine and dandy but do not kid yourself; if the Germans say “Nein” then it is “Nein” and any other conclusion is foolhardy. Whoosh and sorry for the dose of reality.
Fixed income markets have always focused closely on news about the US macro-economy; while traditionally, equity market participants have focused more on the “micro” data – in particular, news about current and prospective corporate earnings – to form their views about the relative attractiveness of different stocks or the market as a whole. Goldman finds that the financial crisis changed all that. The responsiveness of the US equity market to economic news increased dramatically, now showing about twice as much sensitivity to macro data as it did in the years before the financial crisis. While micro data remains important - especially in quantifying just how much QE-hope the market is 'abiding' by, macro news is likely to be the critical driver of equity markets until the global economic outlook is considerably brighter than it looks today (or macro decouples from Fed/ECB jawboning). On average the market’s responsiveness to all these economic indicators suggests that we are still very much living in a macro world. In the meantime, there are some exceptions to the fairly consistent reactions to economic news that we see between equity and bond markets.
With the 2012 London Olympics now underway, ConvergEx's Nic Colas takes a look at the business of the Games. As it turns out, the five-circle logo of the International Olympic Committee is essentially one of the strongest brands on the planet. The reason for this success seems to boil down to two fundamental drivers. In the developed economies of the world, the games represent an opportunity to reach a large audience that has grown fragmented and hard to reach due to everything from the social media to DVR devices. In emerging markets, ever-larger middle classes represent excellent growth opportunities for global brands. The bottom line is that the Olympics may prove to be the last piece of media content that remains relevant and interesting to the majority of the world’s consumers. The Olympics is therefore an unequivocal business success story, unharmed by global recession, sovereign debt woes, and the other economic problems of the moment. It just seems a shame that live-pigeon shooting and one-armed-weightlifting have been removed from the events and did dwarf-tossing ever make it?
The unconscionable behavior of the political class should be thought of as a contagious disease that infiltrates any industry that comes within influence of the state. Government contractors, lobbying associations, favored corporations, and even the press all seek to use the monopolized power of government to further their own interests. Instead of attempting to roll back stifling regulations, many of these firms simply wish to get in on the spoils of the great extortionary scheme. The results are always the same. Politicians pretend to be saving the people from cold-natured capitalism while politically-connected businessmen and bankers act as if their commercial success is completely of their own doing. The hidden truth is both act in tandem to fleece the average taxpayer.
Prayer, courtesy of central banks, may still be a "valid" investing strategy, but "growth" no longer is: for all the euphoria over the stock market outperformance in the last few days on the heels of one after another rumor of ECB intervention in the peripheral bond market (now largely denied by Germany's finance minister) one would think that managers of all funds would be delighted at the sudden reprieve they have gotten courtesy of the European central bank. One would be wrong: as GS' David Kostin calculates, at the end of June, 52% large-cap growth funds had underperformed the Russell 1000 growth fund, aka their benchmark index. Three weeks later, this number has soared to 68%, a 30% increase in underperformers, which means that despite the headline S&P print, the bulk of active stock pickers once again face that most dreaded of Wall Street possibilities: career risk. Said otherwise, while those positioned to outperform in an environment of global slowdown are celebrating, everyone else is again polishing their resume, as the following chart confirms.
Since the 2009 stock market lows, Europe has demonstrated what happens to capital markets when there is no central planner willing and able to accept the risk of runaway inflation in the future (not to mention soaring deficits and deferred austerity) in exchange for instant stock market gratification right here, right now. End result: the French, Italian and Spanish stocks markets have barely budged since their 2009 lows (and Spain is well below). How does this look in the context of all global stock markets on a Price to Book ratio? The answer is below.
Since it has now become the norm to spread myth, fairy tales and magic during the week, only to collapse the wave function of an insolvent "developed world" with a double dose of reality during the weekend when markets are conveniently closed (recall the Draghi in a Box phenomenon) only to repeat it all again the coming week, here is some more truth which may force Citi to hike its estimate of Greece leaving the Eurozone from 90% to 110% (or about how much of QE3 is now priced into the market): "Greece cannot be saved, that is simple mathematics," Michael Fuchs, deputy leader of the parliamentary group of Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party told weekly business magazine Wirtschaftswoche." Indeed, truth hurts, especially when accompanied by math. Which sadly is the problem these days in a world where math and surreality can no longer coexist. Sadly, in the absence of money growing trees, where one can create wealth out of thin air, not fiat dilution, disappointments such as these will only propagate until the game theoretical equilibrium we discussed yesterday has no choice but to finally make its appearance.
When day after day, for three days in a row last week, the ECB spread rumors that it would commence buying Spanish debt in what was in retrospect nothing but a massive bluff (just as we suggested yesterday), what passes for a market postulated that since there was no official German denial, and with Merkel on vacation that would mean a statement from her finance minister sidekick Wolfgang Schauble, that Germany was ok with the reactivation of Spanish bond buying and as a result ramped risk by over 4% in 3 days. All of that is about to wiped out as Schauble has finally spoken. Quote Spiegel: "For days, it is rumored that the ECB will buy Spanish government bonds in a big way. Now Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has rejected such reports - there was "no truth". And scene. Luckily all the momo chasers who bought stocks last week on hopes their prayer-based strategy will finally play out, will be able to sell ahead of all those other momo chasers who bought stocks last week on hope their prayer-based strategy will finally play out. Or maybe not.
There was not much in the GDP report that was unexpected, except durable goods. The decline in durable goods was comparable to Q2 2011, right down to the primary driver of that weakness - motor vehicles. However, there was no earthquake in Japan this year to disrupt supply chains, production schedules and brand availability. Just like last year, marginal economic growth overall seems to be backfilled with a tide of inventory. The trouble with inventory at the margins of growth is that it is essentially a build-up of forward demand, and therefore susceptible to reversal should overdone production move out of alignment with final demand. Both monetary and fiscal policies actively seek to pull forward demand, meaning this inventory-driven activity conforms to policy goals. It's almost like the 1960's and 70's, with motor vehicles and government spending driving the marginal economy again. All that’s missing is for Ralph Nader to show up and write about how cars are dangerous.
Update: a perfectly-timed release by S&P: S&P AFFIRMS UNITED KINGDOM 'AAA/A-1+' RATINGS; OUTLOOK STABLE.
In honor of today's commencement of the Olympics here are some entertaining charts that for once have nothing to do with an insolvent Europe or America, China's RAND() function, or much hated, non-magic based math, and instead have everything to do with the Olympics, and sport in general.
Any contrition on the part of Weill for his role in repealing Glass-Steagall might as well be an attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. It’s like trying to uninvent the atom bomb after Hiroshima. Weill was the guy who — above anyone else — was responsible for the damage done. Coming out and claiming that reimposing Glass-Steagall would fix the problem is inadequate. If he wants to be taken seriously he should match every dollar he spent trying to get Glass-Steagall repealed with new lobbying funds to reimpose a separation between banks that accept deposits and the shadow banking and derivatives casinos.
While it would appear that all news is good news; good news (or no news) is better news; and old-news is the best news; here is your one stop summary of all the notable bullish and bearish events in the past seven days.