Low trade volume is sucking the fuel from the global economy
On a long enough timeline, all things come to an end. Even for such venerable venues as the London Metals Exchange, with its 130 year history, and its annual turnover of over $11 trillion in metal contracts, which also makes it the largest market for non-ferrous metals. As the English FT reminisces, "When the LME was established in 1877, Britain was one of the world’s most important manufacturing powerhouses, and the LME’s benchmark contracts for delivery in three months were designed to mirror the length of time needed to reach British ports for shipments of copper from Chile and tin from Malaysia." Furthermore, in the beginning, and all the way through 1993, the flagship copper contract was denominated in sterling, at which point it was switched to the USD following the "Black Wednesday" ERM sterling crisis, courtesy of George Soros who made about $1 billion by shorting the GBP, and formally ended the sterling's role as even an informal backup reserve currency. As of today, insult follows inury, as the LME has formally asked the members of the exchange to drop the sterling contract denomination (in addition to USD, EUR, and JPY contracts) and replace it with the Chinese renminbi. Why this sudden and dramatic, if gradual and tacit, admission that the CNY is the ascendent reserve currency? Because, as the FT reminds us, China has become the market for non-ferrous metals: it is "the dominant force in the market, accounting for more than 40 per cent of global demand for most metals and a rapidly increasing share of trading in LME futures." Add that to yesterday's news of a widening in the CNY band (which incidentally is much ado about nothing, at least for now: at best it will allow China to devalue its currency when and if it so desires much faster than before, much to Geithner's final humiliation), and to the previously reported extensive network of bilateral CNY-based trade agreements already kris-crossing Asia, and one can see why if America is not worried about the reserve status of the dollar, it damn well should be.
George Soros has been a busy man the last few days. Appearing at the INET Conference a number of times and penning detailed articles for the FT (and here at Project Syndicate) describing the terrible situation in which Europe finds itself - and furthermore offering a potential solution. Critically, he opines, the European crisis is complex since it is a vicious circle of competing crises: sovereign debt, balance of payments, banking, competitiveness, and structurally defective non-optimal currency union. The fact is 'we are very far from equilibrium...of the Maastricht criteria' with his very clear insight that the massive gap, or cognitive dissonance, between the 'official authorities' hope and the outside world who see how abnormal the situation is, is troublesome at best. Analogizing the periphery countries as third-world countries that are heavily indebted in a foreign currency (that they cannot print), his initial conclusion ends with the blunt statement that "the euro has really broken down" and the ensuing discussion of just what this means from both an economic and socially devastating perspective: the destruction of the common market and the European Union and how this will end in acrimonious recriminations with worse conflicts between European states than before.
Risk-aversion is noted in the European markets with all major European bourses trading lower heading into the US open. Participants remain particularly sensitive to Spain following a release from the ECB showing that Spanish bank’s net borrowing from the ECB hit a new record high at EUR 227.6bln in March against EUR 152.4bln in February. Further pressure on the equity markets was observed following the overnight release of a below-expected Chinese GDP reading, coming in at 8.1% against a consensus estimate of 8.4%. As such, markets have witnessed a flight to safety, with Bund futures up over 40 ticks on the day. In the energy complex, WTI and Brent futures are also trading lower, as the disappointing Chinese GDP data dampens future oil demand, however a failed rocket launch from North Korea may have capped the losses.
Heading into the US open, European stock markets are experiencing a mixed session with particular underperformance noted once again in the peripheral IBEX and FTSE MIB indices. The Portuguese banking sector specifically is taking heavy hits following overnight news from Banco Espirito di Santo that they are to issue a large quantity of new shares, prompting fears that further banks may have to recapitalize. The financials sector is also being weighed upon by a downbeat research note published by a major Japanese bank on the Spanish banking sector. Elsewhere, the Italian BTP auction was released in a fragmented fashion showing softer bid/covers and the highest yield since mid-January in the only on-the-run line sold today. Similarly to yesterday’s auction, the sale was not quite as poor as some as feared. Italy sold to the top of the range and as such, the Italian/German 10-yr yield spread is now tighter by 13BPS, currently at 361BPS. From the UK, the DMO sold 20-year gilts with a lower bid/cover ratio and a large yield tail, prompting gilt futures to fall by around 10 ticks after the release. Later in the session, participants will be looking out for US PPI data and the weekly jobless numbers.
- Fed's No. 2 Strongly Backs Low-Rate Policy (Hilsenrath)
- World Bank Cuts China 2012 Growth Outlook on Exports (Bloomberg)
- BlackRock's Street Shortcut: Big Banks Would Be Bypassed With Bond Platform; 'Not Going to Cannibalize' (WSJ)
- George Soros - Europe’s Future is Not Up to The Bundesbank (FT)
- Fed May Have Aggravated Income Inequality, El-Erian Says(Bloomberg)
- Shirakawa Pledges Japan Easing Amid Political Pressure (Bloomberg)
- Spain’s Debt Struggle Opens Door to Sarkozy Campaign Message (Bloomberg)
- Iran Woos Oil Buyers With Easy Credit (FT)
- Syria Pledges to Observe Ceasefire (FT)
In the last few months we have presented various analyses, both ours and those of Goldman and even Jon Hilsenrath, on why one of the core economic empirical relationships: Okun's law, is now broken. Subsequently we presented another parallel line of inquiry - namely that in order to preserve the illusion of a recovery, the Obama administration (with help from the Fed) has engaged in a quality-for-quantity job transfer, where America is creating increasingly more jobs of lower quality (the bulk of which are part-time), which in turn is leading to less proportional personal income tax revenues, and thus to a secular shift in an indicator which is even more important for US economic growth than simply the number of jobs "gained" each month - labor productivity. Today, JPM's Michael Feroli ties these two perspectives together in an analysis that has extremely damning implications for the US, and global, economic growth prospects. In a nutshell, Feroli finds that "Productivity, which used to be procyclical, has now turned countercyclical" which in turn means that "if labor is no longer a quasi-fixed factor of production this may eliminate one type of non-convexity in production, thereby reducing the likelihood that the economy has multiple equilibria and is subject to self-fulfilling prophecies" or said somewhat simpler: "the conditions for self-fulfilling prophesies in the macroeconomy may no longer exist." Still confused: central planning, and the Obama vote grab has killed the "virtuous cycle"... Which in turn means that everything America is trying to accomplish is now a lost cause, as every incremental dollar spent, whether by fiscal and monetary policy, is pursuing an outcome that is now theoretically and practically impossible to achieve!
- Euro-Area Banks Tap ECB for Record Amount of Three-Year Cash (Bloomberg)
- Papademos Gets Backing for $4.3B of Cuts (Bloomberg)
- China February Bank Lending Remains Weak (Reuters)
- Romney Regains Momentum (WSJ)
- Shanghai Raises Minimum Wage 13% as China Seeks to Boost Demand (Bloomberg)
- Fiscal Stability Key To Economic Competitiveness - SNB's Jordan (WSJ)
- Bank's Tucker Says Cannot Relax Bank Requirements (Reuters)
- Life as a Landlord (NYT)
In his most recent quarterly letter titled appropriately enough "The Longest Quarterly Letter Ever" GMO's Jeremy Grantham literally kills it. Well, maybe not literally but certainly metaphorically.
While much of the focus has been on Paulson & Co., the hedge fund founded by billionaire John Paulson, cutting its stake in the SPDR Gold Trust by 15% in the fourth quarter, possibly of more importance is the fact that PIMCO, the Texas Teacher Retirement System and George Soros all increased their holdings of the biggest exchange-traded product backed by gold. Paulson cut his gold ETF bullion holdings by about 600 million dollars in Q4, a reduction that was likely driven by client redemption needs as he and his fund remain upbeat on gold – primarily due to inflation concerns. Paulson’s reduction in SPDR was offset by other important buyers such as PIMCO, which oversees $1.36 trillion and is home to the world's biggest bond fund and significant institutional buying from the likes of the Texas Teacher Retirement System and billionaire investor George Soros. ‘Bond King’, Bill Gross recently wrote about gold as a “store of value” and PIMCO’s allocation to GLD may be ongoing as they seek to diversify their portfolios and hedge against inflation. Soros, who once suggested gold was or would be "the ultimate asset bubble," raised his stake in the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), a gold-backed exchanged-traded fund, to 85,450 shares, up from 48,350 shares in the period. Soros, who had disclosed call and put options on the gold fund in the prior period, reported no such investments in the fourth quarter. Soros’ GLD position is worth a mere $13 million, however it suggests that he is not as bearish on gold as portrayed and that he sees further upside for gold.
Isn’t it meaningless to look at the inverse floaters in isolation? To assess risk, shouldn’t we look at the entire portfolio held by Freddie Mac?
Your article gives the appearance of having been ghost written by Andrew Levander and/or the JP Morgan legal department.
Merkel warned that Germany might be overwhelmed by its bailout efforts—a reluctance that turned Germany into a punching bag. Yet risks are staggering.
A brief and comprehensive summary of the main events in the past week, both good and bad.