Is The Money-Laundering Driven Real Estate "Boom" Ending?

One by one all the money-laundering loopholes in a broke world are coming to an end. First it was Swiss bank accounts, which for centuries guaranteed the depositors absolute secrecy, and as a result saw money inflows from all the wealthiest savers in the world, who felt truly safe their wealth (obtained by legal means or otherwise) would not be redistributed forcefully. In the ecosystem of finance, Switzerland was the depositor bank. Then 2008 happened, and starting with the US, shortly to be followed by every other insolvent country, demands were issued for a full list of people who had used Zurich and Geneva bank vaults to avoid the risk of asset taxation, capital controls and confiscation on their own native soil. The result was the end of the Swiss banking sector as the ultimate target of all global money laundering. In the ensuing power vacuum, others have sprung up to take its place, most notably Singapore, but its days as a tax-haven are numbered by how long it takes China to fall face first into a hard landing at which point no saving on the Pacific seaboard will be safe.

Now, it is the turn of real estate.

China's Great Wall Of Suds: Chemical Spill Results In 50 Foot Foam Tsunami

This is just the second time in three days that China's province of Guangdong is being discussed on Zero Hedge. On Thursday we wrote that the mega city of Dongguang, once Guangdong richest, is now on the verge of bankruptcy as China's hard landing begins to take its toll. Today, we learn that instead of the rivers running red once all hell breaks loose in China, the color will be soapy white. Specifically, following a chemical spill in Xintang, in the provine of Guandong, the result was a 50 foot tsunami of foam which was swept down a river by heavy rainfall, causing widespread panic and evacuations. It also caused the following brilliant explanation from a Chinese spokesman: "People are right to be cautious but it is harmless. It made very large bubbles when it went over a waterfall, but apart from one or two dead fish, it is harmless." We can't wait to hear Chinese justifications of mushroom clouds: "aside from one or two billion dead people, they give you a healthy green afterglow"?

The Law Of Diminishing Returns

In the discipline of rational economics - and even in the “economics” which has sadly taken its place - the law of diminishing returns applies to productive processes. It states that with all other factors remaining the same, the addition of more units of one factor of production will at some  point result in a lower yield per unit. There is always an optimum combination of factors of production which yields the highest return per unit of production. Increase one of these units beyond that optimum and the yield provided starts to drop. This does not necessarily mean that the amount of output drops. It means that the output is now not being produced in the most efficient manner. Factors of production are being wasted.

How Bad Was The Great Depression?

To properly understand the events of the time (and to put them in today's context), we believe, like the FEE, that it is factually appropriate to view the Great Depression as not one, but four consecutive downturns rolled into one. These four “phases” are: I. Monetary Policy and the Business Cycle; II. The Disintegration of the World Economy; III. The New Deal; IV. The Wagner Act. The first phase covers why the crash of 1929 happened in the first place; the other three show how government intervention worsened it and kept the economy in a stupor for over a decade. The following brief clip and article shine a light on how bad things were and what was done in the name of 'helping' - there are many shocking analogies for current government-inspired acts from taxation to protectionism to money-supply 'tricks'. Everyone has heard the sage observation of philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s a warning we should not fail to heed.

Some "Curious" US And French Military Deployments

Regular readers are aware that periodically, usually weekly, Zero Hedge presents critical naval updates demonstrating the positioning of key US maritime assets, primarily strategic aircraft carriers. The location of these indicates far more what US foreign policy is focused on at any moment, than propaganda distributed for general consumption via the coopted media. Today, however, instead of focusing on aircraft carriers, using Stratfor analysis, we present several broad "curious" US and French military developments.

US Nuclear 'Fort Knox' Cracked By 82-Year-Old Nun

It's the weekend so forgive us this modest sidetrack but this 'Onion-esque' story was just too good to ignore.The company at the center of the Olympics' security debacle, G4S (whose directors resigned just yesterday over the "humiliating shambles") has gone one better. As Reuters reports, Megan Rice - an 82-year-old nun - cut perimeter fences and reached the outer wall where enriched uranium was stored at the US Government's nuclear storage 'Fort Knox' in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Can you guess who was responsible for the 'outsourced' security that enabled this SNAFU? G4S' subsidiary Babcock & Wilcox Co. (B&W). Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said the incident was an important "wake-up call" for the entire nuclear complex. An investigation last month found a security camera had been broken for about six months and was part of a backlog of repairs needed for security at the facility. Several top-ranking NNSA officials have been 'reassigned' (Gulag?) but have no fear as B&W have stated that the active union workers involved will all be employed elsewhere. One more example of the ineptitude of government oversight, the unintended consequence of crony capitalism, or simply another 'fool-me-once...'/unpunished debacle?

Greek Bad Loans Climb To Record 25% Of Total

It appears that in the past few weeks, the number 25% is strange attractor of bad luck for Greece. First, a month ago we learned that Greek unemployment has for the first time ever reached 25%. Now we get to see the income statement and balance sheet manifestation of a society in socioeconomic collapse - Kathimerini reports that Greek bad loans, or those which haven't seen a payment made in over 3 months, have hit a record €57 billion, or 25% of all bank debt. "With one in every four loans not being repaid for more than three months, the bank system is feeling the pressure, leading to additional capital requirements that are expected to aggravate the state debt further." That was Kathimerini's spin. The reality is that just like in Spain, where between bad loans and deposit outflows, the country has become a protectorate of the ECB, which is now fully in control of its banking system, so too in Greece Mario Draghi's tentacles are now in every bank office. Should Greece repeat the festivities of this summer and threaten to pull out of the Eurozone, the ECB will merely in turn threaten to push the red button and cut off all cash to terminally insolvent Greek banks, which of course would also mean a total halt of all deposit outflow activity. So instead what will happen is the ongoing rise in unemployment, and the increase in bad loans as percent of total, until one day the economy, even with all the money in the world pumped into it from Frankfurt, will no longer move. That day is getting very close.

New York's Ultraluxury Office Vacancy Rate Jumps To Two Year High As Financial Firms Brace For Impact

Traditionally, when it comes to reading behind the manipulated media's tea leaf rhetoric and timing major inflection points in the economy, the most accurate predictor are financial firms, whose sense of true economic upside (or downside) while never infallible, is still better than most. Yet unlike employment, which is usually a lagging, or at best concurrent indicator, one aspect that has always been a tried and true leading indicator, has been real estate demand, in this case rental contracts. Due to the long-term lock up nature of commercial real estate contracts, firms are far less eager to engage in rental transactions (and bidding wars) when they expect a worsening macroeconomic environment. Which is why news that office vacancy in Manhattan's Plaza district, the area between Sixth Avenue and the East River from 47th to 65th streets, anchored by the landmark Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South which is home to some of the nation’s most expensive and prestigious office towers, and where America's largest hedge funds and PE firms have their headquarters, has just risen to 12.3%, or a two year high, is probably the most troubling news for the economy and a real indicator of what to expect of the immediate future.

Guest Post: A Few Remarks On Elections

Rregardless of who you vote for, you can firmly depend on being disappointed in the areas that actually count. The whole idea that the democratic system such as it is allows voters to alter a nation's course by simply voting for a different  batch of politicians is profoundly mistaken. In reality, the ruling elites use the apparent differences as a slick political ploy: namely to implement whatever agenda they have already decided upon without arousing the anger of the hoi-polloi too much. One must very carefully parse everything one sees or hears on the 'approved' news media these days. More often than not things are not what they seem, and it only becomes clear after some time in what direction they are about to be taken. Often we are confronted with seemingly diametrically opposed opinions on how to tackle a burning problem. Later a 'compromise' will suddenly and 'unexpectedly' make its entrance, consisting of the very policies the elites wanted to introduce in the first place. Upon hearing of the 'compromise', everybody nods sagely and agrees that this is what should be done, not realizing that they were duped from the very beginning.

Guess Who Was The Biggest Beneficiary From The Fed's POMO Bonanza

There was a time before the Fed announced it would commence sterilizing its Large Scale Asset Purchases when every day in which there was a Permanent Open Market Operation, or POMO (remember those?) was a gift from Bernanke, virtually assuring the market would ramp higher. This phenomenon had been documented extensively in Zero Hedge and elsewhere (a comprehensive analysis can be found in "POMO and Market Intervention: A Primer"). The pronounced market effect of POMO was diminished somewhat once the Fed sterilized the daily flow injection by selling short-term bonds to Primary Dealers, even though the Fed continues to buy $45 billion in long-term bonds to this day, effectively mopping up all 10 Year+ gross Treasury issuance, and keeping the stock of long bonds in the private market flat at ~$650 billion as we observed before. All of this is well known. What was not known is who were the Fed's POMO counterparties. Now we know. Yesterday, the Fed for the first time ever released Transaction level data for all of its Open Market Operations. The new data focuses on discount window transactions (completely irrelevant now that there are $1.7 trillion in excess reserves and the last thing banks need is overnight emergency lending from the Fed when there is already a liquidity tsunami floating, yet this is precisely what the WSJ focused on), on FX operations, and, our favorite, Open Market Operations, chief among them POMOs. What today's release reveals is that once again a conspiracy theory becomes fact, because we now know just which infamous bank was by fat the biggest monopolist of POMO operations in a period in which banks reported quarter after quarter of zero trading day losses. We leave it up to readers to discover just which bank we are referring to.

The Next Subprime Crisis Is Here: Over $120 Billion In Federal Student Loans In Default

Whereas earlier today we presented one of the most exhaustive presentations on the state of the student debt bubble, one question that has always evaded greater scrutiny has been the very critical default rate for student borrowers: a number which few if any lenders and colleges openly disclose for fears the general public would comprehend not only the true extent of the student loan bubble, but that it has now burst. This is a question that we specifically posed a month ago when we asked "As HELOC delinquency rates hit a record, are student loans next?" Ironically in that same earlier post we showed a chart of default rates for federal loan borrowers that while rising was still not too troubling: as it turns out the reason why its was low is it was made using fudged data that drastically misrepresented the seriousness of the situation, dramatically undercutting the amount of bad debt in the system.  Luckily, this is a question that has now been answered, courtesy of the Department of Education, which today for the first time ever released official three-year, or much more thorough than the heretofore standard two-year benchmark, federal student loan cohort default rates. The number, for all colleges, stood at a stunning 13.4% for the 2009 cohort. And while it is impossible using historical data to extrapolate with precision what the current consolidated federal student loan default rate is, we do know that there is now $914 billion in federal student loans (which also was mysteriously revised over 50% higher by the Fed just a month ago). Using simple inference, all else equal (and all else has certainly deteriorated), there is now at least $122 billion in federal student loan defaults. And surging every day.

Ladies and gentlemen: meet the new subprime.

Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?

Presented with little comment, but in around three minutes, this clip provides a modicum of clarity on just where all that money goes... It seems 47% is the new number to really care about - perhaps 53% should also be of note...

Guest Post: Welcome To The Era of 'Ugly' Inflation

Ray Dalio recently described the characteristics of a “beautiful deleveraging” in which equal doses of austerity, write-downs, and inflation gradually lighten the load of impaired debt. Two things can turn beautiful inflation into ugly inflation: Wages don’t inflate along with prices and the currency depreciates as money is printed excessively. This might not matter for a nation that is a net exporter of goods and services.  But for nations that import essentials such as oil and grain, this is a catastrophe, as wages are flat while the cost of imported energy and food skyrocket.  Households have less money to spend, and servicing debt becomes increasingly burdensome. Welcome to the United States of Ugly Inflation.  Real household income (i.e., adjusted for official inflation) has declined 8% since 2007; the cost of oil, medical care and higher education has climbed; and government revenues have stagnated even as demand for government services has increased. As a result, the entire beautiful deleveraging scenario is at risk.

Apple Has Satanic Close To Quarter

Ending the day at the lows, AAPL's stock price traded with a truly demonic $666.66  after-hours. The reason for the last few days' weakness? Who knows when a bubble bursts but between its analog to MSFT's meteoric rise, the stocks' weight in the NASDAQ, 'disappointing' first-week sales, Cook's Maps FUBAR, supply-chain disruptions, or the market having to suddenly price in the arrival of the new Obama-phone, volumes have been picking up.

Gold And Silver Lead Everything Week-, Month-, Quarter-, & Year-To-Date

It has been a volatile week but equities have drifted lower overall with today's early going retracing all of yesterday's gains only to bounce post Europe's close (once again) on the farce of the Spanish bank audit. Reality sunk in into the close though a glance at S&P 500 futures in the last 30 minutes suggest more V-Fib than trend (as VWAP came into play amid heavy volume at the close). EUR weakness (and USD strength) lifted DXY to a 0.75% gain on the week (almost mirroring Copper and Oil's 0.9% loss on the week) but Gold and Silver popped into the close to end the week unchanged (notably outperforming other asset classes). Treasuries held on to 5bps (5Y) to 12bps (10y & 30Y) yield compression on the week - with some volatility this afternoon bringing them back off their low yields of the week. Utilities ended the week up 1% as the only green sector with Tech, Materials, and Energy all -1.5 to 2% on the week. VIX ended the week up around 1.6 vols (in line with stocks at around 15.6%) and credit continued to lag equities modestly. Cross-asset-class correlations fell away a little this afternoon as stocks meandered but broadly risk-assets suggest some more downside to equities.

How Oliver Wyman Manipulated The Spanish Bank Bailout Analysis

The biggest (non) news of the day was Oliver Wyman ("OW") conducting an "independent" audit of the Spanish banking system to validate the previously disclosed funding needs of Spain's banks which were announced back in June (just a week after Mariano Rajoy "insisted" no bank bailouts are needed). What OW really did was exercise 1 in a financial analyst's playbook: to goal seek a number in excel using a variety of input variables, especially several fudge factors that are tangential to the matter at hand, yet which provide the biggest bang for the buck. In this case the target of the goalseeking exercise was to get a final headline number for bank capital needs to be just as expected, or €60 billion. Sure enough it the number was €59.3 billion, just a little bit less than consensus. This is the total number of cash the bank system will need in order to be considered viable, and unless something has changed drastically, the cash will come from new debt issued by Spain, which in turn funds its bank bailout fund, the FROB (a process explained here). While it is a given that several months from now we will go through this whole entire exercise to find out how much more cash Spain's banks will need, for now what is curious is to understand what the fudge factor was that OW abused to allow it to get the desired result. That fudge factor is what is known as "excess capital buffer", whose usage in the model to plug a major capital shortfall gap is non-sensical and shows that the real funding needs of Spain's banks will be far greater, even absent future deterioration.

Gasoline Supply Concerns Trump Crude SPR Rumors

While most eyes are firmly focused on the crude oil markets for indications of QEternity spillover, geopolitical escalation, and/or SPR rumors; the end-product market has gone only one way for the last two weeks. Thanks to technical supply constraint concerns (refinery maintenance in the Atlantic Basin and supplies at their lowest in over four years) RBOB gasoline prices have jumped over 18% in the last few days as crude has drifted - which can only mean down-the-supply-chain price rises at the pump for car-drivers everywhere (whether you can find the gas station using your new iPhone 5 or not).

Friday Humor: Don't Drink And Trade

On June the 30th 2009 oil mysteriously jumped by more than $1.50 a barrel during the night, to reach its highest price in eight months, the kind of swing that is caused by a major geopolitical event. The amazing, true cause of this price spike has now been released by a Financial Services Authority investigation (FSA). (Hint: 'Drunken Blackout')

All Your Private Data Are Belong To Obama

When it comes to spying, eavesdropping on its citizens as well as the complete invasion of American privacy, the first thing that comes to mind is the Patriot ACT and Dubya. And with good reason: because while the rest of the world may "hate us for our freedoms", they certainly love us for the fact that the NSA usually can autocomplete sentences before they are written in any electronic medium (recall: NSA Whistleblower Speaks Live: "The Government Is Lying To You"). However, as it turns out that the first thing that should be coming to mind is none other than the current administration and Barack Obama. Here are the facts: as the ACLU reveals using documents released by the Justice Department following months of litigation, "federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability." How "increasingly"? Look at the chart below and decide. From the ACLU: Between 20909 and 2011 "the number of people whose telephones were the subject of pen register and trap and trace surveillance more than tripled. In fact, more people were subjected to pen register and trap and trace surveillance in the past two years than in the entire previous decade."