Goldman is back. After the market beating hedge fund, which unlike its peers needs no DVA/CVA or loan loss releases to pad its numbers, was forced to exist in the scandalous shadow of its larger peers (coughjamiedimoncough), the tentacled one is back to making waves on its own, following a Q3 EPS beat of $2.85 on expectations of a $2.28 print, and revenues of $8.35 billion on expectations of $7.18 billion. The reason for the beat? A surge in Investing and Lending (aka Prop trading) revenues, which is the biggest quarterly variable, and which soared to $1.8 billion in Q3 from a paltry $203 million in Q2, and from a major loss of $2.5 billion in Q3 of 2011. All other business segments were in line, with IB down modestly from Q2, Client Flow in FICC in line sequentially, Client Flow in equities rising modestly due to a jump in Equities Client Execution, and a sequential drop in Investment Management. And that's it: no balance sheet or accounting gimmicks, which one has to at least give GS credit for. The bottom line for GS employees as a result of its hedge fund once again performing as expected? With compensation margin fixed firmly at 44% of net revenues, this means employee comp provisioning soared to $3.675 billion, far above the $2.9 billion in Q2 and $1.6 billion in Q3 2011. It also meant that the average comp for the firm's 32,600 in total staff at period end (up from 32,300 in Q2 and 32,400 in Q1) is now an average $404,172, the most since Q2 2011. It just may be a great bonus year for Goldman after all.
If yesterday it was Greece that the market was once again inexplicably enthused about, today it is Spain's turn, which is once again in the open-ended action crosshairs, following an unsourced (are there any other kind these days?) report by the FT, saying the country with the 25% unemployment is prepared for an imminent bailout request (contrary to a previous report by Reuters saying the ETA on this is November). That these are simply more bureaucratic tests to gauge the market's response is by now known to all - the truth is nobody knows what happens even if Spain finally requests a (long overdue and priced in) rescue. Because even with bond yields briefly sliding, they will only ramp right back up, even as the Spanish economic deterioration continues. But that bridge will be crossed only when Rajoy is prepared to hand in his resignation together with a signed MOU to a Troika boarding commission. In other news, Spain sold €3.4 billion in 1 year Bills at a yield of 2.823% compared to 2.835% last, and €1.46 billion in 18 month Bills at a yield of 3.022% versus 3.072% last. Since both of these are within the LTRO's maturity (whose 1 year anniversary, and potential partial repayments, is coming fast in January) the bond was a token exercise in optics. Elsewhere, German ZEW Economic Sentiment rose more than expected from -18.2 to -11.5 on expectations of a -14.9 print, despite the ZEW's Dick summarizing the current Eurozone situation simply as "bad", and adding that "downward risks are more pronounced than upward." Confirming his fears was a government official sited by Bild who said that 2013 growth has been reduced from 1.6% to 1.0%. In all this newsflow, the EURUSD has quietly managed to do its usual early am levitation, and was at overnight highs of 1.3015 at last check.
One place where the S&P level still does have a modest influence is the number of shorts in the market, which are strategically used by repo desks and custodians (State Street and BoNY), to force wholesale short squeezes at given inflection points, usually just when the bottom is about to drop out. The problem is that even short squeezes are increasingly becoming fewer and far between, for the simple reason that the Fed has managed to nearly anihilate shorters as a trading class with its policy of Dow 36,000 uber alles. This was demonstrated with the latest NYSE Group short interest data, which tumbled to 13.6 billion shares short as of the end of September, or the lowest since early May, just as the market was swooning to its lowest level of 2012 to date.
Divergence in thinking.
Particularly light on hard data, take away from this week’s action was reduced volatility in the EGB world (unlike rather more jumpy and eventually depressed equities).
After rainy weeks, better weeks, we pretty much had a rather sleepy week.
We have been very active in our discussions of the impact of the pending rise in food prices around the world (from central bank largesse to weather-related chaos). As Goldman notes, food inflation has been one of the most significant sources of headline inflation variation in emerging markets (EM) over the past few years. Since June, international prices for agricultural commodities have risen almost 30%, increasing the risk of fresh, food-related increases to EM headline inflation. We, like Goldman, expect EM headline inflation to start to reflect the relevant pressures more broadly in the October prints at the latest. While the effects, for now, are expected to be less extreme than the 2010-2011 episode, the timing as the US enters its fiscal-cliff-prone malaise, could mean a further round of easing will reignite this critical inflationary concern.
Economists, market analysts, journalists and investors alike are all talking about it quite openly, generally in a calm and reserved tone that suggests that - to borrow a phrase from Bill Gross – it represents the 'new normal'. Something that simply needs to be acknowledged and analyzed in the same way we e.g. analyze the supply/demand balance of the copper market. It is the new buzzword du jour: 'Financial Repression'. The term certainly sounds ominous, but it is always mentioned in an off-hand manner that seems to say: 'yes, it is bad, but what can you do? We've got to live with it.' But what does it actually mean? The simplest, most encompassing explanation is this: it describes various insidious and underhanded methods by which the State intends to rob its citizens of their wealth and income over the coming years (and perhaps even decades) above and beyond the already onerous burden of taxation and regulatory costs that is crushing them at present. One cannot possibly "print one's way to prosperity". The exact opposite is in fact true: the policy diminishes the economy's ability to generate true wealth. If anything, “we” are printing ourselves into the poorhouse.
Some prefer to see the 'employment' glass half-full, some half-empty, and others see the glass smashed into a million shards on the keynesian kitchen floor. The zealousness with which the 'number' has been dismissed and praised has generated more questions than answers. Goldman's Jan Hatzius addresses the question of the pace of progress in the labor market, the reasons for the contrast between GDP and employment, the amount of slack left, and the implications for Fed policy.
Eerily quiet after yesterday’s post-ECOFIN cacophony…
No real take-away today: sometimes you need a breather and everyone agrees.
There should be three objectives for a well-functioning monetary system: i) internal balance, ii) allocative efficiency and iii) financial stability. The international financial and monetary system (IFMS) has functioned under a number of different regimes over the past 150 years and each has placed different weights on these three objectives. Overall, this recent Bank of England paper finds that today’s 'fiat' system has performed poorly against each of its three objectives, at least compared with the Bretton Woods System, with the key failure being the system’s inability to maintain financial stability and minimize the incidence of disruptive sudden changes in global capital flows. There is little consensus in the academic literature, or among policymakers, on what are the underlying problems in the global economy which allow excessive imbalances to build in today’s IMFS and/or which impede the IMFS from adjusting smoothly to counteract these imbalances. Critically though, while the fiat money system we are currently does indeed exhibit lower GDP growth volatility (by design), it has dramatically more incidents of banking and currency crises than under a Gold Standard.
A rare glimpse inside "probably the world's biggest" 'market-maker' GETCO as it provides estimates of over 20% of 'liquidity' to the daly trading volume on US stocks. Meet the people that stand ready to feed the machines (oh wait) that stand ready at all times (except when most needed) to bid or ask...
The other day the Huffington Post ran an article by a Bonnie Kavoussi called “11 Lies About the Federal Reserve.” And you’ll never guess: these aren’t lies or myths spread in the financial press by Fed apologists. These are “lies” being told by you and me, opponents of the Fed. Bonnie Kavoussi calls us “Fed-haters.” So she, a Fed-lover, is at pains to correct these alleged misconceptions. She must stop us stupid ingrates from poisoning our countrymen’s minds against this benevolent array of experts innocently pursuing economic stability. Here are the 11 so-called lies (she calls them “myths” in the actual rendering), and Tom Woods and Bob Murphy's responses.
According to the Paul Krugman, the “confidence fairy” is the erroneous belief that ambiguity over future government regulation and taxation plays a significant role in how investors choose to put capital to work. To the Nobel laureate, the anemic economic recovery in the United States shouldn’t be blamed on this “uncertainty” but rather a “lack of demand for the things workers produce.” The theory which puts a lack of aggregate demand as being the cause of economic recessions has the issue backwards. Demand by itself doesn’t add to the stock of goods in society; only production does. Because economic theory deals with the interactions of mankind it needs to be applicable to all times and places. On a desert island, only a true charlatan would insist that a “lack of demand” is holding the primitive economy back from its full potential. Desert islands are no different from today’s economy; both are still dominated by scarcity. If the world economy is ever going to recover, the obstacles put in business’s place have to be lifted to make way for investment in real, tangible goods and services. Consumption will come after.
We all know shorting volatility is dangerous. We learned our lessons from the financial crisis. We all meticulously read “The Black Swan” and then watched the scary movie adaption of the book starring Natalie Portman. We all know that this method produces a steady stream of smooth returns making people think you are a genius until the inevitable disaster forces you to pawn off your Nobel Prize. We all know that shorting volatility will cause you to go insane with a twisted psycho-sexual obsession to master the art of ballet. It’s picking up pennies in front of a convexity steamroller. Knowing these facts we would like to pose a question...Which is riskier right now? Shorting a collateralized far out-of-the-money S&P 500 index put or buying a “risk-free” US treasury bond? Hint: Now the market for safety has an efficient frontier on par with the penny in front of the steamroller trade? If you don’t find that scary then you’re not paying attention.
We have mentioned the little-known Belgian economist's works a couple of times previously (here and here) with regard his exposing the serious flaws in the Bretton Woods monetary system and perfectly predicting it's inevitable demise. Triffin's 'Dilemma' was that when one nation's currency also becomes the world's reserve asset, eventually domestic and international monetary objectives diverge. Have you ever wondered how it's possible that the USA has run a trade deficit for 37 consecutive years? Have you ever considered the consequences on the value of your Dollar denominated assets if it eventually becomes an unacceptable form of payment to our trading partners? Thankfully for those of us trying to navigate the current financial morass, Robert Triffin did. Triffin's endgame is simple. A rapid diversification of reserves out of the dollar by foreign central banks. The blueprint for this alternative has been in plain sight since the late 1990's, and if you watch what central banks do – not what they say – you can benefit.