By his own admission in an interview today with Bloomberg TV, Barton Biggs is "elderly and not as sprite as he used to be" but for our purpose he is perfectly placed. As the almost-perfect contrarian call (bullish into August here and bearish in September here for example) notorious flip-flopper Biggs is now both "terrified he is not long enough" and yet "fears that an apocalyptic end to the Euro could occur within the next 3-6 months". According to Bloomberg, Biggs is net-long around 65% equities and noted he is "terrified I'm too long if the apocalypse is coming in Europe." Yet another canary in the seemingly 'ever-more-full-of-canaries' coal-mine (but now perhaps post OPEX and facing IMF/Greece/IIF reality we will see contrarianism at its best).
As I was writing this past weekend's newsletter "A Technical Review Of The Markets" it really dawned on me just how complacent investors have become on the economy, the markets and risk in general. The mainstream media, and most of analysts, are looking at recent improvements in the economic data as a sign that the economy has begun to make a turn for the better. This view is further supported by the rise of the stock market. With a couple of breadcrumbs, a sprinkle of "hope" and a cup of optimism - analysts, economists and investors have whipped up the perfect concoction by extrapolating recent upticks into long term future advances. However, this is a game that we have seen play out repeatedly before.
Time for a mea maxima culpa: I've been wrong about everything: the stock market, the economy, globalization, energy, everything. Heck, I've even been wrong about the American diet and poor fitness; it's now clear that ice cream sundaes are health food that have been shown to extend life dramatically. Fast food is nutritious and cheap, a great combination, and there is basically nothing in the mind-body that can't be fixed in a jiffy with a handful of pills, all of which are almost free once you qualify for government healthcare programs. The economy has not just dodged recession, it's in full-blown recovery. The only two indicators that are going down are the VIX volatility index, which might just fall to near-zero as investors realize there's no longer any downside in the market and therefore no need to buy hedges, and the unemployment rate, which is steadily declining. 2012 is like 1956, 1964, 1984 and 1996: the economy is booming, and a sitting president has wisely overseen the application of brilliant policies by the Pentagon, State and Treasury departments and the Federal Reserve. The policies were simple: when "more of the same" didn't work, do even more of the same. That did the trick in everything from waging war to finding new energy sources to stabilizing the financial and housing markets. This quote from President Calvin Coolidge neatly sums up 2012: If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.
CIA Agent Charged With Leaking Classified Information To Journalists Including Photos From GuantanamoSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/23/2012 - 14:13
The US Justice government reminds us that it still does exist. One wonders with the passage of the NDAA just what comparable lawsuits will look like when applied to regular US citizens charged with such crimes as talking to journalists and leaking photos from Guantanamo. Now we can all wait with bated breath as the DOJ i) finds where the MF Global money went, and ii) who is actually accountable. Or maybe not. From the DOJ: " A former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, was charged today with repeatedly disclosing classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities, Justice Department officials announced."
How does the current recovery compare to those of the past? The following charts from the Council on Foreign Relations puts the current (un)recovery in context and despite some apparently bright news recently, the pictures underline the economy's weakness since the NBER's recovery began in June 2009.
This is not the rumor that the central planning doctor ordered. This time from Dow Jones:
- No Intention By Euro Zone, IMF To Give More Money To Greece, Say Dow Jones Sources -DJ
- Major Greece creditors made clear EUR130 bn bailout loan "won't be increased by a single euro" - DJ
It remains to be clear if Greece will even get the €130 billion loan still, but that is a different story. EURUSD, and stocks, not happy.
Both EFSF and ESM rely primarily on guarantees which we know Most European politician think is as valuable as toilet paper, so why not provide more? The ESM does have some paid in capital, but the plan is for minimal paid in capital and maximum usage of guarantees. It is a distraction from their failure to leverage EFSF or to get new (non European bank) funding from the IMF. It's not a solution, barely even feasible. In the end there are only a couple of guarantors that matter and the rest is circular.
As of today, Orange Juice has just hit an all time high price of $223.25 (this time on talk of an import ban in Brazil but who really cares), and has returned a jaw-dropping 32.4% YTD, or 7,032% annualized. This is the biggest 4 day surge since October 2006, and for all intents and purposes, essentially the biggest ever. Needless to say, Randolph and Mortimer Capital LLC is back up and running, and has been forced to limit investor inflows due to unprecedented interest in this asset class, which, yes, you can eat (a little freeze drying may be required in advance). At this rate, bottle service of Dom P at 1Oak will cost less than a small container of Tropicana.
For an update on the sad state of the hedge fund industry, we go to the FT which confirms what we had been reporting every week in 2011 courtesy of the periodic HSBC hedge fund industry report, namely that less than one third of all hedge funds in 2011 paid material bonuses to their employees (or if they did, they better have done it without the knowledge of their LPs), because "more than two-thirds of hedge funds are below their high water mark., the point at which they are able to charge investors performance fees." And since performance fees, or the 20 in the "2 and 20 part", is where the discretionary component of analyst, trader and PM compensation comes from, it is safe to say that the bulk of hedgies did not have a good year in 2011. And, in fact, for many the anger goes far back: "It can be a long way back. Credit Suisse calculates that 13 per cent of hedge funds have not earned any incentive fees since at least 2007. Most of these are small funds with assets of less than $100m, which struggle to retain staff without the income available from performance fees." One such fund was of course Citadel which after its abysmal performance in 2008 only managed to climb above its high water mark in the past week for the first time since 2007. And while this is not really news, what is far more curious is that according to Credit Suisse hedge funds have resumed levering once again.
As we wait for more IIF announcements about the Greek Private Sector Involvement (PSI), Greek CDS remains bid above 60 points up front. For a contract that is about to be "worthless", this seems to have a lot of value. Why would Greek CDS still be so well bid? Whether it is stubbornness, stupidity, or more simply a reality check on the IIF's negotiating power (just how many bonds do they speak for?) and the future unsustainability of Greek debt anyway, it seems that an impressive immediate exchange of all Greek debt with at least a 50% notional reduction, 30 year maturity, and low coupon is pretty well priced in (away from actual Greek bonds that is). Anything less is likely to disappoint the market as the realization that nothing is fixed sinks in, and that this may not even take near term "hard default" off the table (this PSI is a default no matter how it is spun even if it isn't a Credit Event).
Long-time readers of Zero Hedge know that the application of Birinyi's ruler to any trend (traditionally the market, but anything works - after all extrapolating the future courtesy of a few data points is the new killing it) has long been a "favorite" topic of ours. So is media spin in the form of certain "hit" keywords, such as "transitory", "better than expected", and of course "sustainable." Which is why were are delighted when we can combine both concepts into one post, or in this case, chart, which today comes courtesy of xkcd.com, which plot the incidence of the word "sustainable" in English text, and comes up with some amusing predictions, such as that by the year 2109, at current trends, every sentence in the English language will consist solely of the world "sustainable" used over and over.
As comparisons between US and European debt to GDP levels and the finger-pointing of who is deleveraging more continues, McKinsey notes (in their quarterly Debt and Deleveraging article) that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the US as private-sector deleveraging has been rapid since 2008. However, reading on a little, we find that the light at the end of the tunnel may well be the front of the oncoming train of financial distress as some two-thirds of the 4% ($584bn) in US household debt deleveraging is from defaults on home-loans (and other consumer debt). Of course, with homebuilder stock prices surging (notably rather dramatically relative to lumber or ABS/CMBS), consensus has once again agreed that the bottom in housing is in. McKinsey's initial forecast that the pent-up foreclosures and implicit deleveraging will bring us back to trend by 2013 seems like a pipe-dream and we tend to agree with their more conservative perspective that reversion in household debt will not be to trend but to pre-credit-bubble levels, implying a 22% further reduction (or a couple more trillion dollars of defaults).