In his 712-page tour de force, The Great Deformation, David Stockman dissects America’s descent into the present era of “bubble finance.” it’s hard to refute Stockman’s perspective on the Fed’s role in the housing bubble. But that won’t stop some from trying, and especially the many academic economists beholden to the Fed. Research papers have stealthily danced around the Fed’s culpability for our crappy economy, as we discussed here. More importantly, if Stockman is right about bubble finance, there’s more mayhem to come. Consider that denying failure and persisting with the same strategy are two sides of the same coin. Just as investors avoid the pain of admitting mistakes by holding onto losing positions, Fed officials who claim to have done little wrong are also more committed than ever to propping up asset markets with cheap money. For those concerned about another policy failure, a key question is: “As of today, where do we stand with respect to bubbles and bubble finance?”
Putting it all into perspective, of the total $178 billion in consumer credit expansion in the past 12 months, a tiny $9 billion, or just 5% of total, was to fund credit card purchases. The rest went - you guessed it - into purchases of cars and paying for tuition, for which GM and strateospheric college tuitions are most grateful. And that is the New Normal economy in a nutshell.
Some better than expected economic news out of Europe, Greek 10 Year yields dropping to 7.65% or the lowest since May 2010, and futures are... red? Alas, such is life in a world in which the S&P500, aka the E-mini, is simply a derivative of the Yen funding currency pairs, where the USDJPY touched on 105 after a straight line diagonal move only to sell off in recent trading. Heading into the North American open, stocks in Europe are seen mixed, with peripheral stock indices outperforming, buoyed by the prospect of Portugal echoing yesterday’s Irish NTMA return to capital markets with its 10y bond syndication. As such, despite the cautious sentiment, financials led the move higher, with Italian banks gaining for 4th session as IT/GE 10y spread narrowed to its tightest level since early July 2011. Of note, FTSE-100 index underperformed its peers since the get-go, with retailers and tobacco names under pressure. In spite of opening higher by over 3%, Sainsbury's shares have since reversed and are seen lower by almost 2% after co. CFO said that he expects FY LFL sales to be just below 1% and expects Q4 to be similar to Q3. Elsewhere, tobacco names came under selling pressure following reports that China is planning a ban on smoking in public by year's end.
Each quarter the Fed releases their assessment of the economy along with their forward looking projections for three years into the future. The reality is, however, is that the Federal Reserve simply cannot verbally state what they really see during each highly publicized meeting as it would roil the markets. Instead, they use their communications to guide the markets expectations toward reality in the hopes of reducing the risks of market dislocations. The most recent release of the Fed's economic projections on the economy, inflation and unemployment continue to follow the same previous trends of weaker growth, lower inflation and a complete misunderstanding of the real labor market. Reminiscent of the choices of Goldilocks - the reality is that the Fed's estimates for economic growth in 2013 was too hot, employment was too cold and inflation estimates were just about right. The real unspoken concern should be the continued threat of deflation and what actions will be available when the next recession eventually comes.
There are those who would blame the people who have chosen to live far beyond their means. They have a point. The financialization of America; where Wall Street con artists,shysters and swindlers rake in billions for shuffling paper and making risky casino bets; mega-corporations ship blue collar middle class jobs to Asia in an all out effort to increase quarterly profits; politicians spend future generations into the poor house in order to get re-elected; and the Federal Reserve purposefully creates monetary inflation to prop up the corrupt system; has systematically destroyed the working middle class and created generations of debt slaves. The American people have been foolish, infantile, and easily duped. But it is clear to me who the real culprits in our long downward spiral have been. Lord Acton stated the obvious, many years ago:
“The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.”
? John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton
During 2013, America continued to steadily march down a self-destructive path toward oblivion. As a society, our debt levels are completely and totally out of control. Our financial system has been transformed into the largest casino on the entire planet and our big banks are behaving even more recklessly than they did just before the last financial crisis. We continue to see thousands of businesses and millions of jobs get shipped out of the United States, and the middle class is being absolutely eviscerated. Due to the lack of decent jobs, poverty is absolutely exploding. Government dependence is at an all-time high and crime is rising. Evidence of social and moral decay is seemingly everywhere, and our government appears to be going insane. If we are going to have any hope of solving these problems, the American people need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and finally admit how bad things have actually become.
"If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it." Sadly, that appears to be the approach that the Obama administration and the mainstream media are taking with the U.S. economy. They seem to believe that if they just keep telling the American people over and over that things are getting better, eventually the American people will believe that it is actually true. And of course the reality of the matter is that we should have seen some sort of an economic recovery by now. Those running our system have literally been mortgaging the future in a desperate attempt to try to pump up our economic numbers. The federal government has been on the greatest debt binge in U.S. history and the Federal Reserve has been printing money like crazed lunatics. All of that "stimulus" should have had some positive short-term effects on the economy. Sadly, all of those "emergency measures" do not appear to have done much at all.
The quarterly Flow of Funds report by the Fed has been released and the latest household net worth numbers are out. While not nearly quite as dramatic as last quarter's wholesale dataset revision, which saw all of America suddenly worth $3 trillion more primarily due to a change of how "pension entitlements" (formerly "pension reserves") are calculated (more more in the full breakdown from September), with the resulting total net worth rising to a total of $74.8 trillion, according to the just released data, in the third quarter, US housholds, or rather a very tiny subset of them, saw their net worth rise once again, this time to $77.3 trillion from a revised $75.3 trillion.
Today's consumer credit report did not tell us anything we didn't already know: in October, total consumer credit rose by $18.2 billion, the most since May 2013, with the usual massive historical revisions. However, of this $18.2 billion, $13.9 billion was non-revolving credit, while revolving (credit card) debt rose by $4.3 billion. Which means revolving credit is still a woefully low $856.8 billion, or well below the $1.02 trillion when Lehman failed, even as credit issued mostly by Uncle Sam to fund car purchases and liberal educations, has exploded. Finally, and most troubling, in the past year over 95% of all consumer credit has been used to purchase rapidly amortizing cars and even more rapidly amortizing college educations.
Previewing the rest of this week’s events, we have a bumper week of US data over the next five days, in part making up for two days of blackout last week for Thanksgiving. Aside from Friday’s nonfarm payroll report, the key releases to look for are manufacturing ISM and construction spending (today), unit motor vehicle sales (tomorrow), non-manufacturing ISM (Wednesday), preliminary Q3 real GDP and initial jobless claims (Thursday), as well as personal income/consumption and consumer sentiment (Friday). Wednesday’s ADP employment report will, as usual, provide a preamble for Friday’s payrolls.
It would likely also deal another blow to the U.S property market and the fragile U.S economy. JP Morgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo appear to be most exposed - meaning that either taxpayers will again be asked to bail out banks or more likely the coming bail-in regime will confiscate cash from depositors.
Looking ahead at the week ahead, data watchers will be kept fairly occupied before Thanksgiving. Starting with today, we will see US pending home sales with the Treasury also conducting the first of 3 bond auctions this week starting with a $32 billion 2yr note sale later. We will get more housing data tomorrow with the release of housing starts, home prices as well as US consumer confidence. Durable goods, Chicago PMI, initial jobless claims and the final UofM Consumer Sentiment print for November are Wednesday’s highlights although we will also get the UK GDP report for Q3. US Equity and fixed income markets are closed on Thursday but US aside we will get the BoE financial stability report, German inflation, Spanish GDP and Chinese industrial profit stats. Expect market activity to remain subdued into Friday as it will be a half-day for US stocks and bond markets. As ever Black Friday sales will be carefully monitored for consumer spending trends. So a reasonably busy, holiday-shortened week for markets ahead of what will be another crucial payrolls number the following week.
That the Fed has a problem is increasingly well known - despite the blather from the mainstream media that QE monetization can continue ad infinitum. Their problem, of course, is running out of government-provided liabilities to monetize (as deficits shrink and their ownership of the entire Treasury complex surges). They face other problems (as we have noted before) but the admission that they are boxed in would have major ramifications in the market's faith. So, how does the Fed, faced with the knowledge that they have created asset bubbles, broken the bond market, and are boxed in by their own excess still meet the market's undying desire to keep the flow going? Bill Dudley just, perhaps inadvertently, dropped a hint of the next 'market/scapegoat' for monetization - Student loans.
As H.L. Mencken opined, 'The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.' It is no wonder that, according to a Gallup Poll conducted in early October, a record-low 14% of Americans thought that the country was headed in the right direction, down from 30% in September. That's the biggest single-month drop in the poll since the shutdown of 1990. Some 78% think the country is on the wrong track. Simply put, Faber explains, it is most unlikely that US economic growth will surprise on the upside in the next few years. It is more likely there will be negative surprises.
Somehow, Fed head Bill Dudley has managed to encompass the entire "we must keep the foot to the floor" premise of the Fed in one mind-bending sentence:
- *DUDLEY SEES 'POSSIBILITY OF SOME UNFORESEEN SHOCK'
So - based on an "unforeseen" shock - which he "sees", and while there are "nascent signs the economy may be doing better", the Fed should remain as exceptionally easy just in case... (asteroid? alien invasion? West Coast quake?)