A classicial economist... and Harvard professor... preaching to the world that one's money is not safe in the US banking system due to Ben Bernanke's actions? And putting his withdrawal slip where his mouth is and pulling $1 million out of Bank America? Say it isn't so...
Since his appointment, the balance sheet of Ben Bernanke's Fed has exploded, stock prices have resurged to newerer highs, and home prices are breaking (bad) records once again. However, the following chart of sentiment towards the money-printer-in-chief by income bracket sums it all up... (despite Bernanke's "belief" that "Fed policy is a Main Street policy") Greenspan will be happy though, as Bernanke's disapproval rating is almost double that of his when he left office in 2006 (and approval rating considerably lower).
And so following yet another Fed taper, coupled with another disappointing manufacturing data point out of China, emerging markets did their thing first thing this morning and all the most unstable EM currency pairs - the TRY, the RUB, the ZAR and the HUF - all plunged promptly in the process pushing down the USDJPY which as become a natural carry offset to EM troubles, only to rebound promptly. Specifically, USDTRY blew out 400 pips to 2.3010 highs after which it bounced, and has now stabilized around 2.27, well above the Turkish central bank intervention level, USDZAR is back down to 11.2120 after hitting five-year highs of 11.3850, the Ruble also plunged after which it jumped on speculation of Russian central bank intervention, while futures are tracking even the tiniest moves by USDJPY and pushing the Emini which is trading in a liquidity vaccum by a quarter point for ever 2 or pips. And with all news overnight shifting from bad to worse (keep an eye on declining German inflation now) it goes without saying, that EM central banks around the world now are desperately trying to keep their currencies under control: which is why the market's jitteryness is only set to increase from here on out.
Beginning by disavowing Mario Gabelli of any belief that rising stock prices help 'most' people, Marc Faber discusses his increasingly imminent fears of the markets in this recent Barron's interview. Quoting Hussman as a caveat, "The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak. There's no calling the top," Faber warns there are a lot of questions about the quality of earnings but "statistics show that company insiders are selling their shares like crazy." His first recommendation - short the Russell 2000, buy 10-year US Treasuries ("there will be no magnificent US recovery"), and miners and adds "own physical gold because the old system will implode. Those who own paper assets are doomed."
As the nation anxiously awaits President Obama's State of the Union speech tomorrow, we thought a brief reflection on the nation's view of him and his government was worthwhile. A glance at Gallup's front page tells us all we need to know. A mere 17% of respondents say their representatives deserve re-election; Obama's approval ratings are among the most polarized on record; 65% are unsaitsified with how government works; and, at 40%, the President's overall approval rating is practically at record lows. But, apart from that, we are sure the state of the union will be strong and it's nothing but up from here...
6 CONSERVATIVE Reasons – Based Upon CONSERVATIVE Values – For Making Sure Inequality Doesn't Spiral Out of Control Even More
The current Administration has taken on the "war on poverty" as its primary battle ground going into the mid-term elections later this year. As NFIB's Bill Dunkleberg recently noted, "since it is an election year, the main theme will be addressing the disparities in income and wealth (i.e. tax the rich and increase welfare programs) rather than promoting policies that would create jobs and raise incomes in a growing economy. This year, policy will be all about votes." This isn't a new fight. As Robert Rector stated recently - that particular war has been less than successful.
"Fifty years and $20 trillion later, LBJ's goal to help the poor become self-supporting has failed."
However, while the Administration will use the argument to garner votes in an election year, the most interesting aspect about the income inequality debate is that it is the very policies of the current Administration that is fueling the income shift.
Two of the largest retailers in America are steamrolling toward bankruptcy. Sears and J.C. Penney are both losing hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter, and both of them appear to be caught in the grip of a death spiral from which it will be impossible to escape. Once upon a time, Sears was actually the largest retailer in the United States, and even today Sears and J.C. Penney are "anchor stores" in malls all over the country. They are both shutting down unprofitable stores and laying off employees in a desperate attempt to avoid bankruptcy, but everyone knows that they are just delaying the inevitable. These two great retail giants are dying, and they certainly won't be the last to fall. This is just the beginning.
With the market more bullishly positioned, more euphoric, and more levered than almost any time in history, it is perhaps worth "pondering" what some of the risks to this optimism could be...
While the "economy in general" and "jobs" remain a close second (with the latter rising rapidly despite a plunging - and entirely useless - unemployment rate), Americans polled by Gallup still see the number 1 problem facing the US is "dissatisfation with government; poor leadership and abuse of power." Compared with a year ago, mentions of government are up slightly; but mentions of healthcare, on the other hand, have quadrupled -- from 4% in January 2013 to 16% today!
Americans have never had less economic freedom than they do right now. The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom has just been released, and it turns out that the level of economic freedom in the United States has now fallen for seven consecutive years. But of course none of us need a report or a survey to tell us that. All we have to do is open our eyes and look around. At this point our entire society is completely dominated by control freaks and bureaucrats. Our economy is literally being suffocated to death by millions of laws, rules and regulations and each year brings a fresh tsunami of red tape. As you will see below, the U.S. government issued more than 80,000 pages of brand new rules and regulations last year on top of what we already had. Even if we didn't have all of the other monumental economic problems that we are currently facing, all of this bureaucracy alone would be enough to kill our economy.
Between lack of cash flows, insurmountable liabilities, an untenable pension funding, even insider fraud, we thought we had seen all the various reasons for filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. And then along came the Catholic Diocese of Stockton which announced that it would join its host city and seek bankruptcy protection "in the wake of the church's sexual-abuse scandal." As WSJ reported, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire said in a news release Monday that the diocese would seek bankruptcy protection Wednesday, explaining that reorganization was the only option for dealing with mounting legal costs related to abuse by priests. The bishop said the diocese has spent $14 million in legal settlements and judgments over the past 20 years dealing with abuse allegations, and doesn't have funds available to settle pending lawsuits or address future allegations. The punchline: "Very simply, we are in this situation because of those priests in our diocese who perpetrated grave, evil acts of child sexual abuse."
For the current administration, now with a fresh developer to fix all the problems (with the website), the reality of public perception over Obamacare has gone from worst to worster-er this week. As Gallup polls show, nearly half of Americans say the Affordable Care Act will make the healthcare situation in the U.S. worse in the long run. When asked more broadly if they approve or disapprove of Obamacare, Americans come down on the disapprove side by 54% to 38% - a new record low for 'approval'.
In 1970, when 11% of adult Americans had bachelor's degrees or more, degree holders were viewed as the nation's best and brightest. Today, with over 30% with degrees, as the WSJ notes, a significant portion of college graduates are similar to the average American - not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined. Furthermore, declining academic standards and grade inflation add to employers' perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness. As we noted recently, change is coming as more and more realize college may not be worth it. Educational entrepreneurship offers hope that creative destruction is coming to higher education. The cleansing would be good for a higher education system still tied to its medieval origins - and for the students it's robbing.
The following poll results from Gallup may represent the most significant domestic news story in 2014 to-date. Gallup polling in 2013 showed that the highest number of Americans now identify as Independents since it starting asking the question 25 years ago. Specifically, 42% identify as Independents, versus 31% as Democrats and 25% as Republicans. Even more interesting, the trend accelerated as the year progressed.