For the fourth year in a row we continue our tradition of summarizing what you, our readers, found to be the most relevant, exciting, and actionable news of the year, determined simply by the number of page views. Those first eager for a brief stroll down memory lane of prior years can do so at their leisure, by going back in time to where the top articles of 2009, 2010 and 2011 are recapped. With that out of the way, here is what readers found to be the most popular posts of the past 365 days..
If earlier media speculation that the cliff debate was seeing some progress would have sent stocks higher (assuming it was not a Sunday), the speaker's just released response to Obama's Meet The Press appearance would have deflated all hope of any progress. Remember: all is fair in political circus and Beltway theater.
More GOP-bashing, more scapegoating, more "we need to raise taxes to cover a few days of spending" (and pray America's rich have never heard of Belgium), more hope and optimism, in other words more of the same, yet nothing on the last minute executive order hiking Federal spending, nothing on the myth of what really constitutes the spending "cuts", or why it is all really all about preserving the lie of a fair and efficient market: as if more than 10% of the US population actually cares where the DJIA closed on Friday. The full Obama Meet the Press interview below.
As largely expected, Sunday would be a day marked by rumors, anti-rumors, denials, counter-denials, and much more groundless speculation if zero facts, however without an open market reacting to every single headline like a collocated stung dog. Sure enough, in the first such rumor of the day, we just had Republican Senator - a long time opponent of the Norquist tax pledge - Lindsey Graham, pushing for his agenda in the same way that the Greek finance ministry would unleash perfectly wrong rumors to the FT and Reuters, who said on Sunday that chances for a small "fiscal Cliff" deal in the next 48 hours were "exceedingly good" and that President Barack Obama had won: i.e., taking an opinion and making it fact - something seen so often in the European negotiating tactics. "I think people don't want to go over the cliff if we can avoid it," Graham said on Fox News Sunday. Of course, how Graham views the world, and how potentially filibustering Senators do, not to mention the majority of Congress do, is a totally separate matter.
The politicization of central banking continues unabated. The resurrection of Shinzo Abe and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party – pillars of the political system that has left the Japanese economy mired in two lost decades and counting – is just the latest case in point. He argued that a timid BOJ should learn from its more aggressive counterparts, the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. But will it work? Unfortunately, it appears that Japan has forgotten many of its own lessons – especially the BOJ’s disappointing experience with zero interest rates and QE in the early 2000’s. Not only is QE’s ability to jumpstart crisis-torn, balance-sheet-constrained economies limited; it also runs the important risk of blurring the distinction between monetary and fiscal policy. Massive liquidity injections carried out by the world’s major central banks – the Fed, the ECB, and the BOJ – are neither achieving traction in their respective real economies, nor facilitating balance-sheet repair and structural change. That leaves a huge sum of excess liquidity sloshing around in global asset markets. Where it goes, the next crisis is inevitably doomed to follow.
Surprise! As we all wait on tenterhooks for tomorrow's messianic 'Meet the Press' appearance, The Hill reports that a Senate aid with knowledge of the talks said late Saturday afternoon there is "no major progress." The rare weekend negotiations continue with the sticking point still taxes - which will come as no surprise to any who read/listened to Ron Paul's clear analysis of the idiocy taking place - but differences on other issues, including spending cuts, linger. Reid has scheduled a Democratic caucus meeting for Sunday afternoon to give his colleagues a chance to weigh in on a potential deal. McConnell has said he would do the same. "I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities – as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote," Obama said in his weekly address. "If they still want to vote no, and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that’s their prerogative – but they should let everyone vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work." If the Senate passes the legislation, it would then force the House to take up the bill on the eve of the looming deadline - leaving the 'blame' at the foot of Boehner's Republicans should they not support it. The games continue... but in the meantime, consider what the debate would have looked like (literally) if Elizabeth Hasleth was still in the Senate.
We have a Crisis of Trust in America and it has become so pervasive that it is paralyzing America's natural inclination towards risk taking and innovation. This Crisis in Trust is a direct result of Monetary Malpractice and the Moral Malady which it has inflicted on America. Trust fosters certainty and a sense of security. Uncertainty is the death knell for business investment and finance. Today's plummeting capital investment in America means slower growth and an even tougher job market lay ahead. So where does a Crisis of Trust stem from and why do we suddenly have one?
When it comes to US austerity, a very sensitive topic as framed best by the "spending cuts" portion in the Fiscal Cliff debate, the ideas range from the surreal to the outright idiotic: as an example in the most recent Obama proposal spending would be "reduced" in the form of $290 billion in interest savings - not an actual spending reduction, but a hope and a prayer that because rates are lower, the government will "save" money with rates continuing to be lower (something which immediately causes a #Ref! explosion for anyone not using government math), $130 billion in savings that would come from once again rejiggering the definition of 'inflation', as well as "savings" from not funding extra defense spending because the US is not engaged in a pro forma war. Like we said: surreal and idiotic, or in other words, no actual real cuts to spending. Yet even as the nation is gripped by the melodrama of fake spending cuts offset by the threat to tax millionaires more (all of whom will merely find more creative and effective ways to hide their wealth and income offshore), spending increases are all too real, such as last night's order by Obama's just issued an executive order to end the pay freeze for federal employees, which is the equivalent of a wage increase. A truly deserved rise in wages for a job well done by the most dysfunctional Congress America has ever seen.
In a little under three minutes, Ron Paul explains to a somewhat nonplussed CNBC anchor just how ridiculous the charade that is occurring in D.C. actually is. This succinct spin-free clip should be required viewing for each and every asset-manager, talking-head, propagandist, and mom-and-pop who are viewing the last-minute idiocy of the 'fiscal cliff' debacle with some hope that things will be different this time. "We have passed the point of no return where we can actually get our house back in order," Paul begins, adding that "they pretend they are fighting up there, but they really aren't. They are arguing over power, spin, who looks good, who looks bad; all trying to preserve the system where they can spend what they want, take care of their friends and print money when they need it." With social safety nets available to rich and poor, there is no impetus for change and "the country loses," but Paul concludes, the markets are starting to say "there is a limit to this."
There were some readers who took offense at our "bloodbath" recap of yesterday's market action (modestly different from that provided by MarketWatch). And, all else equal, a modest 28 step drop in the E-Mini/SPX would hardly be earthshattering. However, all else was not equal, and based on peripheral facts, the reason for our qualifier is that as of last week virtually nobody was prepared for a move as violent and sharp as the one experienced in the last minutes of trading yesterday. In such a context a "mere" 1.5% drop in the futures market has a far more pronounced impact on participants than a 10% or even 5% drop would have had, had traders been positioned appropriately. They weren't. So what was the context? Let's find out.
The IMF’s Il Houng Lee, Murtaza Syed, and Liu Xueyan have published a very interesting and widely noticed study called “Is China Over-Investing and Does it Matter?” In it they argue that there is strong evidence that China is overinvesting significantly. China’s investment rate is so high, that even ignoring the tremendous evidence of misallocated investment, unless we can confidently propose that Beijing has uncovered a secret formula that allows it to identify high quality investment in a way that no other country in history has been able, there is likely to be a systematic tendency to wasted investment. The extent of Chinese overinvestment – even if we assume that it has not already caused significant fragility in the banking system and enormous hidden losses yet to be amortized – requires a very sharp contraction just to get back to a “normal” which, in the past, was anyway associated with difficult economic adjustments. It is hard to imagine how such a sharp contraction in investment will itself not lead to a sharp drop in GDP growth.
In a crushing blow to socialism, wealth redistribution and purveyors of the "fairness doctrine" (as defined here first) everywhere, the French Constitutional Council ruled on Saturday that Hollande's brilliant idea to tax millionaires at a 75% tax rate - a move which has since seen numerous millionaires leave France and move to Belgium - is unconstitutional. Per Reuters, the Council ruled that the planned 75 percent tax on annual income above 1 million euros ($1.32 million) - a flagship measure of Hollande's election campaign - was unfair in the way it would be applied to different households. Which is ironic because just like in the US, so in France, the selective wealth redistribution campaign waged by the government against the "rich" (which have yet to be properly defined: those making over $250K? Over $400K? Over €1MM?) was based on the premise that it is only "fair" that the rich contribute more. Turns out fairness in the eye of the government beholder, was unfair. But the move begs the question: would the court have struck down the law had it been a merely 50% tax hike? And if the income cut off was, say, €500,000? The far bigger question is, and has been in this year of encroaching socialism, just what is the definition of "rich", what is the definition of "fair redistribution", and where do the two coincide. Finally, how soon until the US Supreme Court weighs in as well on any final Fiscal Cliff tax hike proposal which, like in France, will see the "rich" pay an abnormal share, and will that too be ruled unconstitutional?
“Postponed” is the official stamp across the world. This is the operative word of governmental policy. Whether Europe or America, whether capitalist or socialist government; this is the credo, the banner, the flag waving in the wind for dealing with economic problems. Throw more money at it and barrels of it, have the central banks print and defer any pain much less any tough decisions. We live in a state of postponement, defer and delay which cancels the consequences of the moment but places more severe consequences, greater pain and tougher choices but moments out into our future. Make no mistake; the world has become a more dangerous place either haunted by the specter of rampant inflation or haunted by valuations of debt and currencies that could turn the financial markets into a swirl of dislocation where a plunge into a freezing sea of disarray awaits as capital goes to gold, senior debt regardless of yields and nations deemed to be safe havens.
Despite the fact that myself and everyone else acting like they know what lays ahead are proven wrong time and time again, we continue to make predictions about the future. It makes us feel like we have some control, when we don’t. The world is too complex, too big, too corrupt, too lost in theories and delusions, and too dependent upon too many leaders with too few brains to be able to predict what will happen next. This is the time of year when all the “experts” will be making their 2013 predictions - but few will address where they were wrong in previous predictions. I’m more interested in why I was wrong. It seems I always underestimate the ability of sociopathic central bankers and their willingness to destroy the lives of hundreds of millions to benefit their oligarch masters. I always underestimate the rampant corruption that permeates Washington DC and the executive suites in mega-corporations across the land. And I always overestimate the intelligence, civic mindedness, and ability to understand math of the ignorant masses that pass for citizens in this country. It seems that issuing trillions of new debt to pay off trillions of bad debt, government sanctioned accounting fraud, mainstream media propaganda, government data manipulation and a populace blinded by mass delusion can stave off the inevitable consequences of an unsustainable economic system. Will 2013 be the year it all collapses in a flaming heap of rubble? I don’t know. Maybe you should ask an “expert”.