The latest report on personal incomes and outlays showed the expected collapse in personal incomes post the pre-fiscal cliff surge. However, the reversion was more than expected. It is crucially important to understand the impact of low savings rates on economic growth. The reason, that despite all of the government's best attempts, that economic growth and employment remains weak can be directly attributed to still high leverage ratios for consumers and low savings rates. It is only when debt levels fall to sustainable levels, and savings rates rise, that the economy can begin to function normally again. So, while "QE to Infinity" will likely continue to push asset prices higher, at least until the next financial bubble pops, higher asset prices only benefit a small portion of the overall economy. For the rest of America the struggle to maintain their declining standard of living continues as the impact of ongoing weak economic growth and high levels of real unemployment take their toll.
When the US income and spending figures for December came out, the punditry couldn't contain their exuberance following the massive surge in income which as we explained was merely a function of the pulled forward wages and bonuses in December due to fears of what the Fiscal Cliff and the expiration of the payroll tax cut would do to incomes in 2013 (nothing good), as well as a surge in stock dividends to avoid a dividend tax hike resulting in yet another boost in income. The spike in personal income without an offset in spending sent the savings rate to the highest in three years. Today it's payback time as moments ago we learned that the US consumer gave back all the December gains and then much following news that while spending did nothing, and came in as expected at 0.2%, personal income imploded by 3.6% on estimates of a modest 2.4% drop. This was the biggest drop in personal income in 20 years just as the US consumer's confidence was soaring at least according to such manipulated aggregators as UMich. What this also led to was that not only is the stock market back to 2007 levels, but so is the personal saving rate, which crashed from 6.4% to 2.4%, the lowest since November 2007, and leaving Americans with the least purchasing power just as the full impact of a government that is flirting with austerity is starting to be felt. And just as bad was the material 4% pullback in real disposable personal income or adjusted for inflation. "Consumers can’t spend what they don’t have, and they don’t much much,” summarized Bloomberg economist Rich Yamarone.
The great trade, capital flow and debt imbalances that were built up over the preceding two decades must reverse themselves. Michael Pettis notes, however, that these imbalances can continue for many years, but at some point they become unsustainable and the world must adjust by reversing those imbalances. One way or the other, in other words, the world will rebalance. But there are worse ways and better ways it can do so. Pettis adds that, any policy that does not clearly result in a reversal of the deep debt, trade and capital imbalances of the past decade is a policy that cannot be sustained. It is likely to be political considerations that determine how quickly the rebalancing processes take place and whether they do so in ways that set the stages for future growth or future stagnation. Pettis' guess is that we have ended the first stage of the global crisis, and most of the deepest problems have been identified. In 2013 we will begin to see how policymakers respond and what the future outlook is likely to be. The following 10 themes are what he will be watching this year in order to figure out where we are likely to end up.
While it is commendable that Bernanke has generated a wealth effect of some 12% for those few who are planning for retirement, another problem is where the funding for this increase has come from. As Bloomberg explains, while two thirds of the increase came courtesy of the stock market, or some 8% in absolute terms, the rest was from funded (and matched) contributions to accounts. This is equal to $2733 in actual money set aside for retirement in 2012, a far cry from the maximum allowed $17,500 per year, with the actual cash outflow excluding the corporate match substantially less. This amount to a measly $228 per month (less net of matching) that the average American who has a 401(k), has set aside for retirement. We understand now why Bernanke is so hell bent on hitting that Dow 32,000 bogey - without it, the average retired American will wake up very soon one day and realize that the money is gone. All gone.
Confused what the earlier released statement by the G-7 means? Fear not, because here comes Goldman with a post-mortem. And just in case anyone puts too much credibility into a few sentences by the world's developed nations (whose viability depends in how quickly each can devalue relative to everyone else) in which they say nothing about what every central bank in the world is actually doing, here is a history of four years of G-7 statements full of "affirmations" and support for an open market exchange policy yet resulting in the current round of global FX war, confirming just how 'effective' the group has been.
16 point 7 trillion dollars. That is our current national debt. 12 point 8 trillion dollars. That is the amount households carry in mortgage and consumer debt. We are now addicted to debt to lubricate the wheels of our financial system. There is nothing wrong with debt per se, but it is safe to say that too much debt relative to how much revenue is being produced is a sign of economic problems. At the core of our current financial mess is how we use debt as a parachute for any problem. We’ve been masking the shrinking of the middle class by allowing households to take on too much debt for a couple of decades. The results were not positive. People think that this recovery has come from organic forces when in reality, it has come because of number games and also the Fed injecting trillions of dollars into the banking industry. Ironically these banks are using this money to speculate in markets like stocks and housing where they are now crowding out working and middle class Americans. When you have access to a printing press with no restraints, it becomes too tempting to spend into oblivion. Addictions are never easily cured and we have yet to come to terms with our insatiable appetite for debt.
The Chairman of Goldman's Asset Management group, unwise supporter of Man Utd, promoter of 'decoupling' myths, and creator of the BRIC mnemonic has decided, with everything looking so tickety-boo, to retire. Whether his great Buy BRICS fail or his BoE leadership bid fail was the final straw is unclear, but for now, the erstwhile permabull (and mocker of market skeptics) leaves us on a bright note:
- *O'NEILL SAYS CLEAR EVIDENCE OF THINGS DOING BETTER ECONOMICALLY
20 years of 'broken record' survival and the Brit throws in his chips now - just as everything looks be taking off? Leave your farewell message below...
As I noted in an article published Thursday morning, the government bought three quarters of a percentage point worth of growth in the third quarter leading several hapless commentators to opine on national television that the U.S. economy was not only on solid footing but was in fact experiencing "above trend" growth. Of course if you're the mainstream financial media what is good for the Q3 goose is not necessarily good for the Q4 gander and so when fourth quarter GDP printed in contraction territory Wednesday, viewers were encouraged (much to the chagrin of a predictably irate Rick Santelli) to discount "volatile" government consumption expenditures and focus only on the components that made a positive contribution.
Savings Rate Soars To Highest Since May 2009 On December Surge In Comp And Dividends Ahead Of Fiscal CliffSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/31/2013 08:55 -0500
One look at the headline December data and one would get the impression that millions of Americans had started dealing meth out of some New Mexico RV, as personal income exploded by the most in 8 years, soaring some 2.6% in December to $13.936 billion. And since the surge in income, which was expected to rise some 0.8%, was hardly matched by a comparable boost to spending which missed expectations of 0.3%, rising just 0.2% - somewhat paradoxical considering the biggest boost to the otherwise negative Q4 GDP print was precisely this: spending and consumption, meant that the personal saving rate (which is merely a function of income less spending) soared to 6.5% or the highest since May 2009 - superficially an indication that consumers are hunkering down in expectation of something very bad.
Japan's Chain Of Events: Stagnation -> Monetization -> Devaluation -> Stabilization -> Retaliation -> HyperinflationSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/21/2013 16:31 -0500
As the world's equity markets prepare to rally on the back of yet more central bank printing as Japan's Shinzo Abe takes the helm with a 2% inflation target and a central bank entirely in his pocket, The Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard suggests a rather concerning analog for the last time a Japanese prime-minister attempted to salvage his deflation/depression strewn nation. The 1930s 'brilliant rescue' by Korekiyo Takahashi, who removed Japan from the Gold Standard, ran huge 'Keynesian' budget deficits intentionally, and compelled the Bank of Japan to monetize his debt until the economy was back on its feet managed to devalue the JPY by 60% (40% on a trade-weighted basis). Initially this led to exports rising dramatically and brief optical stability, but the repercussion is the unintended consequence (retaliation) that the world missed then and is missing now. Though the economy appeared to stabilize, the responses of other major exporting nations, implicitly losing in the game of world trade, caused Japan's policies to backfire, slowed growth and left a nation needing to chase its currency still lower - eventually leading to hyperinflation in Japan (and Takahashi's assassination). With no Martians to export to, why should we expect any difference this time? and how much easier (and quicker) are trade flows altered in the current world?
Well, my fellow Slope-a-Dopes, your selfless Idiotic Savant servant, whom is securely chained to his desk, has spent a significant part of the long weekend, perusing nearly every finance blog on the world wide web for you. Therefore, I can reliably report to the SOH, that the overwhelming consensus out there in the financial blogosphere, which has now reached a nearly universal feverish pitch, is boldly & proudly heralding that a most encouraging new economic dawn is finally upon us. It seems, a pristine permanent plateau of prosperity has been patently perfected.
Presenting Dave Collum's now ubiquitous and all-encompassing annual review of markets and much, much more. From Baptists, Bankers, and Bootleggers to Capitalism, Corporate Debt, Government Corruption, and the Constitution, Dave provides a one-stop-shop summary of everything relevant this year (and how it will affect next year and beyond).
In what is likely the fist major under the radar profit warning of the current quarter, GE chief, and Obama Job Tzar, Jeff Immelt warned during GE's annual outlook meeting held earlier in Manhattan that the "economic uncertainty" in the current quarter has resulted in an investment "pause" that has resulted in a slowdown of corporate sales. Put into numbers, GE is now calling for about 8% growth this year, from a 10% forecast barely two months ago. Read: Q4 sales, and thus earnings, are set to be a major disappointment. And while no superstorms were blamed in this particular sales warning, the fiscal cliff did feature prominently. As the WSJ reports, "[Immelt] said ongoing jitters over the so-called "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and government spending cuts contributed to the trend." Then again, it is just as likely that the tapped out US consumer, whose savings rate is tumbling, whose real disposable income is now declining on a year over year basis, and whose real wage growth is decidedly negative, would be tapped out even if Obama and Boehner were not playing constant cat and mouse. But whatever the reason for the slowdown may be, one thing is certain: "Clearly, there has been an investment pause in certain industries," Mr. Immelt said. "We've definitely seen a slowdown in the fourth quarter." Bring on the spin brigade.
We have seen numerous articles as of late discussing how the average American family has finally delevered their household balance sheet at last. The problem is that apart from mortgage debt, whose decline has been facilitated by massive central bank and governmental intervention, other debt is still being piled on. These other debts are at substantially higher rates than mortgages and negatively impacts the consumer's ability to save. This is why savings rates continue to fall. As full-time employment remains elusive, the average American continues to resort to debt, and governmental support, to fill the gap between waning real incomes and their expected standard of living. This is a game that has a finite end. The diversion of income from savings to support debt service requirements will continue to impede economic growth until such time as either debt returns to levels that are conducive for higher levels of personal savings or incomes rise. This leaves consumers trapped between the need to payoff of debts in order to free up cash flow but needing increased levels of debt to sustain their standard of living. In the end the consumer will delever, either by choice or by force, the only difference between the two outcomes is the length of time that the current economic malaise lasts.
Sweeping changes are taking place at the state level as pension trustees and legislatures push for higher monthly contributions to pension plans, a later retirement age and lower annual cost-of-living adjustments for current and retired workers. Unions (those that don't make Twinkles, in any event), are making the concessions because they can see the future absent shared sacrifice — the termination of defined benefit plans in favour of defined contribution plans. Be that as it may, employee contributions are going up — a de facto tax hike. And this will work directly against any upturn in consumer spending when you consider that the state and local government sector employ nearly 20 million people or 15% of the national job pie. So we will have less government, fewer entitlements and more whisperings that it isn't just the $250,000+ high-income households that are going to experience tax increases and diminished disposable income growth. This is shared sacrifice. To think that the nation could have ever gone to war in Iraq and in Afghanistan under the Bush regime, putting our troops at great risk not to mention the emotional scars on their families, while here at home civilians would be allowed to enjoy tax cuts and a debt-financed consumption binge.... One has to wonder what events could provide positive momentum to GDP growth, push corporate earnings to record highs as the consensus predicts as early as next year, or generate any lasting inflation, for that matter. It's the people that make these pricing decisions. Businesses can only price up to what consumers are willing to pay. It is households that determine whether or not we have inflation, not some bureaucrat in Washington who believes he has control over some printing press.