Money well-spent, we are sure some would suggest; but when the National Institute of Health spends $224,863 to test 95 "custom-fitted" condoms so every hard-working American man can choose the one that fits 'just right', we suggest the government is stretching the tax dollar a little too far. As NY Post reports, the study was prompted by concern that despite the wide-scale promotion of latex condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV, their use remains "disappointingly low," because, the government says, one-third to one-half of men complain of poor-fitting prophylactics and are less likely to use them... apparently. Of course, we assume, when questioned, all said the condom was 'too small'.
Following October's disappointing bounce in the US trade deficit, it was only expected that the November data would come leaps and bounds ahead of the expected $40 billion print, instead sliding 12.9% to $34.3 billion from October's revised $39.3 billion - this was the lowest monthly trade deficit since October 2009. The delta was the result of a modest boost in exports, up $1.7 billion, to a record high of $194.9 billion, compounded by a more pronounced slide in imports, which were $3.4 billion less than October's $232.5 billion. Some other highlights: exports to China climbed to a record high (we certainly expect "matching" Chinese exports to the US to also rise to a record when reported next), while the US petroleum deficit was the lowest since May 2009 thanks to shale.
Most economic observers are predicting that 2014 will be the year in which the United States finally shrugs off the persistent malaise of the Great Recession. In contrast, we believe that the episode has, for the moment, established supreme confidence in the powers of monetary policy to keep the economy afloat and to keep a floor under asset prices, even in the worst of circumstances. The shift in sentiment can only be explained by the growing acceptance of monetary policy as the magic elixir that Keynesians have always claimed it to be. This blind faith has prevented investors from seeing the obvious economic crises that may lay ahead. Based on nothing but pure optimism, the market believes that the Fed can somehow contract its $4 trillion balance sheet without pushing up rates to the point where asset prices are threatened, or where debt service costs become too big a burden for debtors to bear. The more likely truth is that this widespread mistake will allow us to drift into the next crisis.
At this point, the problem of hitting limits in a finite world has morphed into primarily a financial problem. Governments are particularly affected. They find that they need to borrow increasing amounts of money to provide promised services to their citizens. Debt is a huge problem, both for governments and for individual citizens. Interest rates need to stay very low, in order for the current system to “stick together.” Governments are either unaware of the true nature of their problems, or are doing everything they can to hide the true situation from their constituents. The public has been placated by all kinds of misleading stories about how oil from shale will be the solution. Quantitative Easing (used by governments to lower interest rates) has temporarily allowed stock markets to soar, and allowed interest rates to stay quite low. So superficially, everything looks great. The question is how long all of this will last?
- Heavy snowstorm hammers northeastern U.S. (Reuters)
- Coins Remain a Bright Spot for Gold (WSJ)
- Gross’s Mistake on Fed Taper Echoes Across Pimco Funds (BBG)
- China December services PMI falls to four-month low (Reuters)
- General Mills Starts Making Some Cheerios Without GMOs (WSJ)
- U.S. considers flammability risk of Bakken crude after accidents (Reuters)
- China Mobile’s Costly iPhone Deal with Apple (WSJ)
- Hezbollah Upgrades Missile Threat to Israel (WSJ)
- UK House Prices Cap Best Year Since 2006 as Mortgages Surge (BBG)
- China tells police to be loyal to party amid graft crackdown (Reuters)
As 2013 comes to a close, efforts to revive growth in the world’s most influential economies – with the exception of the eurozone – are having a beneficial effect worldwide. However, All of the looming problems for the global economy are political in character; and there are some eerie resemblances with the financial conditions that prevailed in the US in the years preceding the crash of 2008.
- China cash injection fails to calm lenders (AFP)
- European Union Stripped of AAA Credit Rating at S&P (BBG)
- Last-Minute Health-Site Enrollment Proves a Hard Sell (WSJ)
- Bernanke’s Recession-Fighting Weapon Developed by 1900s Banker (BBG)
- Asia Stocks Are Little Changed Amid China Funding Concern (BBG)
- Regulators' Guidance on Volcker Rule Gives Banks Little Relief on Debt Sales (WSJ)
- On one hand: Man Who Said No to Soros Builds BlueCrest Into Empire (BBG); on the other: Michael Platt's BlueCrest Capital Poised for Rough Close to 2013 (WSJ)
- BOJ Keeps Record Easing as Fed Taper Helps Weaken Yen (BBG)
- Bank of England becomes more cautious on economic predictions (FT)
- Gold Climbs From Lowest Close Since 2010 as Goldman Sees Losses (BBG)
Overnight one of the main stories is that the European Union has been downgraded to AA+ from AAA by S&P. While the market digests the impact of the downgrade, all eyes remain on the US treasury market. As Deutsche Bank notes, treasuries are increasingly being viewed as a potential sign of the success or not of the Fed taper in early 2014. From the lows in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s FOMC, 10yr UST yields have added more than 10bp. Yields continue to leak this morning (-2bp to 2.95%) though we’re still hovering at levels last seen in early September just before the Fed surprised markets with its non-taper. Despite this, US equities and credit were both reasonably well supported yesterday. However the combination of higher UST yields and a stronger dollar resulted in a fairly difficult day for EM. In EMFX, the Brazilian Real fell 1.1% against the USD, underperforming most other EM currencies. The move was exacerbated by the announcement from the BCB that it would wind back its intervention in the currency market, following the initial positive reaction to tapering on Wednesday. Other EM currencies also struggled including the TRY (-0.7%), MXN (-0.7%) and IDR (-0.3%). A number of EM equity markets struggled including in Poland (-0.7%) and Turkey (-3.5%).
So simple the underwear gnomes could do it:
- Create a cartel
- Corner and manipulate the market
And that's why they (and Jamie Dimon) are richer than you.
... In a word (or two) - good luck.
- Traders Seek an Edge With High-Tech Snooping (WSJ)
- Gold Drops Below $1,200 an Ounce for First Time Since June (Bloomberg)
- SAC Manager Guilty as Insider Focus Turns to Martoma (Bloomberg)
- Why Ukraine spurned the EU and embraced Russia (Reuters)
- Target confirms major card data theft during Thanksgiving (Reuters)
- Zuckerberg is no suckerberg: Company to Sell 27 Million Class A Shares While CEO Will Offer 41.4 Million (WSJ)
- Facebook, Zuckerberg, banks must face IPO lawsuit (Reuters)
- Swiss Christmas Trees Feel Chill as Franc Helps Rivals (BBG)
- Iran, six powers to resume nuclear talks after snag (Reuters)
- Dolphins Suffering From Lung Disease Due to Gulf Oil Spill, Study Says (WSJ)
When one imagines the world's two largest bureaucracies - the European Union and the US - trying to coordinate what may be the world's most sophisticated free-trade agreement, one would expect things like genetically modified crops, chlorine-washed chicken, and beef quotas to be key sticking points. One would not expect Greek Feta cheese to be one of the main hurdles. Which is precisely what has happened, because as Kathimerini reports "a fight over who can call Greek-style cheese “feta” is blocking the way toward the world’s largest free-trade deal. Of course, in a world in which something as "consequential" as who gets to call Feta by its name will require days if not weeks of negotiations, one wonders why bother with trade when central planners can just print commerce and wealth all day long anyway.
The European Union's February decision to outlaw banker bonuses that are more than twice fixed pay was an effort to curb excessive payouts and asymmetric risk-taking. The UK challenged the caps as illegal in September (and the case has yet to be decided) but the European Banking Authority softened its stance last week by allowing banks to exempt staff earning up to EUR 1 million from the rules that cap bonuses. It seems the bankers are making hay while the sun shines as Bloomberg now reports, Managing Directors at banks in London are expecting a 44% rise in bonuses for 2013 - to more than double their average salary.
One of the singular best investment strategies is to buy assets/asset classes which are most reviled by investors. Right now, junior gold miners fit the bill.
As a general rule, extreme economic decline is almost always followed by extreme international conflict. Sometimes, these disasters can be attributed to the human survival imperative and the desire to accumulate resources during crisis. But most often, war amid fiscal distress is usually a means for the political and financial elite to distract the masses away from their empty wallets and empty stomachs. War galvanizes societies, usually under false pretenses. We're not talking about superficial “police actions” or absurd crusades to “spread democracy” to Third World enclaves that don’t want it. No, we're talking about REAL war: war that threatens the fabric of a culture, war that tumbles violently across people’s doorsteps. The reality of near-total annihilation is what oligarchs use to avoid blame for economic distress while molding nations and populations. Because of the very predictable correlation between financial catastrophe and military conflagration, it makes quite a bit of sense for Americans today to be concerned.