Citi: "It Is Possible That We Will Get A Technical Default For A Few Days"

It is possible that we will get a technical default for a few days, but more likely that Congress will give in, vote the debt ceiling up temporarily, and let the automatic sequesters kick in. Mounting risk of a technical default was USD positive in 2011 because it led to cutting of long-risk positions and the USD/Treasury market remained safe havens.  However, it also occurred in an environment of slowing EM growth and intensifying euro zone sovereign risk pressure, so the USD support came from external forces as well. Given that investors are now somewhat long risk again, the position cutting is again likely to be USD positive, however, unattractive US assets were. As was the case in 2011, it is very unlikely that the Treasury will not pay its bills, although even a technical default could have very unforeseen consequences, given the multiple functions that Treasuries play in global financial markets.

The Real Interest Rate Risk: Annual US Debt Creation Now Amounts To 25% Of GDP Compared To 8.7% Pre-Crisis

By now most are aware of the various metrics exposing the unsustainability of US debt (which at 103% of GDP, it is well above the Reinhart-Rogoff "viability" threshold of 80%; and where a return to just 5% in blended interest means total debt/GDP would double in under a decade all else equal simply thanks to the "magic" of compounding), although there is one that captures perhaps best of all the sad predicament the US self-funding state (where debt is used to fund nearly half of total US spending) finds itself in. It comes from Zhang Monan, researcher at the China Macroeconomic Research Platform: "The US government is now trying to repay old debt by borrowing more; in 2010, average annual debt creation (including debt refinance) moved above $4 trillion, or almost one-quarter of GDP, compared to the pre-crisis average of 8.7% of GDP."

Even Goldman Says China Is Cooking The Books

That China openly manipulates its economic data, especially around key political phase shifts, such as one communist regime taking over for another, is no secret. That China is also the marginal economic power (creating trillions in new loans and deposits each year) in a stagflating world, and as such must be represented by the media as growing at key inflection points (such as Q4 when Europe officially entered a double dip recession, and the US will report its first sub 1% GDP in years) as mysteriously reporting growth even without open monetary stimulus (something we have said the PBOC will not engage in due to fears of importing US, European and now Japanese inflation) is critical for preserving hope and faith in the future of the stock market, is also very well known. Which is why recent market optimism driven by "hope" from Alcoa that China is recovering and will avoid yet another hard landing, and Chinese reports of a surge in Exports last week, are very much suspect. But no longer is it just the blogosphere that is openly taking Chinese data to task - as Bloomberg reports, even the major banks: Goldman, UBS and ANZ - are now openly questioning the validity and credibility of the goalseek function resulting from C:\China\central_planning\economic_model.xls.

As NSA Pairs With Banks To "Fight Hackers", Will It Also Gain Access To Every American's Financial Secrets?

Just because there was not enough encroachment by the government into virtually every corner of private life, here is another "collaboration" that will further enmesh big brother into every aspect of private life, in this case private financial life, because as the WaPo reports, "major U.S. banks have turned to the National Security Agency for help protecting their computer systems after a barrage of assaults that have disrupted their Web sites, according to industry officials... The NSA, the world’s largest electronic spying agency, has been asked to provide technical assistance to help banks further assess their systems and to better understand the attackers’ tactics." And while we salute the great diversionary pretext that "Iranian hackers" pose a greater risk to the stability of the US financial system than, say, the ongoing monetization of US debt at a pace of $85 billion per month, which has made the Fed's DV01 rise to a mindboggling $2.75 billion, or idiot pundits who claim all American problems can be resolved with one coin, we can't help but wonder what happens when the most intrusive of US spy agencies, one which as reported last year is free "to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store" virtually every electronic communication in the entire world, now has full explicit access to all bank data, and, incidentally, every American's financial snapshot at any given moment?

Macro Polo

The absence of meaningful negative market responses to debt ceiling dramas, Japanese inflation targeting, trillion dollar coins, and other odd and dubious politically-oriented market meddling seems to be sending reflexive signals back to capitals: all clear, continue self-destructing. The markets seem not to care, knowing that central banks have their back. Money creation can suspend nominal economic contraction and ensure rising financial markets until something, (anything!), might stir the public’s imagination again and animal spirits. But while money can suspend animation, it is not and cannot replace real economic functioning. In fact, ongoing money creation is locking-in negative real economic growth and real returns in most financial assets. We think the best strategy for discretionary investors is to stay focused on the growing monetary mountain across the valley, and to not look down. This piece seeks to place the current investment environment in economic, political and social perspective.

France Launches Major Military Campaign In Mali, Bungles Hostage Rescue Attempt

Whether it is to serve as a diversion from the ongoing deterioration in the French economy (purchases of French sovereign bonds by the SNB implying "all is well" notwithstanding), to distract public attention from the recent humiliation (and backfire) of the socialist government's "tax the rich" campaign or for whatever other reason, is unclear for now, but what is clear is that over the past two days France has launched a major airstrike and military campaign against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, the pretext being that control of northern Mali by the rebels posed a security threat to Europe. What is also clear is that even as France is protecting "European interests" deep in the heart of African darkness, elsewhere in Africa, the socialist country, whose military "expertise" is best known for building impassable fortifications all around perfectly crossable forests, suffered yet another offensive humiliation when not only was a hostage held by Somalian insurgents, al Shabaab, killed during an attempted rescue operation, but a commando from the "rescuing" team was allegedly left behind during the bungled operation. The cherry on top in president Hollande's first major foreign policy excursion is that the same insurgents subsequently released a statement that the hostage was perfectly safe, even as a French pilot was killed in the Mali airstrikes early on in the campaign, all of which probably makes France wish it had just stayed home.

Guest Post: The Social Security System Is Already Broke

As 1.4 million people have been kicked off the 99 week unemployment rolls, the number of people applying for SSDI skyrocketed. Just because the scumbags on Wall Street and in the rest of corporate America commit fraud on a massive scale does not mean we should look the other way when lowlifes in our community do the same thing on a smaller scale. The working middle class pays the bill for the cost of both frauds. More than 90% of all the people who go onto SSDI never go back to work. This program was supposed to be short term until people could recover and go back to work. There are now 8.83 million people so disabled, they supposedly can’t work. There are only 12 million officially unemployed people in the country. The government is so incompetent, they barely check the applications for SSDI. Anyone with an ounce of brain power (this disqualifies anyone on MSNBC) knows that at least 50% of the people on SSDI are capable of some form of employment.

Chart Of The Day: 'Just A Little Bit Off'

Need just one chart to avoid anyone who says they have any idea where the S&P will close in three years... or two... or one? Here it is: the graphic below shows that when it comes to predicting the closing level of the S&P several years into the future, absolutely nobody, and certainly not the consensus outlook, has any clue. However, they sure make up for lack of accuracy and insight with hope, optimism, and relentless persistence and enthusiasm to be wrong again and again and again.

36 South: "Let's Legalize Cocaine"

Think about it – a substance which makes one feel good, promotes a feeling of well-being and confidence…..what is the problem with that? The problem, as I explained to all my teenagers, is not that drugs are inherently bad per se, it is the medium to long term consequences of drug use that inevitably leave one worse off and forces one to make decisions one would not normally make e.g. selling your mother’s wedding ring for drug money. Like the good pseudo-parents they are, the governments have (probably correctly) stepped in and outlawed drugs and their use. But there are other substances which also make one feel good, promote a feeling of well-being and confidence but is just as dangerous. With this substance the government does NOT limit use but promotes it! It is in fact the grower and distributor! What is this stuff? Hint …. Comes in two flavours: money (present money) and credit (future money).

Northern China On Health Alert As Beijing Pollution "Off The Scale", Surpassing "Hazardous" Levels

Who would have thought that ultra-rapid industrialization, building entire empty cities to goalseek a supply-driven GDP number that has no reflection on demand reality, and ramming an entire country's industrial output into overdrive without any concern for the environmental impact would have a disastrous effect on smog levels. Certainly not China. Which is why earlier today people across much of northern China were warned to stay indoors as the entire region was put on health alert to avoid air pollution that, in the Beijing area, was among the worst for a decade and possibly ever, is literally off the charts and has in many areas reduced visibility to under 50 metres.

Treasury, Fed Kill Trollin' Dollar Coin

And just like that the most surreal two weeks of sheer monetary idiocy is over, with the Treasury and the Fed both formally announcing the death of the trillion trollin' dollar platinum  coin idea, which was nothing but a cheap charlatan trick devised by page view-desperate media outlets to dumb down their already confused audience and distract from the fact that the US is, sadly, once again on the verge of bankruptcy.

Hyperinflation In Action: Beer For Bag Of Cash

In May 2011, Belarus surprised its citizens by devaluing its currency by 50% overnight in an attempt to kickstart its economy, leading to swift and brutal hyperinflation. And while written narratives of the most recent episode of monetary collapse are one thing, nothing is quite as amusing, and grounding for those attempting to "value" money (such as Nobel prize winning economists writing out of their steel exoskeletal ivory towers), as watching a bag of cash be used to pay for seven boxes of beer. And nothing is quite a cathartic as spending several hours trying to count said cash - cash backed by the "full faith and credit" of the Belarus central bank...

Guest Post: A Short Lesson In Bad Decision-Making

Probability estimation is non-intuitive. If you need to make an important decision about the odds of something occurring, don't go with your gut. It will be often wrong (sometimes wildly so). Get data, crunch the numbers, and consult a professional if you can't figure things out on your own. This caution with regard to decision-making has served me well over my career. I've lost count of the number of times I began with a strongly-felt guesstimate that was torn to shreds by the time I did the math and learned how far reality was from my gut instinct. And what worries me – scares me, is more accurate – is that I don't observe this same caution in the actions of the people making the truly big decisions. Like the Fed, Congress, and many of our state governors. Instead, I see people – many of whom don't have strong empirical skills or practical business experience – making rash decisions about debt, deficits, taxes, money supply, interest rates, pensions, etc. that will have implications on a staggering order of magnitude. I myself can't wrap my brain fully around some of these (classic example: The Crash Course Chapter 11: How Much Is a Trillion?). And even though I'm by no means the smartest guy in the room, I have little confidence that a career politician is able to comprehend these gargantuan repercussions at a materially higher level than I can.

Greece Is The US, Following Vote To Hike Taxes On The Rich

It's been a while since the Syntagma square riotcam was broadcasting live from Athens. After all, despite the ongoing collapse in its economy, where only 3.7 million people have jobs compared to 4.7 million who are unemployed or inactive, the general sentiment was that "austerity" measures have been put on hiatus, and no more tax, pension, or benefits cuts are on the table. That changed last night when Greece was the latest country to become the US, following a tax hike on its highest earners. However, unlike the US, this increase in "rich" taxes is being offset by at least some spending cuts such as tighter control of the budgets of ministries and state utilities, and the reduction of parliamentary employees’ wages in line with cuts to the wages of other civil servants. In other words, it is almost time for the Syntagma square daily pay-per-view daily webcast. The good news, at least for Greece, is that it does not have a debt ceiling to worry about. Then again, when all your debt is zero coupon perpetuals in the hands of the ECB and other "official" institutions, the balance sheet is the last thing you have to worry about. It's the income statement, one where not even all the one-time charges or loan loss reserve releases in the world will do any difference, that suddenly matters far more.

"May The Farce Be With You" - White House Responds To Imperial Death Star Petition

Almost a year ago, in February 2012, Zero Hedge decided to "think outside the box" and take Keynesianism and post-Chartalism (or whatever three letter acronym it is better known as these days) to their absurd, thought-experimental limits with "A Modest Proposal To Boost US GDP By $852 Quadrillion: Build The Imperial Death Star" - a suggestion that instead of growing US debt in dribs and drabs (because as any Ivy league tenured econ Ph.D will tell you, "debt is wealth"), that the US should go the whole hog and just splurge some $852 quadrillion in new debt (don't worry, MMT says that's just a token, no pun intended, amount) to build an Imperial Death Star, a project that would immediately hike US GDP by a factor of 56,000 and create several trillion new jobs, ensuring economic utopia in perpetuity, not to mention galactic dominance. We were mostly joking. We also assume that the creator of a White House petition launched in November to "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016" was also mostly joking. However, as that petition promptly accumulated well over 34,000 signatures, the White House had no choice but to respond. Here are the White House's thoughts on becoming the next iteration of the Galactic Empire (and, by implication, Barack Obama becoming Emperor Palpatine reincarnated).

White House Petition To Publicly Assay And Validate The US Treasury's 8,100 Tons Of Gold

In the past few weeks there has been a veritable explosion of White House petitions ranging from the bizarre to the surreal to the outright absurd, including such demands as Texas (and other southern states) seceding, deporting Piers Morgan, not deporting Piers Morgan, creating a Joe Biden sitcom, and even making a total mockery out of the US, and global, monetary system and evading the debt ceiling using a cheap, platinum coin-based parlor trick. All of these are, for lack of a better word, a la carte distractions launched by bored American citizens, meant to evade the menial drudgery of everyday life, and, generally, reality. In short: entertainment. And, logically, virtually none have so far contained actual, actionable provisions, that stood to benefit all Americans, instead of just one half of the ideological or party split. At least not until a new petition appeared two days ago, one demanding that the administration do something that has never been done on the public record: perform an assayed public audit of all the 8,100 tons of gold owned by the US Treasury. And not just any audit, but one including "professional auditors outside of the Mint, Treasury, GAO, Inspector General and Federal Reserve system."

Guest Post: Almost Half Of All Food Produced Is Thrown Away

Between 30 and 50 percent of all food produced globally, equivalent to two billion tons, is thrown away each year according to a recent report written by the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME), titled ‘Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not’. The Guardian states that overly-cautious sell by dates, buy one get one free deals, and an obsession with only consuming fruit and vegetables that look perfect are some of the main reasons for this colossal waste of, not only food, but also the water, energy, and arable land used in the creation of the food.

VIXtermination: Vol Banged To Lowest Close Since June 2007

Instead of a full recap of the market today, which did nothing all day on the lowest NYSE volume day of the year, we will present just one chart to show how it is that once again the market got its nearly miraculous green close and last hour ramp to avoid a red close for the day, and possibly week. The chart is, as has been so very often the case recently, that of the spot VIX, where the now usual gimmick of dumping oodles of VIX futures served to do one thing only: bang the close (a technical term, one which used to be illegal) so hard that the market's algos took the reflexivity signal implied by the evaporation in volatility as an all clear signal and bought risk in what is becoming an expected daily occurrence. And while the spot slid to close at 13.36, the lowest closing print since June 19, 2007, it was the dump in the last 25 seconds of trading that just had to be seen to be believed. Luckily, it can be seen below on the Bloomberg QR page showing it taking a step move lower from 13.38 to 13.22 at 15:59:35, before "recovering" to 13.38 just after the close.

Will CapEx Come Back?

Almost a year ago, we identified what the main stumbling block facing US (and global) corporations is in the New Normal ZIRP regime: namely corporate cash mismanagement, capital misallocation, and a serious lack of CapEx spending which leads to lack of revenue growth, secular declines in profits, further layoffs, and a broad contraction in corporate returns (absent the endless deus ex which is central-bank assisted multiple expansion). We also identified what in our view was the primary reason for this misallocation, which said simply, is the Fed's monetary policy which forces corporate executives to focus on short-term gratification of shareholders via prompt return of cash instead of reinvestment into the business - a critical requirement to assure top-line stability and growth. Today, we were happy to see that the issue of the disappearing CapEx -both in the US and globally - is the main topic of an analytical piece from UBS titled, simply enough, "Will capex come back?" And while we disagree with UBS, who has a more optimistic conclusion than ours, which we believe is a function of incorrectly identifying the reason for plunging CapEx, we are happy that more and more strategists have narrowed down what is without doubt the main hurdle to promoting a true, sustainable corporate recovery, instead of one where the only EPS beats are driven from one-time restructuring charges (which are now recurring on a quarterly basis), non-cash items, and most of all, even more layoffs of workers: something which in turn continues to eat away at the heart of any given economy, forcing even more monetary intervention, and even more CapEx spending cuts.