For six months the Japanese jawboning has seen investors front-running the BoJ, selling JPY and buying whatever risk-asset is the most correlated that day - whether it is the Nikkei 225 or the S&P 500. However, now that words have been replaced by actions, it appears that someone (cough Japanese institutions cough) has decided the 13.4-sigma swing in JGBs last night is just too much and have rotated to US Treasuries. The selling of JPY and buying of EUR (to fund peripheral bond buying) and USD (to fund Treasury buying) is very clear. That means, implicitly, that every ramp higher in JPY (weaker JPY) is simply more bond-buying - which leaves the algos directionless.
Economic conditions in Italy are as depressed as they've been since the end of WWII, the economy is still contracting, Italy's banks are in terrible shape, private sector lending is very strained, and the ECB's policy is not resolving the problems. As is typical in countries enduring this level of economic pain, the political situation is starting to get pretty chaotic. Bersani, the top vote getter in the recent elections, has been unable to form a government, new elections this year are increasingiy likely, and recent polling suggests a dead heat among Bersani, Berlusconi and the anti-establishment party of Grillo. Surge in support for Grillo creates a risk because it is not entirely clear what he would do if he came to power. He has made a clear promise to put the euro to a vote and generally thinks that the European fiscal and monetary policies have been a bad deal for Italy. Obviously, an attempt to revisit those policies by a country as systemically important as Italy could destabilize things fast, and the risk of a radical outcome is growing. And over the past few months there are indications of that risk getting priced in and putting pressure on Italy, particularly on its banking system. Italian banking spreads are up; there has been a modest pullback in banks' wholesale funding, a modest increase in their ECB borrowing and no bond issuance.
The “Marshmallow Test” is a landmark study in child psychology which tests a toddler’s ability to delay gratification in return for the promise of a reward in the future. Those who can wait 15 minutes unattended to eat a marshmallow are rewarded with a second treat. ConvergEx's Nick Colas, however, notes that more recent work on the topic, however, shatters the notion that innate self-control defines future success. The real answer is, Colas adds, not surprisingly, trust. If the child doesn’t believe their environment to be sufficiently predictable, they will be much more likely to gobble up the first treat regardless of any promised reward for waiting. Since all investing is ultimately a game of delayed gratification, trust plays an under-appreciated role in the success of any macroeconomic policy on long term capital market and economic outcomes. What it essentially says is that you can’t keep whacking away with novel policy programs until one catches hold. Trust in the system is what keeps the population playing along. And when that trust erodes, the next iteration of confidence-boosting measures is less effective. Repeat that cycle a few times and you end up with a population that will take the first marshmallow, gobble it down, and move on.
The Bank of England's Financial Policy Committee (BoEFPC) warns there is "evidence of the re-emergence of... behavior in financial markets not seen since before the financial crisis," citing the increased issuance of synthetic products and added that banks have "little margin for error against a backdrop of low growth in the advanced economies," despite what we are told about their 'fortress balance sheets. Bloomberg Businessweek adds that the BoE were careful not to scare the public, they add, events currently "did not appear indicative of widespread exuberance in markets. But developments would need to be monitored closely." This following the Fed's warnings of 'froth' in the credit markets suggests central bans are considerably more concerned at blowing bubbles than they want to admit in public. ECB's Weber recently commented that he feared, "the recent rally in financial markets could be a misleading signal," which appears confirmed by the BoEFPC noting that equity performance since mid-2012, "in part reflected exceptionally accommodative monetary policies by many central banks... But market sentiment may be taking too rosy a view of the underlying stresses."
A very odd week in Europe. European stock indices dropped 2-3% on the week (though interestingly Italy rebounded quite aggressively off the lows today to end only -0.5%) with financials notably off mid-week highs. Swiss 2Y rates closed at their lows (under -3bps) - almost 3 month lows as safe-havens remain bid. Europe's VIX is notably higher this week. But away from equity weakness and safety flows, Bunds were sold and Italian and Spanish bonds were bought with both hands and feet (biggest 4-day rally in a month). We can only imagine that the devastation overnight in the JGB market combined with the biggest 2-day jump in EURJPY in 5 years has squeezed hedges and liquidations everywhere. Italian bond spreads are 30bps tighter this week!!! Spain -22bps, and Bunds have underperformed Treasuries by 9bps. The other explanation is of course that the Spanish pension fund just allocated the remaining 3% to peripheral bonds.
Q. What is the fiscal multiplier on $529 in government stimulus?
A. If you are Fisker Automotive, zero.
While the terminal fate of the federally-subdizied car company was no secret to anyone, there were some questions when this latest example of idiotic government "capital allocation" would get Solyndraed. The answer is now.
As the investigation into unusual loan write-downs and the 'premature' movement of capital away from Cyprus by the elites of that nation progresses, Cyprus Mail reports that the investigators - Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) - have found that the information provided by Bank of Cyprus (BoC) was incomplete and data deleting software were found on the computers of two senior executives. "Our computer forensic technologists have found that the computers of two employees, (former CEO) Mr. (Andreas) Eliades and (senior manager group treasury and private banking) Christakis Patsalides, have had wiping software loaded, which is not part of the standard software installations at the BoC." Investigators found no e-mail files, mailboxes or user documents on Eliades’ desktop computer - "we had significant gaps in the e-mail data received from BoC for the period 2007 to 2010, a key period for our scope of investigation," and no email backups were performed. A&M is looking into how BoC accumulated €2.4bn worth of Greek government bonds (GGBs), later suffering huge losses because of that, and into BoC’s expansion to Romania and Russia. We are sure this is all above board and normal IT protocol for the bank... or not.
The enduring myth of the post-2008 era is that central-planning money printing and deficit spending would soon spark a self-sustaining recovery. Once consumers and businesses stepped up their own borrowing and spending, the central bank and state would then pare back money printing and deficit spending, as the increase in private-sector spending would fuel further borrowing and spending, i.e. become self-sustaining. The reality is the mythical self-sustaining recovery is the carrot dangled in front of a credulous public: though we're constantly reassured "we're almost there" (the promised land of self-sustaining recovery), the mythical recovery remains out of reach, no matter how much money is printed or borrowed and blown in fiscal stimulus. There are several key reasons for this.
Because we have discussed the issue of the age-bifurcated US jobs market extensively before, we are delighted to not have to say much if anything this time around, as absolutely everything is still the same. Since the arrival of Obama, the US workforce has been effectively split into two separate job markets: those 54 and younger (condolences) and those 55 and older. Specifically, since January 2009, the number of jobs created has been focused solely on the gerontocratic component of the US labor pool, those aged 55 to 69 (or more - gray line below), and who can no longer afford to retire as expected thanks to Bernanke's genocidal ZIRP policies which have made a mockery of savings. These older workers have seen a grand total of 4.02 million cumulative jobs created. Everyone else (or those 54 and younger - red line below)? A grand total of 2.8 million jobs lost, and now deteriorating once more, with those in the prime work demographic of 25-54 having lost the most jobs, 2.2 million, since the coming of Obama.
While the crisis in Europe is first in Goerge Soros' mind because it is the "hottest" risk flare currently, his biggest concern in what he calls the "disarray in global cooperation," or what we would call 'dueling central banks'. "The almost universal adaptation of quantitative easing," worries him and he notes that "Europe is the last bastion of orthodoxy," in this regard as the aging hedgie warns, "Europe is entering a situation that Japan is desperate to escape from," as "Japan has just abandoned - after 25 years of stagnation - a process that Germany is just in the process of imposing on Europe." But perhaps his clearest concern in this brief clip is that no matter what we are told, the central banks' actions are 'creating' increasing financial instability because, "let's face it, quantitative easing is really and directly competitive devaluation." But it is his comments on the actions of the BoJ that should be most concerning as he stated to CNBC, "What Japan is doing is actually quite dangerous because they are doing it after 25 years of just simply accumulating deficits and not getting the economy going," as he fears, should they actually get something [inflation] started, "they may not be able to stop it." If the yen starts to fall, which it has done, and people in Japan realize that it is liable to continue, and want to put their money abroad, then "the fall may become like an avalanche."
The markets, so abundantly juiced by the more than $100 billion pouring in from the Fed every month, are beginning to tire. Like repeated injections of some pain killer; the effects are noticeably starting to wear off. The thrill may not be gone but it is diminishing and one should take note of the condition of the patient. The ten year Treasury; the long bond. Watch them. Whatever your responsibilities; keep your eye on them. They are serving up lunch and are the best indicator of the courses to come. I believe now they are signaling that we have run out of Champagne and that Mad Dog 20/20 will be served with the duck.
Today, we got the laughable news that the unemployment rate declined even as those not in the labor force grew by over 660,000, while the total civilian non-institutional population grew by just 167,000 to 244,995, meaning the actual labor force declined by 496,000. Which is precisely the issue: fudging the labor force participation rate is how the Obama administration has managed to maintain the myth the economy has grown under his leadership for the past 4+ years. It hasn't, and in fact if one renormalizes for the recent long-term average participation rate of 65.8%, one gets a very different number. How different? A difference that is now at a record compared to what is reported. As the chart below shows, a "renormalization" process indicates a massive and record 4% difference between the reported unemployment rate of 7.6%, and what the real unemployment rate is assuming normal growth of the labor force, which in March was 11.6%, up from 11.3% in February, and the highest since August 2012 when it was 11.7%. More importantly, as the real unemployment chart shows, the economy has not improved by one bit since 2009!
The kneejerk response to this morning's dismal NFP print was significant disappointment. 10Y yields plunged to a 1.68% handle - its lowest in almost 5 months (and largest 3-day drop in yields in 10 months), S&P futures dropped 10 points (and were already weak overnight), Gold spiked, VIX futures popped over 1 vol to 15.3, and the USD weakened notably against the EUR (which broke above 1.30). The spike is being retraced now but very slowly.
So much for "open-ended QE driven recovery". Moments ago the March Non-farm payroll hit and it was a doozy, printing at 88K, below the lowest forecast of 100K, well below the expected number of 190K, and a tragedy compared to the February revised print of 268K (was 236K). This was the biggest miss to expectations since December 2009 and the worst print since June 2012. The unemployment rate declined to 7.6%, but this was due entirely to the collapse in the labor force participation rate, which declined by 20 bps to 63.3%, a new 30 year low.