From the inside of the Federal Reserve's gold vault (where we are told one quarter of the world's bullion resides) to NYC's diamond district and the gold-dealers on the streets, this NatGeo documentary is a fascinating walk through the reality of trust, money, and gold. As the narrator notes, "the Fed's discretion is so trusted that few depositors have ever asked to see if their gold is still here," except of course Germany now that is, adding (from the exact opposite perspective to the man that runs the building) that, "for thousands of years people used gold as money... it's the perfect recyclable money...." The must-watch video then progresses to the reality of our financial world where he explains, the trillions in money that is transacted every day "used to be backed gold, but is now supported by the promise of our government... The fact that it all works based on trust alone is simply taken for granted," leaving the ominous question of "who is in charge" of that 'trust'? Cue Ben Bernanke - who answers the question of what the world would look like without a Fed... bank runs, stock market crashes, and financial chaos.
In what is likely the most disappointing, if not unexpected, news of the day, we find that according to a just released Pew Research study, a substantial majority, or 56% of Americans, "say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism." Only 41% object to having every phone conversation intercepted, investigated, analyzed, and recorded for posterity. Sorry Edward Snowden: you just threw your life away for nothing. The sheep have been properly and thoroughly conditioned and brainwashed, which is why they continue to get precisely the government they so rightfully deserve.
Think only coked up and hyper hedgefund traders pose a systemic risk? As this AFP story reveals, somnolent, undercaffeinated tellers can be just as threatening to the global flow of funds. A "German bank employee fell asleep on his keyboard and accidentally transformed a minor transfer into a 222 million euro ($293 million) order, a court heard Monday. The Hessen labour court heard that the man was supposed to transfer just 62.40 euros from a bank account belonging to a retiree, but instead "fell asleep for an instant, while pushing onto the number 2 key on the keyboard" -- making it a huge 222,222,222.22 euro order." Nearly a third of a billion mistake blamed on a "sleepy finger?" That's a new one...
A funny thing happens when there is only one driver of economic market growth, any chance of intelligent fact-based, logic-induced, fundamental-biased investing becomes reduced to the rubble of momentum-chasing leveraged beta. No matter how much your 2-and-20 taking manager explains his 'process', the charts below show that the thundering herd of 'dumb' money that used to be so useful in identifying the extremes of market hubris and dysphoria appear to have overwhelmed the world of 'smart' money. Hedge funds have never been more net long US equities; hedge fund returns have never been more correlated to the market; hedge funds have never produced so little alpha; and hedge funds are as leveraged to this beta as they were at the top in 2007. This will not end well...
The cluster of Omens is starting to build - now 3 in the last 7 trading days. This cluster is now the most frequent since the 2007 highs - more 'clustery' than the 2010 signals. Volume today was dismal - among the lowest of the year in both futures and cash. Equity markets were bid out of the gate on the back of Japanese exuberance - and JPY carry - which oddly hadn't helped European risk markets. Credit markets, which decoupled from equity's reality around lunchtime Friday - were on a one-way street wider today - entirely ignoring equity's efforts at exuberance. The USD saw earlier (JPY weakness-driven) gains entirely unwound by the close and ended unchanged but gold (small gain) and silver (+1.1%) outperformed as WTI limped modestly lower. Treasuries added 3-4bps in yield (up around 16bps from Friday's low yields). VIX also didn't play along with equity's general lack of direction and rose 0.5 vols to 15.5%. Homebuilders are underperforming once again but financials remain the best performers off Friday's lows (for now). Nikkei futures did nothing all day - hovering at last week's dead-cat-bounce highs.
For a long time we have been seeking a chart that captures the pure essence of America's transition into its "new normal" mutant clone, in which record high stock markets coexist with record high foodstamp usage; in which record public debt amounts coexist with record low interest rates; in which the Fed is responsible for 20% of the US GDP but which is forgiven if it means the second coming of a housing bubble giving people the false hope of another "flip that house" get rich scheme. We believe we have found it. On the chart below we show the number of US manufacturing workers over the past decade (currently at levels first seen in 1941) on one axis; and the number of bar and restaurant employees - currently at an all time high - on the other. For those asking, in the past year the US has added 366,700 "food service and drinking places" employees and a whopping... 41,000 manufacturing workers.
"People say you should do what you love," but in the new normal reality, it appears - based on the flagging applications at Harvard's humanities division - that oft-used phrase has been appended with, "but, I don't want to be doing what I love and be homeless." As The WSJ reports, among recent college graduates who majored in English, the unemployment rate was 9.8%; for philosophy and religious-studies majors, it was 9.5%; and for history majors, it was also 9.5%. By comparison, recent chemistry graduates were unemployed at a rate of just 5.8%; and elementary-education graduates were at 5%. Students have taken note. At Harvard, humanities majors have fallen to 20% in 2012 from 36% in 1954. School presidents and administrators at liberal-arts colleges have already started to take a more job-oriented approach to a liberal-arts education, but face an uphill battle in the wake of stepped-up global economic competition, a job market that is disproportionately rewarding graduates in the hard sciences, rising tuition and sky-high student-debt levels.
"By propping up asset markets, the Fed has created an illusion that wealth is being created. The next step, according to Bernanke’s plan, should be for growth to follow. In fact, there is no reason why the rise in prices of financial assets should lead to actual investments or a rise in the median income. So far, it has not. There has been no real increase in the private sector propensity to borrow, and the danger may be that any further public sector borrowing will hasten the decline because of our “permanent asset hypothesis”. This means that, should the Fed lose control of asset prices (is this what is now happening in Japan?), then the game will be up and the downside move in markets may well be terrifying."
After Carney's 36-minute tardiness for his Presser, and the uncomfortable 'realness' of the press' questions, we wonder just what will (and will not be) allowed as Obama faces the music press. Under the guise of a personnel announcement, we suspect the listener-in-chief will promptly conclude this press conference (due to start at 1410ET) - though on the off-chance that he allows a question from the press (which of course he already knows), we have the popcorn ready...
Following last night's 'surprising' upward GDP revisions, Japan's trade balance plunged to near-record deficit levels (but that didn't matter) and while China's trade data is questionable at best (and now proven 'false'), Japan is facing a much more considerable worry at home. Abenomics' goal to reduce the value of the JPY to improve competitiveness and spur a renaissance has had a rather nasty side-effect for all the Japanese people who eat, drive, or in any way use energy. The cost of Japan's crude basket has risen 35% in the last six months and is now at its highest for the domestic energy user since 2008 (which sparked the last collapse into deflation). As Bloomberg notes in this brief clip, this surge is not related to demand or the price of oil, but to the devaluation of the Japanese currency and leaves both the refiner crushed on margins and the consumer more cash-strapped.
Those who believe the economy is recovering are ignorant of the facts. Other than the Great Depression no US recovery (and I don’t believe we are in a recovery) taken longer. Eventually it may take more than a decade like the 1930s. Or perhaps it will be like Japan which is in its third decade of “recovery.” The truth is that our economy is spent, exhausted and filled with misallocations and distortions made much worse by government interventions. There is no recovery, nor will there be one until a massive purge (usually referred to as a depression) occurs. This event will result in bankruptcies that release scarce, misallocated physical capital from unproductive and unwanted areas to places where it is needed and can be utilized efficiently. Rather than allow this pre-condition to an economic recovery and a growing, efficient economy, politicians want to prevent it. They use smoke, mirrors and propaganda (lies) to hide the reality of our sick economy. Their obfuscations continue, but the effective life is limited.
It may not be the main man (that show starts at 210ET) but as Press Secretary Jay Carney takes the stand in front of a room of hopefully inquisitive reporters for his usual press conference, we are sure the phrase "can I plead da fif?" will be on the tip of his tongue.
30Y rates are up 4bps and 10Y rates up 5bps as a combination of MBS convexity hedging, Taper chatter, and growth hopiness flutter across the bond market. This has backed 10Y and 30Y rates up to their highest since April 2012 - getting close to some significant support/resistance from the last few years. Mortgage spreads have stabilized up here at their highest since July (around 83bps) but just as a delicate reminder, the last time bond yields spiked to this degree, equities began to wonder just what was going on? With so much of the investing public having bought bond-like-stocks at the behest of every talking head and asset-gatherer under-the-sun, we wonder at what point do the arguments about a great rotation from bonds to stocks (since gosh, 10Y bond prices are down 3% in the last month) turn to a rotation from bond-like-stocks to bond-like-bonds...
There's never enough information to be absolutely safe. I know you're going to help us protect America, because I already know you so well. Thank you for your cooperation.