Initial Jobless Claims
In the week ahead, we get the usual middle-of-the-month batch of early business surveys, including the New York Empire, Philly Fed and Eurozone Flash PMIs. The second key focus will be a number of important monetary policy meetings, including the FOMC, as well as the Swiss, Norwegian Turkish and Indian policy decisions. The latter two are particularly interesting in the light of the recent EM weakness. The main event this weak will be the FOMC meeting after the recent market focus on the timing of tapering of the QE3 program. Swings in bond markets related to the FOMC meeting could be the primary source of FX volatility this week.
Thursdays may be the new Tuesdays (if only this week), but so far Fridays are still just Fridays, and no mysterious overnight levitation is here to open the market 0.5% higher. The Nikkei 225 retraced a fraction of Thursday’s losses overnight as the positive close on Wall Street and a dovish interpretation of Hilsenrath’s WSJ piece yesterday allowed the Japanese indices to recover from the worst levels of the week. USD/JPY has pared Thursday’s bounce and trades lower as the Bank of Japan’s minutes showed one member of the board proposing the advantages of limiting the bank’s QQE program to just two years in order to avoid financial imbalances. Overnight in China, as we warned yesterday, the liquidity situation got even worse, when the PBOC's attempt to drain liquidity failed to sell some 30% of the planned 15 billion yuan in 273-day bills (more on this shortly), leaving the banks screaming Uncle and on the verge of a full-blown liquidity crisis: we expect rumors, and news, of more banks failing to roll over overnight liquidity to hit the tape shortly.
Moments before the retail sales number was reported, when we reminded readers that last the April retail sales was revised lower from a 100% beat to miss, we predicted that the May retail sales number (driven as usual by seasonal adjustments) would be a beat. Sure enough, that's just what happened, following a headline retail sales increase of 0.6% on expectations of a 0.4% print. After all the algos need their morning kick following last night's global risk off session. As for the final data, as we also noted, which will likely be revised lower, who cares - it is the upward kneejerk algo reaction which is all that matters. Also ignored will be the non-headline retail sales, such as ex-autos and ex-autos and gas, both of which printed +0.3%, or just in line as expected, the latter of which was a decline from last month's even more downward revised number, which dropped from 0.6% to 0.5%.
In the brief but tempestuous fight between Abe and the "deflation monster", the latter is now victoriously romping through an irradiated Tokyo, if last night's epic (ongoing) collapse in the Nikkei is any indication: down 6.4%, crushing anyone who listened to Goldman's "buy Nikkei" recommendation which has now been stopped out at a major loss in three days, and now well in bear-market territory, it would appear that a neurotic Mrs. Watanabe is finally with done with daytrading the Pennikkeistock market, and demands Shirakawa's deflationary, triumphal return to finally clam the market. Only this time the Japan's selling tsunami is finally starting to spill, if not to the US just yet (it will) then certainly to Asia, where the Shanghai Composite which was down 2.7%, and is once again well down for the year, and virtually all other Asian stock markets. Except for Pakistan - the Karachi Stock Exchange is an island of stability in the Asian sea of red.
Currency markets are anticipating the conclusion of the BOJ meeting on Tuesday. No changes are expected to the current policy scheme and asset purchase targets, but it is likely that the committee will introduce measures to try to stem JGB volatility. Based on their recent record, it is unlikely they will succeed. Later in the week, the focal point will shift to the US where the monthly Treasury statement on Wednesday and retail sales data on Thursday will shed more light on how automatic federal spending cuts are affecting the broader economy.
Evidence of the sequester remains elusive. The warning signs that we track closely – initial jobless claims, Richmond Fed, personal income and payrolls – do not show any material deterioration that we can attribute to the sequester. One mystery is why personal income of government workers has not contracted, as fewer hours worked should equal less pay. The answer, BofAML notes, is simple - it's just beginning...
One thing is for certain -- the job market is very tight as layoffs and discharges have reached the lowest levels since the turn of the century. While this is leading to lower initial jobless claims it is not translating into higher levels of full-time employment relative to the population. It is not surprising that with an economy that is mired at a near 2% economic growth rate that employment is "muddling" right along with it. While the economy is indeed creating jobs, it is a function of population growth rather than a sign that the economy is on the road to recovery. What is clear is that current detachment between the financial markets and the real economy continues.
Everything was going so well in the overnight session, following some mixed Japanese data (stronger than expected production, inline inflation, weaker household spending) which kept the USDJPY 101 tractor beam engaged, and the market stable, until just before 2 am Eastern, when Tokyo professor Takatoshi Ito, formerly a deputy at the finance ministry to the BOJ's Kuroda, said overvaluation of the yen versus the dollar has been corrected, which led to a very unpleasant moment of gravity for the currency pair which somehow drives risk around the world based on what several millions Japanese housewives do in unison. The result was a slide to just 30 pips away from the key 100 support level, below which all hell breaks loose, Abenomics starts being unwound, hedge funds - short the yen and long the Nikkei - have no choice but to unwind once profitable positions, the wealth effect craters, and streams are generally crossed.
One look at the 5%+ plunge in the Nikkei overnight and one would be allowed to wonder if this was it for Abenomics: with a 15% drop from recent highs, and the TOPIX Real Estate index down by more than 20%+ since mid-April, entering a bear market, what's worse is that even the "wealth effect" Mrs Watanabe fanatics would be excused from having much hope going forward. The problem, however, is that in a world in which only the USDJPY matters as a risk signal, and only the stock market remains as a last bastion of "hope", the overnight weakness pushing the dollar yen to just 50 pips above 100 threatened to crush the manipulated rally and force everyone to doubt the sustainability of central planning. So, sure enough, literally seconds we got the much needed stick save without which everything could have come tumbling down, namely based on an unsourced article out of Reuters that Japan's Public Pension Fund is considering a change to its portfolio strategy that could allow domestic equity share of investments to rise in rallying market. The immediate result was an instantaneous surge in the USDJPY which in turn dragged global risk higher across the board, simply due to what algos deemed as yet another procyclical last minute rescue. More importantly this was nothing but a squeeze catalyst coming at just the right time before market open to prevent a rout in global equities. Ironically, that we are back to the Reuters "sticksave" unsourced article, indicates just how weak the reality behind the scenes must be.
"The last 36 hours have perhaps been evidence as to what might happen if stimulus is withdrawn before the global recovery has been cemented and what might happen if Japan makes mistakes along the way to their attempted new dawn. With the Chinese data still ambiguous, Europe still in recession, Japan in the very early stages of a growth experiment and with the US recovery still historically very weak one has to say that liquidity has been the main market fuel in recent months. So central banks have to tread carefully and the Fed tapering talk and the BoJ's seemingly benign neglect policy towards JGBs has had the market fretting." - Deutsche Bank
Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s testimony to Congress will be important in setting the tone for the markets (particularly the dollar, equities and US treasuries), as traders hunt for clues on when the Fed is likely to ease its rate of asset purchases.
On one hand we have bad Hilsenrath sending mixed messages saying the Fed may taper sooner (with good Hilsenrath chiming in days later, adding it may be later after all), depending on whether HY bonds hit 4% YTM by EOD or mid next week at the latest. On the other, even resolute Fed doves are whispering that a tapering may occur as soon the summer, so in a few months, and halt QE by year end. Bottom line - confusion. So who better to arbitrate than the firm that runs it all, Goldman Sachs, and its chief economist Jan Hatzius, who issues the following Q&A on "tapering." His view: "not yet." Then again, Goldman is the consummate (ab)user of dodecatuple reverse psychology, so if Goldman says "all clear" the natural response should be just as clear.
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.
The main story overnight is without doubt the dramatic plunge in the Yen, which following the breach and trigger of USDJPY 100 stops has been a straight diagonal line to the upper right (or lower for the Yen across all currency crosses) and at last check was approaching 101.50, in turn sending the USD higher in virtually all jurisdictions. However it is not so much the Yen weakness that was surprising - a nation hell bent on doubling its monetary base in two years will do that - but the accelerating response in neighboring countries all of which are seeing Japan as the biggest economic threat suddenly and all are scrambling to respond. Sure enough, midway through the evening session, Sri Lanka cut its reverse repo and repurchase rate to 9% and 7% respectively, promptly followed by Vietnam cutting its own refinancing rate from 8% to 7%, then moving to Thailand where the finance chief Kittiratt called for a rate cut exceeding 25 bps, and more jawboning from South Korea suggesting even more rate cuts from the export-driven country are set to come as it loses trade competitiveness to Japan. Asian financial crisis 2.0 any minute now?