In the recent past we noted the somewhat startling reality that "the single mom is better off earning gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income & benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income and benefits of $57,045." While mathematics is our tool - as opposed to the mathemagics of some of the more politically biased media who did not like our message - the painful reality in America is that: for increasingly more Americans it is now more lucrative - in the form of actual disposable income - to sit, do nothing, and collect various welfare entitlements, than to work. This is such an important topic that we felt it necessary to warrant a second look. The graphic below quite clearly, and very painfully, confirms that there is an earnings vacuum of around $40k in which US workers are perfectly ambivalent toward inputting more effort since it does not result in any additional incremental disposable income. With the ongoing 'fiscal cliff' battles over taxes and entitlements, this is a problematic finding, since - as a result - it is the US government that will have to keep funding indirectly this lost productivity and worker output (via wealth redistribution).
What changed in the last 30 days? Did the world just wake up to the idea that the only way out of this quagmire is a twisted currency war that appears to have re-ignited thanks to Abe's efforts? Something appears to have snapped in the American psyche as the last 30 days have seen the largest physical gold sales on record. Between the search volume for 'bulk ammo' and this, we fear something is afoot and while Congress fiddles as our economy burns, Bernanke going 'back to work' is perhaps what the physical 'horders' are thinking... or maybe they understand, as we noted here, that just as Kyle Bass has confirmed previously, Paper Gold is just like allocated, unambiguously owned physical bullion... until it’s not.
Several months after the world rejoiced following the 2011 Arab Spring took the world by storm, and replaced one dictator in the MENA region with what appears to be another now that the US-endorsed "democratically elected" Mursi is better known as Morsillini, having granted himself "temporary" dictatorial powers, we warned that it was only a matter of time before the Arab Spring turns into an Arab Thermodorian Reaction, aka an Arab Counterrevolution. And this time the world is devoid of such romantic concepts as a season of the year to tie this logical reaction to, as it now appears certain that this is going to be a long and drawn out process, lasting not only longer than just one season, but stretching years. Sure enough, after Egypt succumbed to the inevitable power vacuum response, it is now the turn of the place that started it all: Tunisia, where the local national guard is firing against its own people once more.
The 2007 puncturing of housing market prices and the 2008 financial market swoon are the precedents to two much larger and much more dangerous bubbles. These more pernicious threats are the dollar bubble ("printing money") and the government debt bubble ("borrowing money"). While both are expanding at a sickening pace, in the near term they deceptively make things seem much better than they are. But, like all bubbles, they are unsustainable. The Fed is well-aware of this dire probability, but finds itself increasingly stuck to avoid it. The Fed's main strategic consists completely of "hope". It's backup strategy? "Panic" and thus the need to focus on preservation of purchasing power, and positioning one's financial assets safely before the aftershock arrives.
The conflict between labor and capital is a long and illustrious one, and one in which ideology and politics have played a far greater role than simple economics and math. And while labor enjoyed a brief period of growth in the the past 100 years first due to the anti-trust and anti-monopoly, and pro-union laws and regulations taking place in the early 20th century US, and subsequently due to the era of "Great Moderation"-driven "trickling down" abnormal growth in the developed world, it is precisely the unwind of this latest period of prosperity, loosely known as "The New Normal", and in which economic growth will persist at well sub-optimal (<2%) rates for the foreseeable future, that is pushing the precarious balance between labor and capital costs - in their purest economic sense, and stripped of all ethics and ideology - to a point in which labor will likely find itself at a persistent disadvantage, leading to the same social upheaval that ushered in pure Marxist ideology in the late 19th century. Only this time there will be a peculiar twist, because while in relative terms labor costs as a percentage of all operating expenses are declining around the world, when accounting for benefits, and entitlement funding, labor costs are rising in absolute terms if at uneven rates and are now at record highs. Which sets the stage for what may probably be the biggest push-pull tension of the 21st century for the simple worker: declining relative wages, which however are increasing in absolute terms when factoring in the self-funded components paid into an insolvent welfare system. But the rub comes when one considers the biggest disequilibrium creator of all: central bank predicated cost of capital "planning", whereby Fed policies may be the most insidious and stealth destroyer of all of labor's hard won gains over the past century.
The greater story behind Mark Carney’s appointment to the Bank of England may be the completion of Goldman Sachs’ multi-tentacled takeover of the European regulatory and central banking system. But let’s take a moment to look at the mess he is leaving behind in Canada, the home of moose, maple syrup, Jean Poutine and now colossal housing bubbles. George Osborne (who as I noted last month wants more big banks in Britain) might have recruited Carney on the basis of his “success” in Canada. But in reality he is just another Greenspan — a bubble-maker and reinflationist happy to pump the banking sector full of loose money and call it “prosperity” before the irrational exuberance runs dry, and the bubble inevitably bursts.
November is now over, and hedge funds can count their lucky stars for the baseless November 16th rally, predicated by the now defunct notion that the GOP and Democrats are close to a Fiscal Cliff compromise (it increasingly looks that the real catalyst on the "cliff" will be the absolute debt ceiling hike deadline in March of 2013, meaning the US will go over the cliff, if only for three months). Had the unprecedented levitation in the middle of the month, the bloodbath would have been epic. As such, with a 13K close in the DJIA, and 1.3000 in the EURUSD, the Nov. 30 P&L it was far more palatable and the surge in redemption calls (and the resulting end of unjustified "2 and 20" fees) has been postponed by one more month. So who are the most prominent winners and losers: leading the table are the fund with European exposure, where the recent bipolar mania has Europe as being better, if only until it fully breaks again. The biggest losers? Macro funds, who still don't realize that the in the New Normal, macro "up is down."
Many have wondered if Ron Paul would have run as an independent. Here is his answer: "[I didn't consider running as an independent because] it is absolutely not practical. This would have been a good year to have an alternative and you can't get much of a showing either on the libertarian side or the green side".... the Republican and Democratics "parties are going to linger because they are locked in by law. The laws are biased against us from competing." So how does one change the two-party system? "You go to the campuses. You rally the young people. You stir up a whole generation of people. Ideas do have consequences and that's where the good news is because the campuses are alive and well with these views and they know the system is bankrupt. And there is this illusion that you can spend endlessly and print endlessly and there will always be credit out there. And so far, so good, but credit can end quickly, the dollar can crash quickly and a new system will have to be developed."
In our first installment of this series we explored the concept of stock to flow in the gold markets being the key driver of supply/demand dynamics, and ultimately its price. Today we are going to explore the paper markets and, importantly, to what degree they distort upwardly the “flow” of the physical gold market. We believe the very existence of paper gold creates the illusion of physical gold flow that does not and physically cannot exist. After all, if flow determines price – and if paper flow simulates physical metal movement to a degree much larger than is possible – doesn’t it then suggest that paper flow creates an artificially low price?
Leveraged systems are based on confidence – confidence in efficient exchanges, confidence in reputable counterparties, and confidence in the rule of law. As we have learned (or should have learned) with the failures of Long Term Capital Management, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie & Freddie, and MF Global – the unwind from a highly leveraged system can be sudden and chaotic. These systems function…until they don’t. CDOs were AAA... until they weren’t. Paper Gold is just like allocated, unambiguously owned physical bullion... until it’s not.
China's Manufacturing PMI missed expectations, coming in at 50.6 relative to a slightly expansionary 50.8 expectation, and up down from the 50.2 prior. This is the fifth month in a row of missed expectations but it has now risen for three months in a row, to the highest level in 8 months; but has now hovered within 0.6pts of the expansion/contraction knife-edge for six months. The PBOC's index remains above (more positive) than the HSBC version for the 20th month in the last 21 (which remains in the contractionary sub-50 range it has been in for 16 months). With the Shanghai Composite testing Jan 09 lows and the ongoing Reverse Repo delicate bank pumpathon, the relative stabilization in Services and Manufacturing PMIs is confirmed by this evening's data and provides hope for those bidding H-Shares to 16-month highs. Interestingly for all those who remain shocked at the divergence between the Hang-Seng and the Shanghai Composite, it seems clear that A-Shares investors remain skeptical of the PMI-based stabilization of macro and prefer to trust the weaker (and harder to tweak) Industrial Output data.
Whether you believe he is a one-hit-wonder or an investing wunder-kind, the following 44 minute clip from the activist investor (who is early, not wrong, on JCP, right?) provides investors with some indepth insights into what it takes to finance and grow a successful business and 'how to make sound investments that will lead to a cash-comfy retirement.' Of course, there are those who can and "do" grow a business, and those who "invest"... often times with less than stellar (ahem PSIV) results.
The Fiscal Cliff is the name given for the 2013 increase of Federal Government taxes and budget cuts. The Bush-era tax cuts expire and the 2013 "Budget Control Act" kicks in, among other budget cuts & new taxes. The Fiscal Cliff is set to reduce the 2013 US Government budget deficit by roughly half; will remove $607 Billion from economy (GDP), resulting in 4% drop, pushing it back into recession; it can NOT be avoided. It must happen to fix the budget deficit; any delay must be paid for later; it will NOT reduce the US debt, only slow down the growth. The Fiscal Cliff's (new taxes and budget cuts) size and impact are visualized below in physical $100 bills.
The United States is more than four years into its current form of economic purgatory. The government pronounced the recession over in June of 2009. That announcement does not conform with reality or even subsequent government suspect data. To believe the recession ended requires a bizarro interpretation of economics where bad is actually good and good is actually bad. 21st Century politics sees no need for truth. When government believes itself to be responsible for the economy and convinces the people of that, it has put itself into a box. The reality is that government does not create wealth or economic abundance. (They can create poverty, however.) The country’s economic problems began decades ago. In trying to cover them up with economic interventions (stimuli), government actions prevented the economy from correcting the imbalances that caused slow growth. After decades of such interventions, the economy no longer is able to function efficiently. We are coming off the biggest boom in the history of the world. Thus far all the Keynesian dollars expended have had little effect other than to make this country poorer. We are set up to have a Depression greater than the one in the 1930s. A Depression is not a good thing. Yet in this case, it may be the one event that can prevent a chapter in future history books entitled “The Demise of the Great American Empire.” The “greatest generation” handed us a gift and we fumbled it away by allowing government to run wild.
Following some well-timed 'suggestions' in Natural Gas and Apple this year, the new bond guru has some rather more concerning views about the future of America. Reflecting on a dismal outlook progressing due to the fact that "Retirees take resources from a society, and workers produce resources", Gundlach has cut his exposure to US equities (apart from gold-miners and NatGas producers) noting their expensive valuation and low potential for growth. In a forthcoming Bloomberg Markets interview, the DoubleLine CEO warns we are about to enter the ominous third phase of the current debacle (Phase 1: a 27-year buildup of corporate, personal and sovereign debt. That lasted until 2008, when Phase 2 started, unfettered lending finally toppled banks and pushed the global economy into a recession, spurring governments and central banks to spend trillions of dollars to stimulate growth) as deeply indebted countries and companies, which Gundlach doesn’t name, will default sometime after 2013. "I don’t believe you’re going to get some sort of an early warning," Gundlach warns "You should be moving now."
S&P futures are bleeding back down again after-hours (and EUR -30pips) as Moody's announces the downgrade of the EFSF and ESM from AAA to Aa1. "Moody's decision was driven by the recent downgrade of France to Aa1 from Aaa and the high correlation in credit risk which Moody's believes is present among the ESFS' and ESM's entities' largest financial supporters." Of course, this is nothing to worry about as we are sure that some Middle East sovereign wealth fund will still buy their bonds? Or China? Or Supervalu?
- *MOODY'S DOWNGRADES ESM TO Aa1 FROM Aaa, EFSF TO (P)Aa1 FROM Aaa
Not entirely surprising given the underlying rating moves - but yet more AAA-rated collateral bites the dust.