It seems there was only one thing on the minds of the machines today - get us green (on the day and the week). Following ugliness in Asia overnight, US equity markets were sliding into the open and so cash markets opened gap down. Good-is-bad confidence data legged us down one more time leaving the Dow down over 140 points but as Europe closed things started to pick up (apart from volume). By the close, equity markets had managed an almost perfectly linear liftathon back to unchanged leaving the Dow also unchanged on the week. As we tweeted:
The US consumer isn't allowed to enter the weekend with a market closing red.
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) July 26, 2013
Do you believe in miracles? Away from stocks, Bonds ended the week notably higher in yield (10Y +8bps), JPY signficantly higher on the week (+2.5%), USD down 1.2%, Gold and Silver up 2.8% on the week, and WTI down 3% (ending under $105).
How does one destroy an idea? Further, how does one destroy the truth? Corrupt governments have been struggling with this dilemma since men wore loincloths and worshiped fire. Fortunately for those of us in the “lower strata” of social organization, honorable ideas and indelible truths have a life of their own. Even when a culture as a whole remains oblivious and unguarded, the facts tend to rise to the surface one way or another. The reality which elitists at least partly understand, is that the truth cannot be destroyed, but it can be forgotten, at least for a time. This is a never-ending process...
It's been an odd earnings season so far. Talking heads are replete with examples of ad hoc names that have exceeded beaten-down earnings expectations choosing to ignore the belwether names that have missed and guided down. Data are thrown around left and right to support the argument that stocks are cheap to forward-earnings, that growth is around the corner, and that all is well in the real economy supporting the lofty exuberance among US equity markets. However, if one so chooses, the chart below should give you a glimpse behind the facade of the Q2 2013 EPS 'beat'. There is one source of the elixir of life, one provider of the mother's milk of stocks; S&P aggregate Q2 EPS is tracking $0.38 above the season start levels (around 0.8% beat) and financials account for an astounding $0.63 of that!
While the choking pollution in China, that we have discussed time and again - most recently here and here, has previously been linked with health concerns, academic studies released this week have now shown a direct link between higher cancer-rates in Central China and the level of pollution. The study published on June 25th is the first to scientifically prove the correlation between water pollution and cancer mortality in an area of China that is home to more than 160 million people. Despite government efforts to clean the water, it remains well below safety standards but local villagers continue to have no choice but to use it: "The river was black, poisonous fumes, and dead fish everywhere... the well water was also contaminated.. and during this period many died of cancer." Despite spending millions to try and prevent pollution, as one local villager exclaimed "we should re-consider the country's industrialization." What cost a 7% GDP growth print?
When is the last time you got a stock tip from a cab driver or chatty not-in-the-business neighbor? It’s probably been the better part of a decade, if not longer. Yes, that’s probably the most bullish argument for owning stocks just now, but, as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, it also raises a question. What investments are retail investors considering, exactly? Various online tools and resources provide some answers. From Yahoo! Finance’s analysis of number of requested price quotes last week: AAPL, BAC, TSLA, INTC and CALL. From Google Trends: AAPL, GOOG, and YHOO. And from one very popular online brokerage for today’s volume: AAPL, F, BRCM, BAC, and NUGT. Whether this interest indicates a top or a crowded momentum trade is in the eye of the beholder, of course. But in a light volume period like summer, Nick notes, tracking individual investor attention can be an important piece of the day-to-day trading puzzle.
When Standard & Poors is not engaged in "Puffery" (a defense which admits "our entire business model is worthless") it pretends to analyze credits and assign ratings, usually with both humorous and systematically catastrophic results. Just as it has done in the chart below. In the aftermath of the Detroit filing, one may be interested to see just how the rating agency, which had Greece rated at "A" months before the Eurozone's bananaest-republic member had its first bailout, evaluated America's various states since the start of the 21st century through 2012. Among the best: Florida. Worst: California. Michigan, whose main city just went bankrupt: AA-. And with countless cross-default provisions and collateral waterfalls upon a multi-notch downgrade, one can be certain that as reality finally comes to the muni space with roughly a 3 years delay, that this too will have a happy ending.
The optimism over the housing recovery has gotten well ahead of the underlying fundamentals. While the belief was that the Government, and Fed's, interventions would ignite the housing market creating an self-perpetuating recovery in the economy - it did not turn out that way. Instead it led to a speculative rush into buying rental properties creating a temporary, and artificial, inventory suppression. The risks to the housing story remains high due to the impact of higher taxes, stagnant wage growth, re-defaults of the 6-million modifications and workouts and a slowdown of speculative investment due to reduced profit margins. While there are many hopes pinned on the housing recovery as a "driver" of economic growth in 2013 and beyond - the data suggests that it might be quite a bit of wishful thinking.
Over the past several decades, people around the world have become so brainwashed that few people really give much thought anymore to the safety of their currency. It’s not something people really understand... there’s apparently some Wizard of Oz type figure at the top of the hill pulling all the levers of the monetary system. And we just trust them to be good guys. This power rests primarily in the hands of four men who control roughly 75% of the entire world money supply. So, how are they doing?
When people get divorced, a major determinant of the division of marital property depends upon the state they live/file in. Nine states (AZ, CA, ID, LO, NV, NM, TX, WA, WI) use a community property approach, which usually results in an equal distribution of property acquired and income earned during the marriage (but excluding gifts, inheritances, and property owned before the marriage). The other 41 states use equitable distribution, although, in many, there is a legal presumption of 50-50 unless the facts and circumstances suggest something else. In any case, as JPMorgan's CIO Michael Cembalest notes, “equitable” is not always interpreted to mean “equal”, given judicial discretion based on each state’s statutory factors considered when dividing marital property.
Based on media reports over the past few weeks, there are two clear front-runners in the competition to be named Ben Bernanke’s successor as Fed chairman. Current Vice Chair Janet Yellen sits in one corner, former Treasury Secretary and National Economic Council (NEC) Director Larry Summers in the other corner, and pundits are actively placing their bets. Yellen is "soft-spoken, even-tempered, 100% mainstream academic economist who boils the world down to simplistic concepts," so similarities between Bernanke and Yellen are far stronger than the differences. A hand off from one to the other would be about as eventful as a rainy day in Seattle. Compared to Yellen, Summers has a longer history as a heavyweight policymaker but as Charles Ferguson wrote, “rarely has one individual embodied so much of what is wrong with economics, with academe, and indeed with the American economy." And that’s what it seems to be coming down to: a choice between a yawn and a hiss. Why not appoint someone with a track record of getting things right, you ask? Well, that would require a culture of accountability in the White House. Does anyone remember when we last had that?
While this story is not Friday humor, it may explain the preponderance of "erect hockeystick" formations in IMF's legacy projection charts. Former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is no stranger to sexual scandal - in fact Anthony Weiner may learn a thing or two from the man who once upon a time was said would be France's next president. However, being charged with "aggravated pimping" may be a new low even for DSK, or new high if in the New Normal it is finally 50 Cent who sets ethical and moral standards. The reason for the lawsuit is that during numerous sex parties which DSK had attended in various cities over the years, there were prostitutes also present, often times in groups.
We've discussed Jiangsu before (dead pigs, TBTF Solar companies, and bird flu) but the Chinese province (that is big enough to be a Top 20 global economy with GDP greater than that of G-20 member Turkey and 79 million people) is on the brink of collapse under the weight of its own debt (cough Detroit cough). As China's leaders attempt to rein in over-capacity industries, tamp-down residential real-estate bubbles, and generally unwind "...the greatest misallocation of capital the world has ever seen, which was China’s 2009 stimulus," Jiangsu stands head-and-shoulders. With debt far higher than its peers, its mainstay industries (shipbuilding and solar panel manufacture) drowning in over-capacity, and massive 'empty' property developments now starved of funding, Jiangsu "can potentially pose a systemic and macro economic risk to the country."
With the posturing in full swing - and Hilsenrath's pontifications making front-pages - we thought we would look at who the 'market' believes is most likely to become the next Chair(wo)man of the Federal Reserve. While the headlines proclaim two front-runners, there is a clear leader at the moment...
European financial stocks had their best week of the year - jumping an impressive 6.2% on the week and over 10% in the last two - as once again 'Europe is fixed' (except credit markets don't seem as enthused). At the same time as this exuberance is taking place, Germany's DAX and Switzerland's SMI saw almost their worst weeks of the year (down 1% and 1.7% respectively). The week was very oddly dispersed with Spain, Portugal, and Greece (up 5%, 4%, and 3%) having an incredible rip while the broad-based Bloomberg Europe 500 (Europe's S&P) dropping 0.25%. Bond markets were just as enthused with Portugal, Spain, and Italy continuing their un-Taper rallies (spreads down 49bps, 20bps, and 15bps respectively). All of this as the EUR strengthened, composite PMI peeked over the 50 mark, French unemployment hit a record high and Italian bad loans surged to a new record. Schrodinger has moved from China to Europe it would seem...