Headlines were made earlier today as Ireland’s ten year borrowing costs dropped below the UK’s for the first time in six years. Given that it only recently exited a bailout programme and not long ago was mired in the worst crisis in a generation, this is a pretty astonishing turnaround. Nor is Ireland alone. Spain and Italy can now borrow at similar rates to the USA on ten year debt. More broadly, in the past year peripheral countries borrowing costs have plummeted to levels seen before the crisis, or below, as countries begin exiting bailouts and returning to the markets. There are three key factors driving this 'bubble" and five major problems stemming from this seeming nirvana.
... To the astonishment of almost everyone in the room, Angela Merkel began to cry. “Das ist nicht fair.” That is not fair, the German chancellor said angrily, tears welling in her eyes. “Ich bringe mich nicht selbst um.” I am not going to commit suicide. For those who witnessed the breakdown in a small conference room in the French seaside resort of Cannes, it was shocking enough to watch Europe’s most powerful and emotionally controlled leader brought to tears....
Could it really be that peripheral countries’ interest rates are plunging and borrowing costs have converged to pre-crisis levels, Greece is issuing debt, and the euro crisis is over forever, but Mario “Whatever-It-Takes” Draghi is musing about starting QE now? Have policymakers lost touch with reality to such a startling degree that they now reach for the QE bottle like it is some 1850s cure-all nostrum, regardless of what is wrong with the patient? All we can imagine is the good doctor, handle bar moustache and full regalia, sitting behind his desk: “You have the vapors? Take this QE, you’ll feel better. Ma’am, you have a little hysteria? QE is just the thing! Sir, this QE will cure that headache! Son, you need some inflation, so QE is just right for you.” There is nothing – we repeat, nothing – that is being done at present to enable Europe to perform better economically, to encourage its unemployed to get off the dole, or to empower its peripheral countries to deal with their underperformance on a sustainable basis.
"Everybody knows interest rates are going to rise." Whether you agree with this premise, or not, is largely irrelevant to this discussion. The current "bullish" mantra is the "great bond bull market is dead, long live the stock market bull." However, is that really the case? When the bond bubble ends this means that bonds will begin to decline, potentially rapidly, in price driving interest rates higher. This is the worst thing that could possible happen.
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."
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as come out swinging after US issued a new round of sanctions against citizens and companies of the nation:
- RUSSIA WON'T LET SANCTIONS GO UNANSWERED: INTERFAX
- RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER RYABKOV VOICES "DISGUST" AT WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT ON NEW U.S. SANCTIONS -INTERFAX
As we await the European Union's reaction (which the US has said is imminent... hopefully) it is the blowback from Russia that is most importance - despite constant protestation by talking-heads on mainstream media channels that any sanctions on Russia will have no impact on US business...
While Jay Carney and the White House continue to press their "sell" recommendation on Russian assets, it appears the market is buying the news (after selling the rumor). Russian stocks are ripping higher on "better than expected" sanctions and the Ruble is strengthening notably... So given that the market is signaling these sanctions are clearly weaker than expected, we should certainly not expect any Russia de-escalation soon.
This eruption of late cycle bubble finance hardly needs comment. Below are highlights from a Bloomberg Story detailing the recent surge of leveraged recaps by the big LBO operators. These maneuvers amount to piling more debt on already heavily leveraged companies, but not to fund Capex or new products, technology or process improvements that might give these debt mules an outside chance of survival over time. No, the freshly borrowed cash from a leveraged recap often does not even leave the closing conference room - it just gets recycled out as a dividend to the LBO sponsors who otherwise hold a tiny sliver of equity at the bottom of the capital structure. This is financial strip-mining pure and simple - and is a by-product of the Fed’s insane repression of interest rates.
- Russia raises interest rates to 7.5% (FT)
- Shanghai to Allow Raw Material Exchanges in Trade Zone (BBG)
- US, Japan Fail to Clinch Trade Deal (WSJ)
- 'We don't have a magic wand', says ECB's Constancio (Reuters)
- Tokyo Inflation Quickens to Fastest Since 1992 (BBG)
- Demand for Home Loans Plunges (WSJ)
- EU banks urged to grasp chance to raise capital (FT)
That the official rate of inflation doesn't reflect reality is obvious to anyone paying college tuition and healthcare out of pocket. The debate over the accuracy of the official consumer price index (CPI) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE--the so-called core rate of inflation) has raged for years, with no resolution in sight. So why does the government maintain such a transparently inaccurate and misleading metric? For three reasons.
- J.P. Morgan's Dimon Describes Year of Pain (WSJ)
- SAC Faces a Final Reckoning for 14 Years of Insider Scam (BBG)
- New Standards for $693 Trillion Swaps Market Increase Risk of Blowup (BBG)
- China says no major stimulus planned; March trade weak (Reuters)
- As we said in 2012 would happen: Record Europe Dividends Keep $3 Trillion From Factories (BBG)
- Blame it on the algo: Deutsche Bank Said to Find Improper Communication in FX Case (BBG)
- Coke Sticks to Its Strategy While Soda Sales Slide (WSJ)
- Ukraine’s Rust Belt Faces Ruin as Putin Threatens Imports (BBG)
- RBC Joins Goldman in Suing Clients After Singapore Crash (BBG)
- U.S. House panel to look at aluminum prices, warehousing (Reuters)
- Brooklyn Apartment Rents Jump to a Record as Leases Surge (BBG)
Dr Faber discussed the importance of not owning gold stored in the U.S., the mystery of the Fed gold, why Singapore is safest for gold storage, the risks of bitcoin and how small countries should revert to national currencies. The must watch interview can be watched here ...
China is coming under close scrutiny these days, as the leadership scurries to find new sources of economic growth and control its debt. Some analysts have reassured China watchers that the Chinese government can simply write off its bad debt, at least within the major banks, and pass it on to the asset management companies that handle that resale of distressed debt (or have it later purchased by the Ministry of Finance). Others have warned that some of the debt is serious, such as that incurred by local government financing vehicles, and are dubious about the sustainability of these entities. To worry or unwind? How much debt can China really absorb?
Jim Rickards said that gold should remain an essential part of diversified portfolios and Mark Faber pointed out that the question should be “how could you NOT own gold?” Faber has said that he favors owning gold in fully allocated gold accounts in Singapore and Switzerland.
While everyone was gushing over the spectacle on TV of a pro-HFT guy and anti-HFT guy go at it, yesterday afternoon we reported what was by far the most important news of the day, one which was lost on virtually everyone if only until this morning, when we reported that "Monetary Blockade Of Russia Begins: JPMorgan Blocks Russian Money Transfer "Under Pretext" Of Sanctions." This morning the story has finally blown up to front page status, which it deserves, where it currently graces the FT with "Russian threat to retaliate over JPMorgan block." And unlike previous responses to Russian sanctions by the West, which were largely taken as a joke by the Russian establishment, this time Russia is furious: according to Bloomberg, the Russian foreign ministry described the JPM decision as "illegal and absurd." And as Ukraine found out last month, you don't want Russia angry.