This must be bullish. While the rise in railcar loadings (whether driven by the rotation from pipelines to rail or a 'real' recovery in the economy) has been impressive off the lows and had got back to pre-recession levels, this year is not looking so good. The typical seasonal pattern - somewhat obviously - starts around mid January and rises all year tending to roll over around the start of November into holiday season. 1995 was the last year that intermodal railcar loadings rolled over notably away from this pattern. Since mid-January, 2013 has seen a notably different pattern from the norm - worse than 2009's abrupt plunge.
Earlier today, as part of our JPM earnings recap we observed that "VaR plunged from $106 to $62" and wondered if it was just just "another excel copy/paste error" which as we reported previously, is what JPM's internal audit attributed much of the confusion surrounding JPM's VaR calculation around the time the London Whale blow up nearly doubled the firm's VaR. Because it is always better to blame a clueless intern for botching Excel than to put the blame where it rightfully belongs. It turns out that as frequently happens, there was a dose of financial surreality behind the humor. As Bloomberg reports, the reason for the nearly 50% collapse in the company's reported maximum value at risk was because of, drumroll, yet another change in the model. 'JPMorgan said today it employed a new formula to judge the risk of its credit derivatives position, at least the fourth such model it’s used since January 2012. The portfolio was built by Bruno Iksil, known as the London Whale because his bets were so big they moved markets."
First there was Japan's 'capture' of the Senkakus and the looming troubles that small island will lead to with the Chinese. Then came the economic deflationary spiral, as the global devaluation of developed market currencies prompted Japan to start an aggressive currency war of their own. And now, with North Korea's sabre rattling growing ever louder, Fox News reports that following comments by Japan's Yoshihide Suga on "destroying any missile heading towards Japan," the North Koreans retorted with a threat that Tokyo would be the first target if they decide to play the nuclear card. Luckily, we have John Kerry on the spot, "if Kim Jong Un decides to launch a missile, whether it's across the Sea of Japan or some other direction, he will be choosing willfully to ignore the entire international community," as he weighed in on comments leaked yesterday that North Korea now had the know-how to arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead - even if the weapons would lack reliability. Which is worse an unreliable nuclear missile or a reliable one? Though there is a silver lining, since if a broken window creates a Keynesian utopia, just think of the GDP-boosting greatness of a nuclear explosion in the heart of Roppongi.
Perhaps the most underfollowed story of the day is the blatant takeover of the Cypriot Central bank by the ECB, which as we reported earlier, has been ordered to sell their gold by the ECB's Mario Draghi, even though the disposition decision of the "independent" central bank of the now insolvent nation is supposedly theirs. First it was this:
- PANICOS DEMETRIADES SAYS CYPRUS CENTRAL BANK INDEPENDENCE UNDER ATTACK,
- DEMETRIADES SAYS GOVT WANTS TO SELL GOLD WITHOUT CONSULTATION.
And now we learn that not one, not two, but three board members of the central bank have called it a day:
- THIRD BOARD MEMBER OF THE CYPRUS CENTRAL BANK RESIGNS
We are sure there are at least a few more board members who can resign topped off by Panicos himself bailing, before the entire central bank implodes, and there is nobody left in charge of the now obsolete monetary policy apparatus. What happens then: will Goldman appoint a new "technocratic" Board and governor, or will the country finally confirm that all European lies about member bank Independence is just one big lie?
Did you know that there are thousands upon thousands of homeless people that are living underground beneath the streets of major U.S. cities? It is happening in Las Vegas, it is happening in New York City and it is even happening in Kansas City. As the economy crumbles, poverty in the United States is absolutely exploding and so is homelessness. In addition to the thousands of "tunnel people" living under the streets of America, there are also thousands that are living in tent cities, there are tens of thousands that are living in their vehicles and there are more than a million public school children that do not have a home to go back to at night. The federal government tells us that the recession "is over" and that "things are getting better", and yet poverty and homelessness in this country continue to rise with no end in sight. So what in the world are things going to look like when the next economic crisis hits?
Judging by the stock markets the last two weeks have been one of the best periods ever but the reality - hidden behind a smoke-screen of central bank liquidity and jawboning mirrors is dire. The last ten days have seen miss-after-miss in macro economic data - in fact this is the biggest plunge in macro data in 10 months. Despite the stock market's exuberance (at all-time highs), macro data has rolled over dramatically to 4-month lows. Of the major economic data points we have missed 18 of the last 20. With sentiment sagging, GDP revising lower, and earnings season disappointing, we can only imagine the BTFD opportunities that await.
Update, and sure enough: PANICOS DEMETRIADES SAYS CYPRUS CENTRAL BANK INDEPENDENCE UNDER ATTACK. As a reminder, Panicos hold the now obsolete position of head of the Cyprus Central Bank.
As was noted two days ago (so certainly not the news catalyst for today's gold sell off as some are trying to make it appear) as part of its bailout expansion by 35%, Cyprus announced, then refuted, then re-admitted, it would need to fund a portion of the incremental €7 billion in cash demands by selling €400 million, or nearly all 13.9 tons, of its central bank gold. Today, we learn that this demand came from none other than the head of the ECB Mario Draghi. Bloomberg reports: "European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the profits of any gold sales by the Cypriot central bank must be used to cover losses it may sustain from emergency loans to Cypriot commercial banks."
Japanese bond volatility appears to have crossed the Rubicon. As we noted here, the Japanese Ministry of Finance warned that a rise in JGB volatility could cause a significant sell-off in JGBs (since banks will be hampered by their VaR models-driven risk limits, which have literally gone off the charts in recent days, and be forced to reduce holdings to meet those risk limits). It seems however, that since the BoJ is set to buy more JGBs than will be issued in the next several years as noted yesterday, that financial institutions are chosing to live with the record vol noted previously, opting to raise cash buffers and liquidity reserves instead of selling bonds in order to meet surging margin demands on their JGB holdings. The synchronicity between the price of gold (and other commodities) and the volatility of Japanese bonds makes this risk-driven perspective very clear. This leaves the question, what happens when the Japanese (or in fact global - since front-running the BoJ has been a big winner until a week ago) banks run out of 'other' assets to sell and their VaR models continue to demand more capital in reserve?
Gold prices just entered a bear market. Down 21% from their mid-2011 highs. Today's drop is the largest since 2/29/12 - LTRO2 and takes the price of the barbarous relic back to July 2011 lows. Silver is also seeing its biggest down-day since LTRO2 as it tests 2012 lows. Must. Destroy. All alternative currencies.
Remember when JPM's cuddly permabull Tom Lee called for a correction less than 2 months ago in a note titled "Stepping Aside Short-Term; Fade Strength and Look for Better Entry Point Around 1400-1450; Big Picture Constructive"? Apparently he did not take into account the $80 billion monthly hot money injection from the BOJ, which has made any fundamental analysis utterly irrelevant, and has completely destroyed any ability of the market to reflect reality or discount any other future other than that of hundreds of billions in new monthly liquidity injections. Which is why moments ago he "capitulated" on his correction call.
Well if this doesn't send the market into all-time record high territory, nothing ever will: seconds ago the UMich Consumer Confidence plummeted from 78.6 to 72.3, on expectations of an unchanged 78.6 print. This was not only a 9 month low in the index, but more importantly the biggest miss to expectations in recorded history! Both conditions (84.8, Exp 89.5, Last 90.7) and expectations (64.2, Exp.70.0, Last 70.8), imploded, with the current conditions number the worst print since July and posting the biggest drop since August 2011. Surely if retail sales was not a sufficient Conviction Buy signal for the Fed, then Consumer Confidence should send Kevin Henry, who is now mainlining a trail mix cocktail of Redbull, Caffeine and Meth, into F5 overdrive. And if that doesn't do it, the final economic miss of the day, Business Inventories which also missed expectations of a 0.4% print, and dropped from 0.9% to 0.1%, the lowest since September 2011 and biggest miss since September 2012, should certainly cement today's 1600+ S&P close.
Nearly one-fifth all people with a 401(k) plan have at least one outstanding loan from it with those under 30 years old having taken an average 38.2% of their remaining untouched balance as the new ATM to maintain the credit-fueled standard of living. In a press release from Wells Fargo, data based on 1.9 million 401(k) holders shows that Q4 2012 saw a stunning 28% surge in the number of people taking loans from their retirement plans. While the numbers are scary for younger people, the older generation is taking more loans with 34.2% of those in their 50s and 28.9% of those in their 60s having taken loans from their retirement plans. Yet another example of the 'strength' of the recovery as those with at least one loan outstanding had an average balance in their retirement plan of $7,764! So much for the wealth effect.