“I ribbed Ben for wearing tan socks with a dark suit.”
-George W. Bush, "Decision Points"
I finished reading President George W. Bush’s “Decision Points” yesterday. He ends his biography with a chapter titled “Financial Crisis” – and I’ll start this morning’s Early Look re-thinking the same.
Newsflash: the most recent “Financial Crisis” that Big Government Interventionists perpetuated before they allegedly came to our rescue is long gone. There’s always a crisis somewhere, and I can guarantee you that we’ll have another one in Global Macro markets as soon as consensus concludes we won’t. The #1 headline on Bloomberg this morning is “All Clear Sounded As Markets Shrug Off Black Swans.”
The long-term crisis that markets and Canadian-American small business owners like me are currently facing isn’t that of 2008. It’s a Crisis of Confidence. Not only in America, but around the world, investors who have embraced both the uncertainty and interconnectedness of Global Macro markets are asking themselves whether or not the so called concept of American style “free-market” capitalism is dead.
Sure, if you socialize enough losses… and pay off enough politicians… in the end, a lot of people will be just fine with this – but a lot of people won’t be. That’s why contempt is brewing in the bellies of conservative Americans who have just about had it with Washington’s centrally planned free lunch.
The storytelling of 2008 is over with. The decision point for 2011 is choosing between the individual liberties embedded in the US Constitution and Big Government’s heavy hand of intervention.
This won’t be easy. American Sacrifice never is. George W. Bush should be commended for being transparent and accountable in admitting that he, like most of us, made plenty of mistakes. In the end, I think he’ll admit that perpetually empowering The Man With The Tan Socks was one too.
In his final chapter, as Bush agonizes through the short-term decision making process as to whether or not the US Government should socialize the system for the sake of the “free-market” system itself (ironic way of looking at it really), he circuitously keeps coming back to his roots: “My friends back home in Midland are going to ask what happened to the free-market guy they knew.” (page 460)
I think that’s a very good question President Bush. One that we need to start answering as a country – and soon. Global Macro markets wait for no one – certainly not this time. Memorializing the Bush Tax Cuts works for me, but not Ben and Hank’s modern day expression of socialism.
Flashback: Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson – “Their opposing personalities could have produced tension. But Hank and Ben became perfect complements. In hindsight, putting a world class investment banker and an expert on the Great Depression in the nation’s top two economic positions were among the most important decisions of my presidency.” (George W. Bush, “Decision Points”, page 452)
Ok. Well there are more than a few ways I can go at that – but what I really want to do is focus on the future. We don’t need an investment banker and a Great Depression historian running economic policy today, tomorrow, or the day after that. Notwithstanding that the US Federal Reserve isn’t supposed to be tied at the hip to the US Government (politicization) to begin with, we don’t need any of this scary storytelling anymore either.
What we need is a proactive Global Risk Manager at the helm of the highest office of the United States who starts by getting these colluding central planners out of our way. What we need is a Strong US Dollar that isn’t being conflicted and compromised at every whim and turn of our US fiscal and monetary policy. What we need is for someone to stand up and take our free markets back to where they came from.
Back to today’s grind…
This morning what you are seeing in Global Macro markets is a massive tug-of-war between the Keynesian Kingdom begging the US Government for Quantitative Guessing Part III (QG3) and the latest version of America Shrugged (Atlas Shrugged, coming to movie theatres near you on April 15th).
GROWTH vs INFLATION
I was on Kudlow last night, and Larry came around to the forecast that I’ve been lobbying him with for the last 6 weeks – Growth Slowing As Inflation Accelerates (Stagflation). This morning you’re seeing more sell-side estimates follow the leader. Consensus estimates for Q1 US GDP Growth have now dropped to 3.35% versus the 3.5-4.5% numbers US stock market bulls were throwing around recklessly a month ago.
As this morphs into consensus, I think the proverbial Battle of the Bulge will be in the US Treasury market where short-term yields (2-year yields in particular, because that’s where The Bernank’s politicization is) can’t make up their mind as to whether or not GROWTH SLOWING gets The Bernank back in the game with QG3 or INFLATION ACCLERATING keeps him in his new geopolitical box.
British attempts to socialize their currency and country seem to have a funny way of being tested and tried before America’s political aristocracy tries the same. In the end, maybe it’s simply because they are older than we are – maybe that just means they get to try to answer President George W. Bush’s question about who the “free-market guys” are first…
The Stagflation Report out of the UK this morning makes the output of former British PM Gordon Brown’s left leaning Keynesian Kingdom policies crystal clear. They pounded the British Pound until they removed Brown from office (he lasted 2 years, 319 days) and now, as a result, on a year-over-year basis the UK inflation rate has risen to +4.4% CPI for February (vs 4.0% January).
Both the Euro (ripping higher) and European stocks (breaking down) are baking in BOE and ECB rate hikes as being for real all of a sudden. That’s how managing Global Macro risk in these interconnected times works – suddenly. And I don’t need a historian in his Tan Socks being advised by America’s crony banking cartel to lead me, my firm, or family through that.
My immediate-term support and resistance levels for WTI crude oil are $97.03 and $103.01 per barrel, respectively. My immediate-term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1277 and 1311, respectively.
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
The Macau Metro Monitor, March 22, 2011
PACKER CONFIDENT IN FACE OF COTAI RIVALRY Macau Daily Times
Packer said he disagrees with analysts who claimed that City of Dreams has not differentiated itself well enough from its rivals such as The Venetian. “I disagree with the Macquarie analyst. Steve Wynn, whom I know a little bit and respect enormously, gave me a piece of advice once. It was: ‘Just build things as good as you can and quality will beat out gimmicks over time.' And that is not to say that The Venetian is not high quality or a gimmick-based hotel, but I am very proud of what we have got up there. Time will be its friend,” Packer said. Packer added that the House of Dancing Water was drawing a "new breed of clientèle” to the property.
MONTHLY BREAKDOWN OF PASSENGER MOVEMENTS Changi Airport Group, Channel News Asia
In February, 3,390,264 passengers passed through Singapore's Changi Airport, representing 9% growth YoY. Growth in Southeast and Northeast Asia visitors increased by double digits. The number of flights also rose by 12.2%.
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The Nike/Street historical expectations pattern is unique to say the least. It crumbled down in Nike’s 3Q. Two consecutive broken quarters isn’t probable.
Beat, temper, beat, temper, beat… We see this day in, day out – especially in retail. The worst offenders are the junky companies that guide to declining y/y EPS, and then come out, beat it and beat their chest. For example, a company that earned $1.00 last year will guide toward $0.60. Then they come out and actually report $0.80. Still a gnarly quarter with earnings down 20%, and yet there’s no shortage of analysts who will hop on the conference call and congratulate the management team for beating numbers as if they just won the Stanley Cup.
Nike is interestingly different. First off, they don’t give guidance. They give us the info and let us do our jobs. That said, there is a clear precedent for managing expectations – these are two very different things. Clearly, the consensus (including us) got it wrong this quarter. Very wrong. Ironically, management’s tone hadn’t really changed over the course of the year. But this quarter was clearly the exception. Check out this analysis…
It looks at each of the past 10 earnings periods and on a rolling 2-quarter basis shows, a) where estimates were 2-quarters out before a print, b) how that estimate changed after the print, and c) where the actual number came in. Sounds confusing, but the chart below should help visualize.
In Nike’s case, there’s a pretty clear trend of Consensus expectations being at a given level, then coming down after management’s comments. There are two things that makes it different from many other companies. 1) Its earnings actually grow, and 2) More often than not, Actual EPS comes in ahead of where estimates were 4-months prior.
The Street landed at $1.16 for 4Q vs. original expectations of $1.27. Is Nike going to come in ahead of the prior expectation? Probably not. But we don’t think it will miss our $1.20.