Let us take another step down the Holmesian path. As the economies in Italy and Spain deteriorate who will be seriously affected: Germany. Two of their largest buyers of their goods and services will radically cut back on their purchases and the German economy, for the first time in this cycle, will suffer as buyers are no longer able to afford various services. The circle always completes and the consequences will not be pleasant; this circle, in fact, will resemble a noose that is pulled tighter and tighter with each passing quarter and the pay master for the European Union will shrink as their economy, currently at the $3.2 trillion mark, sinks back towards $2.5 trillion during the next year. There will be screams of anguish aplenty and you might begin now to make the necessary adjustments to this coming reality. Then as Italy and Spain soon line up at the till you will see the Real Hurt being on which is why Europe is begging the IMF, the G-20, China and Japan for funds because they now have the burning smell in their nostrils of damaged flesh that has been singed and is about to be cooked and served up fresh in the begging bowls of those urchins turned out into the street.
In a very thin market, the S&P futures came very close to hitting their 50 DMA on Friday. The S&P futures went from a high of 1,418 on Monday, to trade as low as 1,372 on Friday. A 46 point swing is healthy correction at the very least, if not an ominous warning sign of more problems to come. There were 3 key drivers to the negative price action in stocks this week. All 3 of them will continue to dominant issues next week.
This is the latest tally: since the start of the Second Great Depression, the US has lost a total of 5.2 million nonfarm payroll jobs, beginning with 138 million jobs in December 2007, and printing at 132.8 million as of 90 minutes ago. So far so good. The problem, however is that the denominator in the equation is not fixed, and as everyone knows the US labor force, despite the ridiculous BLS data fudging, is growing in line with population, albeit at a slower pace. According to all non-partisan budget forecasters, each month the labor force should be adding 90,000 people. Which in turn means that since December 2007, the labor force has really grown by 4.6 million. Adding these two together leads to a 10 million job deficit. So what has to happen for these 10 million to get promptly put back into jobs, and for America to get back to the ~5% unemployment rate it boasted just as the credit bubble peaked? Nothing too crazy: the country just has to create 262,000 jobs every month for the remainder of Obama's first, and now, by the looks of it, second term too. We are quite confident he can handle it.
Whatever one thinks about Lord Wolfson’s euro-skeptical meddling, it certainly has been entertaining. The British baron’s offer of a £250,000 prize for the best ideas to deal with a possible breakup of the eurozone has brought all sorts of people out of the woodwork. (Including this precocious 11-year old.) But one of the most fascinating ideas on the shortlist has come from Neil Record — although I’m not sure that my takeaway was his main intent. Suppose that a country does leave the eurozone — this was the starting premise of all the responses to Wolfson’s essay contest. Greece, as the weakest link, seems the most likely candidate. But on the other hand it’s possible that one of the strongest countries chooses to go its own way. Of course we’re talking about Germany. Whether it remains in the euro or decides to take its chances by introducing a new Deutschemark, the fact is that in the case of a euro breakup, Germany is where it’s at. Its fiscal position and reputation for prudence is among the strongest of all developed countries. If it were on its own then its currency would rise to reflect this. So, to the extent that you can choose, you will want to get your banknotes from Berlin
The Deepwater Horizon incident demonstrated that most of the oil left is deep offshore or in other locations difficult to reach. Moreover, to obtain the oil remaining in currently producing reservoirs requires additional equipment and technology that comes at a higher price in both capital and energy. In this regard, the physical limitations on producing ever-increasing quantities of oil are highlighted, as well as the possibility of the peak of production occurring this decade. The economics of oil supply and demand are also briefly discussed, showing why the available supply is basically fixed in the short to medium term. Also, an alarm bell for economic recessions is raised when energy takes a disproportionate amount of total consumer expenditures. In this context, risk mitigation practices in government and business are called for. As for the former, early education of the citizenry about the risk of economic contraction is a prudent policy to minimize potential future social discord. As for the latter, all business operations should be examined with the aim of building in resilience and preparing for a scenario in which capital and energy are much more expensive than in the business-as-usual one.
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.