With 40% of the portfolio in cash and having returned $4 billion to clients at year-end, Seth Klarman's Baupost Group has "drawn the line in the sand" as they reflect on the diminished opportunities in the so-called "Truman Show" market we see today. In the face of mixed economic data and at a critical inflection point in Federal Reserve policy, Klarman notes, the stock market, heading into 2014, resembles a Rorschach test - "what investors see in the inkblots says considerably more about them than it does about the market." From "born bulls" to "worry genes" and from Bitcoin to flash-mob-speculation, "there is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy...and the overall picture is one of growing risk and inadequate potential return almost everywhere one looks... as every 'Truman' under Bernanke’s dome knows the environment is phony."
As Bill Clinton once famously stated; "What is....is" and while the current market "IS" within a bullish trend currently, it doesn't mean that this will always be the case. This is why, as investors, we must modify Clinton's line to: "What is...is...until it isn't." That thought is the foundation of this weekend's "Things To Ponder." In order to recognize when market dynamics have changed for the worse, we must be aware of the risks that are currently mounting.
The Fed’s basic beliefs and workings are clearly sacrosanct, no matter how many times they fail. And as long as that continues to be the case, expect current and future Fed Chairs to follow Bernanke’s lead and draw up a list of boom-bust blunders shortly after leaving office. The aggregate equity allocation for U.S. households is now at a level that’s only ever been reached in the Internet bubble years of 1998 to 2000. This will surely lift spirits at the next FOMC meeting. (Cue the laugh track.) Higher equity allocations are exactly what the Fed tries to achieve with its so-called portfolio balance channel – their jargon for driving up the prices of a few assets by enough that you push investors into other assets (risky assets, such as equity, in the present case). The Fed’s confessions haven’t gone far enough
On the heels of yesterday's confessions (as we detailed here), ex-Fed chair Ben Bernanke continues his contrition:
- *BERNANKE SAYS HE UNDERESTIMATED IMPACT OF SUBPRIME PROBLEM
- *BERNANKE SAYS HE THOUGHT SLOWDOWN WOULD BE 'MODERATE'
But apart from that, "nailed it." What a great way to earn $250,000 per appearance (a year's Fed salary): by admitting your mistakes destroyed the middle class.
With the world still on edge over developments in the Ukraine, overnight newsflow was far less dramatic than yesterday, with no "bombshell" uttered at today's Putin press conferences in which he said nothing new and simply reiterated the party line and yet the market saw it as a full abdication, he did have some soundbites saying Russia should keep economic issues separate from politics, and that Russia should cooperate with all partners on Ukraine. Elsewhere Gazprom kept the heat on, or rather off, saying Ukraine recently paid $10 million of its nat gas debt, but that for February alone Ukraine owes $440 million for gas, which Ukraine has informed Gazprom it can't pay in full. Adding the overdue amounts for prior months, means Ukraine's current payable on gas is nearly $2 billion. Which is why almost concurrently Barosso announced that Europe would offer €1.6 billion in loans as part of EU package, which however is condition on striking a deal with the IMF (thank you US taxpayers), and that total aid could be as large as $15 billion, once again offloading the bulk of the obligations to the IMF. And so one more country joins the Troika bailout routine, and this one isn't even in the Eurozone, or the EU.
Now that Ben Bernanke is no longer the head of the Fed, he can finally tell the truth about what caused the financial crash. At least that's what a packed auditorium of over 1000 people as part of the financial conference staged by National Bank of Abu Dhabi, the UAE's largest bank, was hoping for earlier today when they paid an exorbitant amount of money to hear the former chairman talk. Bernanke confirmed as much when he said he could now speak more freely about the crisis than he could while at the Fed - "I can say whatever I want."
So what was the reason, according to the man who was easily the most powerful person in the world for nearly a decade?
The Bitcoin phenomenon has now reached the mainstream media where it met with a reception that ranged from sceptical to outright hostile. The recent volatility in the price of bitcoins and the issues surrounding Bitcoin-exchange Mt. Gox have led to additional negative publicity. It is clear that on a conceptual level, Bitcoin has much more in common with a gold and silver as monetary assets than with state fiat money. The supply of gold, silver and Bitcoin, is not under the control of any issuing authority. It is money of no authority – and this is precisely why such assets were chosen as money for thousands of years. Gold, silver and Bitcoin do not require trust and faith in a powerful and privileged institution, such as a central bank bureaucracy. Under a gold standard you have to trust Mother Nature and the spontaneous market order that employs gold as money. Under Bitcoin you have to trust the algorithm and the spontaneous market order that employs bitcoins as money (if the public so chooses). Under the fiat money system you have to trust Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, and their hordes of economics PhDs and statisticians.
There’s good propaganda and bad propaganda. Bad propaganda is generally crude, amateurish Judy Miller “mobile weapons lab-type” nonsense that figures that people are so stupid they’ll believe anything that appears in “the paper of record.” Good propaganda, on the other hand, uses factual, sometimes documented material in a coordinated campaign with the other major media to cobble-together a narrative that is credible, but false. The so called Fed’s transcripts, which were released last week, fall into the latter category... But while the conversations between the members are accurately recorded, they don’t tell the gist of the story or provide the context that’s needed to grasp the bigger picture. Instead, they’re used to portray the members of the Fed as affable, well-meaning bunglers who did the best they could in ‘very trying circumstances’. While this is effective propaganda, it’s basically a lie, mainly because it diverts attention from the Fed’s role in crashing the financial system, preventing the remedies that were needed from being implemented (nationalizing the giant Wall Street banks), and coercing Congress into approving gigantic, economy-killing bailouts which shifted trillions of dollars to insolvent financial institutions that should have been euthanized. What I’m saying is that the Fed’s transcripts are, perhaps, the greatest propaganda coup of our time.
That didn't take long: merely weeks since he walked out of the Marriner Eccles building and into the sunset, Ben Bernanke is writing his memoirs. AP reports: "Ben Bernanke, who stepped down last month after eight years as chairman of the Federal Reserve, is planning a memoir. Bernanke told The Associated Press on Monday that he will focus not just on the defining moment of his time at the Fed, the 2008 financial crisis, but on the "Great Recession" that followed. "I want people to understand what we knew, when we knew it, how we made decisions and how we dealt with the enormous economic uncertainty," said Bernanke, who expects to begin meeting with publishers within the next several weeks. Bernanke, 60, says he will cover his entire career at the Fed, starting in 2002, when he joined the Board of Governors." So our question to you, dear readers, is what should the title of Bernanke's book of memoirs be?
880 grams at a time...
This next paragraph contains what Grant Williams believes is the fundamental principle of investing in gold and silver, which so few people genuinely understand — despite the multitudes of commentators expending countless thousands of words.
"So these anti-gold idiots are just that, idiots, or else they have the memory of a goldfish, because currencies come and currencies go, as sure as night follows day. It is the natural order of things. And as you can see, it's not about trading gold to get rich or getting long gold or buying one by two call spreads or getting fancy, it literally is about protecting yourself in the end. It's not like Williams got rich. He just stayed rich. Everyone else got poor."
Central banks are accumulating gold because it cannot go BANG! like fiat currencies do. Individuals should be doing the same — not being sidetracked by the distractions. It's not about price - if you own gold, it will do all the heavy lifting for you when the time comes.
Now that we have the full history of foreign Treasury purchases in 2013, we know the following: in December 2012 total US paper held by foreigners was $5,573.8 billion; one year later it rose to $5.794.9 billion or a $221 billion increase. So how does this look in the context of QE? In the past year, courtesy of the Fed's $1 trillion in TSY and MBS purchases, Ben Bernanke purchases some $552 billion in Treasurys, or about 150% more than all foreigners combined! Suddenly the need for MyRA is becoming all too clear...
Now that Ben Bernanke has handed over the keys of the Federal Reserve, there are all sorts of theoretical arguments, pro and con, concerning his bold quantitative easing (QE) programs, in which the Fed massively expanded its balance sheet. Many critics have worried that this will disrupt the proper functioning of credit markets, and threatens to severely debase the US dollar. The defenders of Bernanke have argued that he spared the US (and indeed the world) from a second Great Depression. One of the odd (more farcical) points that people raise in Bernanke’s defense is the case of Japan... We do have historical examples of central banks ruining their economies/currencies through massive expansions of their balance sheets (Weimar Germany, Zimbabwe, etc.). To our knowledge, this has never actually worked anywhere in history...
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen testified before Congress for the first time since replacing Ben Bernanke at the beginning of the month. Her testimony confirmed what many of us suspected, that interventionist Keynesian policies at the Federal Reserve are well-entrenched and far from over. Isn't it amazing that the same people who failed to see the real estate bubble developing, the same people who were so confident about economic recovery that they were talking about “green shoots” five years ago, the same people who have presided over the continued destruction of the dollar's purchasing power never suffer any repercussions for the failures they have caused?
“Guidance” is the new organizing credo of US financial life with Janet Yellen officially installed as the new Wizard of Oz at the Federal Reserve. Guidance refers to periodic cryptic utterances made by the Wizard in staged appearances before congress or in the “minutes” (i.e. transcribed notes) from meetings of the Fed’s Open Market Committee. The cryptic utterances don’t necessarily have any bearing on reality, but are issued with the hope that they will be mistaken for it, especially by managers in the financial markets where assets are priced and traded.