The record volatility, and 400 point up and down days in the DJIA of last summer seem like a lifetime ago, having been replaced by a smooth, unperturbed, 45 degree-inclined see of stock market appreciation, rising purely on the $2 trillion or so in liquidity pumped into global markets by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."
In today’s comments from David Rosenberg (well worth the subscription) he presents a quote from Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management that struck me as particularly insightful. We would all be better equity investors, long and short, applying the same logic to company fundamentals. However, noise is plentiful in a High Frequency world and commotion drives revenue for service providers.
Our discussions (here, here, and here) of the dispersion of deleveraging efforts across developed nations, from the McKinsey report last week, raised a number of questions on the timeliness of the deflationary deleveraging process. David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff, notes that the multi-decade debt boom will take years to mean revert and agrees with our views that we are still in the early stages of the global deleveraging cycle. He adds that while many believe last year's extreme volatility was an aberration, he wonders if in fact the opposite is true and that what we saw in 2009-2010 - a double in the S&P 500 from the low to nearby high - was the aberration and market's demands for more and more QE/easing becomes the volatility-inducing swings of dysphoric reality mixed with euphoric money printing salvation. In his words, perhaps the entire three years of angst turned to euphoria turned to angst (and back to euphoria in the first three weeks of 2012?) is the new normal. After all we had angst from 1929 to 1932 then ebullience from 1933 to 1936 and then back to despair in 1937-1938. Without the central banks of the world constantly teasing markets with more and more liquidity, the new baseline normal is dramatically lower than many believe and as such the former's impacts will need to be greater and greater to maintain the mirage of the old normal.
As I was writing this past weekend's newsletter "A Technical Review Of The Markets" it really dawned on me just how complacent investors have become on the economy, the markets and risk in general. The mainstream media, and most of analysts, are looking at recent improvements in the economic data as a sign that the economy has begun to make a turn for the better. This view is further supported by the rise of the stock market. With a couple of breadcrumbs, a sprinkle of "hope" and a cup of optimism - analysts, economists and investors have whipped up the perfect concoction by extrapolating recent upticks into long term future advances. However, this is a game that we have seen play out repeatedly before.
The only thing that is as consistent as Marc Faber's message to get out of government bonds ahead of a bout of global hyperinflation which will arrive once the vicious cycle of printing to pay interest finally dawns (which in turn would happen once central planners lose control of an artificially created situation, which by definition, always eventually happens), is the passion with which he repeats it over... and over... and over, like a man possessed, if ultimately 100% correct. In an interview with Bloomberg's Sara Eisen and Erik Schatzker this morning, he does what he does best - cuts to the chase: "if you think it through and you are as bearish as I am, and you think the whole financial system will one day collapse, we don't know if in 3 years, or 5 years, or 10 years, but one day there will be a reset, and everything will be essentially started anew, then you are better off in equities than in government bonds, because a lot of government bonds will either default or they will have to print so much money that the purchasing power of money will depreciate very rapidly." When asked if he feels uncomfortable predicting a calamity in bonds again, as he did back 2009, Faber is laconically empathic: "it is true that last year the 30 year bond returned 30%, and i owe David Rosenberg a bottle of whiskey" but analogizes: "from August 1999 to March 2000, the Nasdaq doubled, but at no time in that timeframe was it a good buy. And after it people lost a lot of money. We have now a symptom of monetary inflation and this is record corporate profits, and the second symptoms is essentially a bubble in high quality bonds: people seem so insecure and so much worried, they would rather be in a US bond with no yield, than in bonds that may not repay me, or in equities that may drop 30%. But it does not make them a good buy longer term." Yep: only Faber can get away with calling the bond market the second coming of the Nasdaq bubble and look cool doing it.
With market dynamics continuing to be virtually identical to the start of last year, many struggle to find what incremental events at the margin may determine what is not priced in by the market (because apparently everything else is). As we pointed out recently, one such potential factor is that short interest on the NYSE has plunged to practically multi-year lows. And yet the melt up has continued indicating the short covering has come and gone, and at this point it is incremental buying that is probably driving stocks. Yet even that may be ending: since we are looking at the margin, it makes sense to present David Rosenberg's observations on what it is that he is looking at the moment, which appropriately enough, is NYSE margin debt, whose 12 month trailing average has just turned negative: traditionally an important inflection point.
Mario Draghi once again mistakes a Solvency issue for one of Liquidity
JPM's head economist Michael Feroli just joined the bandwagon of other Wall Streeters in cutting Q4 GDP, trimming his prior forecast of 3.5% to 3.0%. However, as this is backward looking, it is largely irrelevant if confirming what we already knew: that the economy was certainly not growing as fast as the market implied it was (yes, the manipulated market is not the economy, no matter how much the Fed would like that to be the case). A bigger question is what should one expect from the future. Yes - an in vitro future, isolated from the daily rumor mill of what may or may not happen to the French rating tomorrow or the day after. It is here that there is nothing good to expect: 'we think growth will downshift from 3.0% in 4Q11 to 2.0% in 1Q12. Looking beyond the first quarter, we expect a growing private domestic sector will contend with a fading drag from the external sector and a persistent drag from the public sector." Yet where JPM falls short, is its optimistic view on the private sector. As David Rosenberg showed yesterday, the ratio of negative to positive preannouncements just hit a multi-year high, with the primary culprit being the strong dollar. Unfortunately for Feroli's bullish angle, the private sector will not do all that well at all if the EURUSD remains in the mid 1.20s or falls further. In fact, corporate earnings will likely be trounced, which in combination with everything else that JPM lists out, correctly, could make the second half of 2012 a perfect storm for economic growth, an event which Obama's pre-electoral planners are all too aware of. What is the only possible recourse? Why more QE of course. The only unknown is "when."
Yesterday, in a must read post, Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg played the devil's advocate and presented a much needed experiment in contrarianism, attempting to unravel what it is that bulls may be seeing in the economy and the market (an analysis which may have to be revised after today's pro forma 400K in initial claims and deplorable retail sales update). While we don't know if anyone was converted into the permabullish fold as a result, it certainly was useful to have a view of what "sliding down the wall of satisfaction" means currently . Today, Rosie is back to his traditional skeptical self with today's publication of the "Laments of a Bear", which is yet another must read inverse view of everything that yesterday was not. Our advise to readers: be aware of both sides of the argument and make up your own mind. Plus at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is what side of the bed Bernanke wakes up on...