The Economic Data calendar for the week of the 31st of December through the 4th of January is full of critical releases and events. Attached below is a snapshot of some (though far from all) of the headline numbers that we will be focused on.
What do milk and the fiscal cliff have in common? Quite a bit, actually. As it stands, our government sets a minimum price for milk creating a floor. This helps milk producers in their financial planning and the like. If Congress can’t come to an agreement over the fiscal cliff, the calculation mechanism for the minimum price will revert to a 1949 law that reflects milk production technology that is 6 decades obsolete, adjusted for inflation.
This new floor would be about twice as much as the current market price. With a gallon of milk costing around $3.50 on average, consumers would see that double to $7 over time. That’s a meaningful impact to low income families and represents a total tax hike of $22.7 billion considering that per capita milk consumption is approximately 20.6 gallons per person per year. Retailers who rely on milk to drive store traffic will also feel the pain as well.
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Takeaway: Despite ECB intervention, economic policy uncertainty remains high into 2013, which should weigh on markets.
Asset Class Performance:
EUR/USD: Our TRADE range is $1.31 – 1.33
As we conclude 2012 we reiterate the recent shift in our research call from #SlowingGrowth to #StabilizingGrowth.” While the fundamental data we track is far from showing a resounding inflection from a weak to negative trend, we are on the margin seeing slight improvement.
We expect 2013 across much of Europe to be a continuation of 2012 – that is a struggle to form a fiscal union (despite marginal improvement in tying a bow around a modified “Banking Union”) and continued weak sovereign and banking pockets (in particular in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France) that will influence the entire region from growth and stock market perspectives.
We remain fully aware that “risk” has largely abated across Europe (especially the periphery) since the summer and particularly following Mario Draghi’s September ECB statement (9/6) to buy “unlimited” sovereign debt via the OMT program. Of note is the influence central banks can have on market performance. Here, Germany is worth a highlight, with the DAX climbing 29% YTD and 6% since the speech.
However, Europe’s issues are far from in the clear. We believe that Europe in 2013 will have to continue to be monitored on a day-by-day basis as the wild cards of government intervention remain high coupled with the tenuous nature of the union of uneven states bound currently only under monetary policy.
A look at the European Economic Policy Uncertainty Index from www.policyuncertainty.com tells quite a story of just how high the level of economic policy uncertainty still is in Europe despite the first European bailout (of Greece) way back in May 2009 and all the interventions since. We think this level of uncertainty should weigh on markets in 2013.
The European Week Ahead:
Monday: Greece Oct. Retail Sales
Wednesday: Eurozone Dec. PMI Manufacturing – Final; Germany Dec. PMI Manufacturing - Final; CPI – Preliminary; UK Dec. House Prices (Jan. 2-5); PMI Manufacturing; France Dec. PMI Manufacturing - Final; Spain Dec. CPI - Preliminary; PMI Manufacturing; Italy Dec. New Car Registrations; Budget Balance; PMI Manufacturing; Greece Manufacturing PMI
Thursday: Eurozone Nov. M3; Germany Dec. Unemployment; UK Dec. PMI Construction; Nov. Net Consumer Credit; Net Lending Sec. on Dwellings; Mortgage Approvals; M4 Money Supply; Spain Dec. Unemployment
Friday: Eurozone Dec. PMI Services and Composite - Final; CPI Estimate; Germany Dec. PMI Services – Final; UK Dec. Official Reserves; PMI Services; France Dec. PMI Services – Final; Spain Dec. PMI Services; Italy Dec. CPI - Preliminary; PMI Services
Italy – Monti say he will not run in the Feb. 24-25 election but he’s available to lead a coalition committed to his reforms.
Deficits - El Pais said the European Commission will propose giving Spain, France and several other Eurozone states more time to cut their public deficits below the target limit of 3% of GDP. The report cited senior Spanish and EU sources that said France could get an extra year, while Spain would be given one or two more years beyond that date. It added that the Commission has agreed on a new Spanish deficit path of 7% of GDP this year and 6% in 2013, compared to current targets of 6.3% for this year and 4.5% for 2013.
Portugal - A report by the European Commission says weaker-than-expected economic growth and recent political setbacks mean Lisbon is at risk of missing even new, loosened deficit targets and must find an additional €4B in cuts in time for its next bailout review, scheduled for mid-February. The article added that although Portugal's bailout program runs through to the middle of 2014, it faces its most critical test in September when it must repay €5.8B in sovereign bonds without help from bailout lenders, which have already distributed €64B to Lisbon, or more than 80% of the total cash in the program.
Spain - Lloyds Banking Group said while Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Belgium are forecast to lower the amount of debt they sell in 2013, Spain probably will raise its issuance to €110B. Morgan Stanley also said Spain will need to sell €111B of bonds in 2013, compared with the Spanish Treasury's provisional estimate for gross issuance of €90.4B. Lloyds' forecast for 2013 bond sales exceeds that of Spain's because it assumes the nation will miss this year's deficit target.
Italy - Italy’s centrist politicians (centre-left Democrats, Mr. Berlusconi's centre-right People of Liberty and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement) rallying behind Monti’s offer to lead alliance into Feb elections
Italy - Pier Luigi Bersani, says he would be ready to cede more sovereign powers to Brussels over government spending - in exchange for greater freedom to boost key economic sectors. Bersani, whose Democratic party has a strong lead in opinion polls ahead of February's elections, said he is open to supporting an ambitious German plan for EU control over national budgets, while stressing that it is essential for Europe to take more aggressive steps to revive economic growth. He added that he wants more equity and attention to social cohesion, and intends to continue Mr. Monti's drive for a deeper mutualization of European debt through the issuance of Eurobonds.
France Q3 Final GDP +0.1% Q/Q vs initial +0.2% and expectation +0.2% [0.0% Y/Y vs initial +0.2% and expectation +0.1%]
France Consumer Spending -0.2% NOV Y/Y vs -0.3% OCT
France Consumer Confidence 86 DEC vs 84 NOV
France Producer Prices 1.9% NOV Y/Y vs 2.8% OCT
Italy Business Confidence 88.9 DEC vs 88.5 NOV
Italy Economic Sentiment 75.4 DEC vs 76.5 NOV
Italy PPI 2.2% NOV Y/Y vs 2.6% OCT
UK BBA Loans for House Purchases 33634 NOV vs 33128 OCT
UK Hometrack Housing Survey -0.1% DEC M/M vs -0.1% NOV = fall for a 6 months [-0.3% DEC Y/Y vs -0.3% NOV]
Spain Mortgages on House -14.4% OCT Y/Y vs -32.2% September
Spain Retail Sales -7.8% NOV Y/Y vs -8.4% OCT
Austria PPI 0.4% NOV Y/Y vs 0.7% OCT
Netherlands Producer Confidence -5.7 DEC vs -7.0 NOV
Ireland Property Prices -5.7% NOV Y/Y vs -8.1% OCT
Switzerland UBS Consumption Indicator 1.23 NOV vs 1.30 OCT
Sweden Wages (non-manual workers) 2.7% OCT Y/Y vs 2.7% September
Sweden Retail Sales 0.9% NOV Y/Y vs 1.1% OCT
Finland Business Confidence -15 DEC vs -13 NOV
Finland Consumer Confidence 3.5 DEC vs 1.0 NOV
Russia Manufacturing PMI 50 DEC vs 52.2 NOV
Russia PMI Services 56.1 DEC vs 57.1 NOV
Czech Republic Business Confidence 1.6 DEC vs 0.3 NOV
Czech Republic Consumer and Business Confidence -3.9 DEC vs -5 NOV
Czech Republic Business Confidence -26 DEC vs -26.3 NOV
Slovakia Consumer Confidence -38.9 DEC vs -33.1 NOV
Slovakia Industrial Confidence -10 DEC vs -15.7 NOV
Slovenia CPI 2.7% DEC Y/Y vs 2.3% NOV
Slovenia Retail Trade -6.1% NOV Y/Y vs -6.7% OCT
An interesting and unintended consequence of the fiscal cliff is the “milk cliff” (perhaps better thought of as a "milk mountain") – lost in the budget battle is the fact that there is a Senate ratified farm bill that has yet to make it to the floor of the House. The farm bill covers multiple billions of dollars in various agricultural programs, including dairy.
As it currently stands, the government sets a price minimum for milk that supports the supply of a very important staple product for families and also affords some stability with respect to financial planning for milk producers. Obviously, if supply and demand dictates a higher price than the government “floor”, producers happily sell on the open market for an incremental profit. Our understanding is that unless a new deal is put in place, the calculation mechanism for the price floor will revert to a 1949 law that reflects milk production technology that is 6 decades obsolete, adjusted for inflation.
We have seen various sources that suggest this would put the government in a position where it is forced to support a “floor” that will be about 2x the current market price. The potential impact to consumers is a doubling, over time, of the current average cost of $3.50 for a gallon of milk.
While milk consumption has been on a steady decline since the 1960s, per capita milk consumption is still approximately 20.6 gallons per person per year (U.S. Department of Agriculture). And while a doubling of the price represents “only” an annual price increase of $72 per person, the total “tax” hike is a highly regressive $22.7 billion. Again, not the end of the world, and there are certainly ways for the government to delay and or mitigate the impact, but the reality is that the potential exists for consumers and producers to see a material disruption in the dairy market.
Finally, even with declining per capita consumption as a backdrop, retailers still rely on the milk category to drive traffic, so this development represents a marginal negative for food retailers as well.
HEDGEYE RISK MANAGEMENT, LLC
The housing market day-after-day continues to see positive news come out of it. The latest bit of data is November pending home sales, which came in strong with a +1.7% month-over-month increase after a +5.0% increase in October. We expect upside of +18.1% over the next 18 months. Prices are currently rising at around 0.6% a month. This comes on the heels of lower inventory, improving prices and an increase in mortgage applications; a much welcome recovery for investors and home owners.
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