With an economy of just $3.2Tn versus the United States $14.3Tn Germany is trying to prop up a Eurozone that is more than one trillion dollars bigger than America. They just do not have the resources for the task they are undertaking and I predict serious consequences, eventually, from their efforts. Germany is “best of class” and will be the last to go but they cannot evade the European recession in the end and I think it is only a matter of time and unfortunate decisions before the austerity demands made on so many will wind their way back home to those who made the demands. They used a timeline that was much too short for the job at hand and payment will eventually be forced upon them. They obviously get the joke where Eurobonds and other ploys of this nature average the economies of Europe and the standards of living over some period of time so that Germany, in the end, will suffer most as they have the furthest to fall. They have approached the G-20, China, the emerging market countries and all polite responses to the side; the results have been about zip. The Germans are running out of both time and money and Franz is squirming in the beer hall.
Following on his latest bash session of gold from the weekend, when Warren Buffett dedicated a substantial portion of his annual letter to shareholders for the now routine and perfectly expected gold blasting, the Octogenarian of Omaha revealed to his faithful personal scribe Becky Quick that of all banks, he would recommend Wells Fargo as the single best bank to own. Naturally, as was previously lampooned by William Banzai, Americans, even those paying a 15% tax rate, would "do absolutely nothing for Warren trading book" if they were to buy gold instead of pooling their cash into the ponzi. As for buying WFC vs. gold, the chart below will show why the world is increasingly taking any proclamations from the man whose net worth was bailed out by the government, with humor more than serious consideration.Presenting the past decade's return of Wells Fargo and of gold. No commentary necessary.
The “Placebo Effect” is fascinating. In a typical drug testing trial, one group of patients will receive the actual drug being tested, and a “control” group will be given an “inert” medicine (or “sugar pill”) that shouldn’t do anything for the patient, but the patient doesn’t know that. So much of what I find wrong about “economics” is that it masquerades as far more of a science than it actually is. It doesn’t have theories that can be “tested” in a real world, where 2 similar situations are treated differently to see which “treatment” works better. Each economy and each situation is so different that it is IMPOSSIBLE to determine why policies failed or what should have been done differently. It is possible to come up with reasonable ideas and theories of what could have been done or should have been done, but they are only theories. The systems are so complex that finding situations with similar starting conditions with similarly motivated entities involved is simply impossible to find. The fact that so much of our policy seems to be based on research into what should have been done in the Great Depression and what has been seen in Japan is frankly scary. There is no way to “know” how the Great Depression would have turned out with a different set of policies. We can make conjectures, but that is all they are – conjectures. The LTRO was designed to support the market, the market is up, so the LTRO must be working. That at least is the logic many investors are applying. They see the improvement in sovereign debt yields, the avalanche of “positive” (if unfounded) headlines, and the relentless march higher of the stock market. So the plan is working? Not so fast.
The IMF data on central bank demand in January showed that Sweden raised its gold reserves by 18.3 metric tons to 144 tons in January. The data on the International Monetary Fund’s website was gold bullish showing continued demand for gold by central banks internationally. Belarus added 5 tons to reserves, Kazakhstan raised reserves by 7.6 tons and Turkey increased gold reserves by 4.1 tons. They were two quite odd minor reductions in gold reserves. Mexico reduced bullion reserves by 0.1 ton and Tajikistan cut them by 0.3 ton, according to the IMF. However soon after the increase in Sweden’s gold reserves was reported by Bloomberg, Sweden’s central bank gold reserves contradicted the IMF data and denied that they had increased their reserves. Joanna Gerwin, acting head of communication for the Riksbank, told Bloomberg that Swedish gold reserves were unchanged at 125.7 metric tons in January. Officials at the IMF’s office in Paris said nobody in Europe was able to comment. Alistair Thomson, a spokesman for the IMF in Washington, didn’t immediately reply to a voicemail and e-mail from Bloomberg outside normal business hours. Interestingly, the Riksbank sold 36.6 tons under the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) from 2007-2009. An increase in reserves of 18.3 tonnes is exactly half of the amount sold and would mean that the Riksbank had bought back half of the gold sold from 2007 to 2009.
That the German vote to pass the second Greek bailout package would be problematic is an understatement. Even as German parliamentarians are expected to pass the latest (but certainly not last as the G-20 meeting over the weekend demonstrated) hurdle to fund the Greek rescue, new revelations out of Greece have come to light exposing the true degree of capital flight out of the country, spearheaded by none other than the country's own corrupt politicians. Kathimerini reports: "As a political outcry grew on Friday over the revelation that an MP had transferred 1 million euros out of the country in May when authorities were struggling to appease Greek citizens’ fears of the repercussions of a possible default on their savings, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told Parliament that a significant number of lawmakers had moved sums in excess of 100,000 euros out of the country. Earlier, addressing a cabinet meeting, Venizelos had told fellow ministers that there are several public figures among the Greeks who transferred a total of 16 billion euros abroad over the last two years. According to research conducted by the Finance Ministry’s information systems department, 9 percent of this money ended up in Swiss bank accounts." As such, it is obvious why German popular tabloid Bild has called for German lawmakers to reject the Greek bailout: at this point the farce is arguably too much for everyone, and the situation is playing out just as predicted here back in July. Merkel is due to address the Bundestag at 3 pm local time, or in just over an hour. Those curious about the blow by blow, can follow the developments out of Germany at the following live blog by Bild.
- Germany Crisis Role in Focus After G-20 Rebuff (Bloomberg)
- G20 to Europe: Show us the money (Reuters)
- Draghi’s Unlimited Loans Are No Panacea (Bloomberg)
- Geithner says Europe has lowered risks of "catastrophe" (Reuters)
- Gone in 22 Seconds (WSJ)
- Gillard beats Rudd to stay Australian PM (FT)
- Brazil Will Continue Reducing Interest Rates, Tombini Says (Bloomberg)
- China to Have ‘Soft Landing’ Soon: Zoellick (Bloomberg)
- China To Be Largest Economy Before 2030: World Bank (Reuters)
- Obama pressed to open emergency oil stocks (FT)
Overnight sentiment is significantly negative, with stocks, bond yields, risk currencies lower after G-20 over the weekend refused to increase IMF funding. The result is an end to the buoyant market sentiment of recent days which has seen the Dax down 1.2%, bund, UST yields lower, and US futures lower. As many had expected, the G-20 has rebuffed EU leaders' request for more assistance, which in turn has placed the onus on Germany to find a way to resolve its internal conflict vis-a-vis a Greek bailout, ironically as many believe that it is Germany who more than anyone wants Greece out. This happens as the Bundestag votes today on second aid package today; Merkel’s government must decide whether to back plans at this week’s summit to combine EFSF and ESM. In other news, tomorrow the ECB will call for bids for the second 3 Year LTRO tomorrow, with results announced on February 29. And with the ECB's deposit facility at €477 billion, it is rather clear that the banks will park the bulk of new proceeds with the ECB once again, where it will continue to be a negative carry trade, earning 0.25% at a cost of 1.00%. And somehow this is favorable for the European sovereign bond market, which continues to ignore the various layers of subordination it is now working under. We expect the market revulsion to this flaw to be violent when it comes, and will result in a rapid and sudden divergence between the various subordinated tranches of sovereign bonds.
The real world revolves around cash flow. Families across the land understand this basic concept. Cash flows in from wages, investments and these days from the government. Cash flows out for food, gasoline, utilities, cable, cell phones, real estate taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes, clothing, mortgage payments, car payments, insurance payments, medical bills, auto repairs, home repairs, appliances, electronic gadgets, education, alcohol (necessary in this economy) and a countless other everyday expenses. If the outflow exceeds the inflow a family may be able to fund the deficit with credit cards for awhile, but ultimately running a cash flow deficit will result in debt default and loss of your home and assets. Ask the millions of Americans that have experienced this exact outcome since 2008 if you believe this is only a theoretical exercise. The Federal government, Federal Reserve, Wall Street banks, regulatory agencies and commercial real estate debtors have colluded since 2008 to pretend cash flow doesn’t matter. Their plan has been to “extend and pretend”, praying for an economic recovery that would save them from their greedy and foolish risk taking during the 2003 – 2007 Caligula-like debauchery.
Debt default means huge losses for the Wall Street criminal banks. Of course the banksters will just demand another taxpayer bailout from the puppet politicians. This repeat scenario gives new meaning to the term shop until you drop. Extending and pretending can work for awhile as accounting obfuscation, rolling over bad debts, and praying for a revival of the glory days can put off the day of reckoning for a couple years. Ultimately it comes down to cash flow, whether you’re a household, retailer, developer, bank or government. America is running on empty and extending and pretending is coming to an end.
It is only somewhat appropriate that the announcement of the resignation of Stratfor's CEO would come in the form of a leaked email that once again was intercepted by Anonymous.
Earlier today, Wikileaks made its latest startling release on Twitter, telling the media world to standby for a 'major announcement'. Alas, in keeping with the recent tradition from Wikileaks, the "release" was a dud and is merely the collected dump of all the emails previously hacked from Stratfor by Anonymous, as was noted here previously. Alas a quick perusal through the emails so far reveals absolutely nothing exciting, except for the communiques of a paid intelligence provider, which may at times have had a few delusions of grandure and a mistaken and rather overblown sense of self-importance (hardly unique). Yet one exchange that is rather interesting is the following email thread from 2009 which goes from discussing how the billionaires behind ACORN have lost all respect for Obama and Biden ("The billionaire (who also funds ACORN) is greatly disappointed over Obama's "weakness and wimpyness" towards China... She believes Biden is weasel and Obama is a pussy... The liberal factions in DC think Obama is being a pussy."), views on Rahm Emanuel ("I don't disagree that Biden is a weasel. I think Emanuel is emasculating Obama by selling him on clever Clintonesque tactics"), views on how Obama may get back into the thick of things: ("Obama needs to get in a fight and do something really mean and unfair to the right."), on Obama and the banks: ("he could also tell the banks to go screw themselves.") and from there going to analyzing the GOP field: ("The GOP folks I talk to are pushing Jeb Bush. I think that is a mistake. Who else is out there?") and culminating with the GOP frontrunning Mitt Romney - "Romney can't make it. Mormons are viewed as Voo Doo." Much more in the full email thread inside.
As we enter a week in which the expectations are high for yet another large expansion of central bank balance sheets, and ever more extreme monetary policy (thanks to the LTRO 2), we thought it appropos to listen to Grant Williams, of the famous "Things That Make You Go Hhhhm" newsletter, explain in its simplest terms, why it is still a good time to own gold. In two excellent and succinct presentations, Williams discusses the 'simplicity' of investing through the last four decades but ends by focusing specifically on the rotation to Gold at the start of the last decade (2000) and why the reason for rotating out of the precious metal has not occurred yet. Seeing the world of Gold as a battle between Too Much and Not Enough (and drawing on global supply, demand, and holdings flow) Williams lays out the reasons for owning gold, and how to know when to cover - as he narrows the five reasons to reconsider Buffett-and-Roubini's Barbarous Relic down to one simple rule - Central Bank Monetary Policy Changes.
Last week saw dramatic dispersion among the major FX pairs as global and local influences caused significant moves in most of the key crosses. Goldman takes a look back at the key drivers of that volatility and then focuses on the week ahead as the EU Summit at the latter end is the main event risk while ongoing macro developments will be focused on the incessant rise in Crude oil prices and whether we start seeing knock-on impacts in the real economy.
While we are aware of politicians' repeated vows about the uniqueness of the Greek case, we remain deeply skeptical. After all, hasn't it been a winning investment strategy to assume that the exact opposite of whatever Europe's elite says will become fact? The recently overheard and filmed conversation between Germany's and Portugal's finmins (http://t.co/iDA9HJPo) points in the direction of an imminent review of the Portuguese case and might be a harbinger of PSI, OSI etc à la Gréce. And why stop there? Why not relieve the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese etc. of their troublesome load? Wouldn't it be nice to pull a Greek and finally make it for those pesky Maastricht criteria? But regardless of one's view on the ongoing crisis, it makes perfect sense to go where no investor has gone before. We did the unthinkable, read the unreadable and made it back alive to tell the tale: we ploughed through all of the individual bond prospectuses of our favorite list of countries in peril and actually found a lot of useful information for the investor. Given that the sovereign bonds of the Eurozone used to be looked at as riskless assets, it is safe to assume that the exercise hasn't been done by a lot of investors on a regular basis. Judging by the difficulty to even obtain the information, both the interest of investors to obtain it and that of issuers and underwriters to provide it has been and remains extremely limited.
Still confused why there are those who call America the USSA? Don't be. As the following animation from the NYT so vividly shows, government benefits across the US have nearly tripled from a modest 7.8% of all personal income in 1969 to a 'European' 17.6% in 2009. And this before Obama went to town (as a reminder total debt has risen by over $4 trillion under Obama - a significant portion of that has gone to fund social welfare). Thus, we are confident that as of this writing, the government accounts for at least 20% and possibly as high as a quarter of all personal income. One can use any word to describe that transition depending on one's personal political preferences, except for one: "sustainable."