Guest Post: Stocks, Money Flows, And Inflation

This week's Barron's cover looks like a pretty strong warning sign for stocks (not only the cover, but also what's inside). However, there may be an even more stunning capitulation datum out there, in this case a survey that we have frequently mentioned in the past, the NAAIM survey of fund managers. This survey has reached an all time high in net bullishness last week, with managers on average 104% long. The nonsense people will talk – people who really should know better -  is sometimes truly breathtaking. Recently a number of strategists from large institutions, i.e., people who get paid big bucks for coming up with this stuff, have assured us that “equities are underowned”, that “money will flow from bonds to equities”, and that “money sitting on the sidelines” will be drawn into the market. These fallacies are destroyed below. And finally, while, theoretically, the “inflation” backdrop is a kind of sweet spot for stock, even to those who insist that stocks will protect one against the ravages of sharply rising prices of goods and services, As Kyle Bass recently explained, the devaluation of money in the wider sense was even more pronounced than the increase in stock prices. Stocks did not protect anyone in the sense of fully preserving one's purchasing power. The only things that actually preserved purchasing power were gold, foreign exchange and assorted hard assets for which a liquid market exists.

Gold Leasing: The Case Of The Disappearing Gold

The practice of gold leasing has been endorsed by none other than Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Fed. The gold is leased to a bullion bank, which typically pays one percent interest to the Fed, with a promise to return it on a specified date. The bullion bank then sells the gold on the open market and uses the proceeds to buy Treasury bonds, which will net a three to four percent return. The nicest thing about such an arrangement is that the lessor continues to claim it on his balance sheet as a line item: “gold and gold receivables.” After all, an asset that we have leased out is still an asset, even if it has now been sold by the lessee. In effect, this means that, if you bought a gold bar today, it is possible that it is a bar that was shipped from the Bundesbank to the Federal Reserve decades ago and is presently listed by the Fed on its balance sheet as “gold and gold receivables.” Both you and the Fed are claiming to possess the same gold bar. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that only one bar can be the actual bar. The other is a receivable and therefore is an asset on paper only. This, of course, means that there is less gold in the world than has been claimed. How much less? That’s anyone’s guess.

Treasury Curve Compression Implies January Jubilance In Stocks Overdone

Despite the modest weakness in the long-bond, that so many herald as the next coming of the Great Rotation meme, it would appear that the longer-end of the Treasury bond term-structure actually flattened quite notably since the start of the year. Whether this bear-flattening reflects less extreme long-term concern of hyperinflation (small odds but high impact at long-end), mid-curve-based hedging (January was a massive IG issuance month and MBS convexity concerns are growing), or lower long-term growth/inflation expectations is unclear. But given the Fed's foot on the throat of the short-to-medium-term Treasury term-structure, the longer-end remains a marginally 'free' market and based on the chart below implies equities are well ahead of themselves as we draw a line under January 2013.

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Why Isn't Gold Higher?

My colleague and erstwhile nemesis Gonzalo Lira posed the question above in a recent essay, and it is indeed a most puzzling one.  Given that the world’s central banks — joined most recently by a shockingly reckless Switzerland — are waging all-out economic war by inflating their currencies, shouldn’t gold be soaring?

Zimbabwe's Total Cash On Hand: $217.00

Several years after revealing the first one hundred trillion modern-day banknote and seeing its economy implode in a cloud of hyperinflationary smoke, Zimbabwe's problems are back with a vengeance. And this time not even more currency destruction, as Zimbabwe does not actually have its own currency any more having largely shifted to foreign currencies primarily the USD and the ZAR - can help. The problem? The country is officially out of cash. From AFP: "After paying public workers’ salaries last week, the balance in cash-strapped Zimbabwe’s government public account stood at just $217, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Tuesday. “Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 (left) in government coffers,” Biti told journalists in the capital Harare, claiming some of them had healthier bank balances than the state. “The government finances are in paralysis state at the present moment. We are failing to meet our targets.”" Sadly not even the projected and quite hilarious 5% GDP growth of the now completely broke country, which can't even create money out of thin air as there is nobody who will lend it even one penny, will do much if anything. (Here we will briefly ignore the fact that Zimbabwe's net cash position is about $120,000,000,000,217.00 greater than that of the US)

The End Of An Era

The economy as we know it is facing a lethal confluence of four critical factors - the fall-out from the biggest debt bubble in history; a disastrous experiment with globalisation; the massaging of data to the point where economic trends are obscured; and, most important of all, the approach of an energy-returns cliff-edge. Through technology, through culture and through economic and political change, society is more short-term in nature now than at any time in recorded history. This acceleration towards ever-greater immediacy has blinded society to a series of fundamental economic trends which, if not anticipated and tackled well in advance, could have devastating effects. The relentless shortening of media, social and political horizons has resulted in the establishment of self-destructive economic patterns which now threaten to undermine economic viability.

"Return = Cash + Beta + Alpha": An Inside Look At The World's Biggest And Most Successful "Beta" Hedge Fund

Some time ago when we looked at the the performance of the world's largest and best returning hedge fund, Ray Dalio's Bridgewater, it had some $138 billion in assets. This number subsequently rose by $4 billion to $142 billion a week ago, however one thing remained the same: on a dollar for dollar basis, it is still the best performing and largest hedge fund of the past 20 years, and one which also has a remarkably low standard deviation of returns to boast. This is known to most people. What is less known, however, is that the two funds that comprise the entity known as "Bridgewater" serve two distinct purposes: while the Pure Alpha fund is, as its name implies, a chaser of alpha, or the 'tactical', active return component of an investment, the All Weather fund has a simple "beta isolate and capture" premise, and seeks to generate a modestly better return than the market using a mixture of equity and bonds investments and leverage. Ironically, as we foretold back in 2009, in the age of ZIRP, virtually every "actively managed" hedge fund would soon become not more than a massively levered beta chaser however charging an "alpha" fund's 2 and 20 fee structure. At least Ray Dalio is honest about where the return comes from without hiding behind meaningless concepts and lugubrious econospeak drollery. Courtesy of "The All Weather Story: How Bridgewater created the All Weather investment strategy, the foundation of the "risk parity" movement" everyone else can learn that answer too.

Guest Post: Apparitions In The Fog

After digesting the opinions of the shills, shysters and scam artists, I am ready to predict that I have no clue what will happen during 2013. The fog of uncertainty is engulfing the nation, making consumers hesitant to spend and businesses reluctant to hire or invest. Virtually all of the mainstream media, Wall Street banks and paid shill economists are in agreement that 2013 will see improvement in employment, housing, retail spending and, of course the only thing that matters to the ruling class, the stock market. Even among the alternative media, there seems to be a consensus that we will continue to muddle through and the day of reckoning is still a few years off. Those who are predicting improvements are either ignorant of history or are being paid to predict improvement, despite the overwhelming evidence of a worsening economic climate. The mainstream media pundits, fulfilling their assigned task of purveying feel good propaganda, use the 10% stock market gain in 2012 as proof of economic recovery. The facts prove otherwise... Every day more people are realizing the con-job being perpetuated by the owners of this country. Will the tipping point be reached in 2013? I don’t know. But the era of decisiveness and confrontation has arrived. The existing social order will be swept away. Are you prepared?

Iran Central Bank Head Fired After Crushing Currency

While in some places crushing your currency is a badge of honor for every formerly independent central banker (and now merely an operative of the fourth branch of government), this appears to not be the case in Iran. Because after having done what western central bankers can only dream of, and destroying the Iranian real by so much it nearly led to the onset of hyperinflation in the troubled country (and inflating away all that sovereign debt, oh wait, wrong insolvent country), the governor of the nation's central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, was summarily dismissed. And while the move is obviously politically motivated, and the reason given is that he ordered "illegal withdrawals of money from the banking system", or a process better known in the US as POMO, it is rather stunning how gaping the double standard is vis-a-vis central bankers around the world. Fear not Mahmoud - we are certain that Ben Bernanke will have a vice chairman spot open just for you, or at least a Vice President of Market Manipulation and Leaking on the Liberty 33 trading desk, if and when you manage to escape the clutches of Iran and make your way to the Marriner Eccles building. Now where is that Argo 2 - the Sequel film crew...

Japan's Chain Of Events: Stagnation -> Monetization -> Devaluation -> Stabilization -> Retaliation -> Hyperinflation

As the world's equity markets prepare to rally on the back of yet more central bank printing as Japan's Shinzo Abe takes the helm with a 2% inflation target and a central bank entirely in his pocket, The Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard suggests a rather concerning analog for the last time a Japanese prime-minister attempted to salvage his deflation/depression strewn nation. The 1930s 'brilliant rescue' by Korekiyo Takahashi, who removed Japan from the Gold Standard, ran huge 'Keynesian' budget deficits intentionally, and compelled the Bank of Japan to monetize his debt until the economy was back on its feet managed to devalue the JPY by 60% (40% on a trade-weighted basis). Initially this led to exports rising dramatically and brief optical stability, but the repercussion is the unintended consequence (retaliation) that the world missed then and is missing now. Though the economy appeared to stabilize, the responses of other major exporting nations, implicitly losing in the game of world trade, caused Japan's policies to backfire, slowed growth and left a nation needing to chase its currency still lower - eventually leading to hyperinflation in Japan (and Takahashi's assassination). With no Martians to export to, why should we expect any difference this time? and how much easier (and quicker) are trade flows altered in the current world?

Guest Post: Fiscal Farce, Failure, Fantasy, & Fornication

After witnessing the fighting of undeclared never ending wars, passage of freedom destroying legislation like the Patriot Act & NDAA, approval of pork barrel spending to the tune of hundreds of billions, rule by Executive Order, using ZIRP to extract hundreds of billions from senior citizen savers and give it to criminal Wall Street banks, forcing the American people at gunpoint to replenish the Wall Street banks with $700 billion after they had committed the greatest financial fraud in history, and a continuing trampling of the U.S. Constitution, the American people continue to remain willfully ignorant of the truth. The American Dream is dead. We’ve allowed a rich, privileged, elite few to achieve hegemony over our economic and political system with their control of the media and manipulation of our financial markets. They will collapse the country because they will never be satisfied with the amount of wealth and power they’ve accumulated. Their voracious greed will be their downfall.