As we noted earlier, the Fed tweaked the language a little on the latest economic data but chnaged nothing on their plans for our 'great recovery':
- *FED SAYS HOUSING SECTOR SHOWS SOME FURTHER SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT
- *FED SAYS U.S. HOUSEHOLD SPENDING ADVANCED `A BIT MORE QUICKLY'
- *FED REPEATS `EXCEPTIONALLY LOW' RATES AT LEAST THROUGH MID-2015
- *FED REPEATS IT WILL CONTINUE OPERATION TWIST THROUGH YEAR-END
- *FED TO KEEP BUYING $40B A MONTH OF MORTGAGE-BACKED SECURITIES
- *FED REITERATES `SIGNIFICANT DOWNSIDE RISKS' TO ECONOMY
Pre: 10Y 1.775, ES 1410.5, Gold 1701, EUR 1.2964
By now everyone knows that as part of QEternity, Uncle Ben is currently monetizing $40 billion in MBS per month, a number which as we first forecast hours after its announcement and which everyone is now piling on to reaffirm, will rise to $85 billion in outright, unsterilized monetization beginning January 1, 2013 (as anything less would be seen as impllicit tightening in a market which now needs $85 billion in Fed Flow monthly simply not to collapse). This is fungible money which is going solely to benefit the banks, whose reserves with the Fed swell, and which proceeds can be used for virtually any purpose - from buying MBS (which they are doing) to 300x P/E stocks like AMZN - but not to be lent out to those desperately seeking loans? Why: one simple reason - the banks are already mired in legacy litigation from loans made during the last housing bubble (just see the hundreds of mortgage-related lawsuits Bank of Countrywide Lynch is a defendant in and you will get a sense of how bad it is) and the last thing they need is a repeat of that. And while the Fed has only one monetary easing pathway, which always goes through the banks, we wish to demonstrate to our readers what, in a thought experiment ignoring all the obvious practical considerations, the equivalent benefit to the general population would be if instead of being held by the banks and used to make the rich even richer, this money would bypass the banking syndicate and go straight to the US job seeker...
Legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens famously calls America’s oil imports ‘the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.’ Pickens is referring to the money that is paid each year to oil exporting nations, particularly those in the Persian Gulf which raked in around $100 billion last year. No doubt, this is an enormous transfer of wealth. But it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the TRILLIONS that Ben Bernanke gives the world’s elite. It constitutes, by far, the greatest transfer of wealth in history, vastly exceeding America’s energy imports. It’s an unconscionable, immoral, ridiculous game. But there’s good news– we can stop playing whenever we want. We don’t HAVE to hold their worthless currency. We don’t HAVE to keep transferring our purchasing power to an elite group. We can “opt-out”. Trade as much of their paper as you can for something REAL, especially physical precious metals.
There was a time when the announcement of lawsuits against Bank of America for the fraudulent mortgage practices of the worst M&A acquisition of all time - Countrywide Financial - sent the stock of BAC plunging. Now, it has become a daily thing and any incremental news barely cause a budget in the stock. One just needs to look at the surging Reps and Warranties claims against the bank (most recently in the latest Q3 earnings report) for improper mortgage conduct in the past to get a sense that very soon the firm's entire market cap will be less than the liability and litigation reserve it will need to establish against the avalanche of lawsuits we predicted back in October 2010. The litigation against the bank now is so large, that it will soon have to pull its TBTF get out of bankruptcy card just to avoid being sued to death in a 1000 legal paper cuts. This explains why the just announced latest lawsuit against BAC by the NY District Attorney, seeking $1 billion or so, for fraudulent loan-origination practices barely caused a stir in the stock.
Last month, hours after the announcement of QEternity, we said that in validation of the 'Flow' model taking over from the Fed's flawed 'Stock' model, the Fed will have no choice but to continue the long-end $85 billion in monetary flow addition to the market, if not economy (i.e. expand the QE program from $40bn per month to $85bn per month starting in January - in order to maintain the 'flow' post-Operation Twist). Last night, Goldman has officially agreed with us (as has Bloomberg's chief economist Joe Brusuelas). It appears that starting January 2013 Ben is really going to town. But don't expect this to be announced today. It will, as Goldman speculates, be disclosed at the Fed's December FOMC meeting. For now, two weeks ahead of the election, expect more "autopilot" from Bernanke as coming up with any surprises 'now' would be seen as beyond political.
While the infamous 'Gundlach' trade has done remarkably well since inception, our view on NatGas has become less vociferously bullish recently as the more constructive factors such as an under-appreciation of declining production and rising utility demand. While their remains upside potential to gas prices over the next 18 to 24 months, we tend to agree with Credit Suisse as they note five reasons why a near-term pause in pricing is likely. With unconventional supply more resilient than many had expected - covering the fall in conventional supply and absent an extremely cold winter (which NOAA is not expecting), a range-bound NatGas pricing market seems the new normal (for now).
With Greece making headlines with extensions rumors (from the Greeks) and denials (from the Germans), we continue to hear of the resurgence in the Greek stock market. It must mean something after all - its up almost 90% in the last few months! The following two charts may give those who 'believe' a little pause for thought as the Athens Stock Index was down 91% from its 2007 highs before it rebounded and we remind those 'option' buyers that Eastman Kodak had fallen 93.5% from its highs before rebounding a remarkable 300% off the March 2009 lows, before giving up all of that into bankruptcy just a few short years later. Recency bias is a behavioral instinct that this market has become beholden to - but perhaps a step back might enable a little more perspective on just where we are.
Bernanke has fired his infinite bazooka and yet markets have done nothing but slide since and macro-economic data are showing further signs of weakness (New Orders and Capex) with the reality under the headlines of a housing 'recovery' hardly green-shoots. Draghi remains sidelined with his conditionally infinite bazooka as his region of the world slides deeper and deeper into the abyss of recession/depression with IFO expectations and New Orders slumping and deleveraging continuing. So, it seems, the hope for moar-money from central-bankers remains squarely on the shoulders of the PBoC. However, a glimmer of green shoots as a gentle acceleration PMI (and New Export Orders? to Japan?) suggest (as Goldman's Jim O'Neill would have us believe) that the Chinese have manufactured a slow landing (for now - given 'their' data). Hardly the driver for the next major round of stimulus that is so required to fill deleveraging shoes (leaving aside the question of food inflation concerns). So a 'blip' of a green shoot in China is in fact nothing to be celebrated as the world remains a closed-loop (no martians yet) and two of the world's three largest economies are lagging badly. Look at these three charts and decide which way the world is heading!
"The price action over the past few weeks in the wake of the markets getting more from the Fed than they could have ever expected heading into an election is a clue that the times indeed could be a changing. The 1987 paradigm underwent a similar period of choppy trade before melting down. Of course, crashes by their nature are a rare breed and the probability of one occurring is astronomically low. That said, should the S&P 500 fail to hold the 1400 level over the next few days (especially on a closing basis) we wouldn’t wait around too long in anticipation that the modern day version of LOR will save the day. The chart makes it clear that quantitative easing has diminishing returns. Soon they could be negative."
Both capitalism and democracy promise the opportunity for upward mobility. Capitalism offers upward mobility to anyone with a profitable idea or productive skillset and work ethic. Democracy implicitly promises a "level playing field" of meritocracy, where talent, drive and hard work open opportunities for advancement. Crony capitalism offers wealth to the class that already possesses it. Feudalism bestows "rights" to wealth to a favored few. In a way, upward mobility is a real-world test of a nation's economic and social order: if upward mobility exits in name only, then that nation is neither capitalist nor democratic. Stripped of propaganda and misleading labels, it is a feudal society or a crony-capitalist economy masquerading as a capitalist democracy. The wealth that could have been transferred to the next generation has been consumed suporting a "middle class" lifestyle and providing the next generation with what was once the basis for advancement: a university education, healthcare insurance, a reliable vehicle, etc. Now that jobs are hard to find and compensation is low, the next generation still needs the accumulated wealth of the household to get by. That is not upward mobility, it is downward mobility, on a vast and largely unnoticed scale.
On the surface, today's New Home Sales number was great (as always tends to happen just before a presidential election): a print of 389K seasonally adjusted annualized units sold in the US (ignoring the 37.3% collapse in the Midwest), which was a 5.7% increase from August's downward (unlike initial jobless claims, when one is attempting to report an increase, the last number is always revised downward) revised 368K (was 373K). This number was the highest adjusted print since April 2010, which makes for great headlines. So far so good, until one looks beneath the headline and finds that the 389K number (to be revised lower next month), is based on a September unadjusted number of 31K in actual sales, consistting of 3K sales in the Northeast and MidWest each, 16K in the South and 9K in the West. This is the unadjusted number, which as last week's BLS fiasco with Initial Claims showed, applying seasonal adjustments is the easiest and best way to manipulate any data set (for more see X-12 Arima's FAQ). This was the lowest print since February's 30K, the same as August's 31K, and well below the 35K from May 2012.
Everyone's favorite internet narcissism site has exploded in the pre-market. After reporting some not as bad as expected numbers, analysts at Citi, BofAML, and Stifel have upgraded the wunder-stock to BUY and that has sent this 14% of float shorted stock up 25% - to its huge gap-down level from 7/26 (last earnings). Technical squeeze of all-clear? With 23 Buys, 15 Holds, and 4 Sells, what can go wrong? Especially with ~$16bn of market cap from lockup expirations due to hit within two months.
Each and every day, a veritable smorgasbord of CEOs are trotted out before our very eyes to spew forth their company's vision and how it's all looking so rosy. Of course we hang on every word as gospel and react accordingly. Similarly, a rise in consumer sentiment is more ammunition for bulls to argue that animal spirits are here and we can go back to the old re-leveraging ways of spending-more-than-we-have (or ever will have). There's only one problem - when push comes to shove and real capital has to be put to work, its not happening! Expectations for capital expenditure (investment in growth and maintenance) has plunged in the last few months, while at the same time, consumer sentiment has surged (no doubt led by an ebullient equity market and inherent recency bias). As we wrote previously, in an environment of soaring liquidity and free money, the hurdle rate on new investments collapses, as does the requirement to invest in CapEx, both growth and maintenance. In fact, as we have shown over the past year, the age of the global asset base has hit a record high across the world, both in the developed and developing countries, leading to record low return on assets on record low assets (and record debt encumbrance, but that's a different story). And since companies are forced to dividend cash to shareholders at a record pace (in lieu of fixed income in a ZIRP environment), there is less and less cash left to support CapEx spending (or hiring!).
For all those wondering why next time Mario Draghi will need to pull a "Merkel Lampoons Greek Vacation" next time he comes to Berlin, and is accompanied by 7,000 policemen, here is the Goldmanite's full speech, with the five key lies highlighted for general consumption.
Printing trumped the European recession until the spigots were either turned off or became ineffective. What else is that you can promise the markets after “limitless” and “uncapped” play out? With short rates at just above Zero, with everything promised now except the kitchen sink and with the economies in a major part of Europe falling into the abyss where is it that you think we are going besides down? I would argue that the central banks did what they could, delayed the inevitable but that it was always a question of when and not if before earnings turned grim and the markets reversed.