Most Canadian pension funds are banking on 7% annual returns forever. Over the next few years, this unrealistic expectation will cost the respective governments and companies millions in shortfalls. In the USA, the California Public Employees Retirement System assumes it will earn over 7.75% annual returns. This false hope will result in over $6 billion a year in lower than expected investment income, that will also have to be paid by the financially challenged state (ie. taxpayers). Meanwhile, Thelma O’Keefe continues to quietly sock away 5% of her paycheck each and every week and has no idea what all the fuss will be about when she is eventually told her pension benefits will be slightly less than originally promised. Over 50 years ago, the average worker started to earn pension benefits and has been dreaming of working less, and golfing more, ever since. The Defined Benefit Pension Plan has been the rock of this dreamy foundation and is certainly a costly beast to say the least. Once the auditors, actuaries, custodians, lawyers, administrators, consultants, performance measurement guys, trustees and investment managers have been paid for their services, is there little wonder most of these retirement funds are running a little short.
It seems self-evident. The government can debase the currency and thereby be able to pay off its astronomical debt in cheaper dollars. But as I will explain below, things don’t work that way. In order to use the debasement of paper currencies to repay the debt more easily, governments will need to issue and use the gold bond. The paper currencies will not survive too much longer. Most governments now owe as much or more than the annual GDPs of their nations (typically far more, under GAAP accounting). But the total liabilities in the system are much larger. The US dollar game is a check-kiting scheme. The Fed issues the dollar, which is its liability. The Fed buys the US Treasury bond, which is the asset to balance the liability. The only problem is that the bonds are payable only in the central bank’s paper scrip! Meanwhile, per Bretton Woods, the rest of the world’s central banks use the dollar as if it were gold. It is their reserve asset, and they pyramid credit in their local currencies on top of it. It is not a bug, but a feature, that debt in this system must grow exponentially. There is no ultimate extinguisher of debt. In reality, stripped of the fancy nomenclature and the abstraction of a monetary system, the picture is as simple as it is bleak. Normally, people produce more than they consume. They save. A frontier farmer in the 19th century, for example, would dedicate some work to clearing a new field, or building a smokehouse, or putting a wall around a pasture so he could add to his herd. But for the past several decades, people have been tricked by distorted price signals (including bond prices, i.e. interest rates) into consuming more than they produce. In any case, it is not possible to save in an irredeemable paper currency. Depositing money in a bank will just result in more buying of government bonds. Capital accumulation has long since turned to capital decumulation... I propose a simple step. The government should sell gold bonds. By this, I do not mean gold “backed” paper bonds. I mean bonds denominated in ounces of gold, which pay their coupon in ounces of gold and pay the principal amount in ounces of gold. Below, I explain how this will solve the three problems I described above.
Which is why we were delighted that after months of modest confusion on the topic, the Congressional Committee on Financial Services (including subcommittee chairman Ron Paul), have demanded that not only Geithner make his stance on a US-funded IMF bailout of Europe crystal clear, but that they are openly opposed to "American taxpayer dollars being used to bail out Europe...through additional contributions to the IMF." We are curious to see just how Geithner will weasel his way out of responding to this: perhaps the only logical stall tactic is to reply that he will be busy helping Mitt Romney in his tax "revisions" over the next several months.
"Bernanke is betting the ranch on open-ended QE and zero interest rates and it worries me" is how Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley starts this must-see reality-check interview with Bloomberg TV's Tom Keene. The reason for his concern is simple, the current Fed modus operandi is a framework for rescuing economies in crisis but does little to sustain economic recovery. Roach agrees with Cal's Eichengreen that the European and US central banks are indeed in a policy trap, committed to a path of action that has to be perpetually ante'd up to maintain the dream. With Europe in recession already in his view, Roach does not expect the tough structural action until we see greater social unrest or overwhelming unemployment and reminds us of how close we got when Greece threatened the referendum in the late summer. He goes on to discuss China (positive on their efforts and 'solid strategy') and it's relative success as a regime which he contrasts with our "central bankers who pull the wool over our eyes with ZIRP and magical QE". Taking on the mistakes of Greenspan, letting capitalism go unchecked, and his incredulity at the 'glide-path' charts we were treated to yesterday by the Fed's bankers ('accountability'), Roach sees the painful process of deleveraging from excess debt, insufficient savings, and over-consumption as likely to take a long time as we should not assume investment will be the driver as Obama goes 'protectionist' (in the SOTU) on our 3rd largest export partner - yes, China.
We noted last night that heavy and large average trade size was going through after the cash market close in S&P futures and it seemed overnight we needed one more push to flush out some more chasers before today's less than euphoric macro prints (aside from CFNAI's market-centric index) stalled the Fed-induced excitement. Financials had their worst day of the year (worst performing sector 2 days in a row), down just under 1% as did the Tech and Energy sectors as Utilities were best once again. Volumes were up with ES at its 50-day average and NYSE volume second highest of the year as ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) slid 20 points or so from opening highs up near 1330. Equity and credit markets tracked on another closely all day (as did broad risk drivers) with a last-30-minutes ramp (once again on high average trade size) just for good measure taking ES back to Tuesday after-hours swing highs. The late swing up looked like a recovery from being modestly oversold relative to risk assets as TSYs, FX, and commodities all trod water as stocks pulled up 5-6 S&P pts into the close. TSYs all rallied on the day with 2s-10s all at week low yields and 30Y starting to catch up to the excitement at the end of the day (though 2s10s30s remains notably 'low' relative to ES currently). Gold and Silver continued to outperform (up around 3.5% on the week) and Copper held onto its gains while Oil dropped back below $100 after getting above $101 early in the day. The correlation of EURUSD and risk has re-emerged recently and post-Europe's close today, USD strengthened though EUR remained just above 1.31 as we closed.
Presenting The Interactive "Wiggle-Room Index" Or Which Countries Will Be Forced To Bail Out The Developed WorldSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/26/2012 - 17:13
Update: literally seconds after this article was posted, we receive news that the IMF will seek Saudi contribution to the European bailout fund. There you have it - you enjoy that implicit US protection Saudi emirs? It is about to cost you.
While it is best to pray that NASA will find some very rich and not so intelligent life on Mars so it can bail out the world as it sinks deeper and deeper into a untenable debt hole (which somehow can be "filled" only by issuing more debt at least according to tenured economists at ivy league institutions), a strategy of planning for a realistic outcome may not be a bad idea. The question then is who in the world has some/any spare leverage capacity to incur even more debt and use the proceeds to fund a Eurozone-American-Chinese collapse. Enter the Economist's "wiggle-room index." The publication, best known for recently introducing the "shoe thrower index" (remember the Arab Spring and how Fed induced runaway inflation generated a "democratic" revolution across MENA?) has compiled a list of those developing world countries which still have capacity to provide credible global bailout capital (in fiat form of course - after all that is the only thing that the Ponzi understands) or as the Economist says, the "emerging economies that have the most monetary and fiscal firepower." So if you are on this list (ahem China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia) - our condolences - you are about to be dragged into the epic slow-motion ongoing collapse of the developed world, kicking and screaming, with some 44 caliber persuasion if needed, but you will be there, before it all falls apart. The time to repay all favors to Uncle Sam is coming.
The US market appears modestly enthused by earlier remarks from Jamie Dimon (who ironically is of Greek descent) who told CNBC that "The direct impact of a Greek default is almost zero." Note the phrase "Greek default" because it takes us back to that long ago June of 2011 when Jamie Dimon was again giving predictions about events in Greece. In this case, the summary goes to Bloomberg, which penned a piece titled: "JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Greece Won’t Default, Australian Reports." That's not all. He added the following, from The Australian: "I don't think they will default. I think the more likely outcome is that the European authorities and politicians will find a way to keep Greece from defaulting." It gets better: "It does reverberate because a lot of European banks own Greek debt and investors hold European bank debt. From all of the numbers I have seen, the European banks have enough capital to withstand it." We can only suppose that all the numbers probably excluded the $100 billion in FX swaps that the Fed conducted days after it told Congress it would not bail out Europe, or the OIS+100 to OIS+50 cut in interbank lending rates, because the banks had "enough capital" oh yes, and that €490 billion LTRO, that kinda, sorta indicates that the European banks did not actually have enough capital to withstand either "it" or pretty much any of the events in Q4 of 2011.
Last week we pointed out the seemingly bizarro strategy that by now must have become mainstream mantra that buy-and-hold is dead but buy-the-dips-in-the-most-hated-stocks is a winning strategy. Since we pointed this out, our index of the 30 most shorted stocks has surged by 5% compared to a measly 2% (Fed-assisted) gain in the S&P itself. It appears the break with reality started on Tuesday morning (pre-empting the Fed high beta ramp?) and today's sell-off is seeing the index of the shortest-of-the-shorts give some gains back from an open over 6% to around 5% currently. For most managers, their year is done - a 300bps outperformance - for others, we suggest perhaps reducing size a little. It appears the man behind the curtain may just have removed some of the juice for more bizarro strategies (and maybe take those hard-earned gains and buy gold) as even with ZIRP extended, QE's nominal surge will likely remain absent until we see some market (otherwise known to Bernanke as the economy) disruption (and we suspect the names to suffer will not be the Utilities - that have outperformed handily post FOMC - and remember high beta up and higher beta down).
Below we present the indexed return of ES (or stocks) and of gold over the past 24 hours since the Bernanke announcement of virtually infinite ZIRP, and the latent threat of QE3 any time the Russell 2000 has a downtick. It is unnecessary to point out just when Bernanke made it all too clear that the Fed has nothing left up its sleeve, expect to directly compete with the ECB over "whose (balance sheet) is bigger," as it is quite obvious. What is not so obvious, is that for all intents and purposes, Bernanke may have unwillingly, become a gold bug's best friend, as gold (and implicitly silver) has benefited substantially more that general risk. Much more. So for the sake of all gold bugs out there, could the Fed perhaps add a few more FOMC statements and press conferences? At this rate gold should be at well over $2000 by the June 20 FOMC meeting. And yet it is not smooth sailing: the time has come to watch out again for potential CME margin hikes (or rumors thereof) in gold at any given moment. After all, any increase in the price of protection against central planning stupidity is "irrational" and must be promptly punished by the keepers of the trillions in "stable derivative markets", who are too busy to police the MF Globals of the world and instead have a mandate of killing any PM price breakout.
Confused by the Greece situation? Dizzied by the PSI haircuts, retractive CACs, Troika promises, ECB participations, local vs non-local law implications, CDS triggers, and ultimately contagion concerns? Fear no more (just like Jamie Dimon apparently) as Barclays presents the definitive Greek End-Game Scenario decision tree.
"All markets trade their way to Perdition" is how TrimTabs' CEO Charles Biderman concludes a rather clear and factually full exposition of the reason we have gone up and the reality of why a drop is inevitable. Between the outsize number of investment vehicles relative to investable assets, the trend bias that every wealth manager seems stuck with that we will grow our way out of this mess (which Biderman suggests means a long-term rate of 5-10% GDP growth for the US - which seems obviously beyond our reach). He takes on the irony of the Wall Street vs Main Street arguments and warns of the inevitable plunge in the stock market (further believing that the winner of the next election is irrelevant given the cash vs special needs imbalance that exists). The US economy, if marked to market, is broke. Take home pay for all taxpayers is now only $6.2tn, down from $7tn at its peak in 07, and additionally we have created $5tn of new debt since the start of QE1 and owe a PV of $50tn in 'unfunded' liabilities leaving the future looking quite grim in his view. Perdition indeed appears to be looming given the Fed's far from sanguine view of reality.
Remember that one keyword that oddly enough never made it's way into the president's largely recycled SOTU address - "Solyndra"? It is about to make a double or nothing repeat appearance, now that Ener1, another company that was backed by Obama, this time a electric car battery-maker, has filed for bankruptcy. Net result: taxpayers lose $118.5 million. The irony is that while Solyndra may have been missing from the SOTU, Ener1 made an indirect appearance: "In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries." Uh, no. Actually, the correct phrasing is: "...positioned America to be the world's leading manufacturer of insolvent, bloated subsidized entities that are proof central planning at any level does not work but we can keep doing the same idiocy over and over hoping the final result will actually be different eventually." We can't wait to find out just which of Obama's handlers was may have been responsible for this latest gross capital misallocation. In the meantime, the 1,700 jobs "created" with the fake creation of Ener1, have just been lost. Yet nothing, nothing, compares to the irony from the statement issued by the CEO when the company proudly received taxpayer funding on its merry way to insolvency: " "These government incentives will provide a powerful stimulus to a vital industry and help ensure that the batteries eventually powering millions of cars around the world carry the stamp 'Made in the USA'." Brilliant - and no, they are laughing with us, not at us.
Update: the Senate has failed to reject a bid to stop the debt ceiling hike with a simple 52 vote majority all of it along party lines. The US now has $16.4 trillion in debt capacity as of Friday. Since roughly $100 billion was plundered from Pension Funds in the past month, The US will have about $15.4 trillion in debt with the Monday DTS. The question then is how long will the $1 trillion in debt capacity last: at $125 billion/month it won't be enough to carry the US past the election without another massive debt ceiling spectacle.
While Congress recently voted down the increase in the US debt ceiling, that vote was largely irrelevant. And all that matters is how the Senate will vote. Watch it live in progress below. It is virtually unlikely that the process of debt ceiling increase will be overturned so within minutes the US should have a brand spaking new debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion.
The headlines are crowing of the magnificent CAT earnings (channel stuffing?) which in turn is helping the Dow reach its highest point since May 2008 (CAT is responsible for 27 of the Dow's 30 point gain today alone). This must be the signal that we-the-consuming-people need to borrow-and-spend again right? Well, no. Unfortunately, as many already know, the process of indexing is implicitly flawed in many ways - most importantly survivorship bias. If we compare the performance of the components of the Dow at the start of 2008 to the actual Dow index performance, there is a very significant divergence of around 7% (or around 900 points). This is actually understating the difference (as it is an average) as we note that 5 of the 30 names from 2008 have lost more than 70% of their value (GM, AIG, C, BAC, and AA) since January 2008 (averaging -88% among those). Three names have risen by more than 70% (MCD, HD, and IBM - thank you Warren) as 18 of the 2008 Dow 30 names are lower (on average -36.5%) with the remaining 12 Dow 2008 names up on average 33%. What is worse is the realization of the dramatic loss in real purchasing power as Gold has risen by more than 100% since the start of January 2008 as the Fed continues to realize it can abuse the lemming-like focus on nominal returns.