Looking at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first major policy initiative to end deflation and "boost" growth by announcing a cool 10.3 trillion yen fiscal (USD 116 billion dollars for now...) "stimulus" program, we could not resist but refer to W.E. Hickson's proverb which became colloquial "If at first you don't succeed".
In a "Central Banks" world dominated by the "Sorcerer's apprentice" aka Dr Ben Bernanke and our "Generous Gambler" aka Mario Draghi, with impeding July elections in Japan, Abe's "fiscal alkaloid" shot, is no doubt politically motivated in order for the Liberal Democratic Party to gather support ("rising asset prices") before the upper elections in July.
We have seen this movie before, in fact in December 2010, in relation to the launch of QE2, in our conversation "Inception - Bernanke's QE2 Experiment" we argued:
"Like in the movie Inception, the Fed is trying to plant an idea into people's mind. Bernanke idea's with QE2 is to create a wealth impression which would increase consumption and economic growth, with the help of rising assets prices. We had the Greenspan put and the Bernanke put, we also now have to contend with the same bubble creation plan which was initially followed by Alan Greenspan.
We all know now the results of creating asset bubbles and the consequences.
It is a very dangerous game."
Truth is, Japan had decided it had some "catch-up" work to do with both the Fed and the ECB, and has indeed thrown in the gauntlet as indicated by Bloomberg's Chart of the Day indicating that Bank of Japan's easing is outpacing the Fed, for now:
In that context we could not agree more with a recent post from an entertaining blog we came across called "Deceptology", namely that in similar fashion to the woodblock print from 1866 by artist Tsukioka Yoshotoshi, displaying the magician Sangoku Taro (who traveled through India and China learning conjuring tricks), Japanese Prime Minister Abe's "conjuring tricks are more advanced than merely pulling scarves from his sleeves":
In the case of Japan the "nasty green demon" is a continuous serious bout of deflationary forces at play. Could it be that this "nasty green demon" is in fact the "Evil Emperor Zurg" we referred to in our conversation "QE - To infinity...and beyond?", we wonder?
From this specific conversation - Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (central bankers), space ranger protecting the universe from Evil Emperor Zurg (deflation):
In that previous conversation we also indicated that based on the current output gap and the Fed’s economic projections, the Taylor Rule* would suggest that the Fed’s ZIRP should continue only until early 2014, so no wonder the recent comments about bringing to an end the "infinity" in the "insanity" have resurfaced:
"Some may put too much hope that our "Buzz Lightyear" central bankers have designed an escape capsule from their "infinity...and beyond" policies." - Macronomics, "QE - To infinity...and beyond?", 10th of October 2012.
A Taylor rule is a monetary-policy rule that stipulates how much the central bank should change the nominal interest rate in response to changes in inflation, output, or other economic conditions. In particular, the rule stipulates that for each one-percent increase in inflation, the central bank should raise the nominal interest rate by more than one percentage point. This aspect of the rule is often called the Taylor principle).
As far as Japan is concerned, no doubt, we have "lift-off in risky assets" or "Risk-On" that is; as indicated in the below graph we have been monitoring, displaying the USD/JPY exchange rate, the Nikkei index and the credit risk Itraxx Japan CDS spread (inverted) - source Bloomberg:
So in this week's conversation we intend to slightly break our Magician's Oath:
"As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician's Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic."
We have to confide, that since our October post, we have continued "practicing" the effect of our magicians "secret illusions" by having been short JPY against USD (via proshare ETF YCS) and we have been as well long Nikkei but in Euros via a quanto ETF from Lyxor (more on the reason below) but until you all become magicians, we have to stop revealing tricks unless, of course, dear readers, you all swear to uphold the Magician's Oath in turn*, but we ramble again...
"Once sworn to the Oath, one is considered a magician, and is expected to live up to this promise. Magicians who reveal secrets, either purposely or through insufficient practice, may find that other magicians are unwilling to teach them any more secrets" - source Wikipedia.
Our Japanese "magician" has been as successful as our "Sorcerer's apprentice" Dr Bernanke and our "Generous Gambler" aka Mario Draghi, in the sense that Japan has indeed validated the Central-Banks ties to stock gains as indicated in Bloomberg's Chart of the Day:
So we would have to agree with Citi's recent European credit outlook 2013 entitled "The Devil is in the Distribution" and of course in the details when it comes to equities return and central banks "generous gamblers", wizards or magicians or any word you would think fit the purposes of the analogy. When one looks at the wonderful magic at play between Fed holdings of securities over five year versus the S and P 500 performance it has indeed been a wonderful "magic trick":
In similar fashion to the 1866 artist depiction of 1866 by the magician Sangoku Taro, the rationale behind our "long Nikkei in Euros" stance was fairly simple given that until recently, arguably the Bank of Japan has been behind the curve when it came to "magic tricks" as indicated in the below Chart of the Day from Bloomberg which we used in the concluding remarks of our "Zemblanity" conversation in September last year:
One could as well play Japan equities more aggressively by buying Japanese bank stocks given that the recovery in stock prices will lift the value of the Japanese banks' equity investments and will substantially reduce their impairment losses they have been booking in their regular YTD results. We told you this several times, but, remember, a bank is a leverage play on the economy, it is the second derivative of a sovereign. As we indicated in the "Fabian Strategy", the big beneficiaries of the "magic tricks" in 2012 have been European Banks. Could the big beneficiaries of 2013 be the Japanese banks? One has to wonder...
In our October conversation "QE - To infinity...and beyond?", (following what we commented in our conversation "Zemblanity"), what our Buzz Lightyear central bankers might find out in targeting the unemployment level (given the relationship between M2-velocity and the US labor participation rate over the years), we argued that the jobless rate can be a misleading gauge of labor market health as indicated by Bloomberg:
One reason the Federal Reserve may be unable to reach consensus on an unemployment target: the jobless rate can be a misleading gauge of labor market health. While unemployment has fallen to 8.1 percent from 10 percent in 2009, the CHART OF THE DAY shows the percentage of people working, known as the employment-population ratio, has remained near its lows of the recession, suggesting limited progress toward a recovery in jobs. “In a better economy we would see an improvement in this data,” said Adolfo Laurenti, deputy chief economist at Mesirow Financial Inc. in Chicago. While the ratio has fallen as the baby boomer generation retires and because more students are returning to school “the tougher nut to crack is those people who are truly discouraged workers, who could be in the job market but are leaving.” The employment-population ratio climbed to a record high 64.7 percent in April of 2000 before falling as low as 58.2 percent in December 2009, the lowest level since 1983." - source Bloomberg.
How do you judge the quality of the magic trick, if not by the quality of the "misleading" we would like to ask?
Given, as we argued in back in August 2010 in "Fantasyland and the imaginary world of spending multipliers" (illustrated by a nice picture from Disney's sorcerer's apprentice), we indicated the following:
"It is impossible to calculate the effect of deficit-financed government spending on demand without specifying how people expect the deficit to be paid off in the future."
Arguably the strategy of our "Sorcerer's apprentice" has been to try to induce a rise in velocity, but, we have
shown in our post "Zemblanity" that the "relationship" between US Velocity M2 index and US labor participation rate over the years is clearly indicative of the failure of the theories of Friedman and Keynes because central banks have not kept an eye on asset bubbles and the growth of credit and do not seem to fully grasp the core concept of "stocks" versus "flows":
"We mentioned the problem of stocks and flows and the difference between the ECB and the Fed in our conversation "The European issue of circularity", given that while the Fed has been financing "stocks" (mortgages), while the ECB is financing "flows" (deficits). We do not know when European deficits will end, until a clear reduction of the deficits is seen, therefore the ECB liabilities will have to depreciate."
This concept can be easily illustrated if one take the shipping industry in general and the Baltic Dry Index in particular as an illustration in the difference between "stocks" and "flows" (following on our conversation of the 10th of January - "The link between consumer spending, housing, credit growth and shipping - A follow up"):
"We do not know when the Baltic Dry Index depressed level will end until a clear reduction of the shipping overcapacity is seen, therefore the Baltic Dry Index had to depreciate"
The below Bloomberg graph displays such a link between economic growth and shipping as well as housing (from our conversation "Froth on the Daydream"):
In similar fashion to the evolution of the velocity of money moving together with the level of economic activity and the US Labor Participation Rate, the "unintended consequences" of ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy), meant that the slow "velocity" of capital (financial repression) has led employers to adjust their "labor employment levels". Shippers have adopted "slow steaming" (moving slower to conserve fuel) as indicated by this Bloomberg graph:
We can therefore argue, in similar fashion that as employment levels can be judged as misleading gauge of labor market health, the Baltic Dry index can be as well seen as a misleading gauge of economic expansion...
On a final note Air Cargo Volume is clearly indicating once again, all is not well in Europe for our "Generous Gambler" aka Mario Draghi as, Air Cargo Volume was down -6.3% in December, following a -3.9% in November and -1.5% in October as indicated by Nomura's latest Air Cargo Indicator published on the 11th of January:
Air Traffic is a leading deflationary indicator"):
"Over the past nine years' monthly data, there has been an 84% correlation between air cargo volume growth and global industrial production (IP) growth, with an air cargo lead of one to two months. In turn, this has translated into a clear relationship between air cargo growth and chemical industry volume growth."
Nomura’s proprietary air cargo indicator shows a high correlation (84%) with global industrial production:
So our "Generous Gambler" aka Mario Draghi, needs to come up soon with new "tricks" in his sleeves as currently the Japanese "magician" is stealing the show!
"The greatest trick Macronomics ever pulled on its readers was to convince them there is no "market tricks" displayed in their posts." - Macronomics