Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday Thoughts

The 10-year auction was weak, trading at about 3 basis points above when issued, with a weak bid-to-cover of 2.64, below the recent average of 3.10.

The U.S. stock market has become the best house in a bad neighborhood.

I believe that the events over the past year (especially in the eurozone) highlight the likelihood that the U.S. stock market will be favored among most other investment markets in the world.

The U.S. stock market has become the best house in a bad neighborhood for the following reasons:

1. The U.S. economy, though sluggish in recovery relative to past expansions, is superior (with the exception of some emerging markets) to most of the world's economies in terms of diversity of end markets, quality of global franchises, management expertise, operating execution and financial foundations.
2. Our banking industry's health, which is the foundation of credit and growth, is far better off than the rest of the world in terms of liquidity and capital. Our largest financial institutions raised capital in 2008-2009, a full three years ahead of the rest of the world. As an example, eurozone banks continue to delay the inevitability of their necessary raises.
3. Our large corporations are better positioned than the rest of the world. Through aggressive cost cutting, productivity gains, external acquisitions, (internal) capital expenditures and the absence of a reliance on debt markets (most have opportunistically rolled over their higher cost debt), U.S. corporations are rock solid operationally and financially. Even throughout the 2008-2009 recession, most have solidified their global franchises that serve increasingly diverse end markets and geographies.
4. An aggressive Fed (through its extended time frame of zero interest rate policy) has resulted in an American consumer that has reliquefied more than most areas in the world. Debt service and household debt is down dramatically relative to income.
5. After watching regime after regime fall in Europe in recent weeks (and given the instability of other rulers throughout the Middle East), it should be clear that the U.S. is more secure politically and from a defense standpoint than most other regions of the world. Our democracy, despite all its inadequacies, has resulted in relatively balanced legislation and law that has contributed to social stability and a sense of order.
6. Our regulatory and reporting standards are among the strongest in the world. Compare, for example, the opaque reporting and absence of regulatory oversight in China vs. the U.S.

In summary, conditions that have evolved over the past decade have conspired to favor risk assets in the U.S. over many other areas of the world.

In the period ahead, I expect a reallocation trade out of non-U.S. equities into U.S. equities.

Bloomberg is reporting that ECB is buying Italian bonds.

This should stabilize risk assets.

The falloff in Italian bond prices overnight is unprecedented. The pricing reflects not only the uncertainty regarding the timing of the turnover and nature of the Italian government's leadership transition, but also the London Clearing House's decision (based on the increasing perception that Italian sovereign debt has diminished in quality) to raise the initial margin (by 5%) on Italian bond purchases.

The outsized increase in Italian yields puts more pressure on the ECB to expand its balance sheet and buy discounted Italian debt, as the austerity measures in Italy are being threatened now by the disequilibrium in its bond market. What's more, the weakening in the value of the European banking industry's sovereign debt holdings further threatens European economic stability.

On a more encouraging note, inflation in China is moderating. The October CPI increased by only 5.5% -- the slowest pace in seven months -- well below September's 6.1% and in line with consensus. The October producer price index in China rose by only 5.0%, compared to expectations of 5.8% and September's +6.5%. For now China's landing appears soft, and the tighter monetary policy in place should soon shift to easing monetary policy.