If the US Dollar was not the world’s reserve currency and US Treasury IOUs were not the world’s preferred holding of reserves behind their own currencies and financial systems, the Treasury’s debt limit would have been done away with a long time ago. But the US Dollar IS the world’s reserve currency so the debt of the US government IS the underpinnings of the global financial system. That being the case, the system stands or falls on the continuing perception that Treasury debt paper is a viable form of “reserve” and that the debt of the US government will NEVER become “unsustainable”. An announcement by the US government that it was getting rid of any “limits” to its debt-generating capacity would put that perception at risk - quite possibly at grave risk. That is the reason why the debt limit remains - even though it has not been an impediment to ever increasing Treasury indebtedness for well over half a century. It is easy to laugh at the seeming absurdity of a Treasury “debt limit” and many people do. Take it away, however, and the fiction that sovereign debt is “sustainable” - let alone any “confidence” in its eventual repayment - would be MUCH harder to maintain. Absurdities abound in history, and the more abject the absurdity, the more tenacious it tends to be. Today, a US Treasury debt “limit” is a very necessary absurdity.
On the basis of a joint press conference following a one-hour chat, the S&P 500 is up over 2.5%; it seems there is little doubt that the fiscal cliff is front-and-center in people's minds. And yet, positioning is far from biased towards negativity and sentiment remains positive - the 'they will fix it; they have to, right?' meme is everywhere. As Morgan Stanley notes, however, a smooth resolution requires some of the same public officials who created the cliff to cooperate to avoid it. As far as hope of a short-term solution, Obama's Burma trip aside, Speaker Boehner has already indicated that it would be inappropriate to pass comprehensive legislation in the Lame Duck session, given that more than 100 current members of the House will not be returning next year; and as for any actual substantive change: the sequence most talked about is patch (stop-gap legislation) and promise (ten-year budget reduction), followed by a plan. In that regard, politicians’ solution to the 2012 fiscal cliff will be to create another one in 2013. Thus, only a portion of the uncertainty about policy will be resolved by the patch and promise, as much could go wrong with the plan.
Ever since late March, we have said that the only realistic resolution to the Fiscal Cliff standoff (and the just as relevant latest and greatest debt ceiling hike due weeks from today as well), driven by a congress that has hit peak party-line polarity and which the recent election loss only made even more acute, would be a market mandated "resolution" (read sell off) whose only purpose is to crack the gridlock as representatives are flooded with phonecalls from angry constituents who now, and always, will be far more concerned about the value of their 401(k) than any ideological split. By that we mean an identical replica of what happened in the summer of 2011 when the market had to tumble 17% before the debt ceiling "compromise" was finally reached. This also explains why with just 6 weeks of trading in 2012 left, Goldman still forecasts a slide to its 2012 year end target (which it has kept constant since late 2011) of 1250. So while a resolution will almost certainly come, it will not be until the very last moment. As GS summarizes, "Bush income tax cuts was not resolved until December 17th, 2010. Last year’s decision to extend payroll tax cuts was not finalized until December 23rd, 2011. The current challenge is significantly more complex. Divergent views on tax policy, defense spending, and entitlements need to be resolved in a short lame-duck session of Congress." And while the market may or may not jump after there is an actual resolution, don't expect any real buying ahead of a compromise, as any uptick in the DJIA (the Beltway has still not heard of the S&P500 apparently) will immediately lessen the impetus for a deal. In fact, if the following chart from Goldman is correct, and if we are indeed to relive a replay of the summer of 2011, watch out below, especially since true wholesale liquidation across the hedge fund space has yet to occur.
There are many questions on the minds of weary precious metals investors after enduring the volatile yet range-bound price action of gold and silver over the past year:
- Have the fundamentals for owning gold & silver changed over the past year? No
- What are they? currency devaluation/crisis, supply-chain risk, ore grade depletion
- How should retail investors own gold? Mostly physical metal, some quality mining majors (avoid the indices), and ETFs only for trading
- Is gold in a bubble? No
- Could gold get re-monetized? Quite possibly
- Where is gold flowing? From the West to the East. At some point, capital controls will be put in place
Jeff Clark and Chris Martenson believe everyone should have exposure to gold and silver as a defense for preserving the purchasing power of their weath. The key question is: how much exposure?
The recent market sell-off has not been about the re-election of President Obama but rather the repositioning of assets by professional investors in anticipation of three key events coming between now and the end of this year - the "fiscal cliff", the debt ceiling and the expiration of the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG). Each of these events have different impacts on the economy and the financial markets - but the one thing that they have in common is that they will all be battle grounds between a divided House and Senate. While there has been a plethora of articles, and media coverage, about the upcoming standoff between the two parties - little has been written to cover the details of exactly what will be impacted and why it is so important to the financial markets and economy. We remain hopeful that our elected leaders will allow cooler heads to prevail and that they will begin to work towards solutions that alleviate some of the risks of economic contraction while setting forth logical plans for fiscal reform. However, while we are hopeful of such progress, "hope" is not an investment strategy to manage portfolios by. If we are right things are likely to get worse before a resolution is reached - but maybe that is why the "investment professionals" have already been heading for the exits.
In the past it has been the bond market whose vigilantes had rampaged across the fields to keep policymakers honest - but something has changed with the Fed's boot on the bond market. As BofAML notes, when the Fed was too soft on inflation or the fiscal deficit was out of control, interest rates spiked higher. In our view, this has changed and today the stock market is the disciplining force for Washington. We have argued this perspective for a while - that nothing will be done until we get a stock market crash - but the press will continue to make molehills out of mountains it seems as BofAML adds, the most obvious lesson of the last week is that when Washington approaches a policy impasse, the financial press tends to signal a resolution of the crisis many times before it happens. Don’t believe it. After elections there is always conciliatory talk: no one wants to be seen as a sore loser or a gloating winner. The risk remains huge and the four hurdles to a grand bargain seem to be getting larger - no matter what the press wants us to think - investors should look past reassuring rhetoric and focus on the underlying reality.
You've probably noticed the cookie-cutter format of most financial media "news": a few key "buzz words" (fiscal cliff, Bush tax cuts, etc.) are inserted into conventional contexts, and this is passed off as either "reporting" or "commentary" depending on the number of pundits sourced. Correspondent Frank M. kindly passed along a template that is "officially deny its existence" secret within the mainstream media. With this template, you could launch your own financial media channel, ready to compete with the big boys. Heck, you could hire some cheap overseas labor to make a few Skype calls to "the usual suspects," for-hire academics, hedge fund gurus, etc. and actually attribute the fluff to a real person.
Great timing. The ubiquitous post-European close trend-reversal was extended by some 'nothing' comments from Boehner that every media outlet is inferring means everything's fixed and compromise is close. Boehner says talks with Obama were constructive. Outlined a framework with Obama; Will accept revenue if spending cuts. It's not - what did we expect him to say?AAPL jumped up to VWAP and S&P 500 futures coincidentally reached overnight highs/stops. Now let's see if anyone really believes...
In his farewell address to Congress yesterday, Ron Paul blasted the dangers of what he called 'Economic Ignorance'. He's dead right. Around the world, economic ignorance abounds. And perhaps nowhere is this more obvious today than in the senseless prattling over the US 'Fiscal Cliff'. US government spending falls into three categories: Discretionary, Mandatory, and Interest on Debt. The only thing Congress has a say over is Discretionary Spending. But here's the problem - the US fiscal situation is so untenable that the government fails to collect enough tax revenue to cover mandatory spending and debt interest alone. This means that they could cut the ENTIRE discretionary budget and still be in the hole by $251 billion. This is why the Fiscal Cliff is irrelevant. Increasing taxes won't increase their total tax revenue. Politicians have tried this for decades. It doesn't work. Bottom line-- the Fiscal Cliff doesn't matter. The US passed the point of no return a long time ago.
28 million taxpayers would be faced with a very large, unexpected tax liability for the current tax year (2012).
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."
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