Shining a little reality light on the otherwise pollyanna-like dearth of pragmatism that is the mainstream media's guest-list, Ron Paul provided Bloomberg TV's Trish Regan a little more than we suspect she bargained for when asked if he had any hope that we avoid the fiscal cliff. The constant "delaying-of-the-inevitable" enables our politicians to avoid facing up to the serious consequences of our reality and as Representative Paul notes the chances of a grand bargain are "probably zero... that's why I think we're over the cliff [already]." Just like the handling of the debt ceiling debacle, Paul notes they will "pretend they are going to do it" until we get a total crash of the dollar and the entire financial system (which he notes is what will occur if we continue the status quo). "We are at a point of no return" unless certain things change, since "we are not the productive nation we used to be."
With the EU searching for any foothold, the U.S. looks poised to follow the Europeans into the fiscal abyss. The U.S. election season is over and the markets have refocused their attention to the looming “fiscal cliff”.
A mere three weeks ago, Nomura's Bob Janjuah forcefully suggested that complacency warranted a tactical risk-off position given the misplaced confidence heading into the plethora of event-risk ahead. It seems, 60 points later, that he is on to something; but this time he is more critically concerned: "Investment decisions based largely on the greater fool theory and predicated by the assumption that central bankers can sustainably and credibly misprice money, supporting a significant misallocation of capital, without any major negative consequences, are in general not good investments."
Fiscokiller, fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Barclays' Barry Knapp has joined the growing crowd of 'sub-1400 year-end S&P 500 target' realists among sell-side equity strategists. With Morgan Stanley's Adam Parker at 1167 and Goldman's David Kostin at 1250, Knapp just reduced his target to 1325 as he notes "the election scenario that unfolded was the one with the most risk, the status quo outcome." In a brief but densely packed interview on Bloomberg TV (the likes of which we suspect we will not see on CNBC), Knapp summarizes his non-rose-colored-glasses view: "In the longer term, while U.S. growth ... remains constrained by policy uncertainty and balance sheet deleveraging. Financial repression has limited the Fed’s effectiveness... We believe a period of significant equity market valuation improvement can’t begin until the Fed initiates the exit strategy process, which is unlikely to occur until Federal government debt sustainability is addressed." From lame-duck impotence to tax-selling pressures, Knapp nails our new reality and explains, as we have been saying, that the only solution lies in a market-forced move: "We suspect, absent a market correction large enough to force compromise, the two sides will not agree on the starting point for tax rates." Must Watch...
It won't be an accident.
By now everyone knows how Americans feel about America: one quarter of the population (the half of the less than half that voted) is convinced the US is plunging into a socialist void that would make the USSR proud, another quarter of the population is furious at the wealthy and demands that they be taxed up the wazoo because "they didn't build that" but certainly profited from it, and is demanding wealth and income redistribution, while the silent majority is quietly picking up whatever pieces it can, and batting down the hatches, seeing very well, beyond the fog of bias and subjectivity, the inevitable epic deleveraging disaster, followed by even more epic printing that is coming this way. But how does the rest of the world see the US, especially now that the fiscal cliff (and the much less discussed debt ceiling debate: why, we don't know - it was "merely" the debt ceiling that led to a 20% drop in 2011). Yesterday, German financial media Spiegel provided a glimpse into just how Europe, which is in deep feces itself, sees America. The verdict: the next Greece.
The people have spoken and President Obama will serve another four years presiding over the United States. Furthermore, there is very little change to the makeup of the House and the Senate, which leaves the Administration in the same battle for control as it was prior to the election. The question now is what will the next four years look like economically? The amount of debt required today to create a single dollars' worth of GDP today is clearly unsustainable. However, the current Administration has been increasing Federal debt at a run rate of more than $1.2 Trillion annually to date. The understanding of the impact of increasing debt on economic growth is crucially important to understand. Overall, the set up going forward looks like it has in the past couple of years. It is unlikely that Obama will move to the center and be more of a politician with the best interest of the economy at heart. It is also just as unlikely that the Republicans will back down and begin to cooperate with the Senate. However, the weight of evidence is stacked in favor of "more of the same" which means less for you and me.
Credit markets have been bleeding wider recently but based on Credit Suisse's 'Risk Appetite Index', they remain high in Euphoria territory in the US. This is worryingly crowded on its own but the key point that they note is the divergence between US exuberance and the rest-of-the-world's far less sanguine view of credit. The risk-appetite spread between the two has been this wide two times before in recent years - July/August 2011 (which saw a major sell-off - debt ceiling) and April/May 2010 (another major sell-off - end of QE and flash-crash). As we noted earlier, equity market valuations are very much pinned to risky credit now and so this indicator is yet another canary-in-the-coalmine...
The first day of the "next 4 years" is starting in a very auspicious fashion. First, the market crashes. Then, a major blue chip company, Boeing, just announced it would cut 30% of management jobs from 2010 levels. And finally, the US Treasury just added $24 billion in debt, or enough to fund Greece for over one year, sending the total debt load (the US is now at 103% debt/GDP) ever closer to the debt ceiling breaching $16.4 trillion. But don't worry: over the next 4 years, the US government will add another $6-8 trillion in debt, so those who didn't get their allocation in this auction will have more than enough opportunity. As for this one, the yield was 1.68%, the lowest since August (but, but, what happened to the great rotation out of bonds and into stocks?), the Bid to Cover was 2.59, the lowest since last November and only higher compared to August' 2.49. And finally, the take down breakdown was uneventful: 46.2% for Dealers (to be promptly flipped back to the Fed - keep track of CUSIP 912828TY6), 39.7% for Indirects, or below the 12 TTM average of 41.28%, and Directs got 14.1%, also below the average, and lower than last month's 22.9%. As noted: uneventful. As also noted: there will be many, many more such auctions in the future, so those who wish to convert one paper into another will have ample opportunity to do so.
Obama has been reelected, the Senate remains in the hands of the democrats, while Congress is controlled by the GOP. Most importantly, the printer is firmly in the hands of Ben Bernanke. In other words, nothing has changed, as was largely expected all along. The worst case scenario - a protracted litigation, challenging the results of the election - has been avoided after Mitt Romney contested shortly before midnight, and as a result the immediate downward gap in risk following the election has been largely recouped overnight. More importantly, '4 more years' of the same monetary policy and no end to currency dilution have resulted in a nearly $50 jump in gold overnight with the metal in the $1720s this morning, because while the Fiscal Cliff remains hopelessly unresolved, and the baseline scenario that the market will need to tumble to shock politicians into waking up, remains (as does Goldman's 1250 year end S&P price target), the reality is that no matter what happens, Bernanke and crew will print and monetize the coming deluge of debt (which would also have been the case if Romney had won). And with total debt set to rise to $22+ trillion over the next 4 years, a deluge it will be. Most importantly, with Obama reelected, Europe is now "off the hook" and can finally rock the boat, which means Greece can take its rightful place at the front of the domino chain. Remember: the latest Greek austerity vote is today and voting (i.e. debating) has begun, and with vote results expected later today. It also means that the military festivities in the middle east, where the US now has 2 aircraft carriers and 2 marine assault groups, can resume.
The yakuza scandal didn’t help.
"Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation and empire." Strauss & Howe wrote these words in 1997. They understood the dynamics of how generations interact and how the mood of the country shifts every twenty or so years based upon the generational alignment that occurs as predictably as the turning of the seasons. The last generation that lived through the entire previous Crisis from 1929 through 1946 has virtually died off. For those who doubt generational theory and believe history is a linear path of human progress, I would point to the last week of chaos, disarray, government dysfunction, and misery of those who didn’t prepare for Superstorm Sandy, as a prelude to the worst of this Crisis. The lack of preparation by government officials and citizens, death, destruction, panic, anger, helplessness and realization of how fragile our system has become is a perfect analogy to our preparation for this Fourth Turning. The regeneracy of the nation will occur during the next presidential term. The mathematical impossibility of sustaining our economic system is absolute.
Tim Geithner's public "servant" tenure has not been without its blemishes: from his deplorable run as the (figure)head of the New York Fed (from 2003 until 2009), when the entire financial system literally imploded under his watch, to his epic failing up as Hank Paulson's replacement as treasury Secretary of the United States, despite his legendary inability to navigate the Minotaurian labyrinth that is the TurboTax income tax flowchart, the Dartmouth alum has had his share of run ins with adversity (and adversity won). Of course, Geithner's tenure in charge of the Treasury in the past 4 years has been somewhat mollified by the fact that here too here was merely a figurehead, and the true entity that runs the US printing presses is none other than the JPM and Goldman Sachs co-chaired Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (for more on the TBAC read here and especially here as pertains to the former LTCM trader and current head of JPM's CIO group), meaning that the US Treasury, just like the Fed, are merely branches of the one true power in US governance: Wall Street. Geithnerian figureheadedness aside, the one undeniable fact is that Tim Geithner's days as head of the Treasury are now numbered: he has made it quite clear that he will not accompany Obama (should the incumbent be reelected) into his second term. So what is a career "public servant" to do once the public no longer has any interest in retaining his services? Bloomberg's Deborah Solomon has some suggestions...