The long US war in Afghanistan never made any sense in the first place. The Taliban did not attack the US on 9/11. The Authorization for the use of force that we passed after the attacks of 9/11 said nothing about a decade-long occupation of Afghanistan. But unfortunately two US presidents have taken it to mean that they could make war anywhere at any time they please. Congress, as usual, did nothing to rein in the president, although several Members tried to repeal the authorization. Afghanistan brought the Soviet Union to its knees. We learned nothing from it. Sadly, that is the story of our foreign policy.
That Iceland is so far the only success story in the continent of Europe, which continues sliding into an ever deeper depressionary black hole, as a result of the complete destruction of its financial sector and its subsequent rise from the ashes, is by known to most. What is still not exactly clear is what conditions have allowed success and growth to flourish in a barren wasteland where 60% youth unemployment is increasingly the norm, and where economic "outperformance" is measured in shades of red. As it turns out, perhaps the biggest jolt to Icelandic economic growth is what we said was the correct prescription for resolving not only the US but global growth malaise that struck in 2008: debt liquidation.
Did you know that you are involved in the most massive Ponzi scheme that has ever existed? To illustrate our point, allow us to tell you a little story...
While we explained - in detail here - the copper-financing-deals that are among the epicentric drivers of the credit crunch in China, there is an (albeit smaller) missing link. The so-called 'Wealth Management Products' that are discussed widely and yet little understood are basically higher yielding vehicles pitched to a greater-fool retail audience with the goal of reducing banks' risk at the behest of the PBOC. Of course that is not how these stuffed-to-the-gills-with-risky-development-projects deals are pitched to the investing public but they have allowed banks (and implicitly local governments) via the infinitely virtuous loop below to fund any and all things construction-based... until now. It seems that losses (step 5), risks (step 3), and illiquidty (step 6) are breaking the loop very rapidly and therefore implicitly lowering credit creation (and therefore growth) or driving credit demand even further into the shadows.
The 100-day moving average (100DMA) and VWAP (as usual) appeared to be the key pivots today as equity markets plunged lower on the open after drifting lower overnight as the liquidity-suck-out circles the global market's drain. At their worst, the S&P 500 was 7.5% off its recent highs but the Fed hawks came out in full dovish mode and provided just enough headline-fodder to slam VIX lower (as it appeared to over-react to the upside at the open) and drag the S&P back above its 100DMA. Some (prematurely) proclaimed the day a victory for the bulls as we didn't close at the lows but the last few minutes of the day saw equities roll back over, VIX rising, credit widening, and commodities fading (even as the USD closed the day unchanged from Friday). Treasuries - the center of most people's attention in recent days - had an interesting day (30Y -1.5bps, belly +3-4bps), especially into the close as stocks sold off (bonds rallied in safe-haven mode as opposed to un-taper mode). The S&P 500 faded and closed below its 100DMA for the first time in 2013... as it seems the time for jawboning os over.
On March 10, 1975, a group of US diplomatic and national security officials gathered at the office of the Turkish foreign minister’s office in Ankara. Henry Kissinger was among them. The discussion turned to foreign aid and supply of parts for military equipment, at which point Kissinger (Secretary of State at the time) suggested something that violated the law. William Macomber, the US Ambassador to Turkey, said, “That is illegal.” Kissinger didn’t miss a beat, replying, "Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, 'The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.'" Then, in an almost cartoon-like reaction, the room filled with laughter. You can practically see the rising cigar smoke and fatcats slapping each other on the back as they stick it to the little guy. But that one quote, probably more than anything else, sums up the US government’s attitude: they will do whatever they want, legal or not, Constitutional or not.
Since January, under pressure from the Fed, the Education Department has flagged 126,000 applicants attempting to pocket federal loans and grants without any intent of going to school. As the WSJ reports, officials are cracking down on fraud in student-aid programs after evidence of recipients - acting alone or as part of organized crime rings - misusing funds. "What we find are very poor students academically that are borrowing to the max, getting the maximum in their Pell grant and just going from school to school," noted one director of financial aid, with roughly $829 million in Pell grants as "improper payments," in the last year. Rather stunningly, more than 34,000 participants in crime rings improperly received federal student aid last year, up 82% from 2009. "We started seeing student borrowing that was just over the top with no explanation for why," another director noted, adding "it's not so much about the education, it's the money." Most federal student aid requires no credit check and comes with few restrictions on how the money is spent and Federal officials say the Internet has helped fuel student aid fraud.
A week ago, we provided a simple, irrefutable analysis of "What The Recent Surge In Rates Means For Your Home Purchasing Power" in which we demonstrated how the average home affordability goes down (due to the declining marginal purchasing power in a rising rate environment) as interest rates (for mortgages and all rate-sensitive products) go up. What this means is that all else equal, absent a massive increase in disposable income (especially when the opposite is happening to disposable income), the average home affordability plunges as rates go up. So here is the benchmark price-rate curve updated for a reality, in which the national average 30 Year fixed has exploded from 3.40% on May 1 to a whopping (for the New Normal) 4.875% as of today for Wells Fargo customers. The matching affordability collapse: from $450K to $378K, or a stunning 16% equilibrium price drop in under two months!
It has seemed that the Fed's liquidity back stop has provided excuse after excuse for whatever macro-, micro-, or event-risk driven problems that market has faced. But now, as Morgan Stanley's Adam Parker notes, the big outcome from the earlier-than-expected start of tapering is that going forward, "bad economic news will be bad for markets." The market knows and most Fed governors know there are diminishing returns to QE’s efficacy, and we have shown it here. So, something new and massive would be required in order for poor economic news - should it surface - to be rewarded the way it has been for much of the past year." What is more concerning to Parker is that diminishing returns to the existing QE are already an implicit form of tapering and if the Fed wanted to maintain its impact on the market, it would have to expand QE - i.e. Fed tapering already underway.
Tired of having your easily-earned (thanks to Benny and the Inkjets) wealth effect go straight to fund the pressure cooking terrorist operations of ole' evil Osama (because that's how stock market investing apparently works)? Have no fear: because Uncle Sam wants you to invest in The Patriot Fund. "The Patriot Fund, www.patriotfund.com, was launched to meet the previously unmet need of a terror-free investment option." So... there is an unmet need of terror-free investing? It appears so. And while Uncle Sam doesn't actually demand you invest your "money on the sidelines" in this latest carnival attraction of the ever more ridiculous US stock market circus, we give it a few months before it becomes a choice: put your money here or get an IRS audit. Because what is more important than "terror-free" investing?...
The Fed is clearly in 'oh-$hit' mode. Their traditional anonymously sourced mouthpiece has seen his impact faded rapidly - The Hilsen-Ramp is gone; and so, they wheel out the big guns to talk back every words of it once again. Fed's Kocherlakota just explained to a patient audience that "there is a mis-perception in markets that the Fed has turned more hawkish." Of course that was good for a 5 point vertical ramp in the S&P 500 but even that is fading now as the implicit tapering has begun. But have no fear:
*KOCHERLAKOTA SAYS FOMC LACKS EXPERIENCE WITH QE and
*KOCHERLAKOTA: MARKET REACTION TO FOMC `NOT A CAUSE FOR CONCERN'
Wondering why the money world got its knickers in a twist last week? The answer is simple: the global economy is breaking apart and its constituent major players are doing face-plants on the downhill slope of a no-longer-cheap-oil way of life. Let’s look at them case by case.
The narrow EuroStoxx 50 index is now at its lowest in over seven months (-5.4% year-to-date and -12.5% from its highs in May) and the broader EuroStoxx 600 is also flailing lower. The European bank stocks pushed down to their lowest in almost 10 months and are now in bear market territory - down 22.5% from their highs. Spain and Italy are now testing their lowest level in 9 months. While the sovereign bond market had been relatively quiet last week, it started to catch down to stocks today with Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Belgium all giving up significant parts of their Draghi-promise gains. Europe's VIX broke above 26% for the first time in almost 10 months. Think that there should be a flight-to-safety? Think again - Swiss 2Y rates spiked to 10.1bps (remember it was -44.5bps in August 2012) - their highest in 22 months. EURUSD smashed lower in the pre-open US and then oscillated higher in the most mechanically odd manner for the rest of the EU day...
While appeals will be quick to come, the 'Ruby' trial has resulted in former PM Silvio Berlusconi being convicted in the 'sex-with-minor' case:
- *MILAN COURT RULES ON BERLUSCONI'S SEX-WITH-MINOR TRIAL
- *ITALY'S BERLUSCONI CONVICTED IN RUBY TRIAL
- *BERLUSCONI CONVICTED ON ABUSE OF POWER IN MILAN TRIAL
- *BERLUSCONI SENTENCED TO 7 YRS IN JAIL
- *BERLUSCONI BARRED FROM PUBLIC OFFICE FOREVER: MILAN COURT
- *ITALY'S BERLUSCONI CAN APPEAL CONVICTION
With the central bank backstop seemingly being removed, the impact on Italian politics is unclear (aside from increased uncertainty as his own party may splinter its support for the colaition) but for now his empire - MediaSet is halted down 5.2%...