It is difficult enough, in our world, to ferret out the truth and then make rational decisions based upon what you have found. Europe is a good example of this as liabilities are not acknowledged or counted while the propaganda machines roll out the officially mandated numbers. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to get at some of the truth though and liabilities, counted or not, still have to be paid. In the case of Europe a great deal of enlightenment may be found in the data available from the Bank for International Settlements and that has been my primary source for arriving at some reality. Every Chinese joke starts in the same way. "First you look over your shoulder." In the case of China, and trying to find some glimmer of truth there, the situation is far more difficult.
- Citigroup Facing $7 Billion Currency Hit on Dollar, Peabody Says (BBG)
- World has 10 years of shale oil, reports US (FT)
- ECB prepares to defend monetary policy in German court (FT)
- European Stocks Sink to Seven-Week Low as Treasuries Fall (BBG)
- Fitch warns on risks from shadow banking in China (Reuters)
- Obama administration to drop limits on morning-after pill (Reuters)
- ACLU asks spy court to release secret rulings in response to leaks (MSNBC)
- SEC Nets Win in 'Naked Short' Case (WSJ)
- SoftBank Raises Offer for Sprint to $21.6 Billion (WSJ)
- Chinese rocket launch marks giant leap towards space station (FT)
Following widespread discussion of the impact that Wall Street investors (gorging on the Fed's free-money extravaganza) have had on home prices, today's final straw for Blackstone appears to be the New York Times' editorial suggesting/blaming them (and others) for driving up the prices of single family homes and reducing the supply of affordable housing for first-time home owners. Blackstone decided to hit back with some of its own version of real estate truthiness via its' blog and why it is "proud of what it is doing in the housing market." So here are the six reasons that Blackstone believes laying the blame for housing bubble 2.0 at their (them being Wall Street) feet is wrong (and a few short responses to their perspective).
- Reports on surveillance of Americans fuel debate over privacy, security (Reuters)
- Apple to Yahoo Deny Providing Direct Access to Spy Agency (Bloomberg)
- Misfired 2010 email alerted IRS officials in Washington of targeting (Reuters)
- Spy vs Spy: Cyber disputes loom large as Obama meets China's Xi (Reuters)
- When NSA Calls, Companies Answer (WSJ)
- How the Robots Lost: High-Frequency Trading's Rise and Fall (BBG)
- Japan's Pension Fund to Buy More Stocks (WSJ)
- ‘Frankenstein’ CDOs twitch back to life (FT)
- China’s ‘great power’ call to the US could stir friction (FT)
- Toyota Tries on Corolla Look That’s Just Different Enough (BBG)
To get a sense of the momentous volatility in Japan, consider that the Nikkei225 is more or less in the same numeric ballpark as the Dow Jones, and that each and every day now it continues to have intraday swings of more than 500 points! Last night was no different following swing from 13100 on the high side to 12548 on the low, or nearly 600 points, with all this ridiculous vol culminating in a close that was just red however for a simple reason that the rumor of the Japanese Pension Fund reallocation taking place hit shortly before the close sending the USDJPY higher by 200 pips... only for the news to emerge as an epic disappointment when it was revealed that the GPIF would raise its target allocation to domestic equities from 11% to... 12%. So much for the "Great Japanese Rotation."
While it isn't news to regular readers, the fact that one of the key pillars of the "housing recovery" (the other three being foreign oligarchs parking cash in the US courtesy of an Anti Money Laundering regulation-exempt NAR, foreclosure stuffing and, of course, the Fed's $40 billion in monthly MBS purchases) have been the very biggest Wall Street firms (many of whom had to be bailed out the last time the housing bubble burst) who have also become the biggest institutional landlords "using other people's very cheap money" to buy up tens of thousands of properties, appears to still be lost on the larger population. Intuitively this is to be expected: in a world in which the restoration of confidence that a New Normal, in which everything is centrally-planned, is somehow comparable to life as it used to be before Bernanke, is critical to Ben's (and the administration's) reflationary succession planning. As such perpetuating the myth of a housing recovery has been absolutely essential. Which is why we were surprised to see an article in the very much mainstream, and pro-administration policies NYT, exposing just this facet of the new housing bubble, reflated by those with access to cheap credit, and which has seen the vast majority of the population completely locked out.
At the moment, it seems like the US is that naïve kid sitting in front of the Chinese magician watching China pull economic growth out from behind their ears and rabbits to chase after (that disappear down holes usually). But while their attention is focused on the Chinese magician, they are missing the assistant! She’s doing far more than they could ever imagine. And, nobody is taking the blindest bit of notice. The Philippines! You’d better watch out! She’s behind you!
The last week has seen quite dramatic drops in the prices of a little-discussed but oh-so-critical asset-class in the last housing bubble's 'pop'. Having just crossed above 'Lehman' levels, ABX (residential) and CMBX (commercial) credit indices have seen their biggest weekly drop in 20 months as both rates and credit concerns appear to be on the rise. Perhaps it is this price action that has spooked Fitch's structured products team, or simply the un-sustainability (as we discussed here, here and here most recently) that has the ratings agency on the defensive, noting that, "the recent home price gains recorded in several residential markets are outpacing improvements in fundamentals and could stall or possibly reverse." Simply put, "demand is artificially high... and supply is artificially low."
Those hoping for a slew of negative news to push stocks much higher today will be disappointed in this largely catalyst-free day. So far today we have gotten only the ECB's weekly 3y LTRO announcement whereby seven banks will repay a total of €1.1 billion from both LTRO issues, as repayments slow to a trickle because the last thing the ECB, which was rumored to be inquiring banks if they can handle negative deposit rates earlier in the session, needs is even more balance sheet contraction. The biggest economic European economic data point was the EU construction output which contracted for a fifth consecutive month, dropping -1.7% compared to -0.3% previously, and tumbled 7.9% from a year before. Elsewhere, Spain announced trade data for March, which printed at yet another surplus of €0.63 billion, prompted not so much by soaring exports which rose a tiny 2% from a year ago to €20.3 billion but due to a collapse in imports of 15% to €19.7 billion - a further sign that the Spanish economy is truly contracting even if the ultimate accounting entry will be GDP positive. More importantly for Spain, the country reported a March bad loan ratio - which has been persistently underreproted - at 10.5% up from 10.4% in February. We will have more to say on why this is the latest and greatest ticking timebomb for the Eurozone shortly.
In a world in which fundamentals no longer drive risk prices (that task is left to central banks, and HFT stop hunts and momentum ignition patterns) or anything for that matter, it only makes sense that the day on which Japan posted a better than expected annualized, adjusted Q1 GDP of 3.5% compared to the expected 2.7% that the Nikkei would be down, following days of relentless surges higher. Of course, Japan's GDP wasn't really the stellar result many portrayed it to be, with the sequential rise coming in at 0.9%, just modestly higher than the 0.7% expected, although when reporting actual, nominal figures, it was up by just 0.4%, or below the 0.5% expected, meaning the entire annualized beat came from the gratuitous fudging of the deflator which was far lower than the -0.9% expected at -1.2%: so higher than expected deflation leading to an adjustment which implies more inflation - a perfect Keynesian mess. In other words, yet another largely made up number designed exclusively to stimulate "confidence" in the economy and to get the Japanese population to spend, even with wages stagnant and hardly rising in line with the "adjusted" growth. And since none of the above matters with risk levels set entirely by FX rates, in this case the USDJPY, the early strength in the Yen is what caused the Japanese stock market to close red.
With home prices rising at near-record paces in SoCal, corporate debt yields at record-lows, equity markets surging at near-record rates, and high quality assets dwindling by the minute under the heel of a central bank jack boot; it is perhaps no surprise that investors have switched from finding leverage through the balance sheet (i.e. crappy quality firms) to finding leverage through the instrument (i.e. structured credit). The trouble this time is that yields (and spreads) being so low, the creators of the new-normal ABS, CDOs, and CLOs have to stoop to the old tricks to make their money (as we noted here). As Bloomberg reports, bond issuers are once again exploiting the credit rating agency pay-for-performance business model to create "high-quality" collateralizable assets from utter garbage - such as auto loans.
The yen is weak AND the dollar is strong. Two forces at work. Discuss.
- Microsoft prepares U-turn on Windows 8 (FT), Microsoft admits failure on Windows 8 (MW), After Bumpy Start, Microsoft Rethinks Windows 8 (NYT)
- China reports four more bird flu deaths, toll rises to 31 (Reuters)
- Republicans shift stance on US budget (FT)
- NYC Tallest Condo Corridor Gets New Entrant With Steinway (BBG)
- U.S. Says China's Government, Military Used Cyberespionage (WSJ)
- China rejects Pentagon charges of military espionage (Reuters)
- Bank of China Cuts Off North Korean Bank (WSJ)
- Libya defense minister quits over siege of ministries by gunmen (Reuters)
- London Recruiter Says City Job Vacancies Rose 19% (BBG)
- Colleges Cut Prices by Providing More Financial Aid (WSJ) or, said otherwise, loans
- Jeweler agrees to plead guilty in KPMG insider-trading case (LA Times)
A peculiar trading session, in which the usual overnight futures levitation has not been led by the BOJ-inspired USDJPY rise (even as the Nikkei225 rose another 0.6% more than offset by the Shanghai Composite drop of 0.86%), which actually has slid all session briefly dipping under 99 moments ago, but by the EURUSD, which saw a bout of buying around 5 am Eastern, just after news hit that the UK would avoid a triple dip recession with Q1 GDP rising 0.3% versus expectations of a 0.1% rise, up from a -0.3% in Q4 (more in Goldman note below). Since the news that the BOE will likely delay engaging in more QE (just in time for the arrival of Carney) is hardly EUR positive we look at the other news hitting around that time, such as Finland saying that the euro can survive in Cyprus exits the Eurozone, and that Merkel has rejected standardized bank guarantees for the foreseeable future, and we are left scratching our heads what is the reason for the brief burst in the Euro.
An attempt to look ahead at the drivers of the capital markets in the week ahead.