• ilene
    01/28/2015 - 19:33
    Suppose you could print up counterfeit dollars, euros or yen that were identical to the real things. Fun, you think? Here's how it plays out. 

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America's Future, Interrupted

The ghost of America's future pays us a visit, telling us all we need to know in five simple charts.



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Guest Post: Open Letter To Ben Bernanke

Dear Ben:

You have publicly gone on record with some off-the-wall assertions about the gold standard.  What made you think you could get away with it?  Your best strategy would have been to ignore gold.  Although I concede that with the endgame of the regime of irredeemable paper money near, you might not be able to pretend that people aren’t talking and thinking about gold.  You can’t win, Ben.  In this letter I will address your claims and explain your errors so that the whole world can see them, even if you cannot.



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World's Largest Solar Plant, With Second Largest Ever Department of Energy Loan Guarantee, Files For Bankruptcy

Solyndra was just the appetizer. Earlier today, in what will come as a surprise only to members of the administration, the company which proudly held the rights to the world's largest solar power project, the hilariously named Solar Trust of America ("STA"), filed for bankruptcy. And while one could say that the company's epic collapse is more a function of alternative energy politics in Germany, where its 70% parent Solar Millennium AG filed for bankruptcy last December, what is relevant is that last April STA was the proud recipient of a $2.1 billion conditional loan from the Department of Energy, incidentally the second largest loan ever handed out by the DOE's Stephen Chu. That amount was supposed to fund the expansion of the company's 1000 MW Blythe Solar Power Project in Riverside, California. From the funding press release, "This project construction is expected to create over 1,000 direct jobs in Southern California, 7,500 indirect jobs in related industries throughout the United States, and more than 200 long-term operational jobs at the facility itself. It will play a key role in stimulating the American economy,” said Uwe T. Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Solar Trust of America and Executive Chairman of project development subsidiary Solar Millennium, LLC." Instead, what Solar Trust will do is create lots of billable hours for bankruptcy attorneys (at $1,000/hour), and a good old equity extraction for the $22 million DIP lender, which just happens to be NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, another "alternative energy" company which last year received a $935 million loan courtesy of the very same (and now $2.1 billion poorer) Department of Energy, which is also a subsidiary of public NextEra Energy (NEE), in the process ultimately resulting in yet another transfer of taxpayer cash to NEE's private shareholders.



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Guest Post: The Cliff Notes

As it now stands, the US economy faces a “fiscal cliff” in early 2013 – meaningful Government spending cuts AND tax increases at the household level. Nothing like a double whammy, now is there? Unquestionably this is one of the reasons why the Fed has pledged to leave short-term interest rates low for some time. So what happens if nothing is changed and both tax increases and spending cuts are allowed to materialize? Although it’s an approximation, the deadly combo could shave 1.5% plus from US GDP next year. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office are for a more meaningful contractionary impact. And that’s before the ultimate global economic fallout influence of Europe and China slowing. But there is a larger and very important issue beyond this, although the “cliff” is something investors will not ignore and could be very meaningful to forward economic and financial market outcomes, especially given the relative complacent market mood of the moment.



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Pink Slime Maker Files For Bankruptcy: Pink Slips Galore As The Pink Sheets Beckon

In the first of two major bankruptcy stories du jour (the next one coming up shortly), we learn that AFA Foods, best known for being the maker of "pink slime", and a portfolio company of labor unions and Clinton afficionado Ron Burkle and his PE firm Yucaipa, has just filed for bankruptcy. The reason? The sudden public realization what pink slime is, and just how prevalent it is - perhaps it is best to think of it as the Bernie Madoff of the food industry - it was always there, yet it took a wholesale shift in public awareness and consciousness for the firm to realize it would have been prudent to come up with a slightly different name for its ground-beef product. As for whether or not the company is going to the pink sheets, well no. But one thing is certain: the management team is about to get a pink slip.



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VIX Pops As AAPL Snaps Stops With Action Between US Open And EUR Close

As AAPL surges over 3% on the second lowest volume in 3 weeks, the start of Q2 was exuberance-exemplified as stocks, commodities, and Treasuries all enjoyed a bid - though most of the excitement was from the US open to the European close only. A weak start as European credit and equity markets leaked lower (as did ES - S&P 500 e-mini futures) was extinguished as the US day session opened and while construction spending was a bust, ISM managed a small beat. This didn't seem like the catalyst really but we were off to the races as everything rapidly levitated into the European close - except US credit markets which were far less sanguine once again. Stocks stalled at that point and limped on to test last Tuesday's overnight highs before sliding back 6pts or so into the close. Typical high-beta QE-driven sectors outperformed with Energy and Materials heavily bid but even they gave back some advantage into the close as did Tech and Financials. Oil staged a magnificent recovery (best performance from low to high today) topping out over $105 but just outperformed (from Friday's close) by Copper and Silver which ended up around 2.4%. Treasuries rallied 8bps from overnight weakness to their best of the day but son after the macro data, TSYs sold off with the long-end underperforming - though the entire complex ended lower in yield on the day. AUD and JPY strength matched on another providing little support from carry FX as the USD limped weaker - though Gold tripled the USD's performance managing +0.47% and a close above $1675 once again. VIX gapped notably higher at the open but rapidly compressed but from the close of the European session it pushed considerably higher to end the day fractionally higher (oddly on a decently higher equity market performance).



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Foodstamp Usage Remains At All Time High, Record Number Of Households Receive $277 In Poverty Assistance Monthly

While we do not know if foodstamp usage is seasonally adjusted, we do know that in January it was virtually unchanged at 46.5 million recipients. And while the actual number of recipients declined by a whisper, the number of households actually receiving benefits increased to a new record of 22.2 million. Lastly, the average monthly benefit per household slide to a multi-year low of $277.27. First the quality of jobs gets diluted, next the poverty benefits. All in line with the continued dilution of real wealth, simply so nominal indexes can hit fresh 5 year highs - today the S&P hit an intraday high not seen since December 31, 2007. Luckily, soon everyone will be rich and can retire.



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Rosenberg Recaps The Record Quarter

What a quarter! The Dow up 8% and enjoying a record quarter in terms of points — 994 of them to be exact and in percent terms, now just 7% off attaining a new all-time high. The S&P 500 surged 12% (and 3.1% for March; 28% from the October 2011 lows), which was the best performance since 1998. It seems so strange to draw comparisons to 1998, which was the infancy of the Internet revolution; a period of fiscal stability, 5% risk-free rates, sustained 4% real growth in the economy, strong housing markets, political stability, sub-5% unemployment, a stable and predictable central bank. And look at the composition of the rally. Apple soared 48% and accounted for nearly 20% of the appreciation in the S&P 500. But outside of Apple, what led the rally were the low-quality names that got so beat up last year, such as Bank of America bouncing 72% (it was the Dow's worst performer in 2011; financials in aggregate rose 22%). Sears Holdings have skyrocketed 108% this year even though the company doesn't expect to make money this year or next. What does that tell you? What it says is that this bull run was really more about pricing out a possible financial disaster coming out of Europe than anything that could really be described as positive on the global macroeconomic front. What is most fascinating is how the private client sector simply refuses to drink from the Fed liquidity spiked punch bowl, having been burnt by two central bank-induced bubbles separated less than a decade apart leaving David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff, still rightly focused on benefiting from his long-term 3-D view of deleveraging, demographics, and deflation - as he notes US data is on notably shaky ground. This appears to have been very much a trader's rally as he reminds us that liquidity is not an antidote for fundamentals.



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Europe's Tallest-To-Be Building Is Burning - Live Feed

First the Costa Concordia was a sinking example of the failing European experiment, now we may have an even better case study of the continent's burning ambitions, as the Moscow Federation Tower, designed to be the tallest building in Europe, is engulfed in flames. As RT says, "As firefighters try to put out the flames on the top floors, the danger the incomplete building might collapse is growing every minute." Watch live here until the feed is shut off.



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Biderman On April's Equity Inflection Point As Fed's Front-Loading Fades

The Fed has undertaken the same front-loading of the US economy for three years in a row (QE1, QE2, and Operation Twist) and each of the three times the performance of the US equity market to this sudden flush of liquidity has been almost identical in terms of velocity (speed and direction) - even though the underlying macroeconomic impact has been lesser and lesser as we pointed out here earlier. What is also most notable is that as we head into April (as Biderman reminds us, a typically positive 'flow' month for US equities given the tax-based moves and quarter-start) we are nearing what has been the inflection point in the previous two pump-and-hope episodes. While sounding eerily bullish in the very short-term, Charles is critically clear that he expects the short-lived nature of money-printing's impact on the market economy to fade rapidly as he fully expects the government agencies to revise their growth expectations more in line with his 'fact'-based growth expectations which are considerably lower. Though he notes the timing of the election may mean more of a sustained 'hope', the fact that in 2012 (starting Nov2011) equity performance is better now than the previous two Fed-infused rallies is perhaps why corporate insider-selling is so dominating insider-buying now through March. The avuncular antagonist concludes with his expectations that once the April surge is done with (which it may already have done today?) he fully expects the stock market to give up all its first quarter gains (and need we remind you that high yield credit is sending the very same signals of concern that it did in Q2 of the previous 2 rallies).



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10 'Facts' That Should Worry Europe's Equity 'Fiction'

As the first day of the quarter brings new money and new hope for global asset allocators, Credit Suisse has shifted to a more negative 'underweight' stance to European equities. Laying out 10 reasons for their displeasure, they dig into the details a little with a positive view on domestic German equities and the broad DAX index (and USD earners) while notably negative on France and Spain in general (with Spain expected to underperform Italy). Varying from too much complacency on the resolution to the crisis, to political flash points, valuations, and relative economic momentum. This smorgasbord of anxiety-inducing 'facts' may well prove enough to topple the 'fiction' of a liquidity-levitated equity market - that credit seems to have already realized. Most notably the five factors that need to be 'fixed' before the Euro crisis is resolved, and the under-estimation of the de-leveraging required in the periphery, leaves mutualization of debt as the game-changer that still seems a long-way off. The complacency angle seems the most relevant to us - and we see equities once again pull away from any sense of reason indicated by the sovereign, financial, and corporate credit market, this complacency becomes more and more dangerous.



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Marc Faber Previews Q2, Is Long Japan, Cautious The US And Gold, And Sees A 5-10% Increase In Inflation

Mark Faber was on Bloomberg TV earlier, presenting his latest outlook on markets and the economy, but first he summarizes 2011's first quarter which as repeatedly observed here before has so far been a mirror image of 2012, with the only different that while it ran up on 2010's QE2 back then, now it has surged on the transitory flow (not stock) impact of two back to back $1.3 trillion LTROs. "I think that if you look back at a year ago we made a peak of 1370 on S&P on May 4 and then dropped sharply to 1074 on October 4. Then we recaptured the lows in November and December. Since then, the first quarter has been very powerful and has surprised investors because of its strong performance. And I think now the expectations are very high. The market is no longer oversold the way it was in December. And everybody thinks that the race is on, go along with equities, the hedge funds have positioned themselves on the long side and optimism is high. I would be very careful at this stage." As for his outlook, he is "reluctant to short" in a money-printing environment, believes that Japan will provide the best equity futures returns (more easing from the BOJ appears imminent), is confident margins will roll over (as they already have) on the back of record for this time of year input costs, and thus thinks earnings will disappoint, sees inflation running 5-10% more than a year earlier, and is still accumulating gold every month. Overall, mostly as expected from the pony-tailed one.



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