It was just over a month ago that the Chairsatan formalized the incorrect named QE 3, aka the open-ended QEternity, whose purpose, for now, was to increase the Fed's balance sheet by $40 billion/month in new MBS purchases. Well, according to MarketWatch, whose previously unheard of Greg Robb is seemingly vying for the role of Jon Hilsenrath, Ben Shalom is preparing to unveil a number bigger than eternity: " After historic changes last month, Federal Reserve officials this week will discuss a possible expansion of the size of its third round of bond buying and better ways to guide markets about future policy actions." Just because $40 billion per month in new flow is apparently not enough, and because the market is now well below the level it was when "QE 3" was announced.
In what follows, we will examine the adjustment process necessary to shift from a system with fiat money and a reserve ratio below 1 (reserve requirement under 100%). Let’s begin clarifying that this proposed delevering process is an ideal situation, applicable if one had the luxury of planning the shift. There is not always time to do so and, if we ever had any, we’re running out of it pretty fast. The adjustment process below could only be done very gradually, by adjusting the reserve requirement and gold holdings by the central bank a few bps every year (say 200bps). The ultra-necessary condition here is that the nation undergoing this process be able to generate an equivalent fiscal surplus, in percentage terms. For instance, the process could demand to cover 2% per year of the gap in the reserve ratio to reach 1 (50 years long!!!). This means that if the reserve ratio is 10%, the gap is 90% and narrowing it over 50 years would require to increase reserves by 1.8% every year (90%/50). Because the delevering process should be accompanied by a pari passu reduction in the fiscal deficit and sovereign debt, that 2% annual adjustment, in the US, this would require a surplus of $324BN every year, over 50 years ($16.2 trillion in national debt x 2%). In 2012 terms, spending would have to be cut by $1.52 trillion ($324 billion + $1.2 trillion annual deficit), if the numbers we have are correct. We suspect they are not: The situation is even worse. But, the bottom line is that, once you see these numbers, you realize that going back to a world of no leverage is politically impossible. Even though it is technically feasible, just like the European Monetary Union was planned and built over decades, it is still politically impossible.
Earlier this week two former Merrill colleagues, since separated, were reunited on several media occasions, and allowed to spar over their conflicting views of the world. The two people in question, of course, are Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg, best known during the past 3 years for not drinking the propaganda Kool-Aid, and systematically deconstructing every "bullish" macroeconomic datapoint into its far more downbeat constituent parts, and his ebullient ex-coworker, Richard Bernstein, formerly head of equity strategy at a firm that had to be rescued by none other than Bank of America and currently head of RBA advisors, who just happens to be bullish on, well, everything. And since any attempt at holding an intelligent conversation on CNBC is ultimately futile (as can be seen here) and is constantly broken up by both ads, and interjecting anchors and show producers who care far less about facts than keeping the presentation 'engaging' (and going to such lengths to even allow Jim Cramer to have his own TV show), Rosenberg decided to dedicate his entire letter to clients today to "providing a rebuttal" of the slate of reasons why according to Bernstein the "we are on the precipice of a 1982-2000 style of secular market." What follows is one of the most comprehensive "white papers" debunking the bullish view we have seen in a while. Read on.
For those who are curious why Tim Geithner has been invisible in the past 2 months, the answer is he has been manning the phones like a true patriot, and making sure nobody dares to rock the European boat ahead of the US election (as was already disclosed), in this case exemplified by Moody's just released announcement that the rating agency will not downgrade Spain to junk, soaring debt, collapsing GDP and laughable unemployment rate notwithstanding (unless of course the ECB fails in its mission to scare all shorts from approaching within 10 miles of an SPGB, and Spain loses private market access again, in which case Moody's would proceed with a "multiple notch downgrade"). At least not until the US election that is. After that... well, with the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, Greece vs Troika, etc, etc, buy VIX.
There is no indication that the Obama administration has even considered this eventuality. Indeed, I have not heard anyone on the left refer to Bernanke or the poison of his policies at any point in the last few months.
Remember when we said the Citi numbers were a miserable joke? Apparently at least two people (not Jim Cramer who absolutely loved Citi's "hairless" result) were aware of this:
- CITIGROUP NAMES MICHAEL CORBAT AS CEO VIKRAM PANDIT STEPS DOWN
- CITIGROUP PRESIDENT-COO JOHN P. HAVENS ALSO RESIGNS
- CITIGROUP NAMES MICHAEL CORBAT AS CEO VIKRAM PANDIT STEPS DOWN
- CITIGROUP BOARD UNANIMOUSLY ELECTED CORBAT TO CEO
- CITIGROUP SAYS HAVENS HAD BEEN PLANNING TO RETIRE AT YEAR END
And so the rat procession out of the titanic begins.
A new monetary era has began in the West. Its consequences will probably be very different in the United States and Europe. However, one way or the other, investors now operate under a regime of central bank asset price targeting. Everything we know about investors’ traditional reflexes and all historical points of reference are potentially invalid.
One of the most egregious aspects of the Great Moderation was the issuance (and thus demand for) of large amounts of grossly mispriced extremely 'junky' debt at the peak as investors stymied by the lack of spread (return) pushed further and further out the credit risk spectrum. The driver at the time was the liquidity flood triggered by large-scale securitizations (and that ended well eh?); this time it is central banks providing the fuel for investors to seek yield through leverage (either through fundamental leverage in riskier firms or technical leverage through riskier instruments). To wit, the last few weeks have seen a resurgence of issuance of PIK-Toggle bonds.
Economists, market analysts, journalists and investors alike are all talking about it quite openly, generally in a calm and reserved tone that suggests that - to borrow a phrase from Bill Gross – it represents the 'new normal'. Something that simply needs to be acknowledged and analyzed in the same way we e.g. analyze the supply/demand balance of the copper market. It is the new buzzword du jour: 'Financial Repression'. The term certainly sounds ominous, but it is always mentioned in an off-hand manner that seems to say: 'yes, it is bad, but what can you do? We've got to live with it.' But what does it actually mean? The simplest, most encompassing explanation is this: it describes various insidious and underhanded methods by which the State intends to rob its citizens of their wealth and income over the coming years (and perhaps even decades) above and beyond the already onerous burden of taxation and regulatory costs that is crushing them at present. One cannot possibly "print one's way to prosperity". The exact opposite is in fact true: the policy diminishes the economy's ability to generate true wealth. If anything, “we” are printing ourselves into the poorhouse.
The overnight session has been largely listless, with the market digesting a less than impressive start to earnings season by Alcoa, which reported declining cash flows, and various other negative earnings preannouncements out of major industrial companies. The IMF has not helped the somber mood with its analysis that by the end of 2013 European banks will need to dispose of up to $4.5 trillion in assets. Asian weakness (even the SHCOMP couldn't rally much on further easing rumors for the simple reason that the PBOC will simply not ease with QEternity out there and a food price hike over the horizon) has dominated the trading session so far. What little goods news there was came out ironically out of Italy and France, both of which reported better than expected August Industrial Production data. Italy IP rose 1.7% on expectations of a -0.5% drop, and up from -0.2% last, while the French Industrial Production posted a surprising surge, following weeks of poor data out of the country, with IP up 1.5% on expectations of a -0.3% print, and up from last month's 0.6%. However, even France warned not to read too much into a number driven by, well, cars and drinks.
Nothing materially new here from David Rosenberg's latest letter, but it is useful to keep being reminded over and over how central planning has totally destroyed the primary function of capital markets: discounting, and replaced it with a dumb terminal which only responds to red flashing headlines reporting of neverending liquidity. "If the Fed really had its way, the economy would be booming. But it is sputtering. For all the talk of one month's employment report — look at the entire quarter for crying out loud. Looking at total labour input, aggregate hours worked, it eked out a tepid 0.8% annualized gain in Q3....That the stock market is up 16% this year (on track for the best year since 2009) with earnings contracting underscores the major success of Fed policy in 2012 — managing to deflect investor attention away from negative profit trends and towards its pregnant balance sheet. So welcome to the new normal: the Fed has managed to negotiate a divorce between the economy and equity market behaviour.
Europe just can't catch a break these days. While French Fitch naturally came out earlier with a AAA rating and a stable outlook, it is Moody's, which has yet to follow through in S&P's footsteps 14 months later and tell the truth about America's AAA rating, that moments ago spoiled the ESM "inauguration" party by branding it AAA, but with a Negative outlook. So much for the most 'supersecure' CDO on earth: looks like we are not the only ones to assign comical value to the ESM's €80 billion first loss "Paid-in" tranche. Because that 12% in buffered protection can disappear very quick if and when the central planners lose control.
If interest income as a percentage of total personal income had remained at its 2008 level, the total would now be over $1.5 trillion. It is this $550 billion annual delta that the Fed has directly, though its policies, taken away from US consumers in terms of purchasing power. So while the Fed has taken away the bond market as a venue in which to generate current income, it is the structural failures of equities in a post-HFT world (stories of mini, amd maxi, Flash Crashes are now a daily occurrence) that prevent investors from having the same confidence about current income in a market in which terminal and fatal capital loss are all too real fears. And there are those who still wonder why the US consumer is withering away, and absent such crutches as soaring Federal non-revolving debt, used for anything but its designated purposes, would have less purchasing power now than before the crisis as a result of the Fed's failed policies. As George Magnus so peotically summarizes it "What the left hand giveth, the right hand taketh away."
Some correction of Friday’s Bull trap: European Risk Off, EGB credit torsion and weaker equities.
Doubtful whether any fireworks will come out of the ECOFIN meeting.
Seems to be more about maintaining the relative market quietness and status-quo.
There was a time when the world had (somewhat) free markets. Then Lehman failed as the inevitable culmination of a credit bubble that was second in size and severity only to the one being blown currently, and the central planners took over, converting equity, bond and FX markets into nothing but monetary policy tools dominated by central banks. Below is a great summary of how parallel to SkyNet's HFT takeover of stock trading, the central planners conducted their own not so stealthy take over of all capital markets. The chart is open-ended. Expect much more intervention by the Big 4 in the months and years ahead as the circular nature of increased central bank intervention leading to less faith in financial markets leading to increased private sector deleveraging leading to increased-er central bank intervention and so on, accelerates.