Gross Domestic Product
...We find, in the case of Belgium, a 40% Debt/GDP miss from what is bandied about by the Europeans. Then it should be noted that in the case of Dexia, Fortis et al that the guarantee of contingent liabilities may not be the amount of money that is required and so the situation could still worsen from here. Belgium, in fact, is not much better off than Greece and, as their economy sinks into recession, the numbers and ratios are bound to get worse. Not only do I expect further downgrades for this country by the ratings agencies but I also expect a further rise in yields as the more sophisticated investors grasp the reality of Belgium’s issues and respond accordingly.
Americans have an illogical love affair with their vehicles. There are 209 million licensed drivers in the U.S. and 260 million vehicles. The U.S. has a higher number of motor vehicles per capita than every country in the world at 845 per 1,000 people. Germany has 540; Japan has 593; Britain has 525; and China has 37. The population of the United States has risen from 203 million in 1970 to 311 million today, an increase of 108 million in 42 years. Over this same time frame, the number of motor vehicles on our crumbling highways has grown by 150 million. This might explain why a country that has 4.5% of the world’s population consumes 22% of the world’s daily oil supply. This might also further explain the Iraq War, the Afghanistan occupation, the Libyan “intervention”, and the coming war with Iran. Automobiles have been a vital component in the financial Ponzi scheme that has passed for our economic system over the last thirty years. For most of the past thirty years annual vehicle sales have ranged between 15 million and 20 million, with only occasional drops below that level during recessions. They actually surged during the 2001-2002 recession as Americans dutifully obeyed their moron President and bought millions of monster SUVs, Hummers, and Silverado pickups with 0% financing from GM to defeat terrorism. Alan Greenspan provided the fuel, with ridiculously low interest rates. The Madison Avenue media maggots provided the transmission fluid by convincing millions of willfully ignorant Americans to buy or lease vehicles they couldn’t afford. And the financially clueless dupes pushed the pedal to the metal, until everyone went off the cliff in 2008.
With a economic calendar devoid of virtually any events, the only two events worth of note this morning are the Greek CDS auction (where RBS appears to once again be confusing price and discount), and the Apple cash announcement due in just over an hour. The result is Apple stock which in the premarket session has traded as high as a new record high og $606, even as concerns emerge that the growth phase is over as the company transitions into a MSFT-type, post-Steve Jobs existence. Details of the 9 am call can be found here. Aside from that risk is broadly flat as hungover American traders take their seats.
This week brings policy decisions in Taiwan and Thailand. The CBC decision will be very interesting to watch. The December statement at the time was surprisingly hawkish, only to be followed by a large upside surprise in inflation, and the TWD was subsequently allowed to appreciate. Given that the bank continues to view inflation as a major problem, according to quotes from Reuters, it will be very interesting to see how the bank weighs up concerns about hot money inflows vs the need to contain inflation risks. In particular, in the face of imported inflation pressures via higher commodity prices, many central banks may shift towards accepting the need for more currency strength. The week also brings some important central bank commentary. The RBA governor has an opportunity to opine on the recent slew of weak Australian data, as well as developments in the A$. There is quite a bit of commentary from Fed officials on the docket, including from Bernanke, which we will dissect for information on the further direction of policy. More dovish commentary than that of the FOMC last week, would arguably be a surprise and potentially dampen, if not reverse some of the moves of last week.
Last June (the 24th to be precise), it was announced that 60 million barrels of oil would be released from world reserves, with about half of that amount being taken from the SPR. Oil was trading at $91 when the announcement was made but actually rose in price - hitting $97 - before dropping to $88 once the surplus oil was introduced on July 15. 60 million barrels = $3 lower price. Hardly bang for the buck - especially as oil was back above $100 before the end of the year. As much as the SPR is seen by many to be the panacea for high prices, the lack of available additional supply from the world’s biggest producers is a far bigger concern; one which my friend Ronni Stoeferle from Vienna wrote a fantastic report on recently entitled “Nothing To Spare” (you can email Ronni HERE for a copy of the report which is an incredibly detailed piece of work). In it he took an in-depth look at some of the supply constraints facing the world and his conclusions are, to say the least, troubling.
Minutes ago Apple announced that first thing tomorrow it will "host a conference call to announce the outcome of the Company’s discussions concerning its cash balance. Apple® will not be providing an update on the current quarter nor will any topics be discussed other than cash." As a reminder, Apple has just about 100 billion in cash. Everyone expects a dividend. So what happens when everyone finally gets what they have been expecting for so long? Will it mean the end of the growth phase and the advent of the "MSFT" anti-growth curve? Also, which bank will claim the commission for advising Apple on how to spend a cash amount that while nearly a third of Greek GDP, is less than half of the US February budget deficit (in other words, Apple could fund just 12 days of the US spending burn rate in February)? Finally, was the pre-election administration at all involved in the making of this decision - remember the company was expected to announce a cash-related decision a month ago, and nothing happened. Why now? All shall be revealed tomorrow at 9 am.
We have long argued that at its core, modern society, at least on a mathematical basis - the one which ultimately trumps hopium every single time - is fatally flawed due to the existence, and implementation, of the concept of modern "welfare" - an idea spawned by Otto von Bismarck in the 1870s, and since enveloped the globe in various forms of transfer payments which provide the illusion of a social safety net, dangles the carrot of pension, health, and retirement benefits, and in turn converts society into a collage of blank faces, calm as Hindu cows. Alas, the cows will promptly become enraged bulls once they realize that all that has been promised to them in exchange for their docility and complacency has... well... vaporized. It is at that point that the final comprehension would dawn, that instead of a Welfare State, it has been, as Bill Buckler terms it, a Hardship State all along. Below we present the latest views from the captain of The Privateer on what the insoluble dilemma of the welfare state is, and what the key problems that the status quo will face with its attempts at perpetuating this lie.
If there is one thing 2011 taught us is that one totally unpredictable and unexpected event, such as the great March 11 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima disaster, can wreak massive havoc on otherwise stable economic ecosystems, models and forecasts. According to many, most certainly the Fed, the events in Japan had a major spillover effect on global GDP that lasted for months, in turn forcing fiscal and monetary responses around the world. A true black swan. As the following brief video summarizes, 2011 was the year of earthquakes. Has the earth become increasingly unstable? Will the pattern from 2011 continue into 2012 and beyond? Is mother nature getting angrier? We have no idea, but we do know that the following clip is quite awesome: make sure you have your volume turned up high.
Yesterday I got my new iPad. Yeah, I bought one like millions of other suckers. Apple can take my dollars and recycle them buying treasury bills and so partially fund, at least for a short while, America’s unsustainable debt position. But really, I bought one to enjoy the twilight of the miraculous system of global trade. An iPad is the cumulative culmination of millions of hours of work, as well as resources and manufacturing processes across the globe. It incorporates tellurium, indium, cobalt, gallium, and manganese mined in Africa. Neodymium mined in China. Plastics forged out of Saudi Crude. Aluminium mined in Brazil. Memory manufactured in Korea, semiconductors forged in Germany, glass made in the United States. And gallons and gallons of oil to ship all the resources and components around the world, ’til they are finally assembled in China, and shipped once again around the world to the consumer. And of course, that manufacturing process stands upon the shoulders of centuries of scientific research, and years of product development, testing, and marketing. It is a huge mesh of processes.
Ray Dalio released a study he did on deleveraging. The piece was featured prominently here at ZH. I am a fan of Dalio, but his analysis was surprising. His interpretation of the economy is, remarkably, based on a very conventional ideas and is shockingly wrong. For a guy who is known for thinking out of the box and has who has led Bridgewater to become the biggest hedge fund in the world, he has got the deleveraging process all wrong.
Marc Faber does not mince words. He believes the money printing policies of the Federal Reserve and its sister central banks around the globe have put the world's currencies on an inexorable, accelerating inflationary down slope. The dangers of money printing are many in his eyes. But in particular, he worries about the unintended consequences it subjects the populace to. Beyond currency devaluation, it creates malinvestment that leads to asset bubbles that wreak havoc when they burst. And even more nefarious, money printing disproportionately punishes the lower classes, resulting in volatile social and political tensions. It's no surprise then that he's feeling particularly defensive these days. While he generally advises those looking to protect their purchasing power to invest capital in precious metals and the equity markets (the rationale being inflation should hurt equity prices less than bond prices), he warns that equities appear overbought at this time.
Peak oil will scare us to death, peak water will kill us.
Back in early February, Zero Hedge was among the first to suggest that abnormally warm temperatures and a record hot winter, were among the primary causes for various employment trackers to indicate a better than expected trendline (even as many other components of the economy were declining), in "Is It The Weather, Stupid? David Rosenberg On What "April In January" Means For Seasonal Adjustments." It is rather logical: after all the market is the first to forgive companies that excuse poor performance, or economies that report a data miss due to "inclement" weather. So why should the direction of exculpation only be valid when it serves to justify underperformance? Naturally, the permabullish bias of the media and the commentariat will ignore this critical variable, and attribute "strength" to other factors, when instead all that abnormally warm weather has done is to pull demand forward - whether it is for construction and repair, for part-time jobs, or for retail (and even so retail numbers had been abysmal until the just released expectations meet). Ironically, while everyone else continues to ignore this glaringly obvious observation, it is Bank of America, who as already noted before are desperate to validate a QE as soon as possible (even if their stock has factored in not only the NEW QE, but the NEW QE HD), that expounds on the topic of the impact of record warm weather. In fact, not only that, but BofA makes sense of the fact why GDP growth continues to be in the mid 1% range while various other indicators are representative of much higher growth. The culprit? Global Warming.
Now in the curious world we live in today; this only came out in public as the answer to a question raised in the German Parliament. Some reflection on the nature of these guarantees, that the European Union had decided not to tell us about, causes me to think of them as “Ponzi Bonds.” These are the seeds of a great scheme that has been foisted upon us. Bonds of a feather that have flocked together and arrived with the black swans one quiet Wednesday afternoon. The quoted and much ballyhooed sovereign debt numbers are now known to be no longer accurate and hence the lack of credibility of the debt to GDP data for the European nations. Stated more simply; none of the data that we are given about sovereign debt in the European Union is the truth, none of it. According to Eurostat, as an example, the consolidated Spanish debt raises their debt to GDP by 12.3% as Eurostat also states, and I quote, that guaranteed debt in Europe “DO NOT FORM PART OF GOVERNMENT DEBT, BUT ARE A CONTINGENT LIABILITY.” In other words; not counted and so, my friends, none of the data pushed out by Europe about their sovereign debt or their GDP ratios has one whit of truth resident in the data.