An import report on a key element of the economy will show big problems looming for Social Security - it will be ignored.
On the third year anniversary of the flash crash, and in a week in which earnings season unwinds and in which there is very little macro news, the bulk of the newsflow happened overnight, starting with a drop in the Chinese Service PMI, which tumbled from 54.3 to 51.1, the lowest in two years, then we got Australian retail sales which dropped -0.1% on expectations of 0.4% gain, indicating that the Chinese slowdown is dragging down the entire Asia-Pac region further. Afterwards, we got a barrage of European non-manufacturing PMI data starting with Spain, at 44.4, down from 45.3, the lowest since December (although one wonder if Spain has finally opened a branch of the BLS, reporting that unemployment actually dipped by 46.1k, on expectations of just a 2k decline, and down from 5k the prior month: how curious the timing of the "end of austerity" and the immediate "improvement" in the economy), then Italy Service PMI printing at 47.0, up from 45.5, on expectations of a 45.8 print, the highest since August 2011, French Services PMI rising modestly from 44.1 to 44.3, Germany's up from 49.2 to 49.6, on expectations of an unchanged print, all of which leading to a combined Eurozone PMI at 47.0, up from 46.6, and beating expectations of a 46.6 print.
The weakness in economic data (not to be confused with the centrally-planned anachronism known as the "markets") started overnight when despite a surge in Japanese consumer spending (up 5.2% on expectations of 1.6%, the most in nine years) by those with access to the stock market and mostly of the "richer" variety, did not quite jive with a miss in retail sales, which actually missed estimates of dropping "only" -0.8%, instead declining -1.4%. As the FT reported what we said five months ago, "Four-fifths of Japanese households have never held any securities, and 88 per cent have never invested in a mutual fund, according to a survey last year by the Japan Securities Dealers Association." In other words any transient strength will be on the back of the Japanese "1%" - those where the "wealth effect" has had an impact and whose stock gains have offset the impact of non-core inflation. In other words, once the Yen's impact on the Nikkei225 tapers off (which means the USDJPY stops soaring), that will be it for even the transitory effects of Abenomics. Confirming this was Japanese Industrial production which also missed, rising by only 0.2%, on expectations of a 0.4% increase. But the biggest news of the night was European inflation data: the April Eurozone CPI reading at 1.2% on expectations of a 1.6% number, and down from 1.7%, which has now pretty much convinced all the analysts that a 25 bps cut in the ECB refi rate, if not deposit, is now merely a formality and will be announced following a unanimous decision.
As Europe continues to churn nowhere but down economically, it seems that leading government officials everywhere have suddenly become fixed income experts. According to these financial wizards, declining yields from Italy and Spain is vindication that (once again) the worst is over. This is the point where we ask investors, government officials, and media to read beyond both the headlines and the first paragraph of investment reports. Just as the declining US unemployment rate is attributed to more and more people simply giving up hope (there’s that “word” again) and not an abundance of new jobs; the decline in sovereign bond yields is the result of domestic banks and pension funds buying new bonds from their respective governments – not an increase in confidence from international investors. While strong domestic demand for a government’s debt is usually a good sign, “forced” demand is not. By any measure the all-in strategy of demostics banks and pension funds investment in their own bonds is epic. Of course, odds are this epic strategy will only end in disaster. The high concentration of investment is embarrassing for whomever is in charge of the fund and is really no different than directly raiding the pension fund assets. This is a shameful act and ultimately someone will have to pay for this Spanish mistake, which naturally leads us to Germany. And, in simple terms, the generosity threshold of the average German is pretty close to being breached.
The latest personal income and expenditure report for March was of particularly interesting reading. However, as opposed to the mainstream headlines that immediately reported that despite higher payroll taxes consumers were still spending, and therefore a sign of a strong economy, it was where they were spending that was most telling. In reality, The personal income and spending report does little to brighten the economic picture. The reality is that we now live in a world where "freely traded markets" are an anachronism and fundamental rules simply no longer apply. However, the problem is that such actions continually lead to asset bubbles, and eventual busts, that not only impact economic stability but destroy the financial stability of families. The consumer is clearly delivering a message about the state of the real economy. Eventually, the disconnect between the economy and the markets will merge. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence of such reversions being a positive event.
After reading the Spiegel article below, which reveals so much about German thinking, it becomes very clear that not only is Cyprus the "benchmark", but that the second some other PIIG country runs into trouble again, and its soaring non-performing loans inevitably demand a liability "resolution" a la Cyprus, it will be Germany once again at the helm, demanding more of the same equity, unsecured debt and ultimately depositor impairment. As the following punchline from Spiegel summarizes, "It would be more sensible -- and fairer -- for the crisis-ridden countries to exercise their own power to reduce their debts, namely by reaching for the assets of their citizens more than they have so far. As the most recent ECB study shows, there is certainly enough money available to do this." And that is the crux of the wealth-disparity demand of the European Disunion.
The gaps between markets (credit, equity, and volatility) and economic (macro- and micro-) reality have seldom been larger. What is just as concerning as this yawning chasm is the similarity of a number of activities to the 'bubble' in credit in 2007 - from record CLO issuance to covenant-lite loans resurgence. As Citi's Matt King notes, the past fortnight’s virtual melt-up in all things high yielding has been accompanied by a growing sense that markets are breaking out of the patterns of the past few years. In the near term, there is no reason in principle why the moves cannot go further; but unless more of the central bank stimulus finds its way through to the economy, this opens up the risk of sudden corrections as markets fall back to earth. How long will it take for that to occur, and for markets to become scared once again? It is hard to tell, and yet, as we have noted numerous times, we have been in this situation before. In 2009, the divergences took 6 months before stocks corrected, in 2011 it took 4 months, and in 2012 it took just 1 month. It's not different this time.
With their economy appearing to slow dramatically, if the PMI and Ifo data is anything to go by, and a nation increasingly disavowed with the European project, it seems the 'people' are not amused. As MNI reports, a poll by Forchungsgruppe shows Merkel's CDU/CSU support fading. Critically, with only 40% backing Merkel, and the 'Merkel bloc' down to only 44%, the opposition and more anti-Europe SPD party gained a point and shifted their 'bloc' vote to 48%. Given that the mainstream parties have excluded a coalition with the Left party, such results would allow only coalitions of Merkel's CDU/CSU with the SPD or the Greens. This raises the question of whether Merkel becomes more hard-nosed in her treatment of European bailouts, cow-towing to her populist needs (especially as Euro membership remains the most popular 'concern' for Germans); or eases the pressure in the hope of a short-term juice of markets believing in joint-debt dreams into the election. We suspect the former, especially given the clear signals from the people as the 'Alternative for Germany' party gathers more headlines - if not representative votes.
The S&P cash got within a point or two of its closing high but between FSOC concerns about US financial stability, German court concerns over Draghi's OMT and ESM, and a large (likely CBOE-shutdown-inspired) imbalance into the close, stocks tumbled off those highs with the Dow almost back to unchanged before a small ramp into the close. While equities were on most media headlines, today was 'epic' for commodities. The biggest jumps in gold, silver, and oil prices in between five and nine months despite significant USD strength in the US day session. JPY carry was in charge early (and late as we sold off) with EUR ran the show in the middle of the day. With CBOE down for much of the morning, once it reopened it traded down with stocks up but gradually leaked higher all afternoon to end the day very slightly green. Treasuries rallied into the close to end unchanged. Another low volume day that saw the Dow unable to close above pre-Boston levels. So stocks mixed (Russell +0.6%, TRAN unch), VIX unch, Treasuries unch, EURUSD and JPYUSD unch, Oil/Copper/Gold/Silver up 2.5 to 5%!
It is one thing for the market to no longer pay attention to economic fundamentals or newsflow (with the exception of newsflow generated by fake tweets of course), but when the mainstream media turns full retard and comes up with headlines such as this: "German Ifo Confidence Declines After Winter Chilled Recovery" to spin the key overnight event, the German IFO Business climate (which dropped from 106.2 to 104.4, missing expectations of 106.2 of course) one just has to laugh. In the artcile we read that "German business confidence fell for a second month in April after winter weather hindered the recovery in Europe’s largest economy... “We still expect there to have been a good rebound in the first quarter, although there is a big question mark about the weather,” said Anatoli Annenkov, senior economist at Societe Generale SA in London." We wonder how long Bloomberg looked for some junior idiot who agreed to be memorialized for posterity with the preceding moronic soundbite because this really is beyond ridiculous (and no, it's not snow in the winter that is causing yet another "swoon" in indicators like the IFO, the ZEW and all other metrics as we patiently explained yesterday so even a 5 year old caveman financial reported would get it).
Yet another round of less than impressive macroeconomic data from China and Eurozone failed to deter equity bulls and heading into the North American crossover, stocks in Europe are seen higher, with tech and financials as best performers. The disappointing PMI data from Germany, where the Services component fell below the expansionary 50, underpins the view that the ECB will likely cut the benchmark interest rates next month and may even indicate that it is prepared to provide additional support via LTROs. As a result, the EONIA curve bull flattened and the 2/10s German spread flattened by almost 3bps to levels not seen since June 2012. In turn, Bund future hit YTD peak at 146.77 and the next technical level to note is 146.89, 1st June 2012 high. However it is worth noting that the upside traction is also being supported by large coupon payments and redemptions from France, the second highest net market inflow for 2013.
The week ahead brings key leading indicators of global activity. The flash PMI's in China and Euro area will be published on Tuesday. Bloomberg consensus expects the China flash to be slightly lower than the previous reading and that the Euro area flash releases for manufacturing and service activity will rise slightly. In addition, Korean 20-day export data for April will provide a good guide to both the external sector in Korea and the likely momentum of Asian exports more broadly. For the same reasons, Taiwan export orders are worth a look as well. The week ahead also provides Q1 GDP prints in US, UK, and Korea. Goldman expects US GDP to rise by 3.2%. The Australia CPI print may open the door to an RBA rate cut as soon as May and Japanese CPI is likely to underscore why the BoJ policy has shifted aggressively. Friday also brings an update of the BoJ's outlook, along with the next BoJ meeting (unchanged policy expected).
With no macro data on the docket (the NAR's self promotional "existing home sales" advertising brochure is anything but data), the market will be chasing the usual carry currency pair suspects for hints how to trade. Alas, with even more ominous economics news out of Europe, and an apparently inability of Mrs Watanabe to breach 100 on the USDJPY (hitting 99.98 for the second time in two weeks before rolling over once more), we may be rangebound, or downward boung if CAT shocks everyone with just how bad the Chinese (and global) heavy construction (and thus growth) reality truly is. One asset, however, that has outperformed and is up by well over 2% is gold, trading at $1435 at last check, over $100 from the lows posted a week ago, and rising rapidly on no particular news as the sell off appears to be over and now the snapback comes and the realization that Goldman was happily buying everything its clients were selling all along.
An attempt to look ahead at the drivers of the capital markets in the week ahead.
With stocks short-term oversold it certainly wasn’t much of a surprise that options expiration Friday could manipulate volume and performance. Da Boyz in the options pits (mostly electronic now) were hunting down strike prices to exercise existing options as they can. It’s a technical event with an outcome that surely can mislead Main Street.