Each week these days passes for a peculiar adventure through some serpentine financial jungle. For the week, the Dow, S&P500, Transports, and Morgan Stanley Cyclical indices advanced about 1.5%. The Utilities were unchanged, and the Morgan Stanley Consumer index mustered a small gain. The broader market was on fire, with the small cap Russell 2000 posting a 3% gain (up 6% y-t-d). The S&P400 Mid-cap index gained 1.5%, increasing 2004 gains to 3% (to a new record). The NASDAQ100 added 2%, with y-t-d gains of 6%. The Morgan Stanley High Tech index rose 4%, increasing 2004 gains to almost 10%. The Semiconductors added 2.5% (up 10% y-t-d) and The Street.com Internet index 5% (up 8.5% y-t-d). The NASDAQ Telecom index rose 3%, with 2004 gains of 11%. Since December 17th, the Russell 2000 is up 9.6%, the Morgan Stanley High Tech index 16.7%, the Semiconductors 17.3%, and the NASDAQ Telecom index 19.4%. For the week, the Biotechs gained 4% (y-t-d up 6%). The Broker/Dealers surged 6% to an all-time high, while increasing 2004 gains to 7%. The Banks added 1% this week to a new all-time high. With gold dropping almost $20, the HUI gold index sank 11%.
Despite inflating equities and strong economic data, fixed-income more than held its own. For the week, two-year Treasury yields were about unchanged at 1.66%. Five-year yields declined 1 basis point to 3.03%, while 10-year Treasury yields declined 5 basis points to 4.03%. Ten-year yields are down 22 basis points so far this year. The long-bond saw its yield decline 7 basis points to 4.89%. Benchmark Fannie Mae mortgage-backed yields rose 2 basis points. The spread on Fannie’s 4 3/8% 2013 note added 3 to 37, while the spread on Freddie’s 4 ½% 2013 note added 2 to 35.5. The 10-year dollar swap spread narrowed 0.75 to 36.75. The implied yield on December Eurodollars rose 2 basis points to 1.905%. Corporate spreads generally widened this week, with junk bonds underperforming (for a change).
Bloomberg’s tally has more than $17 billion of corporate bond issuance for the week. Investment grade issuers included Nalco Finance $690 million, XTO Energy $500 million, Simon Property Group $500 million, Pulte Homes $500 million, Western & Southern Finance $500 million, United Utilities $350 million, Dominion Resources $300 million, Caterpillar Financial $250 million, Jackson National Life $200 million, Reckson Operating Partnership $150 million, Allstate Finance $150 million, Istar Financial $140 million, and Georgia Power $100 million,
Junk bond funds received $396 million over the past week (from AMG), with 11-week inflows of $3.5 billion. Junk issuers included Station Casino $400 million, Sistema Capital $350 million, Vail Resorts $390 million, Exco Resources $350 million, Centennial Communications $325 million, Alamosa $250 million, Sungard Data $500 million, Primus Telecom $240 million, American Casino $215 million, Premier Entertainment $160 million, New ASAT Finance $150 million, Medianews $150 million, Seminis Vegetable Seeds $140 million, Duke Realty $125 million, and Communications & Power Industries $125 million.
Convert issuers included Graftech International $180 million and Gencorp $100 million.
Foreign dollar debt issuers included KFW-Kredit Wiederaufbau $3 billion, Abbey National $2.25 billion, Republic of Brazil $1.5 billion, Republic of Colombia $500 million, Banco Nacional $400 million, Excelcomindo Finance $350 million, Braskem SA $250 million, Costa Rica $250 million, and Telemig Celular $120 million. $4 billion of emerging market debt was issued this week.
January 16 – Financial Times (Alan Beattie ): “The rush of investors into emerging markets is in danger of suffering a swift and damaging reversal, the leading association of global financial institutions has warned. In an unusually explicit warning, the Institute of International Finance, which represents more than 300 of the world’s largest banks and finance houses, said asset prices were vulnerable after rising too far, too fast… The institute said net capital flows to emerging markets last year reached $187.5bn, their highest since the Asian financial crisis began in 1997, and forecast a further rise this year.”
Freddie Mac posted 30-year mortgage rates sank 21 basis points last week to 5.66%, the lowest level since the week of July 11. Fifteen-year fixed mortgage rates dropped 20 basis points to 4.97%. One-year adjustable rate mortgages could be had at 3.62%, down 14 basis points to the lowest rates since the week of July 18th.
In a development to monitor closely, mortgage applications surged last week. Refi applications were up 25% for the week to the highest level in seven weeks. Purchase applications jumped 11% to one of the highest levels ever. Purchase applications were up 23.5% from one year earlier, with purchase dollar volume up a notable 35.4%. The average purchase mortgage application was for $206,200, with the average adjustable-rate mortgage at $286,900.
Global Currency Watch:
The elusive dollar rally arrived abruptly this week. Curiously, the ECB this week decided to “bite the bullet” and make comments supportive of a dollar rally. This follows (coincidently?) a week of reportedly massive – and minimally effective – Japanese dollar support. The dollar rallied strongly against the euro over the past three sessions, and the dollar index posted a 3% gain for the week. Nonetheless, the dollar recorded a slight decline against the yen.
January 15 – Financial Times (David Pilling and Barney Jopson): “Sadakazu Tanigaki, Japan’s finance minister, urged the US yesterday to take steps to repair its trade and fiscal deficits, saying that concern over the two was driving the dollar lower. Mr. Tanigaki said the twin deficits were undermining faith in the US currency. ‘It is being said that this is a concern linked to the foreign exchange rate. If that is the case, efforts may be needed to improve that.’ Japan has intervened in foreign exchange markets to try to stop the yen appreciating against the US currency but with limited success. Last year it spent a record Y20,000bn ($188bn), three times the previous high, but failed to hold the yen at Y115… Intervention has continued this year… Some government officials have privately voiced concern over the effectiveness of constant intervention. ‘We can’t continue this intervention policy indefinitely,’ said one official. ‘But if we stop now the yen might soar. It’s a catch-22.’”
The strongest currencies for the week included the Brazilian real, Russian ruble, the Argentine peso, Mexican peso and the Indian rupee.
The CRB index was walloped for 1.5% yesterday on dollar strength but then gained virtually all of it back today (in spite of further dollar gains). The CRB ended an impressively resilient week about unchanged. Crude oil closed today above $35 a barrel, rising to the highest price since March.
January 16 – Bloomberg: “Crude oil rose after an Energy Department report showed that U.S. inventories declined to the lowest level since September 1975.”
January 16 – Bloomberg: “Oil inventories are plunging, leaving consumers vulnerable to rising prices as world demand grows faster than expected, according to the International Energy Agency, an adviser to 26 nations on energy policy. Fuel and crude-oil inventories held in the 30 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development declined in November by 860,000 barrels a day from October, to 2.53 billion, the Paris-based agency said in a monthly report. The decline left stockpiles 95 million barrels below the five-year average.
January 12 – Bloomberg: “China’s crude oil imports last year rose 31 percent to a record, the Ministry of Commerce said. China bought from abroad 91.12 million metric tons (670 million barrels) of crude oil last year… The country’s imports of fuels such as gasoline and diesel gained 39 percent to 28.24 million tons.”
Global Reflation Watch:
January 12 – UPI: “China’s total trade volume hit $851.21 billion last year, up 37.1 percent from 2002… Statistics show that in 2003 China had exports of $438.37 billion, up 34.6 percent from the 2002 level, and had imports of $412.84 billion, up 39.9 percent from the 2002 level. Last year’s total increase over 2002 levels -- for both imports and exports -- was $230.4 billion, or 37.1 percent. That makes 2003 the country’s fastest growing year since 1980.”
January 12 – Bloomberg: “India’s industrial production grew at its fastest pace in three years in November as rising farm incomes and the cheapest credit in three decades led consumers to buy homes, vehicles and other goods.”
January 15 – Bloomberg: “Indian equity funds last week had the largest weekly inflow of new funds in at least two years as some overseas investors bet stocks in Asia’s third-biggest economy can extend last year’s 73 percent surge.”
January 16 – Bloomberg: “Argentina’s consumer confidence climbed in December to its highest level since the University Torcuato Di Tella began tracking confidence levels in March 2001.”
Domestic Credit Inflation Watch:
January 16 – Dow Jones: “Bond issuance should decline this year from the record levels seen in 2002 and 2003, as the economy heats up and interest rates rise, according to the Bond Market Association. The BMA sees bond issuance (excluding Treasurys and agencies) totaling $3.05 trillion, compared with $4.96 trillion last year - with the sharpest decline coming in secondary mortgage markets…”
January 15 - Dow Jones (Christine Richard and David Feldheim): “With the giant mortgage market exerting an ever-greater influence on the Treasury market, it’s not surprising that Countrywide Financial Corp.’s securities unit was added this week to the prestigious list of primary dealers for U.S. Treasurys. As a primary dealer Countrywide Securities Corp. joins 22 other institutions that underwrite Treasury auctions and deal directly with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s open market desk. And with Countrywide’s well-rounded presence in the mortgage market, it’s a unique addition to the roster of primary dealers. The other 22 institutions on the list are best known either for their securities businesses or for their commercial banking operations… Countrywide sold a record $435 billion in mortgage loans in 2003..."
January 14 – Bloomberg: “A Manhattan apartment’s average price fell 1.5 percent in the last three months of 2003 from a record in the previous quarter, and sales slipped 2.9 percent, as fewer New Yorkers offered their homes for sale, a report showed. Prices declined to $903,259 from $916,959 and sales dropped to 2,256 from 2,324, according to a report from Miller Samuel Inc., a residential appraiser, and Douglas Elliman, the city’s largest brokerage.”
January 14 – Dow Jones (Christine Richard and Julie Haviv): “Cash-out refinancings have been a dream come true for many homeowners and mortgage bankers. But some of the cash individuals took out of their homes may be, in fact, a fantasy as the booming market led some appraisers in the rush for business to overstate home values. Exaggerated appraisal values have raised concerns at Fannie Mae, the largest buyer of mortgages in the nearly $7 trillion mortgage market. That’s set off a scramble to reappraise property values that could leave banks on the hook for inadequately backed loans sold to Fannie Mae. It also means individuals may have borrowed against equity in their homes that doesn’t exist. ‘We have seen a trend toward inflated appraisal values on cash-out refinancings,’ said Alfred King, director of communications at Fannie Mae. ’That has resulted in Fannie Mae requiring lenders to review loans for excessive valuation.’”
Received this week from Citibank: “This tax season, make life simpler by paying your taxes with your Citi/AAdvantage Card. It’s fast, convenient and you’ll earn one AAdvantage mile for every dollar charged. What could be easier? …So paying your taxes can be simpler, stress-free and rewarding…”
Broad money supply (M3) rose $29.8 billion (for the week ended Jan. 5), its first significant gain since early September. Currency dipped $1.4 billion and Checkable Deposits declined $2.1 billion. Savings Deposits dipped $1.2 billion (down $32.4 billion over 5 weeks). Small Denominated Deposits were down $0.6 billion and Retail Money Fund deposits dipped $0.2 billion. Institutional Money Fund deposits added $13.9 billion and Large Denominated Deposits surged $41.6 billion. Repurchase Agreements contracted $29.3 billion, while Eurodollars added $8.5 billion.
Fed Custody Holdings gained $10.3 billion, with a 24-week rise of $151.2 billion (35% annualized growth rate).
Bank Credit increased $28 billion during the first week of the year. Loans & Leases surged $41 billion. Commercial & Industrial loans were up $3.1 billion and Other loans added $5.9 billion. Consumer loans dipped $0.8 billion. Securities holdings declined $13 billion. Real Estate loans jumped $10.5 billion and Security loans surged $22.4 billion. Elsewhere, Commercial Paper increased $11 billion last week to $1.288 Trillion, with two-week gains of a notable $19.7 billion. Financial CP added $13.3 billion, while Non-financial CP declined $2.3 billion.
December Advance Retail Sales were reported up a slightly less-than-expected 0.5% from November. But don’t let that fool you. December Retail Sales were up 6.7% from December 2002. December Producer Prices were up 4% from December 2002. Year-over-year PPI gains have not been stronger since January 2001.
The New York State Manufacturing index added almost 2 points to a better-than-expected and record 39 points. The Philadelphia Fed index surged a much stronger-than-expected 6.7 points to 38.3, the strongest reading since December 1993.
Our nation’s Trade Deficit for November improved to $38.0 billion. Year-over-year, Goods Exports were up 10.5% to $63.82 billion. Goods Imports were up 5.4% to $107.42 billion. It would require Goods Exports to increase 68% to match Goods Imports.
Interestingly, the University of Michigan survey of preliminary January confidence surged 10.6 points to 103.2, the largest gain since November 1992. It is also worth noting that the index is up 25.2% from January 2003. Current Conditions were up 11.9 points to 108.9, and Economic Outlook was up 9.7 points to 99.5.
With stock prices up significantly over the past month and mortgage rates down meaningfully, there should be no mystery surrounding the surge in consumer confidence. I note that some analysts have averred that December’s unimpressive jobs data is indicative of a slowing economy. I would argue strongly that jobs growth will not be a driving force for either the economy or financial markets. The financial markets are today the horse and the economy the cart. As analysts, our focus must remain on financial conditions, general liquidity, Credit availability and lending growth. Analyzing how financial markets respond to the natural ebb and flow of economic activity will keep us on our toes.
Q3 2003 “Flow of Funds”
While it does require some thinking back, the third quarter was an extraordinary period for the Credit system in several respects. The period demonstrated exceptional growth; it marked the end of an historic mortgage refi boom; and there was near dislocation within interest rate markets as yields spiked higher and some key spreads and volatilities blew out to the widest levels since LTCM (it today seems like such a long time ago). There was a major shifting of assets (and liabilities) by players caught in the interest rate tumult. There was also a marked deceleration and near stagnation of money supply growth, and with it renewed talk of faltering liquidity, deflation and even a collapse in Credit. With this in mind, I was especially excited by yesterday’s (delayed) arrival of the Fed’s quarterly Z.1 report.
First of all, there was certainly no indication of any meaningful slowdown in the historic Credit Bubble. Total Credit Market Debt (Non-financial and Financial) increased at an 8.6% annualized rate during the third quarter to $33.6 Trillion. Over the past year, Total Credit Market Debt increased $2.784 Trillion, or 9.0%. For comparison, Total Credit Market Debt increased $2.22 Trillion during 2002, $1.877 Trillion during 2001 and $1.792 Trillion during 2000. Since the beginning of 1998 (23 quarters), Total Credit Market Debt is up a whopping 59% ($12.4 Trillion!).
Non-financial Borrowings (NFB) increased at a 7.4% rate to $22.0 Trillion. Over four quarters, NFB has expanded $1.736 Trillion, or 8.6%. By sector, Federal Government Debt expanded at an 8.2% rate to $3.95 Trillion, with a 12-month rise of 10.3%. Total Household Debt increased at an 11.2% rate during the quarter to $9.18 Trillion, with a 12-month rise of 11.2%. State & Local Governments increased debt at a 10.5% rate during the quarter to $1.542 Trillion, with a 12-month rise of 10.5%.
Lagging, Total Corporate Debt increased at a 3.4% rate during the quarter to $7.33 Trillion, with a 12-month rise of 4.2%. It is worth noting that when the government and household sectors are borrowing so aggressively, one would expect resulting strong cash-flows (profits) to lessen corporate borrowing requirements.
It is one of many curious facets of contemporary economic doctrine that Financial Sector borrowings are deemed basically irrelevant; non-financial debt creation is paramount and to examine Financial Sector debt amounts to mindless “double counting.” But to ignore financial sector liability creation and asset accumulation is to disregard one of the key aspects of contemporary finance and the Great Credit Bubble.
I strongly argue that financial sector expansion (including foreign institutions’ dollar asset accumulations) is the key liquidity-creating mechanism in today’s financial markets. It is surely much more useful to focus on financial sector liabilities generally, rather than to fixate exclusively on “bank money” or the money supply aggregates. In fact, in this environment the analysis of the expansion of a broad range of financial sector liabilities is fundamental for avoiding some rather major blunders. With this in mind, Financial Sector Borrowings increased at a near record annualized $1.178 Trillion, or 10.9%, to $11.09 Trillion during the third quarter. Financial Sector Liabilities increased $1.08 Trillion, or 10.8%, over the past four quarters and have now doubled over the past 23 quarters. This expansion is massive, unrelenting and historic, and goes far in explaining rampant asset inflation and seemingly endless financial market liquidity.
However, I’ll begin by noting that Commercial Banking Total Assets expanded at only a 1.2% annualized rate during the third quarter. This was down sharply from the second quarter’s 10.1% pace of expansion and the weakest growth since the Q1 2002 blip. Seasonally-adjusted “Net Acquisition of Financial Assets” actually contracted at an adjusted annualized rate of $67.2 billion during the quarter. And after gorging on Agency Debt for five quarters (up $226.7 billion, or 28%), Commercial Banks reduced holdings by an annualized $268.8 billion during the third quarter (as interest rates rose sharply, albeit temporarily). Bank Loans expanded at about a 5% rate during the quarter. Notably, Commercial Loans contracted by an annualized 9.0%, with these loans declining $103.5 billion (7.6%) y-o-y. Conversely, Mortgage Loans expanded at a 12.9% pace during the quarter and were up $301.9 billion (15.4%) y-o-y.
As for Commercial Bank liabilities, Checkable Deposits contracted at an annualized pace of $152 billion, while Miscellaneous Liabilities expanded by an annualized $219.3 billion. Foreign Banking Offices in the U.S. reduced financial assets holdings by an annualized $128.2 billion, with the liability Federal Funds and Securities RP (repurchase agreements) contracting by an annualized $100.4 billion.
Yet we certainly cannot nowadays associate slow bank asset growth with reduced overall Credit expansion. Once again “saving the day,” GSE Assets expanded at a 21.4% rate during the quarter to $2.80 Trillion. At an unprecedented seasonally-adjusted annualized increase of $568.9 billion, this was the strongest rate of GSE growth since the anxious fourth quarter of 1999. As “Buyers of First and Last Resort” for the banks, brokers, hedge funds and other speculators, the GSEs increased holdings of mortgage-backed securities during the quarter by an annualized $542 billion (45%). Over 12 months, GSE Assets inflated $345.6 billion, or 14.1%, compared with the 2002 rise of $247 billion. GSE Assets have ballooned an astonishing 155% over 23 quarters.
Federally-related Mortgage Pools (GSE MBS) increased at a 9.9% rate during the quarter to $3.37 Trillion, the strongest rate of growth in five quarters. MBS was up 9.3% over the past year (up 85% over 23 quarters). Asset-backed Securities (ABS) expanded at a 9.3% rate during the quarter to $2.56 Trillion, with 12-month gains of 13.6% (up 159% over 23 quarters). Total “Structured Finance” (combining GSE, MBS, and ABS assets) expanded during the quarter at an annualized $1.23 Trillion, or 13.4%, to $8.76 Trillion. Over the past year, “Structured Finance” has ballooned $938.3 billion, or 12.0% (up 123% over 23 quarters).
Security Brokers and Dealers increased assets by an annualized $107 billion (10% growth rate), down sharply from the second quarter’s risky 36.5% growth rate. Agency Holdings contracted at a notable annualized $214.3 billion, while Treasuries increased by an annualized $174.4 billion. Security Credit contracted at an annualized $87.6 billion. Miscellaneous Assets expanded at an annualize $187.9 billion. On the liability side, Security RPs (repurchase agreements) increased at an annualized $206.1 billion. Over the past four quarters, Security Broker and Dealer assets have increased 9.3% to $1.55 Trillion.
Federal Funds and Security Repurchase Agreements expanded at a 10.1% annualized rate to $1.487 Trillion, with four-quarter gains of 13.2% (up 81% over 23 quarters). Funding Corporations – “Funding subsidiaries, nonbank financial holding companies, and custodial accounts for reinvested collateral of securities lending operations” – saw asset holdings expand at an annualized $167.6 billion, or a pace of about 11%. Miscellaneous Liabilities increased by an annualized $187.4 billion.
Finance Companies (including “captives”) expanded assets during the quarter at a notable annualized $366.9 billion, or 28%. To fund this expansion, Corporate Bonds increased at an annualized $139.7 billion and Other Miscellaneous Liabilities expanded at an annualized $257.9 billion. Money Market Funds contracted by an annualized $223.1 billion, with holdings of Open Market Paper (commercial paper) down by an annualized $167.9 billion. Miscellaneous Assets expanded by an annualized $108.6 billion. Elsewhere, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) expanded assets at a 27% annualized rate to $108 billion.
The Federal Reserve increased its holdings by $9.9 billion during the quarter to $778.9 billion, or 5.1% annualized. The Fed’s balance sheet was up $68.7 billion, or 9.7% y-o-y. Over the past four quarters, Federal Reserve growth has accounted for only about 6% of total financial sector expansion. .
Examining mortgage lending, Total Mortgage Borrowings increased at a 12.1% rate during the quarter to $9.242 Trillion. Over four quarters, Total Mortgage Credit surged $1.045 Trillion, or 12.8%. It is worth noting that Total Mortgage Borrowings increased $288 billion during 1996 and $337 billion during 1997. Since the beginning of 1998 (23 quarters), Total Mortgage Credit is up $3.98 Trillion (avg. $692 billion annually), or 76%. Total Household Debt was up 13.8% over the past year to $7.11 Trillion (up 78% over 23 quarters).
Examining third quarter government receipts and expenditures, Federal spending was up 8.6% y-o-y, while receipts were down 4.1% y-o-y. State & Local government spending was up 5.5% from third quarter 2002, while receipts were up 5.9%. Total government debt increased at an annualized rate of $557 billion during the quarter. Federal government debt increased at an annualized rate of $396 billion. State & Local debt increased at an annual rate of $161.3 billion.
It is also beneficial to take a close look at ballooning household assets and liabilities. The Balance Sheet of the Household Sector (including non-profit organizations) surpassed $51 Trillion for the first time during the third quarter. Total Assets increased $802.2 billion, or 6.3% annualized, and were up $4.53 Trillion, or 9.6%, over the past year. The value of Household Real Estate increased $290.8 billion during the quarter, or 8.2% annualized, to $14.55 Trillion (up $1.07 Trillion, or 7.9%, over four quarters). And despite massive borrowings, inflating values allowed Owners’ Real Estate Equity to increase $90 billion during the quarter to $7.9 Trillion. Total Financial Asset values increased $434.7 billion, or 5.4% annualized, to $32.47 Trillion (up $3.224 Trillion, or 11.0% over 4 quarters). Interestingly, Total Deposit holdings actually contacted $4.4 billion to $5.17 Trillion. On the other hand, Credit Market Instrument holdings jumped $61.9 billion, or 10.2% annualized, to $2.49 Trillion. Holdings of Agency securities actually jumped $140 billion (to $291.4 billion), easily the most conspicuous development with respect to household investment preference.
And while we must wait impatiently for the March release of the 4th quarter “Flow of Funds” report, third quarter data provide us some very useful insight. As for the almost four months of contracting money supply, unfolding during the third quarter were some rather profound developments with regard to the nature of financial sector liability creation. Commercial Banking Checkable Deposits were in sharp decline ($152.4 billion annualized). Time and Savings Deposits growth had slowed markedly, from an average annualized $371 billion over the previous six quarters to only $43.9 billion during the three months ended September 30th. And Money Market Fund deposits were in sharp decline ($223.1 billion annualized).
But we must not allow the stagnation and/or decline of key traditional money supply components to draw our attention away from the continued major expansion of Credit, along with an attendant huge expansion of financial sector liabilities (predominately not elements of the money aggregates). Foremost, Total Agency Securities (GSE debt and MBS) were issued at an unprecedented annualized rate of $831.2 billion during the quarter. Treasury Securities were issued at an annualized rate of $317.5 billion and State & Local debt at an annualized $137.1 billion. Corporate and Foreign Bonds were issued at an annual rate of $466.6 billion; New Equities at a rate of $137.4 billion. And Asset-backed Securities were issued at an annual rate of $234.1 billion. It is also worth noting the extraordinary expansion in "Miscellaneous" and "Other" assets and liabilities. Moreover, it appears – especially in the case of agency securities – that households were increasingly using liquid balances to acquire marketable securities directly, rather than holding money fund or bank deposits.
In conclusion, the third quarter “Flow of Funds” confirms that we remain in the midst of an unprecedented – truly historic - financial sector expansion and security issuance boom. And as the melee of leveraged speculation and the general flight to risk assets go to dangerous excess, the nature of financial claims inflation and intermediation are altered momentously. Those today associating the declining “M’s” with deflation are missing profound developments throughout the U.S. Credit system and global financial system.