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The Reality-Is-Perception Gap

With retail stocks surging on the back of the any-minute-now recovery (justified by the might of the Federal Reserve printing press), we thought it perhaps useful to consider just how great things are in the retail sales space. Given the non-stop accelerating rise in the equity prices, retail sales must be accelerating or must have turned up green-shoot-like? Well not so much. As the following chart shows, while retail sales (ex-food) is still rising modestly YoY, it is doing so a decelerating pace (as income growth stagnates and discretionary income slumps). But for now, all we must believe is the market knows best (until, 2008-like) it doesn't.



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A Hard Look At Europe

In the beginning there were a handful of core nations equal in partnership and full of the excitement of a new venture. Much of the esprit was a desire to band together and compete against the United States for economic dominance and world power. Now we find the EU headquarters no longer staffed by equals but a useful front for Berlin which resides in another country. This point is critically important to understand. Yes, sure, the Germans will smile and nod and give way on agricultural supplements and on fishing rights and trivial matters but when it gets down to it and the decision is important; Berlin will have its way. The fact that the equity markets have done fabulously and that the interest rates for European sovereign debt have done remarkably well all rest on one thing and one thing only; the creation of money and a massive amount of it. Europe, and the rest of the world for that matter, has been transformed by the printing of money. The dislocation between economies and markets is huge and the glue is the twenty-four seven machinations of the printing presses. Politicians in Europe and America have taken a back seat to the heads of the world's central banks. Lastly, as I stare out at the horizon, you should understand the German viewpoint of the State. You win by being in control and control must always be exercised and never relinquished.



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French Industrial Production Confirms Hollande's Triple-Dip Fears

French industrial production came in considerably lower than expected overnight. France's output fell 2.5% YoY against an expectation of a mere 1.4% drop and manufacturing production dropped 4.9% YoY - almost its worst since the crisis. This data confirms what we have discussed in detail (here and here) that France is heading for a depression. After the briefest of renaissances in Q3 2012, the Gallic nation now looks set for a triple-dip recession, further stretching the core of an already tense European Union. The last few days have seen 10Y French debt yields increase a little (+17bps off the lows) but they remain (much as the rest of Europe) near record lows.



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No Recovery Here Either: Home Renovation Spending Plummets To 2010 Levels

One of the widely accepted misconceptions surrounding the so-called "housing recovery" fanfared by misleading headlines such as this "Remodeling activity keeps up positive momentum", which in reality has merely turned out to be a housing bubble in various liquified "flip that house" MSAs (offset by continuing deteriorating conditions in those places where the Fed's trillions in excess reserves have trouble reaching coupled with ongoing foreclosure stuffing), is that "renovation spending", the amount of cash spent to upgrade and update a fixer-upper, has surged. Sadly, this is merely the latest lie about the US economy: as the attached chart showing renovation spending in the past 6 months, it has absolutely imploded, confirming that not only is a broad housing recovery a myth (instead of localized pockets of bubbly liquidity here and there), but that the US home-owning household is now more tapped out than at any time in the past two years.



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Paulson Gold Fund Down 27% In April

Curious who the biggest casualty of last month's forced precious metal take down is? It may very well be John Paulson, who has systematically been blown out of all his concentrated positions in the past few years, and who, according to Bloomberg, just lost a record 27% in one month in his gold fund, and down 47% so far in 2013. If anything, it may explain the ongoing collapse in GLD holdings as he (among others) is forced to continue liquidating. The good news is that one levered players such as Paulson are finally blown out, there is hope that only far more rational, "non-weak handed" players remain at the table.



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Frontrunning: May 7

  • Microsoft prepares U-turn on Windows 8 (FT), Microsoft admits failure on Windows 8 (MW), After Bumpy Start, Microsoft Rethinks Windows 8 (NYT)
  • China reports four more bird flu deaths, toll rises to 31 (Reuters)
  • Republicans shift stance on US budget (FT)
  • NYC Tallest Condo Corridor Gets New Entrant With Steinway (BBG)
  • U.S. Says China's Government, Military Used Cyberespionage (WSJ)
  • China rejects Pentagon charges of military espionage (Reuters)
  • Bank of China Cuts Off North Korean Bank (WSJ)
  • Libya defense minister quits over siege of ministries by gunmen (Reuters)
  • London Recruiter Says City Job Vacancies Rose 19% (BBG)
  • Colleges Cut Prices by Providing More Financial Aid (WSJ)  or, said otherwise, loans
  • Jeweler agrees to plead guilty in KPMG insider-trading case (LA Times)


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Surprising German Factory Orders Bounce Offset ECB Jawboning Euro Lower; Australia Cuts Rate To Record Low

The euro continues to not get the memo. After days and days of attempted jawboning by Draghi and his marry FX trading men, doing all they can to push the euro down, cutting interest rates and even threatening to use the nuclear option and push the deposit rate into the red, someone continues to buy EURs (coughjapancough) or, worse, generate major short squeezes such as during today's event deficient trading session, when after France reported a miss in both its manufacturing and industrial production numbers (-1.0% and -0.9%, on expectations of -0.5% and -0.3%, from priors of 0.8% and 0.7%) did absolutely nothing for the EUR pairs, it was up to Germany to put an end to the party, and announce March factory orders which beat expectations of a -0.5% solidly, and remained unchanged at 2.2%, the same as in February. And since the current regime is one in which Germany is happy and beggaring its neighbors's exports (France) with a stronger EUR, Merkel will be delighted with the outcome while all other European exporters will once again come back to Draghi and demand more jawboning, which they will certainly get. Expect more headlines out of the ECB cautioning that the EUR is still too high.



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The Story Of Inequality In The US: Past, Present And Future

In this far-reaching documentary, we are first treated to a history lesson from the early 80s to the present day - a story of lust, debt, and largesse; from Reagan deficits to cell phones to day trading to real estate... and then 2008 is explained (as reality started to peek through). The clip projects the next few years - from failed bond auctions to QE9 and social unrest - "but it doesn't have to be this way," the narrator notes. 'Breaking Inequality' is about the corruption between Washington and Wall Street that has resulted in the largest inequality gap in the history of America. It is a film that exposes the truth behind the single event that occurred back in the early 70's that set us off on this perilous journey that we are currently on. No country in the history of the world has ever remained a super power without a middle class and the road we are currently traveling doesn't include this all-important segment of the population. The old saying "As goes the middle class... so goes the nation" holds true even more today than ever.



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Bright Lights, Big City, Bigger Prices - Where Inflation Hides

Subdued headline inflation hides the inimitable rise of prices across the country; but ConvergEx's Nick Colas examines the pace of inflation in four large cities across the US – Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco.  All are home to multitudes of urban working professionals, share the same currency and have similar macro economies, though, Colas notes, the trend of price increases varies considerably (particularly with regards to NYC vs. the rest).  The cost of living is up in all four cities since 2008.  Incomes, too, are generally higher – although not in New York, likely a result of the Big Apple’s unique micro economy. Comparatively, New Yorkers have experienced the steepest price increases in transportation (higher cab and subway fares give this category a boost) and groceries, meanwhile rent, dinners out and cocktails continue to be more and more costly.  So what gives?  Rising inflation despite lower incomes?  The answer lies in the tug of war between less cash pay on Wall Street and a very active foreign investment market that is driving up real estate prices.



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Bank Of America's Latest Credit Trade Reco: "We Got Crushed"

It is one thing for Bank of America's chief credit strategist Hans Mikkelsen to be wrong on his long-term strategic call about a "Great Rotation" out of bonds and into stocks year... after year... after year (somewhat ironic that the credit guy gets the equity call right, and is dead wrong on the credit side). After all, it has gotten to the point where the buyside bets how long it takes until the latest vintage of said "great" call blows up in his face. These are, after all, "strategic" call, and as everyone knows, when the sellside says one thing strategically, it is time to do the other. However, not even the most jaded and cynical of market observers had any clue just how spectacular Mikkelsen's "tactical" call implosion would be.  Apparently, neither did he. And judging by his language, his clients - if there are any left of course - most certainly did not either.  "We wrote last Friday that this week would be crunch time for our challenged tactical (short term) short stance on the market, expressed by buying protection on the CDX.IG. We got crushed. Thus we remove our tactical view and cover the short."



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What Is A Gold Standard?

Before 1971, U.S. dollars were backed by gold. This meant that the federal government could not print more money than it could redeem for gold. While this constrained the federal government, it also provided citizens with a relatively stable purchasing power for goods and services. As Learn Liberty explains in this simple 4 minute clip, today's paper currency has no intrinsic value; it is not based on the value of gold or anything else. Under a gold standard, inflation was really limited. With floating value, or fiat, currency, however, some countries have seen inflation reach extremely high levels - sometimes enough to lead to economic collapse. Gold standards have historically provided more stable currencies with lower inflation than fiat currency. Of course, this leaves the question open of whether the United States return to a gold standard? But does provide some hints.



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Senate Passes Online Sales Tax Bill

As previewed previously, one half of the hurdle to enforce a universal online US sales tax has now been crossed, with the Senate voting moments ago to pass a Wal-Mart backed bill 69-27 allowing states to collect taxes on out of state Internet and catalog sales. The bill would end the era of tax-free Internet shopping. During the debate, senators offered examples of consumers who examine products in stores and then shop online to avoid paying sales tax. The pretext? Why fairness of course.  “This bill is about fairness,” said Senator Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican and co-sponsor of the measure. “It’s about leveling the playing field between the brick-and-mortar and online companies.”



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Goldman Caves: "The Unemployment Rate Is An Inappropriate Measure Of The Labor Market"

The second half of 2012 saw a significant shift in US monetary policy from calendar-based guidance to outcome-based guidance and the adoption of a 6.5% unemployment rate as a threshold for 'tapering'. With Friday's better-than-expected payrolls data and another tick lower in the critical-to-liquidity unemployment rate, it seems Goldman Sachs (and others) are waking up to the facts that we have been vociferous about: the shift of jobless individuals from unemployment into inactivity (the participation rate dilemma) is making the unemployment rate a less appropriate measure of broad labor market conditions. This has important implications for Fed policy because it implies that the committee might still be quite far from reaching the jobs side of its mandate even once the unemployment rate is back at 6%. After all, the Federal Reserve Act calls for 'maximum employment', not 'minimum unemployment'



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The US Regulatory Vice Closes On Bitcoin

Just six weeks after the US Treasury decided enough-was-enough with this upstart non-fiat, non-controlled-by-TPTB currency (and applied money-laundering reglations), US financial regulators are now looking for supervisory control over Bitcoin. As The FT reports, CFTC's Bart Chilton notes "it's not monopoly money - real people have real risk in these instruments," and  that regulating the controversial cyber-currency "is sure something [CFTC] needs to explore." Chilton's remit to regulate this "shadow currency" is predicated on it becoming a basis for derivative contracts as opposed to purely transactional (akin to the monitoring of physical oil transactions that can influence crude futures.) Since the Treasury's March decision, at least three North American companies have had their accounts seized by the banks but while this attempt to control the virtual currency follows the ECB's 'ponzi attack' last year, the 'regulators' may note that, "even if US regulations make it hard for Bitcoin businesses to operate in the US, that doesn’t mean it will make it difficult for people to use Bitcoin as a currency in the US. Bitcoin is a world currency."



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Guest Post: The Case Against Deflation

Given the global central banker's determination to stop prices falling, worries that the outlook is deflationary are unlikely to be realised. In the main this is the view of neoclassical economists, Keynesians and monetarists, who generally foresee a 1930s-style slump unless the economy is stimulated out of it. So successful was the Fed leading other central banks to save the world in 2009 that the precedent is established: if things take a turn for the worse or a systemically important financial institution looks like failing, Superman Ben and his cohort of central bankers will save us all again. Call it kryptonite, or failing animal spirits if you like. It is closer to the truth to understand we are witnessing the early stages of erosion of confidence in government and ultimately its paper money. Ordinary people are finally beginning to suspect this, signalled by the world-wide rush into precious metals last month.



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