We have discussed the fiscal cliff from many angles: timeline, the potential impact, the scenarios, whether its impact is priced in, why a bounce on success is unlikely, the endgame 'solution', and the long-term fiscal probity of the USA. As it appears everyone is becoming more aware of this pending reality, we note USA Today's great one-stop-shop infographic which simplifies the fiscal cliff impact for the rest of us: A raft of tax and spending changes scheduled to take effect in January will sharply reduce the federal budget deficit, but will also send the economy back into recession if they all happen at once.
As we head into the last of this year and we confront various cliffs; fiscal and European, the threat of rising taxes for individuals and perhaps corporations should not be minimized. My best advice of today is to stop and look at your portfolios and take some profits and re-invest the proceeds or take profits and keep cash to be re-invested after the first of the year when we have either bumbled our way out of our predicament or behaved badly and find ourselves in a morass with all of the markets rolling about on their backside. It makes no difference as to your viewpoint and it takes no socially charged adjectives to reach a correct opinion; our President wants more and increased social programs and he wants those with the money to pay for them. Now you have one and one-half months to make preparations.
Here we go with the "but, but, Sandy" excuses. The just announced October retail sales tumbled, with their worst miss of expectations since May 2010, and the first sequential decline since June: printing at -0.3% for both the headline and the 'ex autos and gas', on expectations of a -0.2% and +0.4% rise. Ignoring for a second that the Commerce Department said that Hurricane Sandy had both positive (remember those massive lines in various stores ahead of Sandy) and negative impacts on retail sales, it would be truly inconceivable for the sellside Wall Street consensus of diploma'ed PhDs, which knew about Sandy's impact on retail sales well in advance, and thus could adjust its numbers, to actually, you know, adjust its numbers. Either way there is no way to spin the longer term major store sales trend (last chart), which shows that the US consumer, out of money, out of credit, and out of savings is entering the holiday season with little to zero disposable spending power.
China needs to add to its gold reserves to ensure national economic and financial safety, promote yuan globalization and as a hedge against foreign- reserve risks, Gao Wei, an official from the Department of International Economic Affairs of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, writes in a commentary in the China Securities Journal today which was reported on by Bloomberg. China’s gold reserve is “too small”, Gao said and while gold prices are currently near record highs, China can build its reserves by buying low and selling high amid the short-term volatility, Gao wrote. The People’s Bank of China is accumulating significant volumes of gold under the radar of many less informed market participants which is bullish. The Chinese government is secretive about its gold diversification and buying and does not disclose gold purchases to the IMF. Therefore, there has been no official update to their holdings since the barely reported upon announcement four years ago that Chinese gold reserves had risen from just over 500 tonnes to over 1,000 tonnes.
- Don't jump to conclusions over general, Pentagon chief says (Reuters)
- Bad times for generals: Pentagon demotes 4-star General Ward (Reuters)
- Investors Pay to Lend Germany Money (WSJ)
- Noda will no longer be watching... watching: Japan PM honors pledge with December 16 vote date, to lose job (Reuters)
- New China leadership takes shape (FT)
- Hispanic Workers Lack Education as Numbers Grow in U.S. (Bloomberg)
- Quest for EU single bank supervisor stumbles (FT)
- Anti-austerity strikes sweep Europe (Reuters)
- Amazon faces new obstacles in fight for holiday dollars (Reuters)
- SEC Expands Knight Probe (WSJ)
- Singapore’s Casinos Lose Luster as Gaming Revenue Decline (Bloomberg)
- Amid Petraeus sex scandal, Air Force to release abuse report (Reuters)
- Geithner’s Money Fund Overhaul Push Sparks New Opposition (Bloomberg)
If May Day is when Europe celebrates labor and jobs (if any), November 14 is its opposite, bizarro cousin as today Europe wakes up to a dead(er than usual) economy. The reason: virtually every European country is on strike. From BusinessWeek: "Spanish workers staged a second general strike this year as unions across Europe prepared the biggest coordinated protests yet against budget cuts that policy makers say are needed to end the region’s debt crisis. In Spain, unions said most auto and metal workers joined the strike, even as power demand was just 13 percent below usual. One of Portugal’s two biggest labor groups also called a strike, partial walkouts are planned in Greece and Italy, and French unions are urging workers to join protest marches. “This is a strike against the suicidal economic policies of the government,” Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, head of Spain’s CCOO union, told supporters late yesterday." In other words, Europe's economy which is already doing swimmingly, is about to see 1/60th of its Q4 GDP removed as virtually no economic goods or services are produced today.
China needs to add to its gold reserves to ensure national economic and financial safety, promote yuan globalization and as a hedge against foreign- reserve risks, Gao Wei, an official from the Department of International Economic Affairs of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, writes in a commentary in the China Securities Journal today.
If the Fiscal Cliff negotiations are supposed to result in a bipartisan compromise, it is safe that the initial shots fired so far are about as extreme as can possibly be. As per our previous assessment of the status quo, with the GOP firmly against any tax hike, many were expecting the first olive branch to come from the generous victor - Barack Obama. Yet on the contrary, the WSJ reports, Obama's gambit will be to ask for double what the preliminary negotiations from the "debt deficit" summer of 2011 indicated would be the Democrats demand for tax revenue increase. To wit: "President Barack Obama will begin budget negotiations with congressional leaders Friday by calling for $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenue over the next decade, far more than Republicans are likely to accept and double the $800 billion discussed in talks with GOP leaders during the summer of 2011. Mr. Obama, in a meeting Tuesday with union leaders and other liberal activists, also pledged to hang tough in seeking tax increases on wealthy Americans." Granted, there was a tiny conciliation loophole still open, after he made no specific commitment to leave unscathed domestic programs such as Medicare, yet this is one program that the GOP will likely not find much solace in cutting. In other words, all the preliminary talk of one party being open to this or that, was, naturally, just that, with a whole lot of theatrics, politics and teleprompting thrown into the mix. The one hope is that the initial demands are so ludicrous on both sides, that some leeway may be seen as a victory by a given party's constituents. Yet that is unlikely: as we have noted on many occasions in the past, any compromise will result in swift condemnation in a congress that has never been as more polarized in history.
We are at an historic point of convergence. Firstly, we have reached the limit in the credit backing of our financial, monetary and banking system. We are at the same time hitting profoundly destabilizing ecological limits preeminent at this time is that we are almost certainly at the peak of global oil and food production. Put another way, we are at the limits of the system of trust and solvency that underpins the trade upon which we depend. We are at the limits of the least substitutable energy source that, by the laws of physics, is necessary for economic maintenance and growth. We are at the limits of our most fundamental human sustenance. They are the three most critical structural pillars of the globalized economy. Like a three-legged stool, the whole system can become destabilized by the buckling of just one. Must Read!
The questions of who are the 1% and what level of income demarcates the fat cats from the rest of Americans are likely to become more and more polarizing in the coming weeks. What is perhaps the most intriguing is the apparent dichotomy between the demographics (youth - who face considerably worse employment trends) and state-wealth who voted for Obama. As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, of all the U.S. states with an above-average incidence of their citizens earning over $200,000 (14 in total), all but one (Alaska) went for President Obama in last week’s election. At the other end of the income spectrum, only 2 states in the bottom 10 for +$200K earners (Maine and Iowa) had a majority of voters who sided with the President. The central irony of this straightforward math is that any increase in income taxes on the “Wealthy” will be disproportionately borne by the states which secured the President’s reelection. Perhaps, just an intriguing is the fact that - if you look at the GINI Index – a measure of income inequality – Republican leaning states enjoy more equality on these terms than the citizens of traditionally Democratic areas of the country.
Shining a little reality light on the otherwise pollyanna-like dearth of pragmatism that is the mainstream media's guest-list, Ron Paul provided Bloomberg TV's Trish Regan a little more than we suspect she bargained for when asked if he had any hope that we avoid the fiscal cliff. The constant "delaying-of-the-inevitable" enables our politicians to avoid facing up to the serious consequences of our reality and as Representative Paul notes the chances of a grand bargain are "probably zero... that's why I think we're over the cliff [already]." Just like the handling of the debt ceiling debacle, Paul notes they will "pretend they are going to do it" until we get a total crash of the dollar and the entire financial system (which he notes is what will occur if we continue the status quo). "We are at a point of no return" unless certain things change, since "we are not the productive nation we used to be."
UBS’ Larry Hatheway — who once issued some fairly sane advice when he recommended the purchase of tinned goods and small calibre firearms in the case of a Euro collapse — thinks 1000% inflation could be beneficial. This is fairly typical mistake for an economist. In an imaginary economic model, it is possible to assume that inflation is stable, and that it is predictable, and to draw conclusions based on those (absurd) assumptions. There are no empirical examples of such high rates of inflation being tolerated, because at every stage in history such effects have been intolerable... Getting to a 1000% inflation rate is an inherently volatile path, historically one which has resulted in panics, crashes and breakdowns.
Earmuffs time for Europe's carefully sculpted theater of goodwill, solidarity and cohesion. Because this has to be some sort of record. Hours after Greece got its much desired two year bailout extension of Deutsche Bank from Germany Europe, Greece is already in breach of the terms it, and Europe, all "fought so hard" for. From Kathimerini: "A planned 25 percent increase in the price of public transport tickets next March is to be postponed until October, the general secretary of the Development Ministry, Nikos Stathopoulos, said on Tuesday. The increase originally demanded by the troika would have pushed the price of a ticket for all modes of public transport to 1.75 euros from 1.40." Instead the Troika's demand is overruled, and in its place is a promise that some efficiency has been extracted elsewhere, until of course, said promise is probed and uncovered to have also been a lie.