El-Erian Warns "Don't Be Fooled" By Europe's Tranquility

August is traditionally Europe’s holiday month, with many government officials taking several weeks off. In the process, important initiatives are put on hold until the “great return” at the beginning of September. This year, there is another reason why Europe has pressed the pause button for August. With a looming election in Germany, few wish to undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel’s likely victory.  Some of the recent economic news has seemed to justify this approach. Yet no one should be fooled. This summer’s sense of normality is neither natural nor necessarily tenable in the long term. It is the result of temporary and – if Europe is not attentive – potentially reversible factors. If officials do not return quickly to addressing economic challenges in a more comprehensive manner, the current calm may give way to renewed turmoil. In essence, Europe (and the West more generally) owes its recent tranquility to a series of experimental measures by central banks; consequently, the resulting surface calm masks still-worrisome economic and financial fundamentals.

The View From Asia's Highest Skyscraper (And Second Highest In The World)

China's bid to host the world's tallest building may be delayed for a while as the PBOC prints the money to complete the over-budget Sky Tower in Changsha, but that doesn't mean China can't enjoy the world's second largest building, and Asia's tallest, in the face of the 128-floor Shanghai Tower located, obviously, in Shanghai, and which stretches a massive 2073 feet from base to tip. The 'Skyscraper Index' anecdotes remain firmly ensconced throughout China (and India).

Guest Post: Trying To Stay Sane In An Insane World - Part 2

This insane world was created through decades of bad decisions, believing in false prophets, choosing current consumption over sustainable long-term savings based growth, electing corruptible men who promised voters entitlements that were mathematically impossible to deliver, the disintegration of a sense of civic and community obligation and a gradual degradation of the national intelligence and character. There is a common denominator in all the bubbles created over the last century – Wall Street bankers and their puppets at the Federal Reserve. Fractional reserve banking, control of a fiat currency by a privately owned central bank, and an economy dependent upon ever increasing levels of debt are nothing more than ingredients of a Ponzi scheme that will ultimately implode and destroy the worldwide financial system. Since 1913 we have been enduring the largest fraud and embezzlement scheme in world history, but the law of diminishing returns is revealing the plot and illuminating the culprits. Bernanke and his cronies have proven themselves to be highly educated one trick pony protectors of the status quo. Bernanke will eventually roll craps. When he does, the collapse will be epic and 2008 will seem like a walk in the park.

Beware The Rise In International Monetary Policy Tensions

As the Fed gets ready to taper ‘QE’, UBS' Larry Hatheway warns investors to brace for a period of increased international policy tension. Previously harmonized - but not coordinated - monetary policy stances will give way to conflicting objectives and new strains as adverse ‘spillovers’ occur. As Hatheway notes, we are about to rediscover several inconvenient truths. First, the Fed is the US, not the world’s, central bank. Second, international policy coordination is desirable in an interdependent world but, third, it is no more likely to materialize now than in the past. The world, it seems, is destined for a less comfortable policy co-existence in the coming few years.

Santelli Rants "All Roads Lead To The Fed"

Day after day, CNBC's Rick Santelli hears analysts arguing how the economy is doing pretty well and that there is always some anecdotal fact that backs up their cognitively dissonant view with fundamentals. However, as Santelli asks (rhetorically), it always comes back to the same question, "if things are really that good, why do we still need the [Fed] training wheels on?" The answer is presumably obvious as actions ($85bn per month of POMO-provided liquidity to the 21 primary dealers) speak louder than analysts words (we promise recovery is just around the next corner.) While careful not to explicitly rebuff the exuberance of his channel's clients revenue-base, Santelli notes the oddly correlated relationship (that has time and again appeared in pixelated format on these very pages) between the Federal Reserve balance sheet and the ebbs and flows of the US equity market. As he concludes, the only (causal) transmission mechanism for the Fed's actions is via the primary dealers and implicitly the Fed is the entity that is goosing the stock market.

 

Guest Post: Still Waiting

We do not inhabit a “normal” economy. We live in a financialised world in which our banks cannot be trusted, our politicians cannot be trusted, our money cannot be trusted, and – not least thanks to ongoing spasms of QE and expectations of much more of the same – our markets cannot be trusted. At some point (though the timing is impossible to predict), asset markets that cannot be pumped artificially any higher will start moving, under the forces of inevitable gravitation, lower.

US Retail Investors (Alone) 'Rotate' All-In

With revenues fading, profit margins collapsing, and only financial institutions' entire lack of transparency providing any lift in EPS, the 'great rotation' continues to provide enough cognitive dissonance to sink a boat for the asset-gatherers. The trouble, as we showed previously, is this 'rotation' is dominated by US retail investors (more specifically non-US domiciled and non-retail investors are rotating away from US equities). The US retail investor has shifted in a great-rotationary manner by the greatest amount since Feb 2000 - just as the last great bubble burst. US equities are the 3rd most over-crowded speculative long asset in the world after Crude Oil and the Brazilian Real. It seems the Fed is getting just what it wants but, just as Kyle Bass warned, "investors should be really careful doing what the central bankers want them to do."

Lowest Volume Day Of Year Ends With Hindenburg Omen

S&P futures volume was the lowest of 2013 for a non-holiday-related day (35% below last year's volume and 40% below recent average volume). NYSE volume the second lowest of the year. Tech and Staples managed small gains on the day but homebuilders and utilities underperformed as bond yields rose 3 to 5bps on the day. The 'anxiety' in stocks showed itself with another appearance of the Hindenburg Omen (which has signaled short-term weakness in the last six months). The Russell closed green and thanks to AAPL, the Nasdaq eked out a small gain. Trannies were down 0.8% in their now-ubiquitous schizophrenic manner as 'most-shorted' names outperformed significantly. The USD slid lower from the US open ending -0.1% (with JPY strength dominant) but commodities were worse down 0.5% (WTI) to 1% (silver and gold) on the day. VIX was clubbed lower (to 11.8% - its lowest close in 5 months) right at the close to ramp stocks into the cash close.

40% Of US Workers Now Earn Less Than 1968 Minimum Wage

Are American workers paid enough?  That is a topic that is endlessly debated all across this great land of ours.  Unfortunately, what pretty much everyone can agree on is that American workers are not making as much as they used to after you account for inflation.  Back in 1968, the minimum wage in the United States was $1.60 an hour.  That sounds very small, but after you account for inflation a very different picture emerges.  Using the inflation calculator that the BLS provides, $1.60 in 1968 is equivalent to $10.74 today. According to the Social Security Administration, 40.28% of all workers make less than $20,000 a year in America today.  So that means that more than 40 percent of all U.S. workers actually make less than what a full-time minimum wage worker made back in 1968.  That is how far we have fallen.

Uncollected Greek Taxes Rise To Record €60 Billion, One Third Of Greek GDP

While Europe, and especially Germany has been understandably "displeased" with having to provide billions in bailout upon bailout funding to Greece every year starting in 2010, all the more so following recent news that Greece has already spent some 75% of its bank bailout cash with no discernible improvement in its economy to show for it, Europes' taxpayers will unlikely be any more pleased to learn that as of the end of June, a whopping €60 billion in past due taxes (an all time record) was owed by Greek businesses and individuals to the state. This is an amount that is 20% greater than the entire external cash handed over by the Troika to keep Greek banks afloat, and represents nearly 30% of imploding Greek GDP.

How Much Is Oil Supporting U.S. Employment Gains?

The American Petroleum Institute said last week the U.S. oil and natural gas sector was an engine driving job growth. Eight percent of the U.S. economy is supported by the energy sector, the industry's lobbying group said, up from the 7.7 percent recorded the last time the API examined the issue. The employment assessment came as the Energy Department said oil and gas production continued to make gains across the board. With the right energy policies in place, API said the economy could grow even more. But with oil and gas production already at record levels, the narrative over the jobs prospects may be failing on its own accord.

Cyprus Unemployment Surges 32% Year-Over-Year

With PMIs picking up across Europe, the nations' 'leaders' are spreading the good word that the worst is over (again) and its all sunshine and unicorns from here. But it's not. As Cyprus' Anastasiades glibly comments on small improvements in their capital controls - amid collapsing deposits, bluntly ignoring the reality of a record implosion in the nation's home prices, the facts for the man on the street are dismal. The number of jobless people in the smallest EU nation jumped 32% year-over-year to its highest in the 19 years data has been collected.

Ron Paul Asks "Why Won't They Tell Us the Truth About NSA Spying?"

In 2001, the Patriot Act opened the door to US government monitoring of Americans without a warrant. It was unconstitutional, but most in Congress over my strong objection were so determined to do something after the attacks of 9/11 that they did not seem to give it too much thought. Civil liberties groups were concerned, and some of us in Congress warned about giving up our liberties even in the post-9/11 panic. But at the time most Americans did not seem too worried about the intrusion. This complacency has suddenly shifted given recent revelations of the extent of government spying on Americans. What is even more important, though, is for more and more and more Americans to educate themselves about our precious liberties and to demand that their government abide by the Constitution. We do not have to accept being lied to – or spied on -- by our government.

Guest Post: Which Cities Will Survive/Thrive?

The bankruptcy of Detroit, though long-anticipated, has unleashed a wave of speculation about the health of other cities in the U.S., and indeed, in the world - for example, China. Despite the visible importance of urban centers and cities for thousands of years, it seems our understanding of their dynamics is still incomplete. Nonetheless, the dramatic decline of Detroit and other industrial cities makes us wonder if there are dynamics that we can identify that could enable us to predict which cities will thrive and which will decay.

JCPenney Default Risk Hits All-Time High

It would appear that in the order of who knows what when, in the case of JCPenney, it is C-level executives first, credit markets second (was Goldman's line a pre-DIP?), and equity shareholders (Ackamn included) last. With the torrent of executve departures in the last year, credit market investors led the equity over the past two weeks as credit lines were (allegedly) pulled. Today's 50bps rise in JCP's 5Y CDS pushes the company's risk of bankruptcy to its highest ever (arguably higher than 65% over the next few years given the secured assets). JCP's stock is down 2% on the day but still holding above its April (and 2009) lows (for now).

Quote Of The Day: Mexico > USA Says Dick

Today, we have not one but two quotes of the day courtesy of Dick Fisher:

  • FISHER SAYS MEXICAN GOVERNMENT BETTER RUN THAN U.S. GOVERNMENT
  • FISHER SAYS MEXICO GOV'T ANTITHESIS OF U.S. GOV'T ON FISCAL, BUDGET

Brilliant, 100% accurate and absolutely hypocritical. Because the only reason the US government is the epitome of disorganized confusion, record partisan bickering and sheer chaos is because it has the Federal Reserve to pick up the pieces for its failure to come together on any one fiscal issue. And the Fed is perfectly happy to accommodate the same dysfunctional Congress by enabling it to do nothing not for one, two, or three but four years running now, and likely will continue into 2014 and further, in the process continuing an unprecedented wealth transfer from the poor to the uber rich. The same Fed that Dick just happens to be part of.

Dallas Fed's Fisher: "We Own A Significant Slice Of Critical Markets. This Is Something Of A Gordian Knot"

"This is a delicate moment. The Fed has created a monetary Gordian Knot.  Whereas before, our portfolio consisted primarily of instantly tradable short-term Treasury paper, now we hold almost none; our portfolio consists primarily of longer-term Treasuries and MBS. Without delving into the various details and adjustments that could be made (such as considerations of assets readily available for purchase by the Fed), we now hold roughly 20 percent of the stock and continue to buy more than 25 percent of the gross issuance of Treasury notes and bonds. Further, we hold more than 25 percent of MBS outstanding and continue to take down more than 30 percent of gross new MBS issuance. Also, our current rate of MBS purchases far outpaces the net monthly supply of MBS. The point is: We own a significant slice of these critical markets. This is, indeed, something of a Gordian Knot."