April ended on a weak tone (after another set of weak macro data) with a day of risk-asset deterioration amid low ranges and low volumes as the S&P 500 broke its 4-day rally streak. AAPL was a standout having given back over 60% of its post-earnings spike and nearing a break below its 50DMA once again. HY credit outperformed with an afternoon surge (in HYG also) taking it back into the green for the month - even as the S&P 500 remains marginally off March's close and underperformed along with IG credit today. Treasuries leaked lower in yield for most of the day but gave half of it back into the close (after Treasuries' best month in 7 months - perhaps a modestly expected give back on some rebalancing). Gold outperformed Silver once again today as Silver fell back to basically retrace all of its YTD gains relative to stocks - both up just over 11% YTD now (note that Silver was +32% prior to LTRO2). Stocks remain rich relative to Treasuries less-than-stellar implications but financials (which had their worst month since November) dragged the broad market down for its first losing month in the last six, as Utilities and Staples the only sectors with a reasonable gain this month. JPY strength and AUD weakness were evident and implied weakness today but in general the USD did very little on this last day of the month. VIX ended above 17% on the day, up almost 1vol as the term structure bear-flattened a little. Overall, a weak-end to the month with little apparent confidence in extending the QE-hope trend of the last few days as stocks remain hugely rich to broad risk-assets overall and most notably Treasuries.
What Would Krugman Do? (obviously, that is rhetorical). Supreme Keynesian Voodoo acolyte Paul Krugman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul go head to head on fixing the U.S. economy at 4pm ET today on Bloomberg Television’s “Street Smart.” Watch the live webcast beginning at 3pm ET for Krugman, who will be guest-hosting “Street Smart” until 5pm ET. On the heels of the recent "controversial" NYT piece, where Krugman called on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to do more for the U.S. economy, Krugman will be asked to explain exactly how more stimulus will create jobs and put the economy back on the growth track. Also just what rug will the trillions in additional debt be swept under. Then at 4pm, Krugman will face the ultimate debate with Ron Paul, who has called for drastic cuts in spending. Grab your popcorn now.
Even as the SEC is hell bent on destroying Egan Jones as a rating agency, in the process cementing its status as an objective, independent, and honest third party research entity, the firm is just as hell bent on milking its still existing NRSRO status for all it's worth. Because while Egan Jones was the first entity to cut Spain two weeks ago, only to be followed by Spain, it just did so again minutes ago.
The oft-cited idiom that "money can't buy you happiness" - except in Phat Phong from what we hear - is summarily discussed by Michael Norton in this TED Talk as he notes that if you think that money cannot buy happiness then you are not spending it right. His point is (and his delivery is comedic yet clarifying) that money makes you anti-social or selfish (rather than happy) as we will tend to spend that money on ourselves (or the wrong things - a new Veyron perhaps?). But via experimentation (among people from Vancouver to Uganda) he discovered that spending money in a pro-social way will make you happy... So money can buy you happiness as long as you give it away once you have it - a noteworthy caveat - especially as Norton notes that the size of spending does not matter - as long as it focused towards someone else (and not, as he notes, in a dinner for your girlfriend with hopes of benefits later). In almost every country in the world, people who give money to charity are happier than people who do not give money to charity and interestingly spending-on-other-people made teams or people (sports or sales) more successful - of course, we assume taxation does not count as spending on other people.
A month ago we chronicled what we consider one of the biggest problems for America's long-term viability in "No Country For Thin Men: 75% Of Americans To Be Obese By 2020" which goes straight to the heart of the biggest shortfall in America's balance sheet: the net present value of future spending associated with Medicare and various other healthcare related programs, which will sadly only rise as more and more Americans become morbidly obese, and demand more expensive health service out of the piggy bank that even now has tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities. And while the future is certainly not bright, the past and present are just as bleak. A Reuters report focuses on just how it is that America got to where it is today (most likely sitting in front a computer, eating potato chips and drinking sugar-laden soda): "The percentage of Americans who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) has tripled since 1960, to 34 percent, while the incidence of extreme or "morbid" obesity (BMI above 40) has risen sixfold, to 6 percent. The percentage of overweight Americans (BMI of 25 to 29.9) has held steady: It was 34 percent in 2008 and 32 percent in 1961. What seems to have happened is that for every healthy-weight person who "graduated" into overweight, an overweight person graduated into obesity." Which is not surprising: with pink and white slime food substitutes (as an example) allowing more and more low income individuals to drown their sorrows in fat (aka high calorie dollar meals) it was only a matter of time. Sadly, there is nothing in the equation that indicates this is set to change any time soon, even as the all too real costs, to both the individual and to society, mount in an exponential manner.
Today, the government of the USA is in an accelerating transition. For the first 100 years (with a few exceptions) the government of the USA existed to set man free from men. The rights of the people were respected by the law and by the courts. And it is no coincidence that the USA grew from a small agrarian society in the 18th century to a wealthy superpower barely a century later. But today, the government is taking control over every facet of the economy: sector by sector, law by law, regulation by regulation, court decision by court decision, czar by czar, presidential diktat by president diktat. In this environment, formerly good and honorable words like “police officer”, “banker”, and “corporation” have taken on negative connotations as people become aware of the nature of our present system. The evil is not in the fact of being a police officer; it is in the nature of enforcement of bad laws (and neglect of enforcement of good laws). It is not in the nature of lending (i.e. exchanging wealth for income), but in helping the central bank create inflation (i.e. counterfeit credit). It is not in the nature of forming a large-scale enterprise, but in buying coercive powers and in forming an evil alliance with government. By Corporation, I do not refer to the modern parasite that latches onto the government, seeking to coerce its customers, destroy its competitors, and feed at the public trough. Benito Mussolini coined the term for this system—fascism—though of course he did not regard it as the terminal stage of civilization. People today also call this “crony capitalism”, a term I don’t favor, as it is not any kind of capitalism at all, but the negation of capitalism.
In this case we really do hate to say we-told-you-so but our concerns over social unrest and the rise of extreme nationalism (here, here and here) in an austerity-focused and massively unemployed Europe appear to becoming ever more prescient. Just last week we saw extreme parties in France of all places receive high levels of votes and in a note today from BBC News, the leader of the Greek Socialist Pasok party, Mr. Creosote himself - Evangelos Venizelos, told a rally in Patras that voters should not allow neo-Nazis to "goose-step into Parliament with Hitler salutes".
On this slow news and market action day it is worth noting that Equities and Treasuries have dramatically dislocated in the last few days with Treasury yields near multi-month lows and stocks at one-month highs. Whether this is the ($700 billion expected) QE3-trade or a reflection of the increasingly bifurcated world in which we live is unclear but for certain this is the largest disconnect (with equities rich) of the year so far.
Given the TBTF's dominant oligopoly of the credit derivatives market (due mainly to the large exchange's unwillingness to act appropriately when they know the blow-back from their sell-side clients would be considerable), it is perhaps surprising that ISDA (the body that 'regulates' watches over and determines credit events in the CDS market) is coming under increasing pressure to honor the spirit of CDS contract after the FUBAR debacle surrounding the Greek restructuring. As Katy Burne notes in today's WSJ, ISDA is set to decide on a revamp of the CDS rules within weeks as pressure from the buy-side (the other side of the trade obviously) to alter the legal wording governing what is (and is not) a credit event trigger. "Whether it is a series of small fixes or a root-and-branch rewrite is still to be decided" but we note that the market - as we discussed in depth with regard to Portugal over the weekend - is becoming more comfortable once again with the CDS contract as a hedge against 'problems' in the $2.9 trillion sovereign credit derivatives market. This is without doubt a positive step - as opposed to the typical silent arrogance of the ISDA or more broad dismissal of CDS (ban them - they are to blame) arguments that political leaders will tend to bias to. The simple fact of the matter is that CDS have been a much less manipulated market indicator of real-money stress than bonds for much of the last four months and with Portugal's basis normalizing (presumptively on the back of lower concerns at CDS event risk dislocation), perhaps real-money will slow its bond selling (choosing to hedge instead) and/or Italian/Spanish banks will be forced to buy back protection en masse to cover the huge leap in exposure they have taken on - especially with the surcharge chatter of Basel III re-appearing.
By definition, we cannot shrink our way back to the sort of growth required to service the West's accumulated debts. Something has to give. That something will ultimately be social and political disorder on a continent-wide basis, particularly as the taxpayer becomes increasingly frustrated in his obligations to fund the rapidly growing and untenable costs of Big Government. Such disorder is almost universally feared-- by politicians, by markets, by institutions. As the London-based marcoeconomic research consultancy Capital Economics recently commented: "The last thing that the markets need right now is increased political uncertainty at the heart of Europe at a time when the economic outlook is already bleak..." The only reasonable response to this is: tough. If social and political disorder is what it takes to shift an unsustainable status quo in which vampire banks and clueless bureaucrats suck the life out of the productive economy, bring it on.
“…we have not had to put any taxpayers’ money into our financial system in Canada, nor do I anticipate that we’ll be obliged to do so.”
—Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance
“Without wanting to appear arrogant or vain, which would be quite un-Canadian... while our system is not perfect, it has worked during this difficult time, I don’t want the government to be in the banking business in Canada.”
—Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance
“It is true, we have the only banks in the western world that are not looking at bailouts or anything like that...and we haven’t got any TARP money.”
—Stephen Harper, Prime Minister
While in 'normal' times the commonly held view is that P/E ratios tend to fall as real interest rates rise, as we recently pointed out here, the relationship is highly non-linear and nowhere is this regime-dependence more evident than in the following chart from Morgan Stanley. Empirically, the current interest-rate regime (the 2-3% 10Y) is as good as it gets and whether rates rise or fall from here, equity valuations are likely to drop. The market rarely trades at the average multiple, though the current market trades at near average levels currently (not cheap as many would like us to believe). Of course, as Morgan Stanley notes, there are a number of other drivers but on a long-term basis and top-down, equity valuations have a hard hill to climb to prove its different this time.
While the Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index tends to be a little less of a headline-maker than many of its macro-data peers, today's dismal report is worth paying attention to. The index turned negative for the first time this year, dropped to its lowest level in 7 months and missed expectations by the largest amount in 10 months. The drop from +10.8 to -3.4 is also the largest sequential drop in 11 months. Only the inventories sub-index rose (hardly a bright spot) as Production, Number of Employees, New Orders, and Capacity Utilization all plunged and the average workweek fell for the first time in months. The US decoupling myth continues to come apart at the seams and the likelihood of more easing (extreme or not) seems to be rising by the day - because that has worked so well in the past.
Over the weekend, just because apparently someone really needed content at any cost (in this case zero), we got a new intellectual stillborn from none other than the man who more than anyone is responsible for the global economic collapse the world has been in for the past 4 years, and from which it is nowhere even close in escaping. The man of course is Larry Summers, who first crushed global finance, then Harvard, and finally Obama's economic platform, whom the FT saw fit to give the chance to pontificate on such concepts at growth and austerity, because apparently, growth through austerity, whereby banking sector debt is written down in parallel is not growth, but there is some subsegment of "growth", heretofore unknown, that Europe has not tried before, and will instead focus on that going forward. To paraphrase Lewis Black: don't think about that sentence too hard, or blood will shoot out of your nose.