New Debt Issuance
As we reported last night, whether as a result of Snowden revelations and NSA blowback by BRIC nations, or simply because the global economy is contracting far faster than rigged and manipulated markets worldwide will admit, IBM's Q1 revenues not only missed consensus earnings, but dropped to their lowest level since 2009. And yet, IBM stock is just shy off its all time highs and earnings per share have been flat if not rising during this period, leading even such acclaimed investors who never invest in tech companies as Warren Buffett to give IBM the seal of approval. How is that possible? Simple: all that investment grade companies like IBM have done in the New Normal in order to preserve the illusion of growth, is to use cash from operations, or incremental zero-cost leverage, to fund stock buybacks. In essence a balance sheet for income statement tradeoff. However, that "great stock buyback gimmick" as we call it, is finally coming to an end.
While the US may be rejoicing its daily stock market all time highs day after day, it may come as a surprise to many that global equity capitalization has hardly performed as impressively compared to its previous records set in mid-2007. In fact, between the last bubble peak, and mid-2013, there has been a $3.86 trillion decline in the value of equities to $53.8 trillion over this six year time period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Alas, in a world in which there is no longer even hope for growth without massive debt expansion, there is a cost to keeping global equities stable (and US stocks at record highs): that cost is $30 trillion, or nearly double the GDP of the United States, which is by how much global debt has risen over the same period. Specifically, total global debt has exploded by 40% in just 6 short years from 2007 to 2013, from "only" $70 trillion to over $100 trillion as of mid-2013, according to the BIS' just-released quarterly review.
The overnight global scramble to buy stocks, any stocks, anywhere, continued, with the Nikkei soaring higher by 2% as the USDJPY rose firmly over 100, to levels not seen since May as the previously reported speculation that more QE from the BOJ is just around the corner takes a firm hold. Sentiment that the liquidity bonanza would accelerate around the world (with possibly more QE from the ECB) was undented by news of a surge in Chinese short-term money market rates or the Moody's one-notch downgrade of four TBTF banks on Federal support review. The release of more market-friendly promises from China only added fuel to the fire and as a result S&P futures are now just shy of 1800, a level which will almost certainly be taken out today as the multiple expansion ramp continues unabated. At this point absolutely nobody is even remotely considering standing in front of the centrally-planned liquidity juggernaut that has made "market" down days a thing of the past.
By keeping interest rates near zero, the Fed has been hoping to push investors into the stock market. The hope here was that as stock prices rose, investors would feel wealthier (the “wealth effect”) and would be more inclined to start spending more, thereby jump-starting the economy. This has not been the case. Instead the entire capital market structure has become mispriced.
So the debt ceiling “we’re going to run out of money and the world ends” talk is not accurate. What is accurate is that playing games with your debt limits impacts other investors’ psychologies. And THAT is the real issue here.
Financial asset investors may continue to benefit in the short term while stocks and bonds remain well bid, but production and labor in over-levered economies should continue to wither. When we take it to its logical conclusion, central banks cannot withdraw debt support (on a net basis) and so our baseless currencies seem highly likely to fail to provide sustainable purchasing power. (This happens as producers demand more currency units for their labor and resources, not when consumers drive prices higher by competing with each other for finite supplies of labor and resources.) Continued inflation of all global currency stocks is likely. This implies to us that fundamental expectations of the inevitability of price inflation across borders and in all currencies must change, from unlikely to highly likely. Since very few investors expect rising inflation anytime soon, the return skew is overwhelmingly positive in its favor.
The venerable UBS floorman asks (and answers) an interesting question. With the re-institution of the payroll tax and higher level rates and with spending lowered by sequestration, will the Treasury need to offer fewer bonds? And if so, will the Fed remain steadfast in its purchasing 'size' (good for bond bulls since secondary demand will increase) or reduce its 'size' to meet the lower monetization needs of the Treasury (bad for equity bulls since flow is all that matters.) Thoughts below...
After out sized moves in the foreign exchange market yesterday, a consolidative tone has emerged with a few exceptions. The big winner yesterday was the euro and with a narrow range of about a third of a cent today, the market seems as if it is catching its breath before assaulting important resistance near $1.33, which capped it in mid-December and at the very start of the new year. Sterling recovered from a test on $1.60 at mid-week, but lagged behind the euro. The pullback today is also more pronounced after the disappointing industrial output figures. Industrial production rose 0.3%, half the recovery the consensus expected after the 0.9% decline in October. The key disappointment was in manufacturing, which contracted 0.3% compared with consensus expectations for a 0.5% gain, following the 1.4% slide in October. The increases concerns that the UK economy slipped back into contraction following expansion in Q3. Support is now seen near $1.6080.
We already knew that the US crossed the debt ceiling on New Year's day. It is, however, one thing to read a Geithner press release, it is another to see America's ridiculous debt it in action. So here it is, courtesy of TreasuryDirect, in all its debt ceiling glory: $16,432,730,050,569.12, with the debt subject to the ceiling at the limit of $16.394 trillion.
And with that we can close the books on the first quarter of Fiscal 2013, in which US public debt grew by $366 billion, some $122 billion per month on average.
Why'd the Fed announce QE 4? Three reasons: the US economy is nose-diving again and the Fed is acting preemptively. The Fed is trying to provide increased liquidity going into the fiscal cliff. The Fed is funding the US’s Government massive deficits.
Many people, and erroneously, think that all of the purchasing by the Fed will go to both markets in equal amounts but this is not the case. More money for the stock markets would have to come from asset reallocations by money management firms, insurance companies, pension funds and the like and this is not going to happen anytime soon given the 2008/2009 experience. Consequently the greatest flows generated by the Fed’s recent and forward actions will affect the bond markets much more than the equity markets. Between the MBS purchases and the next upcoming stimulus push, the Fed would account for 90% of all new debt issuance and leading to a demand imbalance between $400 billion to almost $2 Trillion depending upon the actual Fed announcements. The Fed currently holds about 18% of the U.S. GDP on its books and it could bulge to 23-28% a few years out. This all works, by the way, only because all of the world’s central banks are working in concert so that there is no imbalance and money cannot be invested off-world. Yields will not make sense empirically because of the actions of the Fed but it will make no difference, because their intentions and goals are vastly different from investors.
While the official number from the FMS is not out yet, according to an advance look by the CBO, the August deficit soared from a modest $70 billion to a whopping $192 billion, the highest August deficit in history, and coming at a time when traditionally the US Treasury does not generate substantial deficits. It also means that "that" $59 billion budget surplus in April, coming after 42 straight months of deficits, and which surprised so many, was just as we suspected, nothing but a play on the temporal mismatch between treasury receipts and outlays. Most importantly, with one month left in the fiscal year, a month which, too, will likely come well above last year's $63 billion, the US has now spent $1.165 trillion more than it has received via various taxes. Finally so much for the year over year improvement: at $1.23 trillion deficit in the LTM period, this is only 3.2% less than the August 2011 LTM deficit which was $1.27 trillion, despite nearly 2 million more workers employed (at least according to the BLS) and generating tax revenue. Expect the US to end Fiscal 2012 with a total deficit of well over $1.2 trillion, which in turn means that the average burn rate of $100 billion in new debt issuance each month, will continue into the indefinite future.
The two biggest market props of the last two years: the Fed and the ECB have found their hands tied. What will follow will make 2008 look like a joke. On that note, if you have not taken steps to prepare for the end of the EU (and its impact on the US and global banking system), you NEED TO DO SO NOW!
A Monetary Cliff or a Fiscal Cliff: these are the two poisons that Barton Biggs sees rushing straight toward America, with little hope of an uneventful collision. While we have not been shy of our opinions on Barton Biggs' flip-flopping positions, his note on the US "as a nation of totally self-centered special interest groups that terrorize our politicians" struck a chord and deserves praise in its clarity. Noting that Europe seems stuck again, he points to the US market being data and Europe-dependent for the next month and believes the correction is little less than half way over (in terms of size not time). In Biggs opinion "although the Monetary Cliff is more long-term dangerous, the proximity of the Fiscal Cliff, if not dealt with, will trigger the dreaded double-dip recession we are all terrified of and bring on another financial crisis."
A few days ago we noted that based on preliminary data, the February budget deficit would hit $229 billion (yes, nearly one quarter of a trillion in one month, about where real Greek GDP is these days) - the largest single monthly deficit in history. Unfortunately, this number was low: the final February deficit was just released and the actual print is $231.7 billion. It also means that in the first 5 months of the fiscal year, the US has raked up $580 billion in deficits, oddly matched by $727 billion in new debt issuance, 25% more new debt issued than needed to fund deficits... And that in itself would not be horrible - February is traditionally the worst month for deficits as the Treasury sees a surge in tax refund issuance - if it wasn't for something even more troubling. As the second chart below shows, through last Friday, and net of tax refunds, total US tax revenues were actually lower in the fiscal 2012 year to date period than compared to 2011, by just under $2 billion, at $625.5 billion. Which is the weakest link for any argument that the US is actually growing: what is growing is America's debt (now almost exponentially), while its revenues are at best unchanged. And the scariest: annualizing net tax revenues brings the number to $1.5 trillion. Which is just 50% more where total US debt interest will be in 2014 when debt is $20 trillion, assuming interest rates are somehow allowed to go back up... to the astronomical level of 5%.