Overnight sentiment is significantly negative, with stocks, bond yields, risk currencies lower after G-20 over the weekend refused to increase IMF funding. The result is an end to the buoyant market sentiment of recent days which has seen the Dax down 1.2%, bund, UST yields lower, and US futures lower. As many had expected, the G-20 has rebuffed EU leaders' request for more assistance, which in turn has placed the onus on Germany to find a way to resolve its internal conflict vis-a-vis a Greek bailout, ironically as many believe that it is Germany who more than anyone wants Greece out. This happens as the Bundestag votes today on second aid package today; Merkel’s government must decide whether to back plans at this week’s summit to combine EFSF and ESM. In other news, tomorrow the ECB will call for bids for the second 3 Year LTRO tomorrow, with results announced on February 29. And with the ECB's deposit facility at €477 billion, it is rather clear that the banks will park the bulk of new proceeds with the ECB once again, where it will continue to be a negative carry trade, earning 0.25% at a cost of 1.00%. And somehow this is favorable for the European sovereign bond market, which continues to ignore the various layers of subordination it is now working under. We expect the market revulsion to this flaw to be violent when it comes, and will result in a rapid and sudden divergence between the various subordinated tranches of sovereign bonds.
Firstly, I prefer the label “realist” as a more apropos label than “gloom and doomer”. Most of us that have remained realists for the past six years or so have a very public track record through public blog posts and public interviews
A few days ago, before the latest breakout in crude sent Brent to all time highs in GBP and EUR (and Asian Tapis in USD just shy of all time highs), we said that "we hope our readers stocked up on gasoline. Because things are about to get uglier. And by that we mean more expensive. But courtesy of hedonic adjustments, more expensive means cheaper, at least to the US government." This was due to recent news out of Iran "where on one hand we learn that IAEA just pronounced Iran nuclear talks a failure (this is bad), and on the other Press TV reports that the Iran army just started a 4 day air defense exercise in a 190,000 square kilometer area in southern Iran (this is just as bad). The escalation "ball" is now in the Western court." We were not surprised to learn that the "Western court" has responded in precisely the way we had expected. The WSJ reports: "The Pentagon is beefing up U.S. sea- and land-based defenses in the Persian Gulf to counter any attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. military has notified Congress of plans to preposition new mine-detection and clearing equipment and expand surveillance capabilities in and around the strait... The military also wants to quickly modify weapons systems on ships so they could be used against Iranian fast-attack boats, as well as shore-launched cruise missiles" Which means the escalation slider was just shifted up by one more level, as Iran will next do just what every actor caught in an Always Defect regime as part of an iterated prisoners' dilemma always does - step up the rhetoric even more, as backing off at this point is impossible. Which means that crude will go that much more higher in the coming days, as now even the MSM is starting to grasp the obvious - from the Guardian: "The drumbeat of war with Iran grows steadily more intense. Each day brings more defiant rhetoric from Tehran, another failed UN nuclear inspection, reports of western military preparations, an assassination, a missile test, or a dire warning that, once again, the world is sliding towards catastrophe. If this all feels familiar, that's because it is. For Iran, read Iraq in the countdown to the 2003 invasion." And the most ironic thing is that the biggest loser out of all this, at least in the short-term is.... Greece.
Anyone Who Thinks that War Is Good For the Economy Has One Eye Covered ... And Is Only Looking At Half the Picture ...
While the bulk of tangential themes in Albert Edwards' latest letter to clients "The Ice Age only ends when the market loses hope: there is still too much hope" is in line with what we have been discussing recently: myopic markets focused on momentum not fundamentals ("It's amazing though how the market can get itself all bulled up and becomes convinced that we are the start of a self-sustaining recovery. And funnily enough there's nothing more likely to get investors bullish than a rising market"), short-termism ("One thing you can say for the market is that it has an extremely short memory"), and that so far 2012 is a carbon copy of 2011 ("One thing you can say for the market is that it has an extremely short memory. Let us not forget that the performance of the equity market so far this year is almost exactly the same as we saw at the start of 2011 (in fact the performance has been similar for the last 5 months"), his prevailing topic is one of hope. Or rather the lack thereof, and how it has to be totally and utterly crushed before there is any hope of a true bull market. And just to make sure there is no confusion, unlike that other flip flopper, Edwards makes it all too clear that he is as bearish as ever. Which only makes sense: regardless of what the market does, which merely shows that inflation, read liquidity, is appearing in the most unexpected of places (read Edwards' colleague Grice must read piece on why CPI is the worst indicator of asset price inflation when everyone goes CTRL+P), the reality is that had it not been for another $2 trillion liquidity injection in the past 4-6 months by global central banks, the floor would have fallen out of the market, and thus the global economy. In fact, how the hell can one be bullish when the only exponential chart out there is that of global central bank assets proving beyond a doubt that every risk indicator is fake???
One of the dirty little secrets of the stock market rally is that the rising corporate profits that powered it are largely phantom profits. Why are they phantom? Because they are artifacts of currency devaluation, not an increase in efficiency or production of goods and services. Though few domestic observers make mention of it, the large, global U.S.-based corporations are now dependent on non-U.S. sales for about 40% of their revenues (50% and up for many companies) and virtually all their profit growth. Overseas sales are made in the local currency: the euro, yen, renminbi, Australian dollar, Canadian dollar and so on, and the profits are stated in U.S. dollars on corporate profit and loss statements. In 2002, 1 euro of profit earned by a U.S. global corporation equaled $1 in profit when converted to U.S. dollars. That same 1 euro profit swelled to $1.60 in 2008 as the U.S. dollar depreciated against the euro. That $ .60 of profit was phantom, an artifact of the depreciating dollar; it did not result from a higher production of goods and services or greater efficiencies.
As markets replay the same identical reaction to the same identical Greek news that we saw back on July 21, 2011 (and we all know where that went), something else entirely and more troubling is going on behind the scenes. Because as the world was transfixed on regurgitated news out of Greece, which will without a shadow of a doubt end up with a far worse 2020 debt/GDP scenario than the IMF's downside case per the sustainability report (first posted in its entirety here on Zero Hedge last night, and which assumes just a 1% decline in Greek 2013 GDP), China just escalated currency wars into outright trade wars. Because as China Daily reports, "Chinese exports are set to get a tax boost." Translated: even as China pushes the CNY higher in infinitesimal and irrelevant increments to appease US Congress, it has just taken out the trade stimulus bazooka. Why? "Export tax rebates will be increased this year in response to an export decline triggered by the European debt crisis. The move, which Commerce Ministry officials said will be implemented when the time is appropriate, will be the first increase since 2009." Still think Europe is fixed? China's answer: nope.
A lesson to be learnt from the individuals who continue to buy European Debt
Between the Chinese 'surprise' RRR and the Iran export halt to UK and France (and escalating tensions), Oil prices are off to the races this evening. WTI front-month futures have just broken $105 (now up more than 10% in the last two weeks), the highest levels in over nine months and just 8% shy of the 5/2/11 post-recession peak just under $115. Brent (priced in EUR) remains off last week's intraday highs (as EUR strengthens) but still above the pre-recession peak but in USD it traded just shy of $121 - well above last week's peak. Of course, this will be heralded as a sign of demand pressure from a 'growing' global economy rather than the margin-compressing, implicit-taxation, consumer-spending-crushing supply constraint for Europe and the US that it will become in the not too distant future. As we post, The Guardian is noting that US officials are commenting that "Sanctions are all we've got to throw at the problem. If they fail then it's hard to see how we don't move to the 'in extremis' option." The impact of any escalation from here is gravely concerning with PIMCO's $140 minimum and SocGen's $150-and-beyond Brent prices rapidly coming into focus - and for those pinning their hopes on the Saudis coming to the rescue (and fill the Iranian output gap), perhaps the news that our Middle-East 'allies' cut both production and exports in December will stymie any euphoria.
The ethics of debt, at least in the officially sanctioned media, boils down to: nobody made them borrow all those euros, and so their suffering is just desserts. What's lost in this subtext is the responsibility of the lender. Yes, nobody forced Greece to borrow 200 billion euros (or whatever the true total may be), but then nobody forced the lenders to extend the credit in the first place. Consider an individual who is a visibly poor credit risk. He would like to borrow money to blow on consumption and then stiff the lender, but since he cannot create credit, he has to live within his means. Now a lender comes along who can create credit out of thin air (via fractional reserve banking) and offers this poor credit risk $100,000 in collateral-free debt at low rates of interest. Who is responsible for the creation and extension of credit? The borrower or the lender? Answer: the lender. In other words, if the lender is foolish enough to extend huge quantities of credit to a poor credit risk, then it's the lender who should suffer the losses when the borrower defaults. This is the basis of bankruptcy laws--or used to be the basis. When an over-extended borrower defaults, the debt is cleared, the lender takes the loss/writedown, and the borrower loses whatever collateral was pledged. He is left with the basics to carry on: his auto, clothing, his job, and so on. His credit rating is impaired, and it is now his responsibility to earn back a credible credit rating....The potential for loss and actually bearing the consequences from irresponsible extensions of credit was unacceptable to the banking cartel, so they rewrote the laws. Now student loans in America cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court; they are permanent and must be carried and serviced until death. This is the acme of debt-serfdom.
The equities market is acting like we know Greece's default will be orderly and no threat to financial stability. It is also acting like we know the U.S. economy can grow smartly while Europe contracts in recession. Lastly, the high level of confidence exuded by market participants suggests we know central bank liquidity is endlessly supportive of equities. What do we really know about the coming default of Greece? Whether we openly call it default or play semantic games with "voluntary haircuts," we know bondholders will absorb tremendous losses that are equivalent to default. We also suspect some bondholders will refuse to play nice and accept their voluntary haircuts. Beyond that, how much do we know about how this unprecedented situation will play out?
There are those who have been waiting to buy undilutable precious metals in response to a headline announcement from the Fed that it is starting to buy up hundreds of billions of Treasurys or MBS. This is understandable - after all that is precisely the trigger that the headline scanning robots which account for 90% of market action in the past year are programmed to do. And the worst thing that one can do is put on the right trade at the wrong time. Yet it may come as a surprise to some, that while the world was waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for Bernanke to hit the Print button, virtually every other central bank was quietly unleashing it own mini tsunami of liquidity. In fact, as Morgan Stanley puts it, "the Great Monetary Easing Part 2 is in full swing." But wait, there's more: in an Austrian world, where fundamentals don't matter and only how much additional nominal fiat is created is relevant, it is sheer idiocy to assume that the printers will stop here... or anywhere for that matter. They simply can't, now that the marginal utility of every dollars is sub 1.00 relative to GDP creation. This means that by the time the Global Weimar is in full swing, we will see much, much more easing. Sure enough, MS anticipates an unprecedented additional round of easing in the months ahead. So for those waiting to buy gold et al at the same time as DE Shaw's correlation quants do, the time will be long gone. Because slowly everyone is realizing that it is not the Fed that is the marginal creator of fake money. It is everyone.
Of course, if only one had seen that there is absolutely nothing different or new about the gold "story" at all since March 2009, there would have been no need to strengthen positions. Otherwise, more or less as has been said here all along. Furthermore, below are some pretty charts from the latest World Gold Council demand trends letter, presented below.
A certain flavor of econometric model dominates conventional portfolio management and financial analysis. This model can be paraphrased thusly: seasonally adjusted economic data such as the unemployment rate and financially derived data such as forward earnings and price-earnings ratios are reliable guides to future economic growth and future stock prices....If this model is so accurate and reliable, why did it fail so completely in 2008 when a visibly imploding debt-bubble brought down the entire global economy and crashed stock valuations? Of the tens of thousands of fund managers and financial analysts who made their living off various iterations of this econometric model, how many correctly called the implosion in the economy and stock prices? How many articles in Barrons, BusinessWeek, The Economist or the Wall Street Journal correctly predicted the rollover of stocks and how low they would fall? Of the tens of thousands of managers and analysts, perhaps a few dozen got it right (and that is a guess--it may have been more like a handful). In any event, the number who got it right using any econometric model was statistical noise, i.e. random flecks of accuracy. The entire econometric model of relying on P-E ratios, forward earnings, the unemployment rate, etc. to predict future economic trends and future stock valuations was proven catastrophically inadequate. The problem is these models are detached from the actual drivers of growth and stock valuations.