Via Mark E. Grant, author of Out of the Box,
Surveying the Landscape
Look around. Take a good long and hard look because the data is becoming unsettling and it is pouring in from all over the world. In China, where a hard landing was thought to have been avoided; one moment please, not so fast. China’s industrial output is now the weakest since 2009 and the latest figures represent the seventh consecutive quarter of deceleration. Most troubling is that China’s sales to Europe declined -16.2% last month which is a huge drop off and shows clearly the recession that is taking place and worsening on the Continent. Estimates for Chinese third quarter growth are being reduced on an almost daily basis and loan demand has taken a drubbing. The world’s growth engine is sputtering and there will be consequences. In the other driver of Asian growth Japan is markedly weakening. GDP expanded at 2.3% in the last quarter which was down almost 50% from the first quarter of this year. A Bloomberg survey places growth at just 1.00% for this quarter and there may be a negative number by the fourth quarter.
In Europe the situation is dramatically worsening with virtually every country in a recession with the notable exception of Germany though I predict they will join the club by the fourth quarter of this year or by the first quarter of next year. Italy just reported out their GDP at -2.5% for the second quarter and their prospects are not good with the third quarter likely to be down more than three percent in my estimation. Borrowing costs are also beginning to weigh on Italy as they have a two trillion dollar sovereign debt where their ten year is +441 to Germany and not likely to get better anytime soon. Even if you are a believer in some new ECB/ESM scheme the German courts will not opine on the ESM until September 12 and then there are still a number of countries that have not approved the plan so that any actualization of some scheme is unlikely to come before late in the third quarter or in the fourth quarter. It is an interesting side note that when Monti took office that the Italian/German ten year spread was just +78 bps so I think it can be said with accuracy that his tenure, as demonstrated by the numbers and not the hyperbole, has not been the rose garden so often praised by Germany and France. In another interesting side note Goldman reported that it had cut its holding of Italian sovereign debt by 92% and if one considers their CDS exposure they have actually gone to a position of almost one billion negative from a plus $2.4 billion position in March.
While the Prime Minister of Spain dances around and shouts at Don Quixote’s windmills I think that it is quite likely now that Spain will be forced to officially ask for aid and that it will be soon. Then I think that Italy will follow suit which will rest the funding squarely on the shoulders of Germany and France and with economies totaling just $6.33 trillion or 56% of the United States, there will be real consequences and real pain as the allocations grow for these two countries and as Greece and Portugal line up again at the till. Short term solutions and liquidity do not overcome the fundamentals in the end and paying off debt with an ever increasing mountain of more debt is a concept that historically has often proved to be a failure. I fear that Germany and France face more downgrades and the reality of Germany’s 160% debt to GDP ratio, my calculation, will begin to drive capital out of Germany as the actual numbers are appreciated and considered.
Sometime in October, if not sooner, rhetoric is going to be put aside and either another $50 billion is going to be handed to Greece or the charade will stop. The country cannot pay their debts under any scenario imagined and it is just a question if the game will go on a bit longer or not. Of one thing I am sure; it cannot go on indefinitely and when it finally does stop it will not be the “manageable” event that some European politicians contend. It is going to be one sloppy mess that will affect the ECB which will require re-capitalization, it will hit many banks in Germany and France and losses will have to be taken by the EU’s Stabilization funds if not the IMF. Everyone is campaigning for everyone else to take the losses of course and eventually someone will take them and the debts have been allowed to grow big enough so that the hits will not be insignificant. The tension is increasing in both Greece and Europe and the accusations have not been pretty and will get worse so that I think some tipping point will be found before year end. There is now too much strain for the great “Muddle” to continue much longer and as the economy in Greece continues its freefall and as the unemployment numbers spike into the Uganda latitudes; something is bound to crack. Remember that everything is fine up until the day it is not and then it is really, really unfine!
For those that think that the Fed will save the day, if not the planet, I suggest to you that you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. There is only so much they can do now and each Fed action is being met by a less and less reaction in the markets and of a shorter duration. The proposed ECB/ESM scheme will also not be that panacea thought by many in my opinion regardless of the hype broadcast out of Europe. The nations that need funding are clearly squared up with the nations that could fund and I remind each of you that those with the gold make the rules. Beggars may shout and scream and appeal to whomever and whatever might get them the money but it is not their decision to make in the end. For those that think America lives in some kind of off-the-world existence and will not be affected by all of this then I invite you back to the planet Earth. With equity volumes declining to five year lows and a range that is bound more by hopes and prayers than actual considerations of earnings or of our GDP I find if highly probable that we will break to the downside while Treasuries continue their march higher in price again as the fiscal dangers become more pronounced and appreciated.
For a kick in yield try the trups/hybrids of the British banks. The American bank and finance hybrids and trups have appreciated markedly in recent weeks while the British ones have lagged considerably. Here is a small space than can be taken advantage of now in my opinion.