Market consensus is that deflation remains the greatest threat to the global economy. But that's ignoring signs of impending inflation, particularly in the US.
If the current pace of reductions continues it is reasonable to assume that the Fed will terminate the current QE program by the October meeting. If we assume the current correlation remains intact, it projects an advance of the S&P 500 to roughly 2000 by the end of the year. But... the question is, can the US economy can stand on its own when QE completely winds down, not to mention when the Fed actually hikes rates? Amid such weak levels of economic growth does not leave much wiggle room to absorb an exogenous event, or even just a normal downturn, in an economic cycle. If the Fed is indeed caught in a liquidity trap, then the current withdrawal of support will quickly show the cracks in the economy pushing the Fed back into action. It is at the point of "monetary impotence" where the word "risk" takes on a whole new meaning.
While the Fed's interventions have certainly bolstered asset prices by driving a "carry trade," these programs do not address the central issue necessary in a consumer driven economy which is "employment." In an economy that is nearly 70% driven by consumption, production comes first in the economic order. Without a job, through which an individual produces a good or service in exchange for payment, there is no income to consume with. With the Federal Reserve now effectively removing the "patient" from life support, we will see if the economy can sustain itself. If this recent Bloomberg poll is correct, then we are likely to get an answer very shortly, and it may very well be disappointment.
Less than a year ago, David Rosenberg fundamentally shifted his thesis from deflationary to stagflationary at first, and then to outright inflationary, aka from bearish to bullish, based on one simple thesis: labor costs, and thus wage inflation - that all important harbinger of broad economic inflation - have nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, they also have another direction they can go: down.
This morning we showed several charts that "Market Bulls Should Consider", as the mainstream media, analysts and economists continue to become more ebullient as we enter the new year. This weekend's "Things To Ponder" follows along with this contrarian thought process particularly as it appears that virtually all "bears" have now been forced into hibernation.
We have been reading quite a few articles, as of late, regarding the resurgence of corporate fixed investment in 2014 that will provide a much needed boost to the economy. However, is that really the case? Given the data, it is far more likely that we are closer to the next recession versus the middle of an economic cycle. The fact that productivity growth is approaching zero is likely due to the reality that businesses have already extracted the majority of the benefits from their ongoing cost cutting and productivity measures. A resurgence of capital investment would certainly help stabilize the economy and potentially lift it to a level that would stimulate stronger employment and consumer demand. However, when it comes to managing investment risk, "hope" is not an investment strategy that works long term.
The notion that individual conviction and bravery is a #MassiveFail when compared to a machine gun nest seems obvious and trite to us today. Strangely enough, though, when it comes to prevalent notions of market behavior it feels like we’re still in 1936. What I mean is that there is still a dominant belief in individual decision-making as the most effective route to successful investing, that if we could just learn a little bit more about Company X or Sector Y we will win the day. Is your individual knowledge and conviction level in Company X important for investing success? Absolutely, in exactly the same way that physical and psychological bravery is important for war-fighting success. Still more important, though, is the strength and cohesion of the groups that share your investment philosophy. Not your specific investment opinions, any more than one soldier has the same amount and type of instantiated bravery as another soldier in his unit, but the coherence of investment goals and operational practices across your fellow market participants in a particular market segment.
There has been quite a bit of discussion lately over the rapid reduction in the government's budget deficit as it relates to economic growth going forward. There are 3 issues that will likely impede further progress on the deficit reduction in the months ahead; 1) lower rates of tax revenue, 2) weaker economic growth and 3) greater levels of spending. The good news for stock market bulls is that deepening budget deficits increase the amount of bonds that the Treasury will need to issue to cover the shortfall in spending. This will give the Federal Reserve more room to continue their current monetary interventions which have inflated asset prices sharply over the last year. Creating financial instability to gain economic stability has been an elusive dream of the Federal Reserve since the turn of the century; yet someday it is hoped that they may just be able to "catch their own tail."
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 13:55 -0400
"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.