August 29th, 2012
Another year, another central planning pipe dream...
Doug Casey is of the opinion that the Hubbert peak-oil theory is correct. In the 1950s, M. King Hubbert projected that US oil production would start declining in the 1970s, and he was accurate. Then he projected that in the mid-2000s, the world's production of light, sweet crude would start declining. He was quite correct about that, too. There will always be plenty of oil at some given price, but to produce oil – even conventional, shallow, light sweet crude – now costs close to $40/bbl in many places. Drilling in politically unstable jurisdictions with sparse infrastructure is neither cheap nor fun. We're talking about production costs of at least $80/bbl in many cases. In an industrial world with seven billion people, the only energy source that makes sense is nuclear power. Sure, you can use wind and solar from time to time and in certain places. But those technologies are extremely expensive, and they absolutely can't solve the world's energy problems.
The punchline from today's Fed household debt and credit report is comparing student debt to one other favorite product of the housing bubble generation: HELOCs. We note home equity lines of equity because as of June 30, 2012, long after HELOCs were widely available to Americans locked in a rabid pursuit to extract as much equity as they could out of their homes, is when the 90+ day delinquent rate on this product hit an all time high of 4.92%, and is finally rising at a breakneck speed. What is fascinating is when one re-indexes the delinquency rate on HELOCs and student loans. While we admit that the "discharge" option on real estate-backed debt does have a material impact, the reality is that once the prevailing mode of thinking is one of just not paying one's student loans, it will be not the student loan chart which is already parabolic, but that which tracks delinquent student loans that will take its place in the exponential hall of fame.
The Chinese Stock Markets are returning to the lows of 2009 and the Europe is mired in a recession. The American Stock Markets are not far off their highs and we do not think this will continue. Mark Grant is quite negative, for all kinds of reasons, about our equity markets now and would be taking profits and returning to the more assured bets of getting yield from bonds and not from dividends. A dividend may be reduced or cancelled by the wave of some Boards’ hand one afternoon while senior debt cannot be cancelled without the company or the municipality going into bankruptcy so that the top of the capital structure is far safer than relying upon dividends for income. In the next sixty days we are faced with Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and ECB issues that are quite serious both economically and politically. You may think what you like but there is a lot of risk on the table; of that you may be assured. When someone says, “Buddy can you spare a dime” we would like to be the one being asked and not the one doing the asking. It is here where we stand and wait.
Mr Draghi… a few questions for you…
The bow-tied-and-bespectacled bringer-of-truth was on Bloomberg TV this morning providing his own clarifying perspective on what we should hope for (and what we should not) from J-Hole this weekend. Jim Grant's acerbic comments on Krugman's view of the world, on the gold standard as a "force for growth and stability", and the "unproven and truly radical methods" of the SNB and Fed, pale in significance when he is asked about the stock market distortions: "I think we live in a hall of mirrors in finance thanks to the zero interest rate regime and the chronic nonstop interventions," and when asked when Bernanke should start raising rates, the simple (yet complex) response is "Last Year! And Eric Rosengren would be in a different line of work." Must watch to understand the central-banker-meme-du-decade.
The Status Quo depends on the professional/managerial class to maintain order and keep the machine running. Since this class has more options in life than less educated lower-income workers, their belief in the fairness and stability of the Status Quo is essential: should their belief in the Status Quo weaken, so would their commitment to positions that require long work days and abundant stress....At every juncture where a decision to opt out (quit) or continue serving the Status Quo arises, the believer is co-opted by their desire to "stay in the game" for the promised slice of wealth and security. The risk-return calculus is heavily skewed to complicity, because the options for wealth and security outside the machine are meager and loaded with risk. It is my contention that the wealth and security promised by the machine in exchange for subservience are phantom, and the risk of the promises not being kept is much higher than generally assumed. ironically, those who opt out and accept the risk and lower compensation are actually more secure and much wealthier (in terms of well-being and autonomy) than those who submit to voluntary capture.
Presented with little comment, via Bloomberg Insider's Convention 2012 Issue; the history of military spending (which we discussed recently) and the $400bn divide between Obama and Romney's agenda.
UPDATE: USD/ES/TSY appears in QE-OFF mode
Yes, volumes are low; yes, liquidity is very thin (just look at the gaps in European Government Bond - moves); and yes, US equity market ranges remain narrow; but the somewhat paradoxical movements in the last 30 minutes are worth noting for their total schizophrenia. After being generally well-correlated (for hours/days), the relationship between EURUSD, 10Y Treasuries, US equities, and European Sovereign bond risk has broken down this morning. GDP data saw a 'risk-on' style move (EUR up, TSY yields up, Stocks up, and EGB risk lower). But from the US day-session open we now have EUR weakness with USD strength weakening the bid under US equities but at the same time Treasuries are selling off and EGBs are rallying (rather notably). It is indeed a mad world.
While The Brits are about to tax their Super-Rich, it appears one of the old colonies remains in full anti-Robin-Hood mode. Nothing surprises us much anymore but this note from Bloomberg too the proverbial biscuit. In the "most mean-spirited, ruthlessly executed corruption," India's politicians and their criminal syndicates have looted as much as $14.5bn in food from one province alone. 57,000 tons of food meant for the devastatingly poor of the Uttar Pradesh region is sat in a government storage facility five football fields long. The 'theft' has blunted the nation's only weapon against mass starvation and as Supreme Court commissioner Naresh Saxena notes: "What I find even more shocking is the lack of willingness in trying to stop it," as the Minister for Food, who stands charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and electoral fraud, has diverted more than 80 percent of the food. "Who is a person who holds a below poverty line ration card? A person of no influence; you can just tell him to buzz off." But there is growing tension "We could just storm the place, and every one of us could get a bag of rice each. Who would stop us?"
The first shot in the fingerboning wars (a key step up from mere jawboning) has barely been fired following Draghi's earlier OpEd in Zeit (posted here in its entirety), when the Bundesbank already had its response ready for print in the form of yet another interview with its head, Jens Weidmann, who says nothing new or unexpected, but merely emphasizes that no matter how loud the chatter, how empty the promises, or how hollow the bluffing, Germany's response continues to be, especially after today's higher than expected inflation across the country, 9, 9 and once again, 9. Perhaps the most notable part of the interview is Weidmann's comparison between the ECB and the Fed, and why one is allowed to monetize bonds, while the other shouldn't be: "The Fed is not bailing out a cash-strapped country. It's also not distributing risks among the taxpayers of individual countries. It's purchasing bonds issued by a central government with an excellent credit rating. It doesn't touch Californian bonds or bonds from other US states. That's completely different from what we have in Europe....When the central banks of the euro zone purchase the sovereign bonds of individual countries, these bonds end up on the Eurosystem's balance sheet. Ultimately the taxpayers of all other countries have to take responsibility for this. In democracies, it's the parliaments that should decide on such a far-reaching collectivization of risks, and not the central banks." Of course, when the wealth of the status quo is at risk, such trivialities as democracies are promptly brushed by the sideline...
The technical picture for Euro gold looks near perfect now. Gold has been trending higher since May. The long term charts show a series of higher lows and higher highs and even in the correction of recent months there have been a series of higher lows and gold gradually consolidated between €1,200 and €1,400/oz. Gold is now comfortably above the 50, 100 and 200 day moving averages. In the last four years, there have been 3 periods of correction and consolidation which have lasted 12 to 13 months (see boxes in first chart) and we appear to be coming to the end of another such period. Break outs from such consolidations often lead to sharp moves higher and thus new record highs above €1,359/oz and possibly over €1,600/oz should be seen before the end of 2012. The fundamental back drop of the unresolved Eurozone debt crisis , deep divisions in the ECB and a high degree of uncertainty regarding the euros long term future strongly suggest that the euro will continue to fall against gold in the coming months. Further confirmation of robust demand for gold is seen in figures showing that exchange-traded products backed by the gold expanded to a record. Smart money from Paulson to Soros to PIMCO continues to diversify into gold. Gold ETFs holdings have now surpassed Italy to become the world’s third-largest gold holdings when compared with national gold reserves.
Spain is hotting up again. Just a day after Catalonia's beggars-are-choosers moment, Valencia is making headlines with its rear-view mirror demands for a bailout:
- *VALENCIA NEEDS FUNDS TO COVER PAST YEARS' SPENDING: OFFICIAL
- *VALENCIA NEEDS OVER EU3.5BLN FROM SPAIN REGIONS FUND: OFFICIAL
- *VALENCIA TO NEGOTIATE AID AMOUNT WITHIN WEEKS, OFFICIAL SAYS
It would seem the sheer idiocy of yesterday's unconditional demands have been recognized as at least these come with comments that they had previously 'promised' to meet 1.5% deficit targets, but we wonder, given the bailout is to pay for past years' spending what that 'promise' is worth. With expectations that a liquidity fund will be produced within 10 days according to his statement, it appears they are all coming out with their begging bowls. The region of Murcia earlier today also demanded EUR700mm bailout.
We have long talked of the last/next desperate acts of a government in demise as being total repression and confiscation of assets - an ugly endgame indeed - and so today, as The Independent reports, UK's Nick Clegg is proposing a 'Super-Rich' one-off tax. In a very Buffeett-esque speech, Clegg admonished that "people of very considerable personal wealth have got to make a bit of an extra contribution" as the UK remains mired in a "longer economic war rather than a short economic battle." Interesting Churchillian word-choice. The action is designed to ensure that very high asset-wealth is reflected in the tax-system in a way it is not right now and as one would expect he is not making much progress with his more conservative coalition partners, though ever optimistic he adds he is trying to forget the past and aim for the 'sunny uplands' - which we assume will be lit brightly with the excess blubber of fat-cats if he gets his way.
After sliding from a stall speed-esque 2% in Q1 to sub stall speed 1.5% in the Q1 preliminary print, today's first revision was expected to be a solid bounce to the horrible preliminary economic data, with whisper numbers heard as high as 2.0% on the back of the recent plunge in the deficit (driven purely by a collapse in Chinese exports and a brief drop in crude prices in June, long since retraced). Instead the number came precisely in line with the consensus estimate of a 1.7% annualized growth, with the all important Personal Consumption Expenditures adding a modestly higher 1.20% (was 1.05% last). As expected, net exports shifted from a decline of -0.3% to an increase of 0.3%, which meant that the fudge factor was inventories, which also flip flopped, declining from the previously positive 0.32% to a negative -0.23%. In summary, the GDP number was the worst possible for a market in which good news, relative to an expectations benchmark, is good news, and bad news is great news. The only thing the algos don't know what to do is when numbers come "just right" - which is what just happened. And now- back to Congress doing nothing to resolve the Fiscal Cliff which would detract up to 4% from GDP in 2013 if nothing is done, which is assured as long as the S&P continues trading near 2012 highs.