In almost every asset class, volatility has made a phoenix-like return in the last few days/weeks and while equity markets tumbled Friday into month-end, the bigger context is still up, up, and away (and down and down for bonds). From disinflationary signals to emerging market outflows and from fixed income market developments to margin, leverage, and valuations, here is the 'you are here' map for the month ahead.
At the moment, it seems like the US is that naïve kid sitting in front of the Chinese magician watching China pull economic growth out from behind their ears and rabbits to chase after (that disappear down holes usually). But while their attention is focused on the Chinese magician, they are missing the assistant! She’s doing far more than they could ever imagine. And, nobody is taking the blindest bit of notice. The Philippines! You’d better watch out! She’s behind you!
Despite the aura of control, Fed officials (and casual observers) may sense things spinning out of control. Of course, hyper-fragility is exactly the effect that all the Fed’s own actions would predictably lead to. When you divorce truth from reality, strange things are bound to happen. There is one thing that we know for sure in this strange period when bankers have tried to manage reality in the absence of truth: that advanced industrial-technological economies designed to run on $20-a-barrel oil can’t run on $100-a-barrel oil, and that is why the US economy was subject to financialization in the first place - to offset declining productive activity by an attempt to get something for nothing. The world is about to find out that you really can’t get something for nothing. It will be a harsh lesson.
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 19:19 -0400
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.