Never in a million years did we think we’d ever use an article by Andrew Ross Sorkin as the basis of a blog post, but here we are. While probably entirely unintentional, his article serves to further solidify as accurate the prevailing notion across America that former head of the New York Federal Reserve and Obama’s first Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, is nothing more than an addled, crony, bureaucratic banker cabin boy. Simply put, "Geithner is so bad, he actually makes Larry Summers look good."
As another week passes by the markets have made no real movement in months. News flow, outside of Yellen's testimony, was also rather slow as first quarter's earnings season begins to come to a close. However, there were a few articles that we read this week that we thought you might find interesting as well... from the dangers of hidden leverage (in the re-burgeoning CDO markets) to the history if bubbles (and their lack of logic) and the demise of the US small business.
Despite Mario Draghi and Janet Yellen's (repeat) attempt to steal the show today, the first when the ECB reports its monetary decision (with zero real chance of announcing any change in policy considering all the furious, and failed, attempts to jawbone the Euro lower) as it faces the dilemma of deflationary pressure, record low bond yields and interest rates at record lows coupled with an export crushing Euro just shy of 1.40, and a practical impossibility to conduct QE even as the hawks jawbone a "potential" European QE to death, while Janet Yellen conducts the second part of the congressional testimony this time before the Senate Budget Committee where she will again, say nothing at all, it appears the world will be focused on Russia once again after the latest 24 hour "de-escalation" gambit is now once again dead and buried and on top of it is Putin waving a "come launch a nuclear attack at me, bro" flag.
Perhaps the most important "news" of the day is that it is non-Tuesday. Yes, there was actual news news, like German factory orders dropping -2.8% on expectations of a 0.3% increase, French industrial production down -0.7% on expectations of a 0.3% increase (both misses driven by a soaring Euro which is now spitting distance away from the 1.40 ECB "redline"), the Nikkei tumbling 2.9% to just above 14000, the Shanghai Composite down 0.9%, SocGen Q1 profit plunging 13% and conveniently blaming it on Russia, speaking of Russia things continue to deteriorate even though Interfax reported that the country has received the first part, some $3.2 billion, of the promised IMF bailout - money which will be used to promptly pay Gazprom... and buy gold, a sudden conflict between China and Vietnam escalating over the placement of an offshore oil rig and so forth, but in the new normal, none of this matters.
"I got to ask [Bernanke] all these questions that had been on my mind for a very long period of time, right? And then on the other side, it was like sort of frightening because the answers weren’t any better than I thought that they might be." - David Einhorn
When it comes to the San Francisco Fed, it is best known throughout the financial community as the group of crack economists who spend millions of taxpayer funds to investigate such probing, for kindergarteners at least, topics as: is water wet, do trees make a sound when they fall in the forest, is it still worth going to college, and are hedge funds important in a crisis. Little did we know that, at least some of them, are homicidal psychopaths with suicidal tendencies. Because this is precisely what was revealed moments ago when Bloomberg reported that the chief operating officer of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and 26-year San Fran Fed veteran, Richard Hornsby, is facing a felony charge for threatening to kill the agency’s former top official, Ed DeMarco, and then kill himself.
When it comes to returns, 2013 will be best remembered as the fifth consecutive year in which the S&P 500, lead by Chief Risk Officer and Portfolio Manager Ben Bernanke (replaced by Janet Yellen in 2014 following a bumper 30%+ year), outperformed about 90% of all hedge funds, which as the recent beta blow up has shown, have virtually no original "alpha" ideas, and all merely piggyback on the same high beta "greater fool", hedge fund hotel trades and/or lever on beta as much as their Prime Broker will allow them (in many cases quite a lot). And yet, hedge fund investors were perfectly happy to keep handing over 20% of their upside and paying a 2% management fee when they could have generated the same returns for free by simply buying the SPY ETF. How happy? According to a just released ranking by Institutional Investor magazine, The 25 top earners of 2013 raked in a total of $21.15 billion.
Unless one has been living under a rock for the past several months, one knows that the latest manifestation of the global stock bubble is that US pharmaceutical companies, using their overvalued stock prices as currency, have engaged in an unprecedented M&A phrenzy (sic), buying up targets either to redomicile themselves abroad and thus avoid paying US corporate taxes, or simply to buy up assets before someone else snatches potential targets, in a classic case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). And while this acquisition spree is a boon for shareholders, with the euphoric market rewarding both target and acquiror by sending their stock prices immediately higher, there is one group that is getting the shaft: employees.
Challenging a Sacred Cow of Banking Dogma
Simply put, there is overwhelming evidence of inflation during the decade long era in which the central bankers have been braying about “deflation”. What is more worrisome, David Stockman presents some startling evidence of the complicity of the government statistical mills in using the inflation that is not seen (i.e. “imputed”) to dilute and obscure the inflation that is seen (i.e. utility bills).
You don’t benefit from it, but you pay for it as a result of the government losing out. Yes, the government complacently sits back and does nothing while tax havens enable people to put their money hidden away in some secret off-shore excuse for a bank while at the very same time the taxpayer ends up paying for what the state is losing out on.
In one of his most voracious tomes, The Wall Street Journal's Fed-see-er Jon Hilsenrath prepared 726 words and published them in 5 minutes to explain that the Fed's forecasts for Q1 were dismally wrong, that the future will all be rosy, and their forecasts spot on, and that the Taper is steady..."Fed officials acknowledged the first-quarter slowdown was worse than expected by saying activity "slowed sharply." Previously, they had just said activity merely slowed...Still, officials nodded to signs of a pickup in economic activity in March and April, suggesting they aren't too worried about the winter slowdown."
On a closing price basis, the trading range for the US 10 year note since January 24th has been 22 basis points which is the narrowest in that length of time in over 30 years. Often times, narrow trading ranges act like coiled springs. The longer markets stay in those ranges the greater the pressure builds. Tight ranges over longer time periods cause ever-more-powerful movements once the ranges break. Over the next two weeks, there are multitudes of events and economic data which could set the tone of trading for the next several months and potentially provide the catalyst necessary for markets to break out of ranges.
Yellen is evidently aware that stocks are bubbling. As Fed Chairman she cannot admit it (no Central Banker will ever say the markets are in a bubble), but the signs that she is aware of this are present.
The coming week will be busy in terms of data releases in the US; highlights include an improvement in consumer confidence, anemic 1Q GDP growth, and solid non-farm payrolls (consensus expects 215K). Wednesday brings advanced 1Q GDP - consensus expected a pathetic 1.1% qoq, on the back of what Goldman scapegoats as "weather distortions and an inventory investment drag", personal consumption (consensus 1.9%), and FOMC (the meeting is not associated with economic projections or a press conference). Thursday brings PCE Core (consensus 0.20%). Friday brings non-farm payrolls (consensus of 215K) and unemployment (6.6%). Other indicators for the week include pending home sales, S&P/Case Shiller home price index, Chicago PMI, ADP employment, personal income/spending, and hourly earnings.