Let’s consider Germany. According to Axel Weber, the former head of Germany’s Central Bank, Germany is in fact sitting on a REAL Debt to GDP ratio of over 200%. This is Germany… with unfunded liabilities equal to over TWO times its current GDP.
Critical of the market's reaction to the 'no new QE' news, Biderman and Bianco wholeheartedly believe yesterday's plunge was entirely due to the fact that the 'Bernanke Put' - that we have become so conditioned to expect - did not appear at the levels many expected. Despite a federal deficit of $100 billion per month, it seems the Fed is now in agreement with Biancerman that US growth is limping along at best but notably Jim Bianco believes the fiscal cliff will end up more of a bump in the road as he sees politicians being forced to agree to extend or roll-back (maybe at the very last minute) offsetting the abyss. However, with the debt ceiling looking like it will be hit before the election, it will be interesting to see what political parlance is used if-and-or-when Geithner borrows from the trust funds to keep the government going this time (or not). Positive on Gold longer-term, Bianco sees it like other markets: "Gold is a junky that has not got its money fix" and the only reason to believe Gold is a sell is if you think CBs are done - they are not! Finally the two discuss the fact that 'nobody wants to be bearish anymore' when looking at sentiment surveys - setting up a 'trap-door' for the market.
With all the buzz about the 'Fiscal Cliff' – that toxic combination of tax increases and spending cuts due to take hold in a few months – the subject of ongoing Federal budget deficits has fallen by the wayside. ConvergEx's Nic Colas believes that’s a temporary phenomenon, for Congress will have to hammer out agreements to raise the debt ceiling right alongside its negotiations over the 'Cliff' items. His back-of-the-envelope attempt to quantify how much a multi-year debt limit increase would run to take this burdensome legislative issue off the Congressional docket for 5, 10 or even 20 years is worrisome at best with a $3.4 trillion for the 5-year runway, but this assumes a high level of incremental taxation. The number could be as high as $4.5 trillion. As for the longer time horizon debt runways, think in terms of an incremental $6.5 -9.5 billion for a 10 and 20 year horizon. And without significant changes to taxes and/or spending, more. Much more. We cannot help but think about Paul Krugman as we ponder these numbers. His recent book, End this Depression Now, proposes that “A quick, strong recovery is just one step away, if our leaders can find the intellectual clarity and political will to end this depression now.” This “One step” is deficit spending that is orders of magnitude greater than anything spent already. We have no idea if he really believes any of this, since it is politically impossible, but he does have a Nobel (though so did the guys at LTCM).
Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg may be cautious on the outlook for risk assets and cyclical securities over the near- and intermediate-term, but, he notes, change is always at the margin, and it usually starts in the political sphere. Austerity is not some dirty nine-letter word as the socialists in Europe would have you believe. It is all about living within your means and living up to your commitments. There is some good news in the United States with respect to this topic, but the uncertainty over the extent of next year's tax bite is likely to cause households and businesses to pull spending back and raise cash, at the margin, which means the economy won't turn around in time for Mr. Obama. As was the case with Ronald Reagan, just having a clear and coherent fiscal plan will part the clouds of uncertainty and encourage capital to be put at risk rather than sit as idle unproductive cash on corporate balance sheets. In a somewhat stunning sentence from the no-longer-a-permabear, he notes that "The future is brighter than you think", but just in case you are backing up the truck, he adds "this does not mean we will not have another recession, by the way — as we suffer through a deflationary debt deleveraging. I'm noticing a certain degree of despair these days, just as I am getting enthusiastic about the future. Much depends on what happens on November 6th and between now and then we still have the European mess, China hard landing risks and the U.S. debt ceiling issue to confront. Be that as it may, those with some dry powder on hand will be in a solid position to take advantage of whatever forced "panic" selling takes place."
Société Générale head of foreign exchange research Kit Juckes on the US dollar dynamic, QE 3, 4, and 5, "even lower rates for even longer than you thought," and the Bank of Japan slowly learning to match policies with the Fed.
Bob Farrell's rule #9 is: "When all experts and forecasts agree — something else is going to happen." This statement encapsulates the basic tenant of being a contrarian investor. As Sam Stovall, the S&P investment strategist, puts it: "If everybody's optimistic, who is left to buy? If everybody's pessimistic, who's left to sell?" Going against the herd as Farrell repeatedly suggests can be very profitable, especially for patient buyers who raise cash from frothy markets and reinvest it when sentiment is the darkest. However, being a seller in exuberant markets or a buyer in major rout is very tough, if not impossible, for almost every investor as the emotions of "greed" and "fear" overtake logical buy and sell decision making.
Instead of his usual rant, Charles Biderman of TrimTabs discusses the reality of the macro environment with Madeline Schnapp - though do not worry as the sense of sarcasm and disbelief at the government's actions and hopes is palpable. Noting that our economy is at best growing 'sluggishly' based off her real-time macro data, Biderman's right hand goes on to explain to him that inflation is running hotter than the government would like us to believe. More importantly, she hits the nail on the head with regard to what Biderman notes is the wasted stimulus money, saying that the economy needs to clear the malinvestments, not sustain them through stimulus transmission mechanisms, in order for growth to once again re-appear. Historically QE2 did manage to create some inventory restocking and pick up in wages/salaries in Q1 2011 but Operation Twist appears to have little to no impact on the real economy (outside of government statistical modelers) - which as we have said before indicates the diminishing returns to government intervention. What is clear is that, as we have noted, that post the 1971 modified gold standard, over a long-period of time it has taken an 'unsustainably' increasing amount of government debt to create economic growth - with the post-2008 insanity that we need $2.50 to create $1 of economic growth. The two end with a discussion of the debt ceiling and deficit potential for a black swan event.
“Public debt is an enemy for the country”
The dollar was a median step towards a newer and more corrupt ideal. Its time is nearly over. This is open, it is admitted, and it is being activated as you read this. The speed at which this disaster occurs is really dependent on the speed at which our government along with our central bank decides to expedite doubt. Doubt in a currency is a furious omen, costing not just investors, but an entire society. America is at the very edge of such a moment. The naysayers can scratch and bark all they like, but the financial life of a country serves no person’s emphatic hope. It burns like a fire. Left unwatched and unchecked, it grows uncontrollable and wild, until finally, there is nothing left to fuel its hunger, and it finally chokes in a haze of confusion and dread…
India is known for its historically high per capita demand for gold, particularly before festivals and the wedding season, which peaks in the months of October to December. With more than ¼ of the entire global world market for the metal, the country has long been leading world demand, though fellow BRIC member China is catching up. But recent developments in India have gold bugs stirring – protests, boycotts, and a proposal for a tax on the sale on gold jewelry has severely dampened demand ahead of one of the most lucrative festivals in the country. And with global gold prices down more than 10% since their February high of $1,787.75, there seems to be good reason to worry. While acceleration in gold prices and Indian GDP seem to link up as do Indian demand and global GDP growth, increases in demand have little correlation to gold price growth. Similarly, rampant inflation has almost no role in stifling demand for the metal. If these correlations - and the seasonal performance patterns - hold true in 2012, gold investors might be able to sleep a little easier. While none of this guarantees that gold will experience some kind of meteoric rise to $2k, especially given all the other factors that contribute to prices, Nic Colas, of ConvergEx, thinks it’s safe to say that the supposed softening demand in India shouldn’t be too concerning. The US has bought 42% less gold than it did in 2006. So when it comes to declining gold prices, don’t jump to blame India. After all, it isn’t even wedding season yet...
While, by definition, we can't 'know' or predict what the event is that becomes a Black Swan, it is nevertheless useful to consider which large risks are relatively underpriced by the market currently and perhaps more so - what to keep an eye on to consider the odds of such an event. Biancerman (or should it be Bideranco) take on Europe (the pace of the disaster is accelerating and the hope for a Draghi-save is overdone), US Inflation (focus on 3% as a 'problem' and owners-equivalent-rent), The Debt Ceiling (will Geithner get 'extraordinary' again or will it become the political hot potato that proves the deficit will never be cut) , and The Fiscal Cliff (the entire gain in income from the 2009 lows will be removed if this occurs - that doesn't seem like a positive) in this thought-provoking clip. Reflecting on these realities, Biderman so eloquently notes "means the smelly stuff is likely to hit the fan" and Bianco reminds us that, just as in 2008, "hope [in equities] can be a very powerful drug".
We are in the last innings of a very bad ball game. We are coping with the crash of a 30-year–long debt super-cycle and the aftermath of an unsustainable bubble. Quantitative easing is making it worse by facilitating more public-sector borrowing and preventing debt liquidation in the private sector—both erroneous steps in my view. The federal government is not getting its financial house in order. We are on the edge of a crisis in the bond markets. It has already happened in Europe and will be coming to our neighborhood soon. The Fed is destroying the capital market by pegging and manipulating the price of money and debt capital. Interest rates signal nothing anymore because they are zero. Capital markets are at the heart of capitalism and they are not working.
We have been warning of the pending fiscal cliff in the US and the somewhat inevitable debt ceiling debacle, election uncertainty, and the question of Fed independence in an election year as potential catalysts for risk flares in the US and abroad. For now, US equities are happy to ignore these events, still drawn in their Pavlovian-educated manner to US equities for their nominal enrichment. The trouble is - there are clear warning signs from some particularly noteworthy markets that all is not well (that appear more capable of comprehending fundamentals). Forget for a moment the overnight plunge and recovery in futures as this will bring only anchoring bias; a step back to 30,000 feet and we note that the spread on USA Sovereign CDS has risen by over 30% in the last month (now back at 40bps or 3-month wides) flashing a worrying warning signal for US equities if the past is any guide. Remember that US CDS are denominated in EUR and do not simply reflect the 'default' risk of the fiat-issuing USA but the devaluation or restructuring risks - and it appears market participants are getting nervous once again of the profligacy of the US government and the ineptitude of the central banks with their one-trick-pony experimentation. At the same time, central banks' broad repression has crushed volatility in every asset class - except, as Morgan Stanley notes - credit which is inferring considerably higher chance of a risk flare in the short-term. So while this week will bring cheers of growthiness and cooperation and decoupling, the all-seeing eye of credit markets remain far less sanguine.
With earnings season now virtually over, it is time to ask why, despite a majority of the companies beating expectations, is the S&P inline with where it was when earnings season started. There are two main reasons why the market has not been impressed: the percentage of "beaters" is nothing spectacular on a historical basis as was shown previously, especially in the aftermath of aggressive cuts to Q1 top and bottom line forecasts heading into earnings reports; more importantly, even with Q1 earning coming out as they did, the bulk of the legwork still remains in the "hockeystick" boost to the bottom line that is completely Q4 2012 loaded, as bottom up consensus revisions to the rest of 2012 are negative despite Q1 beats. As Goldman summarizes: "1Q 2012 will establish a new earnings peak of $98 on a trailing-four-quarter basis. With 88% of S&P 500 market cap reported, 1Q EPS is tracking at $24.10, 1% above consensus estimates at the start of reporting season and reflecting 7% year/year growth." So far, so good. And yet, "Despite the positive surprises, full-year 2012 EPS estimates are unchanged relative to the start of earnings season, and currently stand at $105 vs. our top-down forecast of $100. Over half of consensus 2012 earnings growth is attributed to 4Q. Margins at 8.8% have hovered near peak levels for a year, but consensus expects a sudden jump in 4Q to a new peak of 9.1%. We forecast a further decline to 8.7%."
Excessive spending has created record levels of debt and deficits, and the worst is yet to come, threatening opportunity and prosperity for younger generations. In these 10 charts, via The Heritage Foundation, we highlight the third (and arguably most frightening) in our four-part series on the Federal Budget - Debt & Deficits.