Jeremy Grantham: "I like the analogy of the Fed beating a donkey (the 1% growing economy) for not being a horse (his 3% growing economy). I assume he keeps beating it until it either turns into a horse or drops dead from too much beating!"
The insanity that has gripped policymakers all over the world really is a sight to see. There was a time when central bankers were extremely careful not to do anything that might endanger the currency's value too much – in other words, they were intent on boiling the frog slowly. And why wouldn't they? After all, the amount by which the citizenry is plucked via depreciation of the currency every year is compounding, so that the men behind the curtain extract more than enough over time. The latest example for the growing chutzpa of these snake-oil sellers is provided by Lord Adair Turner in the UK (as it faces its triple-dip recession) - who sees the current policy is evidently failing, so he naturally concludes that there should not only be more of it, but it should become more brazen by veering off into the 'Weimaresque'.
The infamous Bob Rubin appeared on CNBC this morning - extolling the "nobody could have seen this crisis coming" meme - and Rick Santelli went after the hypocrisy of these so-called elites and what they did and didn't know. The glaring hypocrisy of claiming that S&P knew that everything they rated was a P.O.S. and yet no-one else could have seen the crisis coming. The crony capitalism of Geithner's proximity to Rubin's Citi during the dark days - especially considering the increasing evidence in book after book - prompts Santelli to suggest we "draw our own conclusions." From saving the GSEs to Maxine Waters ignorance and Barney Frank's slamming of any pessimists, Santelli covers a lot of ground fast but notes, with venom, that none of these 'elites' ever want to be the naysayer (due to the implications) and they will never "take away the punchbowl," and while he proclaims that if S&P goes down then everyone should suffer clawbacks, he reminds us all, "you can't fight City Hall."
Back in December 2011 the US government first lied, then grudgingly had to admit that Iran had seized one of its RQ-170 Sentinel drones, which crash-landed in the middle of the country, after Iran released a video showing its scientists attempting to reverse engineer the contents of the drone. Naturally, the US politely asked for its drone back, and just as naturally, Iran politely refused to comply. So what was Iran doing in the intervening 14 months? Hacking the drone of course, which it finally succeeded last night when it released a short clip of what it had supposedly extracted from the remains of the Sentinel. The full clip is below, and while it does not provide any incremental informational benefits to Iran, or any further humiliation to whoever created the US drone fleet without a self-destruct option, it certainly will boost Iranian morale on the ground for hacking the Great Satan.
From Fed's Stein: "The insurance company might approach a broker-dealer and engage in what is effectively a two-way repo transaction, whereby it gives the dealer its junk bonds as collateral, borrows the Treasury securities, and agrees to unwind the transaction at some point in the future. Now the insurance company can go ahead and pledge the borrowed Treasury securities as collateral for its derivatives trade." Thanks to the magic of FAS 140 banks can literally transform worthless garbage into supersafe Treasurys, then use that newly transformed collateral via further repo as cash to fund simple stock purchases, and at the end of the day nobody knows where the exposure came from, who the counterparty is, and what the ultimate liability is!
EuroStoxx (Europe's Dow) closed today -1% for 2013. France, Germany, and Spain are all lower on the year now. Italy, following ENI's CEO fraud, collapsed almost 3% from the US day-session open, leaving it up less than 1% for the year. Just as we argued, credit markets have been warning that all is not well and today's afternoon free-fall begins the catch-down. European sovereign bonds are no better with Belgian spreads the worst +13bps on the year. Italian bond yields are the highest in seven weeks (with spreads back above 300bps again today) as both Italy and Spain approach unchanged for the year. Europe's VIX closed at its highest in almost 3 months (aside from the 12/28 spike) as Swiss 2Y rates edge ever closer to negative once again. EURUSD broke back below 1.3400, its lowest in 10 days. Cue 'Cleanest Dirty Shirt' talk from US managers in 3...2...1...
The list of public/private institutions that desperately need structural reform is long: the Pentagon, healthcare (a.k.a. sickcare), Social Security, the complex mish-mash of programs that make up the Welfare State, the 73,000 page tax code, public pensions and the financial sector, to name just the top few. Regardless of the need for reform, it isn't going to happen for these structural reasons.
It would appear sentiment is shifting a little and the BoJ may not get it all their way. While Draghi did his best to avoid explicitly getting into 'Currency War' discussions, recent concerns by Hollande and the ECB Head's 'deflation fears' have been enough to crater EURUSD. The last four days have seen EURUSD drop by the most in almost seven months and EURJPY start to drop significantly with the biggest 2-day drop in seven months.
From a discussion of the Dutch political system being in the pocket of Big Oil to warning that German policy stipulations and the Euro itself could "potentially destroy the European Union," amid rebellion, George Soros has drastically reduced all Euro-related exposure from his portfolio - only a few weeks after his cautious optimism that Europe is 'revived' in Davos. As Open Europe blog notes, Soros fears that "there is a real danger that the [Euro] solution to the financial problem creates a really profound political problem." The interview below with Dutch TV shows Soros grave concerns that the Southern nations are "being pushed unwittingly... into a long lasting depression," as Germany's austerity program is "counter-productive - cannot actually succeed." Just as we recently noted the similarities between the European Union and the Soviet Union, so Soros believes the 'Euro' itself is "bound to break up the European Union." It may take generations, he notes, as a terrible tragedy of "lost political freedom and economic prosperity."
A glance at headlines over the past few months and there is little mention of anything but Europe's periphery struggling but market performance implying that a turnaround is about to occur. Most of this is based on a belief that the core is doing 'well' and that the periphery is gradually becoming more competitive. However, as if elections were not enough to worry Frau Merkel, it turns out, as Diapason's Sean Corrigan notes, Germany's Industrial Production, stymied by a surging EUR, has just suffered its third biggest quarterly decline on record - plunging back to 2007 levels. Furthermore, France's Industrial Production is back at levels first seen in 1997 - also plunging (perhaps explaining Hollande's recent exclamations at EUR strength); as the core is starting to soften significantly.
While the collapse in China-Japan foreign relations (and subsequently, and much more importantly, trade) over a handful of islands in the East China Sea and strategically located near potentially vast maritime oil and gas reserves is by now well-known to everyone, what may come as a surprise is that while Japan is engaged in one mini cold war over disputed rocks with China, none other than Russia tested the waters overnight so to speak, with a fighter jet flyover above yet another set of disputed islands, the Kuriles located in the far north of Japan. From Reuters: "Two Russian fighter jets briefly entered Japan's air space near disputed islands and the northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, prompting Japan to scramble combat fighters and lodge a protest, Japan's Foreign Ministry said." In other words, Russia is making it very clear that as Japan loses more credibility in the foreign affairs arena, China will not be the only one to gain from Japan's loss, and that Russia has every intention of claiming what it too believes rightfully belongs to Putin. Which begs the question: how far is Japan's far more nationalistic current government willing to go to alienate yet another key trading partner, and was this the plane by the China-Russia axis all along?
Doing his best not to get dragged into the currency war conversation, ECB head Mario Draghi is, however, concerned at the impact of a stronger EUR on inflation (or to be more accurate dis-inflation). Noting not only that there remain downside risks to the economic outlook, as we highlighted previously (an 11% rise in trade-weighted EUR since July), his comments (that have smashed the EURUSD down 120pips so far) appear to be addressing a surging EUR.
- *DRAGHI SAYS EURO AREA GROWTH RISK CONTINUES TO BE ON `DOWNSIDE'
- *DRAGHI: REAL, NOMINAL EXCHANGE RATE NEAR LONG-TERM AVERAGE
- *DRAGHI SAYS ECB WILL MONITOR EURO LEVEL FOR INFLATION RISKS
- *DRAGHI STATEMENT SAYS EURO APPRECIATION RAISES INFLATION RISK (or Deflation)
Yesterday it was rumored buybacks and Bill Miller (long retired following disappointing recent performance) hopium; today David Einhorn moves to beg a "fantastic" Apple not to block paying out juicy new dividends on its preferred. Claiming that the company has a "Cash problem" and a "mentality of depression", his position is basically one of demanding that cash (that we so recently noted is actually not really there - with only 31% of it onshore - and invested) be put to work. Facing increasing losses on his profitable long position, the hedge fund manager is miffed that Apple's management has banned giving sharehodlers dividend-paying preferreds. Of course the stock is surging - even though this is actually an action by Apple that removes the possibility - echo yesterday's ramp and fade... and while we are thinking about Apple, why if the world is indeed doing so well is Apple so 'depression-esque' hording cash (as we have rhetorically asked many times in the past about all firms).
As is the case every Thursday, the BLS reported its weekly initial claims which unlike two weeks ago did not estimate the initial unemployment claims for America's most populous state when the number plunged, and has now missed expectations for two weeks in a row, printing at 366K, on expectations of a 360K number, while last week's 368K was as usual revised upward to 371K. As a result, the Mainspin Media already has its headline: Initial Claims decline by 5,000. Such is life under the US Department of Truth, even as unadjusted initial claims spiked by 16.7K to 386K in the week ended February 2. In other news, people on Extended Unemployment Comp plunged by 288K after soaring in the week prior, and making some wonder just what is going on with the EUC 2008 data series for it to get such massive weekly shifts each week.
Following 'no change' in policy, we assume we will be treated to a plethora of confidence-building market-implied views of just how great everything is in Europe (apart from fundamentally). Of course, the Q&A is what we want to hear and his involvement in the Monti Paschi debacle, his view on Anglo Irish, his ignorance of currency wars ("I do not talk about currencies"), and just how great the repayment of LTRO funds are (even as European stocks and bonds move into the red for the year)...
*DRAGHI SAYS DATA SIGNAL FURTHER WEAKNESS IN EARLY 2013
*DRAGHI SAYS RISKS TO OUTLOOK REMAIN ON DOWNSIDE
*DRAGHI SEES UPSIDE PRICE RISKS FROM OIL PRICES, INDIRECT TAXES
*DRAGHI SAYS ECB WILL MONITOR MONEY-MARKET CONDITIONS