The latest confirmation that the US consumer is rapidly retrenching ahead of the great unknown which is the US fiscal cliff was the just released data on Personal Spending and Income, both of which came in as expected, at 0.0% and 0.2% over the prior month. This was the lowest rate of increase in the Personal Spending rate since June 2011, when spending posted a -0.2% decline. This was to be expected considering the ongoing contraction on the income side: "Private wage and salary disbursements increased $1.1 billion in May, compared with an increase of $5.3 billion in April. Goods-producing industries' payrolls decreased $7.0 billion, in contrast to an increase of $5.6 billion; manufacturing payrolls decreased $4.5 billion, in contrast to an increase of $3.2 billion." The collapse in manufacturing wages was somewhat offset by gains in services: "Services-producing industries' payrolls increased $8.3 billion, in contrast to a decrease of $0.4 billion. Government wage and salary disbursements increased $0.3 billion, compared with an increase of $0.4 billion." And for the best indication of just how consumers feel about the economy, one just needs to look at the savings rate: at 3.9%, this was the highest savings rate since January as any free money enters not the economy, but bank checking accounts and counterparty risk-free mattresses.
Rick Davis of The Consumer Metrics Institute plays Clark Kent to Charles Biderman's Superman as the two dig into the latest GDP data. Critically, they break down the components and using inflation levels (CPI-U or The BPP) that make some sense Davis and Biderman are "really worried" that the real economy appears to be in a contractionary state if inflation is adjusted for correctly. Even the anemic BEA's 1.88% growth rate is 'very very poor' for an economy that is supposed to be 3 years into a recovery. The per-capita income (the money available to all households to spend) actually shrank - even using the BEA's inflation data. This juxtaposes shrinking household disposable income with a real economy supposedly growing (though slowly) which was driven almost exclusively by consumer spending - leaving Davis and Biderman questioning 'where this money is coming from?'. The simple answer is the savings rate has plunged, freeing up over $200bn in annual spending (and student loans have added another $100bn, refis $50bn, and strategic defaults $80bn) - all unsustainable one-time increases. Spending is not coming from income. Davis concludes that the BEA is notoriously bad at calling turning points (only getting the Great Recession 'direction' correct after 16 months and magnitude after 40 months) - leaving him of the opinion that we may well be in the first quarter of the next recession.
The employment numbers that came out Friday were very bad and caught most economists and analysts by surprise. Nothing the Fed has done has worked. Once again the ranks of the unemployed grow, wages flatten out, manufacturing weakens, GDP declines, and savings are spent to maintain lifestyles. The U.S. and much of the rest of the world is heading toward stagnation, if not recession. Yet, despite the failures of central bank policies, they will persist in doing the same wrong thing again. Here we review the data and explain why things are heading south.
The entire bogus recovery is again being driven by subprime auto loans being doled out by Ally Financial (85% owned by the U.S. government) and the other criminal Wall Street banks. The Federal Reserve and our government leaders will continue to steer the country on the same course of encouraging rampant speculation, deterring savings and investment, rewarding outrageous criminal behavior, purposefully generating inflation, and lying to the average American. It will work until we reach a tipping point. Dr. Krugman thinks another $4 trillion of debt and a debt to GDP ratio of 130% should get our economy back on track. When this charade is revealed to be the greatest fraud and theft in the history of mankind, Ben and Paul better have a backup plan, because there are going to be a few angry men looking for them.
If you want to know how weak the economy really is all you need to do is look at the 30-year bond. It is one of the best economic indicators available today. If economic conditions are robust then the yield will be rising and vice versa. What the current low levels of yield on 30 year bonds is telling you is that the underlying economy is weak. "The 30-year yield is not at these low levels DUE to the Federal Reserve; but in SPITE OF the Fed," Hunt said. The actions of the Federal Reserve have continued to undermine the economy which is reflected by the low yield of the 30 year bond. The "cancerous" side effects of nonproductive debt are being reflected in real disposable incomes. Just over the last two years real disposable incomes slid from 5% in 2010 and -0.5% in 2012 on a 3-month percentage change at an annual rate basis. This is critically important to understand. While the media remains focused on GDP it is the wrong measure by which to measure the economy. A truly growing economy leads to rises in prosperity. GDP does NOT measure prosperity — it measures spending. It is the measure of real personal incomes that measures prosperity. Prosperity MUST come from rising incomes.
In 2006, Michael Pettis (one of the best known on-the-ground academic-and-practitioner experts on China) started making a number of predictions based on what he thought was the necessary and logical development of China’s growth model. Some of these predictions seemed fairly outlandish, especially to China analysts – Chinese and foreign – who had very little knowledge of economic history or other developing countries, but many of them so far have turned out quite well. As more and more analysts are beginning to understand the constraints of the Chinese growth model he thought it might be useful to list some of these predictions to get a sense of what might be still to come. Hold on to your hard-landing hats.
Few have been as steadfast in their correct call that the US economy sugar high of the first quarter was nothing but a liquidity-driven, hot weather-facilitated uptick in the economy, which has now ended with a thud, as seen by the recent epic collapse in all high-frequency economic indicators, which have not translated into a market crash simply because the market is absolutely convinced that the worse things get, the more likely the Fed is to come in with another round of nominal value dilution. Perhaps: it is unclear if the Fed will risk a spike in inflation in Q2 especially since as one of the respondents in today's Chicago PMI warned very prudently that Chinese inflation is about to hit America in the next 60 days. That said, here are some of today's must read observations on where we stand currently, on why 1937-38 may be the next imminent calendar period deja vu, and most importantly, the fact that Rosie now too has realized that the next credit bubble is student debt as we have been warning since last summer.
Savings Rate Rises From 4 Year Low As Spending Tumbles, Income Boosted By Government Transfer ReceiptsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/30/2012 08:45 -0400
While expectations for today's March Personal Income and Spending were for a rise of 0.3% and 0.4%, which if confirmed would have pushed the 3.7% savings rate to the lowest since 2007. Instead we got a reversion, with Income rising 0.4%, higher than expected, while Spending printed at 0.3%, the lowest since December 2011, just below expectations, and tumbling from February's 0.9% print, the biggest slide since August 2011. In real terms, spending was up 0.1% and income up 0.2%. The data also confirms that at every moment somewhere in the world, people are laughing at Joe LaVorgna, whose forecast of a 0.6% rise in personal spending was just 50% off. Most importantly, the surprising inversion between spending and income, pushed the savings rate from 3.7% to 3.8%, just shy of 4 year lows, and the first increase in 2012, although well below the 4.9% savings rate in March 2011, which means that increasingly the consumer is tapped out. When one takes away the impact of the record warm winter (of which March data was still part of), it becomes quite clear that unless Joe Sixpack is charging everything, then Q2 GDP will be a very big disappointment.
Whatever one thinks of the practical implications of the Kalecki equation (and as we pointed out a month ago, GMO's James Montier sure doesn't think much particularly when one accounts for the ever critical issue of asset depreciation), it intuitively has one important implication: every incremental dollar of debt created at the public level during a time of stagnant growth (such as Q1 2012 as already shown earlier) should offset one dollar of deleveraging in the private sector. In turn, this should facilitate the growth of private America so it can eventually take back the reins of debt creation back from the public sector (and ostensibly help it delever, although that would mean running a surplus - something America has done only once in the post-war period). This growth would manifest itself directly by the hiring of Americans by US corporations, small, medium and large, who in turn, courtesy of their newly found job safety, would proceed to spend, and slowly but surely restart the frozen velocity of money which would then spur inflation, growth, public sector deleveraging, and all those other things we learn about in Econ 101. All of the above works... in theory. In practice, not so much. Because as the WSJ demonstrates, in the period 2009-2011, America's largest multinational companies: those who benefit the most from the public sector increasing its debt/GDP to the most since WWII, or just over 100% and rapidly rising, and thus those who should return the favor by hiring American workers, have instead hired three times as many foreigners as they have hired US workers. Those among us cynically inclined could say, correctly, that the US is incurring record levels of leverage to fund foreign leverage, foreign employment, and, most importantly, foreign leverage.
Who will buy our debt in the coming months and years? Europe is saturated with debt and doesn’t have the means to purchase our debt. Japan is a train wreck waiting to happen. China’s customers aren’t buying their crap, so their economic miracle is about to go in reverse. The Federal Reserve cannot buy $1 trillion of Treasury bonds per year forever without creating more speculative bubbles and raging inflation in the things people need to live. The Minsky Moment will be the point when the U.S. Treasury begins having funding problems due to the spiraling debt incurred in financing perpetual government deficits. At this point no buyer will be found to bid at 2% to 3% yields for U.S. Treasuries; consequently, a major sell-off will ensue leading to a sudden and precipitous collapse in market clearing asset prices and a sharp drop in market liquidity. In layman terms that means – the shit will hit the fan. The Federal Reserve and Treasury will be caught in their own web of lies. The only way to attract buyers will be to dramatically increase interest rates. Doing this in a country up to its eyeballs in debt will be suicide. We will abruptly know how it feels to be Greek....The entire financial world is hopelessly entangled by the $700 trillion of derivatives that ensure mass destruction if one of the dominoes falls. This is the reason an otherwise inconsequential country like Greece had to be “saved”.
Everyone's favorite stock pitchman, Bob Pisani, who lately apparently has the capacity to learn just one line and just regurgitate it ad nauseam, was on CNBC earlier screaming how gold is down because the US is so much better than the world, when in reality gold is once again being sold to fund early margin calls (yes, institutionals are that levered right now). As for the US decoupling story, which time after time is dragged out, only to be shelved once the impact of trillions in liquidity fades, and which is never different this time, here is none other than Bank of America explaining to the likes of Pisani why "the US economy is likely to prove a faulty engine of global growth." Read - no decoupling, despite what the market may be trying to say. And yes, the market, and especially the Russell 2000 is never the economy.
What a quarter! The Dow up 8% and enjoying a record quarter in terms of points — 994 of them to be exact and in percent terms, now just 7% off attaining a new all-time high. The S&P 500 surged 12% (and 3.1% for March; 28% from the October 2011 lows), which was the best performance since 1998. It seems so strange to draw comparisons to 1998, which was the infancy of the Internet revolution; a period of fiscal stability, 5% risk-free rates, sustained 4% real growth in the economy, strong housing markets, political stability, sub-5% unemployment, a stable and predictable central bank. And look at the composition of the rally. Apple soared 48% and accounted for nearly 20% of the appreciation in the S&P 500. But outside of Apple, what led the rally were the low-quality names that got so beat up last year, such as Bank of America bouncing 72% (it was the Dow's worst performer in 2011; financials in aggregate rose 22%). Sears Holdings have skyrocketed 108% this year even though the company doesn't expect to make money this year or next. What does that tell you? What it says is that this bull run was really more about pricing out a possible financial disaster coming out of Europe than anything that could really be described as positive on the global macroeconomic front. What is most fascinating is how the private client sector simply refuses to drink from the Fed liquidity spiked punch bowl, having been burnt by two central bank-induced bubbles separated less than a decade apart leaving David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff, still rightly focused on benefiting from his long-term 3-D view of deleveraging, demographics, and deflation - as he notes US data is on notably shaky ground. This appears to have been very much a trader's rally as he reminds us that liquidity is not an antidote for fundamentals.
Ben's selling the same old crap
The sharp drop in the personal savings rate in the month of February, which just hit to lowest level since January of 2008, is indicative of the problem. While personal savings rates could be bled down further to sustain the current level of subpar economic growth - the world today is vastly different than prior to the last two recessions where access to credit and leverage we very easy to obtain. It is entirely possible, that in the very short term, we could see personal consumption expenditures continue to make some gains even in the face of the obvious headwinds. However, it is important to keep these month to month variations in context with longer term historical trends. Personal consumption is ultimately a function of the income available from which that spending is derived. As such, the current decline in the growth rate of incomes, without the tailwind of easy credit, poses a much greater threat to the current level of anemic economic growth than we have seen in past cycles.
Why save when one can spend (and, more importantly, why save when one has ZIRP)? This appears to have been the motto of American consumers in the past three months when the US Savings rate has plunged from 4.7% in December to a tiny 3.7% in February: the lowest since December 2007's 2.6%, and just as the recession and the market crash was about to send everyone scrambling for the safety of bank savings. The reason: in February personal spending soared by 0.8% on expectations of a 0.6% rise, while incomes barely rose by 0.2% on a consensus rise of 0.4%. Which means the balance had to be savings funded. So even as we have seen retail weakness in the past three months, we now know that it was not only credit funded, but also forced US consumers to burn through their meager savings. And all this before the gasoline price shock hit. The question then is: with the remainder of US savings about to be tapped out on gasoline purchases, just where will the money come to fund all those priced in NEW iPad acquisitions? Or will Apple finally use up its cash hoard and start a captive lending unit, giving consumers credit to purchase its products? At the rate the US consumer is going broke it may soon have no other option.