SS Ponzi is approaching a cliff.
Never try to teach a pig to sing, advised Robert Heinlein. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Similarly, never try to convince a central banker that his policies are destructive. After five years of enduring crisis, market prices are no longer determined by the considered assessment of independent investors acting rationally (if indeed they ever were), but simply by expectations of further monetary stimulus. So far, those expectations have not been disappointed. The Fed, the ECB and lately even the BoJ have gone “all- in” in their fight to ensure that after a grotesque explosion in credit, insolvent governments and private sector banks will be defended to the very last taxpayer. Conventional wisdom is that such moves are justified during this period of economic slowdown, as everyone agrees that the market is ’deleveraging’. But as the consistently excellent Doug Noland points out, this idea of deleveraging (i.e. reduction of available credit) in the US is a myth.
The best gains are behind us especially in the wake of the Fed's vacuum and the lack of any meaningful and sustainable upside catalysts.
If yesterday it was the Middle East's turn to escalate, today it is the Far East, aka Pacific Rim, where China and Japan both remind the world nothing has been fixed in the diplomatic snafu between the two countries over a barren rock in the East China Sea. First, it was China, which on the front page of the biggest daily Xinhua, over the weekend, demanded that Japan immediately stop infringing upon its "territorial sovereignty. To wit: "China asked Japan to immediately stop all acts that harm China's territorial sovereignty, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said late Saturday, after some Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands. Hong said the Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands Friday evening with the excuse of preventing Taiwanese activists from landing on the islets. "It is a severe infringement upon China's territorial sovereignty, and the Chinese government has lodged solemn representations and strong protests to the Japanese side," Hong said in a statement." Other headlines make it quite clear that it is in China's interest to stir populist anger at Japan instead of seeking an amicable resolution. What, however, was the most important article in today's Pacific Rim press is this one which has nothing to do with Japan, and everything to do with China's expanding zone of influence: "China's top security official on Saturday made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, the first time in 46 years that a Chinese leader set his foot on the soil of this landlocked Asian country."
When it comes to diving trends in the Fed's take over of the Treasury market, there are those who haven't got the faintest clue about what is going on, such as Paul Krugman, who naively looks (as Bernanke expects all economists to) at the simple total notional of securities held by the Fed and concludes that the Fed is not doing anything to adjust fixed income risk-preference, and then there are those who grasp that when it comes to defining risk exposure in the bond market, and therefore in equities, all that matters is duration, expressed in terms of ten-year equivalents. Sadly, this is a data set that not every CTRL-V major or Nobel prize winner (in order of insight) can grab from the St. Louis Fed - it is however available to those who know where to look. And as the chart below shows, even as the Fed's balance sheet has remained flat in notional terms, its Ten Year equivalent exposure has soared, rising by 50% during Operation Twist alone, from $900 billion to $1.313 trillion. What this means in practical terms, as Stone McCarthy summarizes, is that the Fed now owns 27.05% of the entire inventory in outstanding ten-year equivalents. This leaves less than 75% of the market in private hands.
As we enter the North American cross over, equity indices in Europe are seen higher, supported by telecom and health care sectors. There was little in terms of fresh news flow and instead the price action was largely driven by expiration of various futures and option contracts. On that note, it is not only the quadruple witching day, but also quarterly S&P rebalancing. As such, brief spells of volatility will be observed as market participants close out remaining positions. Looking elsewhere, range bound price action was observed in the fixed income market, where the benchmark German Bund is currently trading in close proximity to 140.00 level. Talk of demand from Middle Eastern accounts in EUR/USD earlier in the session saw the pair trip buy stops above 1.3000 and then above 1.3025. GBP/USD was a direct beneficiary of USD weakness, which in turn pushed the pair above 1.6300 level (touted option barrier). Going forward, the second half of the session will see the release of the latest CPI from Canada.
It appears it is after all not Scott Sumner who 'saved the US economy' by urging the helicopter pilot to create even more money ex nihilo than hitherto. What will save us instead is Apple, or rather, its latest product, the iPhone 5. Who needs Bernanke when this wondrous device stands ready to pull the economy up by its bootstraps? A story has made the rounds lately – propagated by 'economist' (we should use the term loosely…) Michael Feroli at JP Morgan, that sales of the iPhone "could potentially add from one-quarter to one-half of a percentage point to the growth rate of U.S. gross domestic product in the final quarter of the year”. If we were to assume that he is correct, then what this would mainly tell us is how useless a statistic GDP actually is. However, what really takes the cake is a small posting of Krugman's on the same topic entitled “Broken Windows and the iPhone 5”. This view is erroneous – economic laws are not dependent on economic conditions. This is akin to arguing that the laws of nature will cease to be operational on Wednesdays. In Krugman's capable hands, a fallacy becomes a 'theory'.
As if depressing PMI data out of China overnight was not enough (it was certainly enough to send the Shanghai Composite tumbling 2.08% to 2024.8 and just off fresh 4 year lows), we then got Europe to join in the fray with a composite PMI print of 45.9, down from 46.3, and a miss to expectations of a modest rise to 46.6 (driven by a manufacturing PMI of 46.0 up from 45.1, and a Services PMI down from 47.2 to 46.0). The biggest surprise was the sheer collapse in French manufacturing data which tumbled from 46.0 to a 4 year low of 42.6 on expectations of a rise to 46.4, which sent the EURUSD firmly into sub 1.30 territory and not even several good paradoxical bond auctions from Spain (because a good auction here means no bailout, means those who bought the bonds will soon suffer big losses) have managed to dent the very poor overnight sentiment which now implies a European GDP contraction of -1% of more. Reality has also halted the global easing euphoria (the USDJPY is now 40 bps below where the BOJ announced the injection of another Y10 Trillion), and has everyone wondering, now that QEternity is priced in, what next?
By now everyone has heard the infamous Mitt Romney speech discussing the "47%" if primarily in the context of how this impacts his political chances, and how it is possible that a president "of the people" can really be a president "of the 53%." Alas, there has been very little discussion of the actual underlying facts behind this statement, which ironically underestimates the sad reality of America's transition to a welfare state. Recall Art Cashin's math from a month ago that when one adds the 107 million Americans already receiving some form of means-tested government welfare, to the 46 million seniors collecting Medicare and 22 million government employees at the federal, state and local level, and "suddenly, over 165 million people, a clear majority of the 308 million Americans counted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, are at least partially dependents of the state." Yes, Romney demonstrated potentially terminal lack of tact and contextual comprehension with his statement, and most certainly did alienate a substantial chunk of voters (most of whom would not have voted for him in the first place) but the math is there. The same math that inevitably fails when one attempts to reconcile how the $100+ trillion in underfunded US welfare liabilities will someday be funded. Yet the above is for political pundits to debate, if not resolve. Because there is no resolution. What we did want to bring attention to, is something else that Mitt Romney said, which has received no prominence in the mainstream media from either side. The import of the Romney statement is critical as it reveals just what the endgame may well looks like.
What Do the Experts Say? Are People Actually ACCEPTING Gold As Money?
The record US, and global, drought has come and gone but its aftereffects are only now going to be felt, at least according to a new Rabobank report, which asserts that food prices are about to soar by 15% or more following mass slaughter of farm animals which will cripple supply once the current inventory of meat is exhausted. From Sky News: "The worst drought in the US for almost a century, combined with droughts in South America and Russia, have hit the production of crops used in animal feed - such as corn and soybeans - especially hard, the report said. As a result farmers have begun slaughtering more pigs and cattle, temporarily increasing the meat supply - but causing a steep rise in the price of meat in the long-term as production slows. "Farmers producing meat are simply not making enough money at the moment because of the high cost of feed," Nick Higgins, commodity analyst at Rabobank, told Sky News. "As a result they will reduce their stock - both by slaughtering more animals and by not replacing them." Somewhat ironically. food prices are now being kept at depressed prices as the "slaughtered" stock clears the market. However once that is gone look for various food-related prices to soar: a process which will likely take place in early 2013, just in time to add to the shock from the Fiscal Cliff, which even assuming a compromise, will detract from the spending capacity of US (and by implication global) consumers.
Hmmm, if that is all what JPY 10trn can buy…
Where’s the thrill?
Since 2007 our analysis has suggested the likelihood of economic outcomes that most have considered unlikely: significant and ongoing monetary inflation, policy-administered currency devaluation, substantial global price inflation, and an eventual change in how the forty year old global monetary system is structured. Most observers have viewed such outlooks as tail events – highly unlikely, unworthy of serious consideration or a long way off. We remain resolute, and believe last week’s movements in Frankfurt and Washington towards perpetual quantitative easing confirmed and accelerated the validity of our outlook. With QBAMCO's view that $15,000 - $19,000 Gold is possible, timing of the catch-up phase is impossible - though they suspect last week's events may be the catalyst that begins to raise public awareness of the link between monetary inflation and price inflation.
If the Federal Reserve’s nightmare comes true and deflation occurs, something else happens that the banks fear and loathe: marginal borrowers default on all their debts. Rather than being easier to pay, the debts become more difficult to pay as money gains value. Marginal borrowers no longer get the “boost” of inflation, so they increasingly default on their loans. How is it bad for hopelessly over-indebted, overleveraged households to default on all their debt and get a fresh start? Exactly why is that bad? What is the over-indebted household losing other than a lifetime of debt-serfdom, stress and poverty? The banks have to absorb the losses, and since they are so highly leveraged, the losses drive the banks into insolvency. They are bankrupt and must close their doors. Note that 99.9% of the people benefit when bad banks absorb losses and close their doors. Only the bank managers, owners and bond holders lose, and everyone else gains as an unproductive, poorly managed bank no longer burdens the economy with its malinvestments and risky bets. The Federal Reserve’s policy of protecting the wealth and power of the banks while stealing from wage earners via inflation is a catastrophe for the nation and the 99.9% who are not financiers, politicians and lobbyists.
If you want to do something for the poor and middle class, encourage deflation.
Back in 2010, everyone's favorite truthsayer in Europe - MEP Nigel Farage - opined on who exactly was Herman Van Rompuy - the new EU President. Claiming HvR's charisma approached that of a damp rag, we noted at the time that this was indeed slanderous to all the hard-working damp-rags out there. Well, given the EU's need for cash - by any route possible - it seems they have chosen to start building a mountain of fines. As AP reports, the EU parliament fined Nigel EUR2980 for his self-expression.
Does everyone who call @euhvr a "damp rag" get a $4,000 fine?
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) September 17, 2012
Given Germany's EUR 190bn ESM contribution, we assume that Nigel has 63 million more insults before Europe is fixed.