Council Of Economic Advisors
It is hard to believe that the end of the year is fast approaching. This weekend's list of things to ponder covers a range of issues that caught our attention this week. Will the economy continue to grow, are stocks under owned, what about Fed - rising credit risk (and collapsing credit risk premia) and the question of "when or if to taper?" These are all important questions that all investors must answer as the new year rapidly approaches.
All the histrionics over the next Fed chairman, pardon chairwoman, choice are over. WSJ reports that Obama is set to announce Mr., pardon Mrs Janet Yellen as Bernanke's replacement tomorrow at 3 pm at the White House. "The nomination would conclude a long and unusually public debate about Mr. Obama's choice which started last June when he said that Ben Bernanke wouldn't be staying in the post after his term ends in January. Mr. Obama gave serious consideration to his former economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, who pulled out in September after facing resistance from Democrats in the Senate." However, while a Yellen announcement, largely priced in, in a normal environment would have been good for at least 10-20 S&P points, with the debt ceiling showdown the far more immediate concern, the choice of the Chairwoman may not be the buying catalyst that it would have otherwise been.
Earlier this month, in an article for “Project Syndicate” famous American economist Nouriel Roubini joined the chorus of those who declare that the multi-year run up in the gold price was just an almighty bubble, that that bubble has now popped and that it will continue to deflate. Gold is now in a bear market, a multi-year bear market, and Roubini gives six reasons (he himself helpfully counts them down for us) for why gold is a bad investment. His arguments for a continued bear market in gold range from the indisputably accurate to the questionable and contradictory to the simply false and outright bizarre. But what is most worrying, and most disturbing, is Roubini’s pathetic attempt to label gold bugs political extremists. It is evident from Roubini’s essay that he not only considers the gold bugs to be wrong and foolish, they also annoy him profoundly. They anger him. Why? – Because he thinks they also have a “political agenda”. Gold bugs are destructive. They are misguided and even dangerous people.
Put down the Sunday newspaper; grab a pot of coffee; and call 'mom' and tell her she has to read this. Doug Rudisch has written a far-reaching summary of the true state of the world and 'why policy has failed'. Simply put, there is no faith in the system; real underlying faith and trust in the system, as opposed to the confidence born from economic steroid injections or entitlements. There also is a subtle but important distinction between faith and trust versus confidence. Faith and trust are longer term and more powerful concepts.There is more going on than a temporary lull in animal spirits that current fiscal and monetary policy will cure. If that was the case, it would be working already... We have ended up with a system where the worst of the risk takers have the ability to take the most risk and are currently taking it at extreme levels. We wish we could be more prescriptive and offer more solutions for the problems. But in order to solve a problem, you must first realize you have one. With respect to the Fed, we don’t think the U.S. realizes it has a problem.
Bloomberg reported recently that Russia is now the world's biggest gold buyer, its central bank having added 570 tonnes (18.3 million troy ounces) over the past decade. At $1,650/ounce, that's $30.1 billion worth of gold. Russia isn't alone, of course. Central banks as a group have been net buyers for at least two years now. But the 2012 data trickling out shows that the amount of tonnage being added is breaking records. Based on current data, the net increase in central bank gold buying for 2012 was 14.8 million troy ounces – and that's before the final 2012 figures are in for all countries. This is a dramatic increase, one bigger than most investors probably realize. To put it in perspective, on a net basis, central banks added more to their reserves last year than since 1964. The net increase – so far – is 17% greater than what was added in 2011, which was itself a year of record buying. The message from central banks is clear: they expect the dollar to move inexorably lower. It doesn't matter that it's been holding up against other currencies or that the economy might be getting better. They're buying gold in record amounts because they see a significant shift coming with the status of the dollar, and they need to protect themselves against that risk. Embrace the messages central bankers are telling us – the ones they tell with their actions, not their words.
"Absent an immediate crisis - and sometimes in the face of one - governments will often struggle to meet great challenges. The short-term palliatives we are currently pursuing go against everything a long-term oriented society should aspire to achieve. Growing entitlements are popular with voters and with those whom they elect, for obvious reasons: because the bill never seems to come due. But come due it will. Our spending is completely out of control, and, as of now, it seems as if the situation will have to become calamitous before we act. Let’s hope that it won’t then be too late."
-Seth Klarman, Baupost
Mitt Romney has a credibility problem. He changes his beliefs like laundry (abortion, medical insurance, whether Bin Laden was worth killing, attacking Iran), refuses to disclose his tax returns, and won't explain how he could possibly pay for the tax cuts he proposes. But there is another scandal in Romney's campaign -- namely Glenn Hubbard, Romney's chief economic advisor, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under George W. Bush, and is now Dean of Columbia Business School. I interviewed Hubbard for my documentary film Inside Job, and analyzed his record again for my book Predator Nation. The film interview became famous because Hubbard blew his cool after I interrogated him about his conflicts of interest: "This isn't a deposition, sir. I was polite enough to give you time, foolishly I now see, but you have three more minutes. Give it your best shot." But the really important thing about Hubbard isn't his personality; it's that as an economist and an advisor, he is a total, unmitigated disaster.
Since the last Greek FinMin came and went before anyone could even learn how many syllables are in his last name, here is an advance peek at the man who is tasked with the world's worst transitory job imaginable: that of being the new Greek finance minister. His complete profile below is courtesy of Athens News. Feel free not to learn it by heart: something tells us when he too sees the inside of the Greek finance ministry he too may developed a mysterious illness and be promptly "replaced."
Germany's recent 'agreement' to expand Europe's fire department (as Goldman euphemestically describes the EFSF/ESM firewall) seems to confirm the prevailing policy view that bigger 'firewalls' would encourage investors to buy European sovereign debt - since the funding backstop will prevent credit shocks spreading contagiously. However, as Francesco Garzarelli notes today, given the Euro-area's closed nature (more than 85% of EU sovereign debt is held by its residents) and the increased 'interconnectedness' of sovereigns and financials (most debt is now held by the MFIs), the risk of 'financial fires' spreading remains high. Due to size limitations (EFSF/ESM totals would not be suggicient to cover the larger markets of Italy and Spain let alone any others), Seniority constraints (as with Greece, the EFSF/ESM will hugely subordinate existing bondholders should action be required, exacerbating rather than mitigating the crisis), and Governance limitations (the existing infrastructure cannot act pre-emptively and so timing - and admission of crisis - could become a limiting factor), it is unlikely that a more sustained realignment of rate differentials (with their macro underpinnings) can occur (especially at the longer-end of the curve). The re-appearance of the Redemption Fund idea (akin to Euro-bonds but without the paperwork) is likely the next step in countering reality.
A busy week in Beltway theater melodrama. Goldman summarizes what to expect below as the President's deficit reduction package goes to the Hill today; later this week the super committee meets, and Congress enacts stopgap funding for the new fiscal year...
Excuse the rant. But Ms Romer is just misleading the country. We will pay a big price for her lies.
Now that everybody is busy the budget and the debt limit, we are forgetting that the single clear and present danger for the US economy is still the state of U.S. housing. As the economy is slowing again, it threatens to trigger more foreclosures. In turn, this would further damage banks' balance sheets and prevent already gun-shy banks from finally loosening credit. If banks decided to hoard even more reserves, it would have disastrous consequences for economic growth and job creation. At the end of my last entry, Dan wrote that a balance sheet recession requires a policy that would implement a speedy reduction in leverage. Here is how to do it!
- Overnight the Greek government passed through a crucial confidence vote, however risk-aversion remained the dominant theme today as markets look ahead to next week when Parliament discusses the country's medium-term fiscal plan
- A German government source said that the finance ministry will hold talks today on working group level with banks and insurers over private creditor contributions for Greece
- BoE’s June meeting minutes revealed that some members think it is possible that more QE might be warranted if downside risks materialise
Will you own your own body? Or will that be privatized, too?