Exactly 50 years ago last month the US Supreme Court ruled on the now famous case of Jacobellis v. Ohio. At stake was whether a French movie with graphic sexual content could be outlawed by the state via its obscenity laws. The court ruled that it could not because the film wasn’t hardcore pornography. How could they tell? In an explanation that has now turned into one of the most famous quotes in court history, Justice Potter Stewart explained that although he could not define exactly what hardcore porn was, “I know it when I see it” Like porn, asset bubbles are also hard to define, but given our economic history, and especially our recent economic history, we know it when we see it, and now we see it everywhere. We all see it. Apparently the only people that don’t see the bubbles are the people creating them.
Now that the World Cup is over, and following last week's global macro reporting slumber (aside for the Portuguese risk flaring episode of course), things pick up quite a bit in the coming week. Here are the key events.
Vested interests are threatened by the losses generated by small financial fires, so these are systemically suppressed. As a result, the fallen deadwood piles ever higher, creating more fuel for the next random lightning strike to ignite. Once the deadwood piles high enough, the random lightning strike ignites a fire so fast-moving and so hot that it cannot be suppressed, and the entire financial system burns to the ground. So go ahead and keep defending the Status Quo as the best system possible, or believe Elites will keep suppressing fires forever because they're so powerful, or whatever excuse, rationalization or justification you prefer. It won't matter, because the firestorm won't respond to words, beliefs, ideological certainties, reassurances or official pronouncements. It will do what fires do, which is burn all available fuel until there's no fuel left to consume.
Market participants are far too levered up, all on the same side, and well behind the monetary normalization curve of when the first rate hike is actually going to occur.
"The world has changed," explains the 27-year old daughter of David Stevens - CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. Despite her father's constant 30-year pitch of the merits of homeownership - and knowing full well that rates are low, rents are high, and owning a home 'builds wealth' - Sara Stevens is not buying. After watching "cousins and other family members go through pretty tough situations in 2008 and 2009," her skepticism is broad-based as Bloomberg reports, t’s more than the weight of student loans, an iffy job market and tight credit -- even those who can buy are hesitant. As Bloomberg so eloquently concludes, when even the cheerleader-in-chief for housing can’t get a rah-rah out of his daughter, you know this time is different.
A look at key events and data in the week ahead.
Amid consternation at the market's low levels of volatility - and concerns voiced regularly by Fed officials of 'complacency' - it appears the FOMC has never been more confident in its omnipotence. As WSJ reports, despite being consistently too optimistic about economic growth and too pessimistic about the falling unemployment rate, Federal reserve policy makers have never been less uncertain about their forecasts... With consensus 2014 GDP expectations collapsing to +1.7% (and the Fed still at 2.1 to 2.3%), it appears the Fed's peak complacency is perfectly anti-correlated to the actual uncertainty about the future.
Well, if you take the US Supreme Court and representatives of the Federal Reserve System at their own words, the case is pretty clear: the member banks of the Federal Reserve System are private corporations / banks.
This is a big deal. On the heels of our pointing out the surge in Treasury fails (following extensive detailing of the market's massive collateral shortage at the hands of the unmerciful Fed's buying programs), various 'strategists' wrote thinly-veiled attempts to calm market concerns that the repo market (the glue that holds risk assets together) was FUBAR. Even the Fed itself sent missives opining that their cunning Reverse-Repo facility would solve the problems and everyone should go back to the important business of BTFATHing... They are wrong - all of them - as yet again the Fed shows its ignorance of how the world works (just as it did in 2007/8 with the same shadow markets). As JPMorgan warns (not some tin-foil-hat-wearing blogger with an ax to grind) "the Fed’s reverse repo facility does little to alleviate the UST scarcity induced by the Federal Reserves’ QE programs coupled with a declining government deficit." The end result, they note, is "higher susceptibility of the repo market to collateral shortages" and thus dramatically higher financial fragility - the opposite of what the Fed 'hopes' for.
Occam’s razor is a principle that states that among various hypotheses that might be used to explain a set of observations, the hypothesis – consistent with the evidence – that relies on the smallest number of assumptions is generally preferred. Essentially, the razor shaves away what is unnecessary and retains the most compact explanation that is consistent with the data. When we observe the increasingly tortured arguments that “this time is different,” we see investors discarding straightforward explanations that are fully consistent with the evidence and opting instead for the aliens-from-Xenon theory. nothing even in recent market cycles provides any support to the assumption of permanently elevated valuations. The only support for it is the desire of investors to avoid contemplating outcomes the same as the market suffered the last two times around. “This time is different” requires a lot of counterfactual assumptions. Occam’s razor would suggest a nice shave.
This is it! The holy grail of forecasting, Jeffrey Kleintop has discovered it. You'll never have to worry about actual earnings reports, a massive bubble in junk debt, the sluggishness of the economy, new record levels in sentiment measures and margin debt, record low mutual fund cash reserves, the pace of money supply growth, or anything else again. Just watch the yield curve! Unfortunately, as we showed here in the US, this advice could turn out to be extremely dangerous for one's financial health - and has been across many nations throughout time. People remain desperate for excuses as to why the latest bit of asset boom insanity will never end
Having already warned that looming political uncertainty is not at all priced-in to US equities, Goldman's Alec Phillips points out that legislation was introduced earlier this week (July 7) in the US House that would attempt to revamp the FOMC's monetary policy process. The bill would require the FOMC to justify to Congress each policy decision relative to a Taylor rule specified in the legislation. While Goldman, do not expect the bill to get very far, but the issue does appear to be a growing focus for some lawmakers and we expect further action on it in the near term.
It’s time to think like a contrarian. Why? Because capital markets seem as bulletproof as one of those up-armored military personnel carriers you see in war zones. So what could really rattle stock, bond and commodity markets over the next 3-6 months? The go-to answer, steeped in history, is geopolitical crisis, where the logical hedges are precious metals, volatility plays, and possibly crude oil. Look deeper, however, and other answers emerge.
"The state-controlled fiat money system is the main cause of the international financial and economic crisis." This system, Thorsten Polleit warns, is based on the ability of banks to create money literally out of nothing. It is, in principle, a “large-scale fraud system” because today’s money is “intrinsically worthless and not redeemable”. This has damaging consequences for the overall economic development.
The world sits their looking on at China’s economy wondering how they can do it and that we can’t. But, there’s a price to pay for being economically sound and for having a growth rate that is much better than the Western world, even if there are some that say that the figures have been stir-fried in a wok.