GLD & TLT: Exploring the Dark Side of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) With Lauren Lyster at Capital AccountSubmitted by EB on 09/20/2012 12:14 -0400
What might happen to your favorite ETF in a crisis? As the the half life for the next Fed-induced bubble happily converges with the six month mark on Mr. Bernanke's QE3, these things never matter...until they do
Pump it up, until you can feel it, Pump it up, when you don't really need it...
Against what seemed logical (given the assumption that Bernanke would save his limited ammo for a weaker market/economic environment), Bernanke launched an open ended mortgage backed securities bond buying program for $40 billion a month "until employment begins to show recovery." That key statement is what this entire program hinges on. The focus of the Fed has now shifted away from a concern on inflation to an all out war on employment and ultimately the economy. However, will buying mortgage backed bonds promote real employment, and ultimately economic, growth. Furthermore, will this program continue to support the nascent housing recovery? Clearly, the Fed's actions, and statement, signify that the economy is substantially weaker than previously thought. While Bernanke's latest program of bond buying was done under the guise of providing an additional support to the "recovery," the question now is becoming whether he has any ammo left to offset the next recession when it comes.
With 20 minutes to go, we thought it timely to see the script (perhaps) for the frivolity to come. It seems like the fate of the known world is predicated on the words of a bearded academic this afternoon and whether you believe he must or must not LSAP us to Dow 20,000 (and Gold $2,000) in the next few weeks - even as the economy and jobs tail-spin - there are many questions, which Goldman provides a platform for understanding, that remain unanswered (and more than likely will remain vague even after he has finished his statement). Their expectations are for a return to QE and an extension of rate guidance into mid-2015 (and everyone gets a pony) but no cut in IOER.
Now that the German high court ruling is out of the way and the Dutch elections results produced no real surprises the European equity markets are essentially flat with position squaring evident ahead of the keenly awaited FOMC rate announcement and accompanying press conference. Bund futures have followed a similar trend having ticked higher through the morning with some modest re-widening of the Spanish and Italian 10yr government bond yield spreads, wider by 9bps and 5bps respectively, also in Euribor will did see a decent bid after comments from ECB member Hansson who said the ECB council must now start debating a negative deposit rate. Today’s supply from Italy and Ireland had little impact on the general sentiment, that’s in spite of the fact that demand for debt issued by the Italian Treasury was less than impressive to say the least. Also of note, Catalan President Mas said that Spain should debate staying in the euro, which unsettled the market somewhat. Overnight it was reported that the US Navy have stepped up their security presence in Libya by ordering two warships to the country's coast, according to US officials. This is after the US ambassador to Libya and three American members of his staff were killed in the attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by protesters earlier in the week. Today, there were more reports of demonstrations in the region, however supplies remain unaffected.
By now everyone knows that the WSJ's Jon Hilsenrath is spoon-Fed information directly by the Fed. Even the Fed. Which is why everyone expected the Fed to ease last time around per yet another Hilsenrath leak, only to be largely disappointed, invoking the term Hilsen-wrath. Sure enough, it took the market only a few hours to convince itself that "no easing now only means more easing tomorrow", and sure enough everyone looked to the August, then September FOMC meetings as the inevitable moment when something will finally come out. So far nothing has, as the Fed, like the ECB, have merely jawboned, since both know the second the "news" is out there, it will be sold in stocks, if not so much in gold as Citi explained earlier. Regardless, the conventional wisdom expectation now is that tomorrow the Fed will do a piecemeal, open-ended QE program, with set economic thresholds that if unmet will force Bernanke to keep hitting CTRL-P until such time as Goldman is finally satisfied with their bonuses or unemployment drops for real, not BS participation rate reasons, whichever comes first. As expected, this is what Hilsenrath advises to expect tomorrow, less than two months from the election, in a move that will be roundly interpreted as highly political, and one which as Paul Ryan noted earlier, will seek to redirect from Obama's economic failures, and also potentially to save Bernanke's seat as Romney has hinted on several occasions he would fire Bernanke if elected. Here is what else the Hilsenrumor says.
Problem: this marginal utility of debt has trended lower and lower over the years, and actually reached zero in 2009. Meaning: you can add as much debt as you want, and it still won’t give you any additional GDP. To repeat: no amount of additional debt seems to be able to get economic growth going again. That is a dramatic revelation. We might have reached the maximum debt-bearing capability of the economy. If true, no growth is possible unless debt-to-GDP levels fell back to sustainable levels (in order to restart the debt cycle). This could take years. At this point, the only way to reset the debt cycle is to get rid of debt.... The amounts needed for the Fed to be able to create inflation are much, much higher than what we have seen so far. And it is not guaranteed to work. Destroying the trust in the value of a fiat currency is a dangerous experiment with mostly adverse consequences.
Draghi floods the Eurozone with new money. The Bundesbank says it's like printing banknotes and won't solve the problem. Who is getting sterilized?
It is amazing how big an effect a rambling, sleep-inducing speech by a chief central planner can have on financial markets in the short term. Nonetheless, the speech contained a few interesting passages which show us both how Bernanke thinks and that people to some extent often tend to hear whatever they want to hear. Bernanke noted that although he cannot prove it, econometricians employed by the Fed have constructed a plethora of models that show that 'LSAP's (large scale asset purchases, which is to say 'QE' or more colloquially, money printing) have helped the economy. In other words, although no-one actually knows what would have happened in the absence of the inflationary policy since we can't go back in time and try it out, the 'models' tell us it was the right thing to do. However, some indications would suggest that mal-investment is higher than ever - and accelerating - as the production structure ties up more consumer goods than it releases, an inherently unsustainable condition; additional expansion of money and credit will only serve to exacerbate the imbalance.
With Draghi stepping aside, the headliner can shine and while Goldman does not expect Chairman Bernanke's speech on Friday morning, entitled "Monetary Policy Since the Crisis", to shed much additional light on the near-term tactics of monetary policy beyond last week's FOMC minutes; their main question is whether he breaks new ground regarding the Fed's longer-term strategy. An aggressive approach would be to signal that the committee is moving closer to the "unconventional unconventional" easing options that Goldman has been ever-so-generously advocating for months, although even they have to admit that expectations are that any moves in this direction will be gingerly.
The odds of Fed easing at the September FOMC meeting seem close to 50-50 (with both sides vehemently talking their books - Fed officials and equity managers alike). Recent data has been a bit better: payrolls, claims, retail sales, and industrial production. As UBS' Drew Matus notes, other factors that will play a role include the ISM report, claims reports, and 'fiscal cliff'-related events. However, the primary determinant will be the upcoming August payroll report. The chart below ignores these other factors and offers up the odds of further easing in September based on the base case that Bernanke’s primary concern is the state of the US labor market. July’s 8.3% unemployment rate and payroll gain of 163k put current odds of further easing at 45%.
What do USD money markets have to do with gold? Money market funds invest in short-term highly rated securities, like US Treasury bills (sovereign risk) and commercial paper (corporate credit). But who supplies such securities to these funds? For the purpose of our discussion, participants in the futures markets, who look for secured funding. They sell their US Treasury bills, under repurchase agreements, to money market funds. These repurchase transactions, of course, take place in the so-called repo market. The repo market supplies money market funds with the securities they invest in. Now… what do participants in the futures markets do, with the cash obtained against T-bills? They, for instance, fund the margins to obtain leverage and invest in the commodity futures markets. In summary: There are people (and companies) who exchange their cash for units in money market funds. These funds use that cash to buy – under repurchase agreements - US Treasury bills from players in the futures markets. And the players in the futures markets use that cash to fund the margins, obtain leverage, and buy positions. What if these positions (financed with the cash provided by the money market funds) are short positions in gold (or other commodities)? Now, we can see what USD money markets have to do with gold! Let’s propose a few potential scenarios, to understand how USD money markets and gold are connected...
European equities opened higher, risk appetite boosted following overnight comments from Chinese Premier Wen that easing inflation in China left more room for monetary stimulus. However, summer thin volumes saw these gains pared, with particular underperformance in the FTSE 100, which currently trades in negative territory, despite stronger than expected UK retail sales for July. European CPI data for July was in line with market expectations, with no reaction seen across the asset classes following the release. Elsewhere, reports that Spain is to accelerate the bank bailout and is about to receive an emergency disbursement from the EUR 100bln bailout failed to support domestic bond market; the Spanish 2-year spread with respect to the German equivalent trading 6bps wider, though the Spanish 10-year spread is tighter on the day by 3.2bps and the 10-year yield is lower on the day, currently at 6.852%. The Spanish IBEX is outperforming on the back of this news, led by Bankia and Banco Santander.
The lunatics are running the asylum. This is the only conclusion one can come to when considering the nonchalance with which what was once considered an extraordinary policy with a firm 'exit' in mind is now propagated as a perfectly normal 'tool' to be employed at the drop of a hat. We refer of course to so-called 'quantitative easing' (QE), which really is a euphemism for money printing. Apart from his sole focus on short term outcomes, an important point that seems not be considered by the FOMC's Rosengren this week is the question of what should happen if the 'open-ended' QE policy were to fail to achieve its stated goals. He seems to assume that it will succeed in lowering unemployment and creating 'economic growth' as a matter of course. It goes without saying that money printing cannot create a single molecule of real wealth. If it could, then Zimbabwe wouldn't be a basket case, but a Utopia of riches. We must infer from Rosengren's idea of implementing open-ended QE until certain benchmarks in terms of unemployment and 'growth' are achieved, that in case they remain elusive, extraordinary rates of money printing would simply continue until the underlying monetary system breaks down.
Expansionary monetary policy constitutes a transfer of purchasing power away from those who hold old money to whoever gets new money. This is known as the Cantillon Effect, after 18th Century economist Richard Cantillon who first proposed it. In the immediate term, as more dollars are created, each one translates to a smaller slice of all goods and services produced. How we measure this phenomenon and its size depends how we define money.... What is clear is that the dramatic expansion of the monetary base that we saw after 2008 is merely catching up with the more gradual growth of debt that took place in the 90s and 00s. While it is my hunch that overblown credit bubbles are better liquidated than reflated (not least because the reflation of a corrupt and dysfunctional financial sector entails huge moral hazard), it is true the Fed’s efforts to inflate the money supply have so far prevented a default cascade. We should expect that such initiatives will continue, not least because Bernanke has a deep intellectual investment in reflationism.