And now for something off the beaten path. As the title implies, while the rest of the world is transfixed on the usual bubble candidates in traditional asset classes, two of the bubbles currently brewing well beneath the radar are a second derivative on the uber-wealthy class in China and Hong Kong, which appears to have a very disproprionate impact on spending patterns for ultra luxury goods, in this case cognac and Swiss watches. Not only that, but investing in these up and coming bubbles has some useful externalities: one can drink cognac, while a Swiss watch can be melted into its constituent gold or platinum once the inevitable hyperinflation finally hits. Alternatively, as these are some of the most marginal products available, any changes in consumption patterns here will be the first indication that the Asian party is ending...
Somehow or another, our earlier joke that the ISM should beat the highest Wall Street estimate quickly became the whisper number, which was to be expected in the aftermath of yesterday's comparable Chicago PMI action. Which is why when the final ISM came at a whopping miss of 52.5, on consensus of 54.5, and down from 54.1, the market was less than happy. It gets worse: while the bulk of major ISM index components dropped in February, with PMI, New Orders, Production, Employment and Deliveries all down (Inventories unch), it was the scariest component that posted a major jump as Prices soared +6 to 61.5, the highest since June. And with Exports and Imports both improving, this proves that already in February rising gasoline prices started impairing US manufacturing. But don't tell that to the cheerleaders: because who was in the top spot of Wall Street "forecasters" if not Joe LaVorgna with his estimate of 56.0 for the ISM. Regardless, expect market sentiment to immediately shift to one that despite what Bernanke said less than 24 hours ago, this miss is an immediate green light for QE3 and the market should close at or near 14,000. Unless, of course, the vacuum tubes realize the minor detail that when David Tepper went "Balls to the Wall" and both bad news and good news meant stock upside, WTI was $85. It is $108 and rising now.
European bourses are trading in positive territory ahead of the North American following a relatively quiet morning in Europe. Markets are led by the financials sector, currently trading up around 1.10%. This follows yesterday’s ECB LTRO. As such, the 3-month Euribor fix has fallen to 0.967%, a significant fall in inter-bank lending costs. PMI Manufacturing data released earlier today came in roughly in line with preliminary estimates. The Eurozone unemployment rate for February has also been released, showing the highest jobless rate since October 1997. There has been little in the way of currency moves so far in the session; however there may be fluctuations in USD pairs following the release of ISM Manufacturing data and weekly jobless claims later today.
- China’s Holdings of Treasuries Dropped in ’11 (BusinessWeek)
- Bundesbank at Odds With ECB Over Loans (FT)
- Euro zone puts Greece's efforts under microscope (Reuters)
- Bank of America Considers a Revamp That Would Affect Millions of Customers (WSJ)
- In Days Leading Up to MF Global's Collapse, $165 Million Transfer OK'd in a Flash (WSJ)
- Greece Approves Welfare Cuts for 2nd Bailout (Bloomberg)
- Irish Minister Pushes to Cut Bail-Out Cost (FT)
- China to Support Tech Sectors (China Daily)
- Spanish Bond Yields Fall in Debt Auction After ECB (Reuters)
- China to Expand Cross-Border RMB Businesses (China Daily)
Every year in February, the Treasury department releases its adjustment to foreign purchases of Treasury bond holdings as of the previous June (with revised and overriding estimates for all the intervening months in the interim, as well as previous monthly forecasts). It did that earlier today. And while many may have been expecting the revision to show that contrary to Zero Hedge claims China has in fact been building up its Treasury stake (following the now traditional transfer of UK purchases to China), the reality is that not only has China indeed been dumping US exposure (first reported by us previously when we observed the plunge in holdings in the Fed's custodial account), selling over $100 billion in Treasurys in December alone (bringing its total to $1152 billion, and down 12% from its June total of $1307 billion) but that probably far more curiously, the UK is no longer a shadow buyer of Chinese bond accumulation and instead has become a secret accumulator of Russian holdings.
Earlier today, when forecasting the Chicago PMI, we warned to "expect another massive beat courtesy of consumers confident that they can have Apple apps, if not so much food, since they still don't pay their mortgages." Sure enough, the economic data is now straight out of China, with the Chicago PMI not only trouncing expectations, printing at 64, on consensus of 61 (the highest since last April when the peak of the liquidity bubble popped and the stock market rolled over), but, wait for it, the Employment index came at 64.2, up from 54.7, which was the highest employment print since April 1984! At this point it is no longer worth commenting on economic data, as between this, the NAR, the consumer confidence, it was all become farce of a blur. we now expect February unemployment to print negative as the labor participation rate slides to 50%, and seasonal adjustments and birth/date fixtures account for 5 million "additions" to jobs. One thing that is sure. There will be no more easing for a looooooooong time. Kiss any hope of more trillions in central bank liquidity goodbye.
- Euro-Area Banks Tap ECB for Record Amount of Three-Year Cash (Bloomberg)
- Papademos Gets Backing for $4.3B of Cuts (Bloomberg)
- China February Bank Lending Remains Weak (Reuters)
- Romney Regains Momentum (WSJ)
- Shanghai Raises Minimum Wage 13% as China Seeks to Boost Demand (Bloomberg)
- Fiscal Stability Key To Economic Competitiveness - SNB's Jordan (WSJ)
- Bank's Tucker Says Cannot Relax Bank Requirements (Reuters)
- Life as a Landlord (NYT)
...European banks are three times larger than the European sovereigns, the ECB is not the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, the leading economy in Europe, Germany, is 22% of the economy of America, that there are ever and always consequences for providing free money, that Europe is in a recession and it will be much deeper than thought by many in my view, that the demanded austerity measures are unquestionably worsening the recession and increasing unemployment, that nations become much more self-centered when their economies are contracting and that the more protracted all of this is; the more pronounced Newton’s reaction will be when the pendulum reverses course.
Last week we joked that for every downtick in the Obama popularity rating (due to record February gas prices) we would see at least 1 million barrels released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Sure enough, humor promptly becomes reality in United Banana States of Amerika:
- CHU SAYS U.S. WEIGHS USING STRATEGIC PETROLEUM RESERVE
- CHU SAYS U.S. IS `VERY CONCERNED' ABOUT EVENTS IN IRAN
So following the Transcanada fiasco, China is now doubly delighted that it will be able to buy even more cheap crude at America's expense. And yet one wonders why the SPR release: after all didn't we learn just today that Americans have not been more confident in years?
Much has been spun in recent weeks to indicate that as a result of collapsing trade, Iran's economy is in shambles and that the financial embargo hoisted upon the country by the insolvent, pardon, developed world is working. We had a totally different perspective on things "A Very Different Take On The "Iran Barters Gold For Food" Story" in which we essentially said that Iran, with the complicity of major trading partners like China, India and Russia is preparing to phase out the petrodollar: a move which would be impossible if key bilateral trade partners would not agree to it. Gradually it appears this is increasingly the case following a just released Reuters report that "Iran will take payment from its trading partners in gold instead of dollars, the Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted the central bank governor as saying on Tuesday."
It had been a quiet week in terms of geopolitical developments out of Middle East. Too quiet, well aside for that whole US escalating once again bit, and forcing Iran to eventually go over the edge. And while the role of the US and Iran has been extensively digested in the past few weeks, it is Iran that has remained in the shadows recently. No longer: as Al Arabiya reports, "Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions, according to The Associated Press." Needless to say, the thoroughly effete and comical US foreign policy has no response to follow up queries: "The White House did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pentagon and Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, as did the Israeli Embassy." And while there may be no comments here, look for more warnings about Israeli citizens being targetted by deranged Iranian around the world. Because when all else fails, fearmonger. Next up: the Status Quo will be telling the world how not attacking Iran would be tantamount to global destruction. The only trade off - will the spike in crude to $150 outdo the surge in Obama's popularity rating as the Nobel Peace Prize winner puts his name in the hat for a nomination in the Nobel War Prize category as well.
Could Sweden or Finland be the scene of the next European financial crisis? It is actually far likelier than most people realize. While the world has been laser-focused on the woes of the heavily-indebted PIIGS nations for the last couple of years, property markets in Northern and Western European countries have been bubbling up to dizzying new heights in a repeat performance of the very property bubbles that caused the global financial crisis in the first place. Nordic and Western European countries such as Norway and Switzerland have attracted strong investment inflows due to their perceived economic safe-haven statuses, serving to further inflate these countries’ preexisting property bubbles that had expanded from the mid-1990s until 2008. With their overheated economies and ballooning property bubbles, today’s safe-haven European countries may very well be tomorrow’s Greeces and Italys.
With an economy of just $3.2Tn versus the United States $14.3Tn Germany is trying to prop up a Eurozone that is more than one trillion dollars bigger than America. They just do not have the resources for the task they are undertaking and I predict serious consequences, eventually, from their efforts. Germany is “best of class” and will be the last to go but they cannot evade the European recession in the end and I think it is only a matter of time and unfortunate decisions before the austerity demands made on so many will wind their way back home to those who made the demands. They used a timeline that was much too short for the job at hand and payment will eventually be forced upon them. They obviously get the joke where Eurobonds and other ploys of this nature average the economies of Europe and the standards of living over some period of time so that Germany, in the end, will suffer most as they have the furthest to fall. They have approached the G-20, China, the emerging market countries and all polite responses to the side; the results have been about zip. The Germans are running out of both time and money and Franz is squirming in the beer hall.