Enron --> Worldcom --> Adelphia --> Lehman --> MF Global --> Greece --> Sino Forest --> ????
We would rank these as some of the more notorious bankruptcies. These weren't normal course of business bankruptcies. These were dark and deviant. They have many similarities. Opaque and convoluted accounting and finances are common to them all. Whether it was Jedi for Enron, repo 105 for Lehman, or off-market swaps with Goldman for Greece, they all used every trick in the book to keep debt off balance sheet and to obfuscate the risk. It is hard to watch what is going on in Europe and not believe that Greece is just the first of many. Countries and their banks. Countries and their regions. Countries and EU programs. Banks and their national central banks. Banks and the ECB. It is hard to pin down the fatal flaw, but for us it is harder to believe that there is nothing to see there and we should happily move along.
Now that the Mega Millions Jackpot has just hit a record $640 million, people, mostly those in the lower and middle classes, are coming out in droves and buying lottery tickets with hopes of striking it rich. After all, with $640 million one can even afford a few shares of Apple stock. Naturally, we wish the lucky winner all the (non-diluted) best. There is, however, a small problem here when one steps back from the Sino Forest trees. As ConvergEx' Nicholas Colas explains, "Lotteries essentially target and encourage lower-income individuals into a cycle that directly prevents them from improving their financial status and leverages their desire to escape poverty. Yes, that’s a bit harsh, and yes, people have the right to make their own decisions. Even bad ones… Also, many people tend to significantly overestimate the odds of winning because we tend to assess the likelihood of an event occurring based on how frequently we hear about it happening. The technical name for this is the Availability Heuristic, which means the more we hear about big winners in the press, the less uncommon a big payday begins to seem." Call it that, or call it what one wishes, the end result is that the lottery is nothing but society's perfectly efficient way of, to use a term from the vernacular, keeping the poor man down while dangling hopes and dreams of escaping into the world of the loathsome and oh so very detested "1% ers". Alas, the probability of the latter happening to "you" is virtually non-existant.
Friday Funny: Sino Forest Seeks $4 Billion From Muddy Waters In Damages... As It Files For BankruptcySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/30/2012 - 11:38
Actually, in retrospect this may well be the funniest pair of headlines in one place ever.
- SINO-FOREST TO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY, MAY SEEK SALE OF COMPANY
- SINO FOREST SEEKING $4B IN DAMAGES AGAINST MUDDY WATERS
Uh? What? #Ref! #Ref! #Ref! We wonder: if Sino Forest files for bankruptcy in its forest of imaginary trees, did it really file for bankruptcy?
It appears the miracle of unionization has not penetrated Chinese labor markets. Contrary to expectations that suicidal workers would be elated at news that the world's second biggest employer in the world (after Wal Mart) with 1.2 million workers, FoxConn, has given employees "landmark concessions" the reality is actually different. Very, very different. "At the Foxconn factory gates, many workers seemed unconvinced that their pay wouldn't be cut along with their hours. For some Chinese factory workers - who make much of their income from long hours of overtime - the idea of less work for the same pay could take getting used to. "We are worried we will have less money to spend. Of course, if we work less overtime, it would mean less money," said Wu, a 23-year-old employee from Hunan province in south China. Foxconn said it will reduce working hours to 49 per week, including overtime. "We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important," said Chen Yamei, 25, a Foxconn worker from Hunan who said she had worked at the factory for four years." Hold on, Hold on... You mean to say that whatever values are cherished in the good old US of lazy A, such as bathroom, coffee and cigarette breaks, not to mention "democracy", "American Idol", "high cholesterol", $0.99 apps" and "liberated oil" just may not be appropriate to the 95% of other people around the world? But... But... how will America spread its deeply unique "humanitarian" values of globalized freedom and trade interchange (funded by cheap credit of course - those global debt slaves won't enslave themselves on their own - for more see here), and occasionally using kinetic intervention (never war: one needs Congressional approval for that) when said people dare to express a different outlook, and set of values on life? Preposterous. Nay, Inconceivable!
When considering the financial condition of each and every country in the European Union there are certain facts that are left out and left out on purpose. In our opinion, the structural deformity of the European Union is, in itself, one of the main reasons that any attempt at a fiscal or economic fix never seems to work. Whether some proposed firewall is $760 billion or $1.3 Trillion or $13 Trillion makes no difference as in zero, nada, nothing and null. It is an IOU, a promise to pay and it is not counted in any European sovereign debt numbers nor is it counted in the figures for the European Union’s debt. It will not stop Spain or Portugal or Italy from asking for or needing money. This whole discussion is a head fake, a deception and a ruse carefully plotted out for investors in one more attempt to mislead the entire world. If you wish to be a statistic in the Greater Fool Theory be my guest but I refuse to be apart of this unadulterated scam.
Spanish regional debt currently stands at 13% of GDP and has surged from EUR60bn in 2006 to over EUR140bn currently. As Credit Suisse points out, the top four regions account for the majority of GDP, two-thirds of regional debt, and, with the exception of Madrid, substantially missed their deficit targets. What is more worrisome is the heavily front-loaded nature of the maturing debt with substantial refinancing needs in the next 2 years and this regional debt is split between bonds and loans - with many of the latter from Spanish banks - yet another illustration of the interconnected contagion that is building more rapidly. The growing crisis in refinancing (liquidity and costs) for regional debt developed the idea of Ponzibonos 'Hispabonos' - debt issued by regions but guaranteed by the central government. The conditionality of these guarantees with regard to deficit targets wil be critical but once they are issued, the risk is that the regions are unable to get their finances under control, the Spanish debtload increases, and there is no longer the flexibility for a regional debt restructuring, should one be necessary.
In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution, America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard. I regret the changes and will propose reforms, or, I suppose, re-reforms, as my program is very much in accord with that of the founders of this institution. Have you ever read the Federal Reserve Act? The authorizing legislation projected a body “to provide for the establishment of the Federal Reserve banks, to furnish an elastic currency, to afford means of rediscounting commercial paper and to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes.” By now can we identify the operative phrase? Of course: “for other purposes.” As you prepare to mark the Fed’s centenary, may I urge you to reflect on just how far you have wandered from the intentions of the founders? The institution they envisioned would operate passively, through the discount window. It would not create credit but rather liquefy the existing stock of credit by turning good-quality commercial bills into cash— temporarily. This it would do according to the demands of the seasons and the cycle. The Fed would respond to the community, not try to anticipate or lead it. It would not override the price mechanism— as today’s Fed seems to do at every available opportunity—but yield to it.
Everyday Stress Can Shut Down the Brain's Chief Command Center. Neural circuits responsible for conscious self-control are highly vulnerable to even mild stress. When they shut down, primal impulses go unchecked and mental paralysis sets in. (Scientific American; subscription required, hopefully your local library has a copy) This helps explain the natural "fight or flight" response we feel when suddenly confronted with danger or potential danger, but more importantly it illuminates how we lose the ability to analyze circumstances rationally when we are "stressed out." Once our rational analytic abilities are shut down, we are prone to making a series of ill-informed and rash decisions. This has the potential to set up a destructive positive feedback loop: the more stressed out we become, the lower the quality of our decision-making, which then generates poor results that then stress us out even more, further degrading our already-impaired rational processes. This feedback loop quickly leads to "losing it completely." Doesn't this describe our increasingly dysfunctional and disconnected-from-reality legislative process?
The S&P 500 has turned red led by Technology stocks as Apple drops below $600 once again. Chatter is the report posted here yesterday is doing the rounds and bringing doubt to Apple's omnipotence. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time for the NASDAPPLE to consider an amicable reweighing? It must be time for more iQE soon, surely. Despite all the media propaganda, perhaps yesterday's FOXCONN news was less than uberbullish after all.
The last month has seen a considerable amount of the post-LTRO gains in Italian and Spanish Sovereign and Financial credit markets (and stocks for the latter) given back. The stigma priced into LTRO-encumbered banks has also surged to post LTRO record wides - more than double its best levels now. This is hardly surprising - while the LTRO was nothing but a thinly-veiled QE printfest, it is the action that was taken with that newly printed money that has created dramatially more contagion risk and sovereign-financial dependence as an unintended consequence. The collosal (relative and absolute) size of the reach-around Sarkozy carry-trade buying in local sovereign debt for Italy and even more so Spain is highlighted dramatically in these 3 charts for BNP, most notably the increase in banks' holdings of sovereign debt compared to their share of Eurozone sovereign debt - i.e. the banks in Italy, and more so Spain, are hugely more exposed to their sovereign's performance and with Spain's massive budget cuts - a vicious cycle of austerity to growth-compression to credit-contraction to Greece (firewall or not) is leaking into their bond markets, even with an active ECB doing SMP although inflation-constrained from LTRO3 perhaps.
As expected, the latest economic data point, ahead of what we now believe will be an NFP miss, the Chicago March PMI, has come and gone and it was merely the latest in a long series of misses. While the headline disappointment was modest, printing at 62.2, below expectations of 63.0 and down from 64.0, it was at the subcomponents that the pain was most acute: New Orders dropped from 69.2 to 63.3, Prices Paid soared from 65.6 to 70.1, the highest since August, any growth focusing again on inventory build up - hence hollow - from 49.6 to 57.4, the largest gain since December 2010 as the restocking continues furiously in what appears forever, but most importantly, the Employment Index which slid from 64.2 to 56.3, the biggest drop since February 2009, and virtually all job gains in 2012 have now been given up. Yet the biggest caution was not anywhere in the indices, but in one of the survey responses: "Tipping point for oil pricing and impact on raw materials and Total Cost of Operations (TCO) is fast approaching." Once the tipping point for oil comes and passes, that's the ballgame, and the only option for the Fed will be to create another Lehman-like deflationary collapse.
Presented with little comment except to note that the next time someone uses the phrase "...but the data is coming in strong..." please show this chart as US and European macro data prints have consistently missed expectations for well over a month now...
Following Greek Bond Humiliation, Europe's Biggest Equity Investor Is Slashing Its European ExposureSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/30/2012 - 08:20
Remember this from September 2010? "Norway, which has amassed the world’s second-biggest sovereign wealth fund, says Greece won’t default on its debts. “The point is, do you expect these guys to default?” said Harvinder Sian, senior fixed-income strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, in an interview. “Norway has taken the view that they will not. The Greek holdings are particularly interesting because the consensus in the market is that they will at some point restructure or default.” Norway says its long-term perspective will protect it from losses. “One could say we are investing for infinity."... Uhm, Big Oops. Needless to say, this stupidity was roundly mocked by Zero Hedge at the time. Yet we can only applaud the fact that unlike other European investors (read primarily Italian banks) which are merely sinking ever deeper into the quicksand by dodecatupling down on pyramid scheme assets, the Norwegian SWF finally "plans to sharply reduce its European exposure while raising investments in emerging markets and Asia-Pacific, the finance ministry said on Friday." While we ridiculed their stupidity in 2010, we applaud Norway's prudence in this case, as unlike other insolvent European entities, the crude-rich country is not falling for the latest round of central planning bullshit, and is finally acting as a fiduciary agent. "We're reducing our European exposure because we see that economic development in the global economy is changing and this should also be reflected in our investment strategy," Johnsen said. "Most likely we'll have to sell some assets in Europe." Remember: in game theory he who defects first, defects best. We expect to see many more funds openly declaring they will commence dumping European assets, all of which are buoyed 100% artificially by the ECB, and US taxpayers, shortly.
With the first quarter of 2012 just about in the books, Nic Colas (of ConvergEx) looks at how the Exchange Traded Fund 'Class of 2012' has done in terms of asset raising to date. There have been 82 new ETFs listed thus far for the year and they have collectively gathered $1.1 billion in new assets through Wednesday’s close of business. While 63% of those funds have been equity-focused, fully 67% of the asset growth for the year has flowed into fixed income products. Just over half the total money invested in these new funds has had two destinations: the iShares Barclays U.S. Treasury Bond Fund (symbol GOVT, with $297 million in flows) and Pimco’s Total Return ETF (symbol TRXT, with $267 million in flows). The standout new equity funds of 2012 in terms of flows are all iShares products – Global Gold Miners (symbol: RING), India Index (symbol: INDA) and World Index (symbol: URTH). Bottom line: even with the continuous innovations of the ETF space, investors are still targeting international and fixed income exposure, a continuation of last year’s risk-averse trends and while 'ETFs destabilize markets' might be the prevailing group-think, this quarter’s money flows into newly launched exchange traded products reveals a strong 'Risk Off' investment bias. Interestingly, the correlation between inception-to-date performance and money flows is essentially zero.
Why save when one can spend (and, more importantly, why save when one has ZIRP)? This appears to have been the motto of American consumers in the past three months when the US Savings rate has plunged from 4.7% in December to a tiny 3.7% in February: the lowest since December 2007's 2.6%, and just as the recession and the market crash was about to send everyone scrambling for the safety of bank savings. The reason: in February personal spending soared by 0.8% on expectations of a 0.6% rise, while incomes barely rose by 0.2% on a consensus rise of 0.4%. Which means the balance had to be savings funded. So even as we have seen retail weakness in the past three months, we now know that it was not only credit funded, but also forced US consumers to burn through their meager savings. And all this before the gasoline price shock hit. The question then is: with the remainder of US savings about to be tapped out on gasoline purchases, just where will the money come to fund all those priced in NEW iPad acquisitions? Or will Apple finally use up its cash hoard and start a captive lending unit, giving consumers credit to purchase its products? At the rate the US consumer is going broke it may soon have no other option.