MacroScope

Another false start for the U.S. economy?

Since the global financial crisis ripped the floor out from underneath developed world economies, the world’s biggest one has had several false starts nailing the floorboards back in.

Stock markets have moved in almost one direction since their trough in March 2009 – up – but economic growth and job creation have bounced around.

There are some disturbing signs another false start is afoot, but it has become almost taboo to even raise the issue that the U.S. economy, for all of its progress in repairing bank and household balance sheets, may still be at risk.

Since the Fed began cutting back on its $85 billion of monthly bond purchases, the two most important economic releases for financial markets have produced spectacular upsets versus the consensus view – and even the most pessimistic one.

December net hiring collapsed to just 74,000 against consensus expectations of 196,000 – the biggest upset since the U.S. economy had one of its false dawns, in early 2011. It was well below the lowest forecast of 120,000.

Not bullish enough! How predictions for stocks in 2013 are turning out

The bulls were out in force again in Thursday’s quarterly Reuters poll of around 350 equity analysts – some 91.3 percent of forecasts for 20 major stock indexes predicted gains from here until the end of next year.

That might sound incredibly optimistic – but last year, on the whole, they weren’t optimistic enough.

Most striking is how the consensus completely missed the Nikkei’s near-50 percent rise. U.S. stocks have strongly outperformed the expectations too. On the other side, the emerging markets have been a big disappointment, especially Brazil.

Stocks to rise? 85 percent say yes – as ever

Even a government shutdown and the prospect of an unprecedented U.S. government default – no matter how small – couldn’t shake the conviction among equity analysts that stock markets only have further to rise.

Published on Tuesday, the latest Reuters poll collected more than 450 points of data from hundreds of analysts worldwide on how 20 of the world’s biggest stock markets will perform from now until the end of the year.

Some 85 percent of forecasts predicted a positive return for stock markets between now and end-December. Thursday brought firming hopes of a  deal to ensure the U.S. does not default on its debt, and global shares have lifted for a second day on Friday. That strong consensus could well prove correct.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Getting there from here

Depending on how you look at it, August may not have been as bad a month for stocks as advertised. For the month as a whole, the MSCI all-country world stock index  lost more than 7.5 percent.  This was the worst performance since May last year, and the worst August since 1998.

But if you had bought in at the low on August 9, you would have gained  healthy 8.5 percent or so.

In a similar vein, much is made of the fact that the S&P 500 index  ended 2009 below the level it started 2000, in other words, took a loss in the decade.

from Global Investing:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

HOLDING UP -- FOR NOW 
- A good run in equities has so far been helped rather than hindered by U.S. company results. Some are questioning how long the upward momentum can be sustained given cost-cutting rather than improved revenue streams flattered profit margins. The European earnings season, which cranks up a gear this week, and the release of U.S. Q2 GDP data could be potential triggers for a pullback, but the sensitivity to bad news may depend on how much money is chasing the latest push higher. 
    

EARNINGS 
- European earnings flooding out in the coming weeks may paint a less rosy picture of the banking sector than seen on the other side of the Atlantic. While investment and trading activities should be supportive, bad loan provisions will be particularly closely scrutinised, as will the central and eastern Europe exposure of the likes of Erste. The supply/demand outlook for key commodities plans will also be in the limelight given the battery of oil and chemical firms reporting in Europe and the U.S. 

CORRELATIONS 
- There are signs of some breakdown in the lockstep moves that financial markets had become accustomed to seeing in FX/stocks or stocks/bonds. Calyon research shows correlation between the bank's proprietary risk aversion barometer and exchange rates has been less robust in the past month. While this correlation nevertheless remains stronger than that between FX and interest rate differentials, the markets' thoughts are turning to new linkages that might prove better trading guides. 

from Global Investing:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week: 

RESULTS RUSH 
- The early wave of Q2 earnings last week prevented any major risk shakeout but there are plenty more results this week, including from banking, technology (Apple, Microsoft), and other sectors (Lockheed Martin, Coke, McDonalds). Investors with bullish inclinations will be looking for the VIX to stay subdued after it fell last week to lows last seen in September 2008, especially if more pent up cash is to be released from money market funds. Bears will be thinking that what might be the S&P's best weekly performance since mid-March could be setting the market up to be more sensitive to bad news.

BANKS - IS THE BEST PAST? 
-  It is hard to see how bank results this week can top the boost which Goldman and JPM gave stocks last week. More of a mixed bag is likely with the U.S. slate including Bank of New York Mellon, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Capital One, and American Express while Credit Suisse will be the first major European bank to report. Defaults and delinquencies will be in focus for banks more exposed to the retail sector -- both for what it means for their outlook and for what it bodes for household solvency and spending. 

DRILLING DOWN 
-  The breakdown of company results this week (ABB, Texas Instruments, Caterpillar, DuPont, Boeing, 3M) will show the extent to which the inventory rebuilding story, which has helped lift world equities almost 40 percent from their March lows, can offer more sustainable support to stocks in the weeks and months ahead. Earnings this week will be closely scanned to see how inventories are stacking up verus orders. How deeply firms are cutting into costs to defend profit margins, as well as their business investment plans, will be key for unemployment and other macroeconomic data.

from Global Investing:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

VOLATILITY
- World stocks' near-50 percent gain since early March may be levelling off -- investors have factored in much of the output recovery that is in the pipeline and fresh impetus could be needed from further improvements in economic indicators or the corporate outlook. With many fund managers yet to wade in with the cash piles on which they have been sitting, a bout of volatility looks more likely than a dramatic pullback.

GROUP OF 8
- Talk of green shoots of economic recovery has removed some of the threat of global economic meltdown and therefore reduced the pressure to come up with coordinated international policy response. The Lecce finance ministers' meeting will test G8 nations' commitment to putting up extra money for the IMF and an SDR allocation increase. The risk is that cracks appear on these and other issues (eg QE, fiscal stimulus, etc). Given expanded IMF resourcing was one of the planks on which the equity market/emerging market rebound was built, any signs of pullback could fuel volatility and throw up risks for the assets which have benefited most from that rally.

DOLLAR STANCE
- Asian reserve managers' reassurance on Treasuries holdings came in the same week as rumblings of discomfort from some emerging market countries (eg South Africa, Israel) on the dollar's slide and its fallout. Soothing noises from Asia about their dollar-denominated holdings and its FX impact risk being cancelled out by the chatter about international reserve currencies building in the run-up to the first BRIC summit later in June.