With precisely one month left until the early bound of the debt ceiling crunch and a possible US government shut down and/or technical default, and with M.A.D. warnings from the president and treasury secretary doing nothing to precipitate a sense of urgency (which will not arrive until there is a 20% market drop, so far consistently delayed but which will eventually happen), here comes the most toothless of rating agencies, French Fitch which somehow kept its mouth shut over the past 18 months, when US debt rose by over $2.1 trillion and debt to GDP hit 103%, shaking a little stick furiously, no doubt under guidance by its corporate HoldCo owners: French Fimilac SA.
And so the consequences for Europe of accommodating the US, and the rest of the world, in having the EUR soar following ECB intervention while everyone else's currency is diluted to death, comes to the fore, following today's announcement of German 2012 GDP which came below expectations of 0.8%, printing at 0.7%, with government adding a substantial 1.0% to this number, while plant and machinery investment tumbled by a whopping -4.4%. And while the specific Q4 data was not actually broken out, a subsequent report by the German stat office indicated that Q4 GDP likely shrank by 0.5% in Q4. All that is needed is one more quarter of sub zero GDP, which will almost certainly happen in Q1 absent a massive surge in government spending which however will not happen in tapped out Germany, whose resources are focused on keeping the periphery afloat, and thus the EURUSD high, and Germany's exports weak. Confirming this was a Bild report which stated that the government now sees 2013 GDP growth of a paltry 0.4%, which assumes growth in H2. One wonders just how much longer Germany will opt for a currency regime that punishes its primary GDP-driver: net exports, at the expense of nothing beneficial but making tourist trips to Greece far more expensive than under the Drachma.
With Alcoa kicking off the earnings season with numbers there were in line and slightly better on the outlook (as usual), attention will largely shift to micro data and disappointing cash flows over the next two weeks, even as the countdown clock to the debt ceiling "drop dead" D-Day begins ticking with as little as 35 days left until debt ceiling extension measures are exhausted and creeping government shutdowns commence. There was little in terms of macro data from the US, even as a major datapoint out of Germany, November Industrial Production, missed expectations of a 1% rise, pushing higher by just 0.2% M/M (up from a -2.0% revised October print), once again proving that "hopes" (as shown by various confidence readings yesterday) of a boost to the European economy are wildly premature. This disappointing print comes a day ahead of the ECB conference tomorrow, when the governing council may or may not cut rates, although it is very much unlikely it will proceed with the former at a time when at least the narrative is one of improvement - pursuing even more easing will promptly dash "hopes" of a self-sustaining trough (forget improvement) for yet another quarter. Putting the German number in context, Greek Industrial Output slid 2.9% in November, down from a revised 5% rise, refuting in turn that this particular economy is anywhere near a trough.
The debt limit was formally reached last week, and we expect the Treasury's ability to borrow to be exhausted by around March 1 (if not before) and while CDS are not flashing red, USA is at near 3-month wides. Like the previous debt limit debate in the summer of 2011, the debate seems likely to be messy, with resolution right around the deadline. That said, like the last debate we would expect the Treasury to prioritize payments if necessary, and Goldman does not believe holders of Treasury securities are at risk of missing interest or principal payments. The debt limit is only one of three upcoming fiscal issues, albeit the most important one. Congress also must address the spending cuts under sequestration, scheduled to take place March 1, and the expiration of temporary spending authority on March 27. While these are technically separate issues, it seems likely that they will be combined, perhaps into one package. This remains a 'very' recurring issue, given our government's spending habits and insistence on its solvency, as we laid out almost two years ago in great detail.
Having passed the 'easy-do-nothing' bill that created a 5% uplift in US equities, D.C. have left the most difficult set of issues for last: entitlement reform, which Republicans have said they will insist upon in return for raising the debt limit, and tax reform, which the President has said he will insist on in return for entitlement reform. The upshot is that reaching an agreement on the next debt limit increase could be at least as difficult as the last increase in August 2011. As Goldman notes, the next debate on the debt limit will be the fifth "showdown" on fiscal policy in the last two years. Adding further angst, in the summer of 2011 politicians had started the debate some three months prior to the real deadline. This time it appears that nothing serious will happen until the 11th hour as usual, meaning far more last minute volatility. However, one new twist to this now familiar routine may come from the rating agencies, which look likely to be more active in 2013 than they have been since 2011.
Talks on the fiscal cliff have resumed, but as of this writing there is not yet an agreement. The current negotiations focus on the income threshold under which tax cuts should be extended, among other topics. As we have noted, the sides seem as far apart as ever, and as Goldman notes, while it is still possible that an agreement will be reached by year end, a retroactive deal in January looks more likely. The eventual resolution still looks likely to be a scaled down agreement that addresses only the policy changes scheduled for year-end and omits other issues, such as an increase in the debt limit or longer-term fiscal reforms. The greatest area of uncertainty is whether the spending cuts scheduled under the sequester will be addressed. The fiscal policy timeline below shows how we are rapidly approaching the more ominous debt ceiling debate and Goldman's Q&A asks and answers provides context for where we are from both an economic and ratings agency impact basis.
Confirming what we all know, here is Bloomberg's "most improved for 2012" (in our humble opinion) commentator, Michael McDonough, on China: "Fiscal stimulus has bought China’s new leadership time to pass critical reforms to spur domestic consumption and rebalance the economy, though there is little room for error. Central banks from U.S. to Japan, through unprecedented levels of quantitative easing, are influencing global markets more than ever. Concerns have arisen over China’s manufacturing sector losing competitiveness; companies including Apple and General Electric have moved some manufacturing lines back to the U.S." The Bloomberg Brief note continues: "Growth in China, which is currently being supported by government fiscal stimulus targeting infrastructure investment, will probably remain between 7.5 and 8 percent. This will buy time for the new leadership to continue with reforms, including interest-rate liberalization, designed to help stoke final demand in China and properly rebalance the nation’s economy."
The euro has been the strongest currency this week. At pixel time it is up about 1.2%. The Dow Jones Stoxx 600 made new 18-month highs earlier in the week before consolidating in the second half of the week. Bond markets were mostly lower, though Greece, for obvious reasons, Spain and Portugal were exceptions to the generalization.
Overnight the Shanghai Composite index rose 4.3%, marking its biggest advance since October 2009, supported by the latest HSBC flash manufacturing PMI which came in at 50.9 vs Exp. 50.8 (Prev. 50.5) – 14-month high, and with hopes for supportive policy direction to come out of this weekends central economic work conference where Chinese leaders will look to set next years GDP target and layout more information on policy for urbanisation. As such WTI crude has been trending higher since the Asia session testing around the USD 87.00 to the upside with close to a 1 USD gains ahead of the NYMEX pit open. In terms of Europe, bund volumes have been light as markets head closer toward the Christmas break with European manufacturing and service PMI’s having little sustained impact with Italian and Spanish 10yr government bond yield spreads over German bunds seen 2.5bps and 3.5bps tighter respectively. Elsewhere, in the FX market there has been talk of US names selling 1 week 25 delta risk reversals in positioning ahead of this weekend’s Japanese elections.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited the Bank of England’s gold vault and wonders like most people how the things got so bad. Back in 2008, when the monarch visited the London School of Economics she described the credit crunch as ‘awful.’ . Fast forward to 2012, the heart of Europe’s 4 year-old debt crisis while the Queen of England hears a financial expert compare the debt crisis to a flu epidemic or an earthquake, as hard to predict. This comparison is truly patronizing and an insult to the Queen’s intelligence. Although I am not English have some respect for your elders, especially your Queen, Britons! Pensioners in England can recall hard times during the World War when items like sugar were a luxury. In this new era of credit you have people complaining if they can’t borrow to have their new BMW financed to match their Cotswold’s country house or Spanish holiday home. The Queen was informed that since financial risk has been managed better (need we mention Libor?) than it was in the past, people became complacent. She smiled and said, ‘But people had got a bit...lax, had they?’ Her Royal Highness also suggested that the Financial Services Authority may not have been hard-line enough in its policing. She said: ‘The Financial Services – what do they call themselves, the regulators – Authority, which was really quite new … it didn’t have any teeth.’ It’s rather ironic that the tour showed the gold vault since a good portion of the UK gold reserves were sold off from 1999-2002, when gold prices were at their lowest in 20 years.
Turkey’s trade balance may turn on whether President Barack Obama vetoes more stringent sanctions against Iran after the U.S. Senate passed a measure targeting loopholes in gold exports to the Islamic Republic. Turkey’s gold trade with neighbouring Iran has helped shrink its trade deficit over the past year according to Bloomberg. Incredibly, precious metals accounted for about half of the almost $21 billion decline. That’s calmed investor concern over its current-account gap, and helped persuade Fitch Ratings to give Turkey its first investment-grade rating since 1994. The U.S. Senate voted 94-0 on Nov. 30 to approve new sanctions against Iran, closing gaps from previous measures, including trade in precious metals. Obama, who opposes the move on the grounds it may undercut existing efforts to rein in the nation’s nuclear ambitions, signed an executive order in July restricting gold payments to Iranian state institutions. Turkey exported $11.9 billion of gold in the first 10 months of the year, according to the Ankara-based statistics agency’s website. A very large 85% of the shipments went to Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Iran is buying the gold with payments Turkey makes for natural gas it purchases in liras, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told a parliamentary committee in Ankara on Nov. 23.
- Fed Seen Pumping Up Assets to $4 Trillion in New Buying (BBG)
- China New Loans Trail Forecasts in Sign of Slower Growth (BBG)
- U.S. "fiscal cliff" talks picking up pace (Reuters)
- Insider-Trading Probe Widens (WSJ)
- U.K.'s Top Banker Sees Currency Risk (Hilsenrath)
- Three Arrested in Libor Probe (WSJ)
- Nine hurt as gunmen fire at Cairo protesters (Reuters)
- Egyptian President Gives Army Police Powers Ahead of Vote (BBG)
- Pax Americana ‘winding down’, says US report (FT)
- Japan Polls Show LDP, Ally Set for Big Majority (DJ)
- HSBC to pay record $1.9 billion U.S. fine in money laundering case (Reuters)
- Central Banks Ponder Going Beyond Inflation Mandates (BBG)
- Bloomberg Weighs Making Bid for The Financial Times (NYT)
- Hedge Funds Fall Out of Love with Equities (FT)
- Obama and Boehner resume US fiscal cliff talks (FT)
- Italy Front-Runner Vows Steady Hand (WSJ)
- Spanish Bailout Caution Grows as Business Lobbies Back Rajoy (BBG)
- Japan sinks into fresh recession (Reuters)
- China economic recovery intact, but weak exports drag (Reuters)
- Greece extends buyback offer to reach target (Reuters) ... but on Friday they promised it was done
- Basel Liquidity Rule May Be Watered Down Amid Crisis (BBG) ... just before they are scrapped
- Irish, Greek Workers Seen Suffering Most in 2013 Amid EU Slump (BBG)
Iceland went after the people who caused the crisis — the bankers who created and sold the junk products — and tried to shield the general population. But what Iceland did is not just emotionally satisfying. Iceland is recovering, while the rest of the Western world — which bailed out the bankers and left the general population to pay for the bankers’ excess — is not. Iceland’s approach is very much akin to what I have been advocating — write down the unsustainable debt, liquidate the junk corporations and banks that failed, disincentivise the behaviour that caused the crisis, and provide help to the ordinary individuals in the real economy (as opposed to phoney “stimulus” cash to campaign donors and big finance). And Iceland has snapped out of its depression. The rest of the West, where banks continue to behave exactly as they did prior to the crisis, not so much.
The news Deutsche Bank apparently sat on potential super-senior losses of $12 bln through the banking crisis is bound to anger the many bankers who saw their careers crumble or subsumed into bureaucracy. Other banks up the ying-yang with unhedgable risk went bust or were forced into the ignominy of public bailouts. From a proper accounting or risk-management perspective DB should have been bust - but to the unknowing world it wasn't. And that sums up the complexity of the bank world - if management can hide or not recognise risks (and even sack whistleblowers who disagree with them), what's the answer? It's the No-See-Ums that kill institutions. On the basis if you can't see it, then it can't see you... should DB have survived? If Lehman had kept schtumm about its leverage and unquantifiable risk, would it still be with us? Not getting caught is an objective all management have quietly inscribed into their heads. And as far as the UK's fiscal projections... on the basis QE has historically proved to be little less effective than pushing uphill on a length of wet wool, then we might just be staring down the Japanese abyss - no growth as CAPEX will stay subdued on the weak outlook. Lastly, we've been told (forceably) our concerns the Greek buyback could be difficult are completely overstated. We are idiots for even thinking it... apparently.