A thumbnail sketch of the main events of during the week ahead.
One hundred years ago today the world was shook loose of its moorings. Every school boy knows that the assassination of the archduke of Austria at Sarajevo was the trigger that incited the bloody, destructive conflagration of the world’s nations known as the Great War. But this senseless eruption of unprecedented industrial state violence did not end with the armistice four years later. In fact, 1914 is the fulcrum of modern history. It is the year the Fed opened-up for business just as the carnage in northern France closed-down the prior magnificent half-century era of liberal internationalism and honest gold-backed money. So it was the Great War’s terrible aftermath - a century of drift toward statism, militarism and fiat money - that was actually triggered by the events at Sarajevo.
As individuals, it is entirely acceptable to be "optimistic" about the future. However, "optimism" and "pessimism" are emotional biases that tend to obfuscate the critical thinking required to effectively assess the "risks". The current "hope" that Q1 was simply a "weather related" anomaly is also an emotionally driven skew. The underlying data suggests that while "weather" did play a role in the sluggishness of the economy, it was also just a reflection of the continued "boom bust" cycle that has existed since the end of the financial crisis. The current downturn in real final sales suggests that the underlying strength in the economy remains extremely fragile. More importantly, with final sales below levels normally associated with the onset of recessions, it suggests that the current rebound in activity from the sharp decline in Q1 could be transient.
We have commented a few times on the slightly diffuse character of the echo bubble, which has infected a great many nooks and crannies of the economy. One of the areas which has experienced an enormous boom was the sub-prime auto loan sector. It seems however that the party in this sub-sector of the bubble economy is in the process of ending.
Eurozone recessions, unemployment fiascos, toppling banks, crashing auto sales... didn’t exist, sez the Stoxx 600. But then an ugly thing happened.
It was interesting this week to watch the media explode in a frenzy of reporting over the "stronger than expected" auto sales. The increase in auto sales to 16.9 million units was certainly a welcome number. However, was it really the "long awaited" sign of economic recovery that it was portrayed to be?
Surely humor like this (if not so much its accompanying forecasts on copper, China, the S&P, bonds, or anything else for that matter) is worth the $29.95 monthly subscription price alone. From today's "world-renowned" Gartman newsletter: "We’ve far too many ways to embarrass ourselves to put forth a forecast on today’s ADP report, so we shall simply await its release, but if we have to argue even slightly with the consensus we shall argue that the consensus is low and that there shall be more jobs created than the 210K guess-timate that is the consensus at the moment."
It seems that if the monthly payment is right, then no matter how "Sarcophagus-like" GM's cars are, Americans will lever up and buy 'em. Many were shocked to hear that GM reported the highest sales this month since August 2008 - especially in light of the record-breaking recalls and now Reuters reporting that up to 74 people have died from faulty ignition switches - but one glance at Experian's auto loan data and it's clear why... The average loan term and average amount financed for a new light-vehicle hit record highs in the first quarter, signaling U.S. consumers continue to extend themselves to afford pricier cars. GM cars may be "grenade-like" but US consumers - with stagnant wages - are extending maturities (loans with terms 73-84 months grew by 27.6%) to manage that monthly nut... This will not end well.
The inevitable shuttering of at least 3 billion square feet of retail space is a certainty. The aging demographics of the U.S. population, dire economic situation of both young and old, and sheer lunacy of the retail expansion since 2000, guarantee a future of ghost malls, decaying weed infested empty parking lots, retailer bankruptcies, real estate developer bankruptcies, massive loan losses for the banking industry, and the loss of millions of retail jobs. Since we always look for a silver lining in a black cloud, we predict a bright future for the SPACE AVAILABLE and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign making companies.
Gold is trading at the lowest level relative to palladium since 2004 as Bloomberg notes that prospects for a record shortage has lured investors to the metal used in pollution-control devices for cars amid concern that supply will be disrupted. As the chart below shows an oz of gold buys only 1.54 oz of palladium (less than a 3rd of the 5oz gold could buy in 2009) as supply problems (mining strikes and Russian sanctions) collide with demand expectations (the 'recovery' of the global car market). Despite GM's problems, record levels of channel-stuffed inventories, and a still stagnant consumer (showing no interest in big purchases), IHS expects a record level of auto sales this year at 85 million. Seems like this ratio is an interesting derivative play on the excessive exuberance in the world's car market expectations.
When it comes to the Goldman team of crack freaconopenguins the fun never ends.
Dispassionate discussion of the near-term forces at work in the foreign exchange market.
Goldman, it would appear, are desperate to not be forced to admit they are wrong once again. On the heels of their dramatic and humiliating swing from expectations of a +3.0% Q1 GDP growth rate at the start of the year to a current -0.6% expectation, the hockey-stick-believers are out with their latest piece of guesswork explaining how growth will explode to 3.9% in Q2 (a full percentage point higher than their previous estimate).The platform for this v-shaped recovery - "consumer spending will probably grow strongly, while the housing market should gradually improve." So 'probably' and 'should' it is then.
- Ukraine attacks rebel city, helicopter shot down (Reuters)
- Euro Unemployment Holds Near Record Amid Factory Gains (BBG)
- Yellen’s Fed Resigned to Diminished Growth Expectations (BBG)
- Junket Figure's Disappearance Shakes Macau's Gambling Industry (WSJ)
- China tried to undermine economic report showing its ascendancy (WSJ)
- Liquidity Trap Hitting AAA Bonds Has ATP CEO Sounding Alarm (BBG)
- AstraZeneca Snubs Pfizer Approach That U.K. Won’t Block (BBG)
- Missing Jet Recordings May Have Been 'Edited' (NBC)
- RBS turns corner as first-quarter profit trebles (Reuters)
- Japan household spending hits four-decade high, wages key to outlook (RTRS) while Real Incomes Drop 3.3% in March, 6th straight decline
In one of his most voracious tomes, The Wall Street Journal's Fed-see-er Jon Hilsenrath prepared 726 words and published them in 5 minutes to explain that the Fed's forecasts for Q1 were dismally wrong, that the future will all be rosy, and their forecasts spot on, and that the Taper is steady..."Fed officials acknowledged the first-quarter slowdown was worse than expected by saying activity "slowed sharply." Previously, they had just said activity merely slowed...Still, officials nodded to signs of a pickup in economic activity in March and April, suggesting they aren't too worried about the winter slowdown."