Foreign Central Banks
When the US federal government was shutdown, China jumped in on the financial bandwagon and suggested that we build ‘a de-Americanized world’, which boils down to getting rid of the dollar as the international reserve currency.
Why China DOESN'T WANT the Yuan to Become the Reserve Currency
"We see upside surprise risks on gold and silver in the years ahead," is how UBS commodity strategy team begins a deep dive into a multi-factor valuation perspective of the precious metals. The key to their expectation, intriguingly, that new regulation will put substantial pressure on banks to deleverage – raising the onus on the Fed to reflate much harder in 2014 than markets are pricing in. In this view UBS commodity team is also more cautious on US macro...
Dispassionate discussion of some of the vexing issues.
It’s a Myth that the U.S. Has Never Defaulted On Its Debt
The popular take on the current debt ceiling stand-off is that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has a delusional belief that it can hit the brakes on new debt creation without bringing on an economic catastrophe. While Republicans are indeed kidding themselves if they believe that their actions will not unleash deep economic turmoil, there are much deeper and more significant delusions on the other side of the aisle. Democrats, and the President in particular, believe that continually taking on more debt to pay existing debt is a more responsible course of action. Even worse, they appear to believe that debt accumulation is the equivalent of economic growth.
The dollar is the world’s go-to currency. But for how much longer? Will the dollar’s status as the only true global currency be irreparably damaged by the battle in the US Congress over raising the federal government’s debt ceiling? Is the dollar’s “exorbitant privilege” as the world’s main reserve currency truly at risk? Sane governments do not default when they have a choice – especially not when they enjoy the “exorbitant privilege” of issuing the only true global currency. We are about to find out whether the US still has a sane government.
Dispassionate overview of the key factors shaping the investment climate in the week ahead.
The best summary of what has (not) been going on in the downward drifting equity markets comes from DB's Jim Reid, quoting: "Markets are in non-panicky limbo at the moment ahead of the upcoming US budget debate. US equities fell for the 5th day in row (S&P 500 -0.27%) and although this is the worst run since the Christmas/New Year’s Eve period of 2012 (due to the fiscal cliff debacle), the cumulative fall is only -1.9% over this decline. Meanwhile Treasuries hit a 7-week low in yield as they recorded their 12th decline in the last 14 days." As has been the case over the past week, stocks in Asia have generally traded lower with the exception of the Nikkei225 which day after day continues to do its insane penny stock thing, first dropping -1.5% only to close up 1.2% on absolutely no news, but some chatter the Abe administration would raise the sales tax on October 1, only to offset the fiscal benefit by lowering corporate tax. How this has any net impact is beyond us. Proceeding to Europe, stocks failed to sustain the initial higher open and moved into negative territory, with Italian asset classes underperforming, as market participants digested reports citing Italian MP Gasparri saying that PdL lawmakers are ready to quit if Berlusconi is ousted. This in turn saw a number of Italian banking stocks come under intense selling pressure, with the Italian/German yield spread widening in spite of supportive reinvestment flows that are due this week.
Policy officials believe that growth and inflation would fix the problem of large debts, but growth fueled by public spending that is financed by debt or central banks is not sustainable. Like most Ponzi schemes, it doesn’t end well. Reducing total debt was always a better solution, but it would have resulted in even slower economic activity and lower living standards. However, in the long run, the system would have been purged of unsustainable excesses. ‘Short term pain’ for ‘long term gain’ is often shunned for fear of electoral defeat and lobby group pressure. Now, we are stuck with financial repression. Investment is being directed toward funding the public sector. Policy rewards debtors over creditors. Such policy cannot go on forever. In reality, “unlimited” rarely means unlimited, because imbalances become too great. The Fed’s current quagmire has aspects resembling the Triffin Dilemma. The recent adverse spillover from Fed policies in emerging market economies and currencies may be the first hint of cracks in the global monetary system. At a minimum, foreign central banks have deviated from good policy in order to prevent sharp destabilizing fluctuations in the value of their currencies and to arrest volatile inflows and outflows of capital.
Traditionally, metals markets are supposed to be a solid fundamental signal of the physical and psychological health of our overall economy. Steady but uneventful commodities trade meant a generally healthy industrial base and consumption base. An extreme devaluation was a signal of deflation in consumer demand and a flight to currencies. Extreme price hikes meant a flight from normal assets and currencies in the wake of possible hyperinflation. This is how gold and silver markets were originally designed to function – however, welcome you to the wacky world of 2013, where bad financial news is met with the cheers of investors who believe stimulus will last forever, where foreign investors dump the U.S. dollar in bilateral trade while mainstream dupes argue that the Greenback is invincible, and where everyone and their uncle seems to be buying precious metals yet the official market value continues to plunge. The reason our entire fiscal system now operates in a backwards manner is due to one simple truth - every major indicator of our economy today is manipulated by our central bank...
"Perhaps the success that central bankers had in preventing the collapse of the financial system after the crisis secured them the public's trust to go further into the deeper waters of quantitative easing. Could success at rescuing the banks have also mislead some central bankers into thinking they had the Midas touch? So a combination of public confidence, tinged with central-banker hubris could explain the foray into quantitative easing. Yet this too seems only a partial explanation. For few amongst the lay public were happy that the bankers were rescued, and many on Main Street did not understand why the financial system had to be saved when their own employers were laying off workers or closing down." - Raghuram Rajan
Here's my take on the key events for investors in the week ahead, with an attempt to place them in a somewhat larger context.
In the 15th century, the highest standard of living in the world belonged to China. Places like Nanjing had reached the pinnacle of civilization with incredibly modern infrastructure, robust economies, substantial international trade, great healthcare, and a rising middle class. If you had told a Chinese merchant at the time that, over the course of the next several hundred years, global primacy would shift to Europe (and a relatively unknown American continent), you would have been laughed at. It was simply unthinkable given how advanced China was over the west. And yet, it happened. Ironically, the tables are turning yet again; in total objectivity, the patient is beyond cure at this point… and the math is quite simple. Nations typically enter this vicious cycle once they start having to borrow money just to pay interest on what they already owe. The US is already way past this point.
With equity valuations no longer levitating but in a different, 4th dimension altogether, and credit spreads compressing dramatically (and unreasonably)... It is in situations like these, when the crash comes, that the proverbial run for liquidity forces central banks to coordinate liquidity injections. However, something tells me that this time, the trick won’t work. Over almost a century, we have witnessed the slow and progressive destruction of the best global mechanism available to cooperate in the creation and allocation of resources. This process began with the loss of the ability to address flow imbalances (i.e. savings, trade). After the World Wars, it became clear that we had also lost the ability to address stock imbalances, and by 1971 we ensured that any price flexibility left to reset the system in the face of an adjustment would be wiped out too. From this moment, adjustments can only make way through a growing series of global systemic risk events with increasingly relevant consequences. Swaps, as a tool, will no longer be able to face the upcoming challenges. When this fact finally sets in, governments will be forced to resort directly to basic asset confiscation.