NEW$ & VIEW$ (23 JANUARY 2014)

EMPLOYMENT SUPPLY/DEMAND (Cont’d)

Lance Roberts points out the jump in the Quits/Layoffs ratio which also suggests un tight supply/demand balance.

“Quits are generally voluntary separations initiated by employees. Quits are procyclical, rising with an improving economy and falling with a faltering economy. Layoffs and discharges are generally involuntary separations initiated by an employer and are countercyclical, moving in the opposite direction of quits. The ratio of the number of quits to the number of layoffs and discharges provides insight into churn in the labor market over the business cycle.

 
Boost for Spain as unemployment dips
Latest sign pointing to a nascent economic recovery

The number of unemployed people in Spain dropped slightly in the final quarter of last year, the first such fall in a decade and the latest in a series of broadly encouraging signs that point towards a nascent economic recovery in the country.

The data, contained in a labour market survey released on Thursday, are likely to bolster confidence in the Spanish economy at a time when investors are piling into the country’s sovereign debt and other assets on a scale not seen since the start of the crisis.

S Korea records fastest growth in 3 years
Robust domestic demand powers strong growth

Gross domestic product rose by 3.9 per cent in the last three months of 2013 from a year earlier, broadly in line with economists’ forecasts. In a break from the trend of recent years, the contribution to growth of domestic demand – or total purchases of goods and services – outstripped that of exports, the Bank of Korea said on Thursday.

However, confidence in South Korea is tightly linked to exports, which account for more than half of GDP, and economists said the improved domestic demand was based on growing faith in the strength of the global recovery, with South Korean exports growing 4.3 per cent last year. (…)

Companies’ investment in machinery and transport equipment fell heavily over most of the past two years, reflecting nervousness among manufacturers about overseas demand. But it rose by an annual 9.9 per cent in the fourth quarter, and this rebound was set to continue into the new year, said Kwon Young-sun, an economist at Nomura. (…)

Dollar sinks below 90¢ as Poloz ‘declares open season on loonie’

(…) Yesterday, it plunged below 91 cents U.S. after the Bank of Canada released its rate decision and monetary policy report that, over all, suggests interest rates aren’t going anywhere at any time soon because of its focus on stubbornly low inflation.

Pointing up Coupled with that was a line in the report that warned the currency “remains strong and will continue to pose competitiveness challenges for Canada’s non-commodity exports” even with its stunning loss over the past year.

“Until today, the Bank of Canada had been careful not to open talk down the loonie,” chief economist Douglas Porter of BMO Nesbitt Burns said late yesterday in a research note titled “BoC declares open season on loonie.”

“They effectively gave sellers the green light in today’s monetary policy report by stating that even with the big drop in recent weeks, it remained high and would still ‘pose a competitiveness challenge for Canada’s non-commodity exports,” he added. (…)

Some observers also believe that this is a deliberate move by Canadian policy makers to devalue the currency in a bid to boost the country’s exports, as a weaker loonie lowers the cost of Canadian goods in the United States.

The Bank of Canada denies any such thing, but everyone agrees that Mr. Poloz, while not driving down the dollar, is pleased with the outcome. (…)

THE BoC DOES NOT NEED TO CUT RATES
 

In Canada, low inflation and disappointing job creation have prompted many to ask whether the Bank of Canada (BoC) will need to ease in 2014. At this writing the OIS market is putting the odds of a rate cut by September at 33%. The question is legitimate, but we think the depreciation of the Canadian dollar is doing the job for the Bank.

An old rule of thumb was that a 10% depreciation of the Canadian dollar would add 1.5% to GDP over time. That was when the penetration of
Canadian exports in the U.S. market was stronger. Our share of U.S. imports has been declining since even before the last recession. Moreover, Canadian manufacturing capacity has shrunk as producers have restructured their operations in the wake of the Great Recession. So that rule of thumb is surely too optimistic by now.

Yet even if the impact of the exchange rate on the economy were only a third of what it used to be, the 9.5% drop in the effective exchange rate since January 2013, if sustained, would over time add 0.4% to GDP. As
today’s Hot Chart shows, that is probably as large a boost to the economy as would be expected from a BoC rate cut of 50 to 75 basis points. (NBF)

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Rouhani outlines growth plan for Iran
President calls for greater engagement with rest of the world

Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran, on Thursday predicted that his country had the potential to be one of the world’s top 10 economies in the next three decades if sanctions were lifted and economic ties normalised.

In an upbeat and conciliatory speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Rouhani reiterated that developing nuclear weapons “has no place in Iran‘s security strategy” and forecast that ties with Europe would be “normalised” as the interim nuclear agreement is implemented.

Mr Rouhani said he intended to remove “all political and economic impediments to growth” in Iran and that one of his priorities was “constructive engagement with the world”. (…)

For its part, Iran intends to “reopen trade, industrial and economic relations with all of our neighbours”, he said, naming Turkey, Iraq, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. (…)

Iran’s economy shrank more than 5 per cent in the last fiscal year as international sanctions imposed in response to the country’s nuclear programme took their toll. (…)

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who is due to address the forum later on Thursday, described the speech as a continuation of “the Iranian campaign of deception”.

In a long post on his Facebook page he warned: “The international community mustn’t fall for this deception once again, and it must prevent Iran from being capable of manufacturing nuclear weapons.” (…)

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL?

Chart from Citi Research (via ZeroHedge)

BUYBACKS BACK PRICE GAINS

Investing in the 100 stocks with the highest buyback ratios had a 49 percent total return for 2013. The S&P 500 Index gained 32 percent, and the CDX High Yield Index returned about 14 percent, including the 5 percent coupon. (BloombergBriefs)

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EARNINGS WATCH

Bespoke give us its tally of all NYSE companies:

Earnings and Revenue Beat Rates Decent So Far

Of the 121 companies that have released earnings since the Q4 2013 reporting period began, 68% have beaten bottom-line EPS estimates.  As you can see, 68% would be a strong reading if it holds. Keep in mind that it’s still very early, though.  More than 1,000 companies are set to report over the next few weeks, so the beat rate could fluctuate a lot.

Top-line sales numbers have been a little less rosy than the more-easily manipulated bottom-line numbers.  As shown in the second chart below, 57% of companies have beaten revenue estimates so far this season.  While this isn’t a stellar reading, it is better than all but one of the earnings seasons we’ve had since the start of 2012. 


CFOs Warn Investors on Impact of Expired R&D Tax Credit

Companies are flagging investors they may face higher tax rates this year because the U.S. tax credit they use to offset some research and development expenses expired at the end of last year.

As first quarter conference calls get going, companies ranging from Johnson & Johnson to Textron Inc. are providing detailed information about the missing credit. While chief financial officers widely expect Congress to reinstate the credit, companies cannot factor in the tax credit into their financial results unless it is current law.

Companies, including Johnson & Johnson, are warning the lapsed tax credit for research and development could boost their tax rate.

The impact for many companies could be significant. Because the credit was retroactively extended for 2012 at the beginning of 2013, many companies recognized five quarters of tax credits in the first quarter of last year, but will recognize zero in the first quarter of 2014. (…)

While the credit often expires and is retroactively enacted, Congress has only once allowed it to lapse completely in 33 years. Some companies are confident enough to continue giving financial guidance with the assumption it will be extended, while others are hedging their bets. (…)

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (21 JANUARY 2014)

Pointing up Pointing up Pointing up U.S. bankers voice new optimism as businesses line up for loans Loans to businesses have risen to a record high and bank executives say they are increasingly optimistic about the U.S. economy.

Loans to businesses have risen to a record high and bank executives say they are increasingly optimistic about the U.S. economy.

Increasing demand for bank loans often is a prelude to higher economic growth. With the U.S. government budget crisis fixed for now and Europe showing signs of economic recovery, companies feel more comfortable borrowing to invest in machinery, factories, and buildings.

JPMorgan Chase & Co Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, who has long described himself as “cautiously optimistic” about the economy, recently dropped the modifier “cautiously,” he said on a conference call with investors last week.

“We’re using the word optimistic because we are actually optimistic,” he added.

“The sun and moon and stars are lined up for a very successful year” in the U.S., he said the next day at a conference in San Francisco.

Pointing upI don’t see any weak spots in America,” Dimon said, noting that corporations, small business, the stock market and the U.S. housing market are all showing signs of improving.

Outstanding loans to companies reached an all-time high of $1.61 trillion at the end of last year, topping a record set in late 2008, according to Federal Reserve data released on Friday.

Bankers say that anecdotally, business customers are more hopeful than they had been.

“I am hearing more when I talk with customers about their interest in building something, adding something, investing in something,” Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) CEO John Stumpf said on a conference call with investors last week. “There is more activity going on.” (…)

“We have seen some moderate strength in the U.S.,” GE Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein said in an interview, even if he cautioned that the company has not yet seen “the breakout broadly across the economy.” (…)

“We see solid demand for loans as we head into 2014” from businesses, particularly large corporations and healthcare companies, along with owners of commercial real estate, Bank of America (BAC.N) CFO Bruce Thompson said on a conference call with analysts on Wednesday. (…)

If you missed yesterday’s New$ & View$ you have missed this from the latest NFIB report which neatly complements the above:

Small firms capex is also brightening:

The frequency of reported capital outlays over the past 6 months surprisingly gained 9 percentage points in December, a remarkable increase. Sixty-four percent reported outlays, the highest level since early 2005.

Of those making expenditures, 43 percent reported spending on new equipment (up 5 points), 26 percent acquired vehicles (up 4 points), and 16 percent improved or expanded facilities (up 1 point). Eight percent acquired new buildings or land for expansion (up 1 point) and 16 percent spent money for new fixtures and furniture (up 6 points).The surge in spending, especially on equipment and fixtures and furniture, is certainly welcome and is hopefully not just an end-of-year event for tax or other purposes. This level of spending is more typical of a growing economy.

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And to confirm what bankers are saying, this chart of weekly loans up-to-date as of Jan. 8, 2014:

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So:

Fed on Track For Next Cut In Bond Buys

The Fed is on track to trim its bond-buying program for the second time in six weeks as a lackluster December jobs report failed to diminish the central bank’s expectations for solid U.S. economic growth this year.

A reduction in the program to $65 billion a month from the current $75 billion could be announced at the end of the Jan. 28-29 meeting, which would be the last meeting for outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Punch Read this next piece carefully, as it confirms that the U.S. industrial sector is perking up:

US oil demand growth outstrips China
Abundant energy supplies drive US resurgence, IEA report shows

US demand for oil grew by more than China’s last year for the first time since 1999 according to the International Energy Agency, in a startling indication of how abundant energy supplies are driving an economic resurgence in the US.

The IEA – the rich world’s energy club whose forecasts are the gold standard for the energy market – said US oil demand grew by 390,000 barrels a day or 2 per cent last year, reversing years of steady decline. Chinese demand grew by 295,000 b/d, the weakest in at least six years. (…)

“It is clear that the US economy is rebounding very strongly thanks to its energy supplies,” said Antoine Halff, head of oil market research at the IEA.

“Sometimes oil is a lagging indicator, but sometimes it is the opposite and shows that an economy is growing faster than thought,” he added.

Pointing up The IEA said that US demand growth was driven by fuels such as propane, which is used in petrochemical plants, and indicated a pick-up in industrial activity in the US. 

The rapid growth in US consumption has taken many analysts by surprise. As recently as last month the IEA was forecasting US demand would fall in 2014, but it is now forecasting a second consecutive year of growth. 

Pointing up US consumption also appears to be accelerating. The IEA said the latest estimate of 2013 consumption was based on “exceptionally strong US monthly data for October and robust weekly data since then”.

Surging US consumption may reduce pressure on US politicians to lift an effective ban on the export of US crude oil beyond Canada. 

The IEA has been among the most vocal advocates of allowing foreign sales of US oil, arguing that domestic US oil prices would fall sharply, discouraging production, if US producers were denied a foreign outlet for their crude.

But in its monthly report the IEA acknowledged that thanks to fast-growing domestic demand and exports of refined oil products such as diesel, “challenges to [US production] growth are not imminent”.

European oil demand is also showing signs of growth for the first time since the financial crisis and the IEA said that industrialised economies as a whole are likely seeing oil demand rise for the first time since 2010. 

As a result, oil inventories in OECD countries fell by 50m barrels in November, the most since December 2011, pushing stocks 100m barrels beneath their five-year average.

The IEA also raised its estimate for total oil demand in 2014, helping push Brent crude oil prices up almost 1 per cent to just over $107 per barrel.

EU energy costs widen over trade partners
Industry paying up to four times more than in US and Russia

The gap in energy costs between Europe and its leading trading partners is widening, according to an official paper to be released by Brussels that shows industrial electricity prices in the region are more than double those in the US and 20 per cent higher than China’s.

Industrial gas prices are three to four times higher in the EU than comparable US and Russian prices, and 12 per cent higher than in China, says the European Commission paper, based on the most comprehensive official analysis of EU energy prices and costs to date. (…)

“If we paid US energy prices at our EU facilities, our costs would drop by more than $1bn a year,” said Mr Mittal, noting the US shale gas boom and more industry-friendly policies had led to much lower costs for industrial energy users in that country.

Separately, Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of the Italian oil and gas company, Eni, said in a speech at the weekend that lower American energy costs had created a “massive competitive advantage for the US” that was driving investors and businesses to that country at a rapid pace. “This is a real emergency for Europe,” he said. (…)

California Declares Drought Emergency

Governor’s move frees state resources to cope with the growing economic and environmental threat from some of the driest conditions on record.

(…) The economic fallout is beginning to spread. The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday declared parts of 11 mostly Western states to be natural-disaster areas, making farmers in places including California, Arizona and Nevada eligible for low-interest assistance loans.

In California, with its huge economy, the financial impacts are likely to ripple beyond the farmers. Growers in the Central Valley’s Westlands Water District, for instance, are expected to fallow 200,000 of their 600,000 acres this year, resulting in job losses in surrounding communities, according to a statement by the agency. Other businesses that stand to suffer include landscapers, nurseries and orchards. (…)

Euro-Zone House Prices Improve

House prices rose at the fastest quarterly pace in over two years in the third quarter of 2013, a sign that the slow economic recovery continued in the second half of last year.

Eurostat said house prices across the 17 country euro zone were 0.6% higher in the third quarter of 2013 compared with the second quarter, and fell 1.3% in annual terms.

The quarterly gain was the strongest since a 1.1% increase in the second quarter of 2011, while the annual drop was the smallest since the fourth quarter of 2011.

In the second quarter of 2013 house prices in the euro zone rose 0.2% from the previous quarter and declined 2.4% in annual terms. (…)

House prices in France also bolstered the gain, rising 1.2% in the third quarter from the second. Although Eurostat doesn’t chart official data for German house prices, the estimate they use is based on European Central Bank statistics that showed house prices in the largest euro-area economy grew around 1.0% over the same period.

In Spain Eurostat said house prices grew 0.8% on the quarter in the third quarter after a 0.8% decline in the second quarter while in the Netherlands house prices grew 0.6% after a 2.0% drop in the second quarter.

Just five of the 17 countries saw house prices fall between July and September last year, according to the data—Italy, Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia and Finland.

Thailand Seen Cutting Rates as Unrest Continues

Thailand’s central bank is expected to cut interest rates at its meeting Wednesday as political unrest continues to engulf the exporter of automobiles and electronics.

Almost daily antigovernment protests, many of them violent, have destabilized the country since late last year. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called elections for Feb. 2 but the opposition says they will boycott the polls, meaning a likely protracted battle.

At the Bank of Thailand’s most recent meeting, as political protests started to gather steam in November, the bank cut rates by 0.25 percentage point to 2.25%. (…)

Even before the instability, the outlook for Thailand’s economy was shaky. Exports, which account for around two-thirds of the economy, have performed poorly, declining 4.1% on the year in November, the latest month for which data are available.

The automobile industry is suffering because of weak demand in other Asian markets. Exports from the nation’s electronics industry, which supplies parts for personal computers—but not the fast-growing smartphone market—also have been disappointing.

The turmoil is taking its toll on the economy. Tourism, which accounts for 7% of national output, has been hard hit as foreign travelers postpone journeys. Plans to build multibillion-dollar infrastructure, including high-speed rail lines, look likely to face delays amid the political gridlock.

The Finance Ministry last week slashed its growth forecast for 2014 to 3.1%, compared with an earlier projection of 3.5% to 4.0%. Failure to push ahead this year with the 2.2 trillion baht ($66.6 billion) infrastructure plan could push growth as low as 2%, the ministry estimated. (…)

Such monetary easing, though, might have little direct effect in the current environment. The previous rate cut failed to filter through into higher bank lending because Thai banks are currently trying to reduce debt exposure.

Thai household debt stands at 80% of gross domestic product, one of the highest ratios in Asia, reflecting years of aggressive lending to finance house purchases and auto loans. A government tax rebate two years ago for first-time car owners also helped boost debt levels. (…)

China’s Working Population Fell Again in 2013

China’s working-age population continued to shrink in 2013, suggesting that labor shortages would further drive up wages in the years to come.

The nation’s working-age population—those between the ages of 16 and 59—was 920 million in 2013, down 2.4 million from a year earlier and accounting for 67.6% of the total population, the National Bureau of Statistics said Monday. The country’s workforce dropped in 2012 for the first time in decades, raising concerns about a shrinking labor force and economic growth prospects.

Last year, the statistics bureau said the population between the ages of 15 and 59 was 937 million in 2012, down 3.45 million from a year earlier, accounting for 69.2% of the total population. The bureau didn’t explain why it began using a different starting age of 16 to measure the working-age population in 2013.

The share of the elderly, or those who are more than 65 years old, was 9.7% in 2013, up from 9.4% in 2012, official data showed.

Labor shortages are still common in several regions throughout the country, and many employers reported an increase of between 10% and 15% in labor costs last year, Ma Jiantang, chief of the National Statistics Bureau, said at a news conference Monday. (…)

But what’s even more significant than the shrinking working-age population was a notable decrease in the labor-participation rate, or the share of the working-age population that is actually working, Professor Li Lilin at Renmin University of China said.

“The labor-participation rate has been dropping, especially among females in the cities,” Ms. Li said.

Rising household income amid decades-long market reforms has made it possible for some who previously would have needed to work to choose to stay at home, she added.

After adjusting for inflation, actual disposable income of Chinese in urban areas grew 7% last year, while the net income of those living in rural areas rose 9.3%, the statistics bureau said. The average monthly salary of the nation’s 268 million migrant workers was 2,609 yuan ($431), up 13.9%, it said. The rise in wages means workers are likely to benefit more from the nation’s economic growth, though rising labor costs are a growing challenge for manufacturers.

SENTIMENT WATCH

 

Stock Values Worry Analysts

(…) Ned Davis Research in Venice, Fla., has reached similar conclusions. Ned Davis, the firm’s founder, published two reports titled “Overweighted, Over-Believed and Overvalued.” He looked at an array of measures including the percentage of U.S. financial assets held in stocks, margin-debt levels and how much money managers and mutual funds have allocated to stocks.

His conclusion: Investors are overexposed to stocks, but they haven’t gone to bubblelike extremes.

Vincent Deluard, a Ned Davis investment strategist, agrees that the P/E based on forecast earnings is above average. Because forecasts are unreliable, he also tracks earnings for the past 12 months, adjusted for inflation, interest rates and economic growth. All these measures yield a similar conclusion.

“We have a market that is getting a little frothy,” Mr. Deluard says. His team expects a pullback of 10% to 20% in the next six months, but perhaps not right away. Then they expect stocks to rise, maybe for years.

“This is not 2008. This is not 2000. This is more like 1998, where you have some of the signs that you see at tops, but not at extremes,” he says. (…)

High five But some people disagree. James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, which oversees $340 billion, notes that P/E ratios in the past have moved even higher than they are today before running into real trouble.

As long as inflation stays moderate and the Federal Reserve doesn’t raise interest rates sharply, he says, the P/E ratio on earnings for the past 12 months can hit the 20s from its current level of around 16 or 17.

High five Yet Mr. Paulsen, too, is worried that 2014 could be a volatile year and that stocks could finish with little or no gain. His concern isn’t valuation; It is that the economy could warm up. Inflation fears could spread, he says, even if actual inflation stays modest. The worries could limit stock gains.

These things are so hard to predict that he and many other money managers are urging clients not to change their holdings or try to time the market.

This is so beautiful. In just a few words, Paulsen says everything we should know, makes all possible forecasts and none at all. And the article concludes saying that things are so uncertain and unpredictable that investors just just freeze sitting on their hands. Disappointed smile

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (23 DECEMBER 2013)

Surprised smile Economy Gaining Momentum The U.S. economy grew at a healthy 4.1% annual rate in the third quarter, revised figures showed, boosting hopes that the recovery is shifting into higher gear after years of sluggishness.

Friday’s report showed consumer spending—a key driver of the economy—grew at a 2% annual rate in the summer, instead of the previously estimated 1.4%.

U.S. Economy Starts to Gain Momentum

ZeroHedge drills down:

(…) many are wondering just where this “revised” consumption came from: of the $15 billion revised increase in annualized spending, 60% was for healthcare, and another 27% was due to purchases of gasoline. The third largest upward revision: recreation services. On the flip side, the biggest revision detractors: transportation services and housing and utilities.

No boost to retailing from these revisions.

Meanwhile, profit margins keep defying the naysayers, this time because of lower taxes:

(…) after-tax corporate profits in the third quarter topped 11% of gross domestic product for the first time since the records started in 1947. At the same time, taxes paid by corporations has declined nearly 5% in the third quarter compared with a year earlier.

Another positive sign?

The U.S. economy seems to be getting “a little bit better,” said General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, speaking after an investor meeting this past week. “We’ve seen some improvements in commercial demand for credit,” he said, a positive sign that companies are investing.

Wells Fargo CEO said same 10 days ago.

Is it because companies are finally investing…or because companies must now finance  out of line inventories due to the lack of growth in final demand?

real final sales

 

On the one hand, the official GDP is accelerating beyond any forecasts. On the other hand, final demand is slowing to levels which most of the time just preceded a recession. Go figure! Confused smile

But don’t despair, on the next hand, here’s David Rosenberg painting a “Rosie” scenario for us all (my emphasis):

(…) But things actually are getting better. The Institute for Supply Management figures rarely lie and they are consistent with 3.5% real growth. Federal fiscal policy is set to shift to neutral from radical
restraint and the broad state/local government sector is no longer shedding jobs and is, in fact, spending on infrastructure programs again.

On top of that, manufacturing is on a visible upswing. Net exports will be supported by a firmer tone to the overseas economy. The deceleration to zero productivity growth, which has a direct link to profit margins, will finally incentivize the business sector to invest organically in their own operations with belated positive implications for capex growth.

But the centrepiece of next year’s expected acceleration really boils down to the consumer. It is the most essential sector at more than 70% of GDP. And what drives spending is less the Fed’s quest for a ‘wealth effect,’ which only makes rich people richer, but more organic income, 80% of which comes from working. And, in this sense, the news is improving, and will continue to improve. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. Freezing

Indeed, all fiscal policy has to do is shift to neutral, and a 1.5-percentage-point drag on growth — the major theme for 2013 — will be alleviated. With that in mind, the two-year budget deal that was just cobbled together by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray at the least takes much of the fiscal stranglehold off the economy’s neck, while at the same time removing pervasive sources of uncertainty over the policy outlook.

Since the pool of available labour is already shrinking to five-year lows and every measure of labour demand on the rise, one can reasonably expect wages to rise discernibly in coming years, unless, that is, you believe the laws of supply and demand apply to every market save for the labour market.

Pointing up Let’s get real: By hook or by crook, wages are going up next year (minimum wages for sure and this trend is going global). With this in mind, the most fascinating statistic this past week was not ISM or nonfarm payrolls, but the number of times the Beige Book commented on wage pressures: 26. That’s not insignificant. Again, when I talked about this at the Thursday night dinner, eyeballs rolled.

There was much discussion about the lacklustre holiday shopping season thus far, with November sales below plan. There was little talk, however, about auto sales hitting a seven-year high in November even with lower incentives. And what’s a greater commitment to the economy — a car or a cardigan?

As I sifted through the Beige Book to see which areas of the economy were posting upward wage pressure and growing skilled labour shortages, I could see it cut a large swath: technology, construction, transportation services, restaurants, durable goods manufacturing.

Of the 115 million people currently working in the private sector, roughly 40 million of them are going to be reaping some benefits in the form of a higher stipend and that is 35% of the jobs pie right there. That isn’t everyone, but it is certainly enough of a critical mass to spin the dial for higher income growth (and spending) in the coming year. Macro surprises are destined to be on the high side — take it from a former bear who knows how to identify stormy clouds. (…)

On the consumer side, the aggregate debt/disposable income ratio has dropped from 125% at the 2007 peak to 100%, where it was a decade ago (down to 95% excluding student loans, an 11-year low). In other words, the entire massive 2002-07 credit expansion has been reversed, and, as such, the household sector is in far better financial position to contribute to economic activity.

On the government side, the U.S. federal deficit, 10% of GDP just four years ago, is below 4% today and on its way to below 3% a year from now, largely on the back of tough spending cuts and a big tax bite.

Then throw in the vast improvement in the balance-of-payments situation, courtesy of the energy revolution. With oil import volumes trimmed 5% over the past year and oil export volumes up a resounding 30%, the petroleum deficit in real terms has been shaved by one-quarter in just the last 12 months. This, in turn, has cut the current account deficit in half to 3% of GDP from the nearby high of 6%. (…)

In a nutshell, I feel like 2014 is going to feel a lot like 2004 and 1994 when the economy surprised to the high side after a prolonged period of unsatisfactory post-recession growth. Reparation of highly leveraged balance sheets delayed, but, in the end, did not derail a vigorous expansion.

High five That by no means guarantees a stellar year for the markets, because, as we saw in 2013 with a softer year for the economy, multiple expansion premised on Fed-induced liquidity can act as a very powerful antidote. Plus, a rising bond-yield environment will at some point provide some competition for the yield delivered by the stock market.

While 1994 and 2004 were hardly disasters, the market generated returns both years that were 10 percentage points lower than they were the prior year even with a more solid footing to the economy — what we gained in terms of growth, we gave up in terms of a less supportive liquidity/monetary policy backdrop.

But make no mistake, the upside for next year from a business or economic perspective as opposed to from a market standpoint is considerable.

Just kidding It is open for debate as to how the stock market will respond, but it is not too difficult to predict where bond yields will be heading (up) since they are, after all, cyclical by nature. Within equities, this means caution on the rate-sensitives and the macro backdrop will augur for growth over value.

Thanks David, but…

First, let’s set the record straight:

  • According to Edmunds.com’s Total Cost of Incentives (TCI) calculations, car incentives on average were flat from a year ago, though some automakers increased their incentives and even others lowered them. One car dealer said that manufacturers are pushing retailers to buy more vehicles, “slipping back into old habits”.
  • The S&P 500 Index peaked at 482 in January 1994, dropped 8% to 444 at the end of June and closed the year at 459. EPS jumped 18% that year while inflation held steady around 2.5%.
  • In 2004, equity markets were essentially flat all year long before spiking 7% during the last 2 months of the year. Profits jumped 24% that year while inflation rose from 1.9% to 3.3%.
  • In both years, equity valuations were in a correction mode coming from Rule of 20 overvalued levels in the previous years.

Second, we should remember that car sales have been propelled by the huge pent up demand that built during the financial crisis. Like everything else, this will taper eventually. The fact remains that car sales have reached the levels of the previous 4 cyclical peaks. Consider that there are fewer people actually working these days, even fewer working full time, that the younger generation is not as keen as we were to own a car and that credit conditions remain very tight for a large “swath” of the population. And just to add a fact often overlooked by economists, car prices are up 8% from 2008 while median household income is unchanged. (Chart from CalculatedRisk)

Third, it may be true that the ISM figures rarely lie but we will shortly find out if recent production strength only served to grow inventories. To be sure, car inventories are currently very high, prompting some manufacturers to cut production plans early in 2014.

Fourth, building an economic scenario based on accelerating wages invites a discussion on inflation and interest rates, both key items for equity valuation and demand. There is no money to be made from economic scenarios, only from financial instruments. Rosie’s scenario may not be as rosy for financial markets if investors become concerned about labour demand exceeding supply. (See Lennar’s comments below).

Ghost  Gasoline Heats Up in U.S.

Futures prices rose 5.9% last week in response to signs of unusually srong demand for the fuel.

Gasoline for January delivery rose 4.3 cents, or 1.6%, to $2.7831 a gallon Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Pressure builds as retailers near the holiday finish line

(…) Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist and a senior executive adviser with Booz & Company’s retail practice in San Francisco, said many U.S. shoppers are holding back this season because they have fewer discretionary dollars.

“Sixty-five percent of (Americans) are survivalists. They are living from paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “Those folks simply don’t have any money to celebrate Christmas.”

People with annual income of $70,000 and up account for 33 percent of U.S. households, but 45 percent of spending, according to U.S. Census data crunched by AlixPartners. That group has seen the most benefit from the improving economy as rising home and stock prices bolster their net worth.

But even those with higher incomes are holding back.

“The era of ‘living large’ is now officially in the rear-view mirror,” said Ryan McConnell, who heads the Futures Company’s US Yankelovich Monitor survey of consumer attitudes and values.

Responses to the 2013 survey suggested that the “hangover effect” of the so-called Great Recession remained prevalent with 61 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement: “I’ll never spend my money as freely as I did before the recession.” (…)

Competing for shoppers led major retailers to significantly ramp up the frequency of their promotions in the first part of December, according to data prepared for Reuters by Market Track, a firm that provides market research for top retailers and manufacturers.

A group of eight major retail chains, including J.C. Penney Co Inc, Wal-Mart Stores Inc  and Best Buy Co Inc, increased the number of circulars they published between December 3 and December 18 nearly 16 percent over the comparable period a year earlier.

Those retailers, which also include Sears and Kmart, Macy’s Inc, Kohl’s Corp and Target Corp, ramped up the online deals even more, increasing the number of promotional emails by 54.5 percent, according to the Market Track data.

The battle for shoppers has also led to the most discount-driven season since the recession, according to analysts and executives.

“There is a quicker turnover of promotions this year, and now several times, within a day,” eBay Enterprise CEO Chris Saridakis said. “It’s an all-out war.”

Clock  Shoppers Grab Sweeter Deals in Last-Minute Holiday Dash

U.S. shoppers flocked to stores during the last weekend before Christmas as retailers piled on steeper, profit-eating discounts to maximize sales in their most important season of the year.

Retailers were offering as much as 75 percent off and keeping stores open around the clock starting Friday. “Super Saturday” was expected to be one of the busiest shopping days of the year, according to Chicago-based researcher ShopperTrak. (…)

Holiday purchases will rise 2.4 percent, the weakest gain since 2009, ShopperTrak has predicted. Sales were up 2 percent to $176.7 billion from the start of the season on Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, said the firm, which will update its figures later today. The National Retail Federation reiterated on Dec. 12 its prediction that total sales will rise 3.9 percent in November and December, more than the 3.5 percent gain a year ago.

Factset concludes with the important stuff for investors: Most S&P 500 Retail Sub-Industries Are Projected to Report a Decline in Earnings in Q4

In terms of year-over-year earnings growth, only five of the thirteen retail sub-industries in the S&P 500 are predicted to report growth in earnings for the fourth quarter. Of these five sub-industries, the
Internet Retail (66.7%) and Automotive Retail (10.3%) sub-industries are expected to see the highest earnings growth. On the other hand, the Food Retail (-20.2%), General Merchandise Stores (-10.6%), and Apparel Retail (-8.8%) sub-industries are expected to see the lowest earnings growth for the quarter.

Overall, there has been little change in the expected earnings growth rates of these thirteen retail subindustries since Black Friday. Only four sub-industries have recorded decreases in expected earnings growth of more than half a percentage point since Black Friday: Drug Retail, Food Retail, General Merchandise, and Hypermarkets & Supercenters. On the hand, no sub-industry has recorded an increase in expected earnings growth of more than half a percentage point since November 29.

These folks are unlikely to be jolly unless Congress acts, again at the last hour:

Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, estimates that 1.3 million folks will lose their unemployment checks after this week, forcing some to take jobs they previously passed up or join the legions of workforce dropouts. If even half do the latter, the jobless rate could slip to 6.6% in fairly short order. (Barron’s)

This could have interesting consequences as JP Morgan explains:

(…) the potential expiration of federal extended unemployment benefits (formally called Emergency Unemployment Compensation) at the end of this month could push the measured unemployment rate lower.

The state of North Carolina offers a potential testing ground for this thesis. In July, the North Carolina government decided to no longer offer extended benefits, even though the state still met the economic conditions to qualify for this federal program. Since July, the North Carolina unemployment rate has fallen 1.5%-points; in the same period the national unemployment rate has fallen 0.4%-point. (…)

The information from one data point is a long way from statistical certainty, but the limited evidence from North Carolina suggests that the potential expiration of extended benefits will place further downward pressure on the measured unemployment rate. In which case the Fed could soon have some ‘splainin’ to do about what “well past” 6.5% means with respect to their unemployment rate threshold.

GPSWebNote ImageGPSWebNote Image

Rampant Returns Plague E-Retailers Behind the uptick in e-commerce is a secret: As much as a third of all Internet sales gets returned, in part because of easy policies on free shipping. Retailers are trying some new tactics to address the problem.

(…) Retailers are zeroing in on high-frequency returners like Paula Cuneo, a 54-year-old teacher in Ashland, Mass., who recently ordered 10 pairs of corduroy pants in varying sizes and colors on Gap Inc. GPS +0.73% ‘s website, only to return seven of them. Ms. Cuneo is shopping online for Christmas gifts this year, ordering coats and shoes in a range of sizes and colors. She will let her four children choose the items they want—and return the rest.

Ms. Cuneo acknowledged the high costs retailers absorb to take back the clothes she returns, but said retailers’ lenient shipping policies drove her to shop more.

“I feel justified,” she said. “After all, I am the customer.” (…)

HOUSING WATCH

FHFA to Delay Increase in Mortgage Fees by Fannie, Freddie

The incoming director of the regulatory agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said he would delay an increase in mortgage fees charged by the housing-finance giants.

(…) Upon being sworn in, “I intend to announce that the FHFA will delay implementation” of the loan-fee increases “until such time as I have had the opportunity to evaluate fully the rationale for the plan,” he said in a statement.

The FHFA signaled that it would increase certain fees charged by Fannie and Freddie that are typically passed on to mortgage borrowers on Dec. 9, on the eve of Mr. Watt’s Senate confirmation. (…)

In updates posted to their websites on Monday, Fannie and Freddie showed that fees will rise sharply for many borrowers who don’t have down payments of at least 20% and who have credit scores of 680 to 760. (Under a system devised by Fair Isaac Corp., credit scores range from 300 to a top of 850.) (…)

Surely, the housing market does not need more headwinds. ISI’s homebuilders survey is continuing to plunge, existing house sales have declined sharply, and existing house prices are down -1.6% from their peak.  In addition, ISI’s house price survey has been flat for five months. On the other hand, NAHB’s survey is at a new high, and housing starts surged in November. Inventory accumulation?

Pointing up Meanwhile, costs are skyrocketing:

Lennar noted that while its “aggressive” pricing strategies led to significant margin improvements, labor and construction material costs last quarter were up about 12% from a year ago, and that labor costs were up by “more” than material costs. (CalculatedRisk)

I remain concerned that higher inflation is slowly sneaking in, hidden behind weighted indices while un-weighted measures suggest that prices are being regularly ratcheted up. The median CPI, measured by the Cleveland Fed, is still up 2.0% YoY even though the weighted CPI is down to +1.0% YoY.

Differences between changes in the CPI and the median consumer price
change underscore the impact of the distribution of price movements on our monthly interpretation of inflation. The median price change is a potentially useful indicator of current monetary inflation because it minimizes, in a nonsubjective way, the influence of these transitory relative price movements.

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Assume there is no abnormal inventory accumulation and that David Rosenberg’s scenario pans out, we might get both demand pull and cost push inflation simultaneously. Far from a rosy scenario. Mrs. Yellen would have her hands full.

Thumbs up Economic Conditions Snapshot, December 2013: McKinsey Global Survey results

As 2013 draws to a close, executives are more optimistic about economic improvements than they have been all year, both at home and in the global economy. They also anticipate that conditions will continue to improve, thanks to the steady (though modest) improvements in the developed world that many expect to see.

imageIn McKinsey’s newest survey on economic conditions, the responses affirm that economic momentum has shifted—and will continue to move—from the developed to the developing world, as we first observed in September. Indeed, executives say the slowdown in emerging markets was one of the biggest business challenges this year, and respondents working in those markets are less sanguine than others about the current state of their home economies.

Respondents from all regions agree, though, on the world economy: for the first time since we began asking in early 2012, a majority of executives say global conditions have improved in the past six months.
Looking ahead to 2014, many executives expect economic progress despite growing concern over asset bubbles and political conflicts—particularly in the United States. Respondents there say that ongoing political disputes and the government shutdown in October have had a
notable impact on business sentiment, despite the less noticeable effect on the country’s recent economic data. Still, at the company level, executives maintain the consistently positive views on workforce size, demand, and profits that they have shared all year. (…)

Amid the shifting expectations for growth that we saw in 2013, executives’ company-level views have held steady and been relatively positive throughout the year. Since March, respondents most often reported that their workforce sizes would stay the same, that demand
for their companies’ products would grow, and that their companies’ profits would increase over the next six months; the latest results are no different.

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Pointing up Executives are still very focused on increasing margins!

Across regions, executives working in developed Asia are the most optimistic—and those in the eurozone are the most pessimistic—about their companies’ prospects. Forty-four percent of those in developed Asia say their workforces will grow in the next six months, while just 7 percent say they will shrink; in contrast, 31 percent of executives in the eurozone expect a decrease in workforce size. Two-thirds of respondents in developed Asia expect demand for their companies’ products and services to increase in the coming months, and they are least likely among their peers in other regions to expect a decrease in company profits.

In their investment decisions, though, executives note a new concern: rising asset prices, which could affect company-level (as well as macroeconomic) growth in the coming year. Of the executives who say their companies are postponing capital investments or M&A decisions they would typically consider good for growth, the largest shares of the year now cite high asset valuations as a reason their companies are waiting.

Strains Grip China Money Markets

Borrowing costs in China’s money market soared again, as the central bank’s recent fund injection failed to appease jittery investors amid a seasonal surge in demand for cash by banks.

Borrowing costs in China’s money market soared again after a brief fall earlier Monday, as the central bank’s recent fund injection failed to appease jittery investors amid a seasonal surge in demand for cash by banks.

The seven-day repurchase-agreement rate, a benchmark measure of the cost that banks charge each other for short-term loans, rose to 9.8%, up from 8.2% Friday and its highest level since it hit 11.62% on June 20, at the peak of China’s summer cash crunch. (…)

The stress in the banking system has spread elsewhere, with stocks in Shanghai falling for a ninth straight day Friday to the weakest level in four months while government bonds dropped, pushing the 10-yield up to near the highest in eight years.

Vietnam’s Growth Picks Up

The country’s gross domestic product grew 5.42% this year, compared with 5.25% in 2012, the government’s General Statistics Office said Monday. Last year’s GDP, the slowest since 1999, was revised up from 5.03%. Inflation was down as well.

The government said on-year growth in the fourth quarter was 6.04%, compared with 5.54% in the third quarter.

Japan forecasts GDP growth of 1.4% for 2014
Planned sales tax increase forecast to hit consumption

The Japanese government forecast on Saturday that real gross domestic product will grow by 1.4 per cent for the fiscal year starting March 2014, slowing from an expected 2.6 per cent growth for the current year as a planned sales tax increase is seen dampening consumption. (…)

The government also forecast that consumer prices will rise by about 1.2 per cent in the 2014 fiscal year, without considering an impact from the sales tax hike. Consumer prices are expected to show a rise of 0.7 per cent in the current fiscal year. The Bank of Japan launched a massive monetary stimulus programme aimed at pushing the inflation rate up to 2.0 per cent in two years, in a bid to wrench the country out of a long phase of deflation.

SENTIMENT WATCH

 

U.S. Economy Begins to Hit Growth Stride

 

Even Skeptics Stick With Stocks

Money managers and analysts say they are beginning to think the Federal Reserve is succeeding in restoring economic growth.

(…) Ned Davis, founder of Ned Davis Research in Venice, Fla., and a skeptic by nature, told clients last week that the economic picture is brightening. “There are still mixed indicators regarding economic growth, but most of our forward-looking indicators are suggesting the economy is accelerating to at least ‘glass-half-full’ growth rates,” he wrote. (…)

Because they now think the economy is on the mend, many money managers share the view that, while 2014 probably won’t match 2013, indexes probably will finish the year with gains. (…)

Ageing stocks bull can still pack some power

(…) While the S&P 500 is unlikely to match the 27 per cent jump it achieved in 2013, the odds favour another strong year for equities. Investors with a long time horizon have little to fear from wading into the market, even after a 168 per cent run-up from the index’s post-financial crisis nadir. (…)

It is no secret that companies have cut their way to profitability growth. They have put off investment, including in wages and hiring; they have slashed their financing costs by issuing record amounts of debt at this year’s rock-bottom interest rates; and they have juiced earnings per share further by buying back and cancelling shares at a pace not seen for five years.

These are trends that will all be slow to reverse. Slack in the economy will keep the lid on what companies have to spend on employees, and the benefits of those low financing costs are locked in for years to come. To the extent that wages and interest rates rise, it will be because the economic outlook is brightening, which will fill in the missing piece of the puzzle: top line revenue growth. (…)

In the historical context, current return on equity for the S&P 500 is not high; at 14.1 per cent during the last quarterly reporting season, it was only 5 basis points above the average since 1990. Profit growth, in other words, is as likely to carry on rising as it is to U-turn. Confused smile

The path of least resistance for equities is still up. There is a whole swath of bond investors who are yet to reassess their overweights in that asset class, who may do so when January’s miserable annual statements land. The diversifying “alternative” investments – hedge fund-like mutual funds and their mutant brethren – remain too expensive to become significant parts of a portfolio for most investors.

The S&P 500’s down years have all, with the exception of 1994, been recession years. Of course, the spectre of 1994 is haunting, since that was precisely when the Federal Reserve last attempted a big reversal of policy and began to raise interest rates to choke off inflation.

There is an asterisk to even the most bullish equity forecast, which is that all bets will be off if the Fed loses control of rates, dragging bond yields higher not just in the US where they might be justified, but also across the world, where they could snuff out a nascent recovery in Europe and cause untold harm in emerging markets.

After the smooth market reaction to the announcement of a slowdown in quantitative easing last week, a disaster scenario looks even more unlikely. And lest we forget, tapering is not tightening, so 2014 is not 1994.

If the S&P 500 closes out the year where it began this week, 2013 will go down as the fifth best year for share price gains since the index was created in 1957. Each of the four occasions when it did better – 1958, 1975, 1995 and 1997 – were followed by an additional year of strong returns, ranging from 8.5 per cent to 26.7 per cent.

Equity markets should maintain their positive momentum as long as the global economy maintains its, and the odds look good. Even in middle age, a bull can pack some power.

Bull Calls United in Europe as Strategists See 12% Gain

Equities will rise 12 percent in 2014, according to the average projection of 18 forecasters tracked by Bloomberg News.Ian Scott of Barclays Plc says the StoxxEurope 600 Index can rally 25 percent because shares are cheap even after a 49 percent gain since 2011. (…)

The average estimate is the most bullish since at least 2010, with no strategist predicting a gain of less than 3.3 percent, and comes even as company analysts reduced income forecasts for an 85th straight week. While more than 2.7 trillion euros ($3.7 trillion) has been restored to European equity values since September 2011, shares would have to gain another 65 percent to match the advance in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index during the last five years.

“You would have lacked credibility being bullish on Europe 18 months ago, although stocks were very cheap and the economy was bottoming,” said Paul Jackson, a strategist at Societe Generale SA inLondon, who predicts a 15 percent jump for the Stoxx 600 next year. “As soon as the market started to do well, suddenly everybody wants to listen. And now not only is everybody listening, but everyone is saying the same thing. The time to worry about the Armageddon scenario is gone.” (…)

Analysts have downgraded earnings estimates on European companies excluding the U.K. for 85 weeks, a record streak, according to Citigroup Inc. data on Bloomberg. Mark Burgess, chief investment officer at Threadneedle Asset Management Ltd., says European earnings will probably disappoint again. (…)

“The region remains beset by relatively poor growth dynamics compared with the rest of the developed world,” Burgess, who helps oversee $140 billion from London, said in e-mailed comments on Dec. 11. “This year’s stock market recovery could easily herald a false dawn. While for the first time in three years we believe Europe is likely to return to positive GDP growth in 2014, earnings growth is likely to be steady rather than dramatic.” (…)

Evans at Deutsche Bank says his team at Europe’s largest bank has become “increasingly convinced” that lending in the region will rebound and will help companies beat estimates in what he calls investors’ “complete loss of confidence in the earnings cycle.”

The ECB said in a quarterly survey released Oct. 30 that banks expect to relax standards on corporate lending this quarter. That’s the first such response since the fourth quarter of 2009 and, if it occurs, would mark the first easing of conditions since the second quarter of 2007. Lenders also plan to simplify access to consumer loans and mortgages, and predicted a rise in loan demand.

Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon on the basis of an accelerating economy and equity momentum.

Time to stay rationale and disciplined. Good luck, and happy holidays! Gift with a bow

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (5 DECEMBER 2013)

ISM Services Weaker Than Expected

These days, there’s nothing like a weaker than expected economic indicator to get the market going.  While the DJIA was down about 50 points before the release of the ISM Non Manufacturing report, the weaker than expected headline number spurred an 80+ point rally off the lows.  While economists were expecting the November ISM Services to come in at a level of 55.0, the actual reading came in at 53.9.  Putting the ISM Manufacturing and ISM Non Manufacturing reports together and accounting for each sector’s weight in the overall economy, the combined ISM for the month of November fell to 54.3 from last month’s reading of 55.5.

Smile  New orders remain strong, however.

Combining the Manufacturing with the Services ISM (chart from Ed Yardeni), the strength in new orders is pretty encouraging. Christmas sales better be good, otherwise we will all have an inventory overhang…

New-Home Sales Surge

New-home sales rose 25% in October from the prior month to an annual rate of 444,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That marked the sharpest monthly increase in more than three decades, though it came off a particularly weak September pace.

The surge returned sales to the brisk pace seen in the first half of the year before a summer rise in mortgage rates scared off prospective buyers. Sales had tumbled to an average annual pace of 369,000 in July through September, according to revised figures released Wednesday, down from an average pace of 445,000 in the first six months of 2013.

October’s activity caused the supply of homes on the market to contract sharply. Inventory fell to a 4.9-month supply, a historically low level. The tight supply coupled with the pickup in sales could lead home builders to ramp up construction in coming months, a development that would boost the overall U.S. recovery. (…)

Pointing up The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.29% last week, up from the 3.35% average registered in early May, according to Freddie Mac. (…)

Raymond James adds:

Following last week’s modest 0.2% drop, applications for purchase mortgages were down 4.1%, and on a rolling two-week basis (to take account of Thanksgiving), purchase apps are down 8.7% y/y. We note the purchase index still remains only 3.1% above this year’s lows (week of October 11) due to the “sticker shock” of spring price increases, higher interest rates, and the overhang from economic/political uncertainty. Applications remain well below recently reported y/y growth in new home sales (+22% in October), although in line with existing home sales (-6% in October), led by a declining mix of first-time buyers within both segments.

BTW:

TurtleSnail Revisions to earlier home-sales reports in June, July, and August showed that sales in each of those months were lower than initially forecast. New-home sales in September, meanwhile, stood 7.8% below the level of a year earlier, the first time in nearly two years that sales turned negative on a year-over-year basis. (…) (Chart from Haver Analytics)

CalculatedRisk has the LT chart:

BTW (2): ISI’s Homebuilders’ Survey is at its lowest level since April 2012.

Emerging market growth strengthens further

The HSBC Emerging Markets Index (EMI), a monthly indicator derived from the PMI™ surveys, continued its upward trajectory in November on the back of faster manufacturing growth. The EMI rose to 52.1, from 51.7 in October, signalling the fastest expansion in business activity across global emerging markets since March. That said, growth remained only moderate overall.

Manufacturing production rose at a faster rate in November, reflecting stronger momentum at Chinese goods producers, a resumption of growth in India and marked increases in Turkey and Eastern European
economies in particular. Indonesia, Russia, Brazil and South Korea weighed on manufacturing growth in the latest period. Meanwhile, growth of services activity across emerging markets was unchanged from October‟s seven-month high.

Moderate increases in activity across manufacturing and services combined were signalled in China, Russia and Brazil. Indian private sector output fell for the fifth month running, albeit at the weakest rate in this sequence.

New order growth was maintained at a moderate rate in November. Moreover, the volume of outstanding business increased at the strongest rate since March 2011. Firms raised headcounts on average for the
second month running, albeit at a weak rate. Inflationary pressures were unchanged from October, with input prices continuing to rise at a faster rate than prices charged for final goods and services.

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OPEC Maintains Crude-Production Target at Vienna Meeting

Maintaining the 30 million-barrel-a-day target for the 12-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which supplies about 40 percent of the world’s oil, will ensure price stability, Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said yesterday. There will be no need to reduce the cap at the next meeting, Libyan Oil Minister Abdulbari al-Arusi said.

OPEC will hold its next meeting June 11, Al-Naimi said.

Libya is confident other OPEC members will make room for its oil, al-Arusi said yesterday. The country’s output will rise to 1.5 million barrels a day in 10 days from 250,000, as all production issues have been resolved, he said. Iraq won’t cut its output or discuss OPEC quotas anytime soon, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi said.

Thumbs down The Centre for Global Energy Studies in London and Citigroup Inc. in New York have forecast that Saudi Arabia and its allies Kuwait, Qatar and the U.A.E. would have to reduce production by 1 million to 2 million barrels a day in 2014 to prevent a glut and keep prices stable.

Thumbs up Al-Naimi said before the closed-door meeting that 30 million isn’t too much for OPEC to target. He also said there’s no need for Saudi Arabia to cut its own production. The kingdom is OPEC’s biggest oil exporter and produced 9.65 million barrels a day last month, according to a Bloomberg survey. In the past two years, Saudi Arabia has adjusted its own production without any change to OPEC’s formal output ceiling.

Thumbs up “Considerable supply-side risks in OPEC” mean the group will probably need to cut output only by 600,000 barrels a day next year, which is within Saudi Arabia’s capability to do alone, according to Harry Tchilinguirian and Gareth Lewis-Davies, analysts at BNP Paribas SA.

Storm cloud “In addition to continuing problems in Nigeria, the planned incremental supply from Iraq may not emerge due to civil unrest, a recovery in Libyan output in the near term is unlikely, Venezuelan political unrest is a concern and we believe the re-emergence of Iranian barrels remains some way off,” the BNP analysts said in an e-mailed report. (…)

FYI, from Doug Short:

Click to View

Click to View

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (27 NOVEMBER 2013)

RICHMOND FED SURVEY PERKS BACK UP

Strong new orders, positive employment stats.

The composite index of manufacturing strengthened, climbing to a reading of 13 in November following last month’s reading of 1. The index of shipments improved 18 points, ending at 16, and the index for new orders advanced 15 points compared to a month ago. In addition, the index for the number of employees gained two points, finishing at a reading of 6.

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Vendor lead-time shortened, shaving three points from last month’s index, to settle at 8. The backlog of orders index gained 14 points moving New Orders Indexto a reading of -1. Capacity utilization flattened in November; the index
gained five points, leveling off at 0. Finished goods and raw materials built up at a slightly slower rate this month. Those indexes shed one and three points respectively, with both gauges ending at a reading of 13.

Manufacturing employment edged up this month, moving the index to 6 from 4. The average workweek grew solidly, pushing that index up 13 points to end at a reading of 12. Additionally, average wages grew more quickly, reaching an index of 15 compared to last month’s reading of 9.

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Housing Sector Shows Sign of Strength

Housing permits surged in October to their highest level in more than five years, driven by strong demand for multi-family buildings such as apartments and condos, a sign U.S. home construction could gain traction as the year ends.

Housing permits surged in October to the highest level in more than five years, driven largely by solid demand for multifamily buildings such as apartments and condominiums, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. And prices in most major U.S. cities rose in September, though more slowly than in prior months, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home-price index.

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High five  Remember that multi-family is very volatile and lumpy. From the Conference Boardès November survey (via the WSJ):

When asked about what type of home, however, consumers who plan to buy in the next six months are more interested in existing houses rather than new ones. During the boom years, the preferences were more evenly split.

 

Fed Reveals New Concerns About Long-Term U.S. Slowdown

Worker productivity, a key component of an economy’s health, has risen at an annual clip of 1 percent during the last four years, as the U.S. has struggled to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. That’s less than half the 2.2 percent average gain since 1983, according to data from the Labor Department in Washington.

“Slower growth in productivity might have become the norm,” the central bankers noted at their Oct. 29-30 meeting, according to the minutes released last week. That’s a switch from past comments by Bernanke that the deceleration probably was temporary and would end as the expansion continued.

A combination of forces may be at work. Chastened by the deep economic slump, corporate executives have reduced spending plans for factories, equipment, research and development. Startup businesses have been held back as would-be entrepreneurs find it harder to get financing from still-cautious lenders. And out-of-work Americans have seen their skills atrophy the longer they’re without jobs. (…)

A lasting decline in the growth of productivity, or nonfarm business output per employee hour, would be bad news for the economy. Its potential — the ability of the U.S. to expand over an extended period without generating inflation — is determined by the sum of growth in the labor force and of productivity. A slowdown in the latter would limit how fast the U.S. can develop in the future.

That, in turn, would have far-reaching implications for policy makers, company executives, working Americans and investors. Fed officials would need to be more alert to inflation risks if growth picked up. Lawmakers would face even more difficulties reducing the budget deficit because tax receipts would be lower. Companies might have to settle for reduced revenue, employees for smaller paychecks and investors for diminished returns as a result of the slower expansion. (…)

Alan Blinder, who co-wrote a book with Yellen and is himself a former Fed vice chairman, says he’s concerned.

“Taking the Alfred E. Neuman view, what we’re experiencing is a give-back of the very surprising productivity gains” seen during the recession, he said, referring to the Mad Magazine character famous for saying “What, me worry?”

Blinder, now a professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, said he’s 65 percent convinced this is what’s going on. “The other 35 percent of me is puzzled by how low productivity has been and worried it might continue.” (…)

China set to unravel cotton stockpile
Auction to be closely watched by global markets

 

China is to start selling down its bloated state cotton reserves on Thursday, in an anticipated move that has already caused prices on global markets to unravel.

Chinese state cotton reserves stand at about 10m tons – or half the world total – after a three-year buying binge that lifted international prices. The China National Cotton Reserve Corp is caught in a dilemma, as any attempt to cut its position is likely to further pressure prices and result in steep losses.

Spot cotton prices on ICE have dropped steadily in recent months in anticipation of sales from the Chinese reserves.

Thailand Surprises With Rate Cut

Thailand’s central bank cut interest rates to the lowest in three years, citing a poor economic outlook and political tension that is hurting investor confidence.

The Bank of Thailand cut its benchmark rate by 0.25 percentage point to 2.25%. Nine of 10 economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected the bank to hold rates steady.

The bank also slashed its growth estimate for this year to 3% from 3.7%, and cut its 2014 growth target to 4% from 4.8%.

Policy makers were concerned over Thailand’s poor economy, which grew 2.7% in the third quarter from a year earlier, and especially a failure of exports to pick up more strongly, said Paiboon Kittisrikangwan, secretary of the bank’s monetary-policy committee. (…)

Other nations, including India and Indonesia, have been raising rates recently to combat inflation and attract foreign funds at a time when U.S. bond yields have trended higher.

Thailand entered a technical recession earlier this year but was unable to cut rates because of the need to attract capital as U.S. yields rose. These pressures have eased recently as the U.S. Federal Reserve has delayed ending its extraordinary monetary policies, pushing yields somewhat lower. (…)

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (18 NOVEMBER 2013)

OECD Economic Growth Stalls

(…) The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Monday said the combined gross domestic product of its 34 developing-country members rose by 0.5% from the second quarter, the same rate of expansion recorded in the three months through June. (…)

The OECD will release new forecasts for economic growth in its 34 members and a number of large developing economies Tuesday. The International Monetary Fund last month cut its growth forecast for the world economy in 2013 to 2.9% from 3.2%, but expects output to rise 3.6% in 2014. (…)

OECD leading indicators released last week suggested growth is set to pick up in the euro zone, China and the U.K. in coming months, while remaining sluggish in India, Brazil and Russia.

Among the Group of Seven largest developed economies, the U.K. recorded the strongest growth in the third quarter, with an expansion of 0.8%, while France and Italy saw their economies contract by 0.1% each.

Euro zone rebound weaker than hoped: ECB’s Nowotny

The economic situation in the euro zone has started to improve but is still weaker than the European Central Bank had hoped, ECB Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Monday. (…)

But “one has to say that this improvement is not as strong as we would have expected it perhaps some time ago, and at the same time inflation rates are clearly below the price stability level that we set at the ECB.” (…)

Spain’s bad loans ratio rises to 12.7 percent in Sept

Spanish banks’ bad loans as a percentage of total lending rose to 12.7 percent in September from 12.1 percent in August, marking a new high, Bank of Spain data showed on Monday.

The ratio has been steadily climbing as households and small companies struggle with debts and as banks, fighting to improve their own capital quality ahead of new stress tests, rein in lending. (…)

Bad debts rose by 6.9 billion euros ($9.3 billion) to 187.8 billion euros in September, while total credit fell by 8.9 billion euros to 1.5 trillion euros, the data showed.

Italian Tax Model Thwarts Recovery

(…) Italy’s tax model stands out in Europe for relying heavily on payroll taxes, which are paid by companies and employees, to fund the country’s state pension system. Payouts for old-age pensions alone are nearly 13% of GDP—a rate that is a third higher than in Germany and twice the U.S. percentage, according to the OECD.

(…)  “The absurdity is that an Italian worker costs more than a Spanish worker, but has a lower income,” said Riccardo Illy, owner of the eponymous coffee brand.

Economists say that the high mandatory contributions—33% of Italian salaries, compared with 13% in the U.S.—are particularly painful for younger workers in lower-income, entry-level jobs. (…)

Other European countries with even bigger welfare states have started to tackle the problem, at least in part. Germany puts more of the onus for pension contributions on the workers’ tab, which crimps income but not jobs.

French President François Hollande last year pushed through measures to reduce the country’s notoriously high labor costs, which help fund a broader array of social services. But he opted for tax breaks instead of direct payroll-tax cuts.

(…) the task facing Italy is daunting. Paolo Manasse, an economist at the University of Bologna, estimates that Italy would need to cut a further €30 billion in employment taxes to bring it in line with average employment taxes among OECD members.

Once pensions and interest on government debt are stripped out, Italy spends only 32% of gross domestic product on core services compared with 43% for Germany, meaning there is less budgetary fat to trim in other areas.

Some countries, such as Denmark, which has one of Europe’s highest overall tax rates, fund a bigger welfare state than Rome provides with a broader array of taxes covering income, investments and wealth.

Thus, Danish companies pay only a 10th of what their Italian peers do for social-security programs. Denmark’s total employment rate—the percentage of the working-age population with jobs—is 75% compared with Italy’s 61%. (…)

However, given the fragile nature of his two-party coalition, the prime minister has so far avoided bigger tax overhauls. He has criticized generational inequities in Italy but has been reluctant to trim current pension benefits.

Since future pensions in Italy will eventually be tied to actual contributions over a lifetime of working, the dearth of new jobs due to hefty payroll levies will have repercussions well into the future.

Younger generations are “at risk of being excluded from both work and, as a result, a main form of welfare,” said Marco Maniscalco, a partner at the Bonelli Erede Pappalardo law firm in Milan. (…)

Riskier loans hit record levels
‘Cov-lite’ proportion within CLOs surges in US markets

The amount of riskier loans offering fewer protections to lenders contained in packages of debt sold to investors have hit record levels, amid resurgent lending markets and a continued thirst for higher returns.

Managers of collateralised loan obligations, which buy up corporate loans then package and slice them into different pieces, have increased the proportion of riskier loans that their investment vehicles are allowed to buy to the highest levels on record. (…)

Already, 55 per cent of new leveraged loans come in “cov-lite” form, eclipsing the 29 per cent reached at the height of the leveraged buyout boom just before the financial crisis.

“The increased prevalence of cov-lite in the primary market has quickly translated into a similar market-wide increase,” Brad Rogoff, head of US credit strategy at Barclays, said in a recent note. (…)

While the majority of CLOs sold last year had a 40 per cent limit on the amount of cov-lite loans that could be bought by the vehicles, a 50 per cent cap has become the industry standard in 2013, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

At least three deals have come to market this year with a 70 per cent limit.

In 2011 – the earliest data available from S&P – about 67 per cent of new CLOs came with a 30-40 per cent limit on the amount of cov-lite loans that were allowed to be placed into the deals. Limits of 70 per cent were completely unheard of. (…)

In addition to officially increasing the percentage of cov-lite loans allowed into their deals, some CLO managers have also been easing their definition of cov-lite in deal documentation, thereby allowing more of the loans into their products. (…)

Thai growth slips in third quarter Growth falls to 2.7% as investment and consumption dip

Thailand Cuts Economic Growth Forecast as Exports Falter

Gross domestic product rose 1.3 percent in the three months through September from the previous quarter, the National Economic & Social Development Board said in Bangkok today. It revised a contraction in the second quarter to no growth from the previous three months.

The state agency cut its full-year expansion forecast to 3 percent from a range of 3.8 percent to 4.3 percent projected in August, and said the economy may grow 4 percent to 5 percent in 2014. It said it expected no export growth this year, from an earlier estimate of 5 percent.

Household consumption fell 1.2 percent last quarter from a year earlier, the NESDB said. Public investment slumped 16.2 percent from a year ago as both government construction and investment in machinery and equipment declined, it said.

EARNINGS WATCH

Thomson Reuters:

Third quarter earnings are expected to grow 5.6% over Q3 2012. Excluding JPM, the earnings growth estimate is 8.3%.

Of the 463 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%.

54% 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 83 negative EPS preannouncements issued by S&P 500 corporations compared to 9 positive EPS preannouncements. By dividing 83 by 9, one arrives at an N/P ratio of 9.2 for the S&P 500 Index. If it persists, this will be the most negative guidance sentiment on record.

Factset

At this stage of Q3 2013 earnings season, 94 companies in the index have issued EPS guidance for the fourth quarter. Of these 94 companies, 82 have issued negative EPS guidance and 12 have issued positive EPS guidance. Thus, the percentage of companies issuing negative EPS guidance to date for the fourth quarter is 87%. This percentage is well above the 5-year average of 63%.

Since the start of the fourth quarter, analysts have reduced earnings growth expectations for Q4 2013 (to 6.9% from 9.6%). However, they still expect a significant improvement in earnings growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 relative to recent quarters.

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GOOD READS
 
Up and Down Wall Street  Flacks Are People, Too

By RANDALL W. FORSYTH 

Spare, if you will, a moment of pity for the PR people. That may sound surprising coming from these quarters, given journos’ near-universal disdain for public-relations folks, many of whom see their function as obstructing or obfuscating on behalf of their bosses. But after the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week the spinmeisters had, even we stone-hearted, ink-stained wretches must have some sympathy.

Consider the PR genius at JPMorgan Chase (ticker: JPM) who came up with the idea of a Twitter (TWTR) Q&A with the bank’s vice chairman, Jimmy Lee, a week after it helped underwrite Twitter’s much-ballyhooed initial public offering. The idea presumably was to connect with the younger, social media-hip crowd. But instead of seeking career advice from the legendary deal-maker, the exchanges at #AskJPM quickly became an outlet for the public’s ire about banks and JPM in particular.

Starting with mock questions about whales, an allusion to the infamous London Whale trading fiasco, the queries became more acerbic about the alleged misdeeds by the nation’s largest bank by assets. It descended into what one wag dubbed “snarkalypse,” but not before he tweeted: “I have Mortgage Fraud, Market Manipulation, Credit Card Abuse, Libor Rigging and Predatory Lending. AM I DIVERSIFIED?” Not surprisingly, JPM cut short the “conversation,” but nobody was sacked over what a spokesman e-mailed the New York Times’ Dealbook blog as “#Badidea!”

Peggy Noonan:

(…) More and more it seems obvious that the vast majority of the politicians who pushed the [ObamaCare] bill in the House and Senate never read it. They didn’t know what was in it. They had no idea. They don’t understand insurance—they’re in politics, a branch of showbiz. (…)

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (30 AUGUST 2013)

This is a long post but I think well worth reading during the long week-end.

 

Second-Quarter GDP Revised Upward

The U.S. economy entered the second half of the year on firmer footing than previously estimated, with stronger growth, an uptick in corporate profits and consumers feeling better amid a rebound in housing.

[image]Strong exports, improved business investment and solid consumer spending helped U.S. gross domestic product grow at a 2.5% rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That marked a significant improvement both from the first three months of the year, when the economy grew at a 1.1% annual rate, and from the government’s earlier, preliminary estimate of second-quarter growth of 1.7%. The latest report means U.S. per capita economic output has finally—four years after the end of the recession—returned to the pre-crisis peak it reached in late 2007.

BMO Capital offers a good summary:

The good news is, the U.S. economy grew more than initially expected a month ago. The first stab at the Q2 real GDP on July 31st was 1.7% a.r. Then the trade numbers came out and wow, the view changed and it looked like GDP grew in the neighborhood of 2½% a.r. Then, as the
days went by, more data on inventories and consumer spending caused estimates to be trimmed, leaving consensus and us at around 2.2%-to-2.3% for the second quarter. Now, gentle reader, it looks like we should’ve stuck with the trade data as real GDP did rise 2.5% a.r. in Q2, the largest increase in nearly one year. That and the fact that consumer spending wasn’t revised at all (still 1.8% a.r.) is encouraging. Exports were revised up nicely, and inventories added more to the bottom line.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the huge swing in nonresidential investment in structures (factories, buildings, etc)—initially pegged at 6.8% and is now looking like 16.1%. One should, perhaps, regard this with some skepticism, particularly as private nonresidential construction spending has been soft over the past year. Offsetting all of these pluses was a larger-than-estimated drop in government spending.

But aside from the stronger headline, underlying demand isn’t what I’d describe as … fabulous. It’s alright, but not fab. Final domestic demand (GDP excluding inventories and net exports) was trimmed to +1.9% a.r. from +2.0% but this also takes into account government cutbacks. Private final sales (GDP excluding inventories, net exports  and government) was unchanged at 2.6%, which is not fabulous but still decent.

Doug Short illustrates the difference between “fabulous” and “alright”. Quite a step down from a 3.3% cruising speed to 1.8%.

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The only thing not revised up was consumer spending, 70% of the economy. There, the downshifts were from 5.5% in the late 1990’s to 3-4% in the mid-2000’s to the current 2% pace.

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But that is in spite a real disposable income per capita no longer growing. How long can a 2% spending pace be sustained without income growth?

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In the second half of 2012, consumer spending got support from a sharp drop in gas prices. Ain’t happening just yet.image

Could that help? Saudi Arabia Set to Pump 10.5M Barrels of Crude a Day

Saudi Arabia is set to pump 10.5 million barrels a day of crude in the third quarter, a million bpd increment over the second quarter and its highest quarterly level of production ever, leading U.S. energy consultancy PIRA said. (…)

“This is the tightest physical balance on the world oil market I’ve seen for a long time.” PIRA reported its estimate to clients earlier this week.

Libyan oil output has fallen from 1.4 million bpd to just 250,000 bpd after protesters shut oilfields. (…)

Ross said about 400,000 bpd of the incremental supply would go to feed domestic Saudi power usage during peak summer demand for air conditioning. (…)

U.S. Prepares for Solo Strike Against Syria

The Obama administration laid the groundwork for unilateral military action, a shift officials said reflected the U.K.’s abrupt decision not to participate and concerns Bashar al-Assad was using the delays to disperse military assets.

France ready for Syria strike without UK
Hollande to discuss next move with Obama
 

Hmmm…

This morning:

Consumer Spending in U.S. Increase Less Than Forecast as Income Gains Slow

Consumer purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy, rose 0.1 percent after a revised 0.6 percent increase the prior month that was larger than previously estimated, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington.

Sad smile Adjusting consumer spending for inflation, purchases were unchanged in July compared with a 0.2 percent increase the previous month, according to today’s report.

The Commerce Department’s price index tied to spending, a gauge tracked by Federal Reserve policy makers, increased 1.4 percent in July from the same period in 2012. The core price measure, which excludes volatile food and energy categories, rose 1.2 percent from July 2012.

U.S. HOUSING COOLING?

Bidding Wars Continue to Tumble as Housing Market Rebalances

Competition in the US residential real estate market dropped for the fourth consecutive month in July, underscoring the market’s overall trend towards balance. Nationally, the percentage of offers written by Redfin agents that faced multiple bids fell to 63.3 percent in July, down from 68.6 percent in June, and 75.7 percent at the peak in March.image

The slide in competition reflects multiple factors that are beginning to erode sellers’ market dominance across the nation:

Buyer Fatigue: First and foremost, Redfin agents report that buyers in the nation’s most competitive markets are growing weary. (…)

Budgets: The combined effect of rising prices and mortgage rates continues to price buyers out of the market, reducing competition for available inventory. Nationally, the median home price per square foot for single-family homes was up 18.7 percent in July from the year before and average weekly 30-year fixed mortgage rates in July were up about one percentage point from May. For a $250,000 mortgage, this jump in prices and mortgage rates translates to a rise in mortgage payments of more than $300 per month.image

Growing Inventory: Rising prices and mortgage rates are also driving homeowners to list their homes in greater numbers, which is boosting options for buyers. As of June, the number of single-family homes for sale in Redfin markets was up 7.8 percent from March and the national months of supply of inventory grew from 2.7 in May to 3 in June. Some homeowners who were underwater on their mortgages are becoming more confident that their homes can fetch a fair price and are deciding to list. Furthermore, our agents in San Francisco and Chicago report that mortgage rates are also leading homeowners to list. Homeowners, too, want to capitalize on historically low rates and move up before rates increase further. (…)

Further Cooling on Tap for Autumn: Looking forward, we expect that bidding wars will continue to cool slightly during the autumn months. The real estate market was atypically hot during autumn of 2012 because buyers were rushing to lock in low mortgage rates once home prices stabilized. Now that rates are higher, home prices continue to rise, and more inventory is coming available, buyers are likely to battle for homes less often.(…)

EUROTURN?

 

Euro-Zone Adds 15,000 Jobs

The number of people unemployed in the euro zone fell in July for the second month in a row, adding to tentative signs that a modest recovery under way in the currency bloc’s economy is starting to erode its sky-high levels of joblessness.

Eurostat said the annual rate of consumer-price inflation fell to 1.3% in August from 1.6% in July, putting it considerably below the central bank’s target area of a little below 2%.

Sad smile  German Retail Sales Unexpectedly Drop in Sign of Uneven Recovery

German retail sales unexpectedly fell for a second month in July, signaling an uneven recovery in Europe’s largest economy.

Sales adjusted for inflation and seasonal swings dropped 1.4 percent from June, when they declined 0.8 percent, the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden said today. Economists predicted an increase of 0.6 percent, according to the median of 27 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Sales climbed 2.3 percent from a year earlier.

These are big drops!

Fingers crossed Eurozone sales rise marginally in August

Retail sales in the eurozone rose for the first time in nearly two years in August, Markit’s retail PMI® data showed. The value of retail sales increased since July, albeit only marginally. Employment at retailers also rose slightly following a 16-month sequence of decline. National differences in sales trends remained, however, as Germany registered further strong growth, France achieved a back-to-back modest rise and Italy posted an ongoing sharp decline.

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Germany’s retail sector continued to drive the overall increase in eurozone retail sales. Sales rose on a monthly basis for the fourth successive survey, the longest sequence of growth in 17 months.
Moreover, the rate of expansion was little-changed from July’s two-and-a-half year high.

Retail sales in France rose for the second month running in August, and at the strongest rate since October 2011. Prior to July, sales had fallen for a survey-record 15-month period.

Italy remained the weak link in the eurozone retail recovery mid-way through Q3. Sales fell for the thirtieth successive month, and the rate of
contraction remained sharp despite easing since July.

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Retail sales in the eurozone continued to decline on an annual basis. That said, the rate of contraction eased to the slowest since October 2011. A further sign of the nascent recovery in the eurozone retail sector was a rise in employment in August. This mainly reflected recruitment at German retailers, while retail employment in France stabilised following a prolonged period of cuts and Italian retailers shed staff at the slowest rate since August 2010.

Pointing up imageAverage purchase prices paid by retailers for new goods rose at a sharper rate in August. By product sector, food & drink again posted the steepest rate of inflation, followed by clothing & footwear. Among the three national retail sectors covered, Germany posted the steepest increase in average input costs. Meanwhile, gross margins across the eurozone retail sector declined at the slowest rate since April 2011.

Note that the retail PMI is barely above 50 and has shown a very high volatility in recent years. The German engine remains fairly sound but the Italian and French engines remain unreliable. See below on France.

DOUCE FRANCE from BloomberBriefs:

President Francois Hollande’s pension reforms will probably fail to eliminate the pension deficit or make the French economy more
competitive. France’s government spends the most in the euro area relative to its GDP and has the third-highest labor costs.

People under the age of 40 will have to work beyond 62 to earn a full
pension. Contributions by both workers and employers will increase by
0.3 percentage point in 2017, though the government will cut other payroll charges in an effort to contain labor costs. The pension system is still likely to have a deficit of 13.6 billion euros in 2020, instead of 20.7 billion euros, even if all the announced measures are adopted, according to the French pension council.

The proportion of population over the age of 65 is forecast to climb to 18
percent next year from 17.1 percent in 2012. France has the third-highest
share of labor costs allocated to employers’ social contributions, according to Eurostat, at 34.2 percent, compared with 21 percent in Spain. The nation is ranked the 21st most competitive economy in the world, compared with sixth for Germany, according to the Global Competitiveness Index.

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The government may be forced to introduce additional spending cuts and
tax increases to meet its commitment to balance the budget by 2017. It is
likely to miss the target of narrowing the deficit to 3.7 percent of GDP this
year from 4.5 percent, having abandoned the original target of 3 percent.
France has failed to balance its budget since 1974, and the shortfall has
averaged 3.9 percent of GDP over the last decade.

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The government claims two-thirds of its austerity measures will come
from changes to the tax system this year, with 20 billion euros in tax
increases planned, compared with 10 billion euros in spending cuts. Taxes
accounted for 45.9 percent of GDP in 2011, compared with a euro-area
average of 40.8 percent. Public spending in France amounts to 57 percent
of GDP, the highest level in the euro region.

Red heart EPSILON THEORY: CENTRAL BANK COMPETENCE OR LACK THEREOF

U.S. equity markets have done well recently against flattening earnings, stable inflation rates and higher interest rates. Rising investors confidence has translated into absolute P/E ratios that are 10% above their historical mean and Rule of 20 readings that are unfavourable from a risk/reward ratio standpoint.

Earnings expectations for Q3 and Q4 look increasingly vulnerable. Can confidence stay high enough to offset “natural”, more dependable forces?

Ben Hunt’s latest note is highly relevant here:

(…) The shift in perceptions of Fed competence is being driven by opinion leaders’ public statements questioning the Fed’s communication policy. Here’s the critical point from an Epsilon Theory perspective: these public statements are not questioning the content of Fed communications; they are questioning the USE of communications as a policy instrument in and of itself. In exactly the same way that a magician immediately becomes much less impressive once you know how he does his trick, so is the Fed much less impressive once you start focusing on HOW policy is being communicated rather than WHAT policy is being implemented.

For example, this past Saturday Jean-Pierre Landau, a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of France and currently in residence at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, presented a paper at Jackson Hole focused on the systemic risks of the massive liquidity sloshing around courtesy of the world’s central banks. For the most part it’s a typical academic paper in the European mold, finding a solution to systemic risks in even greater supra-national government controls over capital flows, leverage, and risk taking.  But here’s the interesting point:

Pointing upZero interest rates make risk taking cheap; forward guidance makes it free, by eliminating all roll over risk on short term funding positions. … Forward guidance brings the cost of leverage to zero, and creates strong incentives to increase and overextend exposures. This makes financial intermediaries very sensitive to “news”, whatever they are.”

Landau is saying that the very act of forward guidance, while well-intentioned, is counter-productive if your goal is long-term systemic stability. There is an inevitable shock when that forward guidance shifts, and that shock is magnified because you’ve trained the market to rely so heavily on forward guidance, both in its risk-taking behavior (more leverage) and its reaction behavior (more sensitivity to “news”). This argument was picked up by the WSJ (“Did Fed’s Forward Guidance Backfire?”) over the weekend, and it continues to get a lot of play. It’s an argument I’ve made extensively in Epsilon Theory, particularly in “2 Fast 2 Furious.”

Landau’s paper is probably the most public example of this meta-critique of the Fed, but I don’t think it’s been the most powerful. Highly influential opinion leaders such as David Zervos and John Mauldin have recently written in their inimitable styles about the Fed’s use of words and speeches as an attempt at misdirection, as an ultimately misguided effort to hide or sugarcoat actual policy. FOMC members themselves are starting to question the Fed’s reliance on communications as a policy instrument, as evidenced by the minutes released last week. Combine all this with the growing media focus on the “battle” between Yellen and Summers for the Fed Chair – a focus which will create policy disagreements between the candidates in the public’s perception even if no such disagreements exist in reality – and you have a recipe for accelerating weakness in perception of Fed competence.

The shift in perception of non-Fed central bank competence, especially of Emerging Market central banks, is even more pronounced. Actually, “competence” is the wrong word to use here. The growing Narrative is that Emerging Market central banks are powerless, not incompetent. The academic foundation here was made in a paper by Helene Rey of the London Business School, also presented at Jackson Hole, where the nutshell argument is that global financial cycles are creatures of Fed policy … period, end of story. Not only is every other country just along for the ride, but Emerging Markets are kidding themselves if they think that their plight matters one whit to the US and the Fed.

Just as malcontents with the exercise of Fed communication policy may be found within the FOMC itself, you don’t have to look any further than Emerging Market central bankers and finance ministers themselves for outspoken statements protesting their own impotence. Agustin Carstens, Mexico’s equivalent to Ben Bernanke, gave a speech on the “massive carry trade strategies” caused by ZIRP and pleaded for more Fed sensitivity to their capital flow risks. Interesting how the Fed is to blame now that the cash is flowing out, but it was Mexico’s wonderful growth profile to credit when the cash was flowing in. South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, gave an interview to the FT from Jackson Hole where he bemoaned the “inability to find coherent and cohesive responses across the globe to ensure that we reduce the volatility in currencies in particular, but also in sentiment” now that the Fed is talking about a Taper. Christine Lagarde got into the act, of course, calling on the world to build “further lines of defense” even as she noted that the IMF would (gulp!) have to stand in the breach as the Fed left the field. To paraphrase Job: the Fed gave, and the Fed hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Fed.

I’ll have a LOT more to say about all this in the weeks and months to come, but I thought it would be useful to highlight these shifts in Narrative structure in real-time as I am seeing them. Informational inflection points in the market’s most powerful Narratives are happening right now, and this is what will drive markets for the foreseeable future.

Right on cue:

India’s Central Bank Governor Concedes to Missteps

It is rare for officials to admit that their policies have been less than perfect, but India’s central bank governor Duvvuri Subbarao did just that late Thursday, in his last public speech as head of the Reserve Bank of India.

Mr. Subbarao, whose five-year term as RBI governor ends Sept. 4, said the bank could have done a better job of explaining the intentions behind the various steps it has taken in the last three months to support India’s declining currency.

“There has been criticism that the Reserve Bank’s policy measures have been confusing and betray a lack of resolve to curb exchange-rate volatility,” Mr. Subbarao said at a lecture in Mumbai. He said that the RBI is unequivocally committed to curbing volatility in the rupee. “I admit that we could have communicated the rationale of our measures more effectively,” he added.

Ghost Über-bear Albert Edwards will scare you even more, courtesy of ZeroHedge:

(…) The fabulously entertaining Zero Hedge website keeps running the charts showing that the evolution of bond yields and equity markets this year resembles closely what happened in 1987 (see below). Now we should all take these comparisons with a pinch of salt, but what if…

I remember the 1987 crash well. I was working at Bank America Investment Management as an economist/strategist at the time. Of course, the immediate trigger for the equity crash was the fear of US recession caused by the fear that the US would have to hike rates sharply to defend the dollar. Those fears were triggered by Germany raising rates at a time when the G6 had recently agreed to stabilise the US dollar at the February 1987 Louvre Accord, after two years of sanctioned dollar weakness. Investors got into a tizzy about recession, jumping many steps ahead of the game. But, in the wake of a run-up in US bond yields that year, equities were richly priced and so very vulnerable to recession fears, however unfounded. And then the machines took over. That couldn’t possibly happen again, or could it?

Therein lies one of the key lessons I learnt in my 30 years in the markets. Pointing up It is not just to try to predict what will happen, but to second-guess what the markets fear might happen. Indeed a recession did not ensue and the 1987 crash turned into a tremendous buying opportunity.

Edwards then links with the EM debacle:

But another shoe will surely drop soon. China has gone off the radar in the last month, as the data have firmed, but it is set to return centre stage. Our China economist Wei Yao, thinks “this sudden turn-around is similar to that during Q4 2012, when the multi-quarter deceleration trend reversed shortly after the policy stance shifted to “cautious” easing. But that growth pick-up did not last for more than one quarter.” A continued slowdown in credit growth will strangle the current buoyancy of house price inflation (see charts below), with property sales growth having already peaked. Wei expects the Chinese data to relapse in Q4.

“Many people are writing about a Chinese credit crunch and banking crisis. I disagree. The authorities will have a choice as to whether to accept such a crunch or devalue and launch a new credit cycle to keep the balls in the air once again. Devaluation is the preferred option…..So the (recent) spike in SHIBOR was not a tremor indicating the earthquake of a banking crisis, but a tremor of a forthcoming RMB devaluation.” That will be the biggest domino of all to fall. And, as with the 1987 crash, markets will react to the fear of the devaluation and the deflation it will bring to the west, rather than the event itself. (…)

The emerging markets “story” has once again been exposed as a pyramid of piffle. The EM edifice has come crashing down as their underlying balance of payments weaknesses have been exposed first by the yen’s slide and then by the threat of Fed tightening. China has flipflopped from berating Bernanke for too much QE in 2010 to warning about the negative impact of tapering on emerging markets! It is a mystery to me why anyone, apart from the activists that seem to inhabit western central banks, thinks QE could be the solution to the problems of the global economy. But in temporarily papering over the cracks, they have allowed those cracks to become immeasurably deep crevasses. At the risk of being called a crackpot again, I repeat my forecasts of 450 for the S&P, sub-1% US 10y yields and gold above $10,000. Ghost

Indian Growth Slows to Four-Year Low as Rupee Drop Dims Outlook

Gross domestic product rose 4.4 percent in the three months through June from a year earlier, compared with 4.8 percent in the prior quarter, the Statistics Ministry said in New Delhi today. The median of 44 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 4.7 percent gain.

Emerging Markets Raise Rates

Indonesia raised its benchmark rate by half a percentage point on Thursday, one day after a half-point increase by Brazil and a week after a rate increase by Turkey. Other developing economies are under mounting pressure to tighten credit to support their weakening currencies. Brazil’s central bank hinted at further increases to come.

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(…) The value of India’s rupee has fallen by a fifth against the U.S. dollar since the beginning of May. The Reserve Bank of India’s initial response was to stop easing monetary policy, holding benchmark interest rates steady in June and July. When the rupee kept falling, the RBI limited the amount of money banks could borrow from it.

Investors saw that as effectively raising interest rates, at a time when India’s economy was growing at its slowest pace in a decade. Bonds and stocks sold off after the RBI’s steps. Yields on both short- and long-term rupee bonds jumped.

Some analysts say the incoming Indian central-bank governor may have no choice but to raise interest rates sharply, much as Fed Chairman Paul Volcker did in the U.S. in the 1980s.

South Africa is in a similar bind. Authorities want to halt declines in its currency, which has lost nearly a quarter of its value against the dollar over the past year but are reluctant to smother already weak growth.

Inflation reached an annual rate of 6.3% in July, but when South African central-bank officials meet to discuss rates again next month, they will be loath to raise rates in an economy struggling to meet forecasts for 2% growth this year, analysts say.

Some investors worry that they could see a repeat of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, or the stampede out of emerging-market currencies a decade later in 2008. But there are reasons to believe it won’t be that bad.

Pointing up Most emerging-market currencies today are allowed to float, so central-bank officials don’t have to defend a fixed exchange rate as they did during the Asian crisis. The government debt levels of countries like Indonesia, India and Brazil aren’t particularly high and are denominated mainly in local currency.

Not just in the U.S.: Elections Complicate Economic Decisions for India,Indonesia Upcoming elections in India and Indonesia, two of the countries hardest hit by the selloff in emerging-market assets, are making it more difficult to make the tough decisions both countries need.

Pointing up  Ft Alphaville has a great post on the EM situation:

From a recent Citi presentation, a chart stressing the potential risk of negative-feedback loops in the options available to those emerging market countries now trying to stem capital outflows and defend their currencies:

The chart makes an important point and is self-explanatory, but it isn’t comprehensive.

Notably excluded is the imposition of capital controls on outflows, which thus far have been mostly resisted with the exception of some limited measures in India. (…)

Also unmentioned is the option to lobby the central banks of developed countries, encouraging them not to tighten policy too quickly. This option appears to have been pursued with some vigour at Jackson Hole last weekend, but probably won’t carry much weight at the next FOMC meeting.

So the immediate options, at least those of a sweeping nature, are unattractive. And the possibility that emerging market central banks and governments will overreact and excessively tighten policy is a singular concern. (…)

But the broader issue is that it remains quite difficult to gauge the severity of the year’s EM currency and asset selloff — and to know whether it is more attributable to an acute market crisis versus a more fundamental economic shift.

Among the various possible causes normally cited are the Fed’s talk of tapering; the unwinding of carry trades; Chinese rebalancing; the pass-through effects of this rebalancing on commodity-exporters (Australia, South Africa, various countries in South America); the end of the commodity super-cycle generally; the limits to growth in countries that procrastinated on necessary structural changes; continued sluggishness by developed-country consumers; and dwindling investor patience with widening current account and budget deficits.

The causes aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, and some influence the others in various ways.

It’s also tough to know, at least for the inexpert or non-obsessive follower of international economics, how prepared the affected countries are to handle it.

The current situation — has it reached the level of “crisis” yet? — inevitably will have a similar feel to the crises of the 1990s given the reversal of hot money flows, the threat from speculators attacking various currencies, and even the involvement of some of the same countries. But so much is different, and most of the differences are positive.

As our colleagues David Pilling and Josh Noble wrote in Wednesday’s FT:

Back then, many countries had fixed exchange rates and their companies were heavily exposed to foreign debt. As currencies came under pressure, central banks desperately spent reserves to defend them. When the peg finally broke, currencies collapsed and companies’ foreign-denominated debts soared.

Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea had to seek help from the International Monetary Fund. Partly as a result of now largely discredited IMF austerity packages, they subsequently plunged into deep recession. Indonesia, the worst affected, lost 13.5 per cent of GDP in a single year. Suharto, the dictator, was toppled.

Today the picture is very different. Asian economies have flexible exchange rates, much higher reserves and sounder banking systems. India, for example, has reserves to cover seven months of imports compared with only about three weeks when it had its own “come-to-IMF” moment in 1991.

Nor, this time around, has India’s central bank wasted much firepower on defending the currency. Instead, it has largely allowed the rupee to slide. A weaker currency should boost exports and slow imports, closing the current account deficit automatically.

And so it might, hopefully without much lasting damage. We would also note the still-favourable growth differentials between developed and emerging market countries, which didn’t exist in the 1990s.

Admittedly this doesn’t preclude a new crisis or crises of a different flavour, and do read the full FT piece for the thoughts of more-pessimistic commentators, with careful attention to the points of Ruchir Sharma. Still, for the moment the problems seem at least endurable, if not actively manageable.

And although these countries’ immediate choices are regrettably limited, there is also a more hopeful longer-term story that can be told about this year’s events.

It’s mainly about how (some of) the lessons of the 1990s and the recent developed-world financial crisis have been heeded. In addition to the ability of emerging market currencies to respond to market forces, the relevant Asian countries also better understand the need for multi-lateral coordination and support during crises.

Furthermore, as economists from Standard Chartered explained, it’s likely that investors have become more discerning about the details of countries’ external funding problems. The economists looked at the short-term external debt situations for India, Indonesia, and Thailand — the three countries involved running a current account deficit — and found that “in all three cases the vast majority of the debt due within one year does not come with serious financing risk”.

More broadly, we’ve been especially interested in tracking the continued expansion of local-currency debt and capital markets, where tremendous progress has been made in the last decade and a half, especially in sovereign and corporate bond markets.

They’re important for a few reasons.

Companies in emerging markets find it easier to borrow in their own currencies, and are better able to hedge their debt if they rely on imports denominated in foreign currencies. Currency swings therefore become less threatening. (…)

Emerging market governments with sophisticated capital markets also have less need to build up massive stores of foreign currency reserves, a process that exacerbated the unnatural problem of global imbalances in the decade prior to the crisis of 2008 — when too much capital flowed from developing countries to developed countries rather than the other way round.

And of course, robust local-currency debt and equity markets, when accompanied by sound governance practices, reduce the dependence on foreign bank lenders and lead to a more diversified base of stakeholders. (…)

International trade and capital flows collapsed after the financial crisis of 2008. Within Europe the balkanisation of financial markets has mostly remained in place. But as both Citi’s presentation and a helpful McKinsey report explain in detail, by 2012 capital inflows to emerging markets had returned nearly to their pre-crisis levels.

These inflows returned, however, mainly in the form of foreign direct investment and investments via capital markets rather than bank lending.

Foreign direct investment is already considered to be a more stable kind of inflow. And the progress in developing local-currency capital markets also indicates that the growth in portfolio flows will be less worrying in the future, if certainly not yet.

These were favourable trends. Despite the present slowdown, in time they are likely to resume course given the disproportionately shallower financial markets in developing countries.

Investors in local-currency emerging market debt have been shellacked this year, and clearly the FX markets are spooked. Maybe the selloff will accelerate and new balance of payments crises really are imminent. We don’t know: much depends on policy still being decided, especially given the recent introduction of heightened geopolitical risks. We certainly don’t mean to dismiss the possibility of a terrible outcome, especially for an individual country.

Fingers crossed For now, however, the problems appear both different in nature and smaller in scale, and unlikely to spread uncontrollably. If we’re right about that, then a plausible explanation is that the lessons of the 1990s haven’t gone entirely ignored. And if a number of emerging market countries are about to enter a grinding period of slower growth and structural adjustments, or to experience new financial strains, at least they do so better prepared. (…)

Japan inflation highest in five years
Weaker yen pushes up cost of fuel and electricity

Consumer price inflation in Japan rose to an annual rate of 0.7 per cent in July, its highest level in almost five years, as the effects of a weaker yen pushed up the cost of fuel and electricity.

Excluding fresh food, the all-items index rose by 0.7 per cent from a year earlier and by 0.1 per cent from June.

But excluding the cost of energy from the calculation brings the yearly CPI to minus 0.1 per cent. The prices of items such as housing, furniture, medical care and culture and recreation all fell from a year earlier, while charges for fuel, light and water rose by 6.4 per cent.

Other data released on Friday morning were positive. The jobless rate dropped to 3.8 per cent, from 3.9 per cent in June, while industrial production rose by 1.6 per cent on a yearly basis and 3.2 per cent on the previous month.

Household spending edged up 0.1 per cent from a year earlier, from a 0.4 per cent fall in June.

Signs of Japanese Investment Uptick Investment by Japanese companies has been a laggard in the nation’s economic recovery. But things could be turning, data showed Friday.

Industrial production jumped 3.2% on month in July, reversing a 3.1% downturn in June.

The government was keen to point out that much of the production seems to show companies are spending more on increasing production.

The output of capital goods, which includes machinery, was at its highest level on a seasonally-adjusted basis since May 2012, a Japanese official said. The official also pointed toward big jumps in the output of goods such as steam turbines and equipment used in the plastics industry – tentative signs that companies are investing in increasing capacity. (…)

Other data today added to a sense that companies’ optimism is returning. Japan’s Purchasing Managers’ Index rebounded to 52.2 in August from 50.7 in July. That’s not far off a high of 52.3 in June. New orders, a sign of renewed corporate activity, were strong.

Have a good one!

 

NEW$ & VIEW$ (29 AUGUST 2013)

U.S. Pending Home Sales Decline Further

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that pending sales of single-family homes during July declined 1.3% m/m but remained up 6.7% versus July of last year. The monthly decline followed an unrevised 0.4% June slip.

Last month’s sales decline again reflected mixed performance around the country. Home sales in the Northeast fell 6.5% (+3.3% y/y) while sales in the West dropped 4.9% (-0.4% y/y). Also moving 1.0% lower were home sales in the Midwest but they remained up 14.6% y/y. Pending home sales in the South rose 2.6% (7.7% y/y).

BMO Capital:

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U.S. foreclosures fall in July from year ago: CoreLogic

There were 49,000 completed foreclosures last month, down from a 65,000 in July of last year, CoreLogic Inc said. There were 53,000 foreclosures in June, down from an originally reported 55,000.

Before the housing market’s downturn in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month between 2000 and 2006. (…)

There were about 949,000 homes in some stage of foreclosure, down from 1.4 million a year ago. That foreclosure inventory represented 2.4 percent of all mortgaged homes, down from 3.4 percent in July last year.

German Jobless Figures Unexpectedly Rise in Summer Lull

The number of people out of work increased by a seasonally adjusted 7,000 to 2.95 million, the Nuremberg-based Federal Labor Agency said today. Economists predicted a decline by 5,000, according to the median of 25 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The adjusted jobless rate stayed at 6.8 percent, near a two-decade low.

Brazil raises rates for fourth time since April
Central bank in drive to tame stubbornly high inflation

imageThe central bank’s monetary policy committee, Copom, raised Brazil’s benchmark Selic rate by 50 basis points to 9 per cent late on Wednesday, the latest increase in a 175 basis point tightening cycle since April.

Indonesia Raises Rates in Unplanned Move to Shore Up Rupiah

The central bank increased the reference rate to 7 percent from 6.5 percent, it said, after a meeting in Jakarta today that came before the next scheduled policy review. It also raised the deposit facility rate by half a point to 5.25 percent, and extended a bilateral swap deal with theBank of Japan valued at $12 billion that will allow the two to borrow from each other’s foreign-exchange reserves.

Indonesia raised the key rate by a combined 75 basis points in June and July before keeping it unchanged at its meeting on Aug. 15 as slowing growth deterred a third consecutive increase. The rupiah’s more-than-5 percent slump in the past two weeks may have pressured the central bank to increase borrowing costs again before a scheduled policy review on Sept. 12.

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Philippine economy maintains strong growth
Services led by trade and real estate fuel 7.5% GDP rise

GDP grew 7.5 per cent in the second quarter from a year ago after expanding by a revised 7.7 per cent from the previous period, making it the fourth straight quarter that the economy climbed more than seven per cent, the government National Statistical Coordination Board said. (…)

Though personal consumption spending still accounts for almost 70 per cent of the economy, it contributed less than half of second-quarter GDP growth. Most of the expansion came from government spending, boosted by the May 2013 midterm polls, and investments, particularly public and private construction.

Construction grew by 15.6 per cent in the quarter to June after rising by 30.1 per cent in the previous period, buoyed by government infrastructure projects as well as a boom in high-rise residential condominiums, office towers and other types of housing.

Is The Japanese Consumer Losing Faith?confidence is waning. More data on Friday may underline this trend.

Last week, subdued department store sales set off alarm bells. On Thursday, preliminary retail sales figures brought more bad news, falling 0.3% on year in July. On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail sales were down 1.8% on the previous month, the biggest fall since August 2011.

Oil market: multiple worries
Libya may be bigger threat to oil price than Syria

(…) Syria always has been and always will be a marginal player in the oil market. Before the civil war, it produced about 370,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day; that may have fallen to about 70,000 b/d now. Nor is it a significant transit point. (…)

More troubling is Libya, which produced almost 2 per cent of the world’s total oil and gas output last year. Earlier this year, Libya was boasting that it was almost back to its prewar production level of about 1.6m b/d (of which 1.3m b/d is exported). But strikes and protests have cut its daily oil production to an average of just 500,000 b/d this month. The chaos that has gripped the country since the ousting of Muammer Gaddafi in 2011 now threatens to curtail production indefinitely.

The “War” Effect

How do markets (US equities, Gold, Crude Oil, and the USD) react around US military conflicts…? Citi shows what happened before-and-after the Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya… and why Syria is arguably more complex than these previous conflicts

Via Citi,

S&P: trades better once conflict begins. This time should be no different.

Gold: falls after start of action. Again should be no different.

Crude: usually falls at or just prior to start of military action.

USD: reverts back to dominant trend. USD weakened post-action in 1991, 2003, 2011 as it was in a bear market. The opposite happened in 1999 and 2001 (USD bull market). This time around USD strength should return once military intervention begins.

One counterpoint: Syria is arguably more complex than these previous conflicts. Military objectives are also not as well defined. Russia and Iran will also weigh in both pre- and post-action. The usual market reaction may be more muted and short-lived because of greater uncertainties.

WHY EARNINGS GROWTH MAY REMAIN SUBDUED:

Links Between Capacity Utilization, Profits and Credit Spreads

From Moody’s:

Though the share of jobs directly linked to goods producing activity has shrunk considerably over time, the percent of industrial capacity in use remains highly correlated with overall profitability, credit spreads, and business debt repayment. In all likelihood, the large amount of economic activity that is indirectly linked to the production of tangible goods helps to explain the still strong correlation between industrial activity and the corporate credit cycle. For example, much service sector activity is derived from the transportation, storage, sale, and maintenance of tangible merchandise. Capacity utilization’s ability to offer useful insight shows that tangible goods still figure prominently in a post-industrial economy. We still consume a lot of things.

(…) Amid sufficient slack, rising rates of capacity utilization often generate percent increases by profits that are a multiple of the accompanying percent increase in business sales. This phenomenon is referred to as operating leverage.

Ordinarily, the bigger is the year-to-year percentage point increase in capacity utilization, the faster is the year-to-year growth rate of profits. For example, when the year-to-year increase by the rate of industrial capacity utilization most recently peaked at the 6.8 percentage points of 2010’s third quarter, the annual growth rate of the moving yearlong sum of profits from current production also crested at 33%. Subsequently, the yearly change of the capacity utilization rate eased to the 0.0 points of 2013’s second quarter and profits growth slowed to 3%. (Figure 1.)

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Capacity utilization has declined in each of the last 5 months, from 78.2% in March to 77.6% in July. It has also declined in each of the last 7 cycles.

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David Rosenberg recently wrote on the “normal” biz cycle:

I think we are heading into mid-cycle where consumer spending is going
to take the baton from the housing market. This is currently being
delayed by the lagged impact of the early year tax bite and the current
round of sequestering, but next year we should begin to see the impact
of gradually improving job market fundamentals spill into a pickup in
consumer spending growth. This would not just be desirable — it would
be natural. Exports should also take on a leadership role as the
recession in Europe ebbs and Chinese growth stabilizes. The cyclical
outlook in Japan is also constructive as the monetary and fiscal stimulus
has to fully percolate but there is already evidence that the two-decade
experience with deflation is drawing to a close.

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The next chapter would then involve capital spending and plant
expansion, and capacity utilization rates and an increasingly obsolete
private sector capital stock will trigger accelerating growth in business
spending, likely by 2015 or perhaps even earlier. Profit growth is slowing and normally that would be an impediment, but there is ample cash on balance sheets and what businesses need is a less clouded policy
outlook, which hopefully will be resolved in the coming year as we get a
new Fed leader, greater clarity on monetary policy and some fiscal
resolution ahead of or following the mid-term elections.

That may be nothing but a hope and prayer, but more fundamentally, productivity growth has stagnated and the best way the corporate sector can reverse the eroding trend and protect margins at the same time will be to move more aggressively to upgrade their operations and facilities — we are coming off the weakest five-year period in the past six decades with regards to growth in capital formation.

Moody’s makes the link between capacity utilization and the high yield market:

Given the capacity utilization rate’s significant correlations with both the high-yield default rate and the delinquency rate of bank C&I loans, it is not surprising that the high-yield bond spread tends to widen as the capacity utilization rate falls. The diminution of cash flows and pricing power that accompanies a lowering of capacity utilization will increase the yield that creditors demand as compensation for default risk. Thus, a narrowing by the high-yield bond spread from its recent 460 bp to its 418 bp median of the previous two economic recoveries will require the fuller use of production capacity. (Figure 6.)

After rising sharply from June 2009’s record 66-year low of 64.0% to February 2013’s current cycle high of 76.5%, the capacity utilization rate of US manufacturers has since eased to July’s 75.8%. An extension of the current credit cycle upturn requires the return of a rising rate of capacity utilization.  (…)

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However, U.S. capex are not about to turn up:

An unexpected second monthly decline in nondefense capital goods shipments in July, coupled with weak orders, flags slower business capex in Q3. (BMO Capital)

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