It is only somewhat appropriate that the announcement of the resignation of Stratfor's CEO would come in the form of a leaked email that once again was intercepted by Anonymous.
Earlier today, Wikileaks made its latest startling release on Twitter, telling the media world to standby for a 'major announcement'. Alas, in keeping with the recent tradition from Wikileaks, the "release" was a dud and is merely the collected dump of all the emails previously hacked from Stratfor by Anonymous, as was noted here previously. Alas a quick perusal through the emails so far reveals absolutely nothing exciting, except for the communiques of a paid intelligence provider, which may at times have had a few delusions of grandure and a mistaken and rather overblown sense of self-importance (hardly unique). Yet one exchange that is rather interesting is the following email thread from 2009 which goes from discussing how the billionaires behind ACORN have lost all respect for Obama and Biden ("The billionaire (who also funds ACORN) is greatly disappointed over Obama's "weakness and wimpyness" towards China... She believes Biden is weasel and Obama is a pussy... The liberal factions in DC think Obama is being a pussy."), views on Rahm Emanuel ("I don't disagree that Biden is a weasel. I think Emanuel is emasculating Obama by selling him on clever Clintonesque tactics"), views on how Obama may get back into the thick of things: ("Obama needs to get in a fight and do something really mean and unfair to the right."), on Obama and the banks: ("he could also tell the banks to go screw themselves.") and from there going to analyzing the GOP field: ("The GOP folks I talk to are pushing Jeb Bush. I think that is a mistake. Who else is out there?") and culminating with the GOP frontrunning Mitt Romney - "Romney can't make it. Mormons are viewed as Voo Doo." Much more in the full email thread inside.
As we enter a week in which the expectations are high for yet another large expansion of central bank balance sheets, and ever more extreme monetary policy (thanks to the LTRO 2), we thought it appropos to listen to Grant Williams, of the famous "Things That Make You Go Hhhhm" newsletter, explain in its simplest terms, why it is still a good time to own gold. In two excellent and succinct presentations, Williams discusses the 'simplicity' of investing through the last four decades but ends by focusing specifically on the rotation to Gold at the start of the last decade (2000) and why the reason for rotating out of the precious metal has not occurred yet. Seeing the world of Gold as a battle between Too Much and Not Enough (and drawing on global supply, demand, and holdings flow) Williams lays out the reasons for owning gold, and how to know when to cover - as he narrows the five reasons to reconsider Buffett-and-Roubini's Barbarous Relic down to one simple rule - Central Bank Monetary Policy Changes.
Last week saw dramatic dispersion among the major FX pairs as global and local influences caused significant moves in most of the key crosses. Goldman takes a look back at the key drivers of that volatility and then focuses on the week ahead as the EU Summit at the latter end is the main event risk while ongoing macro developments will be focused on the incessant rise in Crude oil prices and whether we start seeing knock-on impacts in the real economy.
While we are aware of politicians' repeated vows about the uniqueness of the Greek case, we remain deeply skeptical. After all, hasn't it been a winning investment strategy to assume that the exact opposite of whatever Europe's elite says will become fact? The recently overheard and filmed conversation between Germany's and Portugal's finmins (http://t.co/iDA9HJPo) points in the direction of an imminent review of the Portuguese case and might be a harbinger of PSI, OSI etc à la Gréce. And why stop there? Why not relieve the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese etc. of their troublesome load? Wouldn't it be nice to pull a Greek and finally make it for those pesky Maastricht criteria? But regardless of one's view on the ongoing crisis, it makes perfect sense to go where no investor has gone before. We did the unthinkable, read the unreadable and made it back alive to tell the tale: we ploughed through all of the individual bond prospectuses of our favorite list of countries in peril and actually found a lot of useful information for the investor. Given that the sovereign bonds of the Eurozone used to be looked at as riskless assets, it is safe to assume that the exercise hasn't been done by a lot of investors on a regular basis. Judging by the difficulty to even obtain the information, both the interest of investors to obtain it and that of issuers and underwriters to provide it has been and remains extremely limited.
Still confused why there are those who call America the USSA? Don't be. As the following animation from the NYT so vividly shows, government benefits across the US have nearly tripled from a modest 7.8% of all personal income in 1969 to a 'European' 17.6% in 2009. And this before Obama went to town (as a reminder total debt has risen by over $4 trillion under Obama - a significant portion of that has gone to fund social welfare). Thus, we are confident that as of this writing, the government accounts for at least 20% and possibly as high as a quarter of all personal income. One can use any word to describe that transition depending on one's personal political preferences, except for one: "sustainable."
Want to get into the head of a hedge fund manager, and see how they view the market: why just buy Apple of course, however good luck explaining to your LPs why you deserve 2 and 20 for "active asset management" aka just following the herd into the biggest hedge fund hotel in history (for at least 216 hedge funds it may be a tough sell). So for everyone else, Goldman's David Kostin (who still has a 1250 year end S&P target - the definitive indicator to sell everything will be when he too gives up) has compiled the data in all the just released 13Fs and has summarized the results as follows...
Continuing our series of charts worth a thousand words (first one here), below courtesy of Credit Suisse's William Porter we present the Euro Area as if it were a giant CDO. It should answer most outstanding questions.
At bottom, centralization is the foundation for the collectivist fallacy; that there is a “greater good” that must be maintained by the establishment. This process makes the establishment indispensable in the minds of the public. The elites in power today have chosen environmental dogma as their version of the “greater good”, because the “end of the world as we know” can be used to rationalize almost any brand of despotic behavior, from food and water rationing as a method for social conditioning, to population control or even depletion in the name of “saving the planet”. Always beware the true motivations of any governing institution that seeks to assert itself as the purveyor of all that is “best” for the people. Such groups are rarely if ever what they seem…
While we would be among the last to point out stock charts as an indicator of much significance in the New Normal, when the only thing that matters is how many trillion in liquidity the central banks have pumped into the market in the last few months (thus confusing economists and journalists that the nominal market is in fact the economy - just as the Chairsatan desires), the following chart from Grant Williams (whose latest "Things That Make You Go Hmmm" can be found here), which shows that the gaping spread between the DJIA and the Dow Transports is now the widest it has been in years. Soaring oil prices may not have infected stocks yet (and by stocks we obviously mean IBM and Apple), but those who think Dow Theory is even remotely relevant (hint: it isn't) should probably be concerned.
A few days ago, before the latest breakout in crude sent Brent to all time highs in GBP and EUR (and Asian Tapis in USD just shy of all time highs), we said that "we hope our readers stocked up on gasoline. Because things are about to get uglier. And by that we mean more expensive. But courtesy of hedonic adjustments, more expensive means cheaper, at least to the US government." This was due to recent news out of Iran "where on one hand we learn that IAEA just pronounced Iran nuclear talks a failure (this is bad), and on the other Press TV reports that the Iran army just started a 4 day air defense exercise in a 190,000 square kilometer area in southern Iran (this is just as bad). The escalation "ball" is now in the Western court." We were not surprised to learn that the "Western court" has responded in precisely the way we had expected. The WSJ reports: "The Pentagon is beefing up U.S. sea- and land-based defenses in the Persian Gulf to counter any attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. military has notified Congress of plans to preposition new mine-detection and clearing equipment and expand surveillance capabilities in and around the strait... The military also wants to quickly modify weapons systems on ships so they could be used against Iranian fast-attack boats, as well as shore-launched cruise missiles" Which means the escalation slider was just shifted up by one more level, as Iran will next do just what every actor caught in an Always Defect regime as part of an iterated prisoners' dilemma always does - step up the rhetoric even more, as backing off at this point is impossible. Which means that crude will go that much more higher in the coming days, as now even the MSM is starting to grasp the obvious - from the Guardian: "The drumbeat of war with Iran grows steadily more intense. Each day brings more defiant rhetoric from Tehran, another failed UN nuclear inspection, reports of western military preparations, an assassination, a missile test, or a dire warning that, once again, the world is sliding towards catastrophe. If this all feels familiar, that's because it is. For Iran, read Iraq in the countdown to the 2003 invasion." And the most ironic thing is that the biggest loser out of all this, at least in the short-term is.... Greece.
The 1922 German hyperinflation experience was undoubtedly propelled by printing massive amounts of money. Yet, the Japanese money printing experience has had no impact whatsoever on inflation. Here we are in 2012, and the World’s four main central banks (USA, Britain, Europe and Japan) continue to print gobs of money. Will the outcome be 1922 Germany or 1990 Japan?...The bottom line is as follows – the combination of the bursting of property prices and the refusal of the big banks to write-off the corresponding bad debt is resulting in a big wave of deflation. We expect this to continue. Yet, we also are mindful enough to know that pockets of inflation will occur in various countries and within various industries. The real threat of hyper inflation will occur when a major currency collapses. Any country that leaves the Eurozone will undoubtedly see extreme inflation during their transition years. Outside of the Euro-zone, Britain remains at risk due to it being a key center of global finance and at risk should the World’s super-size banks implode once again.
Yes, Greece had a smaller, shakier economy and doesn't have a central bank to print its own currency at will like Japan or the US. But even those countries with a printing press learn that, after a certain point, expanding the money supply only complicates the problem of too much debt by inflating key economic input costs and dangerously weakening the currency. The cold hard fact Greece is facing is that it's now at the point where extraordinary losses need to be taken. The problem is, no one wants to take them. And all the sturm und drang being exhibited by Brussels, the ECB, sovereign debt holders, and other world leaders is nothing more than a frantic game of hot potato. The one thing we can be confident of is that at some point, these losses will be taken. The market will eventually force it. And the second thing we can predict is: we don't know what will happen when they are. There is so much complexity in the counterparty exposure to Greece debt - as well as the much larger derivative exposure tied to this debt - that anything between "not much" and "worldwide financial conflagration" could be possible. And that's just Greece. As other larger countries begin to sink under the weight of their sovereign debts, the risks to the global financial system increasingly escalates. Which is why Ben Davies has a hard time finding a good home for investment capital other than gold.
You hear a lot about Kafkaesque stifling bureaucracy in Greece and other struggling European nations, but America's Status Quo is trying its best to destroy small enterprise with taxes and crushing bureaucracy. I am self-employed, and have been for most of my life. When I did take a paid position, it was in other small enterprises or local non-profit organizations. I mention this because there is an unbridgeable divide in any discussion of small business between those who have no experience in entrepreneural enterprise (i.e. they've worked for the government, NGOs/non-profits or Corporate America their entire careers) and those who have. There are all sorts of similar chasms that cannot be crossed and which quickly reveal a surreal disconnect from actual lived reality: for example, the difference between actually playing football--yes, with pads, a muddy field and guys trying to slam you to the ground--and being an armchair quarterback who's never been hit even once, never caught a pass or ever struggled to bring down a faster, bigger player. (And yes, I did play football in high school as a poor dumb skinny kid who mostly warmed the bench for good reason, but I lettered.) At the extreme of this disconnect, we have armchair generals screaming for war who have no experience of combat or war as it is actually experienced. You get the point: it's very easy for well-paid pundits who have never started a single real enterprise or met a single payroll to pontificate about "opportunity" and small business as the engine of growth, blah blah blah. It's also easy for those with no actual experience to reach all sorts of absurd conclusions about how easy it is to turn a small business into great wealth. (No, Bain Capital or other Wall Street outposts of financialization are not "small business.")
My advice is to put all of the headlines aside because they are not accurate. No deal has actually been struck and there is just the possibility of one at present. The PSI is also nowhere near certain. There has certainly been a proposal made with innumerable and probably impossible conditions to be met by Greece including a demand for a Constitutional change, which under the current Constitution, cannot even be voted on until 2013. I often wonder if Europe really wants to bail Greece out or if Germany is not forcing so many conditions that they are trying to have them exit the Euro on their own so the Germans are not seen as the Lord High Executioner; to quote Mr. Gilbert & Sullivan.