There has been an burst of exuberance as of late as the market, after four arduous years, got back to its pre-crisis levels. Much has been attributed to the recent burst of optimism in the financial markets from: better than expected earnings, stronger economic growth ahead, the end of the bond bubble is near, the long term outlook is getting better, valuations are cheap, and the great rotation is here - all of which have egregious holes. However, with the markets fully inflated, we have reached the point that where even a small exogenous shock will likely have an exaggerated effect on the markets. There are times that investors can safely "buy and hold" investments - this likely isn't one of them.
If there was any confusion where New York's uberwealthy were scrambling to dump their money in December ahead of the now official tax hike on the wealthiest, we now know: some two hours north on the Long Island Expressway, or the Hamptons to be precise. Bloomberg reports: "Home prices in New York’s Hamptons, the resort towns on the Long Island coast, rose to the highest on record as deals at the upper end of the market surged before expected tax increases for sellers. The average price of homes that sold in the fourth quarter jumped 35 percent from a year earlier to $2.13 million, the highest since Miller Samuel Inc. begin tracking Hamptons sales in 1999." Needless to say the when a handful of the 0.001%, and quite close to the New Normal discount window - i.e., the Fed's excess reserves - purchase homes with no price discrimination, it has the same impact as when foreign oligrachs come to the US to launder illgotten cash (with the NAR's blessings), sending prices up some 35% in one year. And since the average price of all houses is dragged higher as a result, TV pundits can spin it as a housing recovery, and get consumers to consume even more by "charging it", making the abovementioned Hamptons' home purchasers even richer: there's your recovery. And it is a recovery, all right, for some: like Lloyd Blankfein who just parked another $32.5 million in prime 8,000 square foot Bridgehampton mansion set on some 7.3 acres.
Over the course of the last two weeks, I attempted to explain to the general investing public how, thanks to the virtual impossibility of distinguising between 'legitimate' market making and 'illegitimate' prop trading, some of America's systemically important financial institutions are able to trade for their own accounts with the fungible cash so generously bestowed upon them by an unwitting multitude of depositors and an enabling Fed.
Previously, in our first two editions of FleeceBook, we focused on "public servants" working for either the Bank of International Settlements, or the Bank of England (doing all they can to generate returns for private shareholders, especially those of financial firms). Today, for a change, we shift to the private sector, and specifically a bank situated at the nexus of public and private finance: JP Morgan, which courtesy of its monopolist position at the apex of the Shadow Banking's critical Tri-Party Repo system (consisting of The New York Fed, The Bank of New York, and JP Morgan, of course) has an unparalleled reach (and domination - much to Lehman Brother's humiliation) into not only traditional bank funding conduits, but "shadow" as well. And of all this bank's employees, by far the most interesting, unassuming and "underappreciated" is neither its CEO Jamie Dimon, nor the head of JPM's global commodities group (and individual responsible for conceiving of the Credit Default Swap product) Blythe Masters, but one Matt Zames.
When people talk about "cash in the bank", or "money on the sidelines", the conventional wisdom reverts to an image of inert capital, used by banks to fund loans (as has been the case under fractional reserve banking since time immemorial) sitting in a bank vault or numbered account either physically or electronically, and collecting interest, well, collecting interest in the Old Normal (not the New ZIRPy one, where instead of discussing why it is not collecting interest the progressive intelligentsia would rather debate such trolling idiocies as trillion dollar coins, quadrillion euro Swiss cheeses, and quintillion yen tuna). There is one problem, however, with this conventional wisdom: it is dead wrong. Tracking deposit flow data is so critical, as it provides hints of major inflection points, such as when there is a massive build up of deposits via reserves (either real, from saving clients, or synthetic, via the reserve pathway) which can then be used as investments in the market. And of all major inflection points, perhaps none is more critical than the just released data from today's H.6 statement, which showed that in the trailing 4 week period ended December 31, a record $220 billion was put into savings accounts (obviously a blatant misnomer in a time when there is no interest available on any savings). This is the biggest 4-week total amount injected into US savings accounts ever, greater than in the aftermath of Lehman, greater than during the first debt ceiling crisis, greater than any other time in US history.
Earlier today, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and CNBC's Steve Liesman got into a heated exchange over a recent Frezza article, based on some of the key points we made in a prior post "A Record $2 Trillion In Deposits Over Loans - The Fed's Indirect Market Propping Pathway Exposed" in which, as the title implies, we showed how it was that the Fed was indirectly intervening in the stock market by way of banks using excess deposits to chase risky returns and generally push the market higher. We urge readers to spend the few minutes of this clip to familiarize themselves with Frezza's point which is essentially what Zero Hedge suggested, and Liesman's objection that "this is something the banks don't do and can't do." Liesman's naive view, as is to be expected for anyone who does not understand money creation under a fractional reserve system, was simple: the Fed does not create reserves to boost bank profits, and thus shareholder returns, and certainly is not using the fungible cash, which at the end of the day is what reserves amount to once dispersed among the US banks, to gun risk assets higher.
Alas, Steve is very much wrong.
Overnight, Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger released an epic magnum opus titled "What's Inside America's Banks", in which they use over 9000 words, including spot on references to Wells Fargo, JPM, Andy Haldane, Kevin Warsh, Basel II, Basel III (whose regulatory framework is now 509 pages and includes a ridiculous 78 calculus equations to suggest that banks have to delever by some $3 trillion, which is why it will never pass) to give their answer: "Nobody knows." Of course, while this yeoman's effort may come as news to a broader cross-section of the population, is it well known by anyone who has even a passing interest in the loan-loss reserve release earnings generating black boxes formerly known as banks (which once upon a time made their money using Net Interest margin, and actually lending out money to make a profit), and now simply known as FDIC insured Bank Holding Company hedge funds. This also happens to be the second sentence in the lead paragraph of the story: "Sophisticated investors describe big banks as “black boxes” that may still be concealing enormous risks—the sort that could again take down the economy." So far so good, and again - not truly news. What however may come as news to none other than the author is that the first sentence of the lead-in: 'Some four years after the 2008 financial crisis, public trust in banks is as low as ever" is, sadly, wrong.
When Tim Geithner announced an hour ago that the US debt ceiling will officially be "risen above" on December 31, he stated that there are approximately two months in which the Treasury can take emergency measures to delay the actual debt ceiling breach, a moment in time which we believe will take place some time in March. Upon further reflection, with the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that will take place on January 1, the irony is that the debt ceiling extension may last materially longer due to a substantial reduction in the US budget deficit, potentially pushing the final threshold to as late April or even May which means the political theater is going to last for even longer than we expected - something which both parties now appear set to capitalize on as much as possible. So the question now is what are the options before Tim Geithner and what are the "emergency measures" the Treasury take to delay the inevitable moment when one of three things happens: i) the US hikes its ceiling, ii) the US begins living within its means, iii) the US defaults on its debt. Since the third, and certainly second are impossible, and since the debt ceiling theater is something we all lived through as recently as 2011, here is the article we penned in January 2011, when that long ago debt ceiling of a mere $14.3 trillion was about to be breached, and whose ultimate rise required a 20% market plunge together with an S&P downgrade of the then pristine US AAA rating (an event which Tim Geithner had said shortly prior there is no risk of ever occuring), answering precisely this question.
Perhaps one of the most startling and telling charts of the New Normal, one which few talk about, is the soaring difference between bank loans - traditionally the source of growth for banks, at least in their Old Normal business model which did not envision all of them becoming glorified, Too Big To Fail hedge funds, ala the Goldman Sachs "Bank Holding Company" model; and deposits - traditionally the source of capital banks use to fund said loans. Historically, and logically, the relationship between the two time series has been virtually one to one. However, ever since the advent of actively managed Central Planning by the Fed, as a result of which Ben Bernanke dumped nearly $2 trillion in excess deposits on banks to facilitate their risk taking even more, the traditional correlation between loans and deposits has broken down. It is time to once again start talking about this chart as for the first time ever the difference between deposits and loans has hit a record $2 trillion! But that's just the beginning - the rabbit hole goes so much deeper...
Case-Shiller Posts 9th Consecutive Increase Driven By Phoenix, Detroit - Back To 2003 Levels, NSA DropsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/26/2012 09:39 -0500
As was expected, the October Case Shiller data showed that the recent transitory pick up in the housing sector, now that both REO-to-Rent and Foreclosure Stuffing, not to mention unparalleled debt forgiveness by virtually every bank has been thrown at the housing problem, continues with a ninth consecutive month in Top 20 Composite Index increases, rising 4.3% in October. On the other hand, based on the NSA data, the 4th consecutive dead cat bounce may be coming to a much expected end with October NSA data posting the first sequential decline since March. What drove the pick up in Seasonally Adjusted data? Nothing short of yet another housing bubble in the much beloved speculative areas such as Phoenix and Detroit, where home prices rose by 21.8% and... 9.9%. Yes: apparently one can pay for mortgages with foodstamps now. Other places such as Chicago and New York were not quite so lucky, with the average price declining by 1.3% and 1.2% in the past 12 months. What remains unsaid - very much on purpose - is that the shadow inventory problem is only getting worse, as we reported a week ago, when we showed that nearly half the market cap of Bank of America is in 6 month + delinquent mortgages, or mortgages that are not yet in foreclosure but virtually certainly will be, and will also be discharged.
As the fallout of Liborgate escalates, the next big bank to be impacted in the fallout started by Barclays civil settlement "revelation" is set to be troubled UBS, already some 10,000 bankers lighter, where as many as three dozen bankers are reported by the implicated in the fixing of the rate that until 2009 was the most important for hundreds of trillions in variable rate fixed income products. Only instead of attacking the US or even European jurisdiction, where the next big settlement is set to hit is Japan: a country whose regulators as recently as half a year ago promised there were no major issues with Libor, or Tibor as it is locally known, rate fixings. And while this most recent development will have little material impact on UBS' ongoing business model, the one difference from previous settlements is that it will likely include criminal charges lobbed against some of the 36 bankers. From the FT: "UBS is close to finalising a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5bn and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan. The pact between the bank and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, US Department of Justice, UK’s Financial Services Authority and UBS’s main Swiss supervisor Finma is expected to be announced on Wednesday, although last minute negotiations continue."
There was a time when it was nothing short of economic blasphemy and statist apostasy to suggest three things: i) that the Fed's canonic approach to monetary policy, in which Stock not Flow was dominant, is wrong (as we alleged, among many other places, here); ii) that the Fed is monetizing the deficit, thus enabling politicians to conceive any idiotic fiscal policy: the Fed will always fund it no matter how ludicrous, converting the Fed effectively into a political power and destroying any myth of its "independence" (as we alleged, among many other places, most recently here in direct refutation of Bernanke's sworn testimony); and iii) that by overfunding bank reserves, the same banks are left with one simple trade - to frontrum the Fed in its monetization of the long-end, in the process destroying the bond curve's relevance as an inflationary discounting signal, with more QE, leading to tighter 10s, flatter 10s30s, even as the propensity for runaway inflation down the road soars, in the process eliminating any need for the massively overhyped, and much needed to rekindle animal spirits "rotation out of bonds and into stocks" trade (as we explained, first, here). Well, that time is now officially over, with that stalwart of statist thinking, JPMorgan, adopting all of the above contrarian views as its own, and admitting that once again, the Fed and conventional wisdom was wrong, and fringe bloggers were right all along.
Global Central Banks agree to another year of access to FRBNY FX Swap Lines
Assuming that Ben Bernanke unveils the transition from 'sterilized' Twist to 'unsterilized' QE4 today (which if he doesn't will upset more than a few long-only managers looking to make their year), then the chart below shows the incredible and insatiable demand for money printing (and the central banks' acquiescence). Looking at just outright incremental injections of excess reserves (money-printing), since the whole 'experiment' began, the Fed and ECB have embarked on more and more frequent attempts to prop up this 'fundamentally' sinking ship. Perhaps this is what the Hong Kong Monetary Authority warned of? At the current average decay period of around 40% per action, we should see the ECB or Fed enact something new by around February 4th (just as the debt-ceiling comes to a head).
At the top of the agenda for today’s FOMC meeting is deciding what to do about the Maturity Extension Program (MEP). SocGen agrees with consensus (as we noted the day QE3 was announced means a ~$4tn Fed balance sheet is on its way) that the MEP (Twist) will be converted into outright QE. The size is more uncertain, but we see several reasons why the current pace of $45bn/month should be maintained (which combining with the $40bn MBS means the Fed’s balance sheet is expected to increase by $85bn/month from January onwards). There has been no “significant” improvement in the outlook for employment (recent data is likely to be played down by Bernanke). Scaling back monetary accommodation also seems at odds with the looming fiscal contraction which could dampen growth in early 2013, which SocGen suggests will lead to the FOMC’s economic forecasts being updated (and downgraded we suspect) as the 2013 GDP forecast of 2.5%-3.0% looks too high in the context of contractionary fiscal policy and is at risk of being revised down. As for the “Evans Rule,” we believe that it will be adopted eventually, but don’t expect an announcement for now.