Highlighted examples of continuing weakening analytics and warning signals are as follows:
CONSUMER, INVESTOR & TRADER SENTIMENT
- CONSUMER SENTIMENT
Consumer Confidence fell further in November - to 70.4 after having plunged in October from September's 80.2. The outsize October move had been attributed mostly to the federal government shutdown and budget battle that had transpired during the first half of October. This is the lowest reading on consumer confidence since April. The Consumer Confidence numbers had risen significantly since an October 2010 Low of 39.8 to a new recovery high of 82.1.
US RECESSION: Let's take a step back and put Lynn Franco's interpretation in a larger perspective. The table to the right shows the average consumer confidence levels for each of the five recessions during the history of this monthly data series, which dates from June 1977. The latest number moves us almost 7 points above the recession mindset.
The latest number is a mere 1.0 point above the recession mindset.
- CONSUMER SENTIMENT (University of Michigan)
The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index has more or less steadily risen since September of 2011. Each month's final number had generally shown an improvement over the previous month having risen from 59.4 in September to a recent recovery high of 85.1 in July.
Though falling since August it rebounded dramatically in December to 82.5. Rising stocks markets make people feel better.
- CONSUMER COMFORT INDEX
CONSUMER COMFORT INDEX the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to minus 30.9 in the period ended Dec 19th.
- INVESTORS INTELLIGENCE is becoming Bearish as its 3 Week MA has fallen to 50.29 from over 100.
- INVESTOR SENTIMENT as measured by American Association of Independent Investors is becoming Bearish having fallen from 106 to 61.58
- NAAIM (National Association of Active Investment Managers) reading is presently reading 100.69 up significantly from last quarter average of 65.4%.
- NFIB SMALL BUSINESS OPTIMISM INDEX stands at ~92.0 for December, well below 100, but has noticeably weakened over the last couple of months.
MARGIN & LEVERAGE
- MARGIN DEBT GROWTH: We have a longer term overhead trend line is margin growth appearing to now be acting as overhead resistance.
MUTUAL FUND CASH LEVELS: Stock Fund Cash levels continue to held a historic low levels with no buffer for potential redemptions. This is traditionally a market warning signs has fund managers are forced to be fully invested as their investors expect this. When this is coupled with the fact that we have record amounts of marging debt this translates to excess risk.
Japan's PM Shinzo Abe has seen his approval ratings collapse for the first time since his 'devalue-to-glory' strategy was unveiled a year ago. Kyodo News reported, support for Mr. Abe fell 10.3ppt to 47.6%, while Japan News Network reported a 13.9-point fall to 54.6% as WSJ reports, public concern over the controversial secrecy bill (designed by Kafka, inspired by Hitler) and its nationalist overtones merely exacerbated Japanese people's concerns about their pocketbooks (as incomes stagnate and costs rise). As Abe plays lip service to economic issues (with a very Maduro-like speech recently on profit margins and wage increases), there is little but public outrage to hinder his plans as his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has big majorities in both houses of parliament, with no election scheduled until 2016. So much for Abenomics...
*JAPAN UPPER HOUSE PANEL ADOPTS SECRECY BILL AMID UPROAR
*ABE: SECRETS BILL NECESSARY TO PROTECT LIVES AND PROPERTY
The right to know has now been officially superseded by the right of the government to make sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know. It might all seems like a bad joke, except for the Orwellian nature of the bill and a key Cabinet member expressing his admiration for the Nazis, "just as Germany needed a strong man like Hitler to revive defeated Germany, Japan needs people like Abe to dynamically induce change."
All three media surveys signaled public concern after the ruling coalition steamrolled the passage of a controversial bill to set stricter penalties for intelligence breaches amid objections from opposition parties.
Around 80% of those questioned in all three polls felt that the bill wasn't thoroughly debated in parliament.
In a news conference Monday, Mr. Abe said it was necessary to push through the secrecy bill quickly to protect public safety, but acknowledged the criticism.
"We must sincerely and humbly accept the people's harsh criticism," Mr. Abe said, adding that "I myself should have taken more time to carefully explain" the bill.
Mr. Abe's high poll numbers early in his rule created a virtuous circle that allowed him to push through policies that were seen as aiding the economy and lifting the stock market, which in turn further sustained his popularity, allowing him to win a key election, and extend his power.
His sustained high support rate over the past year has been unusual among recent Japanese prime ministers. Starting with Mr. Abe's own first one-year term, which ended abruptly in September 2007 after his party lost an election and his popularity plunged, Japan ran through six unpopular prime ministers in six years.
One big change for Mr. Abe between his first term and his second has been his focus in his most recent stint on pulling Japan's economy out of its long slump. Long seen as a conservative nationalist, devoted to building up Japan's military and global clout, he devoted much of his first term to those causes.
“The Cabinet must understand the risks involved in moving ahead with Mr. Abe’s agenda,” Mr. Nakano said. “It faces a tough decision, whether to push ahead with Mr. Abe’s conservative goals, or to focus on Abenomics in a bid to revive popularity.”
So, it's for your own good Japan...
It seems Abe is going to need to raise that stock market even more to keep his popularity...
Meanwhile, the nationalist talk continues...
*ABE:NO PROSPECT OF SUMMITS WITH CHINA, SOUTH KOREA NOW
And yet last night's speeches sounded awfully like an awakening of the Maduro-style -ism of Venezuela's control system "economy"
*ABE: REAL BATTLE FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY STARTS NOW
*ABE CALLS FOR COMPANIES TO BOOST WAGES MORE THAN PRICE GAINS
*ABE SAYS TOYOTA, HITACHI EXECUTIVES PLEDGED TO RAISE WAGES
Raise wages, cut margins, or else... we can only hope this stress does not bring on another bout of chronic diarrhea (as none of these Japanese leaders are getting any younger).
With the balance of payments data released early today, Japan also reported a country breakdown of its portfolio investment flows. Japanese investors stepped up their capital outflows in October to JPY1.324 trillion or about $13.3 bln from JPY952 bln in September.
Recall that, confounding expectations, Japanese investors were net sellers of foreign assets from January through June. They repatriated roughly $150 bln. In four months for which there is now data, Japanese investors have bought almost $55 bln of foreign stocks and bonds.
Japanese investors bought JPY1.452 trillion of foreign bonds in October after JPY1.385 trillion in September. Although the amount was broadly similar, the composition was radically different.
In September, Japanese investors were large new buyers of US bonds and net sellers of rest of the world's bonds. In October, Japanese investors bought JPY148 bln US bonds compared with JPY1.732 trillion. Japanese investors doubled the amount of French bonds they bought (JPY239 bln) in October, over September (JPY117 bln). Japanese investors also bought JPY65.3 bln of Italian bonds, the most since June 2011. Overall, they bought JPY463.8 bln euro-denominated bonds.
Japanese investors also scooped up bonds from the dollar-bloc. They bought JPY130 bln of Australian government bonds and JPY189.2 bln over all, the most since June 2012 and is only the second month of net purchases since Nov 2012. Japanese investors purchased almost five times more Canadian bonds in Oct (JPY108 bln) than in September (a little less than JPY23 bln).
Another noteworthy development was that Japanese investors sold JPY36.1 bln of Singapore bonds. This may not seem like a larger amount, but it is the largest sell-off since 1998. We don't see a fundamental change in the macro outlook for Singapore and suspect it may be a function of the low rates. Yields out to five years are less than 1%. The Singapore dollar has lost about 2.2%, though it did gain about 1.3% against the US dollar in October after a 1.5% rise in September.
Turning to equities, Japanese investors sold almost JPY198 bln in October. Except for a minor JPY4.6 bln purchase in August, Japanese investors have been consistent sellers of foreign shares since July 2012. Over this time they have sold about JPY7.256 trillion (~$73 bln) of foreign shares.
US shares accounted for the bulk of the selling. Over the 16-month period, Japanese investors sold JPY4.170 trillion US shares. In October, US share sales were JPY138 bln (of the JPY198 overall net sales). In September Japanese investors sold almost JPY254 bln, of which the US accounted for a little more than JPY177 bln.
Japanese sales of European shares slowed, and there does appear to be a gradual shift toward booking purchases of euro area shares in Luxembourg. According to MOF data, Japanese investors bought JPY44 bln of Luxembourg shares after JPY21 bln of purchases in September. Over the 16-month period of selling, Japanese investors bought about JPy468 bln of "Luxembourg" shares, which as we say, likely reflects an account function and is better understood as a proxy for euro-denominated shares.
House Republicans "capitulated" in agreeing to the two-year budget deal reached last night and left the country to deal with an unsustainable fiscal situation until the peak of the presidential primaries in 2015, when nothing will get done, former federal budget director David Stockman told CNBC on Wednesday.
"First, let's be clear—it's a joke and betrayal," Stockman, who served under President Ronald Reagan, said on "Squawk on the Street." "It's the final surrender of the House Republican leadership to Beltway politics and kicking the can and ignoring the budget monster that's hurtling down the road."
Stockman added that the budget deal means lawmakers would take a "two-year vacation" from dealing with the country's fiscal situation and revisit it in 2015 at around the same time as the Iowa straw polls. Without an incumbent in the presidential race, both political parties will be too busy to touch the budget, he said.
While some hailed the budget deal as a breakthrough in Washington's political gridlock, Stockman compared the accord to "kicking the can" into "low Earth orbit."
"There's plenty of room, but they're unwilling to make the tough choices," he said. "Now, I understand Democrats doing that. The only hope of getting our fiscal situation under control is if the House Republicans stand up. And they've totally capitulated."
The two-year deal averts deeper cuts to military spending, but Stockman said that's where lawmakers should have looked for savings. The U.S. no longer faces threats from developed countries and has been "fired as the world's policemen," he said.
Any meaningful changes to the budget wouldn't happen until nearly 2020 if lawmakers don't address them now, he said. Washington still has a chance to duel over the debt ceiling this February, however, and over unemployment benefits in the shorter term.
Congressional Negotiators Avert January Shutdown and Soften Sequester Cuts; Airline Fees to Climb
House and Senate negotiators, in a rare bipartisan act, announced a budget agreement Tuesday designed to avert another economy-rattling government shutdown and to bring a dose of stability to Congress's fiscal policy-making over the next two years.
Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who struck the deal after weeks of private talks, said it would allow more spending for domestic and defense programs in the near term, while adopting deficit-reduction measures over a decade to offset the costs.
Revenues to fund the higher spending would come from changes to:
Federal employee and military pension programs, and
Higher fees for airline passengers, among other sources.
An extension of long-term jobless benefits, sought by Democrats, wasn't included. The plan is modest in scope, compared with past budget deals and to once-grand ambitions in Congress to craft a "grand bargain" to restructure the tax code and federal entitlement programs. But in a year and an institution characterized by gridlock and partisanship, lawmakers were relieved they could reach even a minimal agreement.
"In divided government, you don't always get what you want,'' said Mr. Ryan in announcing the deal. Ms. Murray joined him in welcoming the prospect that lawmakers would steer away from a crisis-driven budget process.
"We have lurched from crisis to crisis, from one cliff to the next. That uncertainty was devastating to our fragile economic recovery."
The deal, which goes to the House and Senate for approval in the coming days, marks a major change in the landmark 2011 budget-cutting law, which set in motion 10 years of fiscal austerity, including across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
The annual discretionary spending target will be raised to $1.012 trillion in 2014 and $1.014 trillion in 2015 under the accord.
The deal responds to the fears of most Democrats and some Republicans that government spending would be cut too much and too randomly under the next round of the sequester, which was slated to reduce the budget for most domestic and defense programs to $967 billion in 2014, down from $986 billion in 2013.
The Murray-Ryan deal will likely need considerable Democratic support to pass the GOP-controlled House. Many Republicans, as well as a large number of conservative activists off Capitol Hill, argue that the sequester cuts have brought fiscal austerity to the federal budget and that they should not be eased. The final stages of talks Tuesday focused mostly on easing proposed cuts in federal employees' pensions—a bid to shore up support among House Democrats who otherwise might join with conservative Republicans to sink the bill. The depth of conservative opposition will become apparent as lawmakers absorb the details, which were released to the public Tuesday night.
To draw support from the GOP's fiscal conservatives, the deal includes additional deficit-reduction measures: While the agreement calls for a $63 billion increase in spending in 2014 and 2015, it is coupled with $85 billion in deficit reductions over the next 10 years, for a net deficit reduction of $22.5 billion.
The deal achieves some of those savings by extending an element of the 2011 budget law that was due to expire in 2021. The sequester currently cuts 2% from Medicare payments to health-care providers from 2013 through 2021. The new deal extends those cuts to 2022 and 2023.
The hard-won compromise was forged by a political odd couple: Ms. Murray, a stalwart liberal and ally of Democratic leaders, and Mr. Ryan, a conservative who was his party's vice-presidential nominee in 2012. Both were previously better known for their skill at presenting their parties' messages than for their skill in negotiating bipartisan compromises on major budget issues.
"We cheer for a different football team. We catch different fish," said Ms. Murray. "We have some differences on policy, but we agree that our country needs some certainty and we need to show that we can work together."
Unaddressed was the question of whether Congress would renew expanded unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, which expire before the year's end. The White House has said that 1.3 million Americans will lose their emergency unemployment benefits if Congress doesn't renew the program. Officials said that Democratic leaders were still looking for ways to extend the program—possibly for three months. Many Republicans are opposed to renewal, saying the program was meant as a temporary response to the recession.
To offset the higher spending, the deal includes
an increase in fees charged to airline passengers,
higher premiums that employers pay to guarantee pensions through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., and
cuts in benefit increases for military retirees.
It also includes a requirement that new federal employees pay larger contributions to their pension plans. The federal pension changes were the focus of the final round of behind-the-scenes negotiations. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) and other Democrats worked to reduce those changes, which were strongly opposed by labor unions and congressional leaders who represent large numbers of federal workers. There was considerable pressure to scale back the federal pension changes to ensure Democratic support for the agreement.
Democrats will be crucial to passing the agreement in the House, because many conservative Republicans are expected to reject it, arguing that annual across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, have brought discipline to the federal budget and shouldn't be eased. "We'll have to carry the vote in the House,'' said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.). Several conservative groups and activists—including Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity—announced their opposition to the deal even before it was unveiled, arguing that it would erode the spending constraints of sequestration.
More than 20 conservative leaders signed a statement released Tuesday opposing any deal that raises spending levels or increases revenue. They included the leaders of the Family Research Council, the Tea Party Patriots, the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union. It remains to be seen how far that sentiment will spread among House Republicans, who will meet behind closed doors Wednesday morning to discuss the proposal. "We're going to have a healthy discussion," said Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Still, he said he welcomed the prospect of a two-year budget deal that would bring more stability to the congressional budget process after years of Congress lurching from one crisis-driven deadline to the next. "We've been pushing for certainty in our economy," he said. Some prominent Republicans are already signaling likely opposition to the deal. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) immediately issued a statement of opposition, saying the deal didn't do enough to cut the national debt or lift the economy.
"We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good-paying jobs, and this budget fails to accomplish both goals. In the short run, this budget also cancels earlier spending reductions, instead of making some tough decisions about how to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges caused by runaway Washington spending." Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) declined to comment on the deal in advance of its announcement, but he has spoken consistently against any plan that allows federal spending to increase beyond caps set in the Budget Control Act.
Senate Democrats seemed more inclined to embrace the emerging deal, based on their briefing with Ms. Murray. Sen. Mark Begich (D., Alaska) said, "I'm feeling more comfortable" with the shape of the deal, which is expected to ease spending limits equally on defense and domestic spending. Mr. Begich, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was particularly glad to learn the deal would cover two years—a refreshingly long time horizon after years of having budget decisions made in short term, crisis-driven bursts.
Democrats' complaints have centered on proposals to change federal-employee retirement programs. House Republicans had proposed $132 billion in lower spending over 10 years; President Barack Obama's budget included $20 billion. The final deal called for $6 billion in lower spending on federal employees' pensions. In addition, the deal called for another $6 billion in savings in military retirees' benefits.
CENTRAL BANKING MONETARY POLICIES, ACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that the last bear is capitulating. It isn't a good sign. Maybe it is that simple. But I think it is a little more complicated. We, and I accept we aren't the first here, sense that US monetary officials may now be willing to subordinate the demands of their own economy to the perils confronting emerging market economies. If that is the case, the great peril is not that the Fed finally tightens monetary policy and US stock prices suddenly tumble from what are very obviously overpriced levels. Would that it were – our curmudgeonly portfolio structure (think dynamic volatility targeting and stop losses) works well with big stock market reversals. Instead the greater peril is that the current backdrop will turn out to mark a rapid acceleration in the ongoing move to the upside. A hint that this might be the case comes from looking back through the 113 years of price data for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. We have done this (so you don't have to), searching along the way for the comparable periods that fit most tightly to the last 500 trading days. What is clear is that periods of trading similar to the one we have seen over the last two years don't often seem to end quietly: they boom big time or they crash. Which is it to be this time? Looking at the markets of 1928, 1982 or even 1998, all of which have scarily similar looking historical charts to today's, we wonder if it won't be both. Starting with the boom bit.
Let's look at what happened in 1998. All sorts of market moving events were shifting the sands. There was the fall out from the Asian Tiger crisis. There was Russia's local currency default. And there were the event risks of the collapse of LTCM and the Y2K scare. Together these things ensured that US monetary policy was set far too loose for the US economy itself. And the result? A parabolic trend to the upside in equities that destroyed anyone who chose to stand in its way. This is what I fear most today: being bearish and so continuing to not make any money even as the monetary authorities shower us with the ill thought-out generosity of their stance and markets melt up. Our resistance of Fed generosity has been pretty costly for all of us so far. To keep resisting could end up being unforgivably costly.
Made a mistake once? Why not make it again...
You will wonder what makes the Fed so concerned that it is willing to risk another bubble and another crash?
The answer rests in the dominance of neo-mercantilism as the most successful economic orthodoxy of our time. For those new to this, the text book definition will suffice. Neo-mercantilism is a policy regime borrowed from 19th century Kaiser Germany. It encourages exports, discourages imports, controls capital movement, and centralises currency decisions in the hands of a central government (to reduce reliance on flighty foreign capital). The point is to increase the level of foreign reserves held by the sovereign government, allowing for an accommodating domestic monetary policy. It also looks like it works — you can make a good case for it being responsible for the superior growth rates seen across Asia since the 1980s. However it comes with what I think is about to be a major problem. It has made domestic monetary policy in most Asian countries very pro-cyclical and we haven't really yet tested this pro-cyclicality to the downside. What happens when the rest of the world becomes unwilling to raise its indebtedness further in order to buy Asian-produced products and facilitate Asian growth? And what if that is about where we are right now?
To date, the experiment with economic growth in Asia has succeeded as an almost direct result of the re-leveraging of the American economy since interest rates began to fall in the early 1980s.
The Japanese authorities blazed a trail on this for everyone to follow. It kicked off with (yet) another credit cycle gone wrong. In the 1970s there was a bubble in lending to Latin American governments. That was popped by Paul Volker's tightening of US monetary policy. Latin American currencies tumbled and sound currencies soared. Except the yen. Japan had a central plan for economic self-sufficiency - one that required a positive current account and endless rounds of domestically funded investment. They did not want a strong currency, low cost imported goods and a consumer boom or anything else that might have risked future trade deficits. So they worked to keep the yen from appreciating too fast, too soon. How? The Bank of Japan created yen and bought Treasuries. This money found its way into the local banking system (as new money does) where it was soon turbo-boosted by foreign capital inflows: overseas investors were attracted by the corporate profits produced from the loose policy and pretty pleased with the way in which a persistently undervalued exchange rate made asset prices cheap to foreign investors. Chuck in fractional reserve banking, and risk-seeking bankers and it was inevitable that asset prices would surge. The rest is history. Equity prices, ignoring all qualitative objections to bubble valuations, quadrupled. Then they crashed.
First Japan. Now China.
To understand today's story we have to leave Japan (reluctantly — we'll come back to it), and travel 20 years later to China, where the same pattern has been repeating itself. Back in 2004. China's cheap land, cheap labour, cheap money, cheap everything, produced high returns on capital and trade surpluses with the rest of the world which encouraged investment inflows into the country. That, as Charles Kindleberger, the intellectual godfather of macro investing and author of the unsurpassed classic Manias, Panics & Crashes, noted, is the kind of combination that "almost always" leads to an increase in the country's currency and domestic asset prices.
However Kindleberger was writing pre-neo-mercantilism. He would have expected the follow-on from this to be higher consumption as a result of the wealth effect of higher asset prices (people who feel rich spend more) and of the boost to spending from a rising currency giving falling import prices. He'd have looked at 2004 China and expected every member of the middle class to be driving a cheap BMW by 2006. That didn't happen. Instead currency interventions held down the yuan and, at the same time, the planners' need for cheap credit to finance their investment projects meant the real returns from bank deposits were forced to stay firmly negative (if you are going to invest in worse than useless investment projects it mitigates matters somewhat if you insist on the debt being cheap...). Negative deposit rates might make residents of countries with developed welfare states more likely to spend. They appear to make the Chinese more likely to save. You will hear much about the rise of a consumer boom in China in no end of bullish papers. But the truth is different. It is that China is unique in the extent to which it has prevented ordinary people being exposed to cheap BMWs; despite the massive growth in the economy consumption has persistently fallen as a share of GDP. The Kaiser would have approved.
Mercantilism needs a donor. That donor has heen you.
The key point about Japanese and now Chinese mercantilism is that the creation of domestic growth in this way has always required a donor country — the one hosting the consumption boom needed to finance the investment spending back home. In the latest round, cash is injected into Treasuries by China (this is what Bernanke referred to as the "glut of savings"). It is then captured by the US banking system (someone has to sell the Treasuries to the Chinese and manage the proceeds). Then the loop repeats. Chuck in (again!) the fractional reserve banking and your usual bullish community of loan officers in the US and you soon see a rise in economic activity and of course in leverage. Then stock and property prices boom. But it doesn't end there. Oh no. The boom boosts wealth in the US. They borrow more and spend more — bringing what should be tomorrow's consumption forward into today. That in turn boosts demand for imports and shovels more dollars into China, something that forces it to print more yuan to keep its currency down and to buy more Treasuries. This cash enters the banking sector... and so on.
All this needs more and more Chinese productive capacity (more steel plants, more concrete, more factories, more ships, more roads, more property, more, more, MORE) to meet the additional foreign demand. China is the host. The US is the donor. The host effectively offers vendor financing to help the donor consume. In return the host gets high domestic investment rates and full employment — both things that help when you are after social obedience and international influence (it's easy to have a strong foreign policy when your would-be enemy owes you money). And everyone gets rising asset prices. Which is nice. In theory this is an expansion without limit. That sounds like a joke. It's more an observation.
Limitless prosperity or limitless instability?
This has been our world for some time now. That's a problem for the likes of us. Why? Because when the psychology of the price discovery mechanism becomes more dependent on money creation than economic growth, as in Japan during the 1980s and in China for the last decade, asset prices become an abstraction. They separate from our qualitative perception of reality; they are more susceptible to wild price trends that in theory have no limit; and they display a two-way causality.
This isn't how it is supposed to work. In a more normal world you can think of finding value in terms of the one-way causality of a thermometer and room temperature. If we doubt the veracity of the thermometer we can always produce an independent, second, thermometer to determine the proper temperature. The temperature is what it is. Just as in investing, the fundamentals are what they are. But what if it wasn't like that? What if by warming the mercury in the thermometer, we could also raise the room temperature? This is what happens in the wacky world of neo-mercantilism. Here "fundamental" investing has little or no merit. There is one reason for being long and one alone: sovereign nations are printing money and you can see that prices are trending. That's it. Nothing else matters. Think of a neo-mercantilist market as if it were a mouse with the toxoplasma virus. The virus hijacks its immune system and makes it fearless. It dies in the end. But not before it does some pretty nutty stuff. There's no more point in yelling "watch out for the cat" at a mouse hijacked by toxoplasma than there is looking at valuation measures in a market hijacked by mercantilism.
Me and my immune system
My investing immune system has been in pretty good shape recently. But that's the main reason why I've produced mediocre investment performance. I've been sensible. But in doing so I have imposed qualitative, one-way causality arguments onto a market that just doesn't care. I need to be more like the mouse (just without the bit where it dies) and that means I have had to put aside qualitative analysis and be in this trending market. I had thought it would be worth staying bearish and accepting underperformance for the fun of being right in the end - becoming what the British call a vexatious litigant, someone who fights for the sake of it. But I'm not sure any of us can wait that long. Playing it safe, as my good friend Chris Cole wrote last year may be the greatest risk of all." So the mouse it is.
America fights back
Back to our story. What happens when the donor can't take it any more? This happened in part in March 2009 when the US rejected Asia's neo-mercantilism. Two destructive, domestic boom/bust cycles within a decade had left gross debt almost four times GDP. The domestic economy had become unresponsive to even record fiscal expansion and almost zero overnight rates. Something had to be done to regain the initiative. Polite requests for the Chinese to allow their currency to revalue higher versus the dollar were rebuffed and in its absence expansionary American fiscal and monetary policy only served to make China richer. Not ok. So America fought back. With QE.
If the Chinese were never going to revalue their currency themselves, the US would effectively do it for them. QE would target higher prices in China, something that would revalue the renmimbi in real terms and, with a bit of luck, produce the consumer boom that its bureaucrats had so steadfastly sought to prevent. This would transform China into the donor country and also generate the prosperity America needed to recover from the clutches of its debt deflation. And so the sands shifted again. The Fed kicked off its Treasury purchase program in 2009 in the full knowledge that the lack of demand for productive investment in the moribund US economy would create a surplus of speculative flows into faster growing regions of the world. It also knew that such flows would force the foreign exchange targeting emerging market central banks to print even more of their own currencies to keep a lid on their exchange rate appreciation as the dollar debased itself. The Fed then recognised how the chain reaction we have chronicled above would go. Emerging market asset prices would be bid up, something that would in turn be met by more central bank printing of local currencies which would then be leveraged through the emerging market banking system into even higher local asset prices and so on and so on and so on.
The Fed starts winning
This works. Well it works for the Fed. We estimate that total emerging market debt now surpasses $66trn. That's almost two and a half times emerging market GDP and double its level at the start of the Fed's QE extravaganza. At the same time car sales in China have surpassed those of the US and property prices are on a rip. Housing transactions are up 35% year on year and new home prices are rising across the nation by between 15% and 20%. Looks like a consumer boom doesn't it? So from the Fed's point of view this is going well. So well that since July 2008, the renminbi has appreciated by some 30% against the euro. But while the Fed might be pleased the Chinese probably aren't.
"When the monster stops growing. it dies. It can't stay one size."
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The mercantilist plan has always been to push overseas trade expansion via the perpetuation of an under-valued currency. It isn't working out. Look at Europe. Europe's nominal GDP was supposed to be much higher by now (partly on the back of China's helpful 2009 bout of credit expansion). But it has only surpassed its previous highs by 2%. And denominated in renminbi, it's much much worse: the European economy has nose-dived by 25% since March 2008. Try being a small labour intensive manufacturer in some coastal Chinese city renowned for its export prowess but struggling with fast rising wages selling into that!
The German philosopher and experimental psychologist scientist, Gustav Fechner, once proposed a rule that can be expressed as follows "in order that the intensity of a sensation may increase in arithmetical progression, the stimulus must increase in geometrical progression?" That seems to describe China pretty well. The huge disappointments in growth elsewhere mean that for China's GDP to make arithmetic progression, a geometric intensity of effort - with no theoretical end - is required. The monster has to grow. Note that since the Fed turned the tables with its QE policy in 2009, China has had to consume more concrete in its roads, rail projects, bridges, factory construction and new buildings than the US did during the entire 20th century. Yet despite this Herculean effort its structural growth rate has fallen by 30%. This is all fascinating. But tell you what it isn't. It isn't stable. It is what China expert Michael Pettis would call a volatility machine.
Markets predicting deflation get asset inflation
Something happened in April of this year that I think may have marked a turning point. Before I go into that I want to be sure we all understand something. You want to believe that China's growth rate over the last 30 years has been a triumph of superior state planning and the irrepressible force of urban migration, a one way causality if you like. I'd like to too. But we have to accept that it just isn't true. Instead it is the result of a system of foreign exchange suppression - and so anchoring our expectations to it is a very bad idea. With that in mind, I'm going to ask you to consider the US Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) market. As you know, we allocate a lot of time and risk capital to equities. Their malleability allied with low transaction costs and liquidity make them an excellent way for us to invest in our macro narratives. But we find it hard to buy and sell equities based on valuations. Doing it like this is just too imprecise. So we prefer the certainty of inflation expectations: you should be long equities if inflation expectations are trending higher — or more specifically for us when the 10-year inflation expectation, derived from the TIPS market, is greater than its 200 day moving average.
Over the last decade you could have done this and nothing else and escaped most criticism. A simple trading rule where one is long S&P futures when the condition is met, and flat otherwise, has produced a return of 75% since the 1st of January 2003 (around the bottom of the TMT crash). A long-only strategy has produced better gains - almost 95% - but using the rule would have lowered your maximum drawdown from 56% to just 20%. So once you adjust for volatility you can say that you would have done better investing guided by trend inflation expectations than not. The 10-year expectation moved below its 200 day moving average in April this year. And yet we have taken a resolutely contrarian message from this signal. Don't sell equities. China's pledge to maintain high GDP growth rates by ploughing on with capacity enhancing supply additions to its fixed capital formation, even at a time when the still risk averse banking system in Europe and America is failing to produce a consumer boom in the West, is fast building global deflationary pressure. That's the resounding message from the TIPS market. And in a world of two way causality, that could continue to prove immensely bullish. Why? Because the Fed uses this criteria as its principal benchmark for determining whether to taper or not.
So imagine the virtuous loop that runs through asset prices today. The Fed begins QE to thwart neo¬mercantilism and capture more of its own domestic expansion. The Chinese witness a shortfall in their GDP growth rates as their overseas expansion moderates. This robs them of the ability to loosen policy in the West. They counter by embarking on more fixed capital formation to maintain a floor on domestic GDP growth. This adds to the global supply equation that drives break-even inflation expectations lower and leads the Fed to once more embark on yet looser monetary conditions. It is a reflexive cycle that can drive mice to be madder and madder. Or braver and braver. Depends how you look at it. But either way, only a foolish investor would stand in the way of this bull market. It'll crash of course, just not for a while.
Want to make real money? Make it in Japan
What if I were to tell you that you could buy something for $300k and it might be worth $5m in a couple of years? Is that something you might be interested in?
Japan has never been very far away from my thoughts. I've grown old as its economy and stock market have languished from the aftershocks of their equity price bubble in the 19805. My first year as an investment analyst in Edinburgh was spent conducting research on Japanese stocks in the year immediately after the bubble had popped. I remember the denial on the part of my superiors that the show had ended. It's hard to accept you have luck not talent.
Later I remember being struck by how the Dow Jones Industrial Average had broken its 1929 price high 25 years later in 1954. That really captured my imagination. I don't know why. Perhaps even then it was the notion of an economic life cycle savings hypothesis. That people make consumption decisions based on their current stage of life. That we have roughly 23 years or so to accumulate savings and a pension to see us through our less industrious later years. It made sense to me that regardless of the stock market bubble in the 1920s, 25 years should be sufficient to take out a nominal price established so long ago. I reasoned that even low rates of inflation compound to quite a large number over so many years. And that the nature of social democracies is that they dislike prolonged hardship. If things get so bad then sooner or later they are going to vote for politicians who will address their concerns.
So I started looking around to see whether I could find other asset classes that complied with this pattern. Gold caught my attention. The price high of January 1980 struck me as being similar in magnitude to what took place on Wall Street all those years previously. Gold flew from its shackles of $35 an ounce in 1970 to sell briefly for more than $800 in January 1980; and then it crashed. But the nominal price high was taken out 27 years later on the 28th December 2007. The silver market had been cornered at the peak making its price high that much more difficult to surmount. It needed 31 years to re-establish the old price high. The oil market took just 24 years to break the $40 handle last seen in March 1980. Interesting isn't it?
I then became fascinated by the 7th of December 1941. Yes it was the date of the attack on Pearl Harbour but it also represented an incredibly rare occurrence: the Dow Jones traded at its 50-year price moving average. John Templeton bought his "penny" stocks and the rest was history. This brings me to Japan. The TOPIX stock price index has recently traded as low as its 50-year moving average and better still, next December will mark the 25th anniversary of its great price peak.
Maybe this doesn't mean anything. But it is our contention that Japan's long spell in the sin bin has left its society particularly vulnerable to the charms of a radicalisation of monetary policy. We reckon that with the pro-growth shocks of neo-mercantilism essentially having run their course, Japan will struggle to produce the incremental GDP necessary to service and repay its gigantic sovereign debt load. This will provoke inflationary price targeting by a politicised central bank that should send Japanese stock prices heavenwards once more. I'm not eulogising about Abenomics and its golden arrows here. Instead I'm expressing a more negative kind of bullishness: the fear of persistent policy failure that leads to fiat money printing without limit.
Back in 2008, with world equity markets in turmoil, I purchased a one-touch 40k Nikkei call option for which we paid $300k. I could envisage the yen strengthening substantially and triggering a corporate shock as Japanese household names buckled under the duress of currency appreciation. I also bought a lot of credit protection. And sure enough, in 2011 and for the majority of 2012 the yen strengthened. Japan recorded its largest manufacturing bankruptcy and a number of prominent household names, the giant electronic businesses, saw the cost of insuring their debt sky-rocket. For instance, Sharp rose from a spread of around 100 in January 2012 to over 5,900 in October of the same year. The Japan iTraxx Index for five-year protection, however, only flared to 220 (from around 100 in 2010) and so our hypothesis that much of corporate Japan would buckle under the weight of yen strength proved unfounded.
That was a shame but nevertheless, this "crisis-lite" was sufficient to produce the political intervention that we had envisaged. The most senior policy makers at the Bank of Japan were unceremoniously removed from office and monetary policy was set, instead, very loosely, propelling yen asset prices higher. The stock market leapt by 60% on the news and the currency weakened by 20%. And, as the chart below of the Japanese five-year break-even inflation expectation reveals, one should be long their stock market. We still value the one-touch at our purchase price today, and with the market approaching 16k and trending higher, who is to say where it will trade in April 2018? If it touches 40k, get $5m.
Where will it all end?
Remarkably, the aftershocks of Japan's volte-face seemed to catch American policy makers out. In May, the Fed, convinced that its QE program had succeeded in re-distributing global GDP away from China and towards the US economy, began signalling its intent to taper its easy money by autumn. However, with 10-year Treasury rates having moved from 1.75% to 3% and its fourth largest trading paltrier having devalued by 20% since the previous November, the anticipated vigorous domestic American growth never actually materialised; it was captured instead by the new and even looser monetary policy of Japan. Yet again the reflexive loop had worked to sustain the monetary momentum that is feeding global stock markets. And the not so all-knowing Fed? It had to shock market expectations in October by removing the immediacy of its tighter policy and stock markets rebounded higher. Where will this all end? Can it ever end?
There are multiple possible outcomes. The one markets are most vulnerable too is the re-emergence of bullish bankers. They could lend such that the consumer boom in the US and Europe finally sparks and in doing so provoke the Fed to finally tighten policy. That would spook developed market equities but not as much as you might think - they will have the palliative of the stronger GDP growth. Emerging market equities are closer to the edge of a bubble and could prove more susceptible to a greater drawdown owing to the fragilities of their debt fuelled economies. But for now, the re-emergence of risk-seeking bankers fuelling a lending boom in the West seems remote. We aren't too worried about it. In Europe for instance the banking system has an estimated 2.6trn euros of deleveraging (circa 30% of GDP) still to complete, having shed 3.5trn euros already.
So we are happy to run a long developed market stock position with a short hedge composed of emerging market equity futures. We are running an unhedged long in Japanese equities as our wild bullish card (we have, of course, hedged the currency).
It seems then to us that the most likely outcome is that America and Europe remain resilient without booming. But with monetary policy set so much too loose it is inevitable that we will continue to witness mini-economic cycles that convince investors that economies are escaping stall speed and that policy rates are likely to rise. This will scare markets - and emerging markets in particular - but it won't actually materialise: stronger growth in one part of the world on the back of easier policy will be countered by even looser policy elsewhere (the much fabled "currency wars"). So market expectations of tighter policy will always be rescinded and emerging markets will recover rather than crash. Developed markets just keep trending positively against this background - and might accelerate. Remember what we said about 1928 and 1998 at the beginning.
Just be long. Pretty much anything.
So here's how I understand things now that I am no longer the last bear standing.You should buy equities if you believe many European banks and their sovereign paymasters are insolvent. You should buy shares if you put a higher probability than your peers on the odds of a European democracy rejecting the euro over the course of the next few years. You should be long risk assets if you believe China will have lowered its growth rate from 7% to nearer 5% over the course of the next two years. You should be long US equities if you are worried about the failure of Washington to address its fiscal deficits. And you should buy Japanese assets if you fear that Abenomics will fail to restore the fortunes of Japan (which it probably won't).Hey this is easy...
And then it crashed
I have not completely lost my senses of course. Eclectica remain strong believers in the most powerful force in the universe - compounding positive returns - and avoiding large losses is crucial to achieving this.
We have built a reputation for getting the calls right in the difficult space that is macro investing, which has served us and our clients well during both trending bull markets and times of crisis. Today, of course, the market is "golden" which is to say that the 50 day price trend is above the 200 day. But remember that during those forays into the "dead-zone", years like 2008 and 2011 when equity markets crashed, Eclectica performed handsomely. I like to think therefore that I own an alpha crisis management franchise that has rewarded our investors at limes of stock market stress.
This commitment remains as resolute as at any time over the last 11 years that I have managed the Fund. But what if I could produce a consistent alpha return profile with the in-built crisis hedge to your wealth... is that something you might be interested in?
While we are told that QE was "easing" but tapering is not tightening, it is worth remembering that "conventional" balanced portfolios have performed dramatically worse when the Fed is not easing. However, what is more worrisome for the 60/40 crowd is the following chart as "excess" returns suggest a period of disappointing performance lies ahead. As we've asked before, is this as good as it gets?
The following comment brings together in one article the various themes we have been writing about weekly, and emphasizes why we are maintaining our bearish position at a time when so many bears have thrown in the towel.
The market continues to rise solely on the perception that the Fed’s easy money policy can hold stock prices up indefinitely. We think that this line of thinking will prove to be no more durable than the dot-com bubble that peaked in early 2000 or the housing bubble that topped out in late 2007. In both cases the market gave back a large proportion of the gains made during the bull market, and we believe that will prove to be the case this time as well. When the vast majority of investors faithfully believe in a concept, no matter how faulty it may be, momentum takes over and the market goes up because it’s going up, ignoring all of the obvious warnings such as high valuations, over bullishness, decreasing earnings momentum and an underperforming economy. When reality suddenly sets in, as it inevitably does, most investors are left holding the bag, hoping that the market doesn’t go any lower.
The housing boom market of 2006 and 2007 provides the most recent example of the persistence of bullish momentum and irrational belief in the face of obvious negative events that were ignored in the frenzy to join the bullish crowd. As early as August 2006, various mortgage lenders began to go public with their dire problems. H&R Block’s subprime lending facility had to set aside $60 million due to borrowers falling behind in payments. Countrywide Financial publically stated that customers were slow in paying their loans. Similar statements were made by mortgage lenders Impac Mortgage and Accredited Home Lenders. Washington Mutual revealed that, as a result of improper calculations, it had made loans to borrowers at lower rates than their personal situation justified. The unpaid balance of these borrowers was $30 billion. It shouldn’t have taken much imagination to realize that these revelations were only the tip of the iceberg, and that there was much more to come.
Now remember, the above revelations occurred in August 2006. The stock market kept rising for another 14 months to October 9, 2007. During these 14 months, new revelations came out almost daily, detailing the full implications of the crisis that was enveloping us. We learned how mortgages were sold and packaged, sliced and diced, and sold all over the world. We learned about an alphabet soup of various types of securities few had ever heard of before. On February 8, 2007, a Wall Street Journal article stated that “The mortgage market in the U.S. is a complicated web of mutually dependent businesses. Mortgages are bought and sold several times over, and the default risk often lands far from the institution that originated the mortgage.” The press was full of announcements of mortgage companies taking huge write-downs and going out of business.
Things got even worse in June 2007, when two big Bear Stearns hedge funds came close to collapse. Despite all this, Wall Street still didn’t get it. As late as August 2007, a guest on financial TV casually referred to the turmoil as “financial gamesmanship”, as opposed to what he termed “solid economic fundamentals”. He was far from alone in his thinking, as the market rallied for another two months before peaking.
Looking back, the market not only ignored the early warnings of some very prominent people and institutions, but, even when faced with the reality of events, continued to operate in a state of denial.
The current market delusion is not about the dot-coms of 1999-2000 or the housing boom of 2006-2007, but about the blind faith in the ability of the Fed to hold up the market for an indefinite period in the face of a faltering U.S. economy, global weakness, decelerating earnings gains, significant overvaluation, overly bullish sentiment and the dysfunction in Washington. Although the bulls, as usual, say “this time it’s different”, there is nothing new in the market's historical cycles between greed and fear. In the end, there is only the same old excess speculation in a new guise.
Some market observers maintain that all of the talk we hear about a “bubble” means that we aren’t in one. However, we would ignore all of the talk on Wall Street and in the media about whether the stock market is in a bubble. After all, that’s just a matter of semantics, and whatever we call it, the market is overvalued, overbought, and overly bullish at a time when the economy is slogging along at an inadequate pace, and depends almost solely on the prospect of continuing Quantitative Easing (QE) to continue its upward move.
The market doesn’t have to be in a bubble in order for it to be on the precipice of a significant decline. Of all the cyclical market peaks since 1929, only the tops in 2000 and 2007 were looked back on as being bubbles. Most of the other major market peaks occurred with the P/E ratio ranging between 18 and 21 times reported cyclically-smoothed GAAP earnings, compared to a norm of 15 times and bear market lows between 7 and 10 times. The current P/E ratio of 20.6 times earnings is high enough to be a potential market top, especially given existing fundamental and technical conditions. The similarity between now and 2000 or 2007 is not necessarily that we are in a bubble, but that the reason for market strength rests on such dubious grounds.
In our view, the market is not supported by strong fundamentals. The so-called strength in the economy is based on forecasts, rather than on current conditions. But forecasts have now been overly optimistic for the last three years, and we see no change in the period ahead. The revised 3rd quarter GDP growth of 3.6% annualized is far from indicative of renewed economic strength as 1.7% was accounted for by increased inventories, meaning that real final sales were only growing at a still tepid 1.9%. And even taking the top-line number at face value, GDP has been growing at only 1.8% over the past year.
Similarly, both real consumer spending and real disposable income have been rising at a weak 1.8% rate----and this with a powerful dose of QE. Core capital goods orders for October dropped 1.1%, and have now declined for three of the last four months. With the rise in mortgage rates, housing has also become a weak spot. October existing home sales were down 3%, while the pending sales index, which leads existing sales, indicates more declines ahead. With consumer spending, capital expenditures and housing accounting for over three-quarters of of the economy, the recovery is not likely to become self-sustaining for some time to come.
While it is difficult to estimate what the rate of economic growth would have been without Quantitative Easing, it is clear that the vast amounts added to the Fed’s balance sheet have barely trickled into the real economy. The growth of the money supply has been relatively low compared to the amount of Fed bond purchases (the multiplier). In turn, the growth of the economy has not been proportionate to the increase in the money supply (velocity).
Technical conditions also point to a vulnerable market. Breadth has been narrowing and did not confirm the recent new highs in the averages. Daily new stock highs peaked in May and recently have been trending lower. The Russell 2000 has been lagging the large-cap averages. Some speculative high-P/E momentum stocks have recently been hit hard. Investors Intelligence bulls have averaged a historically high 55% and bears 15% over the past four weeks, numbers indicative of market extremes. There are now fewer bears than at any time since 1987 and less than the lows at the 2000 and 2007 stock market peaks. Margin debt is at an all-time high. According to Vanguard, investors, as a group, have a 57% allocation to equities, an amount exceeded only twice in the last 20 years----the late 1990s and prior to 2007-2009. All of these numbers belie the belief by many that most investors are still too pessimistic.
All in all, we believe that the market is facing significant headwinds, and that a major decline is not far off. In our view, economic growth and corporate earnings will be highly disappointing in the period ahead and investors will drop the pretense that the Fed can fix everything that ails the economy, particularly with the continued dysfunction in Washington and a restrictive fiscal policy. We believe that the risk of a major decline in the stock market outweighs the limited potential rewards from current levels.
The only thing keeping the stock market alive is the easy money that is indirectly being pumped into it by the Federal Reserve, nothing else. The fundamentals for the market are dead in the water.
Here, I present five indicators that point to high risk for key stock indices.
1. Optimism continues to increase. There's a general consensus among stock advisors and investors that the key stock indices will continue to go higher. Take the Sentiment Survey by the American Association of Individual Investors, for example. As of November 14, 39.20% of all respondents said they were bullish. In late June, this number stood at 30.28%. Investors who are bearish on key stock indices dropped to 27.47% from 35.17% in June. (Source: American Association of Individual Investors web site, last accessed November 20, 2013.)
History has repeatedly shown us that when the optimism increases and reaches the level of euphoria, key stock indices have turned the opposite way. The examples of this are many.
2. Corporate earnings are in trouble. Companies are posting lower revenues but reporting higher per-share corporate earnings, beating estimates as they cut costs, reduce their labor forces, and continue on their record stock buyback programs. This "financial maneuvering" cannot go on indefinitely.
And the outlook for corporate earnings continues to deteriorate. Just look at the chart below of estimates of corporate earnings per share of S&P 500 companies in the fourth quarter. You will notice there's a very clear trend: the estimates continue to decline. Meanwhile, despite corporate earnings estimates falling, the S&P 500 has soared even higher.
Companies are warning about their corporate earnings going forward, as well. As of November 15, 82 of the S&P 500 companies had issued negative corporate earnings guidance for the current fourth quarter. In contrast, only 12 of the S&P 500 companies have issued positive guidance on their corporate earnings for the fourth quarter. (Source: FactSet, November 15, 2013.) These are very troubling statistics.
3. Corporate insiders are selling stock at an alarming rate. According to a recent article in MoneyNews (November 22, 2013), stock buying by corporate insiders is at a 23-year low! When corporate insiders are selling more stock than they are buying, it shows a lack of confidence by the people closest to the public companies in key stock indices—not a good sign.
4. The amount of money investors have borrowed to buy stocks has reached an all-time high. Margin debt on the NYSE has surpassed $400 billion for the first time. Historically, when investors have borrowed so much to buy stocks, key stock indices have turned on them. (See "Warning: Stock Market Margin (Borrowing) Reaches All-Time High.")
5. Consumer confidence is getting worse. In the first 10 months of 2013, the average month-over-month change in retail sales and food services was 0.24%. In 2012, this number was 0.47% and in 2011, this was 0.59%. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, last accessed November 20, 2013.) Consumer purchases are slowing. The National Retail Federation (NRF) said this year there will be almost five-percent fewer shoppers out on Thanksgiving weekend compared to last year. In 2012, 147 million shoppers planned to purchase goods. This year, this number is 140 million. (Source: National Retail Federation, November 15, 2013.)
With all this happening, I don't see many reasons to be bullish on key stock indices. I might be the only one saying it, but this could be the biggest stock market bubble ever created. When it pops, it won't be pretty.
PATTERNS – Market Deflated by QE
The Monkey Puzzle 12-09-13 John Mauldin
The chart shows the S&P 500 deflated by QE — and it's breathtaking:
Getting paid miserable wages? Don't fret - just buy the stock of your (hopefully public) employer, and hope and pray that this time is different, and that light at the end of the tunnel is the not the next latest and greatest (and likely last) stock market collapse, in the ultimate trade off of current pay for capital gains: 19 quarters in and Labor Compensation is flat with where it was when the Great Financial Crisis began but, more crucially, employee compensation is at its lowest on record relative to corporate profits.
As we previously noted,
For those curious what the reason for records corporate profits is (or rather was: we have now finally turned the cycle and Y/Y profit growth is, for the first time since 2009, finally negative), the chart below explains it all.
It also explains why 401(k) plans are now redundant: anyone who wishes to keep up with the growth rate of their employer has no choice but to buy their stock, and generate returns for all shareholders. Because corporations, people or not, now have all the leverage.
The ratio of bulls to bears has never (that is ever) been higher according to (the perhaps ironically names) Investor's Intelligence. There are now more than 4x more bulls than bears and even more concerning, the only time "bears" have been lower than the current 14.3% was in the spring of 1987...
PATTERNS - Divergence in Breadth Continues to Signal Heightened Risk
The % of NYSE stocks above their 200-day moving averages has a strong bearish divergence similar to previous plunge-preceding divergences. As BofAML notes, this points to diminishing momentum for market breadth and preceded pullbacks in the range of 15%-20% in 2010 and 2011; increasing the risk for a US equity market pullback in 2014.
It would take a break below 60% for the % of NYSE stocks above 200-day MAs to provide a more dire warning for US equities.
JAPANESE CARRY TRADE -Look for Rotation from EURJPY to GBPJPY
British Pound May Be Set for Gains Versus Japanese Yen 12-03-13 Bloomberg Brief
The pound may continue to climb versus the yen as risk appetite remains buoyant and the currency cross breaks above key resistance.
The technical outlook may attract investors to the options market. GBP/JPY has been most highly correlated with the S&P 500, a proxy of global risk appetite, among the variables of the cross-asset correlation matrices of the bloomberg Currency Chart book.
The daily correlation in the last month between the percentage change of the exchange rate and that of the S&P 500 stands at 0.61.
The figure for the last three months is 0.44. The equity index hit a new record high last week. Loose monetary policy around the world may continue to boost stocks.
In addition, the moving-average cross-over technical overlay rule of the carry-trade tracker signals JPY funded carry trades versus a basket of the currencies of commodity-producing and emerging- market countries (AUD, BRL , MXN, NZD, TRY and ZAR) should be opened.
It also indicates CHF and USD funded carry trades should be closed.
The long/flat signal is provided by a moving-average crossover technical overlay rule. The investor goes long the carry-trade basket when the five-day moving average of the cumulative returns is above the 30-day moving average and then closes that position and goes flat when the five-day moving average falls below the 30-day moving average. (See: Rosenberg, Michael R., Bloomberg FX Market Insights, July 8, 2009.)
GBP/JPY appears only somewhat overvalued. It is about 19.3 percent above a Bloomberg B rief calculation of its purchasing-power-parity equilibrium level and 2.7 percent below its 10-year moving average. The average of those two numbers is 8.3 percent.
The technical outlook for GBP/JPY also appears positive. The currency cross is pushing through resistance created by the 38.2 percent retracement line of the decline from the 2007 high to the 2011 low at 168.13. The next major resistance level is created by the 50 percent retracement level of the same sell-off at 183.97.
The recent rally has left the pair well above support created by the 55-day moving average, currently at 159.31. That may attract investors to the options market. For example, additional gains could be captured with an at- the-money three-month GBP call/JPY put. It would cost 1.97 percent of the notional value of the trade, according to the B loomberg Professional Service.
The rally of the pound versus the yen may be greater than that of the U.S. dollar versus the Japanese currency as a result of seasonal patterns. The U.S. dollar has weakened over the last 13 years during the month of December, especially versus the euro, the Hungar- ian forint, the New Zealand dollar, the Polish zloty, the Swedish krona and the Swiss franc.
The depreciation has averaged 2 percent versus the euro, 1.7 percent versus the Hungarian forint, 2.2 percent versus the New Zealand dollar, 2 percent versus the Polish zloty, 1.8 percent versus the Swedish krona and 2.2 percent versus the Swiss franc.
They say those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
As a student of market history, I’ve seen that maxim made true time and again. The cycle swings fear back to greed. The overcautious become the overzealous. And at the top, the story is always the same: Too much credit, too much speculation, the suspension of disbelief, and the spread of the idea that this time is different.
It doesn’t matter whether it was the expansion of railroads heading into the crash of 1893 or the excitement over the consolidation of the steel industry in 1901 or the mixing of speculation and banking heading into 1907. Or whether it involves an epic expansion of mortgage credit, IPO activity, or central-bank stimulus. What can’t continue forever ultimately won’t.
The weaknesses of the human heart and mind means the swings will always exist. Our rudimentary understanding of the forces of economics, which in turn, reflect ultimately reflect the fallacies of people making investing, purchasing, and saving decisions, means policymakers will never defeat the vagaries of the business cycle.
So no, this time isn’t different. The specifics may have changed, but the themes remain the same.
In fact, the stock market is right now tracing out a pattern eerily similar to the lead up to the infamous 1929 market crash. The pattern, illustrated by Tom McClellan of the McClellan Market Report, and brought to his attention by well-known chart diviner Tom Demark, is shown below.
Excuse me for throwing some cold water on the fever dream Wall Street has descended into over the last few months, an apparent climax that has bullish sentiment at record highs, margin debt at record highs, bears capitulating left and right, and a market that is increasingly dependent on brokerage credit, Federal Reserve stimulus, and a fantasy that corporate profitability will never again come under pressure.
On a pure price-analogue basis, it’s time to start worrying.
Fundamentally, it’s time to start worrying too. With GDP growth petering out (Macroeconomic Advisors is projecting fourth-quarter growth of just 1.2%), Americans abandoning the labor force at a frightening pace, businesses still withholding capital spending, and personal-consumption expenditures growing at levels associated with recent recessions, we’ve past the point of diminishing marginal returns to the Fed’s cheap-money morphine.
All we’re doing now is pushing on the proverbial string. Trillions in unused bank reserves are piling up. The housing market has stalled after the “taper tantrum” earlier this year caused mortgage rates to shoot from 3.4% to 4.6% between May and August. The Treasury market is getting distorted as the Fed effectively monetizes a growing share of the national debt. Emerging-market economies are increasingly vulnerable to a currency crisis once the taper finally starts.
The Fed knows it. But they’re trapped between these risks and giving the market — the one bright spot in the post-2009 recovery — serious liquidity withdrawals.
But the specifics of the run up to the 1929 crash provide true bone-chilling context for what’s happening now.
The Bernanke-led Fed’s enthusiasm for avoiding the mistakes that worsened the Great Depression—- a mistimed tightening of monetary conditions — has led him to repeat the mistakes that caused it in the first place: Namely, continuing to lower interest rates via Treasury bond purchases well into an economic expansion and bull market justified by low-to-no inflation.
(Side note here: As economist Murray Rothbard of the Austrian School wrote in America’s Great Depression, prices dropped then, as now, because of gains in productivity and efficiency.)
Here’s the kicker: The Fed (mainly the New York Fed under Benjamin Strong) was knee deep in quantitative easing in the late 1920s, expanding the money supply and lowering interest rates via direct bond purchases. Wall Street then, as now, was euphoric.
It ended badly.
Fed policymakers felt like heroes as they violated that central tenant of central banking as outlined in 1873 by Economist editor Walter Bagehot in his famous Lombard Street: That they should lend freely to solvent banks, at a punitive interest rate in exchange for good quality collateral. Central-bank stimulus should only be a stopgap measure used to stem panics, a lender of last resort; not act as a vehicle of economic deliverance via the printing press.
It’s being violated again now as the mistakes of history are repeated once more. Bernanke will be around to see the results of his mistakes and his misguided justification that quantitative easing is working because stock prices are higher, ignoring evidence that the “wealth effect” isn’t working.
Strong died in 1928, missing the hangover his obsession with low interest rates and credit expansion caused after bragging, in 1927, that his policies would give “a little coup de whisky to the stock market.”
COMMODITY CORNER - HARD ASSETS
COMMODITY CORNER - AGRI-COMPLEX
2013 - STATISM
2012 - FINANCIAL REPRESSION
2011 - BEGGAR-THY-NEIGHBOR -- CURRENCY WARS
2010 - EXTEND & PRETEND
NATURE OF WORK -PRODUCTIVITY PARADOX
GLOBAL FINANCIAL IMBALANCE - FRAGILITY & INSTABILITY
Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.
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