The buck stops here and the votes begin: starting at 7 pm CST, more than 100,000 voters - only a small percentage of the state's electorate - are expected to gather across the state at more than 800 public spots, and cast their votes for their GOP candidate with only three: Paul, Romney and for some unknown reason, Santorum expected to have a fighting changes. Results should begin coming in within a few hours. For those following the caucus for the only important reason: to see how Ron Paul does, or is allowed to do, we have the following live feeds for our readers' disposal.
2011 was an abysmal year for the global insurance industry, which had to cover yet another enormous increase in damages from natural disasters. Unknown to most casual observers is the fact that during the past few decades the frequency of weather-related disasters (floods, fires, storms) has been growing at a much faster pace than geological disasters (such as earthquakes). This spread between the two types of insurable losses has moved so strongly that it prompted Munich Re to note in a late 2010 letter that weather-related disasters due to wind have doubled and flooding events have tripled in frequency since 1980. The world now has to contend with a much higher degree of risk from weather and climate volatility, and this has broad-reaching implications. And critically, it has a particular impact on food.
US Closes 2011 With Record $15.22 Trillion In Debt, Officially At 100.3% Debt/GDP, $14 Billion From Breaching Debt CeilingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/03/2012 - 17:49
While not news to Zero Hedge readers who knew about the final debt settlement of US debt about 10 days ahead of schedule, it is now official: according to the US Treasury, America has closed the books on 2011 with debt at an all time record $15,222,940,045,451.09. And, as was observed here first in all of the press, US debt to GDP is now officially over 100%, or 100.3% to be specific, a fact which the US government decided to delay exposing until the very end of the calendar year. We wonder, rhetorically, just how prominent of a talking point this historic event will be in any upcoming GOP primary debates. And yes, technically this number is greater than the debt ceiling but it excludes various accounting gimmicks. When accounting for those, the US has a debt ceiling buffer of... $14 billion, or one third the size of a typical bond auction.
The issue of Germany and its approach to ameliorating the overleveraged balance sheets of its southern neighbors will dictate the direction of sovereign spreads in 2012. The direction of sovereign spreads will also determine the direction of risk premium spreads in the leveraged finance markets— both bonds and loans. Defaults in the leveraged finance market will and should be an afterthought to the systemic risk factors inherent in sovereign and next-of-kin bank credit spreads. Therefore, forecasting default rates should take a backseat to a better understanding of German Kultur and thought that will shape the euro-zone sovereign finance structure in 2012 and beyond. The most recent European Union summit highlighted that we are left with some of the same issues that confronted the great empires prior to World War I—the battle between “English liberalism with its emphasis on individual freedom and self-determination and Prussian socialism with its emphasis on order and authority.”
The catalyst so many have been waiting for, and the nearly 30 million shorts dreading, has arrived. From Judge Eileen Bransten: "ORDERED that MBIA Insurance Corporation’s motion for partial summary judgment is granted to the extent that MBIA Insurance Corporation (“MBIA”) must establish for its claim of fraud that misrepresentations by the defendant(s) induced MBIA to issue insurance policies on terms to which it otherwise would not have agreed and that MBIA is not required to establish a direct causal link between defendant(s) misrepresentations and MBIA’s claims payments made pursuant to the insurance policies at issue; and it is further ordered that MBIA's motion for partial summary judgment is granted to the extent that MBIA must establish for its claim for breach of the Insurance Agreement against Countrywide Home Loans that CHL's breach of warranties in the issued insurance policies' transaction documents increased the risk profile of the issued insurance policies and MBIA is not required to establish a direct causal connection between proven warranty breaches by CHL and MBIA's claims payments made pursuant to the insurance policies at issue, and it is further Ordered that MBIA's motion for partial summary judgment is granted to the extent that MBIA may seek rescissory damages upon proving all elements of its claims for fraud and breach of representation and/or warranty." In short, this is core catalyst that Manal Mehta expected and which BTIG envisioned to justify its $22.50 price target. It is also the judgment that will make Bank of America's case law life a living nightmare going forward (naturally following repeated failed attempts at appealing). Lastly, any and all shorts in the name may have their work cut out for them.
As households are supposedly deleveraging and European nations face austerity, one might suspect that global debt levels were stabilizing or even dropping. Think again. It will likely come as no surprise when we point out that the G-7 nations alone face a massive $7.3 Trillion (with a T) of sovereign-only maturities (and a further $566 Billion in interest payments) in 2012 alone. This incomprehensible number is worsened only in historical comparison as it's current level is 125% higher than was 'expected' at the end of 2010 (and 238% higher than was expected for 2012 at the end of 2009). As Bloomberg points out, Japan tops the list with $3.05tn (equivalent) followed the US at $2.76tn for 2012 as the former peaks in March 2012 (with $678bn due in that month alone) and the latter peaks in this month with January 2012 seeing over $480bn due to mature (and be rolled). But it gets worse for supply - global corporations (dominated by Financials relative to non-Financials), as noted by S&P today, have used the low interest rate environment to modestly relever and face almost $1 Trillion (again with a T) of maturing debt that will need to be rolled in 2012 (with January and March also topping the list) and over $3.1Tn in the next four years. So in the next four years, amid a slowing demand picture thanks to European worries, global corporate debt combined with G-7 sovereign debt maturing is an incredible $18.48 Trillion that will need to be rolled, rehypothecated, and have capital allocated to it (or not).
The biggest FOMC news released today was not the December minutes - there was absolutely no surprise there. The biggest news, by far, is that as we wrote a few weeks ago, the composition of the FOMC voting members changes drastically as of January 1, with Hawks Fisher, Kocherlakota and Plosser now out of the voting rotation, and replacing them will be the gaggle of ferocious doves Pianalto, Lockhart and Williams. In fact the only hawk left in the Fed as of today through the end of the year is Richmond Fed's Jeffrey Lacker who has shown substantial dovishness in the past. In other words, from a rotation of 7 and 3, the Fed is now uber-dovish by a 9 to 1 majority. So does this mean that printing is imminent? Stay tuned and find out in 3 short weeks: the January FOMC statement comes out on January 25. The only good news: Charles "the fire hydrant" Evans is finally out.
The bond market has always had clever names for bonds in specific markets. Eurobonds, Yankee bonds, Samurai bonds, and now, Ponzi bonds. I’m not sure what else to call these new bonds, but Ponzi bonds seems as good as anything. NBG issued these bonds to themselves, got a Greek government guarantee (how can a country that can’t borrow, provide a guarantee?) and took these bonds to the ECB to get some financing. The ECB won’t buy National Bank of Greece bonds directly, they won’t buy Hellenic Republic bonds in the primary market, but they will take these ponzi bonds as collateral? Greece, and Italy, is sacrificing the people and the country for the good of the bank. The market had made some attempt to charge banks with bad risk management, awful assets, and opaque books, more than they charged the country they were domiciled in. But rather than let the market (and common sense) rule, a mechanism to let banks fund themselves cheaper than the countries they rely on, was created. Asides from giving Ponzi a bad name (at least until the ECB just admits that they are printing faster than even Big Ben) this is tying the banks and the countries ever closer. A long, long, time ago (1 month) it was conceivable that a bank could fail and the sovereign survive. That is becoming less clear.
Summary of the yawn-inducing minutes via Bloomberg:
- SEVERAL ON FOMC FAVORED CHANGE TO MID-2013 RATE VOW BEFORE LONG
- FOMC SAID GLOBAL FINANCIAL STRAINS POSE `SIGNIFICANT' RISK
- FED PLANS TO RELEASE OFFICIALS' FED FUNDS RATE FORECASTS (this is not news, and if the Fed is as accurate in "predicting" - note not setting - FF rates as it is in forecasting everything else, woe is us)
- FOMC MEMBERS SAW LONG-TERM INFLATION EXPECTATIONS AS STABLE
- FOMC MEMBERS SAW ECONOMY `EXPANDING AT A MODERATE RATE'
- FOMC MEMBERS SAID CONSUMER SPENDING `STRONGER THAN EXPECTED'
- MOST FOMC MEMBERS PREDICTED INFLATION WOULD `MODERATE'
- 'A NUMBER' OF FOMC MEMBERS SAW POSSIBLE NEED FOR MORE EASING
There are dim lights at the end of the seemingly darker and darker tunnel. The proposed sanctions legislation allows Obama to waive sanctions if they cause the price of oil to rise or threaten national security. Furthermore, there is the wild card of Iran’s oil customers, the most prominent of which is China, which would hardly be inclined to go along with increased sanctions. But one thing should be clear in Washington – however odious the U.S. government might find Iran’s mullahcracy, it is most unlikely to cave in to either economic or military intimidation that would threaten the nation’s existence, and if backed up against the wall with no way out, would just as likely go for broke and use every weapon at its disposal to defend itself. Given their evident cyber abilities in hacking the RQ-170 Sentinel drone and their announcement of an indigenous naval doctrine, a “cakewalk” victory with “mission accomplished” declared within a few short weeks seems anything but assured, particularly as it would extend the military arc of crisis from Iraq through Iran to Afghanistan, a potential shambolic military quagmire beyond Washington’s, NATO’s and Tel Aviv’s resources to quell. It is worth remembering that chess was played in Sassanid Iran 1,400 years ago, where it was known as “chatrang.” What is occurring now off the Persian Gulf is a diplomatic and military game of chess, with global implications.
The abysmal hit rate of Byron Wien's predictions over the past several years (ostensibly since the inception of this silly practice nearly three decades ago) has been the source of much laughter on the pages of Zero Hedge: see here and here. It has also been the source of much profit, due to the Blackstone Vice Chairman's uncanny ability to bat just over 0.000 with laser-guided precision and consistency. Below, as reported by Bloomberg, are the latest set of forecasts which are to be faded with impunity as soon as is possible.
The Status Quo's Ministry of Propaganda has a single political task for 2012: eliminate the sole threat to the Status Quo (Ron Paul) from the running, leaving voters with a "choice" of clueless stooges for the Power Elite. That roster includes President Obama and the daytime-TV/soap-opera field of Republicrat contenders. The Ministry of Propaganda has settled on a ludicrous strategy to eliminate Ron Paul: declare Paul "unelectable." As with all propaganda, the basic idea is that if it is repeated often enough on officially sanctioned stages, it will eventually be accepted as "true." Our Christmas-New Year's week of family visits took us to homes where the television is on all the time, and as a result I was exposed to the Ministry of Propaganda's preferred media, TV "news." Regardless of the channel or program, the message was the same: "The presidential race will between Obama and either Romney or Gingrich." Despite the polls that find Paul and Romney with equal levels of support in Iowa, Romney has been declared the front-runner and Paul written off as "unelectable." In other words, the voters don't even need to check in; the Ministry of Propaganda's army of toadies, lackeys and media apparatchiks have their marching orders: repeat that Ron Paul is unelectable at every opportunity, either explicitly or implicitly via leaving him off the list of "frontrunners."
History is full of other examples of once proud nations that, facing problems for decades (or even centuries), completely unwound in a matter of years. The Ottoman Empire. The Ming Dynasty. Feudal France. The Soviet Union. Bottom line, when the real change comes, it comes very, very quickly. Think about the pace of change these days. It’s quickening. Europe is a great case study for this– when concerns about Greece first surfaced, European leaders were able to contain the damage. There was disquiet, but it soon dissipated. Fast forward to today. We can hardly go a single day without a major, market-rocking headline. And European politicians’ attempts to assuage the damage have a useful half life that can be measured in days… sometimes hours now. Like the Ottomans, the Soviets, the Romans before them, Western civilization is entering the phase where its rate of decline will start looking like that upside-down hockey stick.