World Economic Outlook
Markets have started the week on the back foot, despite a brief rally following a better-than-expected Q4 GDP print in China. Indeed, Asian equities recorded a small pop following the GDP report, but the gains were shortlived as the general negativity on China’s growth trajectory continues to weigh on Asian markets. In terms of the data itself, China’s Q4 GDP (7.7% YoY) was slightly ahead of expectations of 7.6% but it was slower than Q3’s 7.8%. DB’s China economist Jun Ma maintains his view that economic growth will likely accelerate in 2014 on stronger external demand and the benefits from deregulation. The slight slowdown was also evident in China’s December industrial production (9.7% YoY vs 10% previous), fixed asset investment (19.6% YoY vs 19.9% previous) and retail sales (13.6% vs 13.7% previous) data which were all released overnight. Gains in Chinese growth assets were quickly pared and as we type the Shanghai Composite (-0.8%), HSCEI (-1.1%) and AUDUSD (-0.1%) are all trading weaker on the day. On a more positive note, the stocks of mining companies BHP (+0.29%) and Rio Tinto (+0.26%) are trading flat to slightly firmer and LME copper is up 0.1%. Across the region, equities are generally trading lower paced by the Nikkei (-0.5%) and the Hang Seng (-0.7%). Staying in China, the 7 day repo rate is another 50bp higher to a three month high of 9.0% with many investors continuing to focus on the Chinese shadow banking system following the looming restructuring of a $500m trust product that was sold to ICBC’s customers.
In 1997, the SE Asian Tigers all faced severe economic stresses, partially triggered by a primarily foreign capital-funded massive real estate bubble in Thailand. Today the EXACT same thing is happening as untempered foreign investment into Thailand’s real estate market has created not a “soaring” real estate market as economists always incorrectly explain them, but massive real estate market distortions better known as a bubble.
Over-burdensome regulation and massive liability exposure is stifling business and creativity, slowing the flow of capital globally and stagnating economic growth.
The chart below, showing the historical change in the IMF's periodic revisions of world growth and revised for today's just released latest World Economic Outlook, shows that much taxpayer money can be saved if the monetary fund's staff was replaced with dart-throwing chimps.
Overnight trading over the past week has been a bipolar affair based on algo sentiment about what is coming out of D.C. But which the last session was optimistic for some inexplicable reason that a deal on both the government shutdown and the debt ceiling out of DC was imminent, today any optimism is gone in the aftermath of the latest comments by Boehner on ABC, in which he implied that a US default is not unavoidable and that it would be used as more political capital, as it would be once again blamed on Obama for not resuming negotiations. As a result both global equities and US futures are down sharpy in overnight trading. And since the government shutdown, better known as a retroactively paid vacation, for everyone but the Pentagon (whose 400,000 workers have been recalled from furlough) continues it means zero government economic statistics in today's session with the only macro data being the Fed-sourced consumer credit report at 3 pm. This week also marks the unofficial start of the Q3 reporting season in the US with Alcoa doing the usual opening honous after the US closing bell tomorrow. JPMorgan’s and Wells Fargo’s results on Friday are the other main ones to watch to see just how much in reserves are released to pretend that banks are still making money. As usual, expect disinformation leaks that send the market sharply higher throughout the day, which however will only make the final outcome that much more painful, because as during every US government crisis in the past, stocks have to plunge so they can soar again.
Over the last thirty some odd years, the world has seen an unprecedented level of economic growth and prosperity. That much is certain. However, things are not as they appear when the bullish rose-tinted glasses that most view the world through are removed.
And the issue is debt.
The "Excel Spreadsheet Error" In Context
In the six months since the IMF last provided its economic forecasts, the situation in Spain has gone from bad (but sustainable) to worse (and unsustainable). Their current forecasts show no 'peak' in debt-to-gdp ratios at least as far as 2018 with the budget deficit primarily to blame. As Bloomberg Briefs notes, general government primary borrowing, a measure that excludes the cost of paying interest on government debt, was revised up to 7.9% of GDP from 4.5% for 2012. The inability to narrow the budget deficit, surprise surprise, appears partially due to lower real GDP growth forecasts and even then a recent study has found that World Economic Outlook real GDP growth forecasts showed a tendency to systematically exceed outcomes. This phenomenon was particularly prevalent in countries with an IMF-supported program. The IMF warns Spain "will need to undertake unprecedented fiscal efforts to bring their debt ratios to traditional norms," as most countries have never experienced debt levels similar to current ones; and seemed to think a debt restructuring is more likely and will "entail substantial and long-lasting economic and social costs."
Yes, there was economic news overnight, such as a Eurozone and UK CPI, both of which came in line with expectations (1.7% and 0.4% respectively), and a German ZEW which confirmed Europe's accelerating deterioration, tumbling from 48.5 to 36.3, far below expectations of a 41.0 print (somehow the huge miss has managed to push the EURUSD up by 60 pips to an overnight high of 1.31 but this is merely the pre-US open manipulation to ramp US equities higher), just as there was news that Angela Merkel's support for a Cyprus bailout is growing (was there an alternative?), and that as part of their ongoing investigation into Italy's repeatedly insolvent Monte Paschi, investigators had seized €1.8 billion worth of assets from Nomura Holdings, and that Spain as usual sold more Bills than expected, driven by oversize Japanese and Pension Fund purchases, but what everyone has been looking for is whether the relentless and record rout in gold is over. For now, it appears that is the case, with gold printing an overnight low of just over $1320 and ramping higher ever since, up 3% so far and rising.
While China's trifecta miss of GDP, Retail Sales and Industrial Production all coming lower than expected was likely a factor in the overnight rout of gold, the initial burst of selling started well before the Chinese data hit the tape, or as soon as Japan opened for trading with forced financial institution selling to prefund cash for any and all future JGB VaR-driven margin calls. It was all downhill from there, literally, with overnight selling of gold punctured by brief burst of targeted stop hunting, sending the metal down $116 per ounce, as spot touches $1385 after trading nearly at $1500 yesterday and down $200 in 4 days. End result, whether due to a re-collapsing global economy, margin calls, fears forced Cyprus gold selling will be imposed on all other insolvent European countries, coordinated central bank slams, hedge fund positioning, long unwinds, liquidations, fears about future demand, or whatever the usual selling suspects are, is that gold tumbles an unprecedented 7.8% on 230,000 contracts in one day, and well over 10% in two days, pushing the yellow metal 14 day RSI band to 18, meaning it is now most oversold since 1999. In brief, it is an all out panic, with Goldman still telling clients to sell, i.e., buying every shiny ounce all the way down (not to mention India, where accordingto UBS Friday demand was double the average).
All eyes should remain focused on Cyprus today, especially since there is no data being reported elsewhere. Financial markets closed Friday on a positive note, as an agreement on Cyprus appeared to be taking shape and a minor relief rally across most asset classes overnight vindicated hopes of a positive outcome as details of the detail were announced overnight. More clarity is still required on some aspects of the agreement (deposit and bondholders) but the fact that the national parliament does not need to vote again should stop the deal from unravelling as it did last week. Whether this is enough to restore confidence and prevent a possible cautionary deposit flight from Cyprus remains to be seen.
As we recently discussed, many euroskeptics are pushing Cypriot lawmakers to default, devalue, and decouple from the Euro - understanding that the short-term pain of such a move will lead to much more sustainable gains afterwards. But BofAML raises the question of what damage (and required response) would occur in the remainder of the European Union should Cyprus leave (or be pushed ). Unlike some EU leaders suggestions, BofAML suggests the contagion and growth impacts could last a decade; but it is the policy reaction of the ECB that is most crucial to understand and how it may rapidly lead to a German decision on debt mutualization (or not) that should be most concerning.
With the market basking in glow of good earnings results yesterday, mostly out of IBM, and to a lesser extent GOOG, which missed on the top line but beat on EPS squeezing some recent inbound shorts, S&P500 futures have yet to post a solid move to the upside. Perhaps a big reason for this is the recent recoupling of risk based on not one but two carry signals: the first is the well-known EURUSD pair, while the second is the recent entrant, the USDJPY, and it is the latter that continues to see a cover of the massive short interest accumulated over the recent 1000 pip move higher on what upon ongoing reflection has been a disappointing announcement out of the BOJ. Needless to say, the Nikkei whose recent surge higher was all due to currency weakness has tumbled overnight despite corporate fundamentals, if not economic data, which continues to post substantially subpar prints.
By now everyone knows how Americans feel about America: one quarter of the population (the half of the less than half that voted) is convinced the US is plunging into a socialist void that would make the USSR proud, another quarter of the population is furious at the wealthy and demands that they be taxed up the wazoo because "they didn't build that" but certainly profited from it, and is demanding wealth and income redistribution, while the silent majority is quietly picking up whatever pieces it can, and batting down the hatches, seeing very well, beyond the fog of bias and subjectivity, the inevitable epic deleveraging disaster, followed by even more epic printing that is coming this way. But how does the rest of the world see the US, especially now that the fiscal cliff (and the much less discussed debt ceiling debate: why, we don't know - it was "merely" the debt ceiling that led to a 20% drop in 2011). Yesterday, German financial media Spiegel provided a glimpse into just how Europe, which is in deep feces itself, sees America. The verdict: the next Greece.