When you see the headlines touting strong retail sales, you need to consider what you are actually seeing in the real world. RadioShack will be filing for bankruptcy within months. Wet Seal will follow. Sears is about two years from a bankruptcy filing. JC Penney’s turnaround is a sham. They continue to lose hundreds of millions every quarter and will be filing for bankruptcy within the next couple years. Target and Wal-Mart continue to post awful sales results and have stopped expanding. And as you drive around in your leased BMW, you see more Space Available signs than operating outlets in every strip center in America.
We have now done the math and compiled the Q2 earnings for the S&P 500 and we can indeed confirm that (at least in the second quarter) the buyback part is not only over but has ended with a thud, with the total notional amount of buybacks completed in Q2 plunging by 27% in Q2 to "only" $117 billion - the lowest since Q1 of 2013!
Judging by the just released personal income and spending data, consumers are already forecasting a long, harsh winter. With incomes and outlays expected to rise by 0.3% and 0.2% respectively, the July data was a big dud, missing on both expectations, and while income rose by a modest 0.2%, far below the 0.5% in June, it was personal spending which in fact declined by 0.1%, a major drop from the 0.4% increase in the prior month, and the first outright decline in spending since January. As CNBC's Steve Liesman explained the disappointing data: "weather."
"two landmark firsts have occurred only recently, with the S&P500 breaking above 2,000 and the 10y bund yield breaking below 1%. Our Ice Age thesis has long called for sub-1% bond yields and I see this extending to the US and UK in due course. It is the equity markets where I have been consistently surprised. QE has been an essential driver for the equity market, providing the fuel for the heavy corporate bond issuance being used for share buybacks. Companies themselves have been the only substantive buyers of equity, but the most recent data suggests that this party is over and as profits also stall out, the equity market is now running on fumes." - Albert Edwards
Growth in Consumer Credit dropped for the 2nd month in a row (at $17.25bn) missing expectations by the most since November 2013. The March/April credit impulse has now completely faded. Given that "debt is the great bridge between working hard and playing hard in this country," it would seem this news will disappoint Steve Liesman. Revolving credit dropped to its lowest since February as spend-what-you-don't-have appears to be fading also...
Two quick quick anecdotes about the new (ab)normal.
Grab your popcorn as The Socialist Singularity comes to be... We are sure Steve Liesman will ask his 'economics reporter' questions while cow-towing to his glorious leader's position on job-destroying 'minimum wage' increases, unpatriotic (though legal) inversions, Fed-driven inequality, and the massive and unprecedented divergence between "bubble" markets and the minions that make it up... always remember "debt-is-good" but "hope-is-better."
In what could be the most unpatriotic report ever, Fidelity reports that average IRA contributions for tax year 2013 reached $4,150 - an all-time high. That's great news, right? Not if you ask Janet Yellen as Fidelity notes younger investors, those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, are adopting the strongest savings behaviors as Americans are "saving more, paying off debt, and spending less." This is not acceptable in the new normal, don't they know "debt is the bridge between hard work and play?"
"There is a debt problem in America..." warns Lynette Khalfani-Coz (askthemoneycoach.com) in this brief CNBC interview, expanding in the huge debt loads from mortgaging cars to student debt that Americans soak up every day in ever greater amounts. And then Steve Liesman rolls in "debt is always pointed out as a negative thing, when in fact debt is the great bridge between working hard and playing hard in this country." Then Liesman really hangs himself, "this country has been built on consumer debt," he proudly states (as if it was some badge of honor) adding carefully that "too much of it is negative thing." - well Mr Liesman... one look at the current debt load might suggest that American consumers built that 'bridge to playing-hard' just a little too far. As Khalfani-Cox admirably retorts, "excessive debt levels are simply unsustainable... It is not the job of the consumer to play the role of financial hercules... why should we have to prop up the US economy?"
Despite consensus at 1.2% growth QoQ, the "weather" destroyed the fragile stimulus-led economy of the US which managed only a de minimus +0.1% QoQ growth (the lowest since Q1 2011). However, as Steve Liesman noted on the heels of Mark Zandi's comments "basically ignore this number" - ok then. Spending on Services, however, surged by the most since 2000 - heralded as great news by some talking heads - but is merely a reflection of the surge in healthcare and heating costs (imagine if it had not been cold and if Obamacare hadn't saved us). As a reminder - this is the growth that is occurring as QE has run its course, as stimulus ends, and as escape velocity nears... if the "weather" can do this much damage to the US economy, should stocks really be trading at the multiple of exuberant future hope that they are?
Well that didn't take long... Friday morning's post-payrolls record all-time high in the S&P 500 (because, as Steve Liesman said, "he can't find any reason to be bearish about jobs data") has rapidly collapsed to being negative year-to-date (and worst start to a year since 2009's crash). Only the Transports remain green in 2014, with the Dow, Nasdaq (worst start to a year since 2008), and Russell all coincidentally gathered around a 2% negative return YTD.
At the young age of 22 Henry Hazlitt figured out the future involves too many factors for anyone to predict, not to mention just knowing what the relevant factors are. Jim Grant admitted it took him 40 years in the business to finally realize he couldn’t understand the future, noting, however, unfortunately the folks working at the Eccles Building have not come to this realization. The PhDs believe they can depreciate the currency at the proper rate to cause everyone gainful employment and live happily ever after. Hazlitt also has a fan in Rich Santelli who notes that if government makes loans, that private lenders won’t make, to entities that can’t pay back, economic signals get destroyed, and chaos ensues. Chaos, indeed...
Remember when we said in January 2011 that Dealers merely game the daily POMO reverse auction to generate abnormal - and now confirmed criminal - profits on the back of the central bank, i.e. taxpayer? Guess what - we were right. Again.
December and January saw dismal job gains based on the NFP data... but as we now know, thanks to Zandi and Liesman, that we should ignore it because it's all about the weather. So, confused, we looked at the number of employed people who are "not working due to weather" (thank you for the convenient series BLS) to gauge the significance of the impact... it appears, from the chart below, that more people were out of work due to weather in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012...?
"I got up this early to talk, not to listen," Jim Grant berates Fed-apologist Steve Liesman as the two go head-to-head over the fallacy that QE has been a success. "The Fed can change how things look, it cannot change what things are," is the single-sentence summation of the mirage that the Fed's "dangerous monetary manipulation" has created...