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.
What Do the Experts Say? Are People Actually ACCEPTING Gold As Money?
Yesterday, when we first presented our calculation of what the Fed's balance sheet would look like through the end of 2013, some were confused why we assumed that the Fed would continue monetizing the long-end beyond the end of 2012. Simple: in its statement, the FOMC said that "If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the Committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability." Therefore, the only question is by what point the labor market would have improved sufficiently to satisfy the Fed with its "improvement" (all else equal, which however - and here's looking at you inflation - will not be). Conservatively, we assumed that it would take at the lest until December 2014 for unemployment to cross the Fed's "all clear threshold." As it turns out we were optimistic. Bank of America's Priya Misra has just released an analysis which is identical to ours in all other respects, except for when the latest QE version would end. BofA's take: "We do not believe there will be “substantial” improvement in the labor market for the next 1.5-2 years and foresee the Fed buying Treasuries after the end of Operation Twist." What does this mean for total Fed purchases? Again, simple. Add $1 trillion to the Zero Hedge total of $4TRN. In other words, Bank of America just predicted at least 2 years and change of constant monetization, which would send the Fed's balance sheet to grand total of just over $5,000,000,000,000 as the Fed adds another $2.2 trillion MBS and Treasury notional to the current total of $2.8 trillion.
What the Fed did was actually much more than QE3. Call it QE3-plus... a gift that will now keep on giving. The new normal of bad news being good news is now going to be more fully entrenched for the market and 'housing data' (the most trustworthy of data) - clearly the Fed's preferred transmission mechanism - is now front-and-center in driving volatility. I don't think this latest Fed action does anything more for the economy than the previous rounds did. It's just an added reminder of how screwed up the economy really is and that the U.S. is much closer to resembling Japan of the past two decades than is generally recognized. It would seem as though the Fed's macro models have a massive coefficient for the 'wealth effect' factor. The wealth effect may well stimulate economic activity at the bottom of an inventory or a normal business cycle. But this factor is really irrelevant at the trough of a balance sheet/delivering recession. The economy is suffering from a shortage of aggregate demand. Full stop. It just perpetuates the inequality that is building up in the country, and while this is not a headline maker, it is a real long term risk for the health of the country, from a social stability perspective as well.
Bill Gross may be credited with inventing the term 'the New Normal', although his recommendation to purchase gold above all other asset classes, something which only fringe blogs such as this one have been saying is the best trade (in terms of return, Sharpe Ratio, and the ability to sleep soundly) for the past three and a half years, he is sure to be increasingly ostracized by the establishment, and told to take all his newfangled idioms with him in his exile to less than serious people land. Which takes us to David Rosenberg, who today revisits his own definition of the New Normal. And it, too, is just as applicable as that of the Pimco boss: "The new normal is that the economy doesn't drive markets any more." Short and sweet, although it also is up for debate whether the economy ever drove the markets in the first place. But that would open up a whole new conspiratorial can of worms, and is a discussion best saved for after Ben Bernanke decides to save the "housing market" by buying more hundreds of billions in MBS and lowering mortgage yields further, even though mortgage rates already are at record lows (something that mortgage applications apparently couldn't care less about as we showed last week), while "avoiding" to do everything in his power to boost the S&P, which recently was at 5 year highs, and certainly "avoiding" to listen to Chuck Schumer telling him to do his CTRL+P job, and "get to work" guaranteeing Schumer's donors have another whopper of a bonus season.
The dividend theme has hardly run its course. As David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff illustrates in his latest note, the income-starved retiring boomers are being forced to garner income more and more via the equity market where dividends are up more than 8% over the past year. Because of ultra-low interest rates, interest income growth has vanished completely. And here is the great anomaly. Back in the early 1980s, investors bought equities for capital appreciation and they purchased Treasury securities for yield. Today it is the complete opposite.
According to the plethora of long-only managers willing to trot out on the public stage and beg for more commissions, the US has been (and will remain) the cleanest-dirty-shirt in the global risk asset laundry basket; but as David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff points out not only has the S&P 500 hit a new record high in its total return index but it also possesses a rather 'ebullient' valuation premium (2012E P/E) of 13.8x relative to China 9.8x and Europe 11.4x. However, while this is more than enough to slow some investors from backing up the long-truck, Rosie goes on to highlight a very worrisome indicator - that favored by ex-PIMCO's Paul McCulley. The YoY trend in the three-month moving average of core capex orders (which was updated last Friday) has just cracked negative, crushing the hopes of US growth prospects and we assume equity superlatives. However, since the market no longer reflects anything; certainly not the economy, but merely who will ease more when and how, one really can't short much if anything, even if McCulley is 100% spot on.
"It is rather amazing that a 2.8% yield on the long bond couldn't do the trick. By hook or by nook, it looks like the Fed is going to make an attempt to drive the rate down even further — but if that was the answer, wouldn't Switzerland, Japan and Germany be in major economic booms right now seeing as how low their 30-year bond yields are? Monetary policy in the U.S.A. is not the problem, so it is doubtful that it will be the solution. It all boils down to fiscal and regulatory policy and how the government can part the clouds of uncertainty — the Fed may be able at the margin to cushion the blow, but that's about it."
As Bill Gross has been more than happy to demonstrate on several recent occasions, the recent sell off in US Treasurys has been sharp and violent, wiping out all year to date capital gains in the 10 Year in a few short weeks. The flipside to that is that this is not the first such headfake in the bond market, and it certainly will not be the last as David Rosenberg shows today with a chart summarizing all the "spasms" experienced in the 10 year Treasury since 2007. In fact, based on the average duration and move severity, the 10 Year sell off may not only continue for twice as long (on average it has been 49 days, and we are only 19 days in in the current sell off episode), but the final tally may be a further selloff well into the 2% range (the average decline in yield is 88 bps, double the 43 bps widening to date). At the end of the day will it make much of a difference? Very likely not: after all the deflationary implosion has far more to go before all the central banks engage in coordinated easing, and as a result superglue the CTRL and P buttons in the on position, leading to the final round in the global currency devaluation race.
It would appear that the dilemma of the world exporting more than it imports (that we initially pointed out here) is starting to come to a head in reality with a negative export trade shock. As Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg notes, since the recovery began three years ago, over 70% of the real GDP growth we have seen was concentrated in export volumes and inventory investment; and recent data from the ISM (here and here) points to a dramatic slowdown in both. Compounding this weakness is the fact that the remaining growth was from Capex - which is now likely to slow given the weakening trend in corporate profits - and will more than offset any nascent turnaround in the housing sector - if that is to be believed. The consumer has all but stalled and adding up all these effects and there is a high probability of a 0% GDP growth print as early as Q4.
Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg details the four major downside risks for US growth over the next four quarters:
- More Adverse News Out Of Europe
- The Sharp Run-Up In Food Prices
- Negative Export Shock
- The Proverbial Fiscal Cliff
The S&P 500 has made little headway for two years running and as Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg points out, it first crossed 1380 on July 1, 1999 and since then has run around like a headless chicken (while other asset classes have not). Meanwhile, Europe's bottomless pit of debt deleveraging (which is as much a problem for the US and China but less ion focus for now) makes the entire discourse of some new and aggressive intervention by the ECB even more ridiculous (and all so deja vu); and the US is facing up to an entirely topless earnings season as revenues are coming in at only 1.2% above last year as it appears Q2 EPS is on track for a 0.2% YoY dip - with guidance falling fast. But apart from all that, Rosie sees the only source of real buying support for the stock market is the stranded short-seller forced to cover in the face of CB-jawboning as there is little sign of long-term believers stepping into the void.