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Rajoy Summarizes Overnight (And Recurring) Sentiment: "There Are No Green Shoots, There Is No Spring"

In the aftermath of yesterday's surge in German hopium measured by the ZEW Economic Survey which took out all expectations to the upside, it was inevitable that the other double-dipping country, France, telegraphed some optimism despite a contracting economy and would follow suit with a big  confidence beat, and sure enough the French INSEE reported that February business sentiment rose from 87 to 90, on expectations of an unchanged number. And the subsequent prompt smash of investor expectations in Switzerland, where the ZEW soared from -6.9 to +10.0 tells us that something is very wrong in the Alpine country if it too is trying so hard to distract from the here and now. And while one can manipulate future optimism metrics to infinity, it is reality that is proving far more troublesome for Europe, as could be seen by the Italian Industrial Orders print which crashed -15.3% Y/Y on expectations of a smooth -9.5% drop, down from -6.7% previously. Since industrial orders are a proxy for future demand, a critical issue as Italy enters 2013 after six consecutive quarters of economic contraction and with no relief on the horizon, it is only fitting that Italy should shock the world with an off the chart confidence beat next.



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Previewing Tomorrow's First Greek General Strike Of 2013

Today was one of those rare days when there were no media reports describing in gruesome detail what another 24 hours in the complete social de-evolution of Greece looks like. The reason for that is that the Greek media and journalists decided to hold their first all day general strike today, which in turn happens to be in advance of tomorrow's first for 2013 general Greek strike. The journalists’ union ESIEA decided to hold the strike in solidarity with the 24-hour action called by GSEE and ADEDY, but wanted to ensure there was media coverage of the protest planned for Wednesday. So what will happen tomorrow? To a big extent, just more of the same: "State services will grind to a halt Wednesday and public transport will be disrupted in Athens as workers join a 24-hour general strike called by the country’s two main labor unions." And whereas the neo-(or paleo) Keynesians out there can spin any natural disaster as GDP accretive, not even they can transform the complete stop of all "constructive" activity as somehow benefiting Greek GDP. Furthermore, with no improvements in the Greek macroeconomic picture whatsoever, one can be assured that tomorrow's general strike is merely the first of many, now that the weather is warm enough to hold posters and slogans in broad daylight.



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Guest Post: Horsemeat Economics

The British (and now Europe-wide) scandal of corporations selling horse meat as beef is emblematic of many of the problems with big, unwieldy systems. The similarity between horse meat and subprime have already been noted - just as with subprime, complicated, impersonal systems have bred fraud. Similarly, in an equally sprawling and disconnected system — the global food supply chain — anonymity has bred irresponsibility once again. Retailers claim to have been misled. Meat processors and food manufacturers claim to have been misled too. But somewhere along the line, someone is lying. I am coming to believe very strongly that as this century continues, and as systemic interconnectivity and complexity increases, we will see many more horse meat and subprime style scandals exploiting the anonymity of big systems.



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Explaining The 'Revolting' Labor Conditions In South Africa

It seems a week does not go by without some kind of violent (or non-violent) protest against conditions in the mining industry in South Africa. Only this week we had the Amplats-related platinum spike, but it appears the split between the private and public sector has become not just better known but unsustainably massive in the last few years. In what will likely set off another riot, Bloomberg notes that salaries for public servants have increased an average 14% annually since 2007 versus a 2.7% rise in the period for all-industry (es Agriculture) in the private sector. All this as CPI rose 6.3% annually on average. As one analyst noted "it is not sustainable," but it appears Pravin Gordhan - South Africa's FinMin - is apparently unlikely to meet a pledge to limit government salary increases to 5% - to help narrow the budget deficit (as GDP is expected to grow 4.8%). This government largesse appears to be 'revolting' - and is certainly fueling the fire across the nation's labor force.



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New Jersey Casino Files For Bankruptcy Ten Months After Opening; No Taxpayer Funds Will Be Lost This Time

If it seems like it hasn't been even a year since the latest Atlantic City casino, this one with the surreal ads showcasing Revel Atlantic City, opened up, it is because that is exactly the case. Ten months to be precise. And just as quickly as it came, just as quickly did it file for bankruptcy. Moments ago, the company issued a press release that it would engage in a debt-for-equity prepack (with Moelis, K&E and A&M all advising) Chapter 11 which will be completed over the summer. The biggest losers here are not so much the original owners of Revel Entertainment Group, Morgan Stanley which three years ago decided to walk away from its entire $932 million sunk investment in the bankrupt hotel (instead of spending another billion to complete it), but the people of New Jersey, who just lost another investment opportunity as some $260 million in the tax incentives that were supposed to help the project along will never reach their intended target. The continuation of the abandoned investment was the brainchild, and pride and glory of one Chris Christie who then said "the $2.4 billion Revel is one of the most spectacular resorts he's ever seen and expects it will motivate other Atlantic City casinos to revitalize their properties. "I think that one of the things that Revel will be is a catalyst for additional modernization and investment by the other casinos to say, listen, if we grow more people here coming to the region and we're offering something that looks nice further down the boardwalk, maybe people will want to look there as well." As it now stands, the Revel will only be a catalyst for further bankruptcies as industry after industry finds out what a tapped out consumer with no access to $1.8 trillion in excess reserves truly means.



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Just Say NO: Seattle Residents Kill the City’s Drone Program

The anti-surveillance state movement is gaining traction and following Charlottesville, Virginia becoming the first city to pass anti-drone legislation, the engaged citizenry of Seattle have now succeeded in killing their city’s own drone program earlier this month.  On the state level, while legislation has been introduced in several places, it appears Florida is closest to enacting domestic surveillance drone regulations into law.  The title of the bill is the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act.” This demonstrates that when the citizenry is involved and active we can control our own destiny.



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You Are Here

Over the past few years, Citi's Matt King notes that the future never seems to become quite bright enough to offset the underlying economic and political realities. When we have been in this situation before, something has happened to make the markets nervous again, and then the outlook has darkened. Typically it’s been because of back-pedalling by policymakers on reforms, or doubts about central banks’ willingness to continue injecting liquidity at tighter spread levels. Recent headlines about limiting the scope for bank recapitalization by the ESM, sequestration probabilities, and about central banks’ growing nervousness that markets are running ahead of economic reality make us doubt that this time is any different.



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Japan Welcomes Abenomics With Record Unadjusted Trade Deficit In January

We may have this centrally-planned, currency-debasement driven economic stimulus thing backwards, but unless we are very wrong, in January, Japan was not supposed to post a record unadjusted trade deficit, amounting to some ¥1,628.4 billion, or nearly ¥300 billion more than the expected ¥1,379 billion deficit. And while exports did rise more than the 5.6 expected, at 6.4%, it was imports which printed at 7.3%, that destroyed expectations of a modest 2.1% rise, and which were likely all energy related.  Which means that Japan is happily importing the rest of the world's inflation and getting precisely nothing to show for it. Then again, the central planners are smart folks. They have PhD's. They are certainly on top of this.



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Goldman 'Explains' The 'Market': "Best Not To Look A Gift-Horse In The Mouth"

Good news, bad news, no news, dips, no dips, who cares. As Goldman sales/trading desk says, never look a gift-Bernanke in the mouth (especially if he ends up in a frozen lasagna at a store near you).

From GS:

A solid rally today and new cycle highs for US equities – but that’s where the story stops. No obvious catalyst. No bullish data. European stocks traded well, with most people pointing to a better German ZEW print, but it’s not clear why that would translate into such a strong US trading session. Maybe it’s best though not to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

One can't help but laugh at this "market."



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Guest Post: The End Of The Shale Era - Big Shift In Junior Oil Exploration

Aroway plays

The oil and gas game can be a tricky one for junior companies, but if played right the pay-off can be massive. At a time when juniors are risking a lot in volatile venues in the Middle East and Africa, Canada’s Aroway Energy (ARW) is planting its feet firmly in homeland soil and in conventional plays. Why? Because for the smaller juniors this is not a long-term game and blowing all your capital to drill a single unconventional well in a risky frontier won’t pay off. Canada still has plenty to offer for juniors, even though you have to kiss plenty of frogs to find the prince. The end game, after all, is merger and acquisition. In an exclusive interview Aroway CEO Chris Cooper discusses:  How to make or break a junior oil and gas company;  Why rail is becoming more attractive than pipeline transit; Why most juniors won’t make it big in risky frontiers; Why Keystone XL will get the green light; Why oil and gas prices will increase; Why the smaller juniors will stick to the conventional plays; How the asset market is heating up … and what is ideal; Why having control of infrastructure is key to success; Where Canada’s oil and gas industry will be in a decade; What every junior’s goal should be.



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Spain's Second Largest Bankruptcy Roils Real-Estate Market, Leaves Tepper Potentially Scuppered?

It's no shock that the Spanish housing market is horrible but hope has been, following the government's nationalization of various banks and creation of the 'bad bank' to soak up all the toxic crap those banks had on their books, that a recovery could blossom. It appears not - not at all. Not only are bad loans rising at record rates with house prices remaining down over 40% but now Reyal Urbis has filed for insolvency making it the nation's second largest bankruptcy as dozens of smaller firms have failed. What makes this so important is the fact that the banks were unwilling to refinance the debt - seemingly comfortable with liquidation - summed up perfectly: "Many loans were refinanced one or two years ago, in the hope that things would get better, but it has not been the case and there is now more realism about the situation. Why would you extend a new loan today?" A good question, one that Tepper's Appaloosa will be pondering as its EUR450mm loan looks in trouble.



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Dow & S&P Surge To New 5-Year Highs, USD Unch

Volume was nothing to cheer about after a long weekend, but it seemed the forced buy-ins and stop-runs remain as stocks pushed on to new highs even as the USD ended unchanged from Friday's close and Treasury yields up 2-3bps. A 1.2% rally in S&P futures from Friday's lows as Copper and Silver were slammed lower (former on China 'tightening' and latter on equity short-covering margin unwinds we suspect). In general risk-assets were not playing along with stocks' exuberance but as the after noon played on and stocks saw at most a 1 pt reversal, so bonds pushed higher in yields - recoupling risk and stocks towards the close. VIX led the way - testing Friday's decoupled lows around 12.08%. Credit markets remain underperformers but tracked stocks higher on the day. Oil prices - seemingly the only thing that could potentially foil the current rally - pushed around 1% higher from Friday's close, as Gold fell back modestly to $1605. AAPL ended the day unch - with a huge volume spike at the close, as homebuilders suffered post-NAHB. VIX closed at its lowest since April 2007; S&P 500 futures had their biggest open-to-close rise of the year.



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Presenting The College Whose Graduates Have A 62% Student Loan Default Rate

It is common knowledge by now that the US has a student loan problem. Specifically, a subprime-sized, student loan default problem, which as was reported last year, has now surpassed a 23% default rate at "for profit" institutions. Yet as all statistical measures, this one too deals in means and medians: very boring, impersonal metrics. Where the truly stunning data emerge is when one performs a granular college by college analysis of the US higher learning system, which is precisely what the WSJ has done, breaking down some 3500 colleges and universities by annual cost, graduation rate, median amount borrowed and most importantly, student-loan default rate. In this context we feel quite bad for the students who graduate from ICPR Junior College of Puerto Rico (or rather the 52% of them who graduate), with a modest $2,250 in student loans to cover the otherwise manageable tuition of $7,158, as a mindboggling 62% of them end up defaulting on their loans!



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The Bermuda 'Reacharound' Triangle Tax Dodge

With sequesters and loopholes the only two words that seem to matter in Washington (the latter more than the former as far as action), we suspect the popularity of the so-called 'Bermuda Triangle' tax dodge may raise more than a few eyebrows. Put simply, hedge fund managers create a Bermuda-based re-insurance entity, their clients (high-net-worth individuals) funnel their hard-earned gains through this offshore entity and back to the US hedge funds - dramatically reducing their personal income taxes. The re-insurers do a minimum of business to create the appearance of legitimacy but are enabling hedge fund investors to avoid paying high-rate income tax on any gains from the funds and growing tax-free while in the fund. Of course this is defended as "good tax management." Funds such as Paulson's, Third Point, Greenlight, and SAC all use this vehicle according to Bloomberg as a handy way to funnel a US hedge fund investment through a tax haven. It truly is good to be king...



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