It's that day again. Some will fast forward through the game and watch the commercials (Top 5 most viral Ads below); others will have a stadium-pal installed early and elasticated waist-bands; and many will win (or lose) a fortune based on any number of random permutations of path-wise dependent scoring. However, presented for your viewing pleasure, the only three infographics needed for today: Of Beer and Bathroom Breaks, Super Bowl Bingo (drinking game), and the History of Super Bowl Betting Lines. Go Niners...
We recently summarized the world's developed markets in one simple table and there was much 'redness' to go around. The following table provides a similarly broad-based view of the world's developing nations. Citi's Early Warning System heat-map provides an at-a-glance perspective of the emerging market currencies at most (and least) risk based on 12 indicators of economic and financial stress. As currency wars migrate contagiously from developed money-printers to developing 'growth engines' the table below suggests Hungary and South Africa at most risk and China and Thailand least.
From Margaret Thatcher's original (now extremely prescient) warning of the European Union's structure creating "insecurity, unemployment, national resentment, and ethnic conflict" to Nigel Farage's recent clarifications on the agonizing direction in which the unelected leadership of the Union are pulling Europe, this brief 3 minute clip draws some significantly eery similarities between the former Soviet Union and the current European Union. Every now and again, a step back to look for context in history is important - as while the Soviet Union was created by armed force, the European Union is being forced by political coercion and economic bullying. Perhaps Churchill summed up best how it should be, "We are with Europe, but not of it; we are linked but not combined; we are interested and associated but not absorbed."
It would appear that either Germans have stopped using electricity (now that is some severe austerity) or the 'real' economy in the core powerhouse of Europe's growth is struggling notably more than the nominal price of its stock market would imply. Applying the same 'myth-busting' data-series to Germany as we have in China, it is clear that expectations for greater electricity demand (and implicitly economic growth) are grossly different to the expectations priced into German stocks.
When Europe's politicians boldly said a few weeks ago what they have been repeatedly saying every year for the past three, namely that "Europe is fixed" usually just before it breaks all over again, what they meant was that the various stock markets were up. Because if they were actually referring to the European economies, Europe just broke (no pun intended) once more, with the Greek economy once again back to its "new normal" baseline state: a near complete halt as the cold of winter dissipates, and protests and strikes return. In this case, the biggest losers are the thousands of people living on various Greek islands who have now been cut off from the mainland for the 6th consecutive day. And everyone else, of course, reliant on the Greek economy actually posting an uptick one of these centuries.
On February 3rd, 1913, one of the two most historic events in US history took place: the ratification of the 16th amendment, which established Congress' right to impose a Federal income tax on Americans, and overturned Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution which explicitly prohibited a general income tax. The amendment was brief and to the point, and read as follows: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." And with that, the US Federal Income Tax was born and has been with us for precisely 100 years.
A week ago we described the sad tale of one Mahmoud Bahmani, who until recently supervised the unilateral destruction of the Iranian Rial, which on Friday just hit an all time low against the dollar down 21% in two weeks, as head of the Iranian central bank. While his currency-crushing performance would have been enough to get Mahmoud the "congressional medal of inflating away the debt" (not to mention a lifetime corner office at a TBTF bank of his choosing) at any self-respecting "developed world" banana republic, all of which have just one goal - to crush their currencies as Iran just did, in Iran it had precisely the opposite effect and let to his prompt termination. Yet this story is merely a trifle compared to the recent developments surrounding his predecessor, Tahmasb Mazaheri's, who led the Iranian central bank for just one year until September 2008, at which point Ahmadinejad fired him to make way for the recently laid off Bahmani. It is this same Mazaheri, who had been off the world's radar for over 4 years, until he trimumphantly resurfaced yesterday, when German Bild reported that he was caught last month trying to enter Germany with a check for 300 million Venezuelan Bolivars (some $70 million USD) issued by the Venezuelan Central Bank.
Once a government becomes involved in “running” an economy, it invariably ends up running it into the ground. The only variables in this process are how long it takes and how prostrate a given economy becomes by the end of it. Because it always ends - sooner or later. Rational economic theory provides abundant proof of WHY this is the case. Economic and political history is absolutely unanimous in their verdict that it always DOES take place. There is no escape from this truth, no matter how many people wish it were not so and how fervently they ignore the evidence of their eyes and their brains.
We have discussed this threat over the past several years. The obvious concept is that when the government runs out of money, or they face a drying up in interest for its debt, they will come for the $19.4 trillion in American’s retirement accounts. It seems that day may be finally drawing near.
Gold market analysts have a tougher job than other financial analysts. It is more difficult to analyze the yellow metal than equities because quantitative measures such as yield, cash flows, balance sheet leverage, and growth rates that provide a fundamental basis for analysis do not exists for gold. The fundamentals of gold are the current purchasing power of money; expectations about the future purchasing power of money; the growth rates of various national money supplies; the volume of bad debts in the system; expected growth rates of bad debts; the attractiveness of other available investments; and the investor’s preference for consumption rather than investment. These factors do not act directly on the gold price. Instead, they are focused through the prism of investor preferences, which are not measurable. The price is the ultimate measurement of how investors view these factors. Gold presents a paradox: that which drives the price cannot be measured, that which can be measured does not drive the price.
Back in June 2011 Zero Hedge broke a very troubling story: virtually all the reserves that had been created as a result of the Fed's QE2, some $600 billion (which two years ago seemed like a lot of money) which was supposed to force banks to create loans and stimulate the US (not European) economy, ended up becoming cash at what the Fed classifies as "foreign-related institutions in the US" (or "foreign banks" as used in this article) on its weekly update of commercial banks operating in the US, or said simply, European banks..... With the Fed's open-ended QE in place for over 3 months now, or long enough for the nearly $200 billion in MBS already purchased to begin settling on Bernanke's balance sheet, we decided to check if, just like during QE2, the Fed was merely funding European banks' US-based subsidiaries with massive cash, which would then proceed to use said fungible cash to indicate an "all clear" courtesy of Bernanke's easy money. Just like in 2011.
The answer, to our complete lack of surprise, is a resounding yes.
If yesterday's indications of the near-record overweight net long positioning in Russell 2000 Futures & incredible net short VIX futures positioning, along with the extreme flows contrarian indication was not enough to concern investors that the 'money' is in, then the following four charts should cross the tipping point. Citi's Panic/Euphoria guage for US stocks has only been more euphoric on two occasions - Q4 2000 & 2008; Goldman's S&P 500 positioning has only been this extremely long-biased on two occasions - Q4 2008 & Q2 2011; and Barclays' credit-equity divergence has only been this over-bought stocks on two occasions - Q4 2008 & Q2 2012. It doesn't take a PhD to comprehend the extent of excess priced into stocks currently - no matter what Maria B tries to tell us.
No one typifies the bullish euphoria of the last year better than Appaloosa's David Tepper (except perhaps Laszlo Birinyi). It appears, however, that everyone's favorite perma-bull is up to his old tricks again. The manager who infamously opened his mouth about how he couldn't be more "balls to the wall" bullish of US financials - and then proceeded to reduce his positions notably in the quarter following that media appearance - has seemingly done it again. His appearances earlier this month on CNBC and Bloomberg were both full of hubris and arrogance as he encouraged the world to grab financial stocks with both hands and feet. However, as Fox Business' Charlie Gasparino reported yesterday, Tepper's Appaloosa is now seeking bids (to unwind a long position) for $400mm of European bank debt - doesn't seem so balls-to-the-wall bullish to us? With two weeks left to the great unveiling of the Q4 13Fs, we wait anxiously to see just how big Tepper's 'balls at the wall' really were/are.
The practice of gold leasing has been endorsed by none other than Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Fed. The gold is leased to a bullion bank, which typically pays one percent interest to the Fed, with a promise to return it on a specified date. The bullion bank then sells the gold on the open market and uses the proceeds to buy Treasury bonds, which will net a three to four percent return. The nicest thing about such an arrangement is that the lessor continues to claim it on his balance sheet as a line item: “gold and gold receivables.” After all, an asset that we have leased out is still an asset, even if it has now been sold by the lessee. In effect, this means that, if you bought a gold bar today, it is possible that it is a bar that was shipped from the Bundesbank to the Federal Reserve decades ago and is presently listed by the Fed on its balance sheet as “gold and gold receivables.” Both you and the Fed are claiming to possess the same gold bar. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that only one bar can be the actual bar. The other is a receivable and therefore is an asset on paper only. This, of course, means that there is less gold in the world than has been claimed. How much less? That’s anyone’s guess.
Because humor is always the best and only cure to pervasive central planning that has made a mockery of traditional investing and capital allocation, and because nobody delivers unlimited sheer, unadulterated humor quite as well as one James J. Cramer when he is "recommending" stocks, here is the full text of Jim Cramer's "The Winners of the New World" speech delivered in February 2000. Because it really never is different this time.