A Potentially Nasty Snapshot Of Risk Resulting In Another Trillion Of Taxpayer Funded Bank Bailouts - A WalkthroughSubmitted by Reggie Middleton on 12/21/2012 12:55 -0400
Bigger Tax Payer Bank Bailouts Cometh? If You Think Taxes Are Gonna Be Higher You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet! I welcome one and all to show me how it will not be so.
Fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff;
Politics in play!
The only thing they have in mind;
Is the next election day! Hey!
Fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff;
Isn’t politics great?
They've left us now in such a mess;
We’ve no choice but to inflate.
There have been very few times where in my 40+ years of capital markets participation that I’ve strongly believed that we have witnessed a significant, material, public but seemingly under-discussed, under appreciated watershed event that will over the next several years, impact capital markets in a profound manner. The recent announcement by the Fed that they were to pursue the future course of monetary policy with direct regard to a specific, numerical level of unemployment in my mind, represents exactly one of those rare events. While the optics of the recent decision to accept an active target of the unemployment rate might be well meant, socially responsible and politically correct, the dependency upon the single datum construct already of a highly controversial nature may well likely reduce further the credibility of the Federal Reserve’s monetary efforts, thereby leading to slower economic growth, hiring and economic well being as adverse unintended consequences. Indeed, another triumph of form over substance wherein appearances of a literally wondrous intent might soothe the fevered brows of the public but remain entirely within the manipulative province of the data managers.
The subject of inflation has remained an emotionally charged topic of debate over the last several years. As rising prices for individuals, and businesses, has negatively impacted their prosperity; reported inflation has remained at very low levels. With the Fed pumping trillions of dollars into financial system the fear of much higher inflation, as the dollar is debased, has caused gold prices to soar in recent years. The sole purpose in measuring inflation is to help businesses, individuals and government adjust their financial planning for the impact of inflation. Inflation erodes future purchasing power, and decreases economic prosperity, if not accurately accounted for. The accuracy of measuring inflation, and accounting for it properly, is essential to long term economic prosperity. Shortly after Clinton entered the White House the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) altered the calculation of inflation by changing the weighting of goods in the CPI fixed basket. But the manipulation of the data did not stop there.
Moments ago the BEA released the final Q3 GDP number, which printed at 3.1%, up from the second GDP guesstimate 2.7% reported last month, the first 3%+ print since Q4 2011 when, just like today, everything was coming up roses and when growth was on the horizon. Sadly, just like then, reading between the lines reveals more of the same disappointing components, with nearly half of the entire 3.1% annualized growth being derived from Government (0.75) and Inventories (0.73%), combined adding 1.48% (more than in the second revision) of the 3.1% print. Annualized Personal Consumption as a portion of the final number rose modestly from 0.99% to 1.12%, but still is well below the 1.42% in the first Q3 GDP estimate. It is this number that will be closely watched once the preliminary Q4 GDP number is released in a one month. Recall that Q4 GDP is currently tracking between 0.5% and 1.5% depending who you ask. Finally, the most important real growth factor for the US economy - fixed investment - remained stubbornly flat, at a mere 0.12%, virtually unchanged from the first revision's 0.10%. In other words, in Q3 companies stubbornly refused to invest in capital investment i.e. CapEx, and will continue to do so as long as the Fed makes "investing" in dividends and buybacks a more rewarding option. Expect the same pattern to continue in Q4 only this time the Sandy and Fiscal Cliff excuses will be espoused by all the economic apologists.
In key news that may well be the missing puzzle piece to explain some of the very odd market moves in the past week, we just learned courtesy of CNBC, that Morgan Stanley's Wealth platform unit has finally, after months and months of considerations, pulled the plug on the fund that for the second year in a row is one of the three worst performing in the weekly HSBC report and is now redeeming. That in itself is not unexpected. What however is notable is that MS withdrawing hundreds of millions in feeder capital may well explain why gold has seen such a dramatic dislocation in the past week. Recall that at Paulson & Co, gold is not simply an investment - the bulk of direct gold investments at the once legendary investor are in the form of (largely underperforming) gold mining stocks - but an actual investment class. In other words, instead of being denominated in USD, investors are actually denominated in (paper) gold, with a fixed conversion into GLD at inception. This means that upon liquidation of gold-denominated shares, any gold-denominated shares, he has no choice but to sell GLD, and by virtue of this being the most liquid paper instrument in the PM space, gold. Does the massive gold dislocation in the chart below now make more sense especially since Paulson was aware of MS' intentions days in advance and traded, or in this case liquidated, appropriately)?
Following on the heels of Byron Wien, Morgan Stanley's Surprises, and Saxo's Outrageous Predictions, Deutsche Bank's FX strategy team has created a who's who of 13 outliers for 2013. Quite frankly, given the extreme nature of monetary (and now fiscal) policy, asset allocation decisions, and bankers' and politicians' willingness to go into the media and lie directly to our faces, the comprehension of the possible (no matter how improbable) is far more important for risk management than the faith in the centrally-planned unreality our markets (and therefore ourselves) currently find themselves in. As they note, all too often, the tendency to not stray too far from a self-anchoring recent-history-extrapolated consensus (while apparently highly profitable for some for a microcosm of time) leads to unrecoverable drawdowns exactly when career-risk was the limiting factor. From Malaysian elections and EM bubbles bursting to Fed monetizing equities and South China Sea escalation, these outliers seem all to 'normal' in our brave new world.
Our biggest concern here on the cusp of 2013 is the current odd combination of extreme complacency about the risks presented by extend-and-pretend macro policy making and rapidly accelerating social tensions that could threaten political and eventually financial market stability. Before everyone labels us ‘doomers’ and pessimists, let us point out that, economically, we already have wartime financial conditions: the debt burden and fiscal deficits of the western world are at levels not seen since the end of World War II. We may not be fighting in the trenches, but we may soon be fighting in the streets. To continue with the current extend-and-pretend policies is to continue to disenfranchise wide swaths of our population - particularly the young - those who will be taking care of us as we are entering our doddering old age. We would not blame them if they felt a bit less than generous. The macro economy has no ammunition left for improving sentiment. We are all reduced to praying for a better day tomorrow, as we realise that the current macro policies are like pushing on a string because there is no true price discovery in the market anymore. We have all been reduced to a bunch of central bank watchers, only ever looking for the next liquidity fix, like some kind of horde of heroin addicts. We have a pro forma capitalism with de facto market totalitarianism. Can we have our free markets back please?
Credit expansion, wrote the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, is not a nostrum to make people happy. "The boom it engenders must inevitably lead to a debacle and unhappiness." That seems a pretty accurate summary of the current situation for the western economies: a debacle, and unhappiness. Von Mises also wrote that "The final outcome of the credit expansion is general impoverishment." And, "What is needed for a sound expansion of production is additional capital goods, not money or fiduciary media. The credit boom is built on the sands of banknotes and deposits. It must collapse." It seems to us that we may be fast approaching the tail end of a 40-year experiment in money. The conventional financial media continue to keep central bankers on their pedestal; such thinking is astounding for the rest of us who know the Emperor's new clothes when we see them.
As the fallout of Liborgate escalates, the next big bank to be impacted in the fallout started by Barclays civil settlement "revelation" is set to be troubled UBS, already some 10,000 bankers lighter, where as many as three dozen bankers are reported by the implicated in the fixing of the rate that until 2009 was the most important for hundreds of trillions in variable rate fixed income products. Only instead of attacking the US or even European jurisdiction, where the next big settlement is set to hit is Japan: a country whose regulators as recently as half a year ago promised there were no major issues with Libor, or Tibor as it is locally known, rate fixings. And while this most recent development will have little material impact on UBS' ongoing business model, the one difference from previous settlements is that it will likely include criminal charges lobbed against some of the 36 bankers. From the FT: "UBS is close to finalising a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5bn and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan. The pact between the bank and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, US Department of Justice, UK’s Financial Services Authority and UBS’s main Swiss supervisor Finma is expected to be announced on Wednesday, although last minute negotiations continue."
At a time in the year when the market should be at a standstill, and when all trading should be over, the tension in the S&P is unprecedented, driven by two main factors: the ongoing Fiscall Cliff confrontation, which now appears set to not be resolved by Christmas, and very likely to persist into the new year, and what happens with hotel AAPLfornia, as suddenly it has become a liability to show LPs any holdings of the fruit in the year end statement. The two events combined will likely see furious market volatility persist well through the year end, and since volumes will further die down, we may well see massive stock moves on odd lots. And while AAPL is trading under $500 for the first time since February following last night's Citi downgrade, the confusion over the Fiscal Cliff persists, with The Hill first reporting that Boehner is willing to cave on the debt ceiling extension, even as Boehner himself subsequently tweeted that "Any increase in the debt limit will require a greater amount in spending cuts and reforms." So back to square one, with a red herring proposal that Boehner can say we offered to the president and the president turned down. Japan continues to attract a lot of attention with the ADHD market desperate to hope that the coming of Abe 2.0 will be much better than that of 1.0, when in one year he achieved nothing and then resigned due to diarrhea. Judging by the action in the USDJPY, we may be a few short hours away from closing the gap that sent the pair to 84.30 first thing, and proceeding to unwind the near record JPY commitment of traders short position as the JPY realizes this time will not be different. Quiet calendar in the US, with the Empire State Manufacturing Index expected to print at -0.5 at 8:30 am Eastern, TIC data to show China's ongoing TSY boycott at 9 am, and a hawkish Jeff "Mutiny on the Eccles" Lacker speech at 1 pm.
Just as Byron Wien publishes his ten surprises for the upcoming year, Morgan Stanley has created a heady list of seventeen macro surprises across all countries they cover that depict plausible possible outcomes that would represent a meaningful surprise to the prevailing consensus. From the "return of inflation" to 'Brixit' and from the "BoJ buying Euro-are bonds" to a "US housing recovery stall out" - these seventeen succinctly written paragraphs provide much food for thought as we enter 2013.
There was a time when it was nothing short of economic blasphemy and statist apostasy to suggest three things: i) that the Fed's canonic approach to monetary policy, in which Stock not Flow was dominant, is wrong (as we alleged, among many other places, here); ii) that the Fed is monetizing the deficit, thus enabling politicians to conceive any idiotic fiscal policy: the Fed will always fund it no matter how ludicrous, converting the Fed effectively into a political power and destroying any myth of its "independence" (as we alleged, among many other places, most recently here in direct refutation of Bernanke's sworn testimony); and iii) that by overfunding bank reserves, the same banks are left with one simple trade - to frontrum the Fed in its monetization of the long-end, in the process destroying the bond curve's relevance as an inflationary discounting signal, with more QE, leading to tighter 10s, flatter 10s30s, even as the propensity for runaway inflation down the road soars, in the process eliminating any need for the massively overhyped, and much needed to rekindle animal spirits "rotation out of bonds and into stocks" trade (as we explained, first, here). Well, that time is now officially over, with that stalwart of statist thinking, JPMorgan, adopting all of the above contrarian views as its own, and admitting that once again, the Fed and conventional wisdom was wrong, and fringe bloggers were right all along.
In a world in which the Fiscal Cliff, including headlines, rumors, leaks, and mere whispers thereof, is the main show, all other data points are at best supporting data actors. There was a lot of support overnight - for the futures, which once again closed the prior session at the lows - with a battery of PMIs released, starting with the December HSBC China Flash PMI which printed at a excel picture perfect 50.9 vs an expectation 50.8 and above 50 for the second straight month, which sent the Shanghai Composite up 4.32%, and wiped out the bitter aftertaste from the Japan December large manufacturer Tankan index which tumbled to -12 on expectation of a -10 print, confirming the Japanese recession is deteriorating at the worst possible time. Then after China, Markit released a bevy of European PMI data which came in mixed: Services PMI rose from 46.7 to 47.8 in December, beating expectations of a 47.0 print, while the Manufacturing PMI rose modestly from 46.2 to 46.3, missing expectations of a 46.6 result. The biggest wildcard once again was Germany, where the Service PMI, like in the US, posted a sizable rise, posting above 50 for the first time in months, or at 52.1 on expectations of 50.0, and up from 49.7 last, although more disturbing was the ongoing collapse in German manufacturing which dipped from 46.8 to 46.3, on expectations of a rise to 47.2. French manufacturing data did not help posting a tiny rise from 44.5 to 44.6, missing expectations of a 45.0 print. Economic data was further confounded when Spain released its quarterly home price update, which dipped 3.8%, accelerated last quarter's -3.3% drop, and sliding by a massive -15.2% in Q3, faster than the -14.4% drop in Q2, and confirming Spanish housing has a long way to go before it is fixed.