Debt Ceiling

You Must be 48" To Ride This Ride

The crowds are slowly starting to fill up Times Square, and despite the imminent countdown to New Year’s, Washington still has not conjured up a resolution to avoid the fiscal cliff.  Over the prior two months we have leveraged game theory, Venn diagrams, option “greeks,” and basic investor psychology as tools to decipher the ultimate path of the crisis and subsequent market reaction.  Alas, regardless of all the analysis we and countless others have supplied; the short, intermediate, and long term prospects for stocks rest exclusively on headlines.  More poignantly, the fate of the U.S. economy, global equities, and net incomes for hundreds of millions now depend upon the decision making of a group so small, its numbers can be counted with one hand.

What's Next: The Good, Bad, And Ugly Of The 'Cliff'

Time is running out. The cliff negotiations have devolved into two unpalatable options: (1) extend just the middle income tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits and allow about two-thirds of the cliff to happen, or (2) go over the cliff in the entirety. In BofAML's view, given the short time frame and legislative hurdles, the latter appears much more likely. Stock market vigilantes have replaced bond vigilantes as the potential good, bad, and ugly scenarios are devoured flashing red headline by flashing red headline. They, like us, believe that going over the cliff is not a benign “slope” as some suggest. Rather, it accelerates the already-building damage to the economy and markets. The latest evidence is the plunge in consumer confidence. Indeed, this could mark the beginning of the rotation in the uncertainty shock from businesses to consumers. Going over the cliff has many secondary, largely ignored, negative impacts, including tax changes that could damage the housing recovery, as well as negatively impact education and alternative energy, among many others.

Cliffbiter

It's the last trading day of the year, nothing has been resolved on the Cliff, the perpetually wrong media has now decided to change its tune and is spin the Wile E. Coyote plunge as a "good thing" (just as we expected), Congress is nowhere, the Senate failed to reach any resolution last night and is resuming the "negotiations" farce at the bright and early hour of 11 am, and yet somehow, in spite of everything, the strong bid under the futures refuses to go away (thank you Kevin Henry). This despite what is becoming clear to even this broken market (InTrade odds of a debt ceiling deal by the end of today are still a substantial 2.3%) that there will likely be no deal until some time in February or March when the debt ceiling extensions expire by which point the only question is how deep the US recession will be. And still everyone will be shocked, shocked, when nothing is done today either. Why? Because the market continues to price in an outcome which demands that it crash for it to be achieved. That so few grasp this is frankly, disturbing. Also, everything else is perfectly enjoyable theatrical noise. And just to keep the excitement factor really high, most rates and FX markets close early today, with rates and FX futures markets close at 1pm New York time while cash bond trading at 2pm.

Guest Post: Fiscal Cliff Contingencies

The divergence between consumers and producers within the real economy that has stumped economists for the better part of 2012 can, at least in part, be attributed to the Fiscal Cliff; but the anticipatory effects of the Fiscal Cliff on the United States of America evidently began with American politicians, and probably for the worse, that is where it will end. The division that has plagued Washington has grown starker in recent years, and the divergence between consumers and producers as a result of divided leadership stands as a testament to the irresponsibility of those sent to Washington D.C. to serve their country. These divergences cannot last forever, and depending on the events of the next couple weeks, the United States is due for a reversion to the mean. The direction of that reversion - either production up to meet consumption or consumption down to meet production and confirm a recession within the United States - is wholly on the shoulders of the politicians in Washington D.C.

bugs_'s picture

It will be natural to sing the praises of our elected leadership after they have hammered out their deal to raise taxes in order to avert the crisis.  To recall that raising taxes is ever always the solution will be just as easy as to forget to honor the unsung heroes of the fiscal cliff - the software people that maintain America's payroll systems.

The Fiscal Policy Q&A, Timeline, And Market Scenarios

Talks on the fiscal cliff have resumed, but as of this writing there is not yet an agreement. The current negotiations focus on the income threshold under which tax cuts should be extended, among other topics. As we have noted, the sides seem as far apart as ever, and as Goldman notes, while it is still possible that an agreement will be reached by year end, a retroactive deal in January looks more likely. The eventual resolution still looks likely to be a scaled down agreement that addresses only the policy changes scheduled for year-end and omits other issues, such as an increase in the debt limit or longer-term fiscal reforms. The greatest area of uncertainty is whether the spending cuts scheduled under the sequester will be addressed. The fiscal policy timeline below shows how we are rapidly approaching the more ominous debt ceiling debate and Goldman's Q&A asks and answers provides context for where we are from both an economic and ratings agency impact basis.

InTrade Odds Of Deal By December 31 Plunge To 2.2%

While EURUSD is flat, there is one market open (free of manipulation - perhaps) that offers some insights into traders' perceptions of reality - however 'cautiously', 'modestly', 'surreally' optimistic the powers that be proclaim. InTrade's "debt ceiling by Dec. 31st" odds have plunged to around 2%. A week ago, when we continued to urge readers to short the contract, it was at 10% (and at 30% when we initialy said on Novermber 13th no deal would occur) - even as everyone and their pet rabbit was convinced a deal was going to be cobbled together. The 'debt ceiling' odds are implicitly the 'fiscal cliff' odds given Harry Reid's insistence of the 'bundling' to remove every possible point of leverage from the Republicans:

We would be somewhat foolish to work out something on stopping us from going over the cliff and then a month or six weeks later Republicans pull the same game they did before and say, 'We're not going to do anything — unless this happens, we're not going to agree to increasing the debt ceiling,’ ” Reid said.

 

I agree with the president, it has to be a package deal,” he added.

At around 2% odds, this still seems like money good for shorts...

  

Reid "Unable To Come Up With Counteroffer... Apart On Some Pretty Big Issues", Hands Over Negotiations To Biden

The second update of the day is here, and this one is far less jovial and optimistic than that coming from the seemingly quite cluless Lindsey Graham:

  • REID SAYS HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO COME UP WITH COUNTEROFFER
  • REID SAYS `WE'RE APART ON SOME PRETTY BIG ISSUES'
  • REID SAYS `I WISH THEM WELL' REGARDING MCCONNELL-BIDEN TALKS
  • MCCONNELL SAYS HE CALLED BIDEN TO TRY TO `JUMP START' TALKS

Nothing like the fate of the nation in the hands of Joe Biden, who may or may not still be laughing.

Cliff Rumors Start Early As Lindsey Graham Says "Obama Has Won"

As largely expected, Sunday would be a day marked by rumors, anti-rumors, denials, counter-denials, and much more groundless speculation if zero facts, however without an open market reacting to every single headline like a collocated stung dog. Sure enough, in the first such rumor of the day, we just had Republican Senator - a long time opponent of the Norquist tax pledge - Lindsey Graham, pushing for his agenda in the same way that the Greek finance ministry would unleash perfectly wrong rumors to the FT and Reuters, who said on Sunday that chances for a small "fiscal Cliff" deal in the next 48 hours were "exceedingly good" and that President Barack Obama had won: i.e., taking an opinion and making it fact - something seen so often in the European negotiating tactics. "I think people don't want to go over the cliff if we can avoid it," Graham said on Fox News Sunday. Of course, how Graham views the world, and how potentially filibustering Senators do, not to mention the majority of Congress do, is a totally separate matter.

48 Hours Away From The Cliff: "No [Major] Progress"

Surprise! As we all wait on tenterhooks for tomorrow's messianic 'Meet the Press' appearance, The Hill reports that a Senate aid with knowledge of the talks said late Saturday afternoon there is "no major progress." The rare weekend negotiations continue with the sticking point still taxes - which will come as no surprise to any who read/listened to Ron Paul's clear analysis of the idiocy taking place - but differences on other issues, including spending cuts, linger. Reid has scheduled a Democratic caucus meeting for Sunday afternoon to give his colleagues a chance to weigh in on a potential deal. McConnell has said he would do the same. "I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities – as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote," Obama said in his weekly address. "If they still want to vote no, and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that’s their prerogative – but they should let everyone vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work." If the Senate passes the legislation, it would then force the House to take up the bill on the eve of the looming deadline - leaving the 'blame' at the foot of Boehner's Republicans should they not support it. The games continue... but in the meantime, consider what the debate would have looked like (literally) if Elizabeth Hasleth was still in the Senate.

Marc To Market's picture

 

The holiday week saw the dollar consolidate against most of the major currencies.  The yen was the main exception as its losses were extended under the aggressive signals coming from the new Japanese government.   

 

At the end of the week, the other key consideration, the US fiscal cliff made its presence felt.  The recent pattern remained intact.  News that gives the participants a sense that the cliff may be averted encourages risk taking, which means in the foreign exchange market, the sale of dollars and yen.  

 

News that makes participants more fearful that the political dysfunction failed to avert the cliff and send the world's largest economy into recession, generally see the dollar and yen recover.  This is what happened in very thin markets just ahead of the weekend as Obama's ling last ditch negotiating stance seemed to reflect a retreat from his earlier compromises.

 

Bloodbath

Finally, the market realizes that it was the patsy all along. This is what a real cliff looks like:

VIX Snaps To Six-Month Highs On Longest Stocks Slump Since May

For the first time since May, the S&P 500 has fallen for 5 days in a row. VIX has very much heralded the fact that investors were not as bullish as media-types would like to believe - as we have vociferously noted - and today's jump in the VIX pushes it to six-month highs over 22.5%. The S&P 500 futures ended the day-session at the week's lows testing down just shy of last week's flash-crash lows. Meanwhile, while equities slumped catching down to Treasury yields, commodities were relatively flat as was the USD; it seems that the excess longs in equities relative to the rest are unwinding - a different picture than what was seen during last Summer's debt ceiling debate.

‘Fiscal Cliff’ Distracts As ‘Fiscal Abyss’ In Japan, UK and U.S. Cometh

The U.S. federal deficit is now exceeding $1 trillion dollars every year —up from $161 billion in 2007, the last year before the financial crisis. Spending is up some $1 trillion, as outlays for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements have increased by an amount equal to the entire 2013 military budget – a budget which may again surpass the combined military expenditure of every other nation in the world. U.S. unfunded liabilities are now estimated at between $50 trillion and $100 trillion and by the end of the decade (in less than just 7 years), runaway entitlement spending will require shutting down the military or crippling many other vital domestic spending programs to head off massive deficits that will likely lead to a dollar crisis and significant inflation. No matter what deal is eventually agreed, whether before or after the new year, it will at best nibble at the edges of the trillion dollar annual deficits that are being piled up. While all the focus has been on the so called U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’, amnesia has taken hold and many market participants have forgotten about the far from resolved Eurozone debt crisis – not to mention looming debt crisis in the UK and Japan.