NEW$ & VIEW$ (9 DECEMBER 2013)

GREEN FRIDAY

After pretty tame Black Friday and Thanksgiving sales, investors got their Green Friday with an ‘Unambiguously Positive’ Jobs Report accompanied by a relieving 1.1% jump in the S&P 500 Index, the best of all worlds for taper advocates. Good news is good news again!

The media narratives just flowed from that.

Employers Gain Confidence to Hire

U.S. employers are gaining confidence heading into year’s end, hiring at the quickest clip since before Washington’s political dysfunction rattled consumers and businesses this fall.

Payrolls rose by a seasonally adjusted 203,000 in November in sectors ranging from construction to health care, a striking pickup at an uncertain moment for the economy. Moreover, the jobless rate fell to 7% from 7.3%, though its declines in recent months have been driven in part by people leaving the labor force. (…)

U.S. job growth over the past three months now averages 193,000. In September, the average was thought to be 143,000; it has since been revised higher. (…)November’s job gains were more broad-based than in some previous months, suggesting fundamental economic improvements are reaching more parts of the economy.

Economists have worried that the biggest drivers of the nation’s job growth are lower-paying industries like retailers and restaurants. While those industries still represent a big chunk of the job gains, higher-paying sectors like manufacturing also grew in November, adding 27,000 jobs. (…)

It remains that

Nearly one-third of the private-sector job gains in November came from retailers, hotels, restaurants and temporary help agencies.

Retailers added 22,000 workers last month, while restaurants and hotels added 17,000 positions. Temporary help services hired another 16,000.

Lower-paying industries have dominated U.S. job growth for much of the recovery. Over the past year, retailers and temporary-help services have added 323,000 and 219,000 jobs, respectively.

By comparison, manufacturers added only 76,000 jobs.

As we all know, stats can be used to fit any viewpoint: the low month for job growth in 2013 was July at 89k.

  • First 6 months average employment change: +195k.
  • Last 5 months average employment change: +181k. Not enough to call it an ‘Unambiguously Positive’ jobs report. Tapering delayed.

But move July into the first part of the year:

  • First 7 months average employment change: +180k.
  • Last 4 months average employment change: +204k. Here comes the taper!

Never mind that the economy has added 2.3 million jobs over the past year, a pace that has changed little for the past two years in spite of QE1, 2,and 3.

Never mind that

Compared with September, the last reading before the shutdown, the new figures showed 265,000 fewer people working or looking for work, taking the labour market participation rate down from 63.2 per cent to 63 per cent of the adult population.

Declining participation was the main cause of the large fall in the unemployment rate, creating a puzzle and a worry for the Fed. If people are permanently dropping out of the labour force then it suggests there is less spare capacity in the economy.(FT)

Never mind that

Markit’s recent PMI surveys showed that the rate of growth was below that seen in September. Hiring slipped to the lowest for eight months as a result of firms reporting growing unease about the outlook. (Markit)

image

And never mind the important inventory build up revealed by the Q3 GDP, recent car data and clear evidence of enormous surplus retail inventory post Thanksgiving, all suggesting that the recent manufacturing uptrend may be short lived. The U.S. economy, and for that matter Europe’s as well, have been propped up by a production push rather than by a more solid and durable consumer pull.

Real consumer expenditures rose 0.3% MoM in October after edging up 0.1% in September, in spite of a 0.2% advance in real disposable income during the last 2 months. Taking the 4-month period from July, real expenditures are growing at a 1.8% annualized rate, unchanged from the preceding 4-month period. During both periods, real disposable income has grown 2.7% annualized but real labour income growth halved from 1.8% annualized in March-June to 0.9% annualized in July-October.

Consumer demand sustained by government transfer income and a low savings rate is not solid foundation for economic growth, needless to say. It gets even more dangerous when corporate inventories accumulate rapidly, especially during the all important fourth quarter.

Taper or not? Taking liquidity out when things are so fragile would be a big mistake in my view. The Fed won its bet with QE-induced wealth boost for the top 10% but it would be ill-advised to take the punch bowl away before the ordinary people’s party begins.

Fed credibility has already been hurt by all the goofy rhetoric since last May. The only transparency they have achieved is to expose their flaws wide open. When you decide to be more transparent, you better make sure that what you have to show is attractive…otherwise, be a Greenspan and let markets guess for haven’s sake.

To be sure, as BCA Research is quoted in Barron’s (my emphasis),

(…) policy makers are hoping for a cyclical rebound in the participation rate as discouraged workers are drawn back into the labor market. There is no evidence that this is occurring so far.


As a result, BCA thinks the Fed will lower the threshold for forward guidance about increases in the federal-funds target (which has been pinned near 0% to 0.25% since late 2008) until the jobless rate falls to 5% or even 5.5%, instead of the current 6.5%, which could be reached by next October if current trends continue. The Fed’s notion is that the better job market will lure folks on the sideline to start looking for work again, slowing the decline in unemployment, even as more people find positions. But BCA says its clients are increasingly worried that there is less slack in the labor market than presumed and that the Fed is making an inflationary policy mistake.

Much like a rising equity market eventually lures investors into action.

In all what was said and written last Friday, this is what must be most reassuring to Ben Bernanke:

Jonas Prising, president of staffing company Manpower Group, said the official numbers fit with what is happening on the ground. “What we see is a continued improvement in employers’ outlook. Despite what you see and hear about uncertainty, employers are clearly seeing a gradually improving economy,” said Mr Prising, noting that the pick-up in hiring was slow but steady. (WSJ)

TAPER WATCH

This is from Fed’s mouthpiece John Hilsenrath:

Fed Closes In on Bond Exit

Fed officials are closer to winding down their $85 billion-a-month bond-purchase program, possibly as early as December, in the wake of Friday’s encouraging jobs report.

The Fed’s next policy meeting is Dec. 17-18 and a pullback, or tapering, is on the table, though some might want to wait until January or even later to see signs the recent strength in economic growth and hiring will be sustained. On Tuesday, officials go into a “blackout” period in which they stop speaking publicly and begin behind-the-scenes negotiations about what to do at the policy gathering. (…)

The sharp rise in stocks Friday shows that the Fed is having some success reassuring investors that it will maintain easy-money policies for years to come.

(…) the November employment report was the latest in a batch of recent indicators that have boosted their confidence that the economy and markets are in better position to stand with less support from large monthly central bank intervention in credit markets.

Pointing up The economic backdrop looks better now than it did in September. Fingers crossed

Payroll employment growth during the past three months has averaged 193,000 jobs per month, compared with 143,000 during the three months before the September meeting.

Moreover, in September, the White House and Congress were heading into a government shutdown and potential a debt ceiling crisis. Now they appear to be crafting a small government spending agreement for the coming year. The headwinds from federal tax increases and spending cuts this year could wane, possibly setting the stage for stronger economic growth next year.

Still, the jobs report wasn’t greeted as unambiguously good news inside the Fed. One problem was an undertone of distress among households even as the jobless rate falls.

The government’s survey of households showed that a meager 83,000 people became employed between September and November, while the number not in the labor force during that stretch rose by 664,000. The jobless rate fell from 7.2% to 7% during the period effectively because people stopped looking for jobs and removed themselves from the ranks of people counted as unemployed.

“The unemployment rate [drop] probably overstates the improvement in the economy,” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans told reporters Friday.

Another worry among officials, and another reason some officials might wait a bit before moving: Inflation, as measured by the Commerce Department’s personal consumption expenditure price index, was up just 0.7% from a year earlier, well below the Fed’s 2% target. Mr. Evans said he was troubled and puzzled by the very low inflation trend. (…)

Fed December Taper Odds Double in Survey as Jobs Beat Estimate

 

The share of economists predicting the Federal Reserve will reduce bond buying in December doubled after a government report showed back-to-back monthly payroll gains of 200,000 or more for the first time in almost a year. (…)

The payroll report puts the four-month average for gains at 204,000, and the six-month average at 180,000. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, a supporter of record stimulus who votes on policy this year, said in April he wants gains of 200,000 a month for about six months before tapering. Atlanta’s Dennis Lockhart, who doesn’t vote, said several months of gains exceeding 180,000 would make slowing appropriate.

“The 200,000 number hits you right between the eyes,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York. “That’s a number that everyone agrees the labor market is showing good-size gains, and the progress they’re making seems to be sustainable if that marker is met, which it was.”

See! It all boils down to where July stands in the economic calendar.

Credit-Card Debt Hits Three-Year High

U.S. consumers pushed their credit-card debt to a three-year high in October, a possible sign of their willingness to boost spending into the holiday season.

Revolving credit, which largely reflects money owed on credit cards, advanced by a seasonally adjusted $4.33 billion in October, the Federal Reserve said Friday. The expansion pushed total revolving debt to $856.82 billion, the highest level since September 2010.

The expansion marked a reversal from the prior four months when revolving balances either declined or held nearly flat. Consumers’ reluctance to add to credit-card balances was viewed by some economists as a sign of caution.

“Increasingly households are becoming more comfortable with using their plastic, and carrying a balance on it,” said Patrick J. O’Keefe, director of economic research at consulting firm CohnReznick. “The scars of 2007 and 2008 are starting to heal.”

When consumers are willing to carry a credit-card balance, it suggests they are confident they’ll have the future income needed to pay down the debt, he said.

The turnaround came in a month that brought a 16-day government shutdown, which weighed on consumer confidence and left hundreds of thousands of government workers without paychecks for weeks. (That may have been one factor in the increased use of credit cards. The federal workers received back pay after the shutdown.)

Total consumer credit, excluding home loans, rose by $18.19 billion in October, the largest gain since May. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast a $14.8 billion advance. (…)

The Fed report showed non-revolving debt, mostly auto and education loans, increased by $13.85 billion, or a 7.5% annualized jump. Such debt has been trending steadily higher since 2010, reflecting a surge in government-backed student loans and purchases of new autos. (…)

(ZeroHedge)

Fingers crossed  Congress Readies a Year-End Budget Dash

A Congress stymied by partisan divides, blown deadlines and intraparty squabbling gets a late chance to end the year with an elusive budget deal.

In the final week of 2013 that the Senate and House are scheduled to be in Washington at the same time, lawmakers and aides are optimistic that negotiators can reach a budget accord and continue to make progress on a farm bill and other measures.

China Exports Rise More Than Estimated

Overseas shipments rose 12.7 percent from a year earlier, the General Administration of Customs said today in Beijing. That exceeded estimates from 41 of 42 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. The trade surplus of $33.8 billion was the biggest since January 2009, while imports gained 5.3 percent, compared with a median projection of 7 percent.

The export figures reflect pickups in shipments to the U.S., Europe and South Korea, according to customs data.

China Inflation Stays Benign

 

The November consumer-price index was up 3% from a year ago, slowing down slight from October’s 3.2% pace, the statistics bureau said Monday. That was just below market expectations of a 3.1% rise and well within the government’s target of 3.5% inflation for the year.

Consumer inflation was even less of a worry when looked at on a month-over-month basis: It showed a decline of 0.1% in November, its first such drop since May.

At the factory level, producer prices continued to slide year-over-year, falling 1.4% for the 21st monthly decline in a row, showing continued weakness in domestic demand for raw materials. The decline in November was slightly less than the October’s 1.5%.

Japanese growth revised down
Third-quarter growth hit by weaker business activity

The updated calculation of gross domestic product in the three months to September showed that economic output increased at an annualised rate of 1.1 per cent, compared with an initial estimate of 1.9 per cent announced in November. (…)

The downward revision for the third quarter owed to lower estimates of investment and inventory-building by companies. Consumer spending was revised upward, but not enough to offset the less favourable view of business activity.

Corporate capital investment did not grow at all during the period, the data showed; the initial estimate had suggested a 0.7 per cent expansion. Inventory growth was cut to 0.7 per cent from double that figure in the initial data, while the estimate of private consumption growth was doubled to a still modest 0.8 per cent.

Bundesbank lifts German growth outlook
Central bank forecasts economic expansion of 1.7% in 2014

Germany’s Bundesbank has upgraded its economic projections, saying on Friday that strong demand from consumers would leave the euro area’s largest economy operating at full capacity over the next two years.

The Bundesbank has forecast growth of 1.7 per cent in 2014 and 1.8 per cent the following year. The unemployment rate, which at 5.2 per cent in October is already among the lowest in the currency bloc, is expected to fall further. (…)

The Bundesbank also expected inflation to fall back in 2014 – to 1.3 per cent from 1.6 per cent this year – before climbing to 1.5 per cent. If falls in energy prices were excluded, inflation would register 1.9 per cent next year.

EARNINGS, SENTIMENT WATCH

Notice the positive spin and the bee-sss just about everywhere now.

U.S. stocks could weather grim profit outlooks

The ratio of profit warnings to positive outlooks for the current quarter is shaping up to be the worst since at least 1996, based on Thomson Reuters data.

More warnings may jolt the market next week, but market watchers say this trend could be no more than analysts being too optimistic at the beginning and needing to adjust downward.

“There’s a natural tendency on the part of Wall Street in any given year to be overly optimistic as it relates to the back half of the year … It isn’t so much the companies’ failing, it’s where Wall Street has decided to place the bar,” said Matthew Kaufler, portfolio manager for Clover Value Fund at Federated Investors in Rochester, New York.

So any negative news about earnings may “already be in the stock prices,” he said. Sarcastic smile (…)

Still, estimates for fourth-quarter S&P 500 earnings have fallen sharply since the start of the year when analysts were building in much stronger profit gains for the second half of the year.

Earnings for the quarter are now expected to have increased 7.8 percent from a year ago compared with estimates of 17.6 percent at the start of the year and 10.9 percent at the start of the fourth quarter. (…)

The 11.4 to 1 negative-to-positive ratio of earnings forecasts sets the fourth quarter up as the most negative on record, based on Reuters data.

So far 120 companies have issued outlooks. In a typical quarter, between 130 and 150 S&P 500 companies issue guidance.

In small and mid-cap stocks, the trend appears much less gloomy.

Thomson Reuters data for S&P 400 companies shows 2.2 negative outlooks for every one positive forecast, while data for S&P 600 companies shows a similar ratio.

The S&P 500 technology sector so far leads in negative outlooks with 28, followed by consumer discretionary companies, with 22 warnings for the fourth quarter. (…)

“It appears while the percentage (of warnings) is high, it’s still not really infiltrating to all sectors,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York. “Obviously it impacts the individual (stocks), but maybe not the market trend.” (…)

So, this is a stock market, not a market of stocks!

Punch  That said, here’s a surprise for you: analysts estimates have actually gone up in the past 10 days:

image

CAPITULATION
 
Hugh HendryA bear capitulates
Hugh Hendry on why equities will rise further

Hugh Hendry is CIO of Eclectica Asset Management

(…) In this environment the actual price of an asset no longer has anything to do with our qualitative perception of reality: valuations are out, liquidity in. In the wacky world created by such monetary fidgeting there is one reason for being long markets and one alone: sovereign nations are printing money and prices are trending. That is it. (…)

So here is how I understand things. You should buy equities if you believe many European banks and their sovereign paymasters are insolvent. You should be long risk assets if you believe China will have lowered its growth rate from 7 per cent to nearer 5 per cent 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.

It will all end badly; the mouse will die of course but in the meantime the stock markets look to us much as they did in 1928 or in 1998. In economic terms, America and Europe will remain resilient without booming. But with monetary policy set much too loose it is inevitable 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 happened in May.

The Fed, convinced its QE programme had succeeded in re-distributing global GDP away from China, began signalling its intent to taper. However, the anticipated vigorous American growth never materialised. The Fed had to shock market expectations by removing the immediacy of its tighter policy and stock markets rebounded higher.

So the spectre of tapering will probably continue to haunt markets but stronger growth in one part of the world on the back of easier policy will be countered by even looser policy elsewhere. Market expectations of tighter policy will keep being rescinded and markets, for now, will probably just keep trending.

Lance Roberts today (with a lot more from Hugh Hendry if you care):

(…) The PRIMARY ISSUE here is that there is NO valuation argument
that currently supports asset prices at current levels.

It is simply the function of momentum within the prevailing trend that makes the case for higher prices from here.

image
 

Hmmm…The trend is your friend, hey? With friends like that…

THE U.S. ENERGY GAME CHANGER

I wrote about that in 2012 (Facts & Trends: The U.S. Energy Game Changer). It is now happening big time.

Shale gas boom helps US chemicals exports
America now second cheapest location for chemicals plants

The US chemicals industry is planning a sharp increase in its exports as a result of the cost advantage created by the shale gas boom, putting pressure on higher-cost competitors in Europe and Asia.

The American Chemistry Council, the industry association, predicts in forecasts published this week that US chemicals exports will rise 45 per cent over the next five years, as a result of a wave of investment in new capacity that will be aiming at overseas markets. (…)

The shale revolution has caused a boom in US production of natural gas liquids used as chemical feedstocks such as ethane, and sent their prices tumbling.

US producers also face electricity costs about half their levels in Europe, and natural gas just one-third as high.

The result has been a dramatic reversal from the mid-2000s, when the US was one of the world’s most expensive locations for manufacturing chemicals, to today when it is the second cheapest, bettered only by projects in the Middle East that have tied up feedstock on favourable terms.

International chemicals companies have announced 136 planned or possible investments in the US worth about $91bn, according to the ACC, with half of those projects proposed by non-US companies. (…)

“The US has become the most attractive place in the world to invest in chemical manufacturing.”

DEMOGRAPHICS

We can discuss political and financial philosophies, fiscal policies and monetary policies till the cows come home. But there is one thing that is mighty difficult to argue about: demographics. As Harry Dent says in this interview with John Mauldin, you have to go back 250 years to find a generation with as much impact as the current supersized baby boomer generation. The impact of retiring baby boomers is so powerful that it can totally offset fiscal and monetary policies without anyone noticing. The 20 minutes interview is not as good as I was hoping it might be but still deserves your time.

A team of Kansas City Fed economists just wrote about The Impact of an Aging U.S. Population on State Tax Revenues (http://goo.gl/u5g3j5) with this chart that summarizes the stealth trends underway:

image

Here’s another way to deal with an adverse job market:

Saudi deportations gain momentum
Riyadh to expel up to 2m workers

Riyadh has said it wants to forcibly expel as many as 2m of the foreign workers, including hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians, Somalis, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, who make up around a third of the country’s 30m population.

At home, the exodus of illegal workers is being seen as the kingdom’s most radical labour market experiment yet. With one in four young Saudi males out of work, analysts applaud Riyadh’s determination to tackle the problem, but doubt the crackdown will achieve its objective, as Saudi nationals are unlikely to apply for menial jobs. (…)

Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia and several other countries are struggling to absorb the thousands of unemployed young men now returning, with development officials worrying about the impact on remittances.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s second biggest source of remittances, only behind the US, with outflows of nearly $28bn last year, according to estimates by the World Bank. (…)  Saudi analysts expect the crackdown on illegal workers to reduce remittance flows by nearly a quarter next year, or about $7bn. (…)

The crackdown on African and Asian illegal migrants is meant to complement a government labour market reform known as nitaqat, Arabic for “ranges”. Replacing the failing fixed-quota “Saudisation” system of 1994, nitaqat places a sliding scale of financial penalties and incentives on employers who fail to hire enough Saudi nationals. By draining the pool of cheap expatriate labour, the Saudi government hopes to encourage private sector employers to hire more nationals.

“The nationalisation agenda has been around for 20 years, but what’s changed is that the Arab spring has made private sector jobs for nationals a political priority,” says Steffen Hertog of the London School of Economics. “Saudi Arabia has become a laboratory for labour market reform,” he says. (…)

BUY LOW, SELL HIGH

A 700- year chart to prove a point:

Global Financial Data has put together an index of Government Bond yields that uses bonds from each of these centers of economic power over time to trace the course of interest rates over the past seven centuries.  From 1285 to 1600, Italian bonds are used.   Data are available for the Prestiti of Venice from 1285 to 1303 and from 1408 to 1500 while data from 1304 to 1407 use the Consolidated Bonds of Genoa and the Juros of Italy from 1520 to 1598.

General Government Bonds from the Netherlands are used from 1606 to 1699.   Yields from Britain are used from 1700 to 1914, using yields on Million Bank stock (which invested in government securities) from 1700 to 1728 and British Consols from 1729 to 1918.  From 1919 to date, the yield on US 10-year bond is used.

Ralph Dillon of Global Financial Data

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (4 DECEMBER 2013)

Smile Companies Boost U.S. Payrolls by Most in a Year

The 215,000 increase in employment exceeded the most optimistic forecast in a Bloomberg survey and followed a revised 184,000 gain in October that was larger than initially estimated, according to the ADP Research Institute in Roseland, New Jersey. The median forecast of economists called for a 170,000 advance.

Auto CAR SALES NOT AS STRONG AS HEADLINES SUGGEST

 

WSJ:  Brisk Demand Lifts Auto Sales

(…) Overall, demand remained strong with 1.25 million light vehicles sold last month, up 9% from a year ago, lifting the annualized sales pace to 16.4 million vehicles, from 15.3 million a year ago and the strongest pace since February 2007, according to Autodata Corp.(…)

Haver Analytics: U.S. Vehicle Sales Surge to Seven-Year High

The latest level of sales was the highest since February 2007.

But sales had been quite weak in both September and October at 15.2M, the former due to fewer selling days and the latter presumably due to the government shutdown. Taking a 3-month moving average, the annualized selling rate has been flat at 15.6M since June 2013, even though manufacturers’ incentives have kept rising briskly. (Chart from CalculatedRisk)


Doug Waikem, owner of several new-car dealerships in Ohio, said discounts aren’t “out of control” but car makers are pushing retailers to buy more vehicles, a practice that boosts auto maker’s revenue.

“I think we’re slipping back into old habits,” Mr. Waiken said. “I’m seeing dealers with inventories going up. The banks are being very aggressive.”

On Nov. 20, I warned about a possible build up in car inventories if sales don’t accelerate rapidly. Monthly inventories of the Detroit Three were at a high 76 days in October.

The Detroit Three each reported a roughly 90 days’ supply of cars and light trucks in inventory at the end of November. Auto makers generally prefer to keep between 60 days and 80 days of sales at dealers. Company executives said the inventory levels are acceptable for this time of year.

Well, not really acceptable to Ford:

Ford announced its initial Q1/14 production schedule, with volumes expected to decline 2% year over year, which is slightly worse versus the most recent forecast from Ward’s Automotive for Ford’s production to increase by 2% year over year in Q1/14 and compares to our estimate for overall Detroit Three production to increase 4% year over year in Q1/14. (BMO Capital)

The risk remains that car sales, having bounced thanks to the wealth effect and pent up demand, have reached their cyclical peak.

 

More inventory problems:

Inventories Threaten to Squeeze Clothing Stores

Chains including Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Chico’s FAS Inc., Gap Inc. and Victoria’s Secret came into the fourth quarter with heavy inventory loads. The concern now is the retail industry’s weak showing over Thanksgiving weekend will force them to take bigger markdowns that could hurt their fourth-quarter profits.

Simeon Siegel, an analyst with Nomura Equity Research, looked at the inventory carried by those and other specialty-apparel retailers at the end of the third quarter and compared it with his projections for the chains’ fourth quarter sales. He found that in most cases inventory growth far outpaced sales growth. Normally, the two should be growing about the same.

“The ratios are the worst we have seen in quite a while,” Mr. Siegel said.

The companies each acknowledged that their inventories were rising and said the levels were appropriate.

Yet with holiday sales getting off to a slow start, positions that seemed appropriate several weeks ago may turn out to be too high. A survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation concluded that sales over Thanksgiving weekend fell to $57.4 billion from $59.1 billion a year ago—the first drop in at least seven years.

Fewer shoppers said they had bought clothing or visited apparel stores, according to the NRF survey, which polled nearly 4,500 consumers.

Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, said he spotted signs throughout the weekend that stores were overstocked, including goods stacked high up on shelves and ample merchandise in storerooms. (…)

Thanksgiving sales were generally weak, as were back-to-school sales. If Christmas sales are also weak, the inventory overhang will carry into Q1’14.

image

HOUSING IS ALSO WEAK:

The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent from one week earlier. The 4-week average of the purchase index is now down about 8% from a year ago. (CalculatedRisk)


Ghost  Romain Hatchuel: The Coming Global Wealth Tax

(…) households from the United States to Europe and Japan may soon face fiscal shocks worse than any market crash. The White House and New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio aren’t the only ones calling for higher taxes (especially on the wealthy), as voices from the International Monetary Fund to billionaire investor Bill Gross increasingly make the case too. (…)

As for the IMF, its latest Fiscal Monitor report argues that taxing the wealthy offers “significant revenue potential at relatively low efficiency costs.” (…)

From New York to London, Paris and beyond, powerful economic players are deciding that with an ever-deteriorating global fiscal outlook, conventional levels and methods of taxation will no longer suffice. That makes weapons of mass wealth destruction—such as the IMF’s one-off capital levy, Cyprus’s bank deposit confiscation, or outright sovereign defaults—likelier by the day.

Could there now be a wealth tax anticipation effect that would incite the wealthiest to save right when they are about the only source of demand?

Trade Gap in U.S. Shrank in October on Record Exports

Exports climbed 1.8 percent to $192.7 billion on growing sales of food, petroleum products, drilling equipment and consumer goods, including jewelry.

Imports increased 0.4 percent to $233.3 billion in October, the most since March 2012. Gains in consumer goods such as toys and artwork, and fuel helped offset a slump in purchases of foreign automobiles.

Sales of goods to China, Canada and Mexico were the highest ever, pointing to improving global demand that will benefit American manufacturers. In addition, an expanding U.S. economy is helping boost growth abroad as purchases of products from the European Union also climbed to a record in October even as fiscal gridlock prompted a partial federal shutdown.

Hmmm…

Lightning  EUROZONE RETAIL TRADE TURNS WEAKER, AGAIN

Core sales volume cratered 0.8% in October after declining 0.1% in September. German sales volume dropped 1.0% on the past 2 months. 

image

  image

European Stocks Suffer a Setback

European stocks fell sharply across the board today.  In Germany and France, markets have been very quiet over the last few months, steadily moving higher in small clips on a daily basis.  That came to an end today with big moves lower in both countries.  Germany is still well above its 50-day moving average and its uptrend remains intact, but the same can no longer be said for France.  As shown in the second chart below, the French CAC-40 broke hard through its 50-day today, which also represented the bottom of its multi-month uptrend channel.

Along with France, the UK (FTSE 100) and Italy (FTSE MIB) also saw significant breaks below their 50-days today.  For Italy’s major index, the 50-day had acted as key support going back to August, but that’s no longer the case after the wash out we saw today.

The fall in Europe sent US stocks lower this morning, and it was the stocks with heavy exposure to Europe that got hit the hardest.  Keep an eye on this trend in the days ahead.  

BANKING

Wall Street Sweats Out Volcker Rule With 18% of Revenue in Play

(…) The $44 billion at stake represents principal trading revenue at the five largest Wall Street firms in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, led by New York-based JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. lender, with $11.4 billion. An additional $14 billion of the banks’ investment revenue could be reduced by the rule’s limits on stakes in hedge funds and private-equity deals. Collectively, the sum represents 18 percent of the companies’ revenue.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley may be the most affected by any additional restrictions since they generate about 30 percent of their revenue from principal trading. JPMorgan generated about 12 percent of its total revenue from principal transactions in the 12 months ended Sept. 30. The figure was less than 10 percent for Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and New York-based Citigroup Inc.

OIL
 
Iran threatens to trigger oil price war
Tehran warns Opec it will increase output even if prices tumble

(…) Speaking to Iranian journalists in Farsi minutes before ministers went into a closed-door meeting, Bijan Zangeneh, Iran’s oil minister, said: “Under any circumstances we will reach 4m b/d even if the price of oil falls to $20 per barrel.” (…)

Iraq, meanwhile, has also said it plans to increase production by 1m b/d next year to 4mb/d.

Detroit’s bankruptcy: pensions beware

(…) The news is a ruling by federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes that, contrary to the arguments of public workers’ unions, pensions can be cut in the restructuring. Detroit is the largest city ever to go bust, so its bankruptcy will be widely watched regardless, but its treatment of pensions and other matters could set important precedents. (…)

Cities and unions around the US have received a wake-up call: they need to address unfunded pension obligations now, or face the ugly possibility of deep cuts later. Muni bond investors also face a new reality. The rules of the game may change and, if they do, the prices of general obligation munis will too.

Here’s the WSJ’s take on this: Detroit’s Bankruptcy Breakthrough

(…) More significant for the future of America’s cities, Judge Rhodes also dismissed the union conceit that the language of Michigan’s constitution protects public pensions as “contractual obligations” that cannot be “diminished or impaired.” The express purpose of bankruptcy is to impair contracts, and Judge Rhodes emphasized that pension benefits are “not entitled to any heightened protection in bankruptcy.”

If pension benefits are immune from bankruptcy, then unions would have even less incentive than they do now to consider the economic condition of a city when they press politicians for more benefits. They could drive cities toward bankruptcy knowing that bondholders would have to absorb nearly all the burden of restructuring. Cities would also have no recourse other than to raise taxes or cut more current services, neither of which helps urban renewal. (…)

Judge Rhodes’s wise ruling is a warning to unions and their political bodyguards that Chapter 9 is not a pension safe harbor. American public finance will be better as a result.

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (21 NOVEMBER 2013)

Sales Brighten Holiday Mood

The government’s main gauge of retail sales, encompassing spending on everything from cars to drinks at bars, rose a healthy 0.4% from September, despite the partial government shutdown that sent consumer confidence tumbling early in the month. Sales climbed in most categories, with gains in big-ticket items as well as daily purchases such as groceries. (…)

Wednesday’s report showed some clear pockets of strength: Sales of cars rose at the fastest pace since the early summer. Sales in electronics and appliance stores also rose robustly. Stores selling sporting goods, books, and music items saw business grow at the fastest pace in more than a year.

image

High five Let’s not get carried away. Car sales have been slowing sequentially lately and are near their past cyclical peaks if we consider the early 2000s sales levels abnormally high (internet and housing bubbles, mortgage refis) (next 2 charts from CalculatedRisk):

image

image

Meanwhile, core sales ex-cars remain on the weak side as this Doug Short chart shows:

image

Consumer Prices Ease Amid Lower Fuel Costs

The consumer-price index rose only 1% in October from the same month last year, the smallest 12-month increase since October 2009, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, rose 1.7% from a year ago, similar to the modest gains seen in recent months. The Fed targets an annual inflation rate of 2%.

Prices fell 0.1% last month from September, the first drop since April. Core prices increased 0.1%.

Last month, the overall decrease reflected gasoline prices, which were down 2.9% for the month. (Chart from Haver Analytics)

High five Let’s not get carried away. Core inflation remains surprisingly resilient given the weakness of the economy and the large output gap. On a YoY basis, core CPI is stuck within 1.6% and 1.8% and the Cleveland Fed median CPI just won’t slip below 2.0%. Looking at monthly trends, core CPI has slowed to 0.1% over the last 3 months from 0.2% in the previous 3 months. Yet, the median CPI only slowed to 0.1% MoM last month after a long string of 0.2% monthly gains. The inflation jury is still out.

image

Pointing up No Renaissance for U.S. Factory Workers as Pay Stagnates

(…) The average hourly wage in U.S. manufacturing was $24.56 in October, 1.9 percent more than the $24.10 for all wage earners. In May 2009, the premium for factory jobs was 3.9 percent. Weighing on wages are two-tier compensation systems under which employees starting out earn less than their more experienced peers did, and factory-job growth in the South.

Since the U.S. recession ended in June 2009, for example, Tennessee has added more than 18,000 manufacturing jobs, while New Jersey lost 17,000. Factory workers in Tennessee earned an average of $54,758 annually in 2012, almost 10 percent less than national levels and trailing the $76,038 of their New Jersey counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (…)

Some of the states where factory jobs are growing the fastest are among the least unionized. In 2012, 4.6 percent of South Carolina workers were represented by unions, as did 6.8 percent of Texans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. New York, the most-unionized, was at 24.9 percent.

Assembly workers at Boeing’s nonunion plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, earn an average of $17 an hour, compared with $27.65 for the more-experienced Machinists-represented workforce at the company’s wide-body jet plant in Everett, Washington, said Bryan Corliss, a union spokesman. (…)

In Michigan, which leads the U.S. with 119,200 factory jobs added since June 2009, automakers are paying lower wage rates to new hires under the United Auto Workers’ 2007 contracts. New UAW workers were originally paidas little as $14.78 when the contract was ratified in 2011, which is about half the $28 an hour for legacy workers. Wages for some of those lower-paid employees have since risen to about $19 an hour and the legacy rate hasn’t increased. (…)

General Electric Co. says it has added about 2,500 production jobs since 2010 at its home-appliance plant in Louisville, Kentucky. Under an accord with the union local, new hires make $14 an hour assembling refrigerators and washing machines, compared with a starting wage of about $22 for those who began before 2005. While CEO Jeffrey Immelt has said GE could have sent work on new products to China, it instead invested $1 billion in its appliance business in the U.S. after the agreement was reached.

The company is also moving work to lower-wage states. In Fort Edward, New York, GE plans to dismiss about 175 employees earning an average of $29.03 an hour and shift production of electrical capacitors to Clearwater, Florida. Workers there can earn about $12 an hour, according to the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, which represents the New York employees. (…)

Existing Home Sales Fall 3.2%

Sales of previously owned homes slipped for the second consecutive month in October, the latest sign that increased interest rates are cooling the housing recovery.

Existing-home sales declined 3.2% in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.12 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. The results marked the slowest sales pace since June.

The federal government shutdown last month pushed some transactions into November, Realtors economist Lawrence Yun said. The Realtors group reported that 13% of closings in October were delayed either because buyers couldn’t obtain a government-backed loan or the Internal Revenue Service couldn’t verify income.

The number of homes for sale declined 1.8% from a month earlier to 2.13 million at the end of October. The inventory level represents a five-month supply at the current sales pace. Economists consider a six-month supply a healthy level.

Americans Recover Home Equity at Record Pace

The number of Americans who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth fell at the fastest pace on record in the third quarter as prices rose, a sign supply shortages may ease as more owners are able to sell.

The percentage of homes with mortgages that had negative equity dropped to 21 percent from 23.8 percent in the second quarter, according to a report today from Seattle-based Zillow Inc. The share of owners with at least 20 percent equity climbed to 60.8 percent from 58.1 percent, making it easier for them to list properties and buy a new place. (…)

Fingers crossed“The pent-up demand from people who now have enough equity to sell their homes will help next year,” said Lawler, president of Lawler Economic & Housing Consulting LLC in Leesburg, Virginia. “We’ll see the effect during the spring selling season. Not a lot of people put their homes on the market during the holidays.” (…)

About 10.8 million homeowners were underwater on their mortgages in the third quarter, down from 12.2 million in the second quarter, Zillow said. About 20 million people had negative equity or less than 20 percent equity, down from 21.5 million in the prior three months. Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Orlando, Florida, led major metropolitan areas with the highest rates of borrowers with less than 20 percent equity. (…)

DRIVING BLIND, TOWARDS THE WALL

Fed Casts About for Bond-Buy Endgame

Federal Reserve officials, mindful of a still-fragile economy, are laboring to devise a strategy to avoid another round of market turmoil when they pull back on one of their signature easy-money programs.

Minutes of the Oct. 29-30 policy meeting, released Wednesday, showed officials continued to look toward ending the bond-buying program “in coming months.” But they spent hours game-planning how to handle unexpected developments and tailoring a message to the public to soften the impact of the program’s end. (…)

Fed officials are hoping their policies will play out like this: The economy will improve enough in the months ahead to justify pulling back on the program, which has been in place since last year and has boosted the central bank’s bondholdings to more than $3.5 trillion. After the program ends, they will continue to hold short-term interest rates near zero as the unemployment rate—which was 7.3% last month—slowly declines over the next few years. (…)

One scenario getting increased attention at the Fed: What if the job market doesn’t improve according to plan and the bond program becomes ineffective for addressing the economy’s woes? The minutes showed their solution might be to replace the program with some other form of monetary stimulus. That could include a stronger commitment to keep short-term interest rates low far into the future, a communications strategy known as “forward guidance.”

Top Fed officials have been signaling in recent weeks that their emphasis is shifting away from the controversial bond-buying program and toward these verbal commitments to keep rates down. (…)

Punch The reality is that, do what you want, say what you want, market rates are market rates.

Millennials Wary of Borrowing, Struggling With Debt Management

Young people are becoming warier of borrowing — but they’re also getting worse at paying bills.

(…) Total debt among young adults actually dropped in the last decade to the lowest level in 15 years, separate government data show, with fewer young adults carrying credit-card balances and one in five not having any debt at all.

And yet, Millennials appear to be running into more trouble when paying their bills — whether on credit cards, auto loans, or student loans.

Millennial borrowers are late on debt payments roughly as much as older Gen-X borrowers, Experian’s data show. Millennials also use a high share of their potential borrowing capacity on cards, just like Gen-Xers, meaning they’re as likely to max out on cards.

Since Millennials tend to have fewer assets than Gen-Xers and other generations, as well as shorter credit histories, they end up with the worst average credit score — 628 — of any demographic group.

Pointing upMillennials have “the worst credit habits,” and are “struggling the most with debt management,” Experian said in a report.

(…) A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently suggested high student-loan balances may have encouraged young adults to reduce their credit-card balances between 2005 and 2012.

Other young adults may be less willing to take risksin a weak economy, whether by splurging on furniture for a new apartment, moving geographically or starting businesses — things that often require debt.

What Experian’s data suggest is that the Millennials who are in fact borrowing are struggling to do so responsibly, at least partly because of the nation’s 7.3% jobless rate, sub-3% growth and $1 trillion student-loan tab — all things that are weighing disproportionately on young people, especially those without college degrees.

As the Journal reported last week, the share of student-loan balances that were 90 or more days overdue in the third quarter rose to 11.8% from 10.9%, even as late payments on other debts dropped. While the incidence of late payments on Millennials’ overall debts isn’t alarming yet, it’s big enough to drag down their credit scores, Experian said. (…)

Thumbs up Thumbs down TIME TO BE SENTIMENTAL?

In December 2010, I wrote INVESTOR SENTIMENT SURVEYS: DON’T BE TOO SENTIMENTAL!, warning people not to give much weight to bullish sentiment readings:

I have analyzed 30 years of data plotting the II bull-bear % difference against the DJ Total Stock Market Index of 5000 US stocks. Extreme readings are above +/-25%. However, I have easily identified 11 periods when the “contrary” indicator rose to cross the extreme +30% level which were followed by strongly rising markets. Obviously not useful on that side of the ledger. (…)

Overall, never mind the extreme positives, they are essentially useless. The extreme negatives (bullish) are few but generally very good although some require patience and staying power.

My analysis was based on relative bullishness, bulls minus bears like in the chart below, but Barclays here takes another angle looking at the absolute level of bears:

According to the US Investors’ Intelligence Survey there are currently 40% more bulls than bears. At the end of August, the same survey indicated just 13.4% more bulls that bears. Global equities have rallied by 9% since then. Other measures also confirm this bullish hue, but none have displayed anything close to the relationship that the Investors’ Intelligence Survey has had recently with forward returns.

image

Here’s the more interesting part:

Closer examination reveals that the reading on “bearishness” has a better contrarian relationship with subsequent forward returns. Currently only 16% of respondents describe themselves as “bears”. Since the beginning of 2009, when there have been less than 18% bears, the market has been lower six months later on each occasion. Given that the period since 2009 has been a strong bull market, sentiment extremes have provided a good “call” on the market.

image

GOOD READ: ASSESSING THE PARTY’S DECISIONS

CLSA’s Andy Rothman is one of the most astute analyst living in China:

China’s leaders have issued strong statements in support of private enterprise and the rights of migrant workers and farmers which, if implemented effectively, will facilitate continued economic growth and social stability.  By announcing relaxation of the one-child policy and the abolishment of ‘re-education through labor’, the Party acknowledged it needs to curb human rights abuses and re-establish trust.  The creation of new groups to coordinate economic and national security policy signal that Xi Jinping has quickly consolidated his power as Party chief, raising the odds that the decisions announced Friday will be implemented quickly.

The brief, initial communique issued when the Party Plenum closed last Tuesday was dense, obtuse and packed with outdated political slogans.  But the more detailed ‘decision document’ published Friday was, for a Communist Party report, unusually clear, particularly in its support for private enterprise and markets.

Strong support for entrepreneurs

The most important signal from the Party leadership was strong support for the private sector and markets. Private firms already account for 80% of urban employment and 90% of new job creation, as well as two-thirds of investment in China, so improving the operating environment for entrepreneurs is key to our relatively positive outlook for the country’s economic future.  Friday’s document did not disappoint in this respect.

Although the Party still cannot rise to the challenge of actually using the Chinese characters for ‘private’ sector’, continuing to refer to it as ‘non-public’, they did pledge to ‘unwaveringly encourage, support and guide the development of the non-public economy’, and declared that ‘property rights in the non-public economy may equally [with the state sector] not be violated.’

In Friday’s document, the Party said it would ‘reduce central government management over micro-level matters to the broadest extent’, called for an end to ‘excessive government intervention’, and said that ‘resource allocation [should be] based on market principles, market prices and market competition.’  The world’s largest Communist Party declared that ‘property rights are the core of ownership systems’, and called for ‘fair competition, free consumer choice, autonomous consumption, [and] free circulation of products and production factors.’  The document also says China will ‘accelerate pricing reform of natural resources’ to ‘completely reflect market supply and demand’, as well as the costs of environmental damage.

The Party also pledged to reduce red tape and administrative hurdles to doing business.  Zhang Mao, the head of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, explained that ‘registering a business will become much more convenient in the near future.’  And Miao Wei, minister for industry and information technology, announced that implementation of the plenum decision would lead his agency to eliminate at least 30% of administrative approval procedures by the end of 2015.

Friday’s document called for better protection of intellectual property rights, as well as the ‘lawful rights and interests of investors, especially small and mid-sized investors.’  The Party said it would create a ‘marketized withdrawal system where the fittest survive’, and a better bankruptcy process.

Party leaders did say that public ownership would remain ‘dominant’, but they clearly didn’t mean it.  Repeating this language, especially in light of the fact that private firms are already dominant, is, in our view, just a rhetorical bone thrown to officials whose political or financial fortunes are tied to state-owned enterprises. (…)

 

The Party did, however, raise the share of SOE income that has to be paid into the national security fund to 30% by 2020, up from 10-20% now.

In what may be a warning that serious SOE reform is likely down the road, the Party did call for the elimination of ‘all sorts of sector monopolies, and an end to ‘preferential policies . . . local protection . . . monopolies and unfair competition.’

Hukou reform coming

If the most important message from the plenum is renewed support for the private sector, a close second is the decision to reform the hukou, or household registration system.  This is important because there are more than 230m urban residents without an urban hukou, accounting for one-third of the entire urban population.

According to the official news agency, Xinhua, ‘Friday’s document promised to gradually allow eligible rural migrants to become official city residents, accelerate reform in the hukou system to fully remove restrictions in towns and small cities, gradually ease restriction in mid-sized cities, setting reasonable conditions for settling in big cities while strictly controlling the population in megacities.’ (…)

Hukou reform will be expensive, but the Party has no choice but to provide migrant workers and their families with equal access to education, health care and other urban social services.  In cases where local governments cannot afford these services, the central government will transfer the necessary funds.  Hukou reform will be rolled out gradually, and in our view:

Will reduce the risk of social instability from the 234m people living in cities who face de jure discrimination on a daily basis, particularly in eligibility for social services.

May increase the supply of migrant workers in cities at a time when the overall labour force is shrinking.

Should improve consumption by strengthening the social safety net for migrants, which will increase transfer payments and reduce precautionary savings.

Should result in higher productivity in manufacturing and construction by reducing worker turnover, and by creating a better-educated workforce. (…)

The one-child policy will be relaxed by ‘implementation of a policy where it is permitted to have two children if either a husband or a wife is an only child,’ a change from the current rules which require both the husband and wife to be only-children in order to qualify to have a second child.

Wang Peian, the deputy director of the national health and family planning committee, said that the Party will allow each province to decide when to switch to the new policy, but Friday’s announcement, in our view, spells the rapid end of the one-child policy.

Wang Feng, one of China’s leading demographers, told us over the weekend that Friday’s announcement was a ‘decisive turning point.’  But he also reminded us that in a May CLSA U report, he explained why ending the one-child policy is likely to result in a temporary uptick in the number of births, but is unlikely to change the longer-term trend towards a lower fertility rate.  The current fertility rate of 1.5 could drop even lower in the future, closer to Japan and South Korea’s 1.3, as the pressures of modern life lead Chinese couples to have smaller families. (…)

Xi consolidates power

The plenum decided to create two new groups within the government, a National Security Council and the Leading Small Group for the Comprehensive Deepening of Reform.  This signals that Party chief Xi Jinping has quickly and effectively consolidated his political power, far beyond, apparently, what his predecessor Hu Jintao was able to achieve.  This bodes well for Xi’s ability to implement the reform decisions announced Friday. (…)

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (19 NOVEMBER 2013)

EU Car Sales Maintain Growth

New car registrations in the European Union rose in October from a year earlier, the latest in a series of indications that Europe’s long auto-sales slump may be moderating.

The data, released Tuesday, marked the first time year-to-year demand for new cars has risen for two consecutive months since September 2011.

High five  But underscoring the still-daunting challenges faced by European auto makers, the October figures were lower than registrations a month earlier, and represented the second-lowest number of vehicles registered during October since 2003. During the first 10 months of the year, EU new car registrations fell 3.1% from the year-earlier period.

October new car registrations, a proxy for sales, rose 4.7% from a year earlier to 1.00 million vehicles, compared with 5.4% growth to 1.16 million in September.

Demand was supported by all major European markets, with registrations up 2.3% in Germany, 2.6% in France, 4.0% in the U.K. and 34% in Spain. The exception was Italy, where registrations fell 5.6% from a year earlier. (…)

Punch  The WSJ article failed to mention that Spain had its fourth cash-for-clunkers program last month.

Home Builders’ Confidence Eases a Bit

The National Association of Home Builders, an industry trade group, said Monday its monthly housing-market index stood at 54 in November, matching a downwardly revised figure for October. The figure measures builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes.

Readings above 50 indicate that more builders view conditions as good than poor, and the index crossed that threshold in June for the first time since April 2006. At the height of the building bubble, readings were in the high 60s and low 70s. (…)

The figure hit 58 in August and has been falling since. (…) In recent weeks, mortgage rates have started to rise, with the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4.35% as of Nov. 14, according to Freddie Mac. That is the highest rate in eight weeks, though rates remain near historic lows. (…) (Charts from CalculatedRisk and Bespoke Investment)

image

image

HOLIDAY SPENDING WATCH

(…) With shoppers expected to visit fewer stores this holiday, sales are projected to advance 2.4 percent, the smallest increase since the year the recession ended, according to ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based researcher. Sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday are projected to rise 2.2 percent year-over-year, researcher IBISWorld said yesterday. (…)

“The consumer is more deal-driven than ever,” Ken Perkins, president of researcher Retail Metrics LLC, wrote in a Nov. 14 note. “Discretionary dollars for holiday spending are limited for the large pool of lower- and moderate-income consumers due to lack of wage gains this year coupled with the increased payroll tax.” (…)

The six-fewer shopping days this year also could make the chains “push the promotional ‘panic button’ earlier than needed, putting their margins at risk,” they said. (…)

The National Retail Federation, a Washington-based trade group, is more upbeat than ShopperTrak. It has forecast that U.S. retail sales may increase 3.9 percent during the holiday season. That increase would be slightly higher than last year’s 3.5 percent gain. (…)

  • Best Buy warns promotions could hurt holiday quarter margins
  • Amazon’s Toys Cheaper Than Wal-Mart Online
  • Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN)’s toy prices were lower than those available online from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) and Target Corp. (TGT) last week as retailers seek to attract shoppers heading into the crucial holiday selling season.

    Amazon’s prices, excluding those from its third-party sellers, were 3 percent lower on average than Wal-Mart’s on a basket of 87 toys, according to a study conducted by Bloomberg Industries on Nov. 14. Including the Marketplace vendors, which use Amazon’s platform to sell their own products, the pool of comparable goods expanded to 115, and Wal-Mart was cheaper by 1.2 percent, on average.

    The pricing battle may help determine which retailers win consumers’ toy purchases during the holiday season. Sales in November and December account for 20 percent to 40 percent of U.S. retailers’ annual revenue, according to the National Retail Federation. (…)

    Wal-Mart’s prices were 2.4 percent lower than at Target, 5 percent less than Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD)’s Kmart and 7.2 percent lower than Toys “R” Us Inc., according to the study.

  • Chain store sales rose 0.1% last week and the 4-week m.a. is up 2.3% YoY.

image

Worldwide business confidence lifts from post-crisis low

The 13th Markit global survey of business expectations for the year ahead, covering 11,000 companies, indicated that firms have become more upbeat about their business prospects since the post-crisis low seen mid-year, resulting in higher expectations about employment and investment. However, optimism remains well below the highs seen earlier in the recovery, indicating that global economic growth is likely to remain subdued in the coming year.

The number of companies expecting their business activity levels to rise in the next 12 months outnumbered those anticipating a decline by +33%, up from +30% in June but below the +39% reading seen in February.

image

Improving prospects for the developed world contrasted with still-low levels of confidence about the year ahead in the emerging markets.
Among the developed world, the upturn in confidence was led by the UK, where the outlook is the brightest seen since the survey began in early-2009. Optimism also improved in the eurozone, hitting its highest since mid-2011, notably improving in the ‘periphery’, with Spain and Italy reporting a higher degree of optimism than Germany and France, the latter seeing the weakest positive sentiment.

In the United States, business confidence about the year ahead was the second–lowest seen since the financial crisis, up only slightly on the low seen in June but above the global average. Optimism edged up slightly in both manufacturing and services but remained subdued. Companies again fretted about the impact of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the government budget.

Worries about the outlook meant employment intentions were only marginally higher than the survey low seen in June, though capex plans recovered to a slightly greater extent.

In Japan, optimism remained weak, and slipped compared to mid-year, suggesting companies are unconvinced that the recent growth spurt is turning into a sustainable and robust upturn, in many cases harbouring concerns about growth prospects in other Asian countries, especially China. However, price pressures are set to improve, with input costs and output charges both rising at slightly faster rates.

Prospects among the four largest emerging markets remained unchanged on the post-crisis low seen in the mid-year survey. Both India and Russia saw optimism slide, while China’s outlook failed to improve on the low seen in the summer. Only Brazil saw business sentiment improve, reaching a new post-crisis high, buoyed by optimism about the positive impact of the soccer World Cup and Olympics.

image

High five  Corporate Results Expose Lack of Confidence

Investors sifting through third-quarter financial results should be a bit nervous about the future growth of the U.S. economy.

Though corporate profits were higher overall, companies slashed their spending on factories, equipment and other performance-enhancing investments by 16% from year-earlier levels, according to an analysis by REL Consultancy for The Wall Street Journal.

Instead of putting money to work in their operations, companies gave more of it back to shareholders in the form of buybacks and dividends.

Weakness in emerging markets and strong currency headwinds also were common themes in the quarterly results. (…)

Almost 90% of the companies that have given financial forecasts for the final quarter of the year have prompted Wall Street analysts to lower their numbers. Only a dozen companies have painted rosier pictures, according to data tracker FactSet.

“Companies are reluctant to raise the bar,” said John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet. “We’re not really seeing a huge increase in companies turning negative, but the number of companies giving positive guidance is almost half of what we’ve seen lately.”

A broad range of companies scaled back capital spending plans during the quarter, including Honeywell Inc., Corning Inc., Yahoo Inc., Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. (…)

To be sure, earnings continued to be strong in the third quarter. With more than 90% of companies in the S&P 500 index having posted results for the quarter, blended earnings were up 3.5% from a year earlier, and profit remained in record territory, according to FactSet. (…)

Profit margins, at 9.6%, were near records, thanks to cost cutting, automation and lower commodity prices. But revenue growth was a tepid 2.9% from a year earlier. (…)

The lack of confidence is part of the reason why U.S. companies were on pace to have more than $1.144 trillion in cash at the end of the quarter, making it the fourth quarterly record in a row, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. (…)

Corporate buybacks totaled $103 billion in the quarter, an increase of 12% from the second quarter, excluding Apple’s record $16 billion buyback in the spring, according to FactSet. (…)

Companies also announced a combined 2.5% increase in dividend payments, which now total almost $75.5 billion for the quarter, according to FactSet. (…)

Another prominent trend in third-quarter results was the harm caused by the dollar’s strength against the currencies of several major U.S. trading partners, including Japan, Brazil and India.

The dollar has climbed between 11% and 20% against the currencies of those three countries, making U.S.-made goods more expensive there. (…)

OECD Warns of U.S. Threat to Global Recovery

The uncertain future of U.S. fiscal and central bank policies poses a growing risk to a global economic recovery that has already been weakened by a slowdown in growth in many developing economies, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said Tuesday.

In its twice-yearly Economic Outlook report, the Paris-based research body said the U.S. debt ceiling should be abolished, and replaced by “a credible long-term budgetary consolidation plan with solid political support.”

The report marks a significant shift in the OECD’s focus of concern, which in recent years has been centered on the euro zone’s attempts to tackle its fiscal and banking crises. While the OECD remains worried about the euro zone’s frailties, the most immediate threats to the global recovery now appear to come from the U.S.

The OECD said a series of events has undermined confidence and stability in recent months, including the “surprisingly strong” reaction by investors to the possibility that the Federal Reserve will soon start to reduce its asset-purchase program. That led to related concerns about developing economies, and was followed by a “potentially catastrophic” crisis precipitated by negotiations over the U.S. debt ceiling.

“These events underline the prominence of negative scenarios and risks that the recovery could again be derailed,” OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan said.

The heightened risks from the U.S. are in addition to continued ones from a fragile euro-zone banking sector and Japan’s fiscal situation, the OECD said.

The warnings came as the OECD forecast only a modest economic recovery through 2015. The combined economies of the 34 members of the OECD will grow 1.2% this year, before accelerating to 2.3% in 2014 and 2.7% in 2015, according to its forecasts.

Growth rates between developed economies will continue to differ markedly with the euro zone contracting 0.4% this year before growing 1% next year, while the U.S. will grow 1.7% and 2.9% over the same periods.

The twice-yearly economic outlook is slightly weaker than in May, mainly because of an expected slowdown in some large developing economies that partly reflects their vulnerability to capital outflows when the Federal Reserve does eventually start to reduce its stimulus program.

“The turmoil following the tapering discussions in mid-year has revealed how sensitive some emerging market economies are to U.S. monetary policy,” the OECD said.

The OECD cut its 2014 growth forecast for Brazil to 2.2% from 3.5% in May, its forecast for India to 4.7% from 6.7%, and its forecast for Indonesia to 5.6% from 6.2%. It cut its growth forecast for China more modestly to 8.2% from 8.4%, still leaving it above that of many other economies.

The research body said the weaker growth outlook for some developing economies was more deeply rooted in “long-standing structural impediments that had been hidden by abundant capital inflows.” Solutions to those problems vary from country to country, but generally developing economies need more formal and efficient labor markets and stronger, market-based financial systems, Mr. Padoan said.

Largely as a result of its more downbeat assessment of the outlook for large developing economies, the OECD cut its forecast for global gross domestic product growth by around 0.5 percentage points this year and next to 2.7% and 3.6%, respectively. (…)

But not to worry:

Mohamed El-Erian
Yellen shows Fed remains risk markets’ best friend

(…) and not by choice but by necessity.

This is music to the ears of investors conditioned to position their portfolios to gain from steadfast central bank liquidity support, especially in the US. But with Wall Street having already reflected this in asset prices, and with the benefits for Main Street continuing to disappoint, investors may well need an increasingly differentiated approach if they are to continue to benefit from the “central bank put”. (…)

Ms Yellen left no doubt that she is committed to maintaining the Fed’s current approach – one that places asset markets front and centre in the transmission mechanism linking Fed actions to policy objectives.

Positioning for the impact of Fed policy rather than fundamentals has been a winning strategy for investors – not only in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, but also in the past three years during which the Fed has pivoted from normalising markets to pursuing much more ambitious macroeconomic objectives. But they now need to be increasingly mindful of the level of prices and the associated (and growing) number of disconnects that the Fed is underwriting.

This year’s impressive performance of risk assets (including the 21 per cent year-to-date increase in the MSCI world equity index as of Friday, powered in particular by US stocks) contrasts with a global economy still stuck in third gear. (…)

Fed policy fuels wealth-led growth
Still no sign of a real economic recovery

(…) Ms Yellen’s remarks, prepared for her confirmation hearings last week, contained no hint of tapering. That underscores the Fed’s obsessive fear of the negative wealth effect of any slowdown in asset purchases and a move towards higher interest rates. Five years after the meltdown, it is clear the Fed’s quantitative easing is not about a real economic recovery, it is only about generating the liquidity that gives rise to asset inflation and wealth-led growth. Or super wealthy people-led growth since wages and incomes for the rest of us are not rising at all. (…)

BUBBLE WATCH

Stocks Are Way, Way Overvalued: GMO

As U.S. stocks sit in record territory, money managers at GMO – never a bunch to shy away from bold calls – are warning that the market is significantly overvalued.

As U.S. stocks sit in record territory, money managers at GMO – never a bunch to shy away from bold calls – are warning that the market is significantly overvalued.

In a report titled ”Breaking News! U.S. Equity Market Overvalued!“, Ben Inker, head of the asset allocation group at GMO, comes out with some eye-popping numbers. He argues that the S&P 500′s fair value is 1100, about 40% below Monday’s closing level, and the expected return is -1.3% a year, after inflation, for the next seven years.

Small-cap valuations, he writes, are even more elevated. (…)

Mr. Inker’s call came after comments by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who told a conference sponsored by Reuters that he was “very cautious” on the stock market and could see a “big drop” because earnings at many companies have been goosed by low borrowing costs rather than strong management. (…)

GMO’s calls are widely watched in part because the firm’s money managers don’t have a reputation for being perma-bulls or perma-bears. Mr. Grantham was early in predicting the financial crisis and then reversed course before markets started rebounding in 2009. He has also advocated investing in timber and high-quality dividend-paying stocks. (…)

Here’s the conclusion to Mr. Inker’s rather downbeat analysis:

“We don’t consider non-U.S. equity markets a screaming buy. But as value managers listening for any assets, anywhere, that are screaming to be bought, the world currently sounds a deathly quiet place. The hoarse whisper of “buy me” coming from European and emerging equities (as well as the polite cough for attention coming from U.S. high quality stocks) comes through loud and clear. “

Hmmm… U.S. equities 40% overvalued and still willing to buy equities. I wouldn’t.

But others are also trumpeting Euro equities:

Europe Stocks Seem Cheap

As U.S. stocks push to record highs, more U.S. money managers are looking for better opportunities across the pond.

The big rally in U.S. stocks has pushed valuations higher than those of European shares. Meanwhile, sentiment is rising that Europe has gotten past the worst of its debt crisis, and some say the European Central Bank appears to be on a path for more easing of monetary policy, both of which augur for more room to run in European stocks.

Unlike the S&P 500, which is well into record territory, the Stoxx Europe 600 stock index hasn’t recovered to its precrisis peak. The S&P 500 has risen 26% this year while the Stoxx Europe 600 is up 16%.

Aren’t you convinced by this great analysis?

What about these mundane facts?

  • U.S. P/Es have exceeded Euro P/Es by an average of 10% over the last 25 years. In fact, the U.S. premium is at its low point of the past 14 years.
  • US trailing EPS are some 20% above their 2007 peak, whilst in Europe they are some 25% below.
  • U.S. profit margins are higher than Euro margins.
  • The U.S. economy keeps growing faster than that of the Eurozone.
  • U.S. inflation is higher than that of the Eurozone.
  • The U.S. government is more efficient than that of the Eurozone, which speaks volume about the latter.
  • The Fed is also more efficient than the ECB.

image

These reasons amply justify higher multiples for American companies.

This is not to deny the possibility that Eurozone profits could rise faster than U.S. profits in the next few years. In fact, this is a key argument for many strategists. The hurdles are significant, however. Slow domestic growth, a strong euro, low inflation and very liberal labour laws are big impediments to profit margins. Don’t simply extrapolate America’s margin expansion. Expectations for rising margins in Europe have remained elusive so far.

image image

A case in point: the following is especially true in Europe:

Just kidding  Business taxes fall more heavily on labor.

Companies around the world are paying more in employment taxes than in profit taxes, the FT reports. Labor taxes accounted for 32% of the average total tax rate paid by midsize businesses in 2004, but now account for almost 38% of the rate, compared with slightly more than 37% for profit taxes. Mary Monfries, tax partner of PwC, said the shift is a world-wide trend, “with governments lowering profit taxes to encourage investment and entrepreneurship. Getting the right tax mix is a hard call. Lower profit taxes can drive growth which brings employment, whilst lower employment taxes can ease the cost of hiring.”

Fed Official Says Big Banks Need Higher Capital Levels Very large banks that rely on broker-dealer operations need to hold higher levels of capital to reduce the risk to the broader financial system, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said.

European banks are also in a worse situation.

Now you know the essentials. All the best.  Winking smile

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (12 NOVEMBER 2013)

THE AMERICAN PROBLEM

Job Gap Widens in Uneven Recovery

America’s jobs recovery is proceeding on two separate tracks—a pattern that is persisting far longer than after past economic rebounds and lately has been growing worse.

(…) Youth unemployment, for example, nearly always improves after recessions more slowly than that of prime-age workers, those between 25 and 54. Following the 2001 recession, it took six months for the gap between the youth and prime-age unemployment rates to return to its long-run average. After the early 1990s recession, it took 30 months. This time, it has been 52 months, and the gap has hardly narrowed.

For those with decent jobs, wages are rising, albeit slowly, and job security is the strongest it has been since before the recession. Many families have paid down debts and are seeing the value of assets, from homes to stocks, rebound strongly.

But many others—the young, the less educated and particularly the unemployed—are experiencing hardly any recovery at all. Hiring remains weak, and the jobs that are available are disproportionately low-paying and often part-time. Wage growth is nearly nonexistent, in part because with so many people still looking for jobs, workers have little bargaining power.

Wage growth has moved on two tracks

The two-track nature of the recovery helps explain why the four-year-old upturn still doesn’t feel like one to many Americans. Higher earners are spending on cars, electronics and luxury items, boosting profits for the companies that make and sell such goods. But much of the rest of the economy remains stuck: Companies won’t hire or raise pay without more demand, and consumers can’t spend more without faster hiring and fatter paychecks. (…)

‘Rural America’ slow to recover
Net job growth near zero, say data

Employment growth in the US’s sparsely populated heartland has stagnated since the economy began to recover in 2010, according to official data that underscore the weakening economic power of rural America.

The data, from this year’s US Department of Agriculture’s Rural America at a Glance report, show that while employment in both urban and rural areas fell by 5 per cent during the 2007-09 recession and recovered by a similar level in 2010, their prospects have since diverged. Since the start of 2011, net job growth in non-metropolitan areas has been near zero, while it has averaged 1.4 per cent annually in metropolitan areas.

The report notes that rural job growth stagnation has coincided with the first-ever recorded net population decline in those regions, driven by a drop in the number of new migrants moving in. This means the unemployment rate in rural regions has not risen, since fewer people are seeking work.

Population loss has meant fewer jobs as demand for goods and services falls, which in turn encourages those with higher skills to move away. (…)

In summary (chart from Doug Short):

Click to View
 

Fingers crossed About 1-in-4 U.S. Pumps Selling Gas Below $3

Americans are seeing the lowest pump prices for gasoline since February 2011, AAA says.

Gas prices dropped 6.6 cent per gallon the past week to $3.186, which is down 25.3 cents from a year earlier.

That’s a 7.4% drop YoY! Right before Christmas. Chain store sales rose 1.2% last week, boosting the 4-week moving average to +2.1% YoY.

image

Expiring US jobless benefits fuel concern
The scheme launched in 2008 is due to run out

(…) Unless Congress takes action to renew it again, about 1.3m long-term unemployed would see their benefits halted at the end of the year, and a further 850,000 would be denied access to the benefits in the first three months of next year, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. (…)

Federal assistance for the long-term unemployed was launched in 2008, during the last recession, and renewed until the end of this year. Michael Feroli, a senior economist at JPMorgan Chase, has estimated that the expiry of the federal jobless benefits would trim about 0.4 percentage points off annualised gross domestic product growth in the first quarter of next year. This is roughly equivalent to estimates of the hit to US output produced by last month’s US government shutdown. (…)

Sad smile  Small Businesses Optimism Takes a Tumble

Fall arrived literally this month, as small business optimism dropped from 93.9 to 91.6, largely due to a precipitous decline in hiring plans and expectations for future smal -business conditions. Of the ten Index components, seven turned negative, falling a total of 27 percentage points. The stalemate in early October over funding the government as well as the failed “launch” of the Obamacare website left 68% of owners feeling that the current period is a bad time to expand; 37% of those owners identified the political climate in Washington as the culprit—a record high level.

Small business optimism report data through October 2013

 

image

 

image

 

Fingers crossed OECD: Global Growth to Pick Up

Economic growth is set to pick up in the euro zone, China and the U.K., while remaining sluggish in India, Brazil and Russia.

image

image

Punch  LE PROBLÈME FRANÇAIS (from Reuters’ AlphaNow):

COTW_1111

Rating the Euro Zone’s Progress

Many euro-zone indicators have taken on a more promising outlook in recent months. Credit ratings firms are beginning to reflect that.

The direction of travel can be more important than where on the journey you are. That’s particularly true of the euro zone and the credit ratings assigned to its member states. November’s actions—a downgrade for France and improvements in outlooks for Spain and Portugal—send some key signals. The euro zone is undergoing adjustment, although not all its members are yet on the right track.

France’s downgrade to double-A by Standard & Poor’s might look like the most important action, but isn’t. French bond yields hardly reacted; strategists at Royal Bank of Scotland told investors to “ignore” the cut. That is quite right; France faces no immediate threat that should cause bond yields to spike higher.

Still, the rationale is cause for long-term worry: France is falling behind. “French exporters appear to continue to be losing market share to those European competitors whose governments have more effectively loosened the structural rigidities in their economies,” S&P warned. The European Commission last week forecast that net exports would contribute just 0.1 percentage point to French growth of 0.9% in 2014 and be a slight drag on growth in 2015. France’s government still hasn’t found the right policy direction to regain competitiveness.

More significant was Fitch’s decision to raise Spain’s rating outlook to stable from negative, the first of the major ratings firms to do so. Spain won plaudits for its fiscal and structural reforms, and the move to surplus in its current account. That is an important turnaround: Spain was on the front line of the crisis just 18 months ago.

Most interesting of all was Moody‘s move to a stable outlook from negative on Portugal. Moody’s is becoming rapidly less bearish on the euro zone. At the start of September, it had just two euro-zone sovereigns with a stable outlook; now there are six. The big move for Moody’s would be to shift Spain back to a stable outlook. The decision on Portugal provided a glint of hope, with Moody’s highlighting the benefit of a recovery in Spain, its key trading partner.

Ratings are often dismissed as backward-looking, and downgrades or upgrades are frequently priced in long before they actually happen. But outlooks can provide new information to the market. That is where investors should look for signposts.

IEA warns of future oil supply crunch
Concerns rise as Gulf states delay investment due to US shale revolution

(…) Mr Birol was speaking as the Paris-based IEA unveiled its annual outlook for the energy market. Its 2012 forecast that the US would be a net oil exporter by 2030 helped bring shale oil production to global attention. But this year the organisation downplayed the significance of US production growth, with Mr Birol calling shale “a surge, rather than revolution”.

The IEA still expects US oil output to reduce the world’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil in the near term: it now forecasts that the US will displace Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer in 2015, two years earlier than it had estimated just 12 months ago.

But it expects US light tight oil production, which includes shale, to peak in 2020 and decline thereafter, even as global demand continues to grow to 101m barrels a day by 2035, from around 90m b/d today.

Outside the US, light tight oil production is only expected to contribute 1.5m b/d of supplies by 2035, as countries such as Russia and China make limited progress towards unlocking their shale reserves.

That will leave the market once more dependent on crude from the Opec oil cartel, of which Gulf producers are key members. (…)

But the IEA expects domestic demand in the Middle East to hit 10m b/d by 2035 – equal to China’s current consumption – thanks to subsidies for petrol and electricity, even as foreign demand for Gulf oil increases.

Mr Birol said the Gulf states needed to invest significantly now to meet rising demand after 2020, because projects take several years to begin producing. But he said he was concerned Gulf countries were misinterpreting the impact of rising US shale production. (…)

Gulf producers have taken a cautious approach to investment in recent years, in the face of fast growing US output. Saudi Arabia does not plan to increase its oil production capacity in the next 30 years, as new sources of supply, from US shale to Canadian oil sands, fill the demand gap.

The UAE is reported to have pushed back its target for raising production capacity to 3.5m b/d to 2020 from 2017, while Kuwait is struggling to overcome rapid decline rates from its existing fields. (…)

SENTIMENT WATCH

Charles Schwab’s Liz Ann Sonders posted this good Ned Davis chart, although her bullishness dictated her to write that sentiment was “a bit” stretched.

Sentiment does look a bit stretched in the short-term, with both the Ned Davis Crowd Sentiment Poll and SentimenTrader’s Smart Money/Dumb Money Confidence Poll showing elevated (extreme) levels of optimism. Investor sentiment shoots higher

Since 1995, being in such a “bit stretched” territory has not been profitable, on average:Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 4.21.29 PM

This next chart, posted by ZeroHedge, is nothing to help sentiment get less stretched.

Note however that the latest tally from S&P reveals that estimates for Q3 have turned up to $27.02 ($26.77 last week) while the forecast for Q4 is now $28.23 ($28.38 last week).

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (11 NOVEMBER 2013)

DRIVING BLIND

 

Jobs Strength Puts Fed on Hot Seat

The U.S. job market showed surprising resilience in October, rekindling debate about whether the economy is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to rein in its signature easy-money program.

The Labor Department reported that U.S. employers added 204,000 jobs last month, defying expectations for weaker hiring amid the shutdown and a debt-ceiling fight that knocked down consumer and business confidence.

Among the most encouraging revelations in the jobs report were upward revisions to government estimates of job growth in August and September, before the government shutdown, easing worries about a renewed slowdown in the labor market.

The 204,000 jump in nonfarm payrolls came on top of upward revisions of 60,000 for the two previous months.

With the revisions, the trend in job creation looks notably better than it did just a few weeks ago. The latest report showed that payroll employment grew by an average of just less than 202,000 jobs per month in the past three months. The previous jobs report, released Oct. 22, showed job growth had averaged 143,000 per month over the prior three-month period.

See the impact before and after the revisions. The “summer lull” was shallower and employment growth could be turning up:

image  image

However,

The latest figures included a number of statistical quirks that will likely lead Fed officials to be even more cautious than usual about inferring too much from a single month’s jobs report. For example, the timing of the delayed monthly hiring survey might have skewed the data.

And these peculiar stats:

Retail boom coming to a store near you?

Pointing up CalculatedRisk writes that according to the BLS, retailers hired seasonal workers in October at the highest level since 1999. This may have to do with these announcements posted here on Oct. 1st.:

Amazon to Hire 70,000 Workers For Holiday Selling Season

Amazon plans to hire 70,000 seasonal workers for its U.S. warehouse network this year, a 40% increase that points to the company’s upbeat expectations about the holiday selling season. (…)

Wal-Mart, for instance, said this week it will add about 55,000 seasonal workers this year and Kohl’s Corp. is targeting 50,000. Target Corp.’s estimated 70,000 in seasonal hires is 20% lower than last year, the company said, reflecting the desire by employees to log more hours at work.

Punch But, out there, in Real-Land, this is what’s happening:

Personal spending, a broad measure of consumer outlays on items from refrigerators to health care, rose 0.2% in September from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said Friday. While that was in line with economists’ forecast of a 0.2% increase and matched the average rise over the July-through-September period, it is still a tepid reading when taken in broader context.

This is in nominal dollars. In real terms, growth is +0.1% for the month and +0.3% over 3 months. While the rolling 3-month real expenditures are still showing 1.8% YoY growth, the annualized growth rate over the last 3 and 6 months has been a tepid 1.2%.

image

Here’s the trend in PDI and “department store type merchandise” sales. Hard to see any reason for retailers’ enthusiasm.image

Confused smile More quirks:

The weirdness was in the household survey, which showed a 735,000 plunge in employment, mainly 507,000 workers who were kept home by the federal government’s partial shutdown. But private employment was down 9,000, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted a massive exodus of 720,000 folks from the workforce.

Accordingly, the six-month average through October now comes to an increase of 174,000, basically the same as the six-month average through September of 173,000.

From the GDP report:

Consumer spending rose at an annualised rate of just 1.5%, down from 1.8% in the second quarter and 2.3% in the first three months of the year. The increase was the smallest for just over three years and considerably
below the 3.6% average seen in the 15 years prior to the financial crisis.

 

image

 

In a nutshell, the BLS reports a surge in jobs thanks largely to accelerating retail employment that is not supported by actual trends in consumer expenditures nor by their ability to spend.

Fingers crossed POTENTIAL SAVIOR:image

But there is also this:

October Housing Traffic Weakest In Two Years On “Broad-Based” Housing Market Slowdown

In case the world needed any additional proof that the latest housing bubble (not our words, Fitch’s) was on its last legs, it came earlier today from Credit Suisse’ Dan Oppenheim who in his monthly survey of real estate agents observed that October was “another weak month” for traffic, with “pricing power fading as sluggish demand persists.” (…)

Oppenheim notes that the “weakness was again broad-based, and particularly acute in Seattle, Orlando, Baltimore and Sacramento…. Our buyer traffic index fell to 28 in October from 36 in September, indicating weaker levels below agents’ expectations (any reading below 50). This is the lowest level since September 2011.”

Other notable findings:

  • The Price appreciation is continuing to moderate: while many markets saw home prices rising if at a far slower pace, 7 of the 40 markets saw sequential declines (vs. no markets seeing declines in each of the past 8 months). Agents also noted increased use of incentives. Tight inventory levels remain supportive, but are being outweighed by lower demand.
  • Longer time needed to sell: it took longer to sell a home in October as our time to sell index dropped to 42 from 57 (below a neutral 50). This is  typically a negative indicator for near-term home price trends.

Nonetheless:

U.S. Stocks Rise as Jobs Data Offset Fed Stimulus Concern

U.S. stocks rose, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a record close, as a better-than-forecast jobs report added to signs growth is strong enough for the economy to withstand a stimulus reduction.

Nerd smile  Ray Dalio warns, echoing one of my points in Blind Thrust:

Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater On The Fed’s Dilemma: “We’re Worried That There’s No Gas Left In The QE Tank”

(…) As shown in the charts below, the marginal effects of wealth increases on economic activity have been declining significantly. The Fed’s dilemma is that its policy is creating a financial market bubble that is large relative to the pickup in the economy that it is producing. If it were targeting asset prices, it would tighten monetary policy to curtail the emerging bubble, whereas if it were targeting economic conditions, it would have a slight easing bias. In other words, 1) the Fed is faced with a difficult choice, and 2) it is losing its effectiveness.

We expect this limit to worsen. As the Fed pushes asset prices higher and prospective asset returns lower, and cash yields can’t decline, the spread between the prospective returns of risky assets and those of safe assets (i.e. risk premia) will shrink at the same time as the riskiness of risky assets will not decline, changing the reward-to-risk ratio in a way that will make it more difficult to push asset prices higher and create a wealth effect.

Said differently, at higher prices and lower expected returns the compensation for taking risk will be too small to get investors to bid prices up and drive prospective returns down further. If that were to happen, it would become difficult for the Fed to produce much more of a wealth effect. If that were the case at the same time as the trickling down of the wealth effect to spending continues to diminish, which seems likely, the Fed’s power to affect the economy would be greatly reduced. (…)

The dilemma the Fed faces now is that the tools currently at its disposal are pretty much used up, in that interest rates are at zero and US asset prices have been driven up to levels that imply very low levels of returns relative to the risk, so there is very little ability to stimulate from here if needed.  So the Fed will either need to accept that outcome, or come up with new ideas to stimulate conditions.

We think the question around the effectiveness of continued QE (and not the tapering, which gets all the headlines) is the big deal. Given the way the Fed has said it will act, any tapering will be in response to changes in US conditions, and any deterioration that occurs because of the Fed pulling back would just be met by a reacceleration of that stimulation.  So the degree and pace of tapering will for the most part be a reflection and not a driver of conditions, and won’t matter that much.  What will matter much more is the efficacy of Fed stimulation going forward. 

In other words, we’re not worried about whether the Fed is going to hit or release the gas pedal, we’re worried about whether there’s much gas left in the tank and what will happen if there isn’t.

Elsewhere:

S&P Cuts France’s Credit Rating

The firm cut France’s rating by one notch to double-A, sharply criticizing the president’s strategy for repairing the economy.

“We believe the French government’s reforms to taxation, as well as to product, services, and labor markets, will not substantially raise France’s medium-term growth prospects,” S&P said. “Furthermore, we believe lower economic growth is constraining the government’s ability to consolidate public finances.”

S&P’s is the third downgrade of France by a major ratings firm since Mr. Hollande was elected. (…)

The political situation leaves the government with little room to raise taxes, S&P said. On the spending side, the agency said the government’s current steps and future plans to cut spending will have only a modest impact, leaving the country with limited levers to reduce its deficit.

Smile with tongue out  French Credit Swaps Fall as Investors Shun Debt Downgrade

The cost of insuring against a French default fell to the lowest in more than three years, as investors ignored a sovereign-credit rating downgrade by Standard & Poor’s.

Credit-default swaps on France fell for a sixth day, declining 1 basis point to about 51 basis points at 1:45 p.m. That would be the lowest closing price since April 20, 2010. The contracts have fallen from 219 basis points on Jan. 13, 2012 when France lost its top rating at S&P.

“You need to ignore the S&P downgrade of France,” saidHarvinder Sian, fixed-income strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London. “It is behind the market.”

Surprise Jump in China Exports

Exports rebounded sharply in October from a September slump as demand improved in the U.S. and Europe, a potentially positive sign for the global economic outlook.

Exports in October were up 5.6% from a year earlier, after registering a 0.3% fall in September. The median forecast of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal was for an expansion of just 1.5%.

The news from China follows reports of a strong October performance from South Korea’s exports, up 7.3% from a year earlier, and suggests the recovery in the U.S. and elsewhere, though slow, is feeding through into increased demand for Asia’s export machine.

Shipments from China to the European Union were up 12.7% from a year earlier, while those to the U.S. were up 8.1%. But exports to Japan lagged behind, against a background of continued political tensions and a weakening of the Japanese yen.

China’s good export performance is even more striking given that last year’s figures were widely thought to have been overreported, so that growth looks weaker by comparison. Excluding that effect, real export growth could be as high as 7.6%, Mr. Kuijs estimated.

Imports to China also showed strength in October, up 7.6% from a year earlier, accelerating a bit from September’s 7.4% pace.

Surprised smile  China Auto Sales Climb at Fastest Pace in Nine Months

Wholesale deliveries of cars, multipurpose and sport utility vehicles rose 24 percent to 1.61 million units in October, according to the state-backed China Association of Automobile Manufacturers today. That compares with the median estimate of 1.5 million units by three analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. (…)

Total sales of vehicles, including buses and trucks, rose 20 percent to 1.93 million units last month, the association said. In the first 10 months of the year, 17.8 million vehicles were delivered, with 14.5 million being automobiles.

Commercial vehicles sales increased 7.4 percent in the first 10 months of the year to 3.36 million units.

China inflation hits eight-month high amid tightening fear

China’s Inflation Picks Up

The consumer price index rose to 3.2% on a year-on-year basis in October, up from 3.1% in September. The rise was largely due to mounting food prices, which climbed 6.5%, and rising rents, according to government data released on Saturday. But it was still well within the government’s ceiling of 3.5% for the year.

Producer prices were down 1.5% year on year after moderating to a fall of 1.3% in September. This was the 20th month in a row of falling factory prices.

On a month-on-month basis, prices were even less of a concern, gaining only 0.1%.

CPI/non-food rose 1.6% YoY (same as September and vs. 1.7% a year ago), and was +0.3% MoM (+0.4% in September). Last 2 months annualized: +4.3%.

Data also showed China’s factory output rose 10.3% YoY in October. Fixed-asset investment, a key driver of economic growth, climbed 20.1% in the first 10 months. Real estate investment growth rose 19.2%, while property sales rose 32.3%.

Power production rode 8.4% YoY in October, compared to 8.2% in September and 6.4% a year earlier.

Retail sales were up 13.3%. Nominal retail sales growth has been stable at about 13% YoY for the past five months.

INFLATION/DEFLATION

Central Banks Renew Reflation Push as Prices Weaken

A day after the European Central Bank unexpectedly halved its benchmark interest rate to a record-low 0.25 percent and Peru cut its main rate for the first time in four years, the Czech central bank yesterday intervened in currency markets. The Reserve Bank of Australiayesterday left open the chance of cheaper borrowing costs by forecasting below-trend economic growth. (…)

Other central banks also held their fire this week. The Bank of England on Nov. 7 kept its benchmark at 0.5 percent and its bond purchase program at 375 billion pounds ($600 billion).

Malaysia held its main rate at 3 percent for a 15th straight meeting to support economic growth, rather than take on inflation that reached a 20-month high in September.

image

The Economist agrees (tks Jean):

The perils of falling inflation In both America and Europe central bankers should be pushing prices upwards

(…) The most obvious danger of too-low inflation is the risk of slipping into outright deflation, when prices persistently fall. As Japan’s experience shows, deflation is both deeply damaging and hard to escape in weak economies with high debts. Since loans are fixed in nominal terms, falling wages and prices increase the burden of paying them. And once people expect prices to keep falling, they put off buying things, weakening the economy further. There is a real danger that this may happen in southern Europe. Greece’s consumer prices are now falling, as are Spain’s if you exclude the effect of one-off tax increases. (…)

Race to Bottom Resumes as Central Bankers Ease Anew

The European Central Bank cut its key rate last week in a decision some investors say was intended in part to curb the euro after it soared to the strongest since 2011. The same day, Czech policy makers said they were intervening in the currency market for the first time in 11 years to weaken the koruna. New Zealand said it may delay rate increases to temper its dollar, and Australia warned the Aussie is “uncomfortably high.”

Canada’s housing market teeters precariously
Analysts warn nation is on verge of ‘prolonged correction’

(…) Alongside Norway and New Zealand, Canada’s overvalued property sector is most vulnerable to a price correction, according to a recent OECD report. It is especially at risk if borrowing costs rise or income growth slows.

In its latest monetary policy report, the Bank of Canada, the nation’s central bank, noted: “The elevated level of household debt and stretched valuations in some segments of the housing market remain an important downside risk to the Canadian economy.”

The riskiest mortgages are guaranteed by taxpayers through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, somewhat insulating the financial sector from the sort of meltdown endured by Wall Street in 2007 and 2008. But a collapse in home sales and prices would be a serious blow to consumer spending and the construction industry that employs 7 per cent of Canada’s workforce. (…)

Household debt has risen to 163 per cent of disposable income, according to Statistics Canada, while separate data show a quarter of Canadian households spend at least 30 per cent of their income on housing. This is close to the 1996 record when mortgage rates were substantially higher.

On a price-to-rent basis, which measures the profitability of owning a house, Canada’s house prices are more than 60 per cent higher than their long-term average, the OECD says. (…)

EARNINGS WATCH

From various aggregators:

  • Bloomberg:

Among 449 S&P 500 companies that have announced results during the earnings season, 75 percent beat analysts’ estimates for profits, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Growth in fourth-quarter earnings will accelerate to 6.2 percent from 4.7 percent in the previous three months, analysts’ projections show.

  • Thomson Reuters:
  • Third quarter earnings are expected to grow 5.5% over Q3 2012. Excluding JPM, the earnings growth estimate is 8.2%.
  • Of the 447 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings to date for Q3 2013, 68% have reported earnings above analyst expectations. This is higher than the long-term average of 63% and is above the average over the past four quarters of 66%.
  • 53% of companies have reported Q3 2013 revenue above analyst expectations. This is lower than the long-term average of 61% and higher than the average over the past four quarters of 51%.
  • For Q4 2013, there have been 78 negative EPS preannouncements issued by S&P 500 corporations compared to 8 positive EPS preannouncements. By dividing 78 by 8, one arrives at an N/P ratio of 9.8 for the S&P 500 Index. If it persists, this will be the most negative guidance sentiment on record.
  • Zacks:

Total earnings for the 440  S&P 500 companies that have reported results already, as of Thursday morning November 7th, are up +4.6% from the same period last year, with 65.7% beating earnings expectations with a median surprise of +2.6%. Total revenues for these companies are up +2.9%, with 51.4% beating revenue expectations with a median surprise of +0.1%.

The charts below show how the results from these 440 companies compare to what these same companies reported in Q2 and the average for the last 4 quarters. The earnings and revenue growth rates, which looked materially weaker in the earlier phase of the Q3 reporting cycle, have improved.

The earnings beat ratio looks more normal now than was the case earlier in this reporting cycle. It didn’t make much sense for companies to be struggling to beat earnings expectations following the significant estimate cuts in the run up to the reporting season.


The composite earnings growth rate for Q3, combining the results from the 440 that have come out with the 60 still to come, currently remains at +4.6% on +2.9% higher revenues. This will be the best earnings growth rate of 2013 thus far, though expectations are for even stronger growth in Q4.

We may not have had much growth in recent quarters, but the expectation is for material growth acceleration in Q4 and beyond. The chart below shows total earnings growth on a trailing 4-quarter basis. The +3.1% growth rate in the chart means that total earnings in the four quarters through 2013 2Q were up by that much from the four quarters through 2012 2Q. As you can see, the expectation is for strong uptrend in the growth momentum from Q4 onwards.

Guidance has been overwhelmingly negative over the last few quarters and is not much different in Q3 either, a few notable exceptions aside.

Given this backdrop, estimates for Q4 will most likely come down quite a bit in the coming weeks. And with the market expecting the Fed to wait till early next year to start Tapering its QE program, investors may shrug this coming period of negative estimate revisions, just like they have been doing for more than a year now.

SENTIMENT WATCH

 

Stocks Regain Broad Appeal

Mom-and-pop investors are returning to stocks, but their renewed optimism is considered by many professionals to be a warning sign, thanks to a long history of Main Street arriving late to market rallies.

(…) “Frankly, from 2009 until recently, I wanted to stay very conservative,” said Chris Rouk, a technology sales manager in Irvine, Calif. Now, he said, “I want to get more aggressive.” (…)

More investors are saying they are bullish about the stock market, according to the latest poll from the American Association of Individual Investors, which found that 45% of individuals are bullish on stocks, above the long-term average of 39%. Last month, the same survey said the number of investors who said they were bearish on stocks fell to the lowest level since the first week of 2012. (…)

Flurry of Stock, Bond Issuance Is a Danger Sign for Markets

Just as financial markets were recovering from the Washington turmoil, a new danger signal has started blinking, in the form of a flood of stock and bond issues.

So far this year, U.S. companies have put out $51 billion in first-time stock issues, known as initial public offerings or IPOs, based on data from Dealogic. That is the most since $63 billion in the same period of 2000, the year bubbles in tech stocks and IPOs both popped.

Follow-on offerings by already public companies have been even larger, surpassing $155 billion this year. That is the most for the first 10-plus months of any year in Dealogic’s records, which start in 1995.

It isn’t just stock. U.S. corporate-bond issues have exceeded $911 billion, also the most in Dealogic’s database. Developing-country corporate-bond issues have surpassed $802 billion, just shy of the $819 billion in the same period last year, the highest ever. (…)

Small stocks with weak finances are outperforming bigger, safer stocks. And the risky payment-in-kind bond, which can pay interest in new bonds rather than money, is popular again. (…)

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (31 OCTOBER 2013)

Fed Opts to Stay Course For Now

Fed officials emerged from a policy meeting with their easy-money program intact and no clear signal about whether they would begin pulling it back at their December meeting or continue it into 2014.

(…) “The housing sector has slowed somewhat in recent months,” the Fed said in its statement. All in all, however, officials stuck to their view that the economy is expanding “at a moderate pace” and exhibits growing underlying strength.

Inflation Stays Tame, Supporting Fed on Easy-Money Strategy

U.S. consumer prices climbed modestly in September, underscoring weak inflation and supporting the Federal Reserve in keeping its bond-buying program intact.

The consumer-price index, which measures what Americans pay for everything from bread to dental care, rose 0.2% from August, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.1%.

From a year ago, overall prices were up 1.2% while core prices were up 1.7%.

Wednesday’s report is particularly noteworthy because it’s used to calculate annual cost-of-living increase in Social Security payments for almost 58 million Americans. The Social Security Administration said Wednesday that benefits would increase 1.5% in January.

Pointing up But underlying inflation trends remain above 2.0%:

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.1% annualized rate) in September. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index also increased 0.2% (2.2% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly CPI report.

image

 

Another Downbeat Payrolls Report

ADP private-sector payrolls rose a lackluster 130,000 in October following a downwardly-revised 146,000 increase in September. While firms are still hiring, there’s no denying the slowing trend. Pronounced weakness among small service-providing businesses suggest the 16-day government shutdown was a special factor this month, and that payrolls will rebound in November…unless business owners fear another shutdown in the New Year. (BMO Capital)

image

 

Money  Rich People’s Views of the Economy Near Pre-Recession Levels

Affluent U.S. households, buoyed by a surging stock market, feel better about the economy this fall than at any time since before the recession began.

A gauge of sentiment about current economic conditions among the wealthiest 10% of Americans jumped 22 points from the spring to a fall reading of 93, a survey by the American Affluence Research Center showed.

It’s the first “neutral” reading after five years mired in “negative” territory. The last time the index found positive sentiment — above 100 — was the fall of 2007, just before the recession began.

(…) “The stock market has made a big recovery…and these people control over 80% of all stocks and securities owned by the general public.”

Despite the optimism, many wealthier Americans said they’re reluctant to open their wallets further.

Of 17 categories tracked by the biannual survey, respondents only expect spending on domestic vacations to increase during the next 12 months.

The affluent said they plan to decrease spending on designer apparel, fine jewelry and camera equipment. They expect to hold steady in most other categories, including entertainment, dining out and home furnishings.

Ghost The rich even said they’ll cut back on holiday shopping.

The survey found affluent households plan to spend an average of $2,175 on holiday gifts, a 2.8% decline from 2012. (…) Last year, the rich spent 7% more than they said they would in the fall 2012 survey, Mr. Kurtz said.

Goldman Shrinking Pay Shows Wall Street Poised for Bonus Gloom

The firm’s average compensation cost per employee fell 5 percent to $319,755 in the first nine months of 2013. At JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s investment bank, it fell 4.8 percent to $165,774. The figure plummeted 16 percent at Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group AG to $204,000.

At the other extreme:

Retailers Brace for Cut in Food Stamps

Retailers and grocers are bracing for another drain on consumer spending when a temporary boost in food-stamp benefits expires Friday.

The change will leave 48 million Americans with an estimated $16 billion less to spend over the next three years and comes just months after the expiration of a payroll tax cut knocked 2% off consumers’ monthly paychecks.

On the business side of the equation, the cuts will fall particularly hard on the grocers, discounters, dollar stores and gas stations that depend heavily on low-income shoppers. Weak spending in that stressed consumer segment has already led retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. to lower their sales forecasts for the rest of the year ahead of holidays. (…)

Enrollment in food-stamp benefits surged during the recession and in its wake, increasing by 70% from 2007 to 2011 before leveling off. The government’s stimulus program increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits across the board by 13.6% in 2009.

As that temporary increase expires on Friday, benefits for a family of four receiving a maximum allotment will drop by 5.4%, the equivalent of about $36 a month, or $420 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The $16 billion, three-year toll of the cuts estimated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pales in comparison with the estimated $120 billion, one-year hit caused by the earlier expiration of the payroll tax cut. But for many retailers the two have a cumulative effect.

Wal-Mart estimates it rakes in about 18% of total U.S. outlays on food stamps. That would mean it pulled in $14 billion of the $80 billion the USDA says was appropriated for food stamps in the year ended in September 2012.

THE EUROZONE IS NOT OUT OF THE WOODS JUST YET

Storm cloud  Eurozone retail sales fall at faster rate in October

Eurozone retail PMI® data from Markit showed a steeper drop in sales at the start of the final quarter of 2013. The Markit Eurozone Retail PMI remained below neutrality and declined to 47.7, from 48.6, indicating the fastest monthly rate of decline since May. In contrast, the average reading over the third quarter was the highest since Q2 2011 (49.5).

The faster decline in eurozone retail sales mainly reflected a steeper contraction in Italy, which had seen the slowest fall in sales in two years one month previously. Sales fell further in France, albeit at a slower rate, while the rate of growth in Germany was the weakest since May.

image

image

France September consumer spending was down 0.1% on the month, having dropped 0.4% in August and was down 0.1% YoY.

image

 

Euro Inflation Slows, as Rate-Cut Pressure Grows

Annual inflation in Germany fell in October to 1.3% from 1.6% the previous month based on common European Union definitions, Germany’s statistics office said. In monthly terms, consumer prices fell 0.2% from September.

Separately, Spain’s statistics institute said annual price growth in the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy fell to 0.1% in October from 0.5% in September.

Belgium also reported low inflation rates this month, with annual consumer price growth of 0.6%, the lowest since January 2010.

Taken together, Wednesday’s reports suggest annual euro-zone inflation, due for release Thursday, will come in as low as 0.9%, economists said. That compares with 1.1% in September and is far below the ECB’s target of just under 2% over the medium term.

The October CPI Flash Estimate rose 0.7% YoY up 1.1% in September.

SENTIMENT WATCH

From Bank of America Merrill Lynch:

image

US stock market cap to GDP (Exhibit 2), one of Warren Buffet’s favored valuation metrics, is currently 1.12x, clearly high by the standards of the last 60 years. The measure is at the very least a reminder that growth in 2014, rather than liquidity, is essential to prevent an overshoot of the equity market.

image

 

U.S. Blasts German Policy

The Treasury’s semiannual report says Germany’s export-led growth is creating problems for the euro zone and the global economy.

Employing unusually sharp language, the U.S. on Wednesday openly criticized Germany’s economic policies and blamed the euro-zone powerhouse for dragging down its neighbors and the rest of the global economy.

In its semiannual currency report, the Treasury Department identified Germany’s export-led growth model as a major factor responsible for the 17-nation currency bloc’s weak recovery. The U.S. identified Germany ahead of its traditional target, China, and the most-recent perceived problem country, Japan, in the “key findings” section of the report. (…)

The focus on Germany represents a stark shift in the Obama administration’s economic engagement with one of its most important allies. (…)

Punch  Jacob Kirkegaard, an expert on the euro zone at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the timing of the criticism is likely an attempt to influence economic policy in Germany while a new coalition government is being formed and is debating its agenda for the next several years. (…)

Ninja  The currency report comes at a time when officials in Berlin and Washington are already clashing over other issues including allegations about U.S. spying. (…)

THE STATE OF THE UNION

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (28 OCTOBER 2013)

TODAY: Earnings season half time show.

Storm cloud US durable goods orders rise

That is the FT’s headline. Here’s mine: DURABLE GOODS ORDERS VERY WEAK AT THE CORE

New orders for durable goods strengthened by 3.7% last month (7.4% y/y) following a little-revised 0.2% August uptick. Orders for nondefense aircraft & parts led the total higher with a 57.5% rise (17.4% y/y). That was accompanied by a 15.2% increase (-9.9% y/y) in defense aircraft bookings. In contrast, motor vehicle & parts orders edged 0.3% lower (+12.0% y/y).

Outside of the transportation sector orders slipped 0.1% (+5.6% y/y), the third consecutive month of shortfall. (…) A 6.9% increase (9.3% y/y) in nondefense capital goods orders reflected the strength in aircraft bookings, but orders excluding aircraft fell 1.1% (+8.3% y/y). (Haver Analytics)

image

Pointing up  The important line is #5, Nondef. cap. goods ex. aircrafts: that was down 1.1% in September, capping a 4.2% collapse for all of Q3, nearly –18% annualized!

BERNANKE’S GAMBIT UNRAVELLING JUST BEFORE YELLEN?

The über bears at ZeroHedge don’t miss anything from the darker side. But there is some substance to this one:

With everything hinging on the ‘wealth effect’ of more QE and a levitating US stock market, the fact that Bloomberg’s Comfort Index for the most affluent earners just collapsed (and stayed at) seven-month lows – in the face a rip-your-face-off rally in stocks – suggests even the wealthy know when the music is beginning to end…

In the short-term, the “belief” of the wealthy is fading…

and the overall economic index is diverging badly…

The bottom-line is that if even the wealthy ain’t buying it, then just who is this farce for?

Maybe it was all because of Washington and only temporary…although they’ll all be back at “work” early next year.  Here’s why it matters:

From BloombergBriefs:

image

From Raymond James:

New home sales above $400,000 rose 56% y/y in 2Q13, while sales of new homes priced under $200,000 (typical “entry-level” new homes) are flat y/y.image

Finally, these tidbits:

  • Sales of luxury cars in the first nine months of 2013 were up 12% from a year earlier. By contrast, sales of inexpensive small cars, such as the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris, were up just 6.1% for the same period, according to figures compiled by Autodata.
  • In September, about 60% of the 45,944 pickups sold by General Motors Co. were considered high-end models, equipped with leather seats, electronic features and higher-grade audio systems.
  • At Winnebago, based in Forest City, Iowa, sales in its fiscal fourth quarter ended Aug. 31 were up 32% from a year earlier.

A Bad Turn for European Firms

Weak currencies in emerging markets, coupled with a surge in the euro, are hampering results at companies across Western Europe.

Europe’s biggest industrial groups, pained for years by the continent’s flagging economy, have a new headache: wildly fluctuating currencies in emerging markets.

Many companies sought growth outside of Europe during the downturn, particularly in the developing world. But a number of emerging economies are now suffering slowdowns of their own that in turn have undermined their currencies, denting the bottom lines of some of Europe’s biggest corporations.

At the same time, the euro has strengthened against the currencies of major markets such as the U.S. and Japan, despite indications that Europe is only slowly recovering from its slump. On Friday, an unexpected drop in German business sentiment and data showing weak euro-zone bank lending were signs that Europe’s economy remains fragile.

Since the end of June, the euro is up 17% against the Indonesian rupiah, 9.6% against the Indian rupee, 5.4% against the South African rand, 4.5% against the Brazilian real and 1.7% against the Russian ruble. In the same stretch, it is also up 6% against the dollar and 3% against the yen.

The euro’s year-over-year gains are also dramatic, including a 17% jump against Brazil’s currency and an 8.5% rise against the ruble from last year’s third quarter. (…)

For now, the foreign-exchange hit has taken investors by surprise. Many companies are hedged against fluctuations by manufacturing in developing countries and using local rather than European suppliers. But the combination of weak emerging-market currencies and the euro’s strength against major currencies has taken its toll—particularly when demand in Europe remains sluggish. (…)

EARNINGS WATCH

FIRST HALF SCORECARD

S&P updated its Q3 earnings scorecard with 245 companies having reported. The beat rate is 67% (59% the previous week) and the miss rate a low 19% (27%). High beat rates so far are in IT (82%), Energy (80%) and Materials (76%).

S&P now sees Q3 EPS reaching $26.94, up from $26.72 last week while Q4 estimates have ticked down from $28.67 to $28.52.

Here’s Factset’s more comprehensive half time report:

Overall, 244 companies have reported earnings to date for the third quarter. Of these 244 companies, 75% have reported actual EPS above the mean EPS estimate and 25% have reported actual EPS below the mean EPS estimate. Over the past four quarters on average, 70% of companies have reported actual EPS above the mean EPS estimate. Over the past four years on average, 73% of companies have reported actual EPS above the mean EPS estimate.

In aggregate, companies are reporting earnings that are 0.8% above expectations. Over the last four quarters on average, actual earnings have surpassed estimates by 3.7%. Over the past four years on average, actual earnings have surpassed estimates by 6.5%. If 0.8% is the final surprise percentage for the quarter, it will mark the lowest surprise percentage since Q4 2008 (-62%).

The blended earnings growth rate for Q3 2013 is 2.3%, down from 3.0% on September 30.

In terms of revenues, 52% of companies have reported actual sales above estimated sales and 48% have reported actual sales below estimated sales. The percentage of companies beating sales estimates is above the percentage recorded over the last four quarters (48%), but below the average over the previous four years (59%).

In aggregate, companies are reporting sales that are 0.2% below expectations. Over the previous four quarters on average, actual sales have exceeded estimates by 0.4%. Over the previous four years on
average, actual sales have exceeded estimates by 0.7%.

The blended revenue growth rate for Q3 2013 is 2.0%, which is below the growth rate of 2.7% at the end of the third quarter (September 30).

Since the start of the fourth quarter (September 30), analysts have reduced earnings growth expectations for Q4 2013 (to 8.5% from 10.0%). However, they still expect a significant improvement in earnings growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 relative to recent quarters.

The estimated revenue growth rate for Q4 2013 of 0.6% is expected to be well below the estimated earnings growth rate.

At this stage of Q3 2013 earnings season, 57 companies in the index have issued EPS guidance for the fourth quarter. Of these 57 companies, 49 have issued negative EPS guidance and 8 have issued positive EPS guidance. Thus, the percentage of companies issuing negative EPS guidance to date for the fourth quarter is 86% (49 out of 57). This percentage is well above the 5-year average of 63%.

image
FORECASTING FOR DUMMIES

Punch  Even if you pray very hard, these trends can’t diverge forever:

image

Annoyed  But don’t worry. Just add a song to the prayer. Sales, flat for 2 years, are apparently just about to take off. Never mind that GDP and inflation are slow and slowing. See “Barron’s Cover” below.image

Sarcastic smile Same with margins. The same magic wand will make them soar forever from their current all-time high level.image

Open-mouthed smile  Voilà! A nice, harmonious, constantly rising slope. Pleasant to the eyes. That’s how it’s done! image

Nerd smile  The fact remains that there is a link between revenue and GDP. Nominal GDP is up 3.1% YoY in the first half of 2013. According to RBC’s regression formula, S&P 500 companies should have recorded revenue growth in the 2.8% range. It actually came in at 1.5% and 2.0% in Q1 and Q2, the shortfall likely due to a stronger dollar. Current forecasts for 2014 are in the +4.6% range. Hmmm…

image

Just kidding  On margins, consider that interest expense is now running near 2.0% of sales, down from 4.5% in 2008 and a 13-year average of 3.7%. That big windfall is behind us, unless the economy slows even more. (For more on margins see Margins Calls Can Be Ruinous In Many Ways).

Speaking of margin calls, this from Doug Short, for your interest (pun intended):Click to View

Money  Big Banks Pad Profits With ‘Reserve’ Cash Federal regulators have warned banks to be careful about padding their profits with money set aside to cover bad loans. But some of the nation’s biggest banks did more of it in the third quarter than earlier this year.

J.P. Morgan Chase  & Co.,Wells Fargo  & Co., Bank of America Corp.  and CitigroupInc., the nation’s largest banks by assets, tapped a total of $4.9 billion in loan-loss reserves in the third quarter, up by about a third from both the second quarter and the year-ago quarter after adjustments.  All the banks except Citigroup showed significant increases compared with the second quarter.

Accounting rules allow the money to flow directly into profits. In all, it made up 18% of the banks’ third-quarter pretax income excluding special items, the highest percentage in a year, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

The moves come at a time when banks are being slammed by revenue slowdowns. Big commercial banks have suffered from a double whammy of plunging mortgage lending and trading activity. Third-quarter revenue for the four banks dropped an average of 8% from the previous quarter. (…)

Other banks are releasing reserves, as well, though the amounts drop off drastically below the top four. In the second quarter, the most-recent period for which industry wide figures are available, nearly 40% of all FDIC-insured banks released reserves, according to the FDIC. As of June 30, the industry’s bad-loan reserves had fallen to their lowest level as a percentage of total loans since before the financial crisis began, according to FDIC data. (…)

The banks justify the releases. They cite improvements in credit quality and economic conditions—which make it less necessary for them to hold large amounts of reserves as a cushion against loans that go sour—and they say they are following accounting rules that require them to release funds as losses ease. (…)

In a statement to the Journal, Comptroller Thomas Curry said the OCC is monitoring banks’ loan-loss allowances “very closely” and that “we continue to caution banks not to move too quickly to reduce reserves or become too dependent on these unsustainable releases.” He didn’t comment specifically on the banks’ third-quarter releases, but said OCC examiners “will continue to challenge allowances on a bank-by-bank basis if necessary.” (…)

Barron’s Cover Slowing to a Crawl

The political fight over deficits is pointless unless Washington confronts a bigger threat: the coming decline in economic growth.

(…) Growth depends on both increases in the size of working-age populations and gains in their productivity, or output per worker hour. More people cranking out more goods and services means more growth. Unfortunately, each measure shows signs of dramatically slowing.

This new slow-growth era could have broad repercussions that will affect not only the pugilists in Washington but businesses and investors. Weaker growth will make it harder for companies to improve earnings, fatten dividends, or garner better stock returns. It also threatens to fan social inequality and class tensions and limit the ability of government to fund various entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Tax revenues also are likely to fall short of projected levels. (…)

image

RBC Capital’s other way of looking at the slowing:

image

CODE RED

John Mauldin’s new book is now out. Some excerpts:

(…) The money printing that central bankers did after the failure of Lehman Brothers was entirely appropriate in order to avoid a Great Depression II. The Fed and central banks were merely creating some money and credit that only partially offset the contraction in bank lending.

The initial crisis is long gone, but the unconventional measures have stayed with us. Once the crisis was over, it was clear that the world was saddled with high debt and low growth. In order to fight the monsters of deflation and depression, central bankers have gone wild. Central bankers kept on creating money. Quantitative easing was a shocking development when it was first trotted out, but these days the markets just shrug. Now, the markets are worried about losing their regular injections of monetary drugs. What will withdrawal be like? (…)

Savers and investors in the developed world are the guinea pigs in an unprecedented monetary experiment.

And this great one:

In the film A Few Good Men Jack Nicholson played Colonel Nathan Jessup. He was guilty of using an unconventional approach to discipline by ordering a Code Red, an extreme discipline method, on his soldiers. Colonel Jessup explained in court towards the end of the film that while his methods are grotesque and abnormal, they are necessary to preserve freedom. While central bank Code Red policies are unorthodox and distasteful, many economists believe they are necessary to kick-start the global economy and counteract the crushing burden of debt. David Zervos, chief market strategist at the investment bank Jeffries & Co., humorously observed that if Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, could be honest with the public, he would paraphrase Colonel Jessup’s speech:

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has unfathomably intricate economies, and those economies and the banks that are at their center have to be guarded by men with complex models and printing presses. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Mauldin? Can you even begin to grasp the resources we have to use in order to maintain balance in a system on the brink?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom! You weep for Savers and creditors, and you curse the central bankers and quantitative easing. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that the destruction of savers with inflation and low rates, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves jobs and banks and businesses and whole economies!

You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that central bank! You need me on that Committee! Without our willingness to silently serve, deflation would come storming over our economic walls and wreak far worse havoc on an entire nation and the world. I will not let the 1930s and that devastating unemployment and loss of lives repeat themselves on my watch.

We use words like “full employment,” “inflation,” “stability.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline!

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very prosperity that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just say “Thank you,” and go on your way.

The endgame:

Bernanke understands that the world has far too much debt that it can’t pay back. Sadly, debt can only go away via: 1) defaults (and there are so many ways to default without having to actually use the word!), 2) paying down debt through economic growth, or 3) eroding the burden of debt through inflation or devaluations. In our grandparents’ age, we would have seen defaults. But defaults are painful, and no one wants them. We’ve grown fat and comfortable. We don’t like pain.

Growing our way out of our problems would be ideal, but it isn’t an option. Economic growth is elusive everywhere we look. Central bankers are left with no other option but to create inflation and devalue their currencies. (…)

Excesses and bubbles are not a mere side effect. As crazy as it seems, reckless investor behavior is, in fact, the planned objective. (…)

The coming upheaval will affect everyone. No one will be spared the consequences – from savers who are planning for retirement to professional traders looking for opportunities to profit in financial markets. Inflation will eat away at savings; government bonds will be destroyed as a supposedly safe asset class; and assets that benefit from inflation and money printing will do well.

This book will provide a roadmap and a playbook for retail savers and professional traders alike. This book will shine a light on the path ahead. Code Red will explain in plain English complicated things like zero interest rate policies (ZIRP), nominal GDP targeting, quantitative easing, money printing, and currency wars. But much more importantly, it will explain how what is in store will affect your savings and offer insights on how to protect your wealth. Code Red will be an invaluable guide for the road ahead.

Another type of “endgame”:

HOW TO QUICKLY LOSE $33 BILLION (CNBC)

It was May of 2011, and the setting was the Michael Milken conference in California.

Although investor skepticism was starting to rise even then, Eike Batista, worth roughly $30 billion at the time, was still his usual, confident self. He was going to be richer than Carlos Slim, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, he told CNBC at the time, because “I have created five companies that have in them embedded resources worth $2 trillion at a very low cost of producing.” He went on to call them “idiot-proof assets.”

Fast-forward to today. Those assets are valued a lot closer to zero than $2 trillion. One of his five companies, oil and gas driller OGX—the cornerstone of his short-lived mining, energy and shipping empire—is expected to file for bankruptcy any day. And he’s essentially held a yard sale for his other holdings, all in an effort to find cash.

Batista once compared his oil fields, located off the coast of Brazil in the Campos Basin, to those of Saudi Arabia. But today, OGX produces not a single barrel of oil. Four out of five fields are abandoned, after oil production there turned out to be dramatically below expectations. (…)

Those who lent Batista money or invested alongside him are some of the biggest names in corporate America and the investing world—General Electric, BlackRock, Pimco, Loomis Sayles, Lord Abbot, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund. (…)

In May of 2011, OGX borrowed $2.56 billion with a coupon of 8.5 percent. The unsecured bonds were due to mature in 2018. Less than a year later, as OGX’s offshore struggles mounted, the company went back to the capital markets for even more—borrowing $1.063 billion with a coupon payment of 8.375 percent, also unsecured, and set to mature in 2022.

OGX missed an interest payment on the latter on Oct 1, setting in motion the road to a potential bankruptcy filing. Batista’s 30-day grace period expires atmidnight on Halloween, Oct. 31. (Bloomberg | Getty Images)