While the LTROs were supposed to bring European banks back from the edge of insolvency with a warming blast of liquidity, the sad truth, now that the exuberance of fresh money-printing has faded, is that the unintended consequence has crammed down the senior unsecured bank debt holders to the lowest of the low. This realization, that we have discussed a number of times - most recently here - that nothing has been solved - as the LTRO Stigma unintended consequence, is starting to leak back into broader risk premia as now the contagion risks are back on the table and even non-LTRO-facing banks are seeing spreads increase as expectations of either broader forced cram-downs or interconnected vicious cycles rear their ugly head once again among European banks - and implicitly back onto European Sovereign balance sheets. Citigroup's Hans Lorenzen highlights four key reasons for the increasingly binary bifurcation that senior unsecured bank debt has become.
So when will retail investors start buying stocks? One of the final legs propping up this rally is the belief that retail investors will finally pile into stocks. There is hope that all this “money on the sidelines” will find its way into the stock market. The S&P at 1,350 was supposed to do the trick. Certainly 1,400 on the S&P was going to be enough to chase retail investors into stocks. Basically the argument that retail will capitulate and finally invest in stocks is based on the assumption that higher prices increase demand – aka, a Giffen Good. Retail investors can see that the U.S. debt has continued to grow and that in spite of lip service to deficit reduction, we are creating a bigger deficit. They are nervous about what will happen when finally the spending gets pulled in. They are also very nervous (as are many professional investors) that they will be the last purchase of stocks before the central banks stop pumping fresh money into the system in their never ending attempt to inflate asset prices. Expecting “the masses” to buy just because something is already up 20% seems a little silly, if not downright arrogant. If there is one sector where the upward price movement is sucking in more money it is amongst corporations themselves and if any group has shown an ability to buy high and sell low, it is corporations themselves. It is just wrong to expect individuals to be as frivolous with their money as corporations are.
You have publicly gone on record with some off-the-wall assertions about the gold standard. What made you think you could get away with it? Your best strategy would have been to ignore gold. Although I concede that with the endgame of the regime of irredeemable paper money near, you might not be able to pretend that people aren’t talking and thinking about gold. You can’t win, Ben. In this letter I will address your claims and explain your errors so that the whole world can see them, even if you cannot.
It appears that these days a EUR1 trillion hot liquidity injection (such as that from the ECB's LTRO 1+2) will buy you about 3 months of breathing room. Then the ostriches have no choice but to pull their head out of the sand, especially in Europe, where after three months of spread tightening, and hence the belief that "all is fixed", things are starting to turn ugly again: sovereign government spreads are beginning to widen, Europe is demanding more money from the IMF (i.e. America, even as the BRIC countries are starting to consider a world without the USD as a reserve currency, and are now forming their own bank) to boost its firewall, strikes are promptly converting to riots, Italian bank stocks are being halted due to rapid moves lower, the LTRO stigma trade is at 2012 wides, in short everything we grew to know and love in Q3 and Q4 of 2011. Ironically, having papered over the symptoms courtesy of fresh new money, the underlying causes were never addressed, and only got worse as the deteriorating European economic data suggests. What is scary, as UBS shows, is that this is just the delayed carryover from 2011! Just like the US which had the benefit of abnormally warm weather to mask a "bounce" in the economy which was never structural, so Europe had a relatively quiet quarter in terms of newsflow. Things are about to change: read the following for why the eye of the hurricane is about to pass over Europe and why this time around there is $1.3 trillion less in firepower to delay the onset of reality.
The real story of Germany, to be blunt, is that it is a parasite economy. Its domestic demand lags. It has a labor force with different values than most. It will live with low wage increases and low inflation. It has lured other EMU members into a currency bloc and let them run such persistently higher rates of inflation (with no criticism of it!) that Germany now OWNS any domestic demand that other EMU countries can generate. Germany is like the vampire squid economy of Europe. Now it’s kind of caught in its own huge blinding squirt of ink, since its banks have lent to these other EMU countries to finance their excessive consumption and Germany is entangled. But on the real-economy side of things, the German economy is eating their lunch, however, meager.
In the US, we instead chose to undermine capitalism and the economic cycle. In the process we’ve undermined trust in the system. Until this is remedied there will be not REAL recovery.
The sharp drop in the personal savings rate in the month of February, which just hit to lowest level since January of 2008, is indicative of the problem. While personal savings rates could be bled down further to sustain the current level of subpar economic growth - the world today is vastly different than prior to the last two recessions where access to credit and leverage we very easy to obtain. It is entirely possible, that in the very short term, we could see personal consumption expenditures continue to make some gains even in the face of the obvious headwinds. However, it is important to keep these month to month variations in context with longer term historical trends. Personal consumption is ultimately a function of the income available from which that spending is derived. As such, the current decline in the growth rate of incomes, without the tailwind of easy credit, poses a much greater threat to the current level of anemic economic growth than we have seen in past cycles.
In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution, America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard. I regret the changes and will propose reforms, or, I suppose, re-reforms, as my program is very much in accord with that of the founders of this institution. Have you ever read the Federal Reserve Act? The authorizing legislation projected a body “to provide for the establishment of the Federal Reserve banks, to furnish an elastic currency, to afford means of rediscounting commercial paper and to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes.” By now can we identify the operative phrase? Of course: “for other purposes.” As you prepare to mark the Fed’s centenary, may I urge you to reflect on just how far you have wandered from the intentions of the founders? The institution they envisioned would operate passively, through the discount window. It would not create credit but rather liquefy the existing stock of credit by turning good-quality commercial bills into cash— temporarily. This it would do according to the demands of the seasons and the cycle. The Fed would respond to the community, not try to anticipate or lead it. It would not override the price mechanism— as today’s Fed seems to do at every available opportunity—but yield to it.
Following Greek Bond Humiliation, Europe's Biggest Equity Investor Is Slashing Its European ExposureSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/30/2012 09:20 -0400
Remember this from September 2010? "Norway, which has amassed the world’s second-biggest sovereign wealth fund, says Greece won’t default on its debts. “The point is, do you expect these guys to default?” said Harvinder Sian, senior fixed-income strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, in an interview. “Norway has taken the view that they will not. The Greek holdings are particularly interesting because the consensus in the market is that they will at some point restructure or default.” Norway says its long-term perspective will protect it from losses. “One could say we are investing for infinity."... Uhm, Big Oops. Needless to say, this stupidity was roundly mocked by Zero Hedge at the time. Yet we can only applaud the fact that unlike other European investors (read primarily Italian banks) which are merely sinking ever deeper into the quicksand by dodecatupling down on pyramid scheme assets, the Norwegian SWF finally "plans to sharply reduce its European exposure while raising investments in emerging markets and Asia-Pacific, the finance ministry said on Friday." While we ridiculed their stupidity in 2010, we applaud Norway's prudence in this case, as unlike other insolvent European entities, the crude-rich country is not falling for the latest round of central planning bullshit, and is finally acting as a fiduciary agent. "We're reducing our European exposure because we see that economic development in the global economy is changing and this should also be reflected in our investment strategy," Johnsen said. "Most likely we'll have to sell some assets in Europe." Remember: in game theory he who defects first, defects best. We expect to see many more funds openly declaring they will commence dumping European assets, all of which are buoyed 100% artificially by the ECB, and US taxpayers, shortly.
With the first quarter of 2012 just about in the books, Nic Colas (of ConvergEx) looks at how the Exchange Traded Fund 'Class of 2012' has done in terms of asset raising to date. There have been 82 new ETFs listed thus far for the year and they have collectively gathered $1.1 billion in new assets through Wednesday’s close of business. While 63% of those funds have been equity-focused, fully 67% of the asset growth for the year has flowed into fixed income products. Just over half the total money invested in these new funds has had two destinations: the iShares Barclays U.S. Treasury Bond Fund (symbol GOVT, with $297 million in flows) and Pimco’s Total Return ETF (symbol TRXT, with $267 million in flows). The standout new equity funds of 2012 in terms of flows are all iShares products – Global Gold Miners (symbol: RING), India Index (symbol: INDA) and World Index (symbol: URTH). Bottom line: even with the continuous innovations of the ETF space, investors are still targeting international and fixed income exposure, a continuation of last year’s risk-averse trends and while 'ETFs destabilize markets' might be the prevailing group-think, this quarter’s money flows into newly launched exchange traded products reveals a strong 'Risk Off' investment bias. Interestingly, the correlation between inception-to-date performance and money flows is essentially zero.
Besides gold and silver, there is nothing that scares Central Planners (Bankers) more that oil. In their delusional world where they play god with our futures, they think they can make the sheeple do whatever they want by adjusting the settings on a printing press and can thus determine the fate of the global economy and humanity itself. What they hate more than anything else is when all of their money printing causes things like oil to rise because it exposes them for the charlatans that they are. This is why Obama is constantly attacking speculators and oil companies. It is all an attempt to scapegoat someone else for the financial nightmare that is hitting everyone’s wallet. This is why they floated the absurd idea of releasing more oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve and then denied it once the market failed to react vigorously enough to the rumor. This is also why Obama surely has called the Saudis up repeatedly as of later to remind them that they might see regime change unless they ramp up oil production to help his reelection. This brings us to one of the most important aspects of the entire global economy at the moment. Saudi oil production is hitting record highs at the moment. In fact if you look at the chart below you will see that the Saudis have never consistently pumped more oil than they are right now.
The sad reality of an austerity induced slowdown in Europe and an ESFS/ESM as useful as a chocolate fire-guard seems to be creeping into risk asset premia across Europe (and implicitly the US). GGB2s are all trading back under EUR20 (that is 20% of par), Sovereign yields and spreads are leaking wider despite the best efforts of their respective banks to back-up-the-truck in the 'ultimate all-in trade' and the LTRO Stigma has reached record levels as LTRO-encumbered banks' credit spreads are the worst in over two months. Spanish sovereign spreads are back at early January levels and with Italian yields comfortably back over 5% and the bonds starting to reality-check back towards the much less sanguine CDS market. It seems apparent that much of the liquidity-fixing LTRO benefits are now being washed away as investors realize nothing has changed and in fact things are considerably worse now given encumbrance and subordination concerns and the increased contagion risk that the LTRO and the Sarkozy trade has created.