59 percent of all Americans now receive money from the federal government in one form or another... is there any hope?
Conventional wisdom continues to believe that soon enough, as has been paraded by the various Fed presidents, the Fed will commence various tightening steps, commencing with the termination of reinvestments of various maturing securities holdings, a process that would lead to gyrations in the IOER (and thus the IOER-GC spread which as has been discussed recently has gone negative due to the FDIC assessment fee). Following the reinvestment decision, the Fed would next proceed to drain excess reserves using various operations such as reverse repos, term deposits, and SFBs (a process which many doubt would success when the total amount of excess reserves is set to hit $1.6 trillion shortly). The last step in the Fed's balance sheet renormalization would be to proceed with outright asset sales of its $2.6 trillion in Treasury and agency holdings (as for those billions in Other Assets, nobody knows). Barclays' Joseph Abate does a great summary of the pitfalls attendant each and every step in the process: "In asserting the supremacy of the Fed funds rate as the primary policy tool, the minutes outline the central bank’s longer term objective. The Fed hopes to eventually establish a corridor system – where the FF target is set between a lower bound of IOER and an upper bound of the discount rate. This would require the Fed to drain enough and to shrink its balance sheet sufficiently to push the effective funds rate over IOER and not merely eliminate the current -16bp spread. This might take a few years to accomplish. And in the process, the Fed would probably need to restore bank confidence in the discount window, which was shaken after the central bank was forced to disclose who had borrowed from the facility during the financial crisis." Abate concludes: "Taking all these into consideration, the April FOMC minutes indicate the Fed faces a pretty complicated task." Luckily, the Fed is most certainly aware of this complexity awaiting it as things return to normal. Of course, this whole discussion will be moot if and when the Fed, instead of tightening, proceeds with another monetary loosening episode, which as Jim Grant explained will go from QE 3 to QE n, in which case none of the below is even remotely relevant.
It seems like it was only yesterday that the Fed passed the $1 trillion mark in total Treasury holdings (actually it was on that memorable Winter Solstice of 2010 but who's counting). Well it is not even 5 full months later, and the Fed has already added $500 billion in holdings. Following today's $6.94 billion Pomo, total Fed holdings of US Treasurys have now passed $1.5 trillion (which is ironic because the net new cash tendered to the Treasury per total Bond, Note and Bill issuance and redemption in 2011 through the most recent settled auction is $350 billion, in other words the Fed has funded about 140% of the total Treasury cash needs). As a reminder there is just under 6 weeks left until QE2 ends, at which poin the Fed's Treasury holdings will be about $1.6 trillion, and the Treasury will be without its primary (over and above the maximum) source of capital.
Richard Koo Explains Why An Unwind Of QE2, With Nothing To Replace It, Could Lead To The Biggest Depression YetSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/17/2011 18:09 -0400
Over the past several days, quite a few readers have been asking us why we are so confident that QE3 (in some format: it does not and likely will not be in the form of the Large Scale Asset Purchases that defined QE1 and 2 - the Fed could easily disclose that it will henceforth sell Treasury puts, a topic discussed previously, or engage any of the other proposals from Vince Reinhart disclosed in June of 2003) will eventually be implemented by the Fed. Luckily, instead of engaging in a lengthy explanation of the logical, Nomura's Richard Koo comes to our rescue with his latest research piece. While we disagree with Koo on various interpretations of his about monetary theory (namely that the Fed is not in effect "printing" money and thus creating inflation - this is semantics and leads to a paradoxical binary outcome, whereby if there Fed was successful in boosting the economy, the economy would indeed be flooded with the nearly $2 trillion in excess reserves held with reserve banks. And good luck trying to contain this surge by changing the IOER - if the Fed indeed pushed the IOER to the required 5%+ level it would immediately destroy money markets, leading to the same liquidity freeze that marked the post-Lehman days, confirming the "Catch 22" nature of Quantitative Easing that we have observed since its beginning) we do agree with his analysis of what would happen to the economy if either stocks or commodities are in a bubble (and judging by the violent opinions out there, most investors believe that either one or the other has indeed reached bubble territory), should QE2 end cold turkey: "Viewed objectively, the central banks are trying to push up asset prices using quantitative easing and the portfolio rebalancing effect. The resultant rise in asset prices based on this effect represented a potential bubble—or at least a liquidity-driven event—from the start. The question is whether the real economy can keep pace with asset prices formed in those liquidity-driven markets. If it cannot, higher asset prices will be considered a bubble and will collapse at some point. The resulting situation could be much more severe than if quantitative easing had never been implemented to begin with." Bingo.
All around the world, the bodies and countries with the most power keep screwing people (some like IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, literally) and entire nations, while supporting their banking systems. Last week, S&P announced it would downgrade Portugal if it didn’t play ball with the IMF and EU over its 4-year 78E billion-bailout program in return for hacking public programs. Echoing our own Congressional goons spewing spending cuts in the face of inadequate revenues and for-bank-manufactured mega-debt, the S&P noted, “Two-thirds of the projected savings in [Portugal’s] 2012 budget will likely come from spending cuts.” On a roll, the IMF also declared Italy needs ‘structural reform’, meaning labor market reform, less public ownership and more private investment to “unlock its growth potential.” (aka invite more speculative capital at its earliest convenience.) Meanwhile, thousands of people are again striking in Greece, as the IMF and EU discuss more austerity measures, following the bank bailout that provoked public outrage a year ago, and a rating downgrade by S&P. The EU remains more concerned with investors regaining confidence in Greece than economic stability of its citizens. Then, there’s Ireland, for whom its last bailout didn’t dent its 14.5% unemployment rate, or fill in the gaping holes its banks dug. In short, the global ‘remedy’ for depressed economies and debt-bloated banking sectors remains to do – more of the same - and pretend this will beget a different outcome. Yet, there is no way this strategy will result in more stable economies. What we can expect instead is further widespread deterioration.
Banks Offer Paltry $5 Billion In Exchange For Full Expungement Of Robogate Charges And Complete Release Of Any Future ClaimsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/10/2011 20:59 -0400
And there were those who thought that the $20 billion demanded by state and federal officials of banks caught in various acts of robosigning fornication was a joke. According to the WSJ, "The nation's biggest banks are willing to pay as much as $5 billion to settle claims by federal and state officials of improper mortgage-servicing practices." Needless to say this is a sham of a farce of a "settlement", and amounts to one quarter in trading perfection for the likes of the afore discussed JPM, BofA or Goldman. Recall that Goldman pays well over three times this amount in bonuses each year. On the other hand, this is merely a counteroffer to the $20 billion preliminary bid. Which means that the final number to put the entire robosigning affair behind us will be about $10 billion give or take. And banks can go back to doing what they do best: post 0 trading losses per quarter, and other such infinite sigma events.
When William Shakespeare penned the words, “All the world’s a stage“ in, As you like it, it was centuries before tense photos of tense leaders would show tense concern over tense military operations. What transpired around the killing, or killing announcement, of Osama bin Laden has been astounding. Whether you believe that bin Laden was “taken out” by this NAVY Seal operation, after nearly a decade, two wars, an over 81% increase in the military budget, and thousands of deaths, following the tragic loss of life on 9/11, or whether you believe he was dead and iced years ago and strategically used as a sign of unflappable leadership, is irrelevant. The surrounding uproar was theatre of the extravagant, no matter how you slice it. But, theatre was invented for distraction, in culture and in politics. So while all the Osama drama was unfolding, the Treasury Department issued another plea for raising the debt ceiling, aka supporting its pro-bank policy. It went something like this: We need to borrow more to pay social security obligations and not default on our debt, so other countries won’t question our ability to manage an economy (as if that hasn’t already happened) and we won’t have to pay more to borrow more. If we don’t – you know what’ll happen – yep, another financial crisis. The actual quote was: “The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments.”
Jim Rogers Joins "Team Gross", Will Short Treasurys If Rise Continues; Does "Not See Who Will Buy With The Fed Gone"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/21/2011 07:58 -0400
On one hand we have Goldman (and various other novices) telling us there may be a small blip at most in Treasurys when the Fed stops buying bonds. On the other, as has been much discussed, we have the world's biggest bond manager disagreeing. Now he gets some popular company. Jim Rogers, formerly of the Quantum Fund, who traditionally comments more on the commodity space has chimed in and pledged his allegiance to Team Gross. In a release to Reuters Insider Rogers said: "If the bond goes up another 3 or 4 points, I for one am going to sell it short." He also said what we have been saying since about October of last year: "I mean the market is just going to give up. Once (the Fed) ... stops buying bonds I'm not sure who's left to buy bonds at that point." The right question is who are Primary Dealers going to flip their bonds to, especially once the marginal increase in excess reserves ends.
The flashing fuchsia elephant at the core of our economic, and thus budget problems – remains the response to the financial homicide imparted by the big-banks and abetted by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. There was a choice to be made in Washington in the fall of 2008 - smack Wall Street into place, do a good-ole free-market – you fail if you deserve to fail, we’ll protect consumer assets and that’s it maneuver - and deal with possibly intense, but definable fall-out for a short period. Or - lavish bailout upon guarantee upon subsidy upon asset purchase upon the lowest rates in our nation’s history on Wall Street, and wring the very possibility of a recovery out of the general economy from the get-go. Of course, the brilliant minds of our exceedingly-privileged, out-of-touch, economic leadership decided on the former, and are acting their asses off to pretend that that decision, in itself, wasn’t the cause of the economic problems that followed, from Main Street anemia, to commodity inflation to international disdain and a weak currency that has no right to even have the purchasing capacity it still does. And, yet Tim Geithner had the audacity of job-security to take his debt ceiling ‘plea’, on the Sunday Morning talk show circuit – really, we will be in crisis and other countries will think poorly of our ability to pay our debts if we don’t raise the ceiling and increase our debt. In truth, it is Tim Geithner’s ego on the line, while his boss, through staggering absence of mention, is fine with assuaging it. Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke remained silent about the topic, not least because between the Fed and the Treasury department, more debt has been racked up and issued in the past two years than ever before. Of course, the debt cap will get raised, just as it got raised under Treasury Secretaries Paul O’Neil, John Snow and Hank Paulson.
For those confused why gold just hit a new all time high of $1,480, it may have something to with this. In the week ended April 13, the Fed's balance sheet hit a new all time record of $2.65 trillion, primarily due to an increase of $15 billion in Treasury holdings by the Fed (chart 1). Not surprising to those who have read our previous post on the matter, prepayments to the Fed have all but dried out, and for the third time in a row there were no MBS prepayments, which at $937.2 billion have declined by just $12 billion since the beginning of March: so much for magnetization demand arising from QE Lite (chart 2). Excess reserves continue to surge increasing by $29 billion in the last week. The increase at this point is more than just one accounting for the $195 billion SFP program unwind (which finished last month): should the economy really improve and banks start lending, all hell may well break loose. At this point the surge in excess reserves (liabilities) is rapidly overtaking the increase in Fed assets since the beginning of QE2 (chart 4). "Other Fed Assets" hit a fresh new ridiculous total: $125 billion, an increase of $2.5 billion over the prior week (chart 5). If this number is indeed a form of capitalized POMO commission to the PDs, then America likely has a right to know. Lastly for those still curious, the Fed's asset maturing within 1 year are $143 billion (chart 6). Putting this all together, presents the following picture: in a period during which the Fed's assets increased by $203 billion, GDP increased by about 1.5%, once all revisions are in the books. QE2 ends when Q2 ends. And so far, the economic in this quarter is without doubt starting to turn down. What will happen when there is no incremental monetization once Q3 kicks off, and GDP is about to go negative?
If the objectives of Quantitative Easing 2 (QE2) were to: a) raise interest rates; b) slow economic growth; c) encourage speculation, and d) eviscerate the standard of living of the average American family, then it has been enormously successful. Clearly, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight these results represent the Federal Reserve’s impact on the U.S. economy, regardless of their claims to the contrary...Why the Fed would believe the economy could benefit from the addition of $600 billion (the QE2 target) in reserves to a banking system that already had over $1.1 trillion in unused, idle, but potentially inflationary reserves on hand nearly defies understanding. The action, however, was not lost on holders of the $8 trillion Treasury securities outstanding. This increase in the level of interest rates occurred, not only during QE2, but in QE1 as well. Thus the Federal Reserve engineered a rate increase, and the injection of excess reserves had several other deleterious ramifications for the U.S. economy.
Some stunning remarks from Dallas Fed's Dick Fisher: " Our duty is most distinctly not to monetize?or even
be perceived as monetizing?the debt of fiscally imprudent government.
Throughout the history of nations, monetizing the budgetary excesses of
governments has proven to be a direct path to economic perdition.
Having already peeked inside that door, I feel strongly that we must
now shut it, lock it and throw away the key." Well, thanks Dick. You are only $2.6 trillion dollars late.
...is up by $51 billion in two weeks. But, once again, before people freak out that this is some crazy scheme to flood the market with money (nothing crazy about that scheme: it has been going on for 2 years), keep in mind: this is merely the delayed catch up of the SFP program unwind and the ongoing increase in Treasury holdings by the Federal Reserve Capital, ULC. Nonetheless, it is disturbing that the gradual phase out in the build up of the Adjusted Monetary Base, exclusively due to the rise in Excess Bank Reserves, is still proceeding at a 100%+ CAGR.
When it comes to following the trail of money, capital flows specialist TrimTabs has traditionally focused on the stock market. In the past, TrimTabs' Charles Biderman has discussed how according to any reasonable calculations, there appears to be a key buyer missing among the usual market participant suspects, leading Biderman to conclude that the Fed may be buying stocks directly (or indirectly through Citadel as the case may be). To our surprise, in its most recent release, TrimTabs takes a look at the buyers in the gold market, and ends up with the same question: "Gold prices hit a record high in nominal terms for the second consecutive day. We are not sure who is driving up prices." The speculative conclusion: "Are central bankers loading up on gold as they crank up the printing presses and keep interest rates ridiculously low?" Of course, at first glance this would be preposterous as it has long been accepted that for the Fed a jump in surge prices is a very adverse development. Well, is it? Traditionally rising gold prices have been merely indicative of abnormally high inflation, which for the Fed was a "bad" thing in the past. Not so much any more, or at least since the advent of the "wealth effect" experiment. Recall that it is now the Fed's "goal" to give the impression of inflation (and reality for those who eat and use energy). This is based on Bernanke's false assumption that inflation is much more easily controllable (15 minutes...) than deflation. So while on the surface this may appear to be a preposterous claim, in reality there is nothing that prohibits a gold price surge in the context of the Fed's third mandate.