NEW$ & VIEW$ (12 DECEMBER 2013)

Budget Deal Picks Up Steam House Republican leaders threw their weight behind a two-year budget deal, planning to bring it to a vote Thursday as opposition in both parties failed to gain enough traction to threaten passage.

HOUSING WATCH

Homebuilders continue to digest Toll Brothers’ (TOL -1.8%) “leveling in demand”comments from yesterday’s earnings results – in the 19 weeks since August 1, business has been flat vs. last year, and in the first 5 weeks of FQ1 (beginning Nov. 1) business has also been flat from 2012 (though Hurricane Sandy makes a tricky comparison). (SA)

Pointing up Storm cloud  Container Exports at Lowest Point in Four Years; Imports Slow Against Growing Inventories

The month of November saw U.S. ocean container exports hit their lowest point since January 2010, when our Index begins. The November export index registered .934, compared to our baseline of 1.0 in January 2010. This is only the second time that the export index has fallen below 1.0. Imports were stronger than in two of the previous three years, but dropped 6.1 percent from October to November, a period where we have typically seen increases.

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Interestingly, volumes declined almost across the board for the 25 destination countries included in the export index. Matching our data, many of the nation’s ports are reporting drops in the number of
containers handled. Production of automotive and related products
slowed in November because of falling domestic and foreign demand, which in turn reduced shipments of parts and finished goods.

Container imports fell for the third month in a row, dropping 6.1 percent in November. What amounted to a peak season “bump” in July and August has given way to a steady decline in imports since. This is not unusual for November, and is by far not the worst November showing
since 2010. Retail and wholesale inventories have reached levels above
their pre‐recession highs without the spending activity to support the
growth.

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Hmmm…

Euro-Zone Industrial Output Falls

The European Union’s statistics agency said industrial production was 1.1% lower than in September, the second straight month of decline and the sharpest drop since September 2012. The decline was spread across most of the currency area, with only Italy and Estonia recording increases in output.

Surprised smile  The decline in output came as a surprise, with 24 economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal last week having estimated that output rose by 0.2% during the month. It raises the possibility that the euro zone’s return to growth may come to a halt in the final quarter of this year, having already weakened in the third quarter. (…)

The decline in industrial output was led by the energy sector, which recorded a 4% drop in production during October. That wasn’t a great surprise, given that temperatures across Europe were higher than usual during that month. However, output of capital goods fell by 1.3%, while output of consumer durables fell by 2.4% and of non-durables by 0.9%.

That suggests the drop in production was a response to weak demand from businesses and consumers. Figures released last week showed retail sales in the euro zone fell in October, while a November survey of consumers recorded the first decline in confidence this year.

Stock Surge Fuels Pensions

A roaring stock market and rising interest rates are fueling the strongest recovery in the $2.4 trillion U.S. corporate-pension sector in more than a quarter-century.

Investments in the average company’s pension plan are expected to be at levels that cover 96% of future obligations at the end of the year, according to a new estimate by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. A separate analysis by Milliman Inc., which provides actuarial products and services, puts the figure above 94%, while pension specialist Mercer says the figure was 91% at the end of October. Funding levels are up from 77% at the end of last year, according to J.P. Morgan—a figure that was essentially unchanged since the financial crisis of 2008.

The news for pension plans could get better in 2014. If yields on bonds continue to rise, as many expect when the Federal Reserve eventually reduces its bond buying, the health of corporate pensions could be further bolstered. Funding levels are partly determined by interest rates on corporate bonds, which are used to value future retirement obligations. (…)

Pension-funding details are disclosed at the end of each fiscal year, so most companies will share data in February, when many annual report are released. But analysts says both large and small companies likely will be helped this year.  (…)

About 25% of corporate pensions now are overfunded, or have more investments than future obligations, J.P. Morgan estimates. (…)

SENTIMENT WATCH

Gift with a bow Waiting for That Santa Claus Rally

Say what you will about the stock market’s recent skid, investors have a very favorable tailwind at their backs heading into the final few weeks of the year.

(…) For now, the selloff isn’t causing much concern among market watchers. “This is more of a lack of buyers than any type of real panic,” Mark Newton, chief technical analyst at Greywolf Execution Partners, wrote to clients Wednesday afternoon.

Looking beyond the day-to-day gyrations, here are five trends, courtesy of WSJ Markets Data Group, that point to the December effect on stocks and the rally reaccelerating by the end of the year:

December Is the Best Month for Stocks: The Dow has risen in December 72% of the time throughout its history. It averages a 1.4% monthly gain, the best increase of all 12 months.

Don’t Fret About the Early December Weakness: The bulk of the December rally typically occurs in the final 10 trading days of a year, a trend that bodes well considering the Dow is down 1.5% this month. Historically the Dow is flat, on average, in the first two weeks of December. It then averages a 1.5% gain in the final 10 trading days of the month.

Yearly Highs Happen Most Often in December: There have been 36 times the Dow has hit its high of the year in December, more than twice the amount of the next highest month — January – which has had 16 highs in a given year.

Last-Day-of-the-Year Effect: The Dow has ended at a high on the final trading day of the year 11 times throughout its history. Ten of those 11 instances were record closes, with the most recent occurrence coming in 2003.

Santa Claus Is Good for Stocks: The Dow has risen in the five days before Christmas 65% of the time, including 10 of the past 12 years, averaging a 0.5% gain. The last five days of the year are typically even better for stocks: The Dow has risen 79% throughout this timeframe, averaging a 1.2% gain.

High five  World’s biggest investor BlackRock says US rally nearing exhaustion BlackRock has advised clients to be ready to pull out of global stock markets at any sign of serious trouble

(…) The group said in its 2014 Investment Outlook that investors have “jumped on the momentum train, effectively betting yesterday’s strategy will win again tomorrow”, but vanishing liquidity could leave them trapped if the mood changes. “Beware of traffic jams: easy to get into, hard to get out of,” it said.

BlackRock, which manages funds worth $4.1 trillion, said the global system is still in the doldrums and far from achieving sustainable recovery. “The eurozone, Japan and emerging markets are all trying to export their way out of trouble. Who is going to buy all this stuff? The maths does not work. Not everybody’s currency can fall at once,” it said.

The report said Wall Street is not in a bubble yet but BlackRock’s risk indicator – measuring “enterprise value” against earnings, adjusted for volatility – is almost as high as it was just before the dotcom bust. “The ratio of the two is the key. High valuations combined with low volatility can make for a lethal mix. This market gauge sounded the alarm well before the Great Financial Crisis,” it said. (…)

 

 

BlackRock said there is a 20pc risk that world events could go badly wrong, either because the eurozone acts too late to head off deflation or because of a chain reaction as the US Federal Reserve starts to wind down stimulus in earnest.

“The banking system in the eurozone periphery is under water, with a non-performing loan pile of €1.5 trillion to €2 trillion. Germany and other core countries are unlikely to pick up the tab. Eastern Europe could become the epicentre of funding risk in 2014 due to big refinancings,” it said. BlackRock said the eurozone is “stuck in a monetary corset”, failing to generate the nominal GDP growth of 3pc to 5pc needed for economies to outgrow their debt burdens. (…)

The risk in the US is that Fed tapering could cause the housing recovery to stall. The Fed has purchased three times all net issuance of US mortgages so far in 2013.

BlackRock said the profit share of GDP has soared to a modern-era high of 12pc of GDP, while the workers’ share has collapsed from 66pc to 57pc in one decade. “This speaks to troubling trends of growing inequality and weak wage growth, and brings into question the sustainability of profit margins.

Emerging markets are no longer accumulating foreign reserves at the same torrid pace. The annual growth rate of reserves has dropped to 7pc from 40pc five years ago, which implies far less money flooding into global bond markets. “This is bad news for struggling advanced economies and financial markets addicted to monetary stimulus,” it said.

There is a 25pc chance that the world navigates these reefs and achieves a “growth break-out”. Even if that happens it will not help stocks, and will be “bad for bonds”. The Goldilocks outcome for markets is another year of feeble growth, buttressed by central bank largesse that leaks into asset bubbles. What is good for investors is corrosive for societies, hardly tenable equilibrium.

 

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