Back in October, when Greece was rewarded with further bond haircuts for progressively missing its economic targets, even after having gotten caught on at least one occasion making its economy appear worse than it was, we said that it is only a matter of time before "Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy will promptly commence sabotaging their economies (just like Greece) simply to get the same debt Blue Light special as Greece." In the aftermath of this statement, we got the Irish and the Portuguese proceeding to slowly but surely do just that. Today, it was Spain's turn to make it 3 out of 4 after as Reuters noted so appropriately, "Spain defies Brussels on deficit target" clarifying that "Spain set itself a softer budget target for 2012 on Friday than originally agreed under the euro zone's austerity drive, putting a question mark over the credibility of the European Union's new fiscal pact. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insisted he was acting within EU guidelines because the plan was still to hit the European Union public deficit goal of 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013." That Italy is sure to follow is absolutely guaranteed, however just because the ECB is now indirectly monetizing BTPs the true impact will be delayed far more, and instead of taking prompt steps to remedy the situation, the European complacency will be accentuated by the fact that bond yields are very low, and supposedly indicates the true state of the economy. No. All it indicates is the conversion of future inflation (courtesy of €1 trillion in new money in the past 3 months) for a very temporary respite before all hell ultimately breaks loose as countries pretend everything is ok as bond yields are pushed artificially low. And in doing nothing, the fundamentals in the economy only get worse and worse. Germany knows this very well, and the Economist explains the reaction to Spain's surprising statement today perfectly...
"How Did You Not Notice 24-Year-Olds Were Being Paid $2 Million A Year Who Clearly Didn’t Know Anything?”Submitted by Tyler Durden on 03/02/2012 - 15:09
Michael Lewis' scathing, aphoristic, uber-sarcastic style need no introduction. As such we will leave this brief clip from Slate, in which The Big Short author is asked how to avoid a new financial crisis, without much commentary (the answer is that under the current status quo system it is impossible to guarantee no more financial collapses, even if Glass-Steagall were to be unwound, but that is the topic for another story), suffice to point out the punchline: "future generations will wonder, “How did you not notice 24-year-olds were being paid $2 million a year who clearly didn’t know anything?” That pretty much sums it up right there.
Not the US Dollar of course: why would the only country to successfully overthrow the chains of banker tyranny and default in their face want to ever have anything to do with the USD, the source of all the world's problems. No, the dollar in question is that of Canada. According to the Globe and Mail tiny Iceland, "is looking longingly to the loonie as the salvation from wild economic gyrations and suffocating capital controls...And for the first time, the Canadian government says it’s open to discussing idea. There’s a compelling economic case why Iceland would want to adopt the Canadian dollar. It offers the tantalizing prospect of a stable, liquid currency that roughly tracks global commodity prices, nicely matching Iceland’s own economy, which is dependent on fish and aluminum exports." Yes, yes, there are all the fundamental reasons, but more importantly, it is a huge slap in the face of those statists (and the United States of course) who keep repeating no matter the facts that the USD will never lose its reserve status. Here's a hint: it can and it will. And so much for the thought experiment of printing endless amounts of currency in non-reserve format and getting away with everything unpunished. Finally, there is this startling dose of reality from an earlier and calmer time, when S&P, back in 2006, released its long-term baseline scenario of sovereign debt ratings. This oddly prescient table speaks for itself.
While 9/11 was far more traumatic for many Americans than for myself, it really messed me up emotionally for a while. I thought about joining the armed forces or the newly created Department of Homeland Security. I almost quit my job to get a graduate degree in something I could do to help fight the “war on terror.” The city of my birth was attacked and two great symbols I had seen repeatedly growing up had suddenly vanished. I never once questioned anything about 9/11 for many, many years. I was emotionally reprogrammed. I now realize that was the intent and I am not happy about it. Look, I will be the first to say I have no idea what really happened on that day, but I can tell you one thing. I am 100% convinced that it wasn’t 19 cave dwelling Al Qaeda members who hate us for our “freedoms.” I can also tell you that two planes didn’t take down three buildings. The real reason I am writing this piece today is because of a very, very important article from the NY Times, parts of which I have quoted at the top. The article shows how two former Senators have said in sworn statements that they believe the government of Saudi Arabia was directly involved in the attacks. Now, such speculation is not new; however, let’s not forget the very close relationships that many of the elite in the U.S. have with the Saudi government. Furthermore, let’s analyze some of the passages in the article in a little more detail.
Remember Greece, where everything is supposedly fixed, except that nothing is until Greek bondholders all agree to get nothing for something? Or in other words, where Germany is hoping it can assign blame to hedge funds for not allowing the 75% PSI trigger threshold to be reached so there is a faceless monster that can be accused to achieving Germany's political goals? No? As the following reminder from Germany's Economy Minister Roseler shows, whose report has been acquired by Bloomberg, if not German anger then certainly confusion, is seething: "For the Greek government, the programs “obviously have no priority,” the ministry said. “This is unacceptable from the German standpoint." Wait, you mean a record February collapse in the Greek economy is inadmissable? Sure enough, Greek CDS, contrary to expectations for a no trigger event, just hit an all time high earlier at 76 points up front (i.e., more buyers than sellers), as basis player are loading up on protection and preparing for the March 8 PSI deadline.
Think Apple is the only thing allowed to hit new records every month? Think again: presenting iFoodstamps - the number of Americans living in poverty (or at least doing a damn good job of fooling the government in pretending they do). As of December, per SNAP this number just hit another record high of 46.5 million, an increase of 384,000 in one month (and ending the trend of declines from October and November), 2.4 million in 2011 (about as many as have dropped out of the Labor force, hmmmm), and 14.3 million since Obama took office.
One way to gauge the real economy is to look at charts of the GDP, wages, household debt and the price of oil; another way is to correlate all of these on one chart. The following chart (courtesy of frequent contributor B.C.) plots these four metrics thusly: GDP/(wages/household debt)/price of oil. What pops out of the chart is what happens when oil spikes higher or declines. In 1973, the first oil shock sent the economy off a cliff. Conversely, when oil fell to $12/barrel in the late 1990s while wages were rising strongly, the plotline peaked, reflecting a strong economy. In 2008, oil spiked to $140/barrel in 2008, household debt reached record heights and wages began stagnating, and the economy fell into a sharp recession. When oil plummeted back to $40/barrel in early 2009, the plotline spiked up. When oil prices and household debt are high while wages stagnate or decline, the economy sinks to recessionary levels....The current plotline is hovering just above the recessionary levels of late 2008. Does this reflect a strong economy, or one that is weak? If oil keeps climbing, what will that do to a visibly weak economy?
The key focus of Cashin's daily letter today has to do with the steadfast resilience of the ECRI's Lakshman Achuthan, who called for a recession back in September, and when asked yesterday if he reaffirms his call, he says "Consider it reaffirmed." He then proceeds to list out the "key, hard facts" summarizing the litany of truth as follows: "The economy is weaker today than it has been in 21 months." And scene.
While last winter every downtick in corporate earnings was promptly "explained away" by executives using the harsh weather excuse, one has heard not a peep from companies on the topic of an abnormally accommodative climate over the past 4 months. And why would they - after all it would mean that any gains, not that there have been many as most companies have reported below average results, have been artificially boosted by one-time events. Needless to say, the mainstream media would rather not touch this topic with a ten foot pole: there is an election to be won and the public can not be disturbed with facts (heaven forbid someone should mention seasonal adjustments - that's a death sentence). Which is why ironically we have to go to Goldman, which as noted recently, has once again turned bearish on the economy for one reason or another, to quantify the impact of the balmy winter. "Reported growth in the CAI is 2.8% for December and 2.9% for January. The estimates here imply that excluding the effect of warm weather, growth would have been 2.5% in December and 2.5-2.7% in January. Note that although January was very warm relative to seasonal norms, this followed a gradual warming in temperatures in October through December. We think our estimates of the weather impact may be on the low side, given that snowfall was also below seasonal norms this year. Lower precipitation can raise activity in some sectors. Our estimates imply that a normalization in temperatures could be a modest headwind to growth over the next few months. The extent of the drag depends on the specification, but a plausible range would be 10-40bp in March if temperatures return to seasonal norms by that month." Looks like Newton was right after all, despite all attempts by central planners to deny reality.
That Tilson's fund was down 0.9% in February is no surprise. After all the company's Qualified fund has underperformed the S&P since inception in 2004 (more on that in a second). After posting a gain in January, T2 is back to its losing ways (as a reminder the fund was down 20% in 2011, which means it has to post a well bigger than 20% return in 2012 to get above the high water mark). Tilson's performance is summarized as follows: "On the long side, winners included Citigroup (8.5%) and SanDisk (7.8%), offset by Netflix (-7.9%), Grupo Prisa (B shares) (-7.4%), and J.C. Penney (-4.7%). On the short side, we profited from First Solar (-23.6%), which just reported dismal earnings and guidance, Interoil (-10.4%), and Boyd Gaming (-8.7%). These gains were offset by Salesforce.com (22.6%), which is growing rapidly but trades at 8.7x revenues and has a $19.6 billion market cap despite being unprofitable. In addition, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which we think is likely to be the next Krispy Kreme (for those of you with long memories), rose 21.8%" And also "Since Berkshire reported earnings, the stock is actually down a bit so we took advantage and, though it was already our largest position, we added to it." All that is fine and well, but we have two questions. What is Tilson's, a self-professed "value investor" Sharpe Ratio? Judging by the monstrous volatility swings in its marginal positions, the fund is as much a value investor (read slow, stable rise), as a momo investor is the Queen of England. How long until the CME opens a triple levered (forward and inverse) ETF to take advantage of the already ridiculous monthly vol in the Tilson portfolio, whose Sharpe, just by eyeballing it, must be negative give or take.
Over the past 5 months, the only reason the US market, and this economy has outperformed the world (or "decoupled" in the case of so-called US fundamentals) is because the trillions in incremental liquidity from generous central planners have homed in on US equities like a heat seeker, in the process boosting confidence, and in a reflexive fashion, making consumers believe that things are getting better (for producers of printer cartridge maybe, everyone else just keeps getting worse off in real, not nominal, terms). Paradoxically, the trillion plus injected into the system from the ECB, ended up helping not Europe, but the US. However, as every action ultimately has an equal an opposite reaction, the recent US "renaissance" has also sown the seeds of its own destruction, because one of the side effects of a massive liquidity reflation is what has happened in the energy markets where the crude complex trades at all or near all time highs. However, as the following chart from UBS shows, it is the US which has the most exposure to that other side effect of soaring liquidity: surging prices. While the number is fluid (economist humor), every $10 increase in crude prices, cuts US GDP by 1%, and less than that in Europe and the ROW. As noted yesterday and today, "strategists" have already started trimming their GDP forecasts. How long before we end up seeing already weak growth turn negative as a result of the most recent central planning reliquification experiment? Because it will - central intervention always leads to adverse consequences in due course. Only this time, corporate profits will not allow the economy (read the markets) to pull itself up by the bootstrap, as they have topped and are now sliding lower.
Nearly two years after his catastrophic foray into Op-Ed writing, here is Tim Geithner's latest, this time making the hypocritical case to "not forget the lesson from the financial crisis"... which he himself ushered on America as head of the New York Fed. Frankly we are quite sure it is not even worth reading this drivel: the unemployed man walking has been a total disaster during his entire tenure (at both the New York Fed where he supervised all the banks that subsequently fell, and the Treasury), and we are fairly confident that reading anything written by this pathological failure will cost collective IQs to drop by 10 points at a minimum. Hey Tim: is there a risk the US can get downgraded? Any risk?
Yesterday, when we reported about Goldman not one, but two GDP Q1 forecast cuts in one day, we said to "watch for the Wall Street lemming brigade to quickly follow in Goldman's footsteps." Sure enough, here is Bank of America, rushing first into the bandwagon, trimming its Q1 forecast from 2.2% to 1.8%. This is perfectly expected: recall that from day 1 of 2012, most banks had been pushing for QE3, ignorant of the massive liquidity tsunami that was going on behind the scenes. Well, the impact of that has now come and gone, with no more easing from the ECB on the horizon for a long time. Which means that the focus can again shift to how "bad" the US economy is in preparation for the inevitable Bernanke gambit. Needless to say this will make the pre-election economy appear like a total farce in the months before the re-election: soaring employment and plunging everything else. Good luck explaining that away. Incidentally explains why the EURUSD has resumed its slide: the market is now pushing Bernanke to halt the appreciation of the USD against the EUR, and thus the implicit benefit of German's economy over that of the US, which can only happen with further promises of easing. That said, we can't wait for the statement as the vaudeville Trio of Bianco, Chadha and of course LaVorgna to follow suit and slash their now comically hyperbolic expectations.