As another woeful week wends to a weary close... what we got to look forward to? Although markets appeared to be shooting off in every direction, we do expect we'll see clearer direction soon. Despite the noisy criticism earlier this week of Yen "competitive" devaluation, the G20 meeting said nothing. We suspect certain individuals were quietly sat in the comfy chair, had global reality gently explained to them with the aid of some rusty dental equipment, were slapped around a bit and told to shut it. As long as Japan can sign the pledge on “no competitive depreciation” without giggling we’ll be ok. We do suspect the warmest circle of financial hell is being reserved for those populist European politicians who've tried to appeal to voters with efforts to stem the financial tides, and punished markets for being markets.
The German stock market, the DAX, has officially taken out its trendline from the June 2012 low when European Central Bank President Mario Draghi promised “unlimited bond buying” to support Europe.
The $20 billion gold futures sale and concentrated selling of gold futures on the COMEX on Friday and Monday is far more likely to be “nefarious” than the gold fixings in London. The CFTC’s track record to date has not been great and regulatory capture remains a real risk with the CFTC seeming to be reluctant to hold Wall Street banks who may be involved in price manipulation in the futures market to account. After the Libor revelations, it is surprising that there is not more scrutiny and hard questions asked of banks and regulators in this regard. Separately, large institutional fund manager Blackrock said that there was “no visible central bank activity” as the gold price plunged. They said that gold's fundamentals remain strong and that the fall in price was driven by an outflow of "hot money" and that gold prices are now near the marginal cost of new supply which should provide strong support at these levels and lead to higher prices again.
Following yesterday's most recent Europe-led rout, the market is attempting a modest rebound, driven by the usual carry funding currency pair (EURUSD and USDJPY) levitation, although so far succeeding only modestly with not nearly enough overnight ramp to offset the bulk of yesterday's losses. In a centrally-planned, currency war-waging world, it is sad that only two key FX pairs matter in setting risk levels. But it is beyond hypocritical and highly ironic that according to a draft, the G-20 will affirm a commitment to "avoid weakening their currencies to gain an advantage for their exports." So the G-20 issues a statement saying nobody is doing it, when everyone is, thus making it ok to cheapen your exports into "competitiveness"? In other words, if everyone lies, nobody lies. Of course, also when everyone eases, nobody eases, and the world is back to square one. But that will only become clear eventually.
It is no surprise that pension funds in the US are significantly underfunded (median 72% funded). California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS), specifically, is about 26% short of meeting its long-term commitments. Like most major pension funds, it uses smoke-and-mirrors to avoid this yawning gap by smoothing over a long enough timeframe where 'hope' for growth in assets triumphs over the reality of liabilities (through a 'rolling' 15- or 30-year window - that therefore never comes due). However, under a new plan proposed by CALPERS' chief actuary, they will shorten the horizon from 15 to 5 years and aim for a specific date 30 years from now to be 100% funded (instead of a rolling hope-driven horizon). The impact of this, as Bloomberg reports, may mean California taxpayers municipal pension contributions will rise as much as 50%. "This is clearly the right thing to do," notes the fund's CEO, "as it will reduce the risk of the system," though we suspect the 'system' may just get a little upset at having to face this 50% 'tax-hike'.
While a week ago, when gold was $1600/ounce the self-funded component (read gold sale) of the Cypriot bailout amounted to just over 10 tons of gold, as of today's price and EURUSD rate, Cyprus would now have to sell 12 tons of gold to cover the gap, if it were to hit the sell button today (assuming a price of $1385/ounce and a 1.315 EURUSD exchange rate). As far as we know, Cyprus hasn't sold one ounce yet. But what if gold keeps tumbling as it has in the past three days? Well, the problem as most know, is that as of March based on IMF data, Cyprus only has 13.9 metric tons of "excess" (as the EC defined it) gold. This means one can extrapolate below what price Cyrpus is out of luck and the proposed European Commission bailout fails as one of the key self-funded elements simply will not have enough cash to fill the €400 MM hold. That price for gold, once again assuming a 1.315 EURUSD, is roughly $1175/ounce. So if the coordinated selling (straight to Goldman's traders) were to continue, and gold did plunge to the threshold price, or even drop into triple digit territory, and Cyprus simply did not have enough gold to sell, what then?
Average Comp Rises To $403,281 As Goldman Offsets Decline In FICC, Equity Trading With Prop Revenue At 2 Year HighSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/16/2013 07:58 -0400
Moments ago Goldman reported its Q1 earnings which were strong enough to beat the highest Wall Street estimate, printing at $4.29 on an estimate range of $3.33 to $4.27/share. Revenue was $10.09 billion on estimates of $9.65 billion. What is notable is that while the bank is eating the lunch of its competitors, as it tends to do, in virtually all revenue categories (IB at $1.41 billion, FICC $3.22 bn, Equities: $1.92 bn, Investment Management $1.32 bn, and Prop trading $2.07 bn), it still was unable to match its prior year revenue in the key "client flow" categories of FICC and equities, which dropped from $3.46 billion to $3.22 bn, and $2.25 bn to $1.92 bn, respectively. How did Goldman offset the secular decline in market participation by everyone else? By doing what it does best: prop trading - in Q1 the firm's "Investing and lending" group, aka its Prop group, reported revenue of $2.068 billion (highlighted in the chart below) well higher than the $1.973 billion in Q4 and $1.911 a year earlier. This was the highest prop trading revenue reported by Goldman since Q1 2011 when, as we reported in February, the world was on the verge of being fixed. It wasn't, and the result was a collapse in Goldman prop trading in Q2 2011. Will this year repeat? This remains to be seen. However, for now, Goldman's employees are happy: in Q1 compensation benefits were $4.34 billion, or 43% of revenue. And with Goldman reporting "only" 32,000 total staff at period end, or the lowest since the great financial crisis, the average compensation per employee is once again above the "psychological" $400K barrier, or $403,281 on a trailing 12 month basis to be exact. Bollinger time, boys.
Did you know that the greatest period of economic growth in American history was during a time when there was absolutely no federal income tax? Between the end of the Civil War and 1913, there was an explosion of economic activity in the United States unlike anything ever seen before or since. Unfortunately, a federal income tax was instituted in 1913, and this year it turned 100 years old. But there was no fanfare, was there? There was no celebration because the federal income tax is universally hated. This year, the American people will shell out approximately $4.22 trillion in state and federal income taxes. That amount is equivalent to approximately 29.4 percent of all income that Americans will bring in this year, and that does not even take into account the dozens of other taxes that Americans pay each year. At this point, the U.S. tax code is about 13 miles long, and those that are honest and pay their taxes every year are being absolutely shredded by this system.
While China's trifecta miss of GDP, Retail Sales and Industrial Production all coming lower than expected was likely a factor in the overnight rout of gold, the initial burst of selling started well before the Chinese data hit the tape, or as soon as Japan opened for trading with forced financial institution selling to prefund cash for any and all future JGB VaR-driven margin calls. It was all downhill from there, literally, with overnight selling of gold punctured by brief burst of targeted stop hunting, sending the metal down $116 per ounce, as spot touches $1385 after trading nearly at $1500 yesterday and down $200 in 4 days. End result, whether due to a re-collapsing global economy, margin calls, fears forced Cyprus gold selling will be imposed on all other insolvent European countries, coordinated central bank slams, hedge fund positioning, long unwinds, liquidations, fears about future demand, or whatever the usual selling suspects are, is that gold tumbles an unprecedented 7.8% on 230,000 contracts in one day, and well over 10% in two days, pushing the yellow metal 14 day RSI band to 18, meaning it is now most oversold since 1999. In brief, it is an all out panic, with Goldman still telling clients to sell, i.e., buying every shiny ounce all the way down (not to mention India, where accordingto UBS Friday demand was double the average).
A high level overview of the drivers of the capital markets.
As we have vociferously warned since September 2011, and most recently as the Cyprus debacle exploded explained why it is just beginning, Germany's Council of Economic Experts (or so-called 'Five Wise Men') just confirmed a wealth tax is coming. As the Telegraph reports, confirming our expectations, Germany warns that states in trouble must pay more for their own salvation, arguing that there is enough wealth in homes and private assets across the Mediterranean to cover bail-out costs. They further added that targeting deposit-holders is also a mistake, since the "resourceful rich just move their money to banks in northern Europe and avoid paying," preferring instead taxes on property or other less-mobile assets, "for example, over the next 10 years, the rich should give up a portion of their assets." As we noted here and here, the differences between mean and median wealth in the peripheral nations suggest that people in the bailed-out countries are often better-off than those in Germany - - "this shows that Germany has been right to take a tough line of euro rescue loans." However, the implications of a wealth tax - implicitly impacting the pro-euro Southern European uber-rich - raises the specter of EU breakup once again.
The lesson from the events of 2007-2008 should have been clear: Boosting GDP with loose money can only lead to short term booms followed by severe busts. A policy of artificially cheapened credit cannot but cause mispricing of risk, misallocation of capital and a deeply dislocated financial infrastructure, all of which will ultimately conspire to bring the fake boom to a screeching halt. The ‘good times’ of the cheap money expansion, largely characterized by windfall profits for the financial industry and the faux prosperity of propped-up financial assets and real estate (largely to be enjoyed by the ‘1 percent’), necessarily end in an almighty hangover. The crisis that commenced in 2007 was therefore a massive opportunity: An opportunity to allow the market to liquidate the accumulated dislocations and to bring the economy back into balance. That opportunity was not taken and is now lost – maybe until the next crisis comes along, which won’t be long. It has become clear in recent years – and even more so in recent months and weeks – that we are moving with increasing speed in the opposite direction: ever more money, cheaper credit, and manipulated markets (there is one notable exception to which I come later). Policy makers have learned nothing. The same mistakes are being repeated and the consequences are going to make 2007/8 look like a picnic.
Yet another (one of the very few remaining) voice of reason calls it quits after 30 years of writing The Privateer, one of the best financial newsletters. At this rate there will be virtually nobody left to challenge the daily propaganda spew coming out of the mainstream farcism. As Bill says, "We have been analysing the idiocies and imbecilities of the financial and political "powers that be" for a long time. And for an equivalent time, we have been watching the "markets" succumb to this detritus. That process was completed with the global near death financial experience of late 2008 but it had been building up since long before we began to chronicle it in 1984.... we need a break." Sadly, expect the amount of idiocies and imbecilities to rise exponentially in the near future as the insolvency of the dying status quo regime is exposed for everyone - not just rich Cypriot depositors - to see. As for Bill: enjoy the break, you have earned it.
For many decades, the IT sector was the goose that laid the golden eggs of US fixed investment, with CapEx spending on IT rising as a percentage of GDP every year since 1954: after all spending on improving overall efficiency and productivity seemed like the ultimate and best CapEx investment (at least before Bernanke's ZIRP came along and made dividends and stock buybacks the only excess cash allocation option), where compounded CapEx investments would generate returns orders of magnitude higher than the allocated capital. Or so the thinking went until the Internet boom. As can be seen on the chart below, the advent of the "next big thing" in IT (sorry, not iPhones) - Cloud Computing - may well have been the next step function in IT investments, but due to the decentralized nature of the high-capacity broadband and high levels of utilization, may represent the first time in the past 60 years of US economic history, where incremental investments in the Cloud will no longer be GDP "accretive". This can be seen be the lower CapEx spend on cloud in the past decade (2.9%) compared to the GDP CAGR which at least according to official US sources rose at a 3.9% rate.
Curious how Abenomics is progressing six months after its announcement? These charts courtesy of Diapason should provide a convenient status update.