With gold prices dropping (notably divergent from the ever expanding global central bank balance sheets) but record-breaking levels of physical gold being purchased, we continue to reflect on the other 'Great Rotation' that we suspect is occurring as the New Year begins - that from paper gold to physical gold. Who better to discuss the nuances of this dilemma than Eric Sprott as he outlines to TrimTabs' Charles Biderman the relative strengths and weaknesses of ETFs like GLD and SLV, physical-based ETFs such as PHYS and PSLV, and physical holdings themselves. While the new meme is that the Fed may be considering pulling back (on its 'flow') sooner than expected, reality is far different (as Bill Gross recently agreed with us) and that fact makes the following brief clip even more compelling.
2012 is the year the student loan bubble finally popped. While on one hand the relentlessly rising total Federal student debt crossed $956 billion as of September 30, and was growing at a pace that will have put it over $1 trillion by the end of 2012, the one data point confirming the size, severity and ultimately bursting of this latest debt bubble was the disclosure in late November by the Fed that the percentage of 90+ day delinquent loans soared from under 9% to 11% in one quarter. Which is why we were not surprised to learn that the Federal government has now delivered yet another bailout program: this time focusing not on banks, or homeowners who bought McMansions and decided to not pay their mortgage, but on those millions of Americans, aged 18 to 80, that are drowning in student debt - debt, incidentally, which has been used to pay for drugs, motorcycles, games, tattoos, not to mention countless iProducts. Which also means that since there is no free lunch, all that will happen is that even more Federal Debt will be tacked on to replace discharged student debt loans, up to the total $1 trillion which will promptly soar far higher as more Americans take advantage of this latest government handout. But when the US will already have $22 trillion in debt this time in four years, who really is counting? After all, "it is only fair" that the taxpayer funded "free for all" bonanza must go on.
Back on December 23, we presented one of the past year's most disturbing reports, the BCG's "Ending the Era of Ponzi Finance" which explained, quite succinctly, why the economy of the developed world, which is nothing but one big ponzi scheme, is approaching its inevitable end, in which existing principles will no longer be applicable nor available to kick the can down the road. The drivers for this are numerous (and all listed in the report), with soaring public and private debt only one of the main forces behind the coming collapse into a Keynesian singularity. Yet perhaps the biggest threat of all has nothing to do with the world's balance sheet, but its income statement, and specifically the category for Research and Development, or, as it is better known in refined economic circles, "productivity" - it is here that things are rapidly turning from bad to worse, and why the chart below (which we felt a need to emphasize, hence the repost) is probably the best summation of what the world has to look forward to, or, as the case may be, not.
First it was a German, then an Italian, and now, two months, later, the European self-immolation wave has spread to the country that many expect will be the next one to follow Greece into effective debt default. El Pais reports that an impoverished 57-year-old man who set himself on fire in Málaga Thursday, and subsequently died of his injuries at Carlos Haya hospital. He had third-degree burns on 80 percent of his body and suffered a multi-organ failure. The victim, thought to be of Moroccan origin, had worked in construction for years but was out of a job now, said people who knew him. In the last few months he had been scraping a living with the small change he made guiding cars into parking spaces near the hospital, an illegal practice that is usually overlooked by authorities. The police, who have not yet located his relatives, are not ruling out the possibility of an accident just as the man was lighting up a cigarette. Just two minutes before the event, he bought a pack of cigarettes from a local newsstand whose owner asked him how he was doing.
2012 is a year most asset managers would like to forget. With the S&P returning 16% and Russell 2000 up 16.3%, on nothing but multiple expansion in a world where risk has been eliminated despite persistently declining revenues and cash flows, a whopping 88% of hedge funds, as well as some 65% of large-cap core, 80% of large cap value, and 67% of small-cap mutual funds underperformed the market, according to Goldman's David Kostin. The ongoing absolute outperformance of mutual funds over their 2 and 20 fee sucking hedge fund peers is notable, as this is the second or perhaps even third year in a row it has happened. And while the usual excuse that hedge funds are not supposed to beat the market but a benchmark, and generally protect capital from downside risk is valid, it is irrelevant if any downside risk (see ongoing rout in VIX and net position in the VIX futures COT update) is now actively managed by central banks both directly and indirectly, their HF LPs no longer see the world in that way. In fact as Bloomberg Market's February issue summarizes, some 635 hedge funds closed in 2012, 8.5% than a year earlier, despite a far stronger year for the general indices. The reason: LPs and MPs have simply had enough of holding on to underperformers and get swept up in the momentum of performance chasing, and the result is redemption requests into funds who may have had a positive benchmark year, but underperform relative to the S&P for two or more years, which nowadays is the vast majority of funds.
Central Planners are trying with all their might to force people into behaviors and financial assets that are in direct contrast to their logic as well as long term financial well being. This is the height of immorality, not to mention hubris.
“In general [traders/economists] are trained to analyze the economic data, balance sheets and so on. They’re not trained to predict political decisions. These factors have ruled the lives of fund managers in a more significant manner than what used to be over the past 20 or 30 years.”
The paragraph above pretty much sums it up. There are no markets, there are manipulations.
Ex-Barclays chief 'Austrian' economist Thorsten Polleit provides a few clarifying thoughts on the hyperinflatory endgame (and democracy-crushing impact) of the fiat currency environment. Critically, Polleit notes that fiat currency tends to result in "collective corruption" in societies, and how this then leads to hyperinflation, despite the dangers to society that hyperinflation always brings. Ring some bells? This brief interview (with more detailed article below) stretches from the development of the global fiat currency regimes over the last 40 years to the increasing levels of debt that may (just as Kyle Bass and others have noted) mark the terminal decline of the fiat regime and the self-serving majority electing themselves into a vicious circle. Mises noted:
"The masses... do not conceive any ideas, sound or unsound. They only choose between the ideologies developed by the intellectual leaders of mankind. But their choice is final and determines the course of events. If they prefer bad doctrines, nothing can prevent disaster." If these "uncommon men" become "court intellectuals," the door will be opened for effectively spreading of false theories, supporting government-friendly ideas."
While prosecuting the wrongdoers is clearly not part of the new normal (see Sokol et al.), what Nanex found this morning beggars belief - both in its method of manipulation and clarity that our regulators are clueless. As they note, the high frequency traders (HFT) are at it again. Contorting the spirit of the rules, because those who wrote the rules aren't technically savvy. On January 4, 2013, we found another instance of HFT morphing their manipulative and illegal quote stuffing strategy in an effort to fly under the radar. Why they don't just stop this manipulative practice altogether tells us a few things. First, this isn't some coding error, this is sophisticated cheating. And second, because they are spending valuable programming time on this strategy, there must be some real economic advantage. Which mean a disadvantage to everyone trading against them.
Friday Night Dump: CBO Admits Error, Now Expects Another $600 Billion In Deficits From Obama Tax CutsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/04/2013 - 17:59
Two weeks ago, when we commented on the biggest farce in financial thinking at the time (promptly replaced by the even more lunatic platinum coin "idea"), namely that one of the main "spending cut" proposals of the Obama administration, one amounting to $290 billion, was the assertion that the US will save hundreds of billions because, get this, interest rates are now lower than they were before. We commented as follows: "this is where one's Excel refs out, because the interest payment on Treasurys, at least in a non-banana republic, one set to see 120 debt/GDP in 3-4 years, is a function of fiscal decisions (central-planning notwithstanding), and to make the idiotic assumption that one can control interest rates for 10 years (central-planning notwithstanding), just shows what a total farce this whole exercise has become, and also shows that nobody in the administration, or the GOP for that matter, has even modeled out the resultant budget pro forma for the proposed tax hikes and budget "savings" as that would blow up said excel model immediately." We now learn that one other entity that did not fully model out the last minute Fiscal Cliff deus ex, and especially not the recursive debt relationship in a country where half the government spending is funded by debt, is the always amusing CBO (whose epic prediction failure rate has been discussed here on numerous occasions). It appears that they just did, after the close, on Friday. The outcome? Their initial estimate of a $4.0 trillion budget increase was wrong and when one factors in the fact that this incremental spending would have to be funded by, you guessed it, debt, debt which has interest, the full impact of the Obama tax cut rises deficits by 15% to $4.6 trillion over the next decade.
Wondering where the somewhat out-of-character economic improvements of Q4 2012 data came from - given Sandy and the fiscal cliff uncertainty? Wonder no longer. Charles Biderman, CEO of TrimTabs, has done the data-mining and explains, quite succinctly in this clarifying clip, just what happened in Q4 2012. To wit, after-tax income saw a somewhat impressive (but "don't get too excited" he adds) post-election spike as individuals (and small businesses) front-ran expectations of tax-rises in 2013 by pulling forward income and bonuses etc. into 2012. Q4 income rose by over 6% YoY, which , he believes means Q1 2013 income will be correspondingly lower. Following an epic rant/exposition of the higher taxes US citizens will be paying, Biderman batters GDP (and the government's infinite idiocy) instead focusing on the real recession of lower after-tax take-home-pay and expects Q1 to see the US plunge with the "US economy starting out the new year on its butt!" Then, as a bonus, he destroys the nonsense myth that the US housing recovery is leading us forward.
S&P 500 futures lurched in a vol-driven mania above their implicit QE3 highs (stop-run) and yay verily there was much rejoicing as cash S&P 500 reached closing levels not seen since December 2007. The only trouble with all this jubilation - Treasuries rallied all day (so no 'Great Rotation'), high-yield credit was having none of it, and AAPL positively hated it (though financials had their best week since the stress tests in March). Average trade size surged as did volume into these highs and as we noted before, the VIX term-structure is now at its steepest in 5 months - as hedgers shift their positions out past the debt-ceiling deadline (and implicitly crush short-term vol spurring the rally further). But, into the close, S&P 500 futures were decidedly skittish as it appeared we ran out of greater fools for a few seconds at the close (via @nanexllc $1.1B worth of $SPY and 25,000 eMinis in last few seconds). Equities pulled away from the rest of risk-assets in the last 30-minute ramp closing the week right at the QE3-day highs, with the USD +1% on the week.
Last week we introduced our readers to the BIS' Head of Foreign Exchange and Gold, Benoit Gilson. As this week's induction into the FleeceBook hall of fame of faceless individuals behind the scenes whose fingers are on all the relevant buttons, we present to you Michael Cross, Head of Foreign Exchange, and Executive Director for Markets, at the Bank of England, a role which with the arrival of the BoE's new Goldman leader will become quite crucial in the coming weeks as the race to debase finally crosses the English Channel and it is cable's turn to crash and burn against all other currencies.
We explicitly noted that the purchase of vol steepeners across the debt-ceiling deadlines was the short-term trade as soon as the ATRA deal was approved. In the brief period since, the VIX term-structure has smashed from its flattest (most inverted) in 2 months to its steepest now in 5 months as hedgers roll out to March and beyond. Of course, all algos know is that they can lever VXX (and other synthetics) in the short-term to ramp equities higher - and sure enough the S&P 500 just hit highs above the highest close since December 2007.
We first noted the shift to a barter economy that is occuring in Greece back in April. But Mike's excellent update below shows that this 'barter' has progressed to a new 'alternative' currency. The city of Volos, 200 miles north of Athens with a population of 170,000 is highlighted in the article due to the size of its alternative money market centered around a local currency call the Tem. This sort of behavior will be the wave of the future in all countries, as Central Bank currencies are debased into extinction (and it's happening in the US already).