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Steve Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone said Wednesday he was seeing “more than green shoots” for the economic rebound.  He sees the deal market coming back to life and a return to the good old days of leveraged loans, toxic assets and IPO’s where you sell your company to the public at the most insane valuation of all time (sarcasm intended).  Despite this his optimism remained somewhat muted:

“We do not expect the U.S. economy to slip back into recession but we do believe that weak consumer spending and continued constraints on bank lending will dampen the U.S. economic recovery in 2010 and 2011.”

On the earnings front, JP Morgan confirmed what we have believed for a long time – the banks are juicing.  The company trounced analysts expectations by 30 cents and reported a 79% jump in revenues.  JP Morgan actually lost money on the lending side of their business as well as their card services segment (the consumer is still very weak), but they made up for it in their trading and investment banking where they are helping to shower the market with secondary offerings and trading this Fed induced liquidity rally to new highs.  A look under the hood questions the sustainability of these earnings.  After all, banks are in the business of lending money:

Consumer Lending reported a net loss of $1.0 billion, compared with a net loss of $659 million in the prior year and $955 million in the prior quarter. Compared with the prior quarter, results decreased by $81 million, reflecting a decrease in mortgage production revenue, an increase in the provision for credit losses and lower loan balances, largely offset by higher MSR risk management results and wider loan spreads.

Net revenue was $7.5 billion, an increase of $3.4 billion, or 85%, from the prior year. Investment banking fees were up 4% to $1.7 billion, consisting of equity underwriting fees of $681 million (up 31%), debt underwriting fees of $593 million (up 19%) and advisory fees of $384 million (down 33%). Fixed Income Markets revenue was $5.0 billion, up by $4.2 billion, reflecting strong results across most products and gains of approximately $400 million on legacy leveraged lending and mortgage-related positions, compared with markdowns of $3.6 billion in the prior year.

Net income for Corporate was $1.3 billion, compared with a net loss of $881 million in the prior year. Net revenue was $2.4 billion, reflecting continued elevated levels of investment portfolio trading income and net interest income.

Jamie Dimon played down the robust performance:

“While we are seeing some initial signs of consumer credit stability, we are not yet certain that this trend will continue.  Despite this near-term uncertainty about the path of the economy, our strong capital position and underlying earnings power will enable us to continue to invest in our businesses.”

On the economic front the data continues to come in better than expected.  As displayed in JP Morgan’s earnings the consumer showed further signs this morning of weakness.  Retail sales came in “better than expected” but still came in deep in the red at -1.5%.  Econoday reports:

The consumer pulled back sharply in September-but it was mostly due to the post-“clunkers” drop in auto sales. Otherwise, the numbers were surprisingly healthy for the most part. Overall retail sales in September dropped 1.5 percent after a 2.2 percent spike the month before. The September drop in sales was not as severe as the market forecast for a 2.1 percent fall. The decline was led by a 10.4 percent plunge in auto sales after a 7.8 percent boost in August. Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales advanced 0.5 percent, following a 1.0 percent jump in August. The consensus had expected a 0.3 percent rise for September.

We now have had two months of unexpectedly healthy core sales. Components outside of autos and gasoline were actually led by furniture & home furnishings, up 1.4 percent; general merchandise, up 0.9 percent; and health & personal care, up 0.8 percent. Gains were also seen in food & beverage stores, clothing & accessories, sporting goods & hobbies, and food services & drinking places. Declines were seen in building material & garden shops, miscellaneous stores retailers, and nonstore retailers.

Overall retail sales on a year-ago basis in September improved marginally to down 5.7 percent, from down 5.8 percent in August. Excluding motor vehicles, the year-on-year rate increased to minus 4.9 percent in September from down 6.3 percent the previous month.

All in all, not a great set of data, but “better than expected”.  In today’s market the expectations for the recovery simply remain far too negative.  We’ll be unlikely to move to a bearish or neutral position until we begin to see overheating signs of optimism in earnings and economic data.

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