A world, in which former permabears David Rosenberg, Jeremy Grantham and now Hugh Hendry have thrown in the towel and gone bull retard, and where none other than the Chief Investment Officer of General Re-New England Asset Management - a company wholly-owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has issued one of the direst proclamations about the future to date and blasts the Fed's role in creating the biggest mess in financial history, is truly upside down...
"We are on the eve of a deflationary shock which will likely reduce equity valuations from very high to very low levels.... Each investor must decide for themselves just how close to midnight they want to leave this particular party. The advice of Solid Ground is leave now as it is increasingly likely that one event will be the catalyst to very rapidly change inflationary into deflationary expectations... So perhaps it is global deflationary forces creating a bankruptcy event, somewhere in the world, that is the catalyst for a sudden change in inflationary expectations in the developed world. It can all happen very quickly; and it is dangerous to stay at an equity party driven by disinflation when it can spill so rapidly into deflation... When there is plenty of leverage in the system and any key price starts to decline then a credit event and a sudden change in inflationary expectations are much more possible than the consensus believes. So watch the TIPS, BAA bond spreads and copper if you must, but this analyst prefers to observe the party from outside.... Each investor must decide for themselves just how close to midnight they want to leave this particular party."
- Russell Napier, CLSA
In early 2013, many were mystified when one of the most vocal deflationists, and hence stock market bears, David Rosenberg, turned furiously bullish. Just what was the motive behind this transformation many wondered? Thanks to a just filed Gluskin Sheff compensation table, we can put all such lingering questions to rest: the reason, or rather reasons: 3,082,441... all-cash.
And they're back:
2,277 sq.ft. - Median new-home size in 2007
2,306 sq. ft. - Median new-home size in 2012
Just as that crowning achievement of the last housing bubble, the McMansions, have once again returned with the second and final return of the Fed-blown housing bubble, the Bluths picked a perfect time to also come bac on the scene. But instead of analyzing the reasons for just why the US economy now desperately needs to jump from bubble to bubble, we will simply constrain ourselves to discussing... interior decoration. The infographic below from BusinessWeek shows how times, and tastes, how to decorate one's McMansion have changed in the past few years.
Hugh Hendry Capitulates: "Can't Look At Himself In The Mirror" As He Throws In The Towel, Turns BullishSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 11/22/2013 12:55 -0500
"I cannot look at myself in the mirror; everything I have believed in I have had to reject. This environment only makes sense through the prism of trends."
- Hugh Hendry
Now that the prevailing mainstream media consensus has finally caught up with our "tinfoil" view, which for years was mocked by the same media, usually on an ad hominem basis, and even the Fed has realized (confirmed by the latest Jackson Hole symposium) it is in a trap as it understands it has to end the market's dependency on monetary heroin but has no idea how to do it without in the process undoing five years of central planning, we have seen some spectacular opinion flip flops take place. Which aside from the occasional headscratcher such as David Rosenberg going bull-retard (we once again wonder: just what does Ray Dalio serve in his cafeteria?) have been almost exclusively from optimistic to pessimistic, or as we call it, realistic. And as the case may be, such as with John Mauldin and his latest missive to potential clients, A Code Red World, a very deep and red shade of pessimistic.
While the specter of the debt ceiling debate continues to haunt the halls of Washington D.C. it is the state of retail sales that investors should be potentially focusing on. While the latest retail sales figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis are unavailable due to the government shutdown; we can look at other data sources to derive the trend and direction of consumer spending as we head into the beginning of the biggest shopping periods of the year - Halloween, Thanks Giving (Black Friday) and Christmas. The recent downturns in consumer confidence and spending are likely being exacerbated by the controversy in Washington; but it is clear that the consumer was already feeling the pressure of the surge in interest rates, higher energy and food costs and stagnant wages. As we have warned in the past - these divergences do not last forever and tend to end very badly.
The latest Q2 US Flow of Funds data revealed that the corporate financing surplus declined to zero, for the first time since the Lehman crisis. The financing surplus is a measure of corporate savings, and in principle the lower this financing surplus the more expansionary the corporate sector is. Typically the corporate sector is dis-saving, i.e. capex typically exceeds cash flows from operations. However, the sharp decline in the US corporate surplus is less positive than it appears at first glance because it was driven by a rise in dividend payments rather than a rise in capex. As we have pointed out time and again, with the Fed's ZIRP, the only thing that matters is the share price and with firms increasingly focused on dividends rather than capex, to the extent that it continues, points to lower productivity and potential growth going forward.
For the greater part of human history, leaders who were in a position to exercise power were accountable for their actions. The problem we are faced with today is that our political and (frequently) business leaders are not being held responsible for their actions. Thomas Sowell sums it up well: "It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong." Fortunately, there is an institution that exercises control over the academics at the Fed; it is called the 'real' market economy... and it has badly humbled the professors at the Fed.
A week ago, we first reported that Bridgewater's Ray Dalio had finally thrown in the towel on his latest iteration of hope in the "Beautiful deleveraging", and realizing that a 3% yield is enough to grind the US economy to a halt, moved from the pro-inflation camp (someone tell David Rosenberg) back to buying bonds (i.e., deflation). This was music to Bill Gross' ears who in his latest letter, in which he notes in addition to everything else that while the Fed has to taper eventually, it doesn't actually ever have to raise rates, and writes: "The objective, Dalio writes, is to achieve a “beautiful deleveraging,” which assumes minimal defaults and an eventual return of investors’ willingness to take risk again. The beautiful deleveraging of course takes place at the expense of private market savers via financially repressed interest rates, but what the heck. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if the Fed’s (and Dalio’s) objective is to grow normally again, then there is likely no more beautiful or deleveraging solution than one that is accomplished via abnormally low interest rates for a long, long time." How long one may ask? "the last time the U.S. economy was this highly levered (early 1940s) it took over 25 years of 10-year Treasury rates averaging 3% less than nominal GDP to accomplish a “beautiful deleveraging.” That would place the 10-year Treasury at close to 1% and the policy rate at 25 basis points until sometime around 2035!" In the early 1940s there was also a world war, but the bottom line is clear: lots and lots of central planning for a long time.
Don't Blame Free Market Capitalism ... We Haven't Had It for a While
- Bernanke Seeks to Divorce QE Tapering From Interest Rates (BBG)
- China launches crackdown on pharmaceutical sector (Reuters)
- Barclays, Traders Fined $487.9 Million by U.S. Regulator (BBG) - or a few days profit
- Barclays to fight $453 million power fine in U.S. court (Reuters)
- When an IPO fails, raise money privately: Ally Said to Weigh Raising $1 Billion to Pass Fed Stress Tests (BBG)
- Bank of England signals retreat from quantitative easing (FT) ... Let's refresh on this headline in 6 months, shall we.
- Russia's Putin puts U.S. ties above Snowden (Reuters)
- Smartphone Upgrades Slow as 'Wow' Factor Fades (WSJ)
- Snowden could leave Moscow airport in next few days (FT)
- New Egypt government may promote welfare, not economic reform (Reuters)
- China, the single biggest contributor to global growth over the past decade, slowing markedly.
- World trade now flirting with recession.
- OECD industrial production in negative territory YoY.
- Southern Europe showing renewed signs of political tensions as unemployment continues its relentless march higher and tax receipts continue to collapse.
- Short-term interest rates almost everywhere around the world that are unable to go any lower, even as real rates start to creep higher.
- Valuations on most equity markets that are nowhere near distressed (except perhaps for the BRICS?).
- A World MSCI that has now just dipped below its six month moving average.
- A diffusion index of global equity markets that is flashing dark amber.
- Margins in the US at record highs and likely to come under pressure, if only because of the rising dollar.
There has been much angst over Bernanke's recent comments regarding an "improving economic environment" and the need to begin reducing ("taper") the current monetary interventions in the future. What is interesting, however, is the mainstream analysis which continues to focus on one data point, to the next, to determine if the Fed is going to continue its interventions. Why is this so important? Because, as we have addressed in the past, the sole driver for the markets, and the majority of economic growth, has been derived solely from the Federal Reserve's programs. The reality is that such analysis is completely useless when considering the volatility that exists in the monthly data already but then compounding that issue with rather subjective "seasonal adjustments." The question, however, is whether such "QE" programs have actually sparked any type of substantive, organic, growth or simply inflated asset prices, and pulled forward future consumption, for a short term positive effect with negative long term consequences? The recent increases in interest rates, combined with still very weak wage growth, higher costs of living and still elevated unemployment is likely to keep the Fed engaged for the foreseeable future as any attempt to remove its "invisible hand" is likely to result in unexpected instability in the financial markets and economy.
Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg has ten nagging concerns...