Japan’s Nikkei surges almost 8% higher on policy hopes

One of the largest stock markets in the world made one of its largest moves ever on the hope that the Bank of Japan will continue to inject liquidity in to equity and bond markets.

How are prices discovered now vs. then?

There is nothing normal about the price discovery mechanism in global stock markets these days.  Instead of economic activity, earnings and other catalysts the biggest driver of rallies and declines has been central bank chatter and policy.

This disruption to a fundamental component of the financial marketplace renders the ability to use current prices null and void.  Because if prices of assets are reacting more to central planning efforts and rumors than actual meaningful data on the ground, then they are not reflecting reality.  Traditionally price discovery helps market observers determine more information about economic and financial health.

Is this the growl of a new bear?

Bear market rallies tend to be some of the most fantastic moves one will ever see and Japan saw a similarly large rally in 2008 — followed by years of sideways trading until Abenomics came in to existence.

Japanese QE-to-infinity seems to have only two effects.  Reducing the purchasing power of the Yen and increasing the perceived value of Japanese stocks.  Economic activity in Japan continues to ebb lower and the threat of recession looms large.

Be careful and be nimble.

As a result, I remain highly skeptical that we are out of the woods or that this is the kind of activity a healthy bull market should see.

If anything this most recent rally may be faded (sold by traders) as a confirmation that it was merely a bear market pop.

The crude contagion could cause chaos, crash

On the heels of another massive sell off in crude oil, the US stock market woke up from its slumber.  Instead of the discount in crude oil being priced in as a stimulus, it was seen (perhaps more accurately) as a risk. Crude touched prices that had not been seen since April, 2009.

US equities sold off on higher than average volume, with bonds, gold and silver catching a bid.  The VIX showed fear entering the market and spiked higher, but the rally faded as the day went on.  The US dollar strengthened modestly on the back of a weaker Euro and Yen.

Interest rates on the 10 year bond tested 2.00%, while gold has climbed above $1,200 and stabilized.  Tonight the Nikkei is selling off significantly in Tokyo.

crude oil

Greed may pause to give room for fear to take the reigns.

Markets are decidedly in a risk off mindset.  I suspect that this fear of risk will prevail over the leveraged and crowded long side bullishness that has pushed the US stock market up to record highs with few downdrafts over the last few years.

The fundamental improvements in the US economy have been sluggish, with many corporations buying back their own shares to boost EPS.  There is a dislocation between current perceived valuations and the global economy’s condition.

The crash in crude oil has brought about a serious challenge to many economies of energy producing nations, including the US.  Since 2008 many of the high paying new jobs have been in the energy sector.  Now that oil is down over 50% from its highs, many of these projects are no longer viable and drill rig operations are now at 10 month lows.

us oil and gas rigs jan 5 2015

Energy markets are an indication of economic health.

There is a certain amount of feedback from energy market prices that can be indicative of manufacturing activity, shipping and transportation.  To the extent that supply exceeds demand, prices should diminish until demand returns.  But even with a 50% cut in prices, there still seems to be room for more of a decline.  That is because while demand is diminishing, some oil producers are keeping or increasing supply rather than removing production.  This includes OPEC, Russia and Iraq, who stubbornly churn out more oil as prices lose support.

The perception becomes that a flood of oil is oversupplying the markets, but the reality is that demand has declined to such an extent that softening Chinese manufacturing demand has caused a ripple effect.  Most of the softening demand comes from Europe, China’s largest customer, coming to grips with a wave of economic headwinds.

This new normal, if we are to give it a name, is likely an indication of future global macroecnomic trends.

Global GDP 2015

Deflation strikes Japan and the EU.  Is the US next?

Persistent deflation is becoming a persistent theme.  Bond yields in Germany on 5 year notes hit negative yields.  Japanese bonds have fractional yields.  The US bonds seem to be ebbing lower and lower in interest rates in sympathy of the global deflationary pressures coming home to roost.

Are we going to experience a lost quarter century like Japan?  It seems ever more likely as the similarities are increasingly problematic.  A prescription of debt to solve debt-related problems.  Liquidity injections for structural economic problems show a lack of understanding from central authorities about what is wrong with our economy.

Nikkei stock index

Too much leverage, too many derivatives, too little transparency.

What the world needs now is more clarity about how far stretched the current system has become.  With over 700 trillion dollars of global derivatives, there is such an enormous amount of risk in opaque markets that a significant dislocation could cause another financial collapse.

None of the problems of 2008-2009’s Great Recession have been resolved at home or globally.  Instead the financial players that created the problem have now been given the reigns of the global economy and are leading us down a destructive path towards crisis.

The problems of the world will most likely come home to the US in 2015 and cause a profound impact on our economy and financial markets.  While it may not be apparent yet, I believe that the risks now are much greater than back in 2008-2009 and the ability of monetary authorities to mitigate those risks is impaired by the current and recent aggressive measures.

DerivMkt-BIS-Dec'87-Dec'10

Stay tuned in to the flow of news.  Interesting things may happen sooner than we expect.

Where is the Japanese economy headed?

With deflation continuing despite long-term zero interest rate policy, how does the new Japanese government plan to expand its efforts to revive economic growth and lower unemployment?

Is this our future?

Japan paints a very sobering picture of what the future of the United States may be facing in the future should this loose monetary policy continue unabated. Zombie banks, real estate bubbles, deflation and stock market collapses are all themes very familiar to the Japanese economy in the 1990s.

Unfortunately the circumstances are all too similar here at home. Adding to that Japan also has a large aging population that will soon outnumber its workers, akin to the situation we face in the United States. All of these reasons and more are why it’s important to pay attention to where the Japanese economy is heading.

Severe economic routs have no easy cure

Every time a massive speculative bubble implodes it leaves behind a tremendous amount of credit destruction, which in turn absorbs liquidity and pressures equities, corporate bonds and derivatives like credit default swaps. All of these circumstances potentially create deflationary forces that can shrink the capital base of a country and even create a banking panic. After all, debt is money in many modern economies. As that monetary base shrinks each unit becomes more valuable.

Mitigating the risk of severe economic contraction requires an innovative and careful approach to the underlying cause with attention to stimulating the next catalyst. Green energy is one of many appropriate catalysts for a non-speculative sustainable global economic evolution. Others include technology, infrastructure, education and health system improvements.

Japan must lead or become obsolete

For many years Japan has enjoyed the status of second biggest economy in the world, but that status is quickly fading as Japan’s export-based economy contracts in the face of a global recession and slumping industrial production.

The new government in Japan has an opportunity to reverse policy mistakes of the previous ruling party and create a sustainable economic model that is more focused on durable growth rather than speculation. This would prove to be a model for the rest of Asia if Japan can take the lead.

If Japan’s economy can not evolve and take the next step forward, China and other neighbors will gobble up the industrial production for exports that was once taken for granted.