David Rosenberg does not pull any punches in his note today, when he makes an even bigger case for why the Fed and the administration's fiscal policies are now the sole power behind not only any and all stock market gains, but is the sole dynamo for pushing the economy to higher unsubstantiated highs, as it continues transferring wealth from taxpayer to shareholders. This was a topic first broached by Zero Hedge on April 11, 2009, when we said:
The truth is that the more taxpayer money is dumped to try to fill the abyss, it may become marginally shallower, but only at the expense of it getting wider. At some point soon (if not already), the U.S. economy will be unweenable from the trillions and trillions of taxpayer subsidies all the while it becomes more indebted to both its investors and taxpayers, further exacerbating the abovementioned paradox (presumably not without a motive). As the multi-trillion CRE crash continues to deplete the left side of the financials' balance sheet with an exponentially growing pace (and I have not even touched on the credit card topic), the banks will be left scratching their heads what accounting rules to bend, which insurance companies to implode and get another AIG-like piggybank, how to break REG-FD more and more creatively with select memo leaks, how to manipulate the market, and how to make the Tsy curve becomes even more upward sloping with the compliments of the Fed and the Treasury. In the meantime the disinformation rift between the American taxpayers and investors will keep growing until inevitably, one day, it will escalate to the point where empty promises on prime time TV by the administration's photogenic representatives will not suffice, and real actions that benefit future American generations will be demanded... What happens after I have no idea.
Here are David's thoughts:
No doubt that the global economy appears to be on a firm footing, but much of this has reflected dramatic fiscal stimulus, overbuilding and credit extension in China. Only the future knows how sustainable this is.
We do know that just about all the growth in the U.S.A. in Q4 is coming from inventory restocking; and that every basis point of growth in Q3 came from government stimulus, directly and indirectly. The same stock market that couldn’t see a recession coming in late 2007 even though it was two months away, doesn’t see how low-quality this “recovery” is since there is nothing organic about it. The market is relying continuously on government support, so much so that nearly 20% — by far a record — of U.S. personal income is now coming from Uncle Sam’s generosity in the form of transfers. This deserves a lower-than-normal price-earnings multiple, but it may take time for Mr. Market to figure this out, just as it took several quarters for it to see the effects of a housing recession and credit collapse two years ago. The stock market, in other words, has managed to become a classic lagging indicator.
This is obviously a bold claim, as it means that the traditional phrase "The market is always right" is now completely wrong. With no volume, and various predatory algos determining daily market direction, it was only a matter of time.
Rosenberg, proceeds to destroy the optimistic groupthink:
We ran some simulations back to 1955 and found that historically, what is normal is that every basis point of nominal GDP growth typically generates 2.5 percentage points of corporate earnings growth. The consensus sees $76 of operating EPS for the S&P 500 next year, which compares to a likely $56 stream in 2009. In other words, that would imply an expected 36% profits boost this year. That in turn would require a 14% increase in nominal GDP, which is basically impossible. Okay — a spurt that strong was last posted in 1951, so let’s be fair. It’s a 1-in-58 event. In the past 75 years, there were a grand total of six when profit growth topped 30%, and guess what? That pace of profits required, on average, 10% growth in nominal GDP. And that last happened 25 years ago. Either way you slice it or dice it, achieving the consensus profit forecast is an extremely low-odds scenario.
The consensus sees $76 operating EPS for the S&P 500 in 2010, which would be a 36% increase from 2009
Meanwhile, the consensus basically sees 4% nominal GDP growth for 2010, which would suggest a 10% profit rise in 2010, which would imply a solid but somewhat less exuberant $62 EPS call for the year. Remember that this time last year the consensus was at $77 operating EPS for 2009 and we got $56 — what saved the market was the Geithner & Bernanke show. What do they do for an encore this year?
Keep that last point in the back of your mind. At the end of 2008, the consensus was at $77 for S&P 500 operating EPS for 2009. Even by the end of January, when it was so obvious that the bear market and recession were far from over, the bottom-up consensus was calling for operating earnings to come in at just under $70 per share. What did we end up with for 2009 when all was said and done? Try $56 EPS or 27% below what “market participants” were predicting when the year began.
Forget all the calculations off the “artificial” March lows. Forget the 25% slide in the first 10 weeks of the year to that awful trough. Here is the reality. The S&P 500, from point to point, rallied 23% in 2009 even though earnings for the year as whole came in a whopping $22 a share or 27% below what was being priced in at the start of the year. Now that is remarkable. It almost wants to make you believe in the tooth fairy.
What does this mean? A 22% overvaluation.
We are sure that if we told you on December 31, 2008, that the market was looking for $77 on operating EPS for 2009, but $56 is all we would muster, you wouldn’t have told us that your price forecast for year-end would be 1,115. And here we are today, and the same consensus crew is calling for just about the same level of earnings again — this time for 2010. If the consensus is correct, then the market is sitting very close to fair-value with a 15x forward P/E multiple. If we are right on earnings, then we are looking at over an 18x forward multiple or a market that is overvalued by 22%.
Yet this whole valuation aberration is the product of an overbullish groupthink crowd, headed by none other than Byron Wien, for whom Rosie shares the following kind words:
We’ve known Byron Wien for a long time — he was a formidable competitor while we were both on the sell side and in later years, a valued client and friend while he was on the buy side. He had a pretty good year in 2009, of that there is little doubt. But his just-released list again totally epitomized the consensus view — and it is useful to know this because as Bob Farrell told us in his Ten Commandments of investing, “When all the experts and forecasts agree, something else is going to happen” (the 9th commandment).
We won’t reprint Byron’s list here, though we were inundated with our views on it yesterday, but all the ‘surprises’ are on the upside as far as the economy, profits and interest rates are concerned. His whole piece involves world peace, a huge equity rally, massive bond selloff, Fed tightening, a dollar bull market, successful policy action on energy and financial sector reform. Nothing on double dip, deflation, renewed equity slide, Israeli military strike, 10% home price decline, sovereign default risk, Euro-area discord, or a Chinese relapse. These don’t seem to worry Byron — but then again, with the VIX index at 20 … the market seems unperturbed about downside risks as well.
And some simply hilarious observations from Rosie on the New Normal:
In the post-bubble credit collapse economy, what was previously unthinkable suddenly becomes the “new normal”. From March 1983 (when the Reagan-led economic expansion took hold) through to September 2008 (when Lehman collapsed) we never once had a month where U.S. vehicle sales came in as low as 11 million units at an annual rate. That is a span of 25 years.
In yesterday’s WSJ, page B1, there is a huge article titled Late Surge in Car Sales Raises Hopes for 2009. This “surge” seems to have taken sales up to 11 million units in December (data out later today), which would be up from 10.9 million in November. So here we are today, and it is apparently good news that we had virtually no growth in sales towards the end of the year even with dramatic incentives (according to the article, GM gave its dealers $7,000 for some of its models) and that we had 11 million units when the ‘old normal’ was 16 million units (not to mention that 12 million is the cutoff for replacement demand — autos are still being taken off the highways and driveways of America).
Yet none of this matters as buy programs take equities ever higher, with moral hazard the ultimate backstop until such time as the ability to finance an infinite stock market rally courtesy of trillions in new bond issuance comes to an end: that is the only "fundamental" that is relevant now and for the foreseeable future.