Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday, May 06, 2014 - Quickly Aging Here

Quickly Aging Here
by Sinclair Noe

DOW – 129 = 16,401
SPX – 16 = 1867
NAS – 57 = 4080
10 YR YLD  - .02 = 2.59%
OIL + .38 = 99.86
GOLD – 1.80 = 1308.90
SILV - .04 = 19.65

There was a pretty broad selloff on Wall Street today. AIG posted lousy earnings late yesterday, and today they dragged down most of the financials. Twitter proved a drag on the tech stocks. Twitter reached the 6 month expiration of a lock-up period that had restricted sale of about 82% of its outstanding stock. Share prices dropped about 18% today, but home prices in Silicon Valley are likely to move a bit higher in the next month. After the close, Disney posted better than expected earnings.

Let’s start with economic data; the trade deficit narrowed in March, down 3.6% to $40.4 billion. March exports came in at about $193 billion and imports were around $234 billion, resulting in a $40 billion shortfall. Exports are 17% above the pre-recession peak, while imports are about 1% above the pre-recession peak. Exports of capital goods, industrial supplies and materials, and automobiles increased in March. Exports of services hit a record high, while those of non-petroleum goods were also the highest on record. Exports to Canada, South Korea and Germany all touched all-time highs in March. Imports of food and non-petroleum products hit record highs in March.

Last week we saw the estimate for first quarter gross domestic product showing 0.1% growth; that estimate worked with an assumption that the trade deficit for March would come in at $38.9 billion, not the $40.4 billion reported today. So, this implies that the GDP number could be re-estimated by two-tenths, which would mean a negative -0.1% GDP for the first quarter, or maybe just a bit worse. There will be other data considered in the final GDP number, but it now looks like a negative number. And most economists are calling for a bounce back in the second quarter.

Corelogic reports home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased 11.1% in March 2014 compared to March 2013. This change represents 25 months of consecutive year-over-year increases in home prices nationally. On a month-over-month basis, home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased 1.4% in March 2014 compared to February 2014.

Excluding distressed sales, home prices nationally increased 9.5% in March 2014 compared to March 2013 and 0.9% month over month compared to February 2014. So, home price increases are slowing, and this might also prove a drag on GDP, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the housing market is in the dumps. One of the bright points in the report is that there are fewer distressed sales, that means there is also less inventory, and there is less negative equity.

A separate report from Black Knight Financial, a mortgage research firm finds the number of mortgages on which lenders initiated foreclosure in March fell to the lowest level in more than 7 years. Banks initiated foreclosure on 88,000 properties in March, down more than 27% from a year ago, and well below the high of more than 316,000 in March 2009.

Foreclosures should continue to trend down because the share of mortgages that are behind on their payments is also declining. Around 2.1% of all loans were in some stage of foreclosure in March, the lowest level since late 2008, and another 5.5% of all borrowers were 30 days or more past due on their loans but not yet in foreclosure, the lowest since late 2007. Both of those are still well above pre-crisis levels but they are down sharply from a few years ago.

Growth in the services sector accelerated in April, rising at the fastest pace in eight months as new orders jumped and overall activity quickened by the most since early 2008. The ISM said its services sector index rose to 55.2 in April from 53.1 in March, topping expectations for a read of 54.1. The data provides further evidence that economic activity is regaining momentum after lagging through much of the winter.

Today is the anniversary of one of the scariest days in market history. On May 6, 2010, the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points in a matter of minutes in what became known as the flash crash. The crash wiped out $1 trillion in wealth in the blink of an eye, only to recover, kinda, sorta. High-frequency computerized trading was believed to at least be part of the cause of the technical breakdown. And the regulators have not figured it out to this day, and yes it could happen again.  

Last week, SEC Chair Mary Jo White testified before Congress that the markets were not rigged. Today, the SEC announced they have sent out subpoenas demanding records from brokerage companies to try and figure out how customers’ orders are routed, and how firms are being paid for order flow. The good news is the SEC is investigating; the bad news is that dark pool and high frequency trading has been going on for years and the SEC appears totally clueless.

Institutional Investor released its Rich List, a list of the 25 top income generating hedge fund managers. David Tepper of Appaloosa Management topped the list with $3.5 billion in earnings. Second on the list was Steven Cohen of SAC Capital, who might have fared better if his firm hadn’t been guilty of insider trading. Just for reference, $3.5 billion works out to $400,000 an hour.

I also ran across an article that puts the Fed’s QE into perspective. The Federal Reserve has spent approximately $3.2 trillion in the post-Crisis era, with most of the money being dropped from helicopters hovering over Wall Street banks. The Fed mainly bought Treasuries and mortgage backed securities, but they could have mailed a check for $10,223 to every person in the US; they could have bought back all the US debt owned by China, Japan, and Belgium; they could have created 12.8 million jobs in 2009, each paying $50k a year, and still be making payroll for them today – which actually would have met their mandate. And that’s just based upon large scale asset purchases under QE; by some estimates the Fed has dished out my than $17 trillion to prop up the financial order. A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.

The Census Bureau released a report on the demographic makeup of the US; the population is aging rapidly; about 1 in 5 Americans (21%) will be 65 years old and up by 2050, compared with just 13% in 2010 and less than 10% in 1970. It sounds like a lot of old people, but it seems less so when compared with other countries. In 2050, around 40% of Japan’s population will be 65-plus, up from 24% in 2012. In Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland over 30% will be 65 plus. China will have about 26% of its population over the age of 65, which amounts to more old people in China than the entire population of the US.

The concern with an aging population is that there will be a much slower economy: less spending, less saving, lower economic output, and slower growth; fewer working age people paying taxes, less money going into social programs like Social  Security and Medicare, and more money coming out of those programs. But the Census report also finds that the working age population will increase, mainly due to immigration.

The White House today released the 2014 National Climate Assessment, written by 300 climate experts and reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. The full report, at more than 800 pages, is the most comprehensive look at the effects of climate change in the US to date. Don’t worry, they also provided a Cliff Notes version that weighs in at a mere 137 pages, thereby killing fewer trees. The short and sweet is that we’re all going to fry; it’s too late, climate change is here and now, and it will just get worse and worse.

Average temperatures in the US have increased 1.3 degrees to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the part of the country) since people began keeping records in 1895, and about 80% of that warming has come in the past 20 years. The period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade on record, across all regions of the country. And it will keep getting hotter. If we really get very serious about cutting emissions, temperatures will rise by 3 to 5 degrees, depending on location, over the next 80 years; if we keep going the way we’re going, temperatures will rise 5 to 10 degrees, and maybe by 15 degrees in some places. That means 115 degree days in the desert southwest could be 125 to 130 degrees.

In addition to extreme heat, you can add wildfires, and drought, and hurricanes, and extreme downpours – real gulley washers, plus rising sea levels. The report says that in much of the US, especially the Midwest and Northeast, more rain is falling in short-duration, heavy bursts, leading to more flooding. The Northeast and Midwest may continue to get wetter, while the Southwest becomes even more parched, raising water supply and energy concerns there.

The report warns the Southwest to prepare for major disruptions ahead due to climate change: "Increased heat and changes to rain and snowpack will send ripple effects throughout the region’s critical agriculture sector, affecting the lives and economies of 56 million people –- a population that is expected to increase 68% by 2050, to 94 million. Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and plant and animal life for the region’s most precious resource."

The report says the Southwest will be plagued by drought, which is not really uncommon, but the droughts will be hotter and drier and longer and will lead to a big increase in wildfire activity, which has already started to take place.

The report notes that American society and its infrastructure were built for the past climate, not the future. It highlights examples of the kinds of changes that state and local governments can make to become more resilient. One of the main takeaways is that you don't want to look at the weather records of yesteryear to determine how to set up your infrastructure.

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