Two years ago, when introducing then promptly enacting Obamacare, the president stated that healthcare law reform would not cost a penny over $1 trillion ($900 billion to be precise), and that it would not add ‘one dime’ to the debt. It appears that this estimate may have been slightly optimistic… by a factor of 1700%. Because coincident with the recent Supreme Court debacle, in which a constitutional law president may be about to find that his magnum opus law is, in fact, unconstitutional, someone actually read the whole thing cover to cover, instead of merely relying on the CBO’s, pardon Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs’, funding estimates. That someone is Republican Jeff Sessions who after actually running the numbers has uncovered that the true long-term funding gap is a mind-boggling $17 trillion, just a tad more than the original sub $1 trillion forecast. This latest revelation means that total underfunded US welfare liabilities: Medicare, Medicaid and social security now amount to $99 trillion! Add to this total US debt which in 2 months will be $16 trillion, and one can see why Japan, which is about to breach 1 quadrillion in total debt (yen, but who's counting), may want to start looking in the rearview mirror for up and comer competitors. And while Obama may have been taking creative license with a number that is greater than total US GDP, he was most certainly correct when saying that Obamacare would not add a penny to US debt. Because the second the US government comes to market to fund a true total debt/GDP ratio of 750%, it is game over, and the Fed will have its hands full selling Treasury puts every waking nanosecond to have any time left for the daily 3pm stock market ramp.
We've read mixed reports about how lofty gold and silver prices are affecting demand in India. One month we're told demand is up, and the next it's supposedly down. I'm not suggesting that official reports are inaccurate, but it is admittedly confusing and doesn't help us understand the real trend in the country. Why should we care about the gold market in India? Well, let's face it; the nation is one of the biggest consumers of the metal, a major driver that can give us hints about demand and investment trends, along with what to perhaps eventually expect here in North America. But reading third-party reports about India is very different than getting information firsthand from a credible source in the country. I wanted to get to the bottom of what's really going on in India by talking to a reputable bullion dealer who could give me the inside scoop, an up-to-the-moment dispatch from the front lines, as it were. So I did just that.
When it comes to markets, the following clip, as well as memories of recent market collapses, highlights that it is usually brightest just before it's pitch black.
It seems like yesterday that to much pomp and circumstance, Groupon came public. We can only hope that anyone who bought into the public offering sold long ago, because the company has just decided to TVIX the muppets:
- GROUPON CUTS FORECAST - BBG
- GROUPON REFUND RESERVE ACCRUAL INCREASED - BBG
But most importantly:
- GROUPON SAYS MATERIAL WEAKNESS IN INTERNAL CONTROLS - BBG
We are fairly confident that the stock will continue imploding after hours until such time as confidence in the stock market returns.
Silver remains the best performer YTD and the Long Bond the worst performer but what is most notable is the quiet serenity of the equity rally continued through March as Commodities, Precious Metals, Treasuries, and Corporate Bonds all lost notable ground post LTRO2. Is equity keeping the dream alive as the liquidity spigot has slowed to a drop (for now)? AAPL had it largest 2-day drop for almost 4 months into quarter-end - ending under $600 - and the broad S&P 500 pulled away once again from credit yesterday and today as IG, HY, and HYG close practically unchanged from last Friday's low but the ES up 15-20pts. Of the S&P sectors, Energy was the only one to fall appreciably post LTRO2 with Utilities the only sector in the red YTD -2.6% as Financials +21.5% and Tech +18.5% dominate.
The sharp drop in the personal savings rate in the month of February, which just hit to lowest level since January of 2008, is indicative of the problem. While personal savings rates could be bled down further to sustain the current level of subpar economic growth - the world today is vastly different than prior to the last two recessions where access to credit and leverage we very easy to obtain. It is entirely possible, that in the very short term, we could see personal consumption expenditures continue to make some gains even in the face of the obvious headwinds. However, it is important to keep these month to month variations in context with longer term historical trends. Personal consumption is ultimately a function of the income available from which that spending is derived. As such, the current decline in the growth rate of incomes, without the tailwind of easy credit, poses a much greater threat to the current level of anemic economic growth than we have seen in past cycles.
The last hour has spewed forth more disingenuous clap-trap from European finance ministers. From 'sufficiency of the firewall' to the 'absurdity of Spain needing a bailout', it beggars belief that these humans can look at themselves in the mirror every morning (as they feel the 'need' to lie' - or are simply ignorant of the reality). At some point in the near future there will be about €40 billion of money sitting in the ESM and a bunch of promises from countries failing to live up to existing debt obligations, and that is the big firewall? The correlation between who is providing the guarantees and who will need them cannot be ignored. This new €500 billion number doesn’t exist, it’s not just meaningless, it’s non-existent if Italy or Spain needs money. People can take away whatever they want, but unlike LTRO which had real injections of liquidity, this is just like the July plans from last year and the November “grand” plans. It sounds great, especially when too many people are willing to blindly follow what the politicians want them to, but it doesn’t work in practice.
Back in early February, the ECB's Margio Draghi told a naive world when discussing the implication of taking LTRO bailout aid, that “There is no stigma whatsoever on these facilities." We accused him of lying. Additionally, we also suggested to put one's money where Draghi's lies are, and to go long non-LTRO banks, while shorting LTRO recipients. In two short months the spread on that trade has doubled (see below), which intuitively is not surprising: after all, as a former Goldmanite (and according to some - current), Draghi is merely treating Europe's taxpayers like the muppets they are. As such, fading anything he says should come as naturally as Stolpering each and every FX trade. Yet what that little incident shows is that despite all their attempts otherwise, the central planners can not contain every single natural consequences of their artificial and destructive actions. Today, we see learn that the same Stigma we warned about, and that Draghi said does not exist, is starting to spread away from just the bailed out banks (becuase we now know that the LTRO was merely a QE-like bailout of several insolvent Italian and Spanish banks), and to sovereigns. From Bloomberg: "Germany’s Bundesbank is the first of the 17 euro-area central banks to refuse to accept as collateral bank bonds guaranteed by member states receiving aid from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported." And where Buba goes, everyone else is soon to follow. And what happens then? Since it is inevitable that Spain and Italy will be next on the bailout wagon, what happens when over $2 trillion in bonds suddenly become ineligible for cash collateral from the only solvent central bank in the world (aside for that modest, little TARGET2 issue of course). Will it force the ECB to be ever more lenient with collateral, and how long until the plebs finally realize that the ECB has been doing nothing but outright printing in the past 5 months? What happens to inflationary expectations then?
"The eternal optimists would have us all believe that China will awaken from its slumbers amid a blaze of new, debt-fuelled spending initiatives and so buy up all the goods we find so hard to sell at home (without offering a substantial concession in price)" is how Sean Corrigan begins his assault on the non-reality that is China's 'save-the-world' protagonists. It is worth noting, however, that those who actually invest in the place seem to be too busy selling their equities to pay much attention to the Panglossians and Polyannas. With a 10% slump in the past 12 sessions in the main indices (retracing a major fib interval of the 2012 rally), there seems little enthusiasm there for clinging on in the hope that the PBOC will bail anyone out - and the wedge is closing on something big in the chart. Plain vanilla economics might well be correct in telling the bulls that they may rely on a Zhou Xiaochuan Put to spare them too much future pain, but the law of the political jungle, red in flag, tooth, and claw, may well dictate otherwise. As we write, it seems beyond dispute to say that the Chinese hierarchy is battling it out behind closed doors to determine the long term future of the regime and, by implication, the direction of the entire nation. In such momentous times, we would perhaps be foolish to think that the routine application of short?term countercyclical policy will bear overmuch weight in their counsels. Simply out, there is too much political infighting for any large-scale action to be taken as "Having moved against the state-capitalist left of old man Jiang and his Chongqing bruisers, surely the last thing Hu & Co. would want in their final months in office would be to unleash another oligarch?enriching orgy of speculation of the kind such a mass stimulus would be almost bound to foment."
Enron --> Worldcom --> Adelphia --> Lehman --> MF Global --> Greece --> Sino Forest --> ????
We would rank these as some of the more notorious bankruptcies. These weren't normal course of business bankruptcies. These were dark and deviant. They have many similarities. Opaque and convoluted accounting and finances are common to them all. Whether it was Jedi for Enron, repo 105 for Lehman, or off-market swaps with Goldman for Greece, they all used every trick in the book to keep debt off balance sheet and to obfuscate the risk. It is hard to watch what is going on in Europe and not believe that Greece is just the first of many. Countries and their banks. Countries and their regions. Countries and EU programs. Banks and their national central banks. Banks and the ECB. It is hard to pin down the fatal flaw, but for us it is harder to believe that there is nothing to see there and we should happily move along.
Now that the Mega Millions Jackpot has just hit a record $640 million, people, mostly those in the lower and middle classes, are coming out in droves and buying lottery tickets with hopes of striking it rich. After all, with $640 million one can even afford a few shares of Apple stock. Naturally, we wish the lucky winner all the (non-diluted) best. There is, however, a small problem here when one steps back from the Sino Forest trees. As ConvergEx' Nicholas Colas explains, "Lotteries essentially target and encourage lower-income individuals into a cycle that directly prevents them from improving their financial status and leverages their desire to escape poverty. Yes, that’s a bit harsh, and yes, people have the right to make their own decisions. Even bad ones… Also, many people tend to significantly overestimate the odds of winning because we tend to assess the likelihood of an event occurring based on how frequently we hear about it happening. The technical name for this is the Availability Heuristic, which means the more we hear about big winners in the press, the less uncommon a big payday begins to seem." Call it that, or call it what one wishes, the end result is that the lottery is nothing but society's perfectly efficient way of, to use a term from the vernacular, keeping the poor man down while dangling hopes and dreams of escaping into the world of the loathsome and oh so very detested "1% ers". Alas, the probability of the latter happening to "you" is virtually non-existant.
Friday Funny: Sino Forest Seeks $4 Billion From Muddy Waters In Damages... As It Files For BankruptcySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/30/2012 - 11:38
Actually, in retrospect this may well be the funniest pair of headlines in one place ever.
- SINO-FOREST TO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY, MAY SEEK SALE OF COMPANY
- SINO FOREST SEEKING $4B IN DAMAGES AGAINST MUDDY WATERS
Uh? What? #Ref! #Ref! #Ref! We wonder: if Sino Forest files for bankruptcy in its forest of imaginary trees, did it really file for bankruptcy?
It appears the miracle of unionization has not penetrated Chinese labor markets. Contrary to expectations that suicidal workers would be elated at news that the world's second biggest employer in the world (after Wal Mart) with 1.2 million workers, FoxConn, has given employees "landmark concessions" the reality is actually different. Very, very different. "At the Foxconn factory gates, many workers seemed unconvinced that their pay wouldn't be cut along with their hours. For some Chinese factory workers - who make much of their income from long hours of overtime - the idea of less work for the same pay could take getting used to. "We are worried we will have less money to spend. Of course, if we work less overtime, it would mean less money," said Wu, a 23-year-old employee from Hunan province in south China. Foxconn said it will reduce working hours to 49 per week, including overtime. "We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important," said Chen Yamei, 25, a Foxconn worker from Hunan who said she had worked at the factory for four years." Hold on, Hold on... You mean to say that whatever values are cherished in the good old US of lazy A, such as bathroom, coffee and cigarette breaks, not to mention "democracy", "American Idol", "high cholesterol", $0.99 apps" and "liberated oil" just may not be appropriate to the 95% of other people around the world? But... But... how will America spread its deeply unique "humanitarian" values of globalized freedom and trade interchange (funded by cheap credit of course - those global debt slaves won't enslave themselves on their own - for more see here), and occasionally using kinetic intervention (never war: one needs Congressional approval for that) when said people dare to express a different outlook, and set of values on life? Preposterous. Nay, Inconceivable!