A few days ago, the BOE's Andy Haldane, rightfully, lamented that the apparent "solution" to the exponentially growing level of complexity in the financial system is more complexity. Alas, there was little discussion on the far more relevant central planning concept of fixing debt with even more debt, especially as the US just crossed $16 trillion in public debt last week, right on schedule, and as we pointed out over the weekend, there has been precisely zero global deleveraging during the so-called austerity phase. But perhaps most troubling is that with 2 days to go to what JPM says 77% of investors expect with be a NEW QE round (mostly MBS) between $200 and $500 billion in QE, the world is, also in the words of JP Morgan, drowning in liquidity. In other words, according to the central planners, not only is debt the fix to record debt, but liquidity is about to be unleashed on a world that is, you guessed it, already drowning in liquidity. The bad news: everything being tried now will fail, as it did before, because nothing has changed, except for the scale, meaning the blow up will be all that more spectacular. The good news: at least the Keynesians (or is it simply Socialists now?) out there will not be able to say we should have just added one more [ ]illion in debt/liquidity and all would have worked, just as our textbooks predicted. Because by the time it's over, that too will have happened.
Dante would be proud; the Baltic Dry Shipping Index has now plunged through at least eight levels of hell on its way to record lows as it drops to 666 today. This is the lowest since Feb 2012's Chinese New Year lows and is a stunning 55 percentage points lower than the normal seasonal shift in the global aggregate trade indicator (and down 69% from its Oct 2011 swing high). Whether its over-supply, under-demand, or too many Chinese New Years, it is unarguably the next level of hell for the global economy - that will surely bring all the bottom-callers out as this time is different.
Stocks in Europe traded lower throughout the session, as market participants reacted to another round of weak data from Asia. In particular, China’s imports fell 2.6% on the year in August vs. Exp. 3.5%, underpinning the need for policy easing measures from the People's Bank Of China. Some of the weakness in equity space was also attributed to profit taking following last week’s gains. Spanish bonds continued to benefit from the ongoing speculation that the government will seek a full scale bailout. As a result, SP/GE 10y bond yield spread is tighter even though there is an outside chance that the constitutional court vote in Germany will delay this. On the other hand, IT/GE and NE/GE bond yield spreads are wider, reflective the upcoming issuance, as well as elections. EUR/USD and GBP/USD, both seen lower on the back of touted profit taking, as well as pre-positioning into near-term risk events mentioned above. Commodity linked currencies are also weaker, weighed on by the weaker data from China, which also showed that imports of crude oil hit a 22-month low. In terms of notable stocks news, Glencore said it will not improve its offer for Xstrata after the company raised offer for Xstrata to 3.05 from 2.8.
- China Output Growth Slows as Leadership Handover Looms (Bloomberg); Weak China trade data raises Beijing spending stakes (Reuters)
- Italy Q2 GDP revised down to -0.8% year-on-year on weak domestic demand (Economic Times)
- Troika disagreed with €2 billion in Greek "cuts" (Reuters)
- No Greek bottom in sight yet: Greek IP, Manufacturing Output plunge compared to year earlier (WSJ)
- France's Hollande sees 2013 growth forecast about 0.8 pct (Reuters), France plots tax hikes of up to 20 bln euros (Reuters)
- Euro Crisis Faces Tests in German Court, Greek Infighting (Bloomberg)
- Geithner sells more AIG stock (FT)
- Japan infuriates China by agreeing to buy disputed isles (Reuters)
- Euro crisis to worsen, Greece could exit euro: Swedish FinMin Anders Borg (Economic Times)
- ‘Lead or leave euro’, Soros tells Germany (FT)
- German MP makes new court complaint against euro plans (Reuters)
- Obama super-Pac in push to raise $150m (FT)
During the height of the 'Goldilocks economy' of the mid-1990s, Mat Stein wrote When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency , a master compendium of do-it-yourself preparation skills. Fast-forward to today's Great Recession, drought-stricken, $100+ oil, post-Katrina, post-Fukushima world -- many are realizing the prudence of taking basic precautionary steps to reduce their vulnerability to whatever the future may bring. Whether you're concerned about the fallout from a breakdown of today's weakened global economy, or simply want to be better able to deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster if you live in an earthquake/hurricane/flood/wildfire/tornado-prone part of the world, the personal resiliency measures Mat recommends make sense for almost everyone to consider. It's important to note that Mat isn't a doomer bent on fanning fears of a zombie apocalypse (though those concerned about social collapse will find much utility in his work), but believes that our current fossil fuel-driven, hyper-consumptive, and over-leveraged way of life is not sustainable.
The cracks in the Fed's narcissism started to show at Jackson Hole, where Bernanke's speech did nothing for the market; and as the FT points out, the biggest worry on display was whether these bureaucrats, sitting at the heart of every mature economy, still have the power to influence demand. Lurking behind many debates was this question: if central bank policies are so omnipotent effective, why is the global economy not growing faster? Everyone's favorite honest-dwarf Fed Governor, James Bullard, summarized perfectly:
"I am a little – maybe more than a little bit – worried about the future of central banking. We've constantly felt that there would be light at the end of the tunnel and there'd be an opportunity to normalize but it’s not really happening so far."
"What I’m worried about is this creeping politicization."
With monetary financing of governments on the increase (unconditionally by the Fed and conditionally by the ECB), it is clear that more radical options are increasingly mainstream as the textbook is not providing the answers. If the Fed itself is admitting it is becoming irrelevant and obsolete, then perhaps regimes are changing.
Lock Up Your Sacred Cows Before We Find and Slaughter Them!
"It Is Really Disheartening That This White House Did Not Have A Plan B" - A Preview Of The Next Debt Ceiling CrisisSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/09/2012 11:37 -0400
As of Friday, total US debt subject to the limit was $16.006 trillion, or $387 billion below the latest and greatest official debt ceiling. In the past 3 months the US has been raising debt at a slower pace than usual precisely for this reason. Debt issuance will now pick up at far faster pace as the trendline mean reversion reasserts itself. It means that sometime over the next few months, and certainly before the end of the year, the US debt ceiling will be breached (with all the usual tactics employed to delay this event from happening as much as possible, including resuming the pillaging of various government retirement funds) as the Treasury itself warned. It also means that either just before or just after the presidential election, the topic of the debt ceiling will be once again upon us. As a reminder, the reason why the market plunged back in August of 2011 is because as the GOP proved unwilling to compromise, suddenly everyone, led by Tim Geithner, realized just how close to a failed auction, read endgame, the US was, and the dire need for a wake up call became paramount. Furthermore as is well-known, the only stimulus Pavlovian politicians react to is a market collapse, which not only instills the fear of the "401(k)" god falling to earth, but lights up the switchboards as concerned "voters" suddenly realize that all their mark-to-Bernanke's market "wealth" may disappear in a puff of smoke. It is now, courtesy of Bob Woodward, that we learn just how close we came. And since the polarity and discord in Congress after the election, already at record levels, will soar to new all time highs after November, it is safe to say that the debt ceiling debacle deja vu is coming, and this time it will make the first one seem like child's play.
Now that oil’s price revolution – a process that took ten years to complete – is self-evident, it is possible once again to start anew and ask: When will the next re-pricing phase begin? Most of the structural changes that carried oil from the old equilibrium price of $25 to the new equilibrium price of $100 (average of Brent and WTIC) unfolded in the 2002-2008 period. During that time, both the difficult realities of geology and a paradigm shift in awareness worked their way into the market, as a new tranche of oil resources, entirely different in cost and structure than the old oil resources, came online. The mismatch between the old price and the emergent price was resolved incrementally at first, and finally by a super-spike in 2008. However, once the dust settled on the ensuing global recession and financial crisis, oil then found its way to its new range between $90 and $110. Here, supply from a new set of resources and the continuance of less-elastic demand from the developing world have created moderate price stability. Prices above $90 are enough to bring on new supply, thus keeping production levels slightly flat. And yet those same prices roughly balance the continued decline of oil consumption in the OECD, which offsets the continued advance of consumption in the non-OECD. If oil prices can’t fall that much because of the cost of marginal supply and overall flat global production, and if oil prices can’t rise that much because of restrained Western economies, what set of factors will take the oil price outside of its current envelope?
Gold prices languished from 1980 to 2000 and had declining correlations with debt levels because GDP growth was sufficient to mute fears about budget and deficit issues. The current economic recovery has been too weak to support a sustained rise in real rates above the 2% level that has acted an inflection point for gold prices. With energy and food inflation deepening and soon to affect consumer price indices, interest rates may have to rise significantly in order to restore real interest rates above 2%. This is with ex Federal Reserve Chairman Volcker did in the late 1970’s - when he increased interest rates to above 15% in order to protect the dollar and aggressively tackle inflation. It is unlikely that similar ‘hawkish’ monetary policy would be implemented by the Bernanke Fed today. It is unlikely that they would and even doubtful if they could – given the appalling fiscal situation and levels of debt in the US and global economy. A continuing succession of higher real gold prices above the inflation adjusted high, or real record high, of $2,500/oz is likely until we see interest return to more normal levels and zero percent interest policies are supplanted by positive real interest rates.
Having operatied for years under ZIRP, and with the NIRP neutron bomb just around the corner, and already implemented in various European countries, one question remains: can banks be banks, i.e., can they make money, in a world in which borrowing short and lending long, no longer works, courtesy of ubiquitous and pervasive central planning which is now engaged solely and almost exclusively (the other central bank ventures being of course to keep FX rates and equities within an acceptable range) on the shape of the yield curve. Since 2009 our answer has been a resounding no. Today, Bill Gross speaks up as well, and his answer is even more distrubing: "If the dancing has slowed down, then the reason is not just an overweight partner. It’s that the price of money (be it in the form of a real interest rate, a quality risk spread, or both) is too low. Our entire finance-based monetary system – led by banks but typified by insurance companies, investment management firms and hedge funds as well – is based on an acceptable level of carry and the expectation of earning it. When credit is priced such that carry is no longer as profitable at a customary amount of leverage/risk, then the system will stall, list, or perhaps even tip over." Indeed, according to Gross central banks have now clearly sown the seeds of the entire financial system's own destruction. That he is right we have no doubt. The only question: how soon until he is proven right.
...and so it begins - with a bellwether:
*FEDEX CUTS 1Q EPS FORECAST TO $1.37-$1.43, EST. $1.56
"Weakness in the global economy constrained revenue growth at FedEx Express more than expected in the earlier guidance."
FDX -4% AH and UPS -2.5% - both to lows of year! This is a not a good sign for GDP!
The odds of some instability erupting globally in 2013-14 seem high, but what the trigger might be remains unknown. The fragility and vulnerability of systems pushed to extremes are like sandpiles: it doesn't really matter which grains finally trigger the cascade; the system's rising instability is the causal factor. Where does this put us? If the ultimate crisis is another decade away, we might as well enjoy what we can in the meantime and assemble the pieces of a semi-sustainable life: income streams that we own/control, a very low cost of living, and property in areas that are universally desirable, i.e. they have decent weather, surface supplies of water, concentrations of intellectual and financial capital, and ideally, a functioning local government that isn’t hopelessly corrupted by vested interests. Any disadvantages in these resources can be offset by a solid network of friends, family, associates, business contacts, etc., i.e. social capital. I think it is safe to assume the promises of Social Security, Medicare and pensions will be chipped away by one force or another (inflation, taxation, “austerity,” etc.) and so those who have written these out of their own personal expectations will be psychologically primed for self-reliance embedded in local support networks.
Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will give us happy talk about maintaining entitlement benefits (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) that cannot possibly be sustained. They will talk about energy self-sufficiency. They will talk about creating jobs. They will tell us that we can somehow ‘grow’ our way out of our economic distress. But neither candidate will admit that technology now destroys more jobs than it creates, because to do so would be to commit political suicide. The fact is that none of the happy talk will ever come true. Instead, the Federal Government, with the tacit approval of both major political parties, continues to run trillion-dollar-plus deficits year after year in a futile attempt to spend our way out of our economic problems and to sustain an economic model that cannot be sustained. Those who believe that bringing manufacturing back to the US will also bring back jobs are trying to fight a war that has already been fought and lost. Why? The answer is technology. It’s actually a fairly simple process now to bring production of many items back to the US, simply because of automation and robotics. A factory filled with robots can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, so long as the raw material inputs keep flowing into the factory. Robots don’t take breaks, don’t make mistakes, don’t call in sick, don’t take vacations, don’t require expensive health insurance, and don’t receive paychecks. A fully automated robotic manufacturing facility might require only 100 workers, while a traditional assembly line facility might utilize 3,000 workers. That’s a huge difference in the number of jobs. The simple fact is that most of the lost manufacturing jobs are never coming back.
Despite high-flying equity indices, there is some underlying concern that all is not rosy in the global economy (and that Fed/ECB/PBoC might not save the day this time). As Morgan Stanley notes, the overcrowded trades are overweight US and within US overweight defensives - implying cyclicals are starting to reflect the current global macro weakness and that there are further downgrades to global growth forecasts to come. Expectations for a repeat of H2 2011's surge in positive surprises are misplaced as several unique factors were at play last year - and are very much lacking this year; moreover global growth indicators are significantly weaker than a year ago. With this background, MS also does not expect imminent QE in the US; the Chinese policy response continues to lag expectations; and there are several hurdles to executing ECB action - all of which leave them expecting further substantial downgrades to 2013 consensus earning forecasts in the US.