Yesterday afternoon, following the rout in the US stock market, we made a spurious preview of the true main event: "So selloff in JGBs tonight?" We had no idea how right we would be because the second Japan opened, its bond futures market was halted on a circuit breaker as the 10 Year bond plunged to their lowest level since early 2012, hitting 1% and leading to massive Mark to Market losses for Japanese banks, as we also warned would happen. That was just the beginning, and suddenly the realization crept in that the plunging yen at this point is not only negative for banks, but for the entire stock market, leading to what until that point was a solid up session for the Nikkei to the first rumblings of a ris-off. Shortly thereafter we got the distraction of the Chinese Mfg PMI which dropped into contraction territory for the first time since late 2012, and which set the mood decidedly risk-offish, although the real catalyst may have been a report on copper from Goldman's Roger Yan (which we will cover in depth shortly) and whose implications may be stunning and devastating and may have just popped the Chinese credit bubble (oh, btw, short copper). And then all hell broke loose, with the Nikkei first rising solidly and then something snapping loud and clear, and sending the index crashing a massive 1,143 an intraday swing of 9% high to low, leading to an over 200 pips move lower in the USDJPY, and leading to a global risk off across the world.
"The economy is amazing right now - employment is recovering, innovation is going and housing is reviving. What's not to love?" This was a statement we heard in the media to justify the recent rise in the stock market. However, back in the real world, what is clear from the two composite indexes is that the broad economy, and by extension underlying employment, has clearly peaked and has began to weaken. This is well within the context of historical trends and time frames. While the mainstream analysts and economists continue to have optimistic views for a resurgence in economic activity by years end the current data trends, both globally and domestically, suggest otherwise.
As the global equity and bond markets grind ever higher, abundant signs exist that we are once again living through an asset bubble – or rather a whole series of bubbles in a variety of markets. This makes this period quite interesting, but also quite dangerous. This can be summarized in one sentence: How could this be happening again so soon?
News That Matters - Today's news in brief
Unless there's a shock to the system when people start seeking safety, there's not much upside momentum for gold.
- Apple Bonds Stick Buyers With $280.6 Million Loss as Rates Climb (BBG)
- Iceland Freezes EU Plans as New Government Shuns Euro Crisis (BBG)
- "Transparent Fed" - Ben Bernanke meets privately with Darrell Issa (Politico)
- Bank of Japan vows market steps to curb bond turbulence (Reuters) holds policy (FT)
- Stockholm riots spread in third night of unrest (FT)
- Dudley Says Decision on Taper Will Require 3-4 Months (BBG)
- Senate panel passes immigration bill; Obama praises move (Reuters)
- Italy to outline youth jobs plan as government struggles (Reuters)
- Apple CEO Tim Cook, Lawmakers Square Off Over Taxes (WSJ)
- Google Joins Apple Avoiding Taxes With Stateless Income (BBG)
- Sony Board Discussing Loeb’s Entertainment IPO Proposal (BBG)
- Vote Strengthens Dimon's Grip (WSJ), Dimon performance well choreographed (FT)
Today is one on those rare days in which everyone stops pretending fundamentals matter, and admits every market uptick is purely a function of what side of the bed Bernanke wakes up on, how loudly Kuroda sneezes, or how much coffee Mark Carney has had before lunch, but more importantly: that all "risk" is in the hands of a few good central-planners. Following last night's uneventful Bank of Japan meeting, in which Kuroda announced no changes to the "full speed ahead" policy of inflation or bust(ed bank sector following soaring JGB yields) and which pushed the Nikkei225 to surge above the DJIA closing at 15,627, today it is Bernanke's turn not once but twice, when he first takes the chair in the Joint Economic Committee's "Economic Outlook" hearing at 10 am, followed by the May 1 minutes release at 2pm (which may or may not have been previously leaked like last month). As a reminder, Politico reported last night that Ben Bernanke had previously met in secret with Darrell Issa and other lawmakers "to discuss the central bank’s efforts to stimulate the economy and how it could exit this strategy in the future, according to people who attended the meeting." And since we know how important transparency is to Bernanke and the Congress, "Participants in the meeting declined to disclose specifically what Bernanke told lawmakers beyond saying there was discussion about the Fed’s bond buying programs and other issues." But as long as Mr. Issa, the wealthiest man in the House, has his advance marching orders, all is well.
Surging nominal imports and a miss for exports just about sums up perfectly just how the reality of Abenomics is crushing the real economy as the market goes from strength to strength on the hope that recovery is just around the corner. For the 28th month in a row Japan trade deficit has dropped YoY and its 12-month average is now at its worst ever. Energy costs are driving up imports (and adjusted for the devaluation in the JPY, the data is simply horrendous. Of course, there are green shoots - CPI is not deflating as fast as it was... and 'some' inflation expectations are rising (though as we noted here that is simply due to the tax expectations). Contrary to expectations held by some in the bond market, the BOJ did not comment on the sharp fluctuation in JGB yields since April as a result of monetary relaxation - on the basis, we assume, that if they don't mention it, it never happened. The result post a nothing-burger of 'more uncertainty' from the BoJ, the Nikkei keeps screaming higher, JPY rallied then fell back, and JGBs are sliding higher in yield.
As the BoJ prepares to thrill us with even moar in its latest policy meeting (or not as we discussed earlier) and with Amari et al. now jawboning JPY to some extent to control the out-of-control chaos in JGBs, it is perhaps worth taking 20 minutes to comprehend just what all this extreme policy action means. The following brief presentation covers it all in a Kyle-Bass-ian facts-and-fallacies manner, Christine Hughes sums it all up perfectly, for Japan, "The Math Is Stacked Against Japan - It's Not 'If', It's When."
The one headline we have been waiting for for over four years has just hit:
- BOK KIM SAYS WORLD MAY FACE RATE RISK IF U.S. EXITS FROM QE
Not when, if. And there you have it: if the Fed exits, the world (and most certainly Japan) gets it. Thus, for the sake of the children (who will have inhert about $100 trillion in debt but don't worry: debt is an asset as some "analysts" will promise) Bernanke can never exit. QE...D
The current Bank of Japan policy meeting is possibly the most important thing going on this week (even more so than Bernanke's comments perhaps). If, as is distinctly possible, they don’t do anything to reinforce the immediacy of the Kuroda QQE package, we could be looking at bond markets reacting in a most "unfavorable manner". The effect would be to reinforce the latest round of 'fear-on' bond selling – certainly over the short-term, and the damaged sentiment could impact stocks also. In fact, there is probably not much the BoJ can say at this meeting – it’s got to give the policy (of massive QE) time to work. That leaves markets highly vulnerable to a sense of disappointment tomorrow. 'Back in the bond market, over the last few days the search for yield does seem capped. There have been some stumbles in new issues... That all tells me the bond market is nervous.'
Chaos Theory turns 50 years old this year, celebrating half a century of flapping butterfly wings in Brazil creating tornadoes in Texas. That most famous example is especially appropriate, since it was a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz who first outlined why seemingly consistent and knowable systems can still go wildly wrong. As it turns out, as ConvergEx's Nick Colas reminds us, small errors in measurement or observation at the start of a time series can significantly change how things look at the end. In the current low volatility, one-variable central bank driven global equity markets, Chaos Theory may seem a quaint relic of past crises. However, its central lesson – that complex interrelated systems create unexpected outcomes from seemingly benign inputs – is still relevant. Students of economics like to think of their discipline as scientific, just like physics or other hard sciences. They would do well to embrace the intellectual honesty neatly encapsulated by the central lessons of Chaos Theory. The problem is that current market price action - that slow steady grind higher - indicates marginal buyers don’t fret very much about the future. No matter how little we really know about it.
Up until today, the narrative was one trying to explain how a soaring dollar was bullish for stocks. Until moments ago, when Bill Dudley spoke and managed to send not only the dollar lower, but the Dow Jones to a new high of 15,400 with the following soundbites.
- DUDLEY: FED MAY NEED TO RETHINK BALANCE SHEET PATH, COMPOSITION
- DUDLEY SAYS FISCAL DRAG TO U.S. ECONOMY IS `SIGNIFICANT'
- DUDLEY: FED MAY AVOID SELLING MBS IN EARLY STAGE OF EXIT
- DUDLEY: IMPORTANT TO SEE HOW WELL ECONOMY WEATHERS FISCAL DRAG
- DUDLEY SAYS HE CAN'T BE SURE IF NEXT QE MOVE WILL BE UP OR DOWN
And the punchline:
- DUDLEY SEES RISK INVESTORS COULD OVER-REACT TO 'NORMALIZATION'
Translated: the Fed will never do anything that could send stocks lower - like end QE - ever again, but for those confused here is a simpler translation: Moar.
If this plan fails to bring about economic growth in Japan, or worse still fails to bring about growth and unleashes inflation, then it’s GAME OVER for Central Bankers. Their one great claim “we’re not doing enough QE” will have been proven to be total bunk.
Since the BoJ enunciated its actions on April 4th, the world has decided that consuming risk assets (the riskier the better) is the path to salvation. While it makes perfect sense that some level of inspiration for a global recovery makes sense (though hardly) given Japan's actions, it beggars belief that the most broke of broke peripheral European nations would see equity moves of such magnitude. On the 50th anniversary of Chaos Theory (more on this later today), it is perhaps worth remembering its central lesson – that complex interrelated systems create unexpected outcomes from seemingly benign inputs. It appears the complex inter-related world in which we live is becoming more and more chaotically unstable at the margin and this current euphoria does not approximately determine the future. There are more than enough variables out there – the butterflies flapping away – which can change outcomes in an instant.