The global economy remains on shaky ground. China’s manufacturing activity contracted for its 5th straight month, the US recovery is still very early to call, and the euro zone debt crisis may not be finished. Eurozone PMI data is due later today which will show how the economy is doing after Greece averted default earlier this month. Thomson Reuters GFMS have said that gold at $2,000/oz is possible - possibly in late 2012 or early 2013. Thomson Reuters GFMS Global Head of metals analytics, Philip Klapwijk, featured on Insider this morning and advised investors to "buy this gold dip”. Gold should be bought on this correction especially if we go lower still as we may need a shake-out of "less-committed investors." Klapwijk suggested that a brief dip below $1,600 is on the cards but the global macro environment still favours investment, notably zero-to-negative real interest rates and he would not rule out further easing by either the ECB or the Fed before year end.
Futures continue exhibiting a very surprising and ever brighter shade of ungreen as the morning session progresses, starting with the 5th consecutive contractionary Chinese PMI data, going through disappointing European Manufacturing and Services PMIs which came below expectations (47.7 vs Est. 49.5 for Mfg; 48.7 vs Est. 49.2 for Services), with an emphasis on French and German PMIs, both of which were bad (German Mfg PMI 48.1, Est 51, prior 50.2; Services PMI 51.8, Est. 53.1, Prior 52.8), and concluding with UK sales which printed at -0.8% on expectations of -0.5%. And just like that Europe is "unfixed", prompting economists such as IHS' Howard Archer to speculate that following "worrying and disappointing" Euro PMI data, the ECB may cut rates to 0.75%, as Europe is finding it hard to return to growth after the Q4 contraction. And with that the beneficial impact of the €1 trillion LTROs is now gone, as Spain spread over Bunds has just risen to the widest in over 5 weeks, and the beneficial market inflection point passes - prepare for LTRO 3 demands any minute now.
Going into the US open, most major European bourses are trading in modest positive territory this follows the publication of a Goldman Sachs research note titled “The Long Good Buy” in which the bank outlines its thoughts that equities will embark on an upward trend over the next few years, recommending dropping fixed-income securities. We have also seen the publication of the Bank of England’s minutes from March’s rate-setting meeting in which board members voted unanimously to keep the base rate unchanged at 0.50%; however there was some indecision concerning the total QE, with members Miles and Posen voting for a further increase to GBP 350bln, however the other seven members voted against the increase. Following the release, GBP/USD spiked lower 35 pips but has regained in recent trade and is now in positive territory. Looking elsewhere in the session, UK Chancellor Osborne will present his budget for this financial year at 1230GMT. We will also be looking out for US existing home sales and the weekly DOE inventories.
- So much for that: Obama to fast track southern portion of Keystone XL Pipeline (1600 Report)
- French Police Say They Have Cornered Suspect in School Shooting (NYT); French shooting suspect had been arrested in Afghanistan (Reuters); Suspect in French shootings says he’ll surrender to end standoff (Globe & Mail), Toulouse suspect escaped from Kandahar jail in mass Taliban jailbreak in 2008 (BBC)
- Bernanke Says Europe Must Aid Banks Even as Strains Ease (Bloomberg)
- Monti faces clash with unions over reform (FT)
- UK budget to balance tax breaks with austerity (Reuters)
- Romney scores big win over Santorum in Illinois (Reuters)
- U.S. Exempts Japan, 10 EU Nations From Iran Oil Sanctions (Bloomberg)
- Bernanke Says Fed Failed to Meet Goals During Great Depression (Bloomberg)
- Revised tax deal reached on Swiss accounts (FT)
Gorbachev Says Chernobyl – Not Perestroika or Reagan’s Arms Race – Caused the Break Up of the Soviet Union
No Record Profits For Old Assets: Jim Montier On Unsustainable Parabolic Margin Expansion For DummiesSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/20/2012 21:37 -0400
It is widely known that US corporate profits recently hit an all time high. What is less known is that in Q4, profit margins for the first time rolled over by 27 bps, and double that if one excludes Apple. What is very much irrelevant, is that to Wall Street none of this matters, and the consensus (of which GMO's Jim Montier says "the Wall Street consensus has a pretty good record of being completely and utterly wrong") believes that Q4 will be largely ignored, and margins will continue soaring ever higher. Well, the same Montier, has a thing or two to say about this consensus surge in profits ("it is almost unthinkable that it will remain at current levels over the course of the next few years"). More importantly he looks at the Kalecki profits equation, and finds something rather peculiar. Namely Japan. Because while taking the profits equation at its face value would surely explain the 10.2% in corporate profits, of which a whopping 75% is thanks to America's burgeoning deficit, it would imply that Japanese corporate profitability, where there has been not only a long-running current account surplus, but zero household savings, and massive fiscal deficits, should be off the charts. Instead it is collapsing. Why? Montier has some ideas which may force Wall Street to renounce its bullish views, although probably won't. However, the implications of his conclusion are far more substantial, and if appreciated by corporate America (whose aging asset base is the problem), may ultimately result in a revitalization of the corporate asset base, however not before the dividend chasing frenzy pops in the latest and greatest bubble collapse.
Turning on the screens this morning to red pixels was an odd feeling for anyone who has traded stocks this year and while the low was put in soon after the US open the slow and steady weak volume limp higher in equities (led by financials and too-hot-to-handle Apple) got ES (the e-mini S&P futures contract) back up to close at 1400 on the nose (-4pts on the day). Investment grade credit was generally an outperformer relative to stocks today (though AAA corporates were net sold perhaps on rotation back into Treasuries) though the roll in credit derivative markets hinders comparisons a little, however, high yield credit dwindled a little (on light flows) into the close. Commodities were the hardest hit of the day - dramatically underperforming the implied weakness of a modestly stronger USD. Silver, which recovered well off its lows of the day, was equal worst performer with Copper as China's slowdown story dominated. Interestingly Oil also fell as increased supply news hit pushing WTI under $106. Gold outperformed (though was lower on the day) and stands down only 0.6% on the week now (less than half the losses of the other metals/oil). Treasuries (as we already noted) broke their record losing streak with a modest 1-2bps compression in yields close to close (after being closed for the Japan session last night). A relatively large jump up in EURUSD near the US day session open was the biggest news in FX markets but that leaked away all day as the USD limped high off that low (helped by AUD and JPY weakness). VIX managed to rise once again.
China is best known as the world's export driver as the hopes of every exporting nation in the world are pinned on the eventual transition of the economy to domestic consumption and hence greater imports. While China has contributed most to Global GDP growth in the past few years, some argue that this growth is not as 'helpful' as US growth to other countries - since China does not import much other than commodities (and less steel now). However, as UBS' Tao Wang points out today, that claim is not quite as valid now as before the financials crisis. China's imports have far outpaced exports in the past 4 years, and trade surplus has shrunk from 9% of GDP in 2007 to 3.3% in 2011. China's 2011 import data shows two sets of information that should be common knowledge by now: 1) China imports a lot from East and Southeast Asian economies (and is the largest market for almost all major economies in the region); and 2) China imports a huge amount of energy and resources (metals and minerals) benefiting Australia and Brazil significantly. But exports to China have become increasingly important for developed economies such as Japan, Germany, and the EU in general and perhaps more concerning is the fact that large emerging market economies may find it increasingly difficult to 'decouple' from China. These two charts show just how large an impact any slowing in Chinese growth and demand will have on some of the largest and most 'decoupled' growth nations - it is clear the BRICs are increasingly self-reliant (and potentially self destructive).
Americans have an illogical love affair with their vehicles. There are 209 million licensed drivers in the U.S. and 260 million vehicles. The U.S. has a higher number of motor vehicles per capita than every country in the world at 845 per 1,000 people. Germany has 540; Japan has 593; Britain has 525; and China has 37. The population of the United States has risen from 203 million in 1970 to 311 million today, an increase of 108 million in 42 years. Over this same time frame, the number of motor vehicles on our crumbling highways has grown by 150 million. This might explain why a country that has 4.5% of the world’s population consumes 22% of the world’s daily oil supply. This might also further explain the Iraq War, the Afghanistan occupation, the Libyan “intervention”, and the coming war with Iran. Automobiles have been a vital component in the financial Ponzi scheme that has passed for our economic system over the last thirty years. For most of the past thirty years annual vehicle sales have ranged between 15 million and 20 million, with only occasional drops below that level during recessions. They actually surged during the 2001-2002 recession as Americans dutifully obeyed their moron President and bought millions of monster SUVs, Hummers, and Silverado pickups with 0% financing from GM to defeat terrorism. Alan Greenspan provided the fuel, with ridiculously low interest rates. The Madison Avenue media maggots provided the transmission fluid by convincing millions of willfully ignorant Americans to buy or lease vehicles they couldn’t afford. And the financially clueless dupes pushed the pedal to the metal, until everyone went off the cliff in 2008.
This week brings policy decisions in Taiwan and Thailand. The CBC decision will be very interesting to watch. The December statement at the time was surprisingly hawkish, only to be followed by a large upside surprise in inflation, and the TWD was subsequently allowed to appreciate. Given that the bank continues to view inflation as a major problem, according to quotes from Reuters, it will be very interesting to see how the bank weighs up concerns about hot money inflows vs the need to contain inflation risks. In particular, in the face of imported inflation pressures via higher commodity prices, many central banks may shift towards accepting the need for more currency strength. The week also brings some important central bank commentary. The RBA governor has an opportunity to opine on the recent slew of weak Australian data, as well as developments in the A$. There is quite a bit of commentary from Fed officials on the docket, including from Bernanke, which we will dissect for information on the further direction of policy. More dovish commentary than that of the FOMC last week, would arguably be a surprise and potentially dampen, if not reverse some of the moves of last week.
This cannot be the right course for us to take in the wake of such a widely recognized crisis. The lack of purposeful outrage is deafening. We cannot restore lasting stability to our economy and society unless we are willing to face up to what we did wrong, right it, and throw out the bums who put us there. Without that, the pattern of ever escalating crisis and interventionist, market-distorting solutions will surely lead to a bigger crisis still ahead... Perhaps the most important symbol of our failure to address reform are the pictures accompanying much of the coverage of Greg Smith’s letter, those of a power-posing Blankfein and Cohn, who without the Government’s accommodation might be striking a very different pose, indeed. You want to sign on to Mr. Smith’s army in joint distaste for Goldman’s lost culture? Please, be my guest. But more deserving of your enmity is the insidious co-option of the core premise of capitalism by a handful of people to ensure the banks’ undeserved survival, and their managers’ really nice lifestyle.
Contamination, power shortages, and scandals: the people confront the almighty nuclear power industry. But no easy way out.
If there is one thing 2011 taught us is that one totally unpredictable and unexpected event, such as the great March 11 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima disaster, can wreak massive havoc on otherwise stable economic ecosystems, models and forecasts. According to many, most certainly the Fed, the events in Japan had a major spillover effect on global GDP that lasted for months, in turn forcing fiscal and monetary responses around the world. A true black swan. As the following brief video summarizes, 2011 was the year of earthquakes. Has the earth become increasingly unstable? Will the pattern from 2011 continue into 2012 and beyond? Is mother nature getting angrier? We have no idea, but we do know that the following clip is quite awesome: make sure you have your volume turned up high.