by Raul Ilargi Meijer
Jack Delano Brakeman Jack Torbet at Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad March 1943
As I watch the euro losing another 1.3% against the dollar today, it’s now at $1.25, and down from close to $1.40 recently, it’s getting clearer all the time: the greenback is busy eating currencies and economies alive.
There is of course the fact that Abenomics in Japan is living up to its longstanding promise of utter failure. And there is Mario Draghi torn between two lovers, one the one hand the Germany/Austria camp – with France as a surprise third – who don’t want the ECB to buy up junk paper, and on the other hand those EU members whose sole road to survival inside the EU is for Draghi to buy up anything that even looks like it was once toilet paper.
But Japan and Europe have been in the economic doghouse for a long time. It wasn’t until the Fed pulled the trigger on the dollar steamroller that they started paying the real price for it.
Japan, at least as long as it chooses to cling to the growth fairy, has nowhere to turn but to something in the vein of Abenomics, i.e. huge money and credit expansion. But it’s not the money supply, no matter how it’s defined, that is the problem, it’s that people refuse to spend. And if people don’t spend, no government or central banks has a way to boost inflation. Why they should want to in the first place is another question.
Europe has the added problem of disagreement on how to escape the walls that are closing in. And the more they close in, the less comfortable the shared living space on the old continent becomes. With a bit of imagination, you can see different people, different cultures, different languages, and different economies, all forced to live in the same ever shrinking – economic -space.
There’s less of everything to go around, and no-one wants to give up what’s theirs. Still, at the same time we already saw that two-thirds of Greeks live at or below the poverty line, and that Naples is even worse than Greece. Where do you personally think that will go? With a dollar that is set to make lots of things, not the least of which is oil and gas, more expensive?
It’s not just that for Europe, the growth fairy is evasive, their economies are bound to shrink a lot more still. And then what is Draghi, or his successor, supposed to do? The eurozone, and the EU itself, has already become a straightjacket with a noose attached to it, and that noose will start to tighten as we go forward. Brussels and Frankfurt can spin all they want – and do they ever -, but they can’t squeeze milk out of a deceased goat.
No matter what side of which fence you’re sitting on here, you have to give it to the Fed and Wall Street, though: their timing is impeccable. Victim no. 1 of the “Dollar is King”-move are the emerging markets:
Emerging Stocks Pummeled as Weak Yen Boosts Japan
The yen’s slide to a six-year low is amplifying a rout in emerging-market stocks as investors shift their focus to Japanese companies with earnings in dollars, according to Morgan Stanley. The MSCI Emerging Market Index tumbled 7.6% in September, the most since May 2012, led by China and Hong Kong. That compares with a 3.8% drop for the Topix Index in the period. The yen depreciated 5.1% versus the dollar to the weakest level since August 2008 last month, while a gauge tracking developing-nation currencies retreated 3.8%. “Asset allocation away from emerging markets was in part because Japan was back and that yen weakness is a positive catalyst,” Jonathan Garner, Hong Kong-based head of Asia and emerging-market strategy at Morgan Stanley, said by phone on Sept. 25.
“We don’t have a large export-industrial dollar earnings sector for EM, while Japan’s corporate-sector earnings responded positively to yen weakness.” Japan’s exporters are benefiting from a weaker currency, which boosts overseas income when repatriated, while developing-nation assets have come under pressure as the prospect for higher Federal Reserve interest rates dents demand for riskier assets. Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker by market value which derives most of its revenue from the U.S., rallied 9% last month. Net inflows to U.S. exchange-traded funds that invest in emerging-markets tumbled 82% to $977.9 million in September, led by a 90% decline to China and Hong Kong, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
And the weak yen has long since stopped boosting Japan in a net, overall, sense:
Japanese Stocks Have Crashed Over 1000 Points Since Friday
After ticking just above 110.00, USDJPY has been a one-way street lower and that means only one thing… Japanese stocks are cratering. From Friday’s highs, The Nikkei 225 has crashed over 1000 points (despite Abe’s promises yet again of more pension reform buying of stocks). Of note, perhaps, is that, Japanese investors bought a net $3.6 billion of foreign stocks last week – the most since January 2009 – perfectly top-ticking global equities… Well played Mrs. Watanabe.
Japan Inc. Begins To Turn Against The Weak Yen
When the Japanese yen began its long descent in late 2012 — around the time it became clear Shinzo Abe would be elected to another prime-ministership — the executives running Japan’s top corporations seemed to believe that the lower the currency, the better, regardless of all else. But since then, the yen has trekked steadily, inexorably downward against the dollar, with the greenback rising from around ¥78 two years ago to ¥110 earlier this week. And, at least according to a Nikkei news survey out Friday, some senior corporate officers are having second thoughts about the race to the bottom for forex. [..] … not a single CFO said they wanted to see the dollar breach above ¥115.
Yen’s Steepest Decline in 20 Months Spreads Unease in Japan
The yen’s steepest decline in 20 months is prompting concern in Japan that the central bank’s support for a weaker currency may hurt consumers and companies. Monetary authorities intervention to curb the slump is “possible,” according to Hirohisa Fujii, a former finance minister and member of the opposition party, after the currency’s steepest drop last month since January 2013. Some companies are suffering from the weaker yen, Nobuhide Minorikawa, Japan’s vice finance minister said this week [..] The chorus of dissent against the Bank of Japan’s accommodative monetary policy [..] is growing louder, as consumer prices remain depressed and growth is anemic. The weaker yen puts Japan at risk of recession, Kazumasa Iwata, deputy governor of the central bank until 2008, warned last month.
“The whole notion of devaluing the currency has been a bad policy,” Robert Sinche, a global strategist at Pierpont Securities, said. [..] BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said last month, after the dollar rose above 109 yen, that he didn’t see any big problems with current movements in exchange rates.
You have to like the suggestion that “The weaker yen puts Japan at risk of recession”. Tokyo may want to pick whatever stats they like, but it should be obvious that Japan, like the EU, is in a recession, not at risk of one. Take a look:
What 110 Yen to the Dollar Means for Japan’s Consumers
The weakening yen is starting to squeeze Japanese consumers as prices rise for everything from Burgundy wine to instant noodles, threatening Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to revive the country’s economy. The currency slid to 110 yen to the dollar yesterday, the lowest level in six years, making imported goods and materials more expensive. Though inflation is one of Abe’s monetary goals, the yen’s sharp slide undermines steps to boost consumer spending and endangers public backing for his economic program.
[..] The success of Abe’s plans for a sustained economic recovery after two decades of stagnation depends on consumers, since they account for about 60% of GDP. They’ve turned cautious as the sales tax rose and companies, including many that profited from the weaker yen, have failed to raise wages enough to keep up with inflation.
Supermarket sales fell for a 5th straight month in August, following an April jump in the consumption tax to 8% from 5%. Wages adjusted for inflation fell 2.6% in August from a year earlier, the 14th straight monthly decline …
Nissin Food Products, inventor of the world’s first instant noodles, is increasing their price in January and Ueshima Coffee Co., Japan’s biggest supplier of beans to retailers, will sell them for 25% more from November
[..] Abe, who must decide whether to raise Japan’s sales tax to 10% as planned next year. The increase this April plunged the economy into its deepest contraction in five years as the government tries to cap gains in the developed world’s highest debt burden.
Japan’s biggest employers, including Toyota, Hitachi and Panasonic, have benefited from the yen’s drop. A weaker currency makes their exports more competitive and increases the value of overseas earnings when converted into yen. Japanese companies’ pretax profit rose to a record 17.5 trillion yen ($161 billion) in the quarter ended March 31, according to figures from the finance ministry.
In the five years prior to Abe’s call for unprecedented monetary easing, the Japanese currency averaged 85.69 yen to the dollar and never rose above 93.03 yen, prompting manufacturers to move production out of the country and fueling declines in consumer prices.
The yen’s drop since Abe started his campaign to become prime minister helped fuel a 23% gain in the benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average in 2012, followed by a 57% surge last year, the biggest annual gain since 1972.
Abe’s failure so far to broaden the recovery beyond the direct benefits of a weaker currency and unprecedented monetary easing has damped enthusiasm, leaving the Nikkei down 1.3% this year, as of yesterday. Fast Retailing, which is Asia’s largest clothing retailer and accounts for 8.9% of the Nikkei, has fallen 15% this year. Aeon Co., the nation’s largest retailer, is down 22%.
Japan’s GDP shrank an annualized 7.1% in the April-to-June period, the most since the first quarter of 2009.
“The impact to the overall economy is not necessarily all positive; rather, negatives may be outweighing,” Kazumasa Iwata, the BoJ deputy from 2003-2008, said.
Japanese consumers have started to expect that imported foods will become too pricey. “I don’t go to import food shops much recently,” said Kazuha Hemmi, who works in the overseas section of a company in Tokyo. “Some of them stopped selling bargain products.”
“Not necessarily all positive”. Now there’s a dead spin. Any country that sees a 7.1% drop in GDP, no matter what sales tax changes, is in very serious trouble. The nation’s largest retailer is down 22% (!) Want to try that on for size at WalMart?
And then there’s Europe. Where plenty folk probably think they’re in some lower euro honeymoon still. Today, EU exchanges are up 1% or so. While the euro loses big. I suggest these happy shiny people should check on Japan to see what’s in store.
European Stocks Plunge Most In 16 Months As Draghi Disappoints
Broad European stocks plunged into the red for 2014 today as a rattled Mario Draghi disappointed a hungry-for-more risk market. Bloomberg’s BE500 index dropped its most since June 2013 to 2-month lows led by weakness in Italian banks. UK stocks underperformed (-3.6%) but Spain, Italy, and Portugal all tumbled 2-3%. The selling pressure interestingly stayed in stocks as bond spreads rose only modestly and EURUSD roundtripped to only a small rise from pre-ECB. Notably, US equities are cratering as they are so used to the pre-EU-close pump that did not happen.
Draghi’s plan to buy Toilet Paper Backed Securities is dead is a dead in the water as it is on dry land:
France’s Noyer Is Third ECB Dissenter Against ABS Buying Plan
France’s Christian Noyer joined European Central Bank policy makers from Germany and Austria in opposing a program to buy asset-backed securities, according to two euro-area officials. His dissent leaves President Mario Draghi facing a clash with policy makers from the region’s two largest economies, albeit for different reasons. While Noyer disapproved of the way the purchases will be conducted, Austrian central bank Governor Ewald Nowotny shared Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann’s view that the measure involves too much balance-sheet risk, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
Draghi unveiled details of the program yesterday, pledging to buy both covered bonds and ABS before the end of the year. He shied away from a definitive goal for the plan, saying total stimulus may fall short of the 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) he had signaled in September. Noyer opposed the design of the program because it will exclude national central banks from its implementation …
And there’s more to that:
Mario Draghi’s QE: Too Little For Markets, Too Much For Germany
European stocks have suffered the steepest one-day fall in 15 months after the European Central Bank retreated from pledges for a €1 trillion blitz of stimulus and failed to clarify the scale of quantitative easing. The sell-off came amid a mounting political storm in Europe as leading German economists and jurists reacted with fury to the ECB’s first asset purchases, denouncing the move as monetary debauchery, and threatening a blizzard of lawsuits in the German courts. “Our worst fears are being fulfilled,” said Hans Werner Sinn, head of Germany’s IFO Institute. The Milan bourse tumbled almost 4pc, led by sharp falls in Italian banks counting on fresh ECB liquidity. [..]
Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, seemed unable to secure backing for far-reaching measures from Germany’s two ECB members or from the German finance ministry, forcing him to play down earlier hints for a €1 trillion boost to the ECB’s balance sheet. As he spoke inside a renaissance palace in Naples, riot police doused crowds of protesters on the street outside with water cannon. The city has become a political cauldron, with the highest “misery index” Europe. Youth unemployment in Italy’s Mezzogiorno is still rising, topping 56pc in the second quarter. Mr Draghi said the ECB would start to buy covered bonds and asset-backed securities (ABS) as soon as this month, but gave no concrete figure and deflected all questions on the scope of stimulus.
“I wouldn’t want to emphasise the balance sheet size per se,” he said. Sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro said the ECB was “backtracking” on earlier pledges and seemed to be losing confidence in its ability to halt deflation at all. “Mr Draghi is facing a severe credibility problem,” he said.
It’s not just Draghi, the entire EU leadership has a severe credibility problem. With – seemingly – nothing left on the economical front that member nations can agree on, other than there’s a huge and imminent disaster waiting in the wings, what ways forward are available? There’s only one, really: split up the whole caboodle in as amicable a divorce as you can muster, and then try to stay friends.
But even that doesn’t seem likely, at all. A split-up of the EU would obviously be grossly costly, and the lion’s share of those costs would have to be borne by the richer north. But the richer north, too, is getting poorer fast. So what campaign slogan do you think will win out in the next election in Germany, France etc?
Will it be: let’s pay for Greek debts, so they can have a good life again? Or will it be: let them cook in their own fat, so we can party on for a while longer in Berlin and Paris?
I think you know the answer. So does Albert Edwards. And he includes the US, and China, in his dark panorama for good measure. And he’s right of course
Albert Edwards Says Watch Japanese Yen and Be Very Afraid
The Japanese yen goes into freefall. China’s fragile economy tips over the edge. A wave of profit-crushing deflation comes washing over the U.S. and Europe. Investors panic. That’s the view of perennial pessimist Albert Edwards. The London-based analyst and his team at investment bank Societe Generale SA have been ranked No. 1 for global strategy in surveys by Thomson Reuters Extel every year since 2007, even with a history of saying unpleasant things that few want to hear. “My role is to step back from the excessive enthusiasm that builds up in the market, and to just say, ‘This is wrong. This is going to go horribly wrong,’” the 53-year-old said by phone last week. The cliche is that when the U.S. sneezes, Japan catches a cold. Edwards says Japan is just as apt to lead the way.
When the Internet bubble burst in 2000, Japan’s tech-heavy Jasdaq index started to slide weeks before the Nasdaq. Japan also pioneered the deflation that now threatens the West. In 1997, it was a plunging yen that helped trigger Asia’s currency crisis. With the yen’s drop this week to a six-year low of 110 versus the dollar, Japan’s currency may once again be the first domino to fall in a chain of events that could be bad for everyone, according to Edwards. The U.S. stock market rally has been going for 66 months since the financial crisis bottomed in March 2009, a streak that’s already a year longer than average. A disconnect between buoyant equity prices and corporate profit growth in the low single-digits makes the situation especially precarious. “Almost 100% of investors think we’re at the start of a long recovery,” Edwards said.
“It’s already a long recovery. Forget about starting from here.” In an hour-long interview, during which he made the global economy sound like a game of Mousetrap, Edwards explained why investors should be watching Japan for clues about what may happen in the next big trouble-spot: China, whose economy is already headed for its slowest full-year growth since 1990. The argument was this: if the yen falls, it will take other Asian currencies down with it. Eventually China will be forced to weaken the yuan, by adjusting its trading range and expanding its money supply, to keep its exports competitive. That will squeeze developed economies that have yet to fully recover from the financial crisis.
[..] In 2006, when the S&P 500 was rising ever higher and then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was being feted as “the Maestro,” Edwards called him “an economic war criminal.” Two years later financial markets were in crisis. Edwards’ aversion to equities stems from watching the experience of Japan, where the market took more than two decades to find a bottom after the 1989 bust. According to Edwards’ view, it’s a template for the extended bear market that will unfold in the U.S. and Europe, as stocks recover only to crash again and plumb ever-new lows. “What happened in March 2009, when the S&P 500 touched 666, that was just a brief stop,” he said. “We will go lower than that.” The structural bear market ends when equities are dirt cheap.”
More Albert Edwards:
• “When Bad News Becomes Bad News Again”: Albert Edwards (Zero Hedge)
Inflation expectations in the US have just followed the eurozone by plunging lower. Until very recently, the Fed and the ECB had been quite successful at keeping inflation expectations in their normal range – this despite their clear failure to control actual inflation itself, which has consistently undershot expectations. Investors are beginning to realise that contrary to their confident actions and assurances, the Fed and the ECB have failed to prevent a dreaded replay of Japan’s deflationary template a decade earlier in the West.
The Ice Age is once again about to exert its frosty embrace on markets as investors wake up to a new and colder reality. There were two key parts to our Ice Age thesis. First, that the West would drift ever closer to outright deflation, following Japan’s template a decade earlier. And second, financial markets would adjust in the same way as in Japan. Government bonds would re-rate in absolute and relative terms compared to equities, which would also de-rate in absolute terms. [..]
Another associated element of the Ice Age we also saw in Japan is that with each cyclical upturn, equity investors have assumed with child-like innocence, that central banks have somehow ‘fixed’ the problem and we were back in a self-sustaining recovery. Those hopes would only be crushed as the next cyclical downturn took inflation, bond yields and equity valuations to new destructive lows. In the Ice Age, hope is the biggest enemy.
[..] “amid the inevitable impending global economic and financial carnage, when people, like Queen Elizabeth ask, as she did in November 2008, why no-one saw this coming, tell them that many did. But just like in 2006, before the Great Recession, investors once again chose to tilt their ears towards the reassuring siren songs of the Central Bankers and away from the increasingly hysterical ramblings of the perma-bears and doomsayers.”
Down the line, the insane debt levels all around the globe will do in everyone. That goes for, in order of appearance, Japan, Europe, China and the USA. An order that can still be shaken up by various kinds of unrest and other black swans. Hong Kong protests, Catalunya, a country voting to leave the EU, there are too many options to mention.
But aside from these, Japan looks the furthest gone, with 400%+ debt to GDP and rapidly rising. Europe is a good second, because of debt levels AND the difference in wealth between rich and poor member nations AND all the other differences between rich and poor member nations.
China is a bit of an odd one out, it has room to move, but it also committed to $25 trillion in new debt in just a few years, without anything solid to show for it except apartment buildings that can only go down in price and bridges to a nowhere nobody wants to go to. And then there’s dozens of emerging nations with nowhere to go but down.
For the US, it’s now shooting fish in a barrel – but just for now. The three-pronged plan the Fed has started to execute is plain for everyone to see:
1) Stop QE. This hauls back in to the US dollars from around the planet, from a million parties that owe debt denominated in USD. Already happening at a frantic pace, though no-one involved would advertize it.
2) Raise the value of the greenback. This makes it that more expensive for all parties under 1) to pay off their debts. They have to offer ever more just to stand still. And when they can’t, assets will be confiscated.
3) Raise interest rates. The final blow. It will make life much harder on the US government too, but they’ll have trillions of dollars flowing in to cope with that. It’ll put millions of Americans into the equivalent of medieval torture instruments, and out of their homes and cars and jobs, but that too will be initially softened by the dollars coming home to papa. Crucial take home: they’ve given up on the US real economy, likely a long time ago.
And it will have the rest of the world begging for mercy. In that regard, it’s funny to see Britain planning to raise its rates too. Do be careful what you wish for there, lads.
The full taper of QE means everyone needs dollars, and most who do are leveraged to the hilt, while the combination of higher interest rates and higher dollar value means the buck will come much more expensive.
It’s going to be carnage out there.