No Record Profits For Old Assets: Jim Montier On Unsustainable Parabolic Margin Expansion For DummiesSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/20/2012 21:37 -0400
It is widely known that US corporate profits recently hit an all time high. What is less known is that in Q4, profit margins for the first time rolled over by 27 bps, and double that if one excludes Apple. What is very much irrelevant, is that to Wall Street none of this matters, and the consensus (of which GMO's Jim Montier says "the Wall Street consensus has a pretty good record of being completely and utterly wrong") believes that Q4 will be largely ignored, and margins will continue soaring ever higher. Well, the same Montier, has a thing or two to say about this consensus surge in profits ("it is almost unthinkable that it will remain at current levels over the course of the next few years"). More importantly he looks at the Kalecki profits equation, and finds something rather peculiar. Namely Japan. Because while taking the profits equation at its face value would surely explain the 10.2% in corporate profits, of which a whopping 75% is thanks to America's burgeoning deficit, it would imply that Japanese corporate profitability, where there has been not only a long-running current account surplus, but zero household savings, and massive fiscal deficits, should be off the charts. Instead it is collapsing. Why? Montier has some ideas which may force Wall Street to renounce its bullish views, although probably won't. However, the implications of his conclusion are far more substantial, and if appreciated by corporate America (whose aging asset base is the problem), may ultimately result in a revitalization of the corporate asset base, however not before the dividend chasing frenzy pops in the latest and greatest bubble collapse.
When it comes to predicting consumer spending patterns, especially those of the baby boomers who are traditionally reliant on fixed income (but lately have had to migrate back into the workforce, as retirement prospects diminish, in effect displacing the young 18-24 year old Americans where unemployment is now at a substantial 46%), the following two charts from today's David Rosenberg letter do a great job at explaining the schism between interest and dividend income. The former, as is well-known, has been crippled and is plunging courtesy of Bernanke's ZIRP policy, which makes cash yields on savings and fixed income instruments virtually negligible, and the latter, which while rising, has a long way to rise if it is to catch up to lost annuity potential. It is here that the primary tension for the Fed resides: it has to force investors to switch their mindsets from the capital preservation of fixed income, to the risky behavior of pursuing stock dividends. It is also here that we see the lost purchasing power of the US consumer: interest income is down $450 billion from 2007-2008 levels to roughly $1 trillion, while dividend income has risen to $825 billion, which is where it was at the prior peak. In other words, when all is said and done, Bernanke's ZIRP policy has eliminated $450 billion in purchasing power, even if he has succeeded in reflating the equity bubble. Yet while bonds at least have capital preservation optics, what happens to dividend stocks whose cash flow yields can be eliminated at the bat of an eye, if and when the next flash crash materializes, or the next financial crisis is finally too big for the central planners to control?
Last year, everyone blamed anything that came in even modestly worse than expected, be it EPS or economic data, on the occasional inclement weather, completely oblivious that that is precisely the reason for seasonal adjustments, and for forecasters to be paid seven digits - i.e., to anticipate various outcomes. So far this year we had not heard anyone accusing the near-record warm winter for much, especially since the data has been coming blisteringly hot (something which everyone from Goldman, to Bank of America, to David Rosenberg is convinced will cause a major "Cash to Clunkers"-like hangover in the spring and summer courtesy of front-end loaded consumer demand). Until now: the following Hudson Square Research report blames the deterioratin in Netflix traffic patterns on, you guessed it, warm weather.
The market is ripping. That much is obvious. What some may have forgotten however, is that it ripped in the beginning of 2011... and in the beginning of 2010: in other words, what we are getting is not just deja vu (all on the back of massive central bank intervention time after time), but double deja vu. The end results, however, by year end in both those cases was less than spectacular. In fact, in an attempt to convince readers that this time it is different, Reuters came out yesterday with an article titled, you guessed it, "This Time It's Different" which contains the following verbiage: "bursts of optimism have sown false hope before... Today there is a cautious hope that perhaps this time it's different." (this article was penned by the inhouse spin master, Stella Dawson, who had a rather prominent appearance here.) So the trillions in excess electronic liquidity provided by everyone but the Fed (constrained in an election year) is different than the liquidity provided by the Fed? Got it. Of course, there are those who will bite, and buy the propaganda, and stocks. For everyone else, here is a rundown from David Rosenberg explaining why stocks continue to move near-vertically higher, and what the latent risks continue to be.
Back in early February, Zero Hedge was among the first to suggest that abnormally warm temperatures and a record hot winter, were among the primary causes for various employment trackers to indicate a better than expected trendline (even as many other components of the economy were declining), in "Is It The Weather, Stupid? David Rosenberg On What "April In January" Means For Seasonal Adjustments." It is rather logical: after all the market is the first to forgive companies that excuse poor performance, or economies that report a data miss due to "inclement" weather. So why should the direction of exculpation only be valid when it serves to justify underperformance? Naturally, the permabullish bias of the media and the commentariat will ignore this critical variable, and attribute "strength" to other factors, when instead all that abnormally warm weather has done is to pull demand forward - whether it is for construction and repair, for part-time jobs, or for retail (and even so retail numbers had been abysmal until the just released expectations meet). Ironically, while everyone else continues to ignore this glaringly obvious observation, it is Bank of America, who as already noted before are desperate to validate a QE as soon as possible (even if their stock has factored in not only the NEW QE, but the NEW QE HD), that expounds on the topic of the impact of record warm weather. In fact, not only that, but BofA makes sense of the fact why GDP growth continues to be in the mid 1% range while various other indicators are representative of much higher growth. The culprit? Global Warming.
Citigroup have said that they believe that gold will rise to $2,400/oz in 2012 and by $3,400/oz in “the coming years”. However, Citi’s Tom Fitzpatrick warned of price weakness in the short term and said there is a “real danger” that there may be a correction to $1,600/oz which would provide an even better buying opportunity. Citi are also cautious near term on oil and silver. Production of gold in Australia slid again last year, despite gold fetching higher nominal prices than ever before. According to gold experts, Surbiton Associates, 264 tonnes of gold were produced last year, two tonnes less than in 2010. The 264 tonnes equated to about 8.5 million ounces and ensures that Australia remains a major player in gold, with only China producing more last year. The United States was the world's third-biggest producer with 240 tonnes. Australia's gold production was well below the nation's production peak in the late 1990s. This further suggests the possibility of peak gold production. Of the world’s four biggest gold producers (China, Australia, the U.S. and South Africa), only China has managed to increase gold production in recent years and this Chinese gold is used in China to meet the rapidly growing demand for gold jewellery and coins and bars as stores of value in China.
Rosie: "Somehow a long gold, short euro barbell looks really good here. Bernanke, after all, now seems reluctant to embark on QE3 barring a renewed economic turndown while the ECB is moving further away from the role of a traditional central bank to take on the role of quasi fiscal policymaking, The German central bank, after all, is responsible for 25% of any losses that would ever be incurred by the massive Draghi balance sheet expansion. Why would anyone want to be long a currency representing a region with a 10.7% unemployment rate, rising inflation rates and free money? Mind you — the same can be said for the US (where U-6 jobless rate is even higher), which is why the best currency may be physical gold."
"It Is completely ironic that we would be experiencing one of the most powerful cyclical upswings in the stock market since the recession ended at a time when we are clearly coming off the poorest quarter for earnings... There is this pervasive view that the U.S. economy is in better shape because a 2.2% sliver of GDP called the housing market is showing nascent signs of recovery. What about the 70% called the consumer?...Let's keep in mind that the jump in crude prices has occurred even with the Saudis producing at its fastest clip in 30 years - underscoring how tight the backdrop is... Throw in rising gasoline prices and real incomes are in a squeeze, and there is precious little room for the personal savings rate to decline from current low levels." - David Rosenberg
The record volatility, and 400 point up and down days in the DJIA of last summer seem like a lifetime ago, having been replaced by a smooth, unperturbed, 45 degree-inclined see of stock market appreciation, rising purely on the $2 trillion or so in liquidity pumped into global markets by the central printers, ever since Italy threatened to blow up the Ponzi last fall. In short - we have once again hit peak complacency. Yet with crude now matching every liquidity injection tick for tick (and then some: Crude's WTI return is now higher than that of stocks), there is absolutely no more space for the world central banks to inject any more stock appreciation without blowing up Obama's reelection chances (and you can be sure they know it). Suddenly the market finds itself without an explicit backstop. So what are some of the "realizations" that can pop the complacency bubble leading to a stock market plunge, and filling the liquidity-filled gap? Here are, courtesy of David Rosenberg, six distinct hurdles that loom ever closer on the horizon, and having been ignored for too long, courtesy of Bernanke et cie, will almost certainly become the market's preoccupation all too soon.
While the record corporate profit bonanza (if now declining) is still the fallback argument for any bearish allegation that the only reason why the market is up 20% in 3 months is due to $2 trillion in liquidity dumped into markets by central banks, this may be about to end quite abruptly, especially if Europe is a harbinger of things to come. As the following chart from Credit Suisse shows, the number of large companies (>500bn market cap) that lose money on an LTM basis (so not just in the quarter, and thus with a much longer lasting effect) has risen in Q4 for the first time since Q3 2009. And while in nominal terms the change is still relatively modest, the actual change in "losing companies" is a doubling from under 5% to 10%, as for the first time in years the percentage of European money losing companies matches that of the US.
While nothing is more certain than death and taxes (and central bank largesse), David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff uncovers The Unlucky Seven major tax-related uncertainties facing households and businesses that will likely lead to multiple compression in markets (rather than the much-heralded multiple expansion 'story' which appears to have topped the talking-head charts - just above 'money on the sidelines' and 'wall of worry', as 'earnings-driven' arguments are failing on the back of this quarter). As he notes the radically changed taxation climate in 2013 and beyond will have an impact on all economic participants as they will probably opt to bolster their cash reserves in the second half of the year in preparation for the proverbial rainy day.
The onslaught of 'favorable' jobs numbers continues with the latest initial claims printing at 348K, down from an upward revised 361K, on expectations of a rise to 365K. This was the lowest number since March 2008. As a reminder, the abnormally warm January and February weather as discussed previously by David Rosenberg is a key reason in the ongoing favorable impression of the economy that this data skew creates. Granted the self-delusion of employers is just as palpable as that of market participants: claims went from sub 400K in the days before Lehman to nearly 600K in the weeks after. Continuing claims printed at 3.426MM down from 3.526MM, on expectations of 3.495K. Those seeing the 99-week expire increased as 23K people dropped out of EUCs and Extended Claims. Expect to see this "favorable" trend reverse within weeks, as the groundwork for more easing has to be set (more on that shortly). Elsewhere, the headline PPI came below expectations of 0.4%, printing at 0.1%, up from -0.1% previously, while Core PPI, paradoxically, beat this time, rising from 0.3% to 0.4%, on consensus of a decline to 0.2%. Finally Housing Starts was a meaningless and noisy 699K on expectations of 675K, where it has been crawling along the bottom for years. Permits Missed Expectations of 680K coming at 676K.
Earlier, you heard it from Jeff Gundlach, whom one can not accuse (at least not yet) of sleeping on his laurels and/or being a broken watch, who told his listeners to "reduce risk right now" especially in the frenzied momo stocks. Now, it is David Rosenberg's turn who tries to refute the presiding transitory dogma that 'things are ok" and that a Greek default will be contained (no, it won't be, and if nobody remembers what happened in 2008, here is a reminder of everything one needs to know ahead of the "controlled", whatever that is, Greek default). Alas, it will be to no avail, as one of the dominant features of the lemming herd is that it will gladly believe the grandest of delusions well past the ledge. On the other hand, they don't call it the pain trade for nothing.
Stocks are not the only thing enjoying the ECB's $800 billion balance sheet expansion (and just announced additional Bank of England Quantiative Easing) over the past 6 months. Lately a new and unwelcome visitor has also figured out the Euroean Central Bank's sneaky motives. No, not Germany, they still are hopelessly confused and still believe the ECB is not "printing" money. Nor gold. It did long ago, just as Roubini was calling for an imminent crash following the 200 DMA breach - it is headed over $2000 in short order. No, this time it is that last entrant to any reliqufication party, who just happens to be the guaranteed party-pooper: gasoline.
Is It The Weather, Stupid? David Rosenberg On What "April In January" Means For Seasonal AdjustmentsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/09/2012 17:48 -0400
Remember last year when the tiniest snowfall was reason for everyone and their grandmother to miss every possible estimate, always blaming it on the weather? Or rainfall in the spring? Or warm weather during the summer? Oddly enough one never hears about the opposite: the beneficial, and one-time, impact to trendline due to countertrend weather, such as the fact that we just had April weather in January. Granted, nobody in the programmed MSM will touch this topic, which is why we go to the most trustworthy filter of real economic data - David Rosenberg. "...Be careful in assessing the seasonally adjusted data when January weather feels like April. It was four to five degrees warmer than usual and the third fewest snowflakes to hit the ground in the past 50 years. On top of that, let's not lose sight of what real GDP did in Q4 — considerably below consensus view from last summer and sub-1% at an annual rate once inventories are stripped out. The only variable preventing real GDP from stagnating completely was the fact the price deflator collapsed to just 0.4% at an annual rate. If it had averaged to what it was in the previous three quarters, real GDP growth would have come in close to a 0.7% annual rate. Strip out the inventory build-up and real sales would have contracted at a 1.3% annual rate and recession would be dripping off everybody's tongue right now."