Abe Gulkowitz, publisher of the periodic chart masterpiece The Punch Line, has released his latest macro economic update full of 17 pages of charts and news blurbs indicating the true state of the economy in an easily digestible format. While it will hardly come as a surprise to most, the prevalent chart direction is one from the top left to the bottom right in practically every macro vertical, despite the now endless monetary intervention attempts by all central developed world central banks.
Guest Post: On Currency Swaps And Why Gartman May Be Wrong In Focusing On The Adjusted Monetary BaseSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 10/14/2012 13:53 -0400
Last week Dennis Gartman, in his homonymous letter said that he was concerned about the fact that the adjusted monetary base has been falling, rather than rising, taking away the bullish case for gold on the topic of “money printing”. One must therefore remind those with this concern that the credit expansion caused by the backstop of the Fed alone is enough to inflate asset prices. This is consistent with the case we made in our last letter, that a commodity based standard is not as relevant as having a 100% reserve requirement. By the same token, if the reserve requirement is below 100%, it is not that relevant to see the expansion of the monetary base! The “printing of money” will eventually come, when EU corporations begin to default and the Fed has to “ensure there is enough US dollar liquidity”. It happened in 1931-33, in spite of the fact that the adjusted monetary base had been contracting since 1929: The US dollar was devalued from approx. $20.65/oz to approx. $34.70oz and gold was confiscated.
Imagine if in 2007, Ben Bernanke, Mervyn King, Jean Claude Trichet et al, had actually possessed the analytical foresight to see what was coming, organised a meeting with the world's media and explained how, using their collective wisdom, they would solve the problem.
"There's going to be a massive global crisis, but there's no need to worry. We're just going to print money."
"Is that it?"
How would most people have reacted then? We think they would have laughed out loud. Why are so many of us reacting differently now? The nature of markets is that they periodically forget the lessons of history. Confidence in the status quo seems as entrenched now as it was in 2007 but Gold appears to be exhibiting 'Giffen-like' behavior where, instead of falling, demand is rising as prices rise.
While the entire 'developed' world is now openly engaged in destroying the balance sheet of its assorted central banks - the sole means to devalue local currencies, a liability, by accepting ever more toxic 'assets' as currency collateral - thereby pursuing strategies which until now were strictly relegated to the banana republic playbook, there are some countries who see what is coming over the horizon, and refuse to join the printing frenzy. One such place is China, for whom, as we have repeatedly shown the threat of a fast onset of inflation is far greater (3x more bank deposits as a % of GDP than in the US, means a soaring capital market as a result of inflation will benefit far less while a deposit exodus will cause hyperinflationary havoc in minutes) than any other developed world country. And with the inability to hide "non-core" CPI as a result of food and energy being such a greater portion of overall inflationary bean counting than in the US, it means that despite the demands of Tim Geithner for immediate more easing by China, the PBOC is now stuck waiting to import everyone else's inflation: this includes the Fed, ECB, BOE, BOJ, Korea, Australia and all other bank engaged in adding liquidity, while its own hands are quite tied. Because recall that it was only last year that the NYT said that: "Inflation in China Poses Big Threat to Global Trade." Now we are told that lack of inflation poses the same threat, when in reality what they mean is that with the world tapped out, one more source of marginal liquidity is needed. Judging by overnight comments from the PBOC's head Zhou Xiaochuan that liquidity, suddenly so very needed to keep the game of musical chairs going, is not going to come from China just as we have warned for months on end.
I want to draw your attention to the fact that the Fed balance sheet is DOWN $50 billion year over year. This confirms that the Fed has in fact been engaging in mostly verbal intervention over the last year rather than actual monetary intervention.
Blowout quarter, or do US bank numbers just blow?
We are now five years into the Great Fiat Money Endgame and our freedom is increasingly under attack from the state, liberty’s eternal enemy. It is true that by any realistic measure most states today are heading for bankruptcy. But it would be wrong to assume that ‘austerity’ policies must now lead to a diminishing of government influence and a shrinking of state power. The opposite is true: the state asserts itself more forcefully in the economy, and the political class feels licensed by the crisis to abandon whatever restraint it may have adhered to in the past. Ever more prices in financial markets are manipulated by the central banks, either directly or indirectly; and through legislation, regulation, and taxation the state takes more control of the employment of scarce means. An anti-wealth rhetoric is seeping back into political discourse everywhere and is setting the stage for more confiscation of wealth and income in the future. This will end badly.
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.
We have been very active in our discussions of the impact of the pending rise in food prices around the world (from central bank largesse to weather-related chaos). As Goldman notes, food inflation has been one of the most significant sources of headline inflation variation in emerging markets (EM) over the past few years. Since June, international prices for agricultural commodities have risen almost 30%, increasing the risk of fresh, food-related increases to EM headline inflation. We, like Goldman, expect EM headline inflation to start to reflect the relevant pressures more broadly in the October prints at the latest. While the effects, for now, are expected to be less extreme than the 2010-2011 episode, the timing as the US enters its fiscal-cliff-prone malaise, could mean a further round of easing will reignite this critical inflationary concern.
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.
It seems our recent re-introduction of the world to Robert Triffin has struck a note among a number of market participants. The gold-convertible U.S. dollar became the global reserve currency under the Bretton Woods monetary system, which lasted from 1944-1971. This arrangement ended because foreign central banks accumulated unsustainably large reserves of U.S. Treasuries, threatening price stability and the purchasing power of the dollar. Today, central banks are once again stockpiling massive Treasury reserves in an attempt to manage their currency values and gain advantages in export markets. We have, effectively, returned to Bretton Woods. The trouble is, as Guggenheim's Scott Minerd notes, that the arrangement is as unsustainable today as it was during the middle of the last century. None of this should come as a surprise given the unorthodox growth of central bank balance sheets around the world. The collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971 caused a decade of economic malaise and negative real returns for financial assets. Can anyone afford to wait to find out whether this time will be different?
Just as we will not tire of pointing out the unintended consequence of the Fed's central-planning efforts, so it is time, courtesy of the IMF's latest missive, to point out the vicious circle that the ECB has created and encouraged in Europe. The unintended consequence of the ECB's intervention - as both perpetual backstop and lender of last resort - has created an ever-increasing fragmentation between the core and the periphery (exactly the supposed 'issue' Draghi is attempting to fix with his OMT). The toxic-debt-loop as capital leaves the periphery for the core, pressuring peripheral bond yields/spreads, and forcing private sector borrowing to be replaced by public-sector not only clouds the true picture for real-money investors or depositors (risk-based pricing has been destroyed) but encourages front-running fast-money flows which do nothing but provide short-term cover for banks/sovereigns to delay the inevitable (and potential market-clearing) deleveraging/restructuring that is required. Because the fundamental issue is one of solvency - not liquidity - the ECB's continued artifice of plugging liquidity shortfalls does nothing but lessen the confidence in the system and reduce any faith in price levels as without addressing the real insolvency, trust will never return.
While yesterday it was the sovereigns who suffered the wrath of the IMF's wholesale growth outlook downgrade (unbeknownst to Christine Lagarde), today it is the turn of the financial sector (which is increasingly being blurred with the former in a world in which central banks are used to both backstop bank liabilities and fund endless public deficits, unafraid of the consequences in a closed loop fiat world in which defection is, so far, impossible) to be greeted by a cold dose of reality emanating from the IMF's "Global Financial Stability Report" especially as pertains to Europe's insolvent banking system. The most notable finding of said report is the admission that the IMF was only kidding when it said six months ago, in April of this year, that the worst case outlook now has European banks deleveraging to the tune of $3.8 trillion through the end of 2013, or over the next 14 months: now this number is 18% higher, or a gargantuan $4.5 trillion (12% of bank assets). This is how much debt Eurobanks will need to shed in a "weak policies" case in which Europe continues to delay implementing fiscal reform, aka austerity, as per Figure 2.14. Even the baseline (and this being the IMF it means it has zero chance of happening) scenario is not much better, at a revised $2.8 (7.3%) trillion in deleveraging. The reason for the increase is due to "lower expected earnings, higher losses linked to worsened economic conditions, and greater funding pressures on banks."