The world is awash with liquidity and yet, despite (or perhaps because of) this, the greatest potential impacts lie from downside risks. The combination of macro growth risks, major economy elections (2013 looks busy), and the plethora of central bank policy meetings over the next year (heavy December) leave a path ahead of forlorn hope - or exuberant anticipation - for many. Summary below...
In a prior post, we discussed the implications of the global shadow banking system having risen to the unprecedented level of roughly 100% of global GDP. By now it should be quite obvious to even the most jaded optimists, that the reason why traditional leverage conduits are no longer applicable (and the only real source of bank credit creation is the Fed via the hopeless blocked up excess reserve pathway), and why credit money (and hence in a Keynesian world "growth") has to come via deposit-free, unregulated "shadow" venues, is that there are no longer enough good money good assets for conventional secured credit creation, and viable levered projected cash flows for conventional unsecured credit creation. Yet not the entire world has gone all in on this gambit, which together with the Fed's money printing, is truly the last bastion of "money' creation. In fact, as the FRB demonstrated, there are three distinct paradigms when it comes to source of credit creation or as it puts it, "financial structure": the US "massive shadow banking system" way, the German "conventional bank deposits funds loan creation" way, and the Saudi Arabian, and soon everyone else, "central planning to the max" way. In a nutshell, these are the three credit system structure extremes, with everything else currently inbetween. These can be visualized as follows:
Earlier today, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), one of the few transnational financial "supervisors" which is about as relevant in the grand scheme of things as the BIS, whose Basel III capitalization requirements will never be adopted for the simple reason that banks can not afford, now or ever, to delever and dispose of assets to the degree required for them to regain "stability" (nearly $4 trillion in Europe alone as we explained months ago), issued a report on Shadow Banking. The report is about 3 years late (Zero Hedge has been following this topic since 2010), and is largely meaningless, coming to the same conclusion as all other historical regulatory observations into shadow banking have done in the recent past, namely that it is too big, too unwieldy, and too risky, but that little if anything can be done about it. Specifically, the FSB finds that the size of the US shadow banking system is estimated to amount to $23 trillion (higher than our internal estimate of about $15 trillion due to the inclusion of various equity-linked products such as ETFs, which hardly fit the narrow definition of a "bank" with its three compulsory transformation vectors), is the largest in the world, followed by the Euro area with a $22 trillion shadow bank system (or 111% of total Euro GDP in 2011, down from 128% at its peak in 2007), and the UK in third, with $9 trillion. Combined total shadow banking, not to be confused with derivatives, which at least from a theoretical level can be said to offset each other (good luck with that when there is even one counterparty failure), is now $67 trillion, $6 trillion higher than previously thought, and virtually the same as global GDP of $70 trillion at the end of 2011.
In Part I, we looked at the period prior to and during the time of what we now call the Classical Gold Standard. It should be underscored that it worked pretty darned well. Under this standard, the United States produced more wealth at a faster pace than any other country before, or since. In Part II we focus on the Post-1913 (Fed to Nixon) era and the fact that - for many reasons, politicians felt that a quasi-government agency could make better credit decisions than the market. This regime was unstable, as economists such as Jacques Rueff and Robert Triffin realized. Since then, it has become obvious that without the anchor of gold, the monetary system is un-tethered, unbounded, and unhinged. Capital is being destroyed at an exponentially accelerating rate, and this can be seen by exponentially rising debt that can never be repaid, a falling interest rate, and numerous other phenomena.
Two months ago we posted an excellent introduction from Dan Ariely on the truth about dishonesty. The focus on our ease of rationalizing dishonest acts struck quite a chord and as a follow-up the behavioral economist discussed several real-life examples with Capital Account's Lauren Lyster. Critically, firms are shifting their focus from long-term growth to maximizing 'shareholder-value' (since any short-term mis-step in a liquidity-fueled boom such as this is punished to the point of 'going-concern') and the increasingly short-term focused attitude not only hurts employees and taxpayers but serves to provoke a culture of dishonesty or fraud. Ariely also notes, rather interestingly, that new disclosure requirements for 'academic-based' reports merely creates a more exaggerated result - since report-preparers now know the result will be discounted further. Again, one could argue, that Bernanke's ZIRP world (and an under-the-surface reality known to all that we are on a precipice) creates an ever-decreasing time-horizon for every 'invisible-hand'-driven act we undertake: we have shifted from "Get Rich Quick" to "Get Rich Quicker...By Any Means."
The dollar rises for the same reason gold and grain rise: scarcity and demand. Which is easier to export: manufactured goods that require shipping ore and oil halfway around the world, smelting the ore into steel and turning the oil into plastics, laboriously fabricating real products and then shipping the finished manufactured goods to the U.S. where fierce pricing competition strips away much of the premium/profit? Or electronically printing money and exchanging it for real products, steel, oil, etc.? I think we can safely say that creating money out of thin air and "exporting" that is much easier than actually mining, extracting or manufacturing real goods. This astonishing exchange of conjured money for real goods is the heart of the "exorbitant privilege" that accrues to the issuer of the global reserve currency (U.S. dollar). To understand the reserve currency, we must understand Triffin's Paradox.
Because while the IDF's "clinical, pinpoint" strikes as posted on the IDF's blog are one thing, here is how they look from the Gaza side...
Together, the market and democracy are what we like to call "the system." The system has driven and enticed bankers and politicians to get the world into trouble. One of the side effects of the crisis is that all ideological shells have been incinerated. Truths about the rationality of markets and the symbiosis of market and democracy have gone up in flames. Is it possible that we are not experiencing a crisis, but rather a transformation of our economic system that feels like an unending crisis, and that waiting for it to end is hopeless? Is it possible that we are waiting for the world to conform to our worldview once again, but that it would be smarter to adjust our worldview to conform to the world? At first glance the world is stuck in a debt crisis; but, in fact, it is in the midst of a massive transformation process, a deep-seated change to our critical and debt-ridden system, which is suited to making us poor and destroying our prosperity, social security and democracy, and in the midst of an upheaval taking place behind the backs of those in charge. A great bet is underway, a poker game with stakes in the trillions, between those who are buying time with central bank money and believe that they can continue as before, and the others, who are afraid of the biggest credit bubble in history and are searching for ways out of capitalism based on borrowed money.
Several weeks ago we summarized the highly entertaining (if largely futile) fight between naval commodore second class Paul Singer of Her Majesty's Elliott Capital Navy, and the defaulted and soon to be re-defaulted state of Argentina. The punchline, much to the chagrin of all those other "sophisticated" bloggers who read so very much into the recent decision of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, was the following: "What this really means is that Western courts have decided that Elliott has not been stripped of pre-petition rights despite, or rather in spite of, holding out, and is entitled to collecting up to par recovery. There is one problem: there is absolutely no enforcement mechanism! And therein lies the rub: because how does a court located on Pearl Street in New York order the Argentina State Treasurer located in Buenos Aires to wire a payment on bonds, via intermediary banks, that Argentina effectively has disowned? It can't." Today, Argentina just made it very clear that once again those desperate for page views by analyzing and overanalyzing an utterly meaningless court decision's implications for rogue sovereign debtor will have to try even harder, following Reuters' report confirming precisely what we said would happen - that Argentina would completely ignore the appeals court decision, and not pay holdout, read Elliott, bondholders.
Ever since late March, we have said that the only realistic resolution to the Fiscal Cliff standoff (and the just as relevant latest and greatest debt ceiling hike due weeks from today as well), driven by a congress that has hit peak party-line polarity and which the recent election loss only made even more acute, would be a market mandated "resolution" (read sell off) whose only purpose is to crack the gridlock as representatives are flooded with phonecalls from angry constituents who now, and always, will be far more concerned about the value of their 401(k) than any ideological split. By that we mean an identical replica of what happened in the summer of 2011 when the market had to tumble 17% before the debt ceiling "compromise" was finally reached. This also explains why with just 6 weeks of trading in 2012 left, Goldman still forecasts a slide to its 2012 year end target (which it has kept constant since late 2011) of 1250. So while a resolution will almost certainly come, it will not be until the very last moment. As GS summarizes, "Bush income tax cuts was not resolved until December 17th, 2010. Last year’s decision to extend payroll tax cuts was not finalized until December 23rd, 2011. The current challenge is significantly more complex. Divergent views on tax policy, defense spending, and entitlements need to be resolved in a short lame-duck session of Congress." And while the market may or may not jump after there is an actual resolution, don't expect any real buying ahead of a compromise, as any uptick in the DJIA (the Beltway has still not heard of the S&P500 apparently) will immediately lessen the impetus for a deal. In fact, if the following chart from Goldman is correct, and if we are indeed to relive a replay of the summer of 2011, watch out below, especially since true wholesale liquidation across the hedge fund space has yet to occur.
Several weeks ago, when sharing his latest outlook at the Economist's Buttonwood gathering, Hugh Hendry had this to say about gold miners: "I am long gold and I am short gold mining equities. There is no rationale for owning gold mining equities. It is as close as you get to insanity. The risk premium goes up when the gold price goes up. Societies are more envious of your gold at $3000 than at $300. And there is no valuation argument that protects you against the risk of confiscation.” For those confused, what he means is quite simple: the higher the price of gold goes, the greater the temptation of those extracting it (usually mined in various locales where worker satisfaction with labor conditions is less than stellar - see recent events in South Africa) to strike and demand higher wages (i.e., lower EPS), or of host government to nationalize it. The end outcome is a collapse in the extracting miner's cash flows and profitability, if not outright liquidation. The paradox is that the fewer actual global miners in operation, the better for the price of the actual hard commodity, as less supply means lower price, means greater probability of more miners suffering the same fate, means even higher gold price and so on. But back to the topic of gold miners. Below, for those still confused, is a simple story courtesy of the BBC in 10 pictures, summarizing the bitter dispute over Kyrgyzstan's gold production.
Protesting Spanish Cops: "Forgive Us For Not Arresting Those Truly Responsible For This Crisis: Bankers & Politicians"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 11/18/2012 - 09:36
Yesterday, in what is an appetizer to the great 2013 convergence trade (that, between the now thoroughly dead Greek and the Spanish economy, which is rapidly getting there, of course), several thousand Spanish policemen took the streets of Madrid protesting the latest round of austerity, which included frozen pensions and the elimination of the Christmas bonus (they will have many more opportunities to protest not only the loss of any future upside, but the eventual cut of existing wages and entitlements). As RT reports, protesters blew whistles, shouted slogans, and carried anti-austerity banners as they marched through the city centre to the interior ministry. But perhaps the most telling message read on one of the slogans, was the following: "Citizens! Forgive us for not arresting those truly responsible for this crisis: bankers and politicians."
New intelligence indicates forces in Gaza may be manufacturing long-range rockets locally. If this is the case, a significant ground force offers the Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the factories making these weapons. Meanwhile, Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza, and Gaza continues its long-range rocket attacks on major Israeli population centers, though Israel claims its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted most of the rockets. While Hamas is preparing for an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, Hezbollah's movements on Israel's northern frontier bear close watching. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Nov. 17 called on the Muslim world to retaliate against Israeli actions in Gaza. Naturally, many are looking in the direction of Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran's most capable militant proxy, could open a second front against Israel.
Back in the 1960s, a clever but financially disadvantaged fellow placed a small ad in a national magazine that read something like: Money needed. Please send $1 to the address below. Do it today! No specific need was given, and nothing was promised in return, so that fraud could not later be charged. Yet within a few months, thousands of dollars arrived in his mailbox, a considerable sum in those days. Or so the urban legend goes. A half-century later, many things have changed, but one thing remains unchanged: People still need money, and they have not ceased to innovate ways in which to get it. Clearly there are a lot of new and imaginative ways of moving money around that vie for our attention. Many of them would be considered crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, if thought of merely as the pooling of resources for a common cause, is as old as human groupings. But that isn't the way it's thought of nowadays. The current king of the hill, Kickstarter, launched in April of 2009, has been a great success. So, is crowdfunding the future capital source for every new venture under the sun? Well, probably not... although we can't say for sure, because it does sometimes seem that way as new and imaginative ways of moving money around vie for our attention.
"This is a time of tremendous flux in the international order" is how Harvard's Niall Ferguson describes the world in which we live as he opines expertly on the change in China, Europe's pending 'lost decade', and the Middle East's post-Arab Spring disestablishment of the 1970s 'order' with GoldMoney's Alasdair Macleod. From China's need to begin privatizing SOEs and globalizing the RMB (with an interesting focus on the introduction of reliable property rights to 'enable' the middle class) to concerns about its large dollar holdings (and the top-down and bottom-up diversification into gold that continues); Ferguson notes that the ongoing attempt to diversify its wealth and revenues (stock and flow) is relatively limited by the ability to secure hard assets but adds that as the world's 'trade' center of gravity shifts east at a very fast pace so gold will flow from "the West to the rest" as Western power declines and the Asia bloc rises. A fascinating macro-economic and geo-political discussion that concludes with a shift through Russia's energy quagmire, Japan's debt problems, and the faulty design of the European Union.