From Abe Gulkowitz’ The Punch Line
Meager Growth but the Market Roars…
An interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program pushed oil prices lower and sent global equities higher as investors’ risk appetite rose on an easing of some Middle East tensions. As we close in to year-end and the start of a new year, one finds little evidence of serious inflationary concerns. Indeed, the opposite is feared.
Major economies face debilitating deflation pressures. In Europe, for example, the latest annual inflation statistics fell in twenty-three Member States, remained stable in one and rose in only four. The HSBC/Markit Flash China PMI came in at 50.4 in November, marking a two-month low and missing expectations. The survey still indicated that the Chinese economy is expanding but it also raised fears that growth may be tailing off in the fourth quarter. China will be lucky if it manages to hit its official target of 7.5% growth in 2013, a far cry from the double-digit rates that the country had come to expect in the 2000s.
Growth in India (around 5%), Brazil and Russia (around 2.5%) is barely half what it was at the height of the boom. In Europe, the Markit Flash Eurozone PMI fell from 51.9 to 51.5, the lowest reading for three months. The French index was particularly weak – the PMI was at its lowest level since June. Germany continued to improve but the rest of the eurozone seems to be languishing. Questions abound whether the EU risks following the path carved by the sluggish Japan in the 1990s. Yet financial assets point to a worrisome asset inflation environment. Many have written off the likelihood that the Federal Reserve would begin QE tapering this year.
As stocks hit new records and small investors—finally—return to the market, some analysts are getting worried. Risk assets have rallied to previous bubble conditions. Powered by unprecedented refinancing and recap activity, 2013 is now the most productive year ever for new-issue leveraged loans, for example. This has been great for corporations as financing and refinancing has put them on a stronger footing. Where M&A activity still lags the highs of the last boom, issuers have jumped into the opportunistic pool with both feet. And why not? Secondary prices are high and new-issue clearing yields remain low. Yet very inadequate movement has been evidenced on the hiring front.
And after all the improvement in ebitda, where do we go from here? Forward guidance will clearly be harder. One might argue that we are back in a Goldilocks fantasy world, where the economy is not so strong (as to cause inflation and trigger serious monetary tightening) or so weak (as to cause recession and a collapse in profits) but “just right”. Yet, it seems unlikely that issuers with weaker credit quality could find it so easy to sell debt without the excess liquidity created by the Fed and other central banks.
Weaning everyone off the “liquidity fix” may be tough!
The full Punchline including 17 pages of off the charts that’s fit to print below (pdf)