First, the world's oligarchs slowly but surely took over London real estate, where as we reported last week, home prices in May soared by the most in 12 years, and now, according to the Telegraph, in order to make London into an even more exclusive enclave where only the uber-wealthy can rub shoulders, assorted luxury buildings are installing metal spikes on the ground outside to fully deter homeless people from sleeping (and hence living) there. In other words, in London homeless people have been relegated to pigeon status, as the same technique has been long used to prevent rats with wings from landing, and defecating, at select locations.
Risk is no longer priced into anything. Volatility has gone to sleep. Uniformity of thought has taken over the stock market. Complacency has reached a point where even central banks have begun to worry about it: the idea that markets can only go up – once entrenched, which it is – leads to financial instability because no one is prepared when that theory suddenly snaps. But all this bullishness, this complacency is only skin deep. Beneath the layer of the largest stocks, volatility has taken over ruthlessly, the market is in turmoil, people are dumping stocks wholesale, and dreams and hopes are drowning in red ink.
The central banks have created moral hazard on a scale which is simply unbelievable and set a stage for a bonfire of the vanities seldom, if ever, seen in history. Professional Investors who have spent a lifetime playing these contrarian opportunities offered by human behavior are being carried out on stretchers as historic market behaviors fail to materialize. "Never in my 30+ year career as a market observer have I seen so many out on a limb which is about to be sawed off." Those who live within the matrix are fully loaded for a recovery which is not and will not appear. But when the leverage fails, the world’s developed economies will be thrust into the next leg of the cleansing process of deleveraging and the destruction of it will be equally bigger. This conclusion is firmly on the horizon; let’s call it the great insanity.
“You know what the difference is between an Economist/Analyst, and a Business owner? When a Business owner makes a prediction on his or her business and is wrong – the business could wind up in bankruptcy. When the Economist/Analyst makes a wrong prediction about business – they just make another prediction.”
Eurozone recessions, unemployment fiascos, toppling banks, crashing auto sales... didn’t exist, sez the Stoxx 600. But then an ugly thing happened.
Der Spiegel deemed it was the “end of capitalism”, while Die Welt described Mr Draghi as Europe’s Bismarck and as a near autocrat beyond control. Throughout history, currency debasement has been the easy option for emperors, kings, queens and governments. It is the easy option of central banks and of Goldman's Draghi today.
This past week has been all about "anticipation." The markets made little headway during the first half of the week as traders waited in an almost breathless anticipation of the announcement from the European Central Bank. When the news was finally received, investors were initially disappointed but David Tepper stepped into the fray with his ever bullish optimism. The more we read, the clearer it becomes that the world's Central Banks have become caught in a "liquidity trap" which is entirely based on circular logic... Central banks must create asset bubbles in the hopes of stimulating economic activity. When the bubble eventually pops the economic activity evaporates which requires the creation of another asset bubble.
Meet Mieko Tatsunami, a 70 year old retired kimono dresser from Tokyo. Unlike the scores of paid actors ordered to pitch Abenomics and to spread the gospel of rising asset prices, Mieko shares a most rare commodity in this day of pervasive propaganda: the truth. “The price of everything we eat on a daily basis is going up,” Tatsunami, 70, a retired kimono dresser, said while shopping in Tokyo’s Sugamo area. “I’m making do by halving the amount of meat I serve and adding more vegetables.” Ironically, that's what Americans are doing too. Only here the "halving" of the food is done by the food producers, while the consumers rarely if ever notices that they are paying the same amount for ever lesser amounts of food. At least in Japan they are honest about the food inflation. As Bloomberg shows, Tatsunami’s concerns stem from the price of food soaring at the fastest pace in 23 years after April’s sales-tax increase. Rising prices helped push the nation’s misery index to the highest level since 1981, while wages adjusted for inflation fell the most in more than four years.
Over the last few years central banks have had a policy of quantitative easing to try to keep interest rates low – the economy cannot pay high energy prices AND high interest rates so, in effect, the policy has been to try to bring down interest rates as low as possible to counter the stagnation. The severity of the recessions may be variable in different countries because competitive strength in this model goes to those countries where energy is used most efficiently and which can afford to pay somewhat higher prices for energy. Whatever the variability this is still a dead end model and at some point people will see that entirely different ways of thinking about economy and ecology are needed – unless they get drawn into conflicts and wars over energy by psychopathic policy idiots. There is no way out of the Catch 22 within the growth economy model. That’s why de-growth is needed.
No matter what, SocGen sees US equity performance over the next 10 years as modest at best. They note that US equities face three headwinds: cyclically-adjusted valuations (CAPE, starting date 1881) have returned to very expensive territory, corporate margins stand at historically high levels, and after already five years of growth from the 2009 trough, we estimate that the probability of another recession kicking in is close to 100% within the forecast timeframe (the longest cycle ever was 120 months, or 10 years). While their central case is 'moderate growth and inflation', they project a possible high growth surge to 4000 for the S&P 500 and a deflation scenario which would put the S&P 500 at 500 (-12% per annum).
In his recent note “Treacherous Market Conditions,” Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann attempted to outline the precarious position the FOMC has put itself in. The Fed’s depleted ammunition applies greater pressure on its attempts to ensure a strong recovery; yet, as Haselmann hinted, the Fed is in a race against time, because risks to financial stability aggregate with each passing day, while economic benefits approach zero. Despite differences as to the extent and degree of financial risks, FOMC members have (finally) become aware that they have arisen. Draghi seems to share concerns about bubble conditions... and now the BIS fears that a "persistently aggressive monetary policy risks exacerbating collateral damage."
Gold surged 1.6% in euros to €928/oz after the historic ECB announcement to adopt negative interest rates. Cheap money, financial repression and currency debasement are classic recipes for short term financial and economic gains. Throughout history, they have been the easy options for emperors, kings, queens and governments. They are the easy option for the ECB and central banks today.
Between Eurostat's lengthy forecasts, the press release, and Draghi's droning on... it's easy to get lost in what was delivered, what was promised, and what it means... here is the ultimate ECb announcement cheat sheet. Simply put, Draghi does not have many options left.
Borrowing heavily from Albert Edwards "Ice Age" analogy of our new normal, PIMCO's Bill Gross, after explaining why he does not have a cell phone, discusses the "frigidly low" levels of "The New Neutral" in this week's letter. Confirming Ben Bernanke's "not in my lifetime" promise for low rates and a lack of normalization, Gross explains that the "the new neutral" real policy rate will be close to 0% as opposed to 2-3% (just as in Japan) leaving an increasingly small incremental rise in rates as potentially responsible for popping the bubble. Gross concludes, "if 'The New Neutral' rates stay low, it supports current prices of financial assets. They would appear to be less bubbly," clearly defending the valuation of bonds knowing that he can't expose stocks as 'bubbly' without exposing his firm to more outflows.