Western central banks have got themselves horribly wrong-footed as a result of not adjusting their anti-gold policies to allow for the realities of Asian gold demand. Though their dealings are shrouded in secrecy, there is compelling evidence that much – if not most – of Western central bank gold has been quietly sold over the last three decades. More recently members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a common security and trading bloc led by Russia and China, and future members (India, Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Belarus and Sri Lanka), with their citizens numbering over 3 billion people, have together cornered the global market for physical supply, without even taking account of demand from the rest of South East Asia’s gold-hungry population. The result is that gold markets are now failing to clear. The ability of the Western central banks to supress gold prices appears to be ending.
For the the latest "unintended casualty" of Bernanke and his ZIRP policy, we look at corporate pension funds, which as WaPo reports, are finally starting to crack under the weight of pervasive central planning, brought to the brink by none other than the Chairman's "good intentions." On the surface this makes no sense: after all pension funds invest in assets - the same assets that Bernanke's policy of serial cheap credit funded bubble creation are supposed to inflate. And they do. The only problem is that pension funds also have offsetting matching liabilities: or the amount of money a company has to inject in order to cover future retiree obligations. And in a period of low discount rates brought by a record low interest rate environment, these liabilities painfully and relentlessly increase when discounting future cash needs. Quote WaPo: "Assets held by pension plans of the firms that make up the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index increased by $113.4 billion in 2012, according to a report by Wilshire Associates, a consulting firm. But largely because of low rates, company liabilities increased even more: by $173.6 billion. That left the median corporation’s pension plan 76.9 percent funded, with just over $3 of assets for every $4 of liabilities."
When you step back and look at the long-term trends, it is undeniable what is happening to us. We are in the midst of a horrifying economic decline that is the result of decades of very bad decisions. 30 years ago, the U.S. national debt was about one trillion dollars. Today, it is almost 17 trillion dollars. 40 years ago, the total amount of debt in the United States was about 2 trillion dollars. Today, it is more than 56 trillion dollars. At the same time that we have been running up all of this debt, our economic infrastructure and our ability to produce wealth has been absolutely gutted. Since 2001, the United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities and millions of good jobs have been shipped overseas. Our share of global GDP declined from 31.8 percent in 2001 to 21.6 percent in 2011. The percentage of Americans that are self-employed is at a record low, and the percentage of Americans that are dependent on the government is at a record high. The U.S. economy is a complete and total mess, and it is time that we faced the truth.
UPDATE: As if by magic, the 'spike' lower has been fully retraced with a 'spike' higher. Of course, in the preceding sentence one should replace "magic" with a selling algo suddenly taking out the bid stack simple because it is programmed to do so, only for another algo to step in and try to make the entire move less obvious, in the process showing just how much of a farce price discovery in paper gold has become...
With markets quiet, what better time than now to smash the 'price' of spot gold lower than the moment US futures close and all that is left are a few Spot FX traders. Of course this makes perfect sense for any 'rational' bullion seller looking to unwind a position (or even a short looking to set out a decent trade) - wait until there is no liquidity so that your price action culls the order book and leaves you with anything but 'best execution' - but then again, when you don't have to worry about MtM, that doesn't matter. It seems that while the volume cat's away, the gold manipulators will play...
Just like last year, when it was the turn of Europe-focused crushed and battered hedge funds to generate outsized returns due to some brief ECB-inspired euphoria, if only for a brief period, and then promptly fall back into obscurity, so now it is the time of the "Japan" strat. As the latest HSBC hedge fund performance report confirms, the best YTD returns are, as expected, those for Japan-focused funds. So how are the legacy titans of the hedge fund world doing? The answer is in the table below: of the vast majority of hedge funds, only a handful are outperforming the market year to date. This is becoming a major concern for an industry that has underperformed the S&P for the fifth year in a row, and which has to fight tooth and nail to justify its exorbitant fees in a world in which there is noneed to hedge any risk any more: after all, Ben Bernanke has everyone covered. One fund that has nothing to worry about is Dan Loeb's Third Point as it continues its juggernaut of crushing both returns and competition without pause.
Bitcoin has made significant progress towards becoming the world's first truly global currency over the past few years. To gain better perspective on bitcoin’s impact, we took a look at global wallet downloads, demonstrated interest by region, exchange volumes across currencies, mining node locations, real-world interactions around bitcoin, and the major companies and investors pushing the bitcoin economy forward. Perhaps most intrguingly, interest from China has grown extremely rapidly in the last 30 days.
While Japanese stocks plummet further during the admittedly thin European day session extending their losses from the Japan day-session, it seems the cats have been herded to the next high beta junk market - European sovereign bonds. Spanish and Italian bonds rallied 12bps today for their best day in over a month! European stock markets also benefited from Mrs. Watanabe's scramble ending the day up around 1% (Italy +1.4% despite Grillo's comments on the inevitability of a debt restructuring). Amid all this euphoria, European corporate and financial credit markets were not playing along at all. US equity futures got a helping hand from a ridiculous shunt in AUDJPY and CADJPY (FX carry) which lifted S&P futures 10 points off overnight lows. Treasury futures drifted tick-for-tick lower with S&P futures gains (implying around 3-4bps rise in yields). Obviously volumes were light and markets were thin. The USD is ending unchanged as JPY corrects lower and AUD higher but Gold and Silver are up 0.5% and 1.2% respectively.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who died in service to their country. The holiday was officially proclaimed in 1868 to honor Union and Confederate soldiers and was expanded after World War I to honor those who died in all wars. Today, Memorial Day honors over one million men and women who have died in military service since the Civil War. This infographic compiles statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Defense to honor our men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Markets are starting to price the removal of the unprecedented policy stimulus provided by the Fed. Investors have faced this situation several times in recent years, but as Barclays notes, these prior episodes lacked broad consensus and proved short-lived as further risks to the global recovery quickly re-appeared. The edginess of markets to ebbs and flows in the data and Fed communications in recent months suggests this time is different. Market movements are saying the Fed’s exit is now more ‘when’ than ‘if’. Fed actions have led to some of the most extraordinary market moves on record. Nominal US bond yields are at historically low levels, and real yields have been negative for a prolonged time. Risky assets, by contrast, have rallied sharply, supported by central bank policy even in the face of poor economic data. If the Fed is preparing for an exit, these market moves may need to go in reverse...
Russia, Greece, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan expanded their gold reserves for a seventh straight month in April, buying bullion to diversify foreign exchange reserves due to concerns about the dollar and the euro. Russia’s steady increase in its gold reserves saw its holdings, the seventh-largest by country, climb another 8.4 metric tons to 990 tons, taking gains this year to 3.4% after expanding by 8.5% in 2012, International Monetary Fund data show. Kazakhstan’s reserves grew 2.6 tons to 125.5 tons, taking the increase to 8.9% this year after a 41% expansion in 2012, data on the website showed. Turkey’s holdings rose 18.2 tons to 427.1 tons in April, increasing for a 10th month as it accepted gold in its reserve requirements from commercial banks. Belarus’s holdings expanded for a seventh month as did Azerbaijan’s. Interestingly, Greece’s gold holdings climbed for a fourth month, according to the IMF data. This could be a sign of rising economic nationalism in Greece or that the Greek central bank realises that if Greece leaves the euro and is forced back onto the drachma that gold reserves will offer a modicum of protection. Only a modicum, because Greece’s gold reserves remain miniscule especially considering the scale of their debts.
As if the overnight session in Japan was not bad enough, futures markets are indicating yet more weakness from the market that seemed (until 3 days ago) incapable of falling. With a 14.3% drop from its May 22nd highs, Japan's Nikkei 225 is struggling to find buyers for this dip. What is interesting is the bid for European peripheral debt and equity markets this morning and the bounce in US futures (with no commensurate move in JPY which is hovering around 101). Gold and Silver are up around 1% with the USD unchanged. Treasury Futures imply a rise of 1-2bps in yield.
With US markets taking a day off today for Memorial Day, liquidity will be even more sporadic than usual, and any sharp moves will be that much more accentuated, although such a likelihood is minimal with all US traders still in the Hamptons. In an otherwise very quiet overnight session, perhaps the most notable move was that of the USDJPY, which continues to be "strangely attracted" to the 101 line although selling pressure is certainly to the downside, with a downside breakout quite possible, however that would lead to an early and very unpleasant end to Abe's latest 'experiment' (to quote Weidmann). The Nikkei225 already closed down 470 points, or 3.22%, as Mrs. Watanabe's faith in the market, seems to be fading with every passing day.
There is a reason why US corporate balance sheets have rarely been in better shape: it is because the Fed has become the S&P500's bad bank. As the chart below shows, in the six years between 2006 and 2012, corporate net debt of the S&P500 has barely budged from $1.5 trillion, even as corporate profits have soared (albeit profit margins have now declined for two straight years as SG&A has already been cut to the bone, while the marginal benefit from such below the line items as net interest is about to turn negative if and when rates really turn higher - hint: they won't, because Bernanke is all too aware of this particular nuance). What has offset this? Why the bad bank formerly known as the Federal Reserve of course, which has huffed and puffed, and force-fed $2.5 trillion in new credit money (mostly reserves) down the market's throat (created out of thin Treasurys), which has zero end-demand for such credit, as a result it has gone straight into the one place that will gladly accept it - the stock market. For now at least. At some point this fungible money will spill over and then all bets are off.
UPDATE 1: S&P 500 futures now red (-5.5 points from open); TOPIX -3%, Japanese banks and real estate leading the slide (-16% from highs).
UPDATE 2: JPY has broken back under 101.00
It seems the sell-the-f$$king-bounce crowd are back in Japan once again. Minutes from the last BoJ meeting are providing some ammo for the fall as doubts appear among the members of the committee...
*ONE BOJ MEMBER: DOWNSIDE RISKS FOR PRICES ARE LARGER
*A FEW MEMBERS: SEEMS HARD TO REACH 2% IN LATTER HALF OF PERIOD; KEEP MULLING STEPS TO AVOID DECLINING LIQUIDITY
For now, JPY has strengthened notably from its gap-weaker open and is trading around unchanged from Friday's close. JGBs opened modestly stronger. But it is the equity market that is fading fast with TOPIX now down 28 points (2.5%) from Friday's close - pressuring the lows once again (and the 10% correction) as the realization that 'Abe can't have his equity euphoria and eat his low interest rate cake too' increases...