While some would argue (as they always do) that there are good reasons to be bullish going into 2014 (central bank liquidity provision being an obvious one); there are ample reasons to remain vigilant with respect to your investments. The stagnation of wage growth combined with higher costs leaves an already cash strapped consumer with few options. It is likely that we will see a push by consumers to re-leverage their household balance sheet which will be hailed by the media as a return of consumer confidence. However, one should not forget the last time a highly levered consumer ran into problems. Furthermore, there are three potential headwinds that are likely to weigh on the economy and the markets which are potentially being overlooked.
Context is key...
The IMF just dropped another bombshell. After it recently suggested a “one-off capital levy” – a one-time tax on private wealth as an exceptional measure to restore debt sustainability across insolvent countries – it has now called for “revenue-maximizing top income tax rates”. The IMF’s team of monkeys has been working around the clock on this one, figuring that developed nations can increase their overall tax revenue by increasing tax rates. They’ve singled out the US, suggesting that the US government could maximize its tax revenue by increasing tax brackets to as high as 71%.
There has been quite a bit of discussion lately over the rapid reduction in the government's budget deficit as it relates to economic growth going forward. There are 3 issues that will likely impede further progress on the deficit reduction in the months ahead; 1) lower rates of tax revenue, 2) weaker economic growth and 3) greater levels of spending. The good news for stock market bulls is that deepening budget deficits increase the amount of bonds that the Treasury will need to issue to cover the shortfall in spending. This will give the Federal Reserve more room to continue their current monetary interventions which have inflated asset prices sharply over the last year. Creating financial instability to gain economic stability has been an elusive dream of the Federal Reserve since the turn of the century; yet someday it is hoped that they may just be able to "catch their own tail."
- Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013 (Reuters)
- South Africans Flock to Nelson Mandela’s Home to Mourn His Death (BBG)
- Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden? Obama says won't choose between them for 2016 (Reuters)
- Fukushima water tanks: leaky and built with illegal labor (Reuters)
- Sears Holdings Files to Spin Off Lands' End Business (WSJ)
- Way cleared for landmark global trade deal (FT)
- U.S. Oil Prices Fall Sharply as Glut Forms on Gulf Coast (WSJ)
- German Factory Orders Decline in Sign of Uneven Recovery (BBG)
- FCC Unlikely to Bless a Comcast-TWC Deal: Regulator (WSJ)
What are the odds that the long-term trend towards lower participation is going to turn around soon? I would say, "Not high".
This past week saw the initial public offering of the single most anticipated IPO of 2013 - Twitter. If you tweeted about it then you are not alone as the news dominated the media headlines and the market. With Twitter already sporting a 11x price-to-sales ratio, and no earnings, what could possibly go wrong? However, it is that growing complacency among investors that should be the most concerning as the general sentiment has become that nothing can stop the markets as long as the Fed is in the game. This week's issue of things to ponder over the weekend provides some thoughts in this regard...
People think they’re living in some kind of democratic republic. But the politicians they elect have zero control.
Endo Health Solutions just announced a big acquisition. The company’s rationale is to take advantage of a stunning tax loop hole. There are a couple of implications to highlight: 1. Endo’s shareholders are the clear winners; and 2. The USA is the big loser. Extrapolating beyond Endo, if one accepts the premise that companies are obligated to use legal means to minimize tax costs, and if one then takes this precedent to the logical conclusion, this transaction could/should be a road map for other companies to follow. Is Congress paying attention?
When it comes to US equities today, the picture below summarizes it all... the only question is whether the NYSE breaks to celebrate the year's overhyped social media IPO.Aside from the non-event that is the going public of a company that will likely not generate profits for years, if ever, the overnight market has been quiet with all major stock indices in Asia trading modestly lower on the back of a modestly stronger dollar, although the main currency to watch will be the Euro (German Industrial production of -0.9% today was a miss of 0.0% expectations and down from 1.6% previously), when the ECB releases its monthly statement at 7:45 am Eastern when it is largely expected to do nothing but may hint at more easing in the future. On the US docket we have the weekly initial claims (expected at 335k) which now that they are again in a rising phase, have been the latest data item to be ignored in the Bizarro market, as well as the latest Q3 GDP estimate, pegged by consensus at 2.0%.
It’s no secret by now that governments in Europe, Japan and America have spent and borrowed beyond their means. As IceCap's Keith Dicker notes, including both current debt and future unfunded liabilities, it is estimated America owes over $87 trillion dollars, while the Eurozone countries are on the hook for over $89 trillion. That’s a fistful of dollars. From a tax perspective, the incapacity of these super economic powers, becomes all the more clear. America’s annual tax revenue is only $2.5 trillion, while in Europe, they manage to squeak out roughly $5 trillion. From this view, America is leveraged 34.8x their tax revenues, while the Eurozone is leveraged at 17.8x their tax revenue. As Keith points out in his excellent letter, for the US, Japan, and Europe, Elvis has very much left the building on getting back to 'normal'.
Just over 400-years ago today, a group of 13 conspirators were caught trying to assassinate King James I of England and blow up the House of Lords in what became known as the Gunpowder Treason. Fundamentally, the Gunpowder Treason was about freedom. The English monarchy at the time was controlling nearly every aspect of the economy and their subjects’ lives– from what they could wear to how they could worship.“Sumptuary laws” which regulated private behavior were commonplace. When you think about it, the collapse was inevitable. The Gunpowder Treason of November 5, 1605 may have been a failure for the conspirators, but given enough time, a system so screwed up, so unsustainable, was destined to collapse on itself. We’re not so different in the west today. Is it wise to think that this time is any different?
Recent surveys and research studies by sources from the UN to streetRx.com put the size of the illegal drug market in the U.S. at anywhere from $200 to $750 billion. The market is notoriously hard to track by design, and it is constantly evolving as prices and usage fluctuates; but as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, there’s a plethora of data on the topic: formal surveys by the CDC and user-submitted blog posted on websites like Hightimes.com trace price, usage, and traffic stats for marijuana, powder and crack cocaine, d-methamphetamine, and heroin. Legalized dispensaries now allow us to estimate potential tax revenue from marijuana sales, while incarceration rates for drug offenders reveal the economic impact of the illegal drug trade. In short, while the illegal drug market might be hard to track – if only by virtue of its illegality – Colas points out that we can learn a lot about its size and scope by aggregating these formal and informal data. Most surprising of them all: illicit drug use is no longer the realm of just the youth.
Having previously exposed the world to the "nominal stock market cheerleaders," it is clear that Kyle Bass sees things as only having got worse among developed nations. In fact, the following interview shows that he does not fear US losing its credibility since "developed western economies with the largest debt loads are all in the same boat." The discussion expands from the debt ceiling debacle to bonds and stocks, "given the lack of nominal yield in the bond market, all of the new money is going to continue into stocks. The interesting thing is it’s going to make the rich people richer and the middle and lower class won’t be any better off, which is the opposite of what the administration is trying to pull off," adding that being in stocks "is not your choice," thanks to Fed repression and that deficit contraction is all that can stop the Fed now.