While we at Zero Hedge observe and lament the passage of America from a once great superpower into a second-rate banana republic, on occasion we do witness that rare example, somewhere in the world, of complete and utter political and economic lunacy that inspires us to think, "wow, not even Bernanke could have thought of this... yet. "After devaluing the currency on Friday, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez "threatened to deploy troops and expropriate businesses that increase their prices." This is just one such example.
In this oldie but a goodie, Ron Paul hammers home the point of why the Federal Reserve needs to finally be accountable and transparent, despite the desires of Barney Frank, Wall Street, Ben Bernanke and all the current failed system's apparatchicks who will stop at nothing to perpetuate the broken status quo. For regular readers none of this should be news. For everyone else, this 1 hour program is a must watch. Clip courtesy of Fora TV and the Cato Institute.
After posting a record crude-oil import month in December, as well as the second highest iron-ore import month in history, China's program economy is roaring back to life, even if the imports are actually sitting in full warehouses, used to build empty cities that consume negative electricity, make washing machines that never launder anything except the government's flawed economic statistics, and create cars that somehow use up ever-less gasoline. Of course, when the government has trillions in increasingly worthless excess dollar foreign reserves that have to be used up for something, it is no wonder that the Chinese government is buying anything and everything it can stockpile, and that can't be devalued by Tim Geithner, hand over fist. As for exports: courtesy of the dollar peg, which makes China's exports as cheap as the US' (assuming the latter had much of anything to export besides financial innovation), China had no shortage of counterparties to purchase its $1.2 trillion in 2009 exports. Yet despite all this, China's trade surplus plunged a record $100 billion, or 34%, to $196 billion from 2008's $296 billion.
Page 17 of the latest Adrienne Shapira/Goldman Sachs retail cheerleading report finds the smoking gun of the end of the recession: A "group of Spanish tourists made the trek to fill their luggage with merchandise from ANF and Hollister." Well, if the Spanish tourists are stuffing child porn endorsed trinkets down their carry-ons, then all is well. Where does one buy these retailers who are currently (and far into the foreseeable future) experiencing negative margins thanks to -80%/-90% and, who knows, in many cases five finger, discounts (you didn't think the rampant hustle and bustle this Xmas season was all AmEx and CapitalOne funded, did you).
The latest AIG fiasco may well be the straw that breaks Geithner's "public service" back. The question of Tim's involvement in the purposeful cover up has now attained epic proportions as even the White House claims the Treasury Secretary and former NY Fed governor had recused himself and was not involved in the discussions of the biggest bailout in US history. By doing so, the White House has transferred an ever greater amount of political risk to itself by continuing to back Geithner at increasing costs to its popularity. Whether or not Geithner was intimately involved procedurally seems irrelevant: he certainly was aware of the broad strokes and was thus complicit by implication. Nonetheless, one of the allegations that is circulating the blogosphere is that the handwriting on the "smoking gun" cover up memo belongs to Timmy. While we do not have a certified graphologist in our ranks, this assumption appears to be patently false.
An interesting observation emerges when one analyzes the various holders of non-revolving consumer credit. While the traditionally largest players in non-revolving consumer credit provisioning, commercial banks and finance companies, have been materially curtailing their lending of auto loans (the primary form of non-revolving credit and which also includes student loans, as well as boat and trailer loans) with their combined holdings declining by 5% year over year (from $989 billion to $940 billion), another actor has jumped in to take their place. It should not surprise anyone, that with a 68% increase in non-revolving credit holdings over the past 12 months, this entity is none other than the Federal Government.
By now everyone knows about the Rip Van Winkle effect in stocks: the "noughties" were a snoozer, with the stock market lower on December 31, 2009 than on January 1, 2000. Yet what may have escaped most people is that the decade was also a scratch in terms of employment: the country now has essentially the same number of employed people as it did 10 years ago.
The insightful authors of "This Time It's Different" Carmen Reinhardt and Ken Rogoff are at it again, doing a simple yet crucial empirical analysis correlating sovereign debt (both government and external), and inflation (in some case) with GDP growth. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the more indebted a country is, with a government debt/GDP ratio of 0.9, and external debt/GDP of 0.6 being critical thresholds, the more GDP growth drops materially. Alas for the US, which is on the wrong side of this threshold, at the rate Geithner is issuing debt, the US economy will be able to grow organically, and not through stimulus after Keynesian stimulus, only after the administration manages to find a way to reduce its massive and growing debt load. In other words never.
A vigilant reader, who combed through the backup of today's Consumer Credit G.19 statement points out a flagrant and obvious error in the Fed's data. While luckily the data impact is not major (at most $4 billion, which in our day and age is a pithy 50% of Goldman's FICC trading desk bonus), the implication that the Fed does not check its work in something as critical as one of the core data series (or at least it used to be until a few machines took over the market, to whom, as today indicated, a record credit contraction somehow ended up being a positive event) is very, very troubling.
Goldman now anticipates an S&P peak of 1,300 intrayear which is somehow equivalent to a 15x EPS. Of course, that makes sense if one believes Goldman's 2010 S&P EPS of $86 ex provisions and writedowns. Somewhere David Rosenberg is vomiting loudly.
Spreads are undoubtedly tighter since the New Year as HY has dramatically outperformed IG this week with tighteners in single-names magestically outpacing wideners by 9-to-1. Curves were more mixed with an almost perfect balance between steepeners and flatteners even as index curves steepened significantly (as did the TSY curve). This was the first year since 2003 that the on-the-run IG index rallied in the first week of the year.
The topic of the Fed's balance sheet has (rightfully) attained prominent status in recent weeks, due to the T-minus 3 months and counting until the last MBS are purchased on behalf of US taxpayers. Yesterday, the Federal Reserve issued an advisory on interest rate risk management that had the following cautionary language: "In the current environment of historically low short-term interest rates, it is important for institutions to have robust processes for measuring and, where necessary, mitigating their exposure to potential increases in interest rates." Ironically, it is none other than the Fed that due to its $1.8 trillion in outright security holdings may be best advised to heed its own warning, as it is on the hook for at least $1.3 trillion in interest rate risk.
US consumers have said "enough" - in November consumer borrowing plunged by seasonally adjusted $17.5 billion, the largest drop in history, on a -$5 billion consensus... and the market doesn't move one bit. Quants 1: Efficient markets 0. In November total credit dropped at a whopping 8.5% annualized rate, and while auto-related nonrevolving loans dropped a mere -2.9%, revolving credit plunged a stunning 18.5% annualized. This is a full blown consumer borrowing revolt.
Did someone just leak QE 2.0? More importantly, why are stocks barely budging? Are all correlation models truly broken?