It seems America’s bankers are tired of all the abuse. They’ve decided to speak out. True, they’re doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don’t have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn’t have to apologize for being so successful. But while they haven’t yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays. Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments. Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:
“Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”
Clive Hale of View From The Bridge has released his Christmas Special note. We present it to our readers solely because it contains zero financial analysis, numbers, data and what not - with the year almost over, the last thing people care about is further analysis about just how hopeless everything is when one cuts through the male cow manure. Instead, the letter is replete with precisely the kind of stuff we enjoy the most - that which makes people think.
There has been a large debate as of late about the economy going into 2012. Will it "muddle through" at a sub -2% rate, rebound sharply to more than 3% as currently estimated, or will we decline into a secondary recession? Cases can clearly be made for all three scenarios and only time will tell who is correct. However, this debate entirely misses the essence of what we are most concerned about - our investment portfolios and the risks to those investments from economic pressures. I have clearly made the case in past missives about the potential for a recession in 2012. When real GDP has declined below 2% growth on a year over year basis the economy has normally been, or was about to be, in a recession. With today's downward revision to Q3 GDP we have now had two consecutive quarters of sub-2% GDP growth. There are only two instances in history (Q3-1956 and Q1-2007) where there were two consecutive quarters of sub-2% GDP annual growth and the economy wasn't already in a recession. In 1956 the economy rebounded for one quarter to 2.93% annual growth in Q4, slipped to 1.88% in Q1 of 1957, rebounded once again to 2.99% growth in Q2 1957 as the recession officially started. The other was in Q1 and Q2 of 2007 and we all know how that worked out in next couple of quarters. These are the only instances where the economy "muddled" along for a period of time before way to the recession. The reality is that an economy cannot muddle along - it will either grow or contract. "Muddling" isn't historically an option.
Over a week ago Zero Hedge broke the news that Paulson's Advantage Plus fund was down more than 50% for the year. Today, Reuters has finally confirmed what our disgruntled throat (don't disparage those who express contrarian opinions just because they refuse to brown nose) reported way back when. "There will be no holiday cheer for hedge fund manager John Paulson this month, as his dismal performance in 2011 is capped off by another miserable performance so far in December. The Paulson & Co.'s Advantage Plus fund, which has been the firm's worst performer all year, is down another 9 percent through December 16, sending yearly losses to about 52 percent, according to a person familiar with the numbers. The Paulson Advantage fund, the firm's largest portfolio, is also hurting again this month, declining about 6 percent. The fund is down about 36 percent year-to-date." Of course, those who follow us would know there was a reason for our increased derision over the past 10 days.
Even as it is ending, the fourth quarter of 2011 has been one of dramatic inversions and dislocations, the two main ones being the decoupling between corporate profits, which have for the first time in years started sagging, as ever more companies pre-announce misses or outright disappoint on the top and bottom line, while paradoxically Q4 GDP is expected to post its best quarter of the year, and print somewhere north of 3%. Which in turn has led to the other great inversion: contrary to 2010 when the US growth was lagging and investors (who still harbor the foolish atavism of believing the market reflects the economy) were told to ignore the US and focus on the rest of the world, now we are seeing the traditional reverse decoupling being blasted from every legacy media mouthpiece: namely that the US can withstand the economic crunch gripping Asia and Europe (incidentally, neither forward nor reverse decoupling has ever worked in the history of the globalized world but knock yourself out). How does one explain this paradox? Simple - as David Rosenberg shows, the payroll tax cut, with its gargantuan $10/week benefit is completely irrelevant. The far more important one is that the average price of gas has tumbled from $3.77 ten months ago to $3.29 currently: "That is practically equivalent to a $70 billion tax cut (at an annual rate) for the consumer sector, and happened right in time for the most important part of the year for retailers." The problem - the benefit is only felt while the price is declining; once it stabilized it has no incremental boost. So unless crude collapses (recall Saxo Bank's outrageous forecasts - it just might), there is no more exogenous boosting to economic growth. And if inversely gas starts rising again, then that $70 billion tax cut will become a tax hike. Long story short, the "US Economic Decoupling" is ending. Furthermore, even if tax manages to pass the payroll tax extension, it will at best not detract from growth. But it certainly will not add to it. Which is why the market which has so staunchly been ignoring what happens in Q1 2012, may want to reconsider. And with 9 days left in the year, it may want to do it soon... just in time for tax selling purposes.
In effect, students get A Mortgage with Every College Graduation (Dr. Housing Bubble, via Jed H.) with one key difference: there is no way to get out from underneath the student loans. This is the perfection of indentured servitude. How many students pay off their $100,000 loans in a mere seven years? Modern banks and corporate "higher education" diploma mills have improved the old system of indentured servitude, extending the servitude from seven years to decades. The key dynamic here is the transference of risk from the lenders, who stand to reap immense profits from these loans, to the students. This transference is enforced of course not by the banks but by their partner, the Savior State, which obliterated the right to bankruptcy for students while guaranteeing profits to the banks via Sallie Mae, another guarantor of private profits backstopped by taxpayers. The feedback between risk and return has been severed. Lenders can extend massive loans to marginal students attending for-profit colleges, knowing their losses will be backstopped while the gains are theirs to keep, and the debt-serf students are indentured for life.
Not sure what the keyword for shots today is. Perhaps "$40?" Or "herding zombies like cattle on the stage behind the president" Stay tuned and find out.
There are those who contend that when fiat dies, gold and precious metals will take its place. Then, a smaller subset out there, claims that it matters not who owns the gold or silver. All that matters is who is in charge of the lead. The following inforgraphic from ammo.net may shed some much needed light on the topic, which as recent Thanksgiving record sales indicated, more and more people are starting to lock in on (and load).
All neoclassical-Keynesians or whatever else they like to call themselves these days (mendacious voodoo shamans works great but for some reason is considered insulting), should flip through this great flowchart from the BBC which explains how it was nothing else than simply untenable debt that both precipitated and exacerbated the debt crisis, resulting in various derivative offshoots that led to a feedback loop that required ever more debt to artificially smooth out the developing divergences between Europe's two opposite worlds. And yes, while cutting spending involves significant pain, it means a soft reset for the system which will lead to a viable outcome for everyone in the long-run. On the other hand, the Keynesian espoused lunacy is to keep doing more of the same, and hoping for a better outcome which i) will never come and ii) will result in a hard reset from which there will be no recovery. Ironically, it is Europe doing the right thing, and while it will suffer a very deep recession shortly, it will come out stronger at the end. More importantly - it will come out. Which is much more than we can say about America.
2011 has not been good for hedge funds: as the following chart from Reuters shows, this will be the first year of many, possibly ever, in which the average hedge fund had a negative return, even as the broader market had a minimally positive return, although there are still a few more trading days in the year so the S&P could well close negative. No doubt this collapse in returns will be blamed on this and that, yet we can't help but wonder how in the "New Hedge Fund Normal" in which fundamentals no longer matter and alpha is irrelevant, in which what does matter is which central bank prints and how much and who can get more levered beta, in which "expert networks" and "information arbitrage" are a thing of the past, in which every phone conversation is tapped and in which your friendly state DA just wants to bust some hedge fund ass to make that governor bid easier, will hedge funds ever return to their old prominence? And if they can't, just what will happen to that ultra critical $2 trillion marginal purchasing power, levered 3 times, which has traditionally been the driving force for market moves higher?
Now this is one funny, and very apropos, fat finger. Save this post - in a few years it will be revisited only then it won't be a joke.