Though still a week shy of its centennial anniversary, the US Federal Reserve will hold a celebration this afternoon in Washington DC. Just imagine the scene - a bunch of current and former central bankers slapping each other on the back, congratulating one another for a job well done over the last 100 years. Of course, this is total nonsense... as is the concept of our modern monetary system in which we award total control of the money supply to a tiny central banking elite. Human beings are fallible. We are not gods. Yet we practically deify central bankers and entrust them with the power to manipulate markets, control prices around the world, and effectively dominate the economy. This system has proven to be foolish and destructive. While the Fed engages in its self-aggrandizement this afternoon, there is another far more important anniversary today - the Boston Tea Party.
Now that the CapEx drought has become a mainstream topic, it bears reminding that this phenomenon will continue indefinitely, and certainly as long as CapEx hurdle rates are far greater than issuing a low-yielding bond and using the proceeds to reward shareholders: indeed, this shareholders friendly topic has been perhaps the dominant theme of 2013 when activist investors stormed to the forefront once again, most prominently in the face of Carl Icahn, and have managed to force even lower revenue growth prospects by levering companies with debt loads that are now greater than during the prior credit bubble peak. Naturally, one after another bank has come out once again, as they did, and is predicting that the great deferred CapEx renaissance is upon us... any day now. Unfortunately, it isn't. And just to confirm this, here is Archer Daniels Midland summarizing the company's plans for its 2014 free cash flows. In short: they don't involve any US growth CapEx spending at all.
The so-called Volcker Rule for policing banking practices, approved by a huddle of federal regulating agency chiefs last week, is the latest joke that America has played on itself in what is becoming the greatest national self-punking exercise in world history. The Glass Steagall Act of 1933 was about 35 pages long, written in language that was precise, clear, and succinct. It worked for 66 years. The Volcker rule comes in the form of nearly 1,000 pages of incomprehensible legalese written with the “help” of lobbyist-lawyers furnished by the banks themselves. Does this strain your credulity? Well, this is the kind of nation we have become: anything goes and nothing matters. There really is no rule of law, just pretense.
Since we live in a connected world, in which the central bank "Flow" must, well, flow, one emerging line of thought is that with the Fed set to taper (even by a modest $10 billion per month driven by Treasury market liquidity constraints where the Fed is now monetizing 1% of the entire bond market in 10 Year equivalents every three weeks), the BOJ will have to step in and boost its own monetization by a comparable amount. And as we noted in November, speculation that the BOJ will do just this set off the latest Yen crushing move, which has seen the EURJPY surge higher by a massive 1000 pips all but pricing in any BOJ moves for 2014. However, to be able to do this, Japan will need to provide its central bank with the capacity to monetize as many Treasurys (or more) as possible: after all, Japan like the US is already soaking up a record 70% of all gross issuance. And Japan is ready to comply: as Reuters reports, in the next fiscal year, Japan's budget will exceed 96 trillion yen, or about $930 billion. With Japan's GDP standing currently shy of half a quadrillion Yen (not to be confused with Japan's debt load which is now over the one quadrillion mark), it means the budget will be about 20% of the country's entire economic output.
While the ECB (and the Fed) continues to warn (danger of theft), threaten (asset-ize and tax it!), or de-bunk the idea of virtual currencies (despite two of the world's largest banks apparently seeing value in the idea), the Swiss Parliament is proposing a different angle. A postulate signed by 45 (of 200) members of parliament asks for bitcoin to be treated as any other foreign currency - and examine the potential bitcoin-related opportunities for the Swiss financial sector. The crucial point here, of course, is if Bitcoin is 'deemed' an asset (as EU regulators appear to want), it can (and will) be taxed; but it seems the Swiss beg to differ with that definition.
Alert: Unconfirmed reports of explosives at four sites on campus: Science Center, Thayer, Sever, and Emerson. Evacuate those buildings now.
— Harvard University (@Harvard) December 16, 2013
"Priced In" appears to be the meme of the day but the overnight collapse in S&P 500 futures - perfectly tagging the 50DMA - was met with a slowly building avalanche of BTFATH-ers unable to resist missing out of the December Triple Witching seasonality. While stocks are screaming higher, the USD is practically unchanged, gold and silver have rallied back to unchanged, and Treasuries are modestly lower in yield.
Big Dog, Wild Cat, Cheetah... all names one wouldn't associate with Google (if anything perhaps feline-named Apple operating systems). And yet, the company that is best know for its internet prowess and having more data about the search habits and private interests of each and every computer user than the NSA could ever dream of, is ever more aggressively moving into the animal kingdom. The robotic one that is.
Stocks are un-surging on the "good" news in the headline beats for Industrial Production (biggest jump and biggest beat in 13 months) and Capacity Utilization (best since June 08). However, as is always the case, the underlying data hides some less than positive signs. The bulk of the gains in production were from Utilities (+3.9%) as colder-than-expected temperatures boosted demand (the same temps that retailers are crying about). Manufacturing output remains 3.6% below its pre-recession peak (though gains were broad-based).
Five months ago, we highlighted yet another in the inglorious roll of momentum-ignited stop-blasting manipulations of the US "stock market". In most cases, the furore dies down after a day or two as the algos find fresh meat... but in the case of USEC, it would appear the "berserker" algo we highlighted merely removed every willing buyer (i.e. forced short-cover-er) and was exhibiting the death throes of yet another micro-cap as the company has announced it is entering a pre-pack Chapter 11 bankruptcy - with existing stockholders receiving 5% of the new common stock.
After posting a surprising drop in November to -2.21, or only its first negative print since a freak first half of 2013 aberration, the spin was quick to explain away the drop with the government shutdown, which surprisingly affected precisely nothing else in the economy but just a few diffusion indices (and led to epic surges in various PMI prints). Moments ago, the December Empire Fed PMI print came out, and it was once again a dud, printing at 0.98 on expectations of a rise to 5.00 which also was the fifth consecutive miss to expectations in a row. The decline was driven by ongoing weakness in New Orders, which remained negative at -3.54, while Unfilled Orders tumbled deep into the red, from -17.11 to -24.10, while inventories supposedly cratered from -1.32 to -21.69. We say supposedly because other recent surveys have shown that the surge in inventory accumulation from Q3 into Q4 has continued.
"If secular stagnation concerns are relevant to our current economic situation, there are obviously profound policy implications... Some have suggested that a belief in secular stagnation implies the desirability of bubbles to support demand. This idea confuses prediction with recommendation. It is, of course, better to support demand by supporting productive investment or highly valued consumption than by artificially inflating bubbles. On the other hand, it is only rational to recognize that low interest rates raise asset values and drive investors to take greater risks, making bubbles more likely. So the risk of financial instability provides yet another reason why preempting structural stagnation is so profoundly important."
While cash flows may be an anachronism in a time when the return of the dot com bubble means only future corporate prospects of growth matter, and the lower the actual profits or earnings the greater the upside stock potential due to ridiculous future PE multiples (flashing back to the year 2000), for some the lifeblood of success is still dependent on cash flow. Or the lack thereof. Such as Greece, where a brief episode known as the "Grecovery" driven by a recent export surge was put on indefinite hiatus where as Kathimerini says "exports run out of steam due to cash flow problems." It explains: "The rise of Greek exports sadly proved short-lived, as the momentum observed in the last couple of years has all but vanished. Exporters estimate that 2013 will end with a rise of 3 to 4 percent. But that figure includes fuel products, and when they are taken out of the equation it turns into an annual drop of 2 to 3 percent."
- Tough Question for Fed: Time to Act? (Hilsenrath )
- Merkel Begins Third Term Strengthened by SPD Partner Backing (BBG)
- Wary of Roma, Europe cold-shoulders its new eastern workmates (Reuters)
- New Medicines Emerge, but Few Blockbusters (WSJ)
- SIP in the crosshairs: U.S. Exchanges Near Deal for Infrastructure Upgrade (WSJ)
- Secret Inside BofA Office of CEO Stymied Needy Homeowners (BBG)
- AIG Said to Near Sale of Plane Unit to AerCap (BBG)
- Inside the Saudi 9/11 coverup (NYPost)
- Russian Bank Chief Weighs Firings as Costs Absorb Revenue (BBG)
- Video Boom Forces Verizon to Upgrade Network (WSJ)
- Chinese Manufacturing Slows (AP)