What is wrong with this market? The S&P 500, instead of grinding higher in the aftermath of QE3 actually hit its peak for the year the day after the policy announcement. Go figure. Maybe economic reality finally caught up with Mr. Market (there is a very fine line between "'resiliency" and "denial" — and keep in mind that the S&P 500 is still up 14% in a year in which profits are now contracting, not just slowing down)... On average, six weeks hence, the S&P 500 was up more than 9% after the policy announcement. It was all so novel! Tech on average was up over 11%, industrials were up 12%... ditto for Consumer Discretionary and Materials. The cyclicals flew off the shelves. But this time around. either Mr. Market is jaded or the laws of diminishing returns are setting in. Six weeks after the unveiling of QE3, the market is down 2%. This hasn't happened before. Every economic-sensitive sector is in the red, and even Financials — the one sector that should benefit from all the "sucking at the Fed teat" — have made no money for anybody!
Yesterday's massive car bomb in Lebanon, which killed and wounded dozens including the country's police intelligence chief and has thus been dubbed as the most "high-profile assassination in seven years", confirmed once again that when it comes to regional powder kegs, the middle east is second to none, and is the 21st century equivalent of Eastern Europe. While nobody has claimed responsibility yet for yesterday's brazen attack (although the "agenda-less" media is once again insinuating it is the doing of Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad) one thing is certain: provocations of this nature will continue indefinitely until they escalate into something much more lethal. The reason: the melting pot melange of different sects in Syria and Lebanon, which co-exist in perfectly mutual hatred despite, or rather because of, the artificial political borders imposed between the two countries provides a terrific backdrop to which merely add a spark and watch everything go up in flames. Which also means that those seeking to provoke further military escalation in the region, now that attempts to stoke a conflict between Syria and Turkey have so far failed, will likely look to Lebanon as a new conduit for escalation. . Because remember: as David Rosenberg pointed out yesterday, in a time of record partiasniship, political bickering and lack of consensus, "it may end up taking some sort of a crisis, in the end, to galvanize the two parties to work towards a resolution to the fiscal morass." And that is precisely what the endgame here is: the intention to unify a hopelessly split congress (and senate) behind the patriotic banner of war. It is only a matter of time (but certainly in time to address the Fiscal Cliff).
Earlier this week two former Merrill colleagues, since separated, were reunited on several media occasions, and allowed to spar over their conflicting views of the world. The two people in question, of course, are Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg, best known during the past 3 years for not drinking the propaganda Kool-Aid, and systematically deconstructing every "bullish" macroeconomic datapoint into its far more downbeat constituent parts, and his ebullient ex-coworker, Richard Bernstein, formerly head of equity strategy at a firm that had to be rescued by none other than Bank of America and currently head of RBA advisors, who just happens to be bullish on, well, everything. And since any attempt at holding an intelligent conversation on CNBC is ultimately futile (as can be seen here) and is constantly broken up by both ads, and interjecting anchors and show producers who care far less about facts than keeping the presentation 'engaging' (and going to such lengths to even allow Jim Cramer to have his own TV show), Rosenberg decided to dedicate his entire letter to clients today to "providing a rebuttal" of the slate of reasons why according to Bernstein the "we are on the precipice of a 1982-2000 style of secular market." What follows is one of the most comprehensive "white papers" debunking the bullish view we have seen in a while. Read on.
Even though we have presented comparable scenarios looking at the coverage of the US money base in gold terms previously, aka "gold coverage" ratio, including once from Dylan Grice, and once from David Rosenberg, now that we have drifted into a new, previously unchartered and very much open-ended liquidity tsunami, it is time to revisit the topic. Luckily, Guggenheim's Scott Minerd has done just that. Not only that, but he presents three distinct gold pricing scenario, attempting to forecast a low, medium and high price range for the yellow metal. To wit: "The U.S. gold coverage ratio, which measures the amount of gold on deposit at the Federal Reserve against the total money supply, is currently at an all-time low of 17%. This ratio tends to move dramatically and falls during periods of disinflation or relative price stability. The historical average for the gold coverage ratio is roughly 40%, meaning that the current price of gold would have to more than double to reach the average. The gold coverage ratio has risen above 100% twice during the twentieth century. Were this to happen today, the value of an ounce of gold would exceed $12,000.”
"The consensus view was that QE3 was going to send the stock market to the moon. Yet the peak level on the S&P 500 was 1,465 on September 14th, the day after the FOMC meeting. The consensus view was that the lagging hedge funds were going to be forced to play some major catch-up and take the stock market to the moon too. Surveys show that the hedge funds have already made this adjustment...Q3 EPS estimates are still coming down and now stand at -3% YoY from -2% at the start of October....this is the first time the Fed embarked on a nonconventional easing initiative with the market overbought and with profits and earning expectations on a discernible downtrend. Not only that, but the fact the pace of U.S. economic activity is still running below a 2% annual rate, which is less than half of what is normal at this stage of the business cycle with the massive amount of government stimulus, is truly remarkable. Keep an eye on the debt ceiling being re-tested — the cap is $16.394 trillion and we are now at $16.119 trillion. This is likely to make the headlines again before year-end — the rating agencies may not be taking off much time for a Christmas break."
Charts Of The Day: Why America Needs To Embrace The Fiscal Cliff Instead Of Kicking The Can Once AgainSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 10/12/2012 13:20 -0400
To quote David Rosenberg: "there is no good time, but better now than waiting to be shocked into the retrenchment later on. If left unchecked, the Federal debt/GDP ratio will breach 100% within the next two or three years. Do we really need to turn European? And more importantly, even under a sustained low interest rate policy, debt service costs will continue to bite into the revenue base - so much so that they will soon begin to absorb more than 20% of total tax receipts. At a time when grim demographic realities will push dependency ratios higher and with that ever-spiralling entitlement spending, the power of compound interest on a continued mountain of debt even assuming years of low rates will ensnare fiscal finances and seriously limit our policy flexibility in the future."
Nothing materially new here from David Rosenberg's latest letter, but it is useful to keep being reminded over and over how central planning has totally destroyed the primary function of capital markets: discounting, and replaced it with a dumb terminal which only responds to red flashing headlines reporting of neverending liquidity. "If the Fed really had its way, the economy would be booming. But it is sputtering. For all the talk of one month's employment report — look at the entire quarter for crying out loud. Looking at total labour input, aggregate hours worked, it eked out a tepid 0.8% annualized gain in Q3....That the stock market is up 16% this year (on track for the best year since 2009) with earnings contracting underscores the major success of Fed policy in 2012 — managing to deflect investor attention away from negative profit trends and towards its pregnant balance sheet. So welcome to the new normal: the Fed has managed to negotiate a divorce between the economy and equity market behaviour.
If interest income as a percentage of total personal income had remained at its 2008 level, the total would now be over $1.5 trillion. It is this $550 billion annual delta that the Fed has directly, though its policies, taken away from US consumers in terms of purchasing power. So while the Fed has taken away the bond market as a venue in which to generate current income, it is the structural failures of equities in a post-HFT world (stories of mini, amd maxi, Flash Crashes are now a daily occurrence) that prevent investors from having the same confidence about current income in a market in which terminal and fatal capital loss are all too real fears. And there are those who still wonder why the US consumer is withering away, and absent such crutches as soaring Federal non-revolving debt, used for anything but its designated purposes, would have less purchasing power now than before the crisis as a result of the Fed's failed policies. As George Magnus so peotically summarizes it "What the left hand giveth, the right hand taketh away."
Much has been said about yesterday's laughable jobs report. Here is a little more, only this time not from some politicized CTRL-C/CTRL-V major who was forced to take out the HP-12C for the first time from their storage closet and pretend they have any idea about finance and economics, but from David Rosenberg.
So the Fed is pinning its hopes on stimulating the economy via the wealth effect again, as it did when it revived the post-tech-wreck asset bubble in housing and credit in that now infamous 2003-07 period of radical excess. But here's the rub. While there is a wealth effect on spending, the correlation going back to 1952 is only 57%. But the correlation between spending and after-tax personal incomes is more like 75%. The impact is leagues apart. And that is the problem here, as we saw real disposable personal income decline 0.3% in August for the largest setback of the year. The QE2 trend of 1.7% is about half the 3.2% trend that was in place at the time of 0E2. Not only that, but the personal savings rate is too low to kick-start spending, even if the Fed is successful in generating significant asset price inflation. The savings rate now is at a mere 3.7%, whereas it was 6% at the time of QE1 back in 2009 and over 5% at the time of QE2 2010 — in other words, there is less pent-up demand right now and a much greater need to rebuild rather than draw down the personal savings rate. This is a key obstacle even in the face of higher net worth.
Market indexes and recessions are two very different data series...
~ Doug Short
Liquidity, Fund Flows and Technicals matter now. Fundamentals, Dow Theory and the real economy, not so much.
With global growth slowing, global trade tumbling, and earnings revisions falling rapidly, equity market outperformance has been (as we noted earlier) based on the Fed/ECB's largesse. The unanswered question is - how much is now priced in? Given recent 'stability' post-FOMC, it seems the follow-through is not there (especially if we look at sectoral performance) and based on David Rosenberg's estimate of Fed QE's impact on stocks, we think we know why. In the last three months, the S&P 500 has 'outperformed' the Fed balance sheet by around 220 points - which equates to a pricing-in of around 11 months of additional QEternity.
Global economic fundamentals are awful, bearish divergences are occurring everywhere, investor sentiment is nearing bullish extremes, political risks remain high and last week's market performance can be summed up in four words - 'lack of follow through'. As Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg explains, more than two-thirds of the rally points the stock market has enjoyed since the summer-time lows occurred around central bank policy announcements. So the market is really a one-trick pony here, breathing in the fumes of central bank liquidity. What was supposed to happen, as the elites told us, was that the lagging hedge funds were going to throw in the towel and chase this market. Everyone expects this to be a major source of buying power. At the same time, what if the bulls who lucked out this year because they hung onto Ben Bernanke's arm decide to take profits or at the least lock in their gains? CRitically, as Rosie details, QE3 is occurring at a different point in the cycle this time and insomuch as it helps invogorate already rising 'animal spirits' we suspect it has missed the baot.
On September 15, 2008 (aka Q3) 2008 everything broke. What happened next has been a piecemeal triage by one (then all) central banks to stop the crunch in the world's credit markets, by monetizing the bulk of public issuance (i.e., creating money out of thin air), and thus keeping GDP from collapsing, while private sector debt creation has stalled and in many cases has been put in reverse. And while the US household balance sheet which we showed earlier is important from a stock perspective of asset, liability and wealth allocation, as everyone knows money (if not wealth) comes from credit, and should the credit formation system be shuttered it means game over. So what, according to the Fed's Flow of Funds, has been the credit creation, and destruction, since Q3 2008, i.e., during the neverending Great Depression Ver 2.0? Well, of the $2.8 trillion in total debt created (table L.1 in Z.1), $5.8 trillion or 208% has come from, you know it, Uncle Sam: this is the amount by which US Treasurys have risen, and will continue to rise as long as the two key sectors continue to delever. These sectors are the Household at $855 billion in deleveraging in the past 4 years, but most importantly the Financial Sector who have unwound a whopping $2.9 trillion in debt since Q3 2008. Which brings up an interesting question: why has the Financial Sector refused to lever, and why did it delever by $162 billion in Q2 2012 - the most since Q2 2010? Simple - regulations such as Basel III (which will eventually be scrapped) and lack of confidence in a system, in which the central counterparty is and will be the central bank. In other words, the more Treasury issuance is monetized by the Fed, the greater the penetration of central-planning, the lower the confidence in the system, the greater the deleveraging by everyone else, until finally, as David Rosenberg predicted, the Fed owns everything! Is this the biggest Catch 22 of the modern Depressionary market? You bet.