Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg exclaims we are currently are witnessing the Potemkin rally (the phrase Potemkin villages was originally used to describe a fake village, built only to impress). The term, however, is now used, typically in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that some situation is better than it really is. Ben Bernanke, recently proclaimed “The Hero” by Atlantic Magazine, is the “Wizard of Potemkin.” Since 2009 Bernanke has engage in massive monetary experiments. These experiments lead to future dislocations. There is no doubt that the Fed wants inflation. The problem is they may get more than they ask for. We are currently witnessing the slowest economic recovery of any post-WWII period. However, It is important to challenge your thought process. Read material that challenges your views. Here are David's rules...
Over a year ago, we first explained what one of the key terminal problems affecting the modern financial system is: namely the increasing scarcity and disappearance of money-good assets ("safe" or otherwise) which due to the way "modern" finance is structured, where a set universe of assets forms what is known as "high-quality collateral" backstopping trillions of rehypothecated shadow liabilities all of which have negligible margin requirements (and thus provide virtually unlimited leverage) until times turn rough and there is a scramble for collateral, has become perhaps the most critical, and missing, lynchpin of financial stability. Not surprisingly, recent attempts to replenish assets (read collateral) backing shadow money, most recently via attempted Basel III regulations, failed miserably as it became clear it would be impossible to procure the just $1-$2.5 trillion in collateral needed according to regulatory requirements. The reason why this is a big problem is that as the Matt Zames-headed Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC) showed today as part of the appendix to the quarterly refunding presentation, total demand for "High Qualty Collateral" (HQC) would and could be as high as $11.2 trillion under stressed market conditions.
The Fed Engaging In Quantitative Easing Until Unemployment Falls Is Like a Medieval Doctor Bleeding a Patient with Leeches ...Submitted by George Washington on 05/01/2013 18:19 -0500
Wishful thinking now runs so thick and deep across the USA that our hopes for a credible future are being drowned in a tidal wave of yellow smiley-face stories recklessly issued by institutions that ought to know better. A case in point is the Charles C. Mann’s tragically dumb cover story in the current Atlantic magazine - “We Will Never Run Out of Oil” - setting out in great detail the entire panoply of techno-narcissistic “solutions” to our energy predicament. Another case in point was senior financial writer Joe Nocera’s moronic op-ed in last week’s New York Times beating the drum for American “energy independence.” You could call these two examples mendacious if it weren’t so predictable that a desperate society would do everything possible to defend its sunk costs, including the making up of fairy tales to justify its wishes.
Capitalism may have bested communism a few decades ago, but exactly how our economic system allocates society’s scarce resources is now undergoing its first serious transformation since the NYSE’s founding fathers met under the buttonwood tree in 1792. Technology, complexity and speed have already transformed how stocks trade; but As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, the real question now is what role these forces will play in long-term capital formation and allocation. Rookie mistakes like the Twitter hack flash crash might be easy to deride, but make no mistake, Colas reminds us: the changes that started with high frequency and algorithmic trading are just the first step to an entirely different process of determining stock prices. The only serious challenge this metamorphosis will likely face is a notable crash of the still-developing system and resultant regulation back to more strictly human-based processes.
We are a long way from really resolving the argument between the Keynesian and Austrian economic theories, despite some so-called experts proclaiming Krugman's victory this week. The discovery of the calculation error in the Reinhart/Rogoff study does little to change the overall premise that excessive debt levels impede economic growth and have, historically, led to the fall of economic empires. All one really has to do is pick up a history book and read of the Greeks, Romans, British, French, Russians and many others. Does fiscal responsibility lead to short term economic pain? Absolutely. Why would anyone ever imagine that cutting spending and reducing budgets would be pain free? However, what we do know is that the path of fiscal irresponsibility has long term negative consequences for the economy. In the meantime we can continue to ignore the long term conseqences in exchange for short term bliss.
Due to decades of unreserved credit growth that temporarily boosted the appearance of sustainable economic growth and prosperity, rational economic behavior cannot produce real (inflation-adjusted) economic growth from current levels. The nominal sizes of advanced economies have grown far larger than the rational scope of production that would be needed to sustain them. This fundamental problem explains best the current state of affairs: malaise (i.e., bank system de-leveraging and economic stagnation) spreading through the means of production and the need for increasing policy intervention to stabilize goods, service and asset prices (by depressing the first three and inflating the last?). We live and work in a contrived meta-economy that can be managed through narrow channels in financial and state capitals. Given the overwhelming past misallocation of capital cited above, we think the most important realization for investors in the current environment is that price levels of goods, services and assets may be biased to rise but they are not sustainable in real (inflation-adjusted) terms. The crowd is ignoring the obvious, as all signs point towards the next currency reset.
Austerity is under attack again, with Cyprus about to enter a program. Critics charge that austerity is self-defeating because it depresses growth, pushing up the debt/GDP ratio. However, austerity is a necessary (although far from sufficient) condition for countries with low national savings Indeed, there is some evidence that austerity is beginning to have positive effects. The only way to raise net savings is to cut consumption, which is much more difficult than cutting investment. Higher savings have improved market perceptions of debt sustainability, making countries more resilient to shocks (Cyprus, Italian politics). To be sure, European governments have been guilty of false advertising. They claimed that fiscal austerity would not hurt growth. But in order to raise savings, it is necessary to consume or invest less (unless a country is lucky enough to enjoy an export or productivity boom). As a result, growth will suffer as a country raises savings. But once savings begin to recover, elements of a "virtuous circle" begin to fall into place.
Short answer: we don't know.
We do, however, know something we have been pointing out since early 2012 - when it comes to the funding strcuture of European banks, there is a dramatic difference between the US and Europe. In the US, as we showed most recently two months ago, the Big Three depositor banks (JPM, Wells and Bank of America, excluding the still pseudo-nationalized Citi), have a record $858 billion in excess deposits over loans. So what about Europe? Here things get bad. Very bad. So bad in fact that we covered it all just one short year ago. What is the reason for this? Well, as readers can surmise based on what just happened in Europe, it once again has to do with deposits, and specifically the loan-to-deposit ratios of European banks. Because if the US has an excess of deposits over loans, Europe is and has always suffered from the inverse: a massive excess of loans (impaired assets) compared to the most critical of bank liabilities - deposits... One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that in a world in which European loans are massively mismarked relative to fair value, and where bad and non-performing loans are an exponentially rising component of all "asset" exposure, it will be the liabilities that are ultimately impaired. Liabilities such as deposits.
The American spirit is rooted in the belief of a better tomorrow. Its success has been due to generations of men and women who toiled, through both hardship and boom times, to make that dream a reality. But at some point over the past several decades, that hope for a better tomorrow became an expectation. Or perhaps a perceived entitlement is more accurate. It became assumed that the future would be more prosperous than today, irrespective of the actual steps being taken in the here and now. And for a prolonged time – characterized by plentiful and cheap energy, accelerating globalization, technical innovation, and the financialization of the economy – it seemed like this assumption was a certain bet. But these wonderful tailwinds that America has been enjoying for so many decades are sputtering out. The forces of resource scarcity, debt saturation, price inflation, and physical limits will impact our way of life dramatically more going forward than living generations have experienced to date. And Americans, who had the luxury of abandoning savings and sacrifice for consumerism and credit financing, are on a collision course with that reality.
Rampant malinvestment is creating scarcity of capital, energy & justice. All the sordid and spellbinding rackets working their hoodoo on the financial scene have obscured a whole other dimension of the fiasco that America finds itself in, namely the way we have arranged the logistics of everyday life on our landscape: the tragedy of suburbia. I call it a tragedy because it represents a sequence of extremely unfortunate choices made by our society over several generations, and history will not forgive the excuses we make for ourselves, nor will it shed a tear for the tribulations we will induce for ourselves by living this way. Politically, all this mischief has manifested as a campaign to sustain the unsustainable, to keep all the rackets running at all costs, including most particularly the suburban way of life. It is unlikely that we will succeed at that - though it does account for the desperation running through the national zeitgeist these days.
James Howard Kunstler is concerned. But beyond our decaying fundamentals, he's distressed by society's unwillingness to be honest with itself about the issue's it's facing. Instead, we are embracing a narrative based in "magical thinking" (e.g., prosperity through the printing press, energy independence through domestic shale) that assures us everything is fine. "It’s characteristic of the time that we’re living in that there simply is no sense of consequence. And that’s exactly what you get when you have a Federal Reserve that’s out of control and a public that is filled with technological narcissistic visions of Santa Claus delivering rescue remedies on demand. And so there’s no general sense that when you do things, bad things can happen."
Citi's Willem Buiter sums it all up: "...the improvement in sentiment appears to have long overshot its fundamental basis and was driven in part by unrealistic policy and growth expectations, an abundance of liquidity and an increasingly frantic search for yield. The key word in the recovery globally, and in particular in Europe, growth is fragile. To us the key word about the post summer 2012 Euro Area (EA) asset boom is that most of it is a bubble, and one which will burst at a time of its own choosing, even though we concede that ample liquidity can often keep bubbles afloat for a long time." His conclusion is self-evident, "markets materially underestimate these risks," as the EA sovereign debt and banking crisis is far from over. If anything, recent developments, notably policy complacency bred by market complacency, combined with higher political risks in a number of EA countries highlight the risks of sovereign debt restructuring and bank debt restructuring in the EA down the line.
It is no secret that one of Zero Hedge's favorite mainstream strategists over the years was SocGen's Dylan Grice, which perhaps in itself was a logical warning sign that his career in the mainstream was doomed to a premature end. Sure enough, several months ago, Grice, whose guiding motto has been sound money uber alles as he dutifully exposed - as much as he could - crack after crack in the facade of the status quo, announced he was leaving SocGen, and was headed for greener pastures, literally, in this case Zurich-based fund Edelweiss, run by Anthony Deden. And while lateral moves in the financial industry are nothing new, we were quite impressed to learn that unlike most other "capital preservation" managers, Dylan Grice's new home has a rather stunning allocation of AUM to precious metals. How stunning? Decide for yourselves.
Every nation-state has a body of laws woven into the fabric of society. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has commented on extensively, the stronger the rule of law, the stronger the economy. And by "stronger" laws, I mean laws that are impervious to tampering for personal or political gains. The connection between a sound judiciary and economic health is readily comprehensible, except maybe to a politician... businesses and individuals are far more likely to invest capital in a country with understandable laws that are impartially and universally enforced than if the opposite condition exists. That's because the lack of a consistent body of law breeds uncertainty and adds a huge element of risk for entrepreneurs. Which brings us back to the matter at hand – American justice on a slippery slope.