With all that has been written in respect to Thomas Piketty's new book "Capital", you would think someone would remark on the odd coincidence of timing of the rapid rise in inequality that the Professor is so upset about. It’s the issue of the hour. Yet when it comes to the timing at which this phenomenon presented itself, nada. Omerta from the liberal intelligentsia. What could have marked 1971 as the year the picture began to change in respect of inequality in America? It turns out that was the year America defaulted on its obligation under Bretton Woods to redeem in gold dollars held by foreign governments and the era of fiat money began.
It seems two states is not enough for billionaire investor George Soros (who is ranked the 9th most influential marijuane user in the US). As The Washington Times' Kelly Riddell reports, advocacy groups are leading the campaign to crush marijuana prohibition from coast-to-coast, and 83-year-old Soros is helping line the pockets of those making that push. "Through a network of nonprofit groups, Mr. Soros has spent at least $80 million on the legalization effort since 1994, when he diverted a portion of his foundation’s funds to organizations exploring alternative drug policies, according to tax filings," Riddell notes, adding that the Soros-affiliated Foundation to Promote an Open Society donates roughly $4 million annually to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Could the U.S. unleash a flood of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve that would drive down prices in order to punish Russia? While the idea has been kicked around over the last few weeks – most recently by George Soros – it has also been dismissed as not a serious option. Some say the impact of an oil sale, if it actually succeeded in lower prices, would be temporary. Saudi Arabia could cut back on production to keep oil prices at their current levels. Others decried the idea as contrary to the objective of the SPR, which has been setup to be used only in cases of emergency. However, any collusion would be a problem since the Saudi King is convinced the U.S. is “unreliable,” and relations between the two countries hit a low point after Obama’s back and forth over air strikes on Syria last year.
Having warned of Putin's blind-spot (and Merkel's position of potential leadership) in the Europe-US-Russia debacle, billionaire investor George Soros has some ideas on how to punish Russia (and some warnings on the consequences)...
German banks are not heavily exposed to the Ukraine. Germany’s main vulnerability is natural gas.
"Europe faces 25 years of Japan-style stagnation," warns George Soros in this brief Bloomberg TV interview, adding that without deeper integration, "it’s an incomplete association of nations and it may not survive." While claiming that the financial crisis may be over they now "face a political crisis," with the voluntary association cracking due to the creditors (Germany) being in charge. However, he hopes "Ukraine is a wake-up call to Europe, because Russia has emerged as a rival to the European Union." Putin, Soros worries, "has a very different idea of what a society should be like... he has a blind spot - he believes people can be manipulated and cannot resist." That's not the case according to Soros, who exclaims "people do believe in freedom."
Big Bubble Brutally Bursts ... Bringing Bankruptcies, Bond Busts
If they’re bailing on the market… what are the odds trouble is approaching?
When civilians launched a suicidal attack on an armed force in Kyiv on February 20, their sense of representing “the nation” far outweighed their concern with their individual mortality. The result was to swing a deeply divided society from the verge of civil war to an unprecedented sense of unity. Whether that unity endures will depend on how Europe responds. We hope and trust that Europe under German leadership will rise to the occasion. We must, however, end with a word of caution. A replay of the Cold War would cause immense damage to both Russia and Europe, and most of all to Ukraine, which is situated between them.
"There is a big flight to quality," warns one trader as the spread between interest rate swaps (implicitly bank risk) and government bonds soared to a record high. This "crisis gauge" flashing red is also followed by 3 month SHIBOR (short-dated interbank lending rates) surging to an 8-month high. China's CDS have jumped 30bps since the Fed taper and as Bloomberg reports that billionaire investors like George Soros and Bill Gross have drawn uncomfortable parallels between the situation in China now and the US before 2008 (when this crisis gauge was key in spotting the carnage to come). Simply put, the banks don't trust each other...
Asian equities are trading lower across the board on the back of some negative credit stories from China. Shanghai Securities News noted that ICBC and some other banks have curbed loans to developers in sectors such as steel and cement. Slower gains in home property prices in China’s tier 1 cities are also not helping sentiment. Beijing and Shenzhen prices rose 0.4% in January, which looks to be the slowest monthly gain since October 2012 according to Bloomberg. Elsewhere there are reports that a property developer in Hangzhou (Tier 2 city in China) is reducing its unit prices by 19%. Our property analysts noted that given the strong gains seen in Tier-1 and some bigger Tier-2 cities in 2013, a slowdown or negative trends in price growth should not be a surprise. Nevertheless, it has been a very weak day for Chinese and HK markets with the Shanghai Composite and the Hang Seng indices down -2.0% and -1.2% lower as we type. Across the region, bourses in Japan and Korea are down -1.0% and -0.6%, respectively.
A curious finding emerged in the latest 13F by Soros Fund Management, the family office investment vehicle managing the personal wealth of George Soros. Actually, two curious findings: the first was that the disclosed Assets Under Management as of December 31, 2013 rose to a record $11.8 billion (this excludes netting and margin, and whatever one-time positions Soros may have gotten an SEC exemption to not disclose: for a recent instance of this, see Greenlight Capital's Micron fiasco, and the subsequent lawsuit of Seeking Alpha which led to the breach of David Einhorn's holdings confidentiality). The second one is that the "Soros put", a legacy hedge position that the 83-year old has been rolling over every quarter since 2010, just rose to a record $1.3 billion or the notional equivalent of some 7.09 million SPY-equivalent shares. Since this was an increase of 154% Q/Q this has some people concerned that the author of 'reflexivity' and the founder of "open societies" may be anticipating some major market downside.
China is now the second largest economy in the world and for the last 30 years China's economy has been growing at an astonishing rate, wowing the world, as spending and investment has been undertaken on a scale never seen before in human history - 30 new airports, 26,000 miles of motorways and a new skyscraper every five days have been built in China in the last five years. But as we (and Michael Pettis, George Soros, and Jim Chanos - among many others) have warned, it is all eerily reminiscent of what happened in the West... the vast majority of it has been built on credit. This has now left the Chinese economy with huge debts and questions over whether much of the money can ever be paid back (spoiler alert: it can't and it won't).
While the eyes of the world were focused on the now infamous "Credit Equals Gold #1" Chinese wealth management product - it's imminent default and last-minute bailout by 'investors' unknown - the coal industry in China continued to collapse (as we noted here). We noted at the time how bailing out current high-yield product investors would merely amplify the problems down the line and it seems that Chinese authorities have heard that message. As Reuters reports, a high-yield investment product backed by a loan to a debt-ridden coal company failed to repay investors when it matured last Friday, state media reported on Wednesday.
Size matters, it would seem, in the world of elite hedge fund managers. George Soros' Quantum Fund had its 2nd-best year on record, adding $5.5bn (22%) to the pound-breaking billionaire's horde and has now shifted above Ray Dalio's Bridgewater fund as the most successful hedge fund of all time. As The FT reports, since inception in 1973, Quantum has generated almost $40bn. Four other funds including Tepper's Appaloosa, Mandel's Lone Pine, and Klarman's Baupost also made more than $4 bn for their investors. Since they were set up, the top 20 hedge funds have made 43 per cent of all the money made by investors in more than 7,000 hedge funds.