June 4th, 2013
It is clear that Western capital markets no longer generally regard gold as money. It has been relegated to the status of a risk asset, useful collateral, or simply a commodity with a history of being used as money. This is a mistake.
And the beat goes on! More studies, more surveys, more statistics, more data to feed the ongoing fires in present day American cultural wars. Last week, the Pew Research Center released a study stating that women are now the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children in the US. A figure which more than doubled that of a generation ago. Economic circumstances usually determine the need for multiple breadwinners in a household, and the household today in no way resembles the nuclear family of yesteryear. Perhaps we would not be in these dire economic straits if instead of Erickson’s dominant males governing the US during the past 32 years… we had been ruled by brainy dominant females - not the Amazon-cliché type. They couldn’t have fared any worse - as simply put: Americans - well, the bottom 80 percent - have lost control of their economic destiny…
Following on from our annual update on the wealth (re)distribution of nations, we thought it important to look at the other side of the household balance sheet - that of 'debt' to see just how much 'progress' has been made in the world. In the aftermath of the credit crisis (and the ongoing crisis in Europe), government debt levels continue to rise but combining trends in household debt highlights countries that have sustainable (and unsustainable) overall debt levels - and thus the greatest sovereign debt problems. Whether the 'number' is from Reinhart & Rogoff or not, the reality is that moar debt is not better and the nations with the highest debt-per-capita may surprise many. Critically, despite the rise in 'wealth' from 2000-2008, the ratio of debt-to-net-worth rose on average by about 50% (and in many nations continues to rise). The bottom line - in almost all countries, government liabilities exceeded government financial assets in 2011, leaving the government a net debtor.
Beginning on May 13, when JPM's commercial gold holdings tumbled to an all time low of 137,377 ounces, the firm's daily Comex updates became erratic with daily reallocations out of its Registered holdings into Eligible. Over the next three weeks, some 209K ounces had their warrants detached, and shifted into customer account, all the while the total number of ounces held in the JPM gold warehouse at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, remained flat at 817,167. Then two days ago the first withdrawal in nearly one month took place, with 13K ounces pulled out of JPM's Eligible holdings. Moments ago, the daily Comex update showed that yet another 15.4K ounces were withdrawn out of JPM, following the latest gold withdrawal, offset by a 49K ounces reallocation. This however is still short of the roughly 70K ounces due for delivery. Long story short, as of close of activity on June 3, the total gold held by the JPMorgan depository is now the lowest it has ever been at just 788,786 ounces and once again falling fast.
In yet another hit for both the administration's trustworthiness and the hope of some spin-off of the GSEs, the WSJ reports that the Federal Housing Administration's projected losses over 30 years could reach as high as $115 billion under a previously undisclosed stress test. The results, which were not included in the agency's independent actuarial review (because of the potential uproar it might create according to emails), are based on the Fed's stress-test scenario - which seems like something that should (perhaps) have been included. The fact that this data was omitted from the report is "troubling" to House Oversight Committee head Darrell Issa. In its annual audit, the agency disclosed that under current conditions, total losses would exceed its reserves by $13.5 billion over 30 years (with a $943 million loss this year alone). The projected shortfall under a 'protracted economic slump' is $64.5 billion but the 'tail risk' event, that was originally included in earlier drafts, based on the Fed's stress test, is $115 billion. Hardly the upside-encouraging potential that private-finance will be looking for in funding FEDMAGIC.
House prices - with respect to both levels and changes - differ widely across OECD countries. As a simple measure of relative rich or cheapness, the OECD calculates if the price-to-rent ratio (a measure of the profitability of owning a house) and the price-to-income ratio (a measure of affordability) are above their long-term averages, house prices are said to be overvalued, and vice-versa. There are clearly some nations that are extremely over-valued and others that are cheap but as SocGen's Albert Edwards notes, it is the UK that stands out as authorities have gone out of their way to prop up house prices - still extremely over-valued (20-30%) - despite being at the epicenter of the global credit bust. Summing up the central bankers anthem, Edwards exclaims: "what makes me genuinely really angry is that burdening our children with more debt to buy ridiculously expensive houses is seen as a solution to the problem of excessively expensive housing." It's not different this time.
It's that time of the year again when DoubleLine's Jeff Gundlach delivers his mid-year sermon, which with the fascinating title "What In The World is Going On", promises to be quite a feast at 4:15 pm Eastern. So sit back, tune in, forget today's "Unlucky 21" Tragic Tuesday Taper (which would have been a victory for the bulls no matter what: Maria said so), and let some so very rare these days counterpropaganda wash over you.
It's just not fair!! Today started off so well with Monday's late exuberance (which now looks like front-running the Tuesday gift) extending overnight through Asia and Europe and pushing beyond the open in the US. Then we started to fade - no news, no catalyst, just S&P futures tagged the ledge level from Friday's late dump. As the day progressed blame for the weakness in equities was put at Esther George's 'speechless' hawkishness - but Treasuries rallied on that weakness, hardly a sign of Taper concerns. We suspect the selloff was as much about the BoJ REIT-buying news as it was simply the retaliation of yesterday's bounce. Of course, 330 Ramp Capital played their part with some mild JPY weakness momentum ignition (and VIX was slammed), S&P futures scrambled up to VWAP - and stopped... This was the worst Tuesday in over six months... but as Maria B says "Anyway you look at it, this is a victory!"
Wondering why the current 10Y Treasury note is now trading special in repo? Look no further than the following visualizations. The fact that overnight repo on that bond is now at its limit (since 3% is the penalty rate for failure to deliver) strongly suggests the collateral shortage we have been warning of is becoming increasingly severe. Of the nearby bonds, The Fed already owns the maximum 70% of the 8 3/4% of 8/15/20, the 7 7/8% of 2/15/21, the 8 1/8% of 5/15/21, the 8 1/8% of 8/15/21, and the 8% of 11/15/21... Perhaps this is why so many of the Fed heads are starting to try and jawbone back the exuberance... In two wonderfully simple brief clips, Stone McCarthy visualizes the growth in Fed holdings by security type and the average maturity of the central bank's balance sheet. The calm before the storm - before the pending chaos - is evident when one considers just how this will all get unwound (let alone tapered).
Something is afoot in the land of credit markets. As we have been warning for a few weeks, credit appears to have 'turned' in the cycle suggesting equity should not be too far behind; but today's price action is rather stunning. Not only is investment grade credit spreads trading at their widest since the first day of the year, the high-to-low range of the day is huge. Aside from the extreme jump on the opening day of 2013, this is the biggest range in IG credit since Nov 2011. The last time we were at these levels was early 2011 and the rise in range then signaled the start of an extreme correction (from 80bps to over 150bps). Today's over 6bps range (from 76.9bps to 83.3bps) is extreme by any measure. Perhaps it is delta-hedging - since the low spread vol has driven many to the CDS options market for juice but whatever way one looks at it - something significant is changing (for the worse) in credit.
Moments ago, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, the same source as the crushing report exposing the IRS persecution of conservative groups, released a report highlighting the spending and "questionable expensing" by IRS staff who blew through $49 million across 225 conferences between 2010 and 2012. The source of the money was largely unused cash meant to hire more enforcement agents. Instead it was spent on things like the previously mentioned Star Trek parody, ad hoc drawn paintings of Abraham Lincoln and "motivational speakers" whose primary requirement is to be flown in first class.
While there are still many hours left in the day... Tuesday does not appear too terrific right now... another triple-digit range in the Dow and high-beta homebuilders at week's lows (down 3%)... news is few and far between but modest strength in JPY (and NKY -200 from its earlier highs) and chatter over SAC's liquidation is to blame for now (though yesterday's perfect 50% bounce suggested it was always short-lived)... Finally news broke at around 1pm ET that the BoJ's REIT-buying program was approaching its limit and that seems to have coincided with a leg down in homebuilders (and the market).
While the back up in interest rates over the last few weeks has been heralded by those with a bias for these things as some indication of growth expectations improving - confirming the equity exuberance they stand on as sensible; it appears, if one actually takes a look a little deeper into market movements, that in fact this is 'all' about 'Taper' concerns and nothing to do with growth. The driver of this reasoning is straightforward. If the move higher in rates were really about perceived improvement in the growth outlook, we would expect credit markets to rally - as they have during all prior periods of rate spikes. This time is different as they sold off together. Simply put, this is not a growth-driven rate reversion, it is short-term fears (and JGB VaR shock driven concerns) of a Fed worried about bubbles and taking its foot off the throttle modestly.
Recent outflows from physical gold exchange traded products have been interpreted by the financial press as a sign of weakness in the demand for gold as an investment vehicle. However, a closer look at the evidence suggests otherwise - the evidence presented here suggests that, contrary to what has been stated in the financial press, the flows out of the SPDR Gold Trust may have been generated by the bullion banks to take advantage of an arbitrage opportunity in the physical market. This arbitrage opportunity occurred because of the intense demand for gold stemming from Asia and the inability of traditional suppliers to provide this gold (hence the large Shanghai premium). We believe that this activity further supports our hypothesis that there is a lack of availability of physical gold and an obvious dislocation between the physical and paper gold markets.
While it isn't news to regular readers, the fact that one of the key pillars of the "housing recovery" (the other three being foreign oligarchs parking cash in the US courtesy of an Anti Money Laundering regulation-exempt NAR, foreclosure stuffing and, of course, the Fed's $40 billion in monthly MBS purchases) have been the very biggest Wall Street firms (many of whom had to be bailed out the last time the housing bubble burst) who have also become the biggest institutional landlords "using other people's very cheap money" to buy up tens of thousands of properties, appears to still be lost on the larger population. Intuitively this is to be expected: in a world in which the restoration of confidence that a New Normal, in which everything is centrally-planned, is somehow comparable to life as it used to be before Bernanke, is critical to Ben's (and the administration's) reflationary succession planning. As such perpetuating the myth of a housing recovery has been absolutely essential. Which is why we were surprised to see an article in the very much mainstream, and pro-administration policies NYT, exposing just this facet of the new housing bubble, reflated by those with access to cheap credit, and which has seen the vast majority of the population completely locked out.