News about the spread of the Ebola virus has been an increasing focus for market participants in recent days. Despite rising media coverage, Ebola seems to have had little discernible effect on consumer sentiment to date. However, as Goldman Sachs notes, the "fear factor" associated with Ebola appears more significant than in past instances of pandemic concern. While expert opinion sees the likelihood of a significant outbreak of Ebola in the US as very low, it is likely any negative macroeconomic consequences are most likely to be transmitted through fear or risk-aversion channels.
With the USD experiencing its longest stretch of weekly gains since Bretton Woods, it appears, as SocGen notes, that recent currency movements have triggered nostalgia of the pre-crisis world when dollar strength was synonymous with a prosperous global economy. However, given the extreme positioning and potential for policy-maker complacency, SocGen warns the paradox is thus that a strong dollar tantrum could be a more worrying scenario than a Fed tightening tantrum.
While France's Hollande demands action - amid his country's "political earthquake" this weekend - Goldman warns investors should not expect any signal that the Governing Council is pondering in earnest a large-scale asset purchase program. Goldman expects the ECB to lower policy rates by 15bp at the June meeting and the announcement of targeted credit easing measures, probably in the form of a vLTRO as Draghi warns "the potential for a negative spiral to take hold between between low inflation, falling inflation expectations and credit, in particular in stressed countries."
What if this was the year where the Treasury curve bear flattened completely as happened in 1994? That is the question that BofAML'sHans Mikkelsen addresses in this worrying report. His warning, as the majority of high grade investors nowadays have total return - as opposed to excess return – objectives, a complete bear flattening of the Treasury curve would be quite devastating. And furthermore, "reverse rotation" into higher-yielding bonds could punish stocks much more than most talking-heads prefere to consider.
The FOMC is now meeting for the first time with Janet Yellen as Chair. Goldman's US team expects the FOMC to deliver an accommodative message...alongside a continued tapering of asset purchases. However, they note, their market views here are likely to shift little in response, as much of that dovishness is arguably already priced, particularly in US rates. SocGen notes that "qualitative guidance" will probably consist of two components: the FOMC’s forecast for the fed funds rate (aka “the dots”) providing a baseline scenario, and a descriptive component signalling the elasticity of this rate path to the underlying economic outlook. SocGen also warns that this transition is worrisome for inflation in 2015. But BofA suggests this is not problem as The Fed will indicate the US economy "lift-off" in late-2015 will save us all.
While the sight of Russian flags, pro-Russian troops, and Russian navy ships in Crimea is now a day-to-day thing; this morning brings a new normal for the eastern Ukraine region - long lines at bank ATMs as the bank runs have begun. We noted last night the dreaded inversion of Ukraine's yield curve, the greater-than-50% yields on 3-month Ukraine government debt, and the pressures on local bank debt maturities as the ability to garner dollars cost-effectively was becoming a problem but on the heels of concerns by the head of the central bank that moving cash in Crimea was difficult, ATM withdrawal limits have been cut. People in long ATM lines are reported to be concerned because "banks are closing" but it is Deutsche Bank's comments this morning that raised many an eyebrow as they suggest that Ukraine's debt is pricing in a "burden-sharing" haircut for bondholders (which as we have seen in the past - in Cyprus - can quickly ripple up the capital structure and become a depositor haircut).
Just when it seemed that the ever deteriorating situation in the Crimean, the unexpected plunge in Chinese exports which has sent the Yuan reeling again, the Copper slam which is down some 10% in two days, and the outright collapse in Japan's capital flows, not to mention the worst GDP print under Abe, may not be quite "priced in" by a market that is now expecting well beyond perfection in perpetuity, further shown by Goldman over the weekend which reprorted that revenue multiples have never been greater, and futures may finally dip, here came - right on schedule - the USDJPY levitation liftathon, which boosted futures from down 10 to barely unchanged, and which should be green by the second USDJPY ramp some time just after 8 am.
"For 50 years or so the federal government has deliberately and to an increasing extent misstated probable future budget deficits. Democrats and Republicans are guilty. The White House is guilty. And so is Congress. Private firms that deliberately misrepresent their financial statements in this fashion would be guilty of a crime… The magnitude of the misrepresentation is breathtaking."
- Former St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President William Poole.
The short answer: if it did, the Chairman is unaware of it. Or is he? [Laughter]
Further protests and a plethora of headlines this morning from both sides in the troubled European (for now) nation. The Ukrainian foreign minister begins by noting that "its impossible to take Ukraine away from Russia," that Ukraine was "right to take attractive Russia offer," and that protests aren't peaceful. Opposition leader Klitschko responded that "Ukrainians dream of a stable, modern country," and that a majority of Ukrainians want "European values," and asks for "international help." Romania's Basescu is concerned and urges the Ukrainian army to stay out of the conflict. But, as Martin Armstrong notes below, according to a former adviser to Vladimir Putin, the economist Andrei Illarionov, the Kremlin will take one of three possible scenarios with respect to the Ukraine problem to "assert a lot of pressure on Kiev."
Unintended consequences may have developed from QE policies that are not fully understood. They may materialize more clearly during the withdrawal process. Any of a number of obstacles could push the Fed ‘off course’ from the smooth landing that its baseline scenario suggests:
- Certainly, expanding the balance sheet by over $3 trillion has had a significant impact on valuations, market functioning, and asset allocation, so those effects could cause some market turbulence as they revert back to normal.
- Emerging markets, which benefited heavily in the early years of QE, have recently shown some disruptions, such as, slowing economic growth, weakening currencies, and capital outflows.
- Political and social concerns about income and wealth inequalities have grown due to the use of asset prices as a policy tool.
- Structural unemployment from long-term joblessness and technological advancement cannot be addressed through easy money.
- Politics is still polarizing, which in turn creates on-going economic headwinds.
Despite hope (and talk) that Greece is on the path back to recovery, our recent discussion of the record deflation the nation is undergoing (and record unemployment) suggests Stournaras propaganda is just that. As Bloomberg's David Powell writes, the embattled nation continues to push further into depression and a state of insolvency and appears highly unlikely to be able to reduce the domestic price level in order to restore competiveness and simultaneously avoid a second restructuring of its sovereign debt. Perhaps that is why Troika delayed its appearance in Athens as it is easier to ignore the truth that way? Especially as beggars, once again, will become choosers in the "grexit" debate.
A zombie government armed with accounting tricks has bailed out a zombie banking industry using even more financial phoniness. A few numbers pushed here and there, and the industry is earning record profits. But out in the real world where people live and work, things aren't so rosy. Zombies make negligent landlords and dangerous neighbors.
Same political disfunction. Same blue team indifference to soaring government debt. Same hypocrisy from those on the red team who helped set debt on its upward trajectory. Same lack of any serious effort to tackle the most important issue – the unsustainable paths of our major entitlement programs. But there is one difference.