Things That Make you Go Hmmm - Such As A Fake Tan... Or A Centrally-Planned Fake Market

Bernanke and his fellow Beltway insiders continue to apply fake tan in an attempt to make the US economy look more healthy than it is, but even though the public has been in love with the bronze monetary sheen that has been sprayed onto a decidedly pasty economy repeatedly since 2008, the backlash is picking up steam and broadening its reach. As Grant Williams discusses in this week's 'Things That Make You Go Hmmm...', from QE4's lack of 'pop' to Foodstamp Nation and the fundamental deterioration in our economy, the divergence between reality and the beauty-is-skin-deep appeal of the markets can only end one way and the earnings picture lights that up better than any other. For a little bit of everything, the newsletter below provides something for everyone.

It Really Is Different (Again) This Time

Despite the seemingly generational destruction to household and bank balance sheets and an entirely unprecedented fiscal and monetary policy reponse, investors would never know it given the market's reactions from the 2009 lows relative to its rally from the 2003 lows. Different this time? hhmmm... Worried about gold prices falling also? Doesn't look like we learned anything from the 'Debt Ceiling' debate either...

Global Religion, By The Numbers

Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion. These five charts sum up the age, size, geography, and power of the world's major religions.

Guest Post: What Causes Hyperinflations And Why We Have Not Seen One Yet

What causes hyperinflations? The answer is: Quasi-fiscal deficits (A quasi-fiscal deficit is the deficit of a central bank)! Why have we not seen hyperinflation yet? Because we have not had quasi-fiscal deficits! Essentially, hyperinflation is the ultimate and most expensive bailout of a broken banking system, which every holder of the currency is forced to pay for in a losing proposition, for it inevitably ends in its final destruction. Hyperinflation is the vomit of economic systems: Just like any other vomit, it’s a very good thing, because we can all finally feel better. We have puked the rotten stuff out of the system.

The Ultimate Valuation Matrix For Global Stocks

Wondering where to place your hard-earned cash next year? Feel like playing the global game of equity market Russian Roulette? The following matrix covering every sector in all developed country stock markets provides just the color you need. Based on price-to-book, US and German stocks are, in aggregate, the most expensive; and EM and South Korea are cheapest currently relative to historical P/B. Oil & Gas seem the cheapest sector overall (on the P/B basis) while Retail, Real Estate, Media, and Tobacco sectors appear richest.

Sorry (Poor) Kids: The Road From Rags To Riches No Longer Passes Through College

... at least statistically speaking. Yes, outlier cases will always exist and there will always be a rags to Geology 101 to riches story somewhere, but as the following fascinating and very much damning (the entire higher learning industry of the US) diagram from Reuters demonstrates, colleges, in their once vaunted role of a "great equalizer for the classes" as defined over a century ago by Horace Mann, no longer exist.What does the above chart imply? Nothing more than that for the vast majority of people, college degrees are the modern-day equivalent of very, very expensive snake oil. Yes: colleges are sold to you as the critical stepping stone on the path to wealth and prosperity, but sadly the empirical evidence demonstrates that when it comes to an actual, demonstrable income effect, only the wealthiest people actually benefit from a degree! The lowest fifth of household by income see their change in income decline by 10%, while the middle fifth sees an incremental 2.1% drop. Where do incomes rise? When you are already wealthy and belong to the highest fifth of households by income: there, going to college boosts your income by an additional 15.1%

JPY Spikes: Is The Japanese "This Time It's Different" Fairytale Over?

While the news in the US that 'BUDGET TALKS REGRESS' was enough to drive S&P futures lower after-hours; once futures closed, JPY (the market's new-old-new carry-trade friend) is getting monkey-hammered. In a reverse-intervention, we can only assume that Abe's colon is going spastic as he sees the last few days 'good' destroyed by a soaring JPY... algo-driven heresy we suspect but rest assured Abe is watching closely...

Wal-Mart Stores Sell Out Of Guns

Yesterday, when we described the unprecedented surge in gun sales in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, we said that "what is most ironic, is that it is precisely the fear of forced, unilateral rejection, by either or all three branches of government, of the original constitution and its various amendments that has Americans scrambling into gun stores. And thus the closed loop nature of the problem: by threatening to take away America's guns, the government is only exacerbating a problem that is steeped in 200+ years of history and is engrained deep in American psychology." It took about 24 hours to demonstrate just how counterproductive government intervention always is: as of this moment, Bloomberg reports, Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the US and the world, has stores in at least five states where guns are now completely out of stock.

Theater-Off: Stocks Slump Most In 5 Weeks As Bipolar Market Forgets Its Lithium

It's rather ridiculous that today's sell-off of around 0.6% (in the S&P) is the largest plungefest in five weeks. Volumes were high, though not as high as yesterday's with average trade size also relatively high. S&P futures peaked right before the US day-session open today and dropped all day long (with a slight bump higher into the European close) retracing most of yesterday's gains with decent blocks going through in the last few minutes push to lows. VIX led the weakness all day and stocks' selling pressure ignored relative underperformance in Treasuries (yields ended the day around unch), modest USD weakness close-to-close (though the day session saw USD strength return), and a spike in WTI (+3.1% on the week). Even trying to lever HYG didn't work to keep stocks up today. Gold and silver cliff-ledged early but gold recovered and stabilized while Silver slid to lows of the day (-3.5% on the week). Trading was relatively orderly until the last few minutes which saw a typical push for VWAP fail and the sell orders piled up into the close (and beyond in futures).

Morgan Stanley Redeems Paulson Investments: Explanation For Recent Gold Liquidation?

In key news that may well be the missing puzzle piece to explain some of the very odd market moves in the past week, we just learned courtesy of CNBC, that Morgan Stanley's Wealth platform unit has finally, after months and months of considerations, pulled the plug on the fund that for the second year in a row is one of the three worst performing in the weekly HSBC report and is now redeeming. That in itself is not unexpected. What however is notable is that MS withdrawing hundreds of millions in feeder capital may well explain why gold has seen such a dramatic dislocation in the past week. Recall that at Paulson & Co, gold is not simply an investment - the bulk of direct gold investments at the once legendary investor are in the form of (largely underperforming) gold mining stocks - but an actual investment class. In other words, instead of being denominated in USD, investors are actually denominated in (paper) gold, with a fixed conversion into GLD at inception. This means that upon liquidation of gold-denominated shares, any gold-denominated shares, he has no choice but to sell GLD, and by virtue of this being the most liquid paper instrument in the PM space, gold. Does the massive gold dislocation in the chart below now make more sense especially since Paulson was aware of MS' intentions days in advance and traded, or in this case liquidated, appropriately)?

Pump-And-Dump Beats Buy-And-Hold In The New Normal IPO Market

In today's 'fast money'-inspired, everyone's-a-winner, there's-a-bull-market-somewhere world of investing, the old school remains stoic in their buy-and-hold mantra that the Fed has your back and over the long-term retirement is assured and 'holding-hands as you walk along golden beaches with your loved one' is a mere few percent of your salary tithed away every month away... Well, sorry to steal the jam from their donut, but across a massive 568 IPOs in the last few years, Bloomberg's Chart of the Day shows that, in fact, buying and dumping within one-day is massively more profitable than buying-and-holding in the new 'capitalism'. As the mainstream media can't help but notice every uptick in China's share prices as a sign that all-is-well in the world, the local fund managers live by a different meme: "It’s weird that in China the longer you hold new shares, the bigger losses you’ll take."

Guest Post: Global Economic Slowdown Signals Sad New Year

The markets, as most people reading this should now well know, no longer reflect in any way the true economic health of our country.  If one was to measure the financial “recovery” of this nation by the strength of global stocks alone, he would probably come to the conclusion that the collapse of 2008 was a mere hiccup in the overall success of the worldwide economic system.  However, electronically traded equities with little more to back their value than scraps of receipt paper and numbers on a screen have no bearing on what is going to happen to you, and to me, over the course of the coming year.  The stock market is a sideshow, a popcorn movie, a façade.  The real drama is going on behind the scenes and revealed in fundamentals that mainstream analysts no longer discuss...

Boehner Abbreviated: Obama Approves Plan B Or Is Reponsible For The Largest Tax Hike In US History

Yesterday, while the market was absolutely euphoric that a Fiscal Cliff deal was imminent in the aftermath of the release of PR theatrics also known as "Plan B" we said:

Moments ago, Boehner confirmed that, at least as of this moment, this is precisely the plan, when he said that tomorrow the House will pass legislation extending tax cuts on those with incomes over $1 MM. He added next that Obama can either convince the Senate to pass "Plan B" (which won't happen) or be responsible for the largest tax hike in history. And now the ball is in Obama's court, where things look increasingly bleak that any further compromises are imminent, and the only thing that Obama will retort with is a veto to the House's vote.

Boehner Pongs To Obama's Ping - Live Webcast

After spending a few seconds earlier discussing gun law, President Obama discussed at length how Plan B is a no-go, how he has come more than half-way, and how Boehner seems happy to allow those earning $800k or $900k to 'get away' without paying more taxes. Speaker Boehner's rebuttal is due at 215ET... ES at 1437.5

Herbalife Plunges As Ackman Doubles Down On Einhorn Bear Thesis

Back in May, Herbalife stock got monkeyhammered when one of the best performing hedge fund managers of the past few years, David Einhorn expressed a bearish thesis in the company. Today, the stock just got the double tap following no new information, but merely the second part of the Einhorn-Ackman-Loeb activist triangle (who most of the time operate as an informal cartel), as it plunged by over 10% when William Ackman, smarting from the hundreds of millions lost in JCPenney just piggybacked on Einhorn's thesis, as reported by CNBC, said he is short Herbalife, calling it a pyramid scheme, and saying he has done fundamental research for a year (it takes a year to read Einhorn's presentation?). Essentially, nothing new here. All we await now is that 13F chaser Whitney Tilson to finally jump on board what is becoming the world's biggest hedge fund short, and get a catalyst, any catalyst that scrambles the shorts into covering, and sends the stock in the triple digit range.

Is The Santa-Claus Rally For Non-Residents Only?

The last 10 days have seen some remarkable moves across asset classes. None less so than the US equity markets where despite weak macro developments, AAPL's collapse, and the overhang of Fiscal Cliff uncertainty, stocks have gone from strength to strength on the back of the ubiquitous (and apparently oh so easy to trade) Santa Claus rally. However, a scratch below the surface, as indicated in these 3 charts, suggests that perhaps the US trading public is not allowed to participate - as the great majority of the gains have occurred only when the rest of the world is playing (and the worst performance is when only US residents are active).

The Federal Reserve's Seven Point Plan

Ever wondered whether the Fed actually has/had a plan? Gluskin-Sheff's David Rosenberg attempts to overlay some intelligence to the last seven years to get a grasp for what the venerable institution is actually up to. To wit, the seven stages of Federal Reserve jiggery-pokery... Will the seven become twelve as the addicts take over the asylum? Seven-point plan or seven-year dud?

Another Record Direct Bid Award In Today's 7 Year Auction

When we commented on yesterday's 5 year auction, most remarkable for a surge in 5 Year Direct awards to a stunning 30%, which in turn followed a record low Indirect takedown, we wondered if "there some major shift in the underlying dynamics for US paper based on these recent results? You bet. What is said shift? We hope to find out soon enough." Today, we still can't confirm what the reason for said shift is, but we can certainly confirm that the same pattern continues, as the US Treasury just sold its monthly $29 billion allotment of 7 Year paper, at a high yield of 1.233%, well above November's 1.05%, and a bid to cover of 2.72, just below the TTM average of 2.75, but the most notable feature was that just like yesterday, the Direct award was the highest in series history, at a whopping 23.11%, and above last month's 19.71%, which also was a record. There is a distinct shift in awards to Direct bidders, especially with PDs getting just 37%, the lowest since December 2010. Just who these bidders are, and is this merely a year end window dressing phenomenon, seen periodically when money managers need quality collateral for year end purposes, remains unclear. Keep an eye on the Direct bid in the January auction to see if the trend persists. If it does, it may be time to ask some questions.

The Economic Hunger Games

The Hunger Games trilogy of books (and rapidly expanding film franchise) is set in a dystopian future of depleted natural resources, with humanity clinging to survival in the wake of unspecified environmental apocalypse. The Capitol governs what remains of North America, with its citizens enjoying a lifestyle redolent with material possessions - albeit often financed by debt. Meanwhile the populations of the Districts toil in dangerous conditions, generally without basic political rights, to provide the Capitol with the consumer goods that its citizens demand. UBS' Paul Donovan notes that the parallels to modern society are not stretched too far here. Substitute the OECD for the Capitol and a number of emerging markets for the Districts, and we are viewing the world today reflected back from a distorting mirror as a grotesque image of modern reality. The challenge faced by humanity today is the unsustainable nature of modern living. Borrowing future standards of living to enhance current standards of living is all credit is about.