Gross Domestic Product
Complex systems arise spontaneously, behave unpredictably, exhaust resources and collapse catastrophically.
The year is not over yet, and already Greece's banks have lost €36.7 billion of their deposit base in 2011, and a whopping €64.6 billion since the beginning of 2010, which is down from €233 billion to €173 billion in under two years. In October another €3.5 billion was withdrawn from Greek banks and likely either redeposited somewhere deep in the heart of Switzerland, or converted to various inert metals and buried somewhere in the back yard. The good news: the outflow is just over half of October's record €6.8 billion. The bad news: at this rate of outflows, Greek banks will have zero deposits in around 4 years. Which at the end of the day is all the matters, because while the Troica can keep funding capital shortfalls indefinitely, all faith in the country's banks has now been lost and Greece is officially a zombie economy. The fact that the country's deficit as a % of GDP is about to be re-revised even higher is no longer even meaningful: the Greek economy and its banking sectors are now officially dead. We merely feel bad for anyone who still has cash in banks as, just like gold in 1930s America, any residual cash may soon be "sequestered" for national security purposes. After all there are bankers who need record bonuses, and Military sales from Europe and the US that have to proceed using what will likely soon be "commingled" deposit cash.
Markets are moving positively across the board today following comments from Fitch, dampening speculation that France may be downgraded from its Triple A status. Fitch’s Parker commented that he does not expect to see France downgraded at all throughout 2012. However he added that there are continuing pressures for France from national banks and EFSF liabilities, Parker also reinforced German confidence stating that Germany’s Triple A rating is safe. Markets were also experiencing upwards pressure from strong French manufacturing data performing above expectations and successful Austrian auctions today, tightening the spread between France and Austria on 10-year bunds.
Gold registered its eleventh consecutive annual gain, extending the bull market that began in 2001. The yellow metal gained 10.1% – a solid return, though moderate when compared to previous years. Silver lost almost 10% year over year, due primarily to its dual nature. Currency concerns lit a match under the price early in the year, while global economic concerns forced it to give it all back later. Gold mining stocks couldn't shake the need for antidepressants most of the year, and another correction in gold in December dragged them further down. Meanwhile, those who sat in US government debt in 2011 were handsomely rewarded, with Treasury bonds recording one of their biggest annual gains. In spite of the unparalleled downgrade of the country's AAA credit rating, Treasuries were one of the best-performing asset classes of the year. The driving forces there are expanding fear about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, combined with the Fed's promise to keep interest rates low through 2013.
Our comprehensive monthly chart porn packet comes courtesy of our favorite chartist: The Punchline's Abe Gulkowitz who has just released the January edition: "Jump Ball 2012 Will it all Fall Into Place in 2012?" - the narrative is brief (by definition) by as always cuts right to the chase. "It’s a new year and US economic activity is looking better. But magic is still needed to resolve the numerous challenges ahead. The best scenario is that the cyclical upturn gains momentum here in the U.S. and the rest of the world falls into place. Many are right to expect fourth?quarter GDP growth in the U.S. to have been a 3.5% growth pace, but still expect the spillover from Europe and policy uncertainty to cause GDP growth to decelerate over 2012. We have attempted to flush out some issues that are inadequately covered in the press… First, despite impressive improvement in the U.S. business scene, the recovery remains awkwardly distorted. The continuing deep slump in the housing market is partly to blame. The construction sector added only 47,000 jobs in 2011. More than 2 million construction jobs have evaporated since 2007, and the sector’s job count is back to its level in 1996, when the population and the economy were smaller. Second, the role of government spending has become so extended that it might take years to correct. Third, market liquidity measures have been drying up as big banks and financial institutions play defense. This is both a function of new regulatory underpinnings and the morass in Europe. While the focus of politicians and market players has been to remedy the short term necessities in the fiscal and debt crisis, the long?term challenge for Europe is to find ways of reducing its divisive divergence in economic performance and boosting overall rates of growth. If these issues are not addressed and resolved, the continent will remain locked in an asymmetric pattern of trade and stagnant living standards for both rich and poor countries. Such broader issues will require imagination and structural changes to the current framework, and faster growth worldwide than is currently on the drawing board…" Must read for even the most time-pressed and ADHD afflicted flow desk traders.
Lesson to be learned - never be a small investor!
Against this highly deflationary backdrop, the one primary prop for the markets is hope of more juice/credit from the world Central Banks. However, even that prop is losing its strength: the gains of the last coordinated Central Bank intervention lasted just a few weeks.
A confirmation on this could come shortly. My thoughts if it should come to pass.
Continuing the schizoid overnight theme, we look at Germany which just sold €3.9 billion in 6 month zero-coupon Bubills at a record low yield of -0.0122% (negative) compared to 0.001% previously. The bid to cover was 1.8 compared to 3.8 before. As per the FT: "German short-term debt has traded at negative yields in the secondary market for some weeks with three-month, six-month and one-year debt all below zero. Bills for six-month debt hit a low of minus 0.3 per cent shortly after Christmas...The German auction marks the start of another busy week of debt sales across Europe. France and Slovakia are also selling bills on Monday, with Austria and the Netherlands selling bonds on Tuesday. Germany will auction five-year bonds on Wednesday, while Thursday sees sales of Spanish bonds and Italian bills. Italy finishes the week with a sale of bonds on Friday." Still the fact that the ECB deposit facility, already at a new record as pointed out previously, is not enough for banks to parks cash is grounds for alarm bells going off: the solvency crisis in Europe is not getting any easier, confirmed by the implosion of UniCredit which is down now another 11% this morning and down nearly 50% since the atrocious rights offering announced last week. On this background Germany continues to be a beacon of stability, yet even here the consensus is that recession has arrived. As Bild writes, according to a bank economist survey, Germany's economy is expected to shrink in Q1, with wage increases remaining below 3%. And as deflation grips the nation, potentially unleashing the possibility for direct ECB monetization, look for core yields to continue sliding lower, at least on the LTRO-covered short end.
Overall, there are both internal structural factors and external global factors, which contribute to the making of an epic hard landing in China. China will be really vulnerable when the US and Europe both unleash the quantitative easing. These are things China has no control of. Nevertheless, the best China can do to avoid the worst is to continue the painful structural adjustment: marketize the “big four”-dominated banking industry to allow for more efficient monetary allocation; Transform the labor intensive low value-added economy to the high value-added knowledge economy; reform the wealth redistribution system to empower the broad consumer base and honor its promise of a consumption-led economy.
While the US enjoys the luxury provided by the dollar’s world currency status and diplomatic alliance with many major trade partners to export its liquidity and inflation, China enjoys none of that. They should look at the dollars in their hands with fear and doubt. So called Beijing consensus makes little sense, because the world is fast changing, pegging a country’s growth to a certain set of policy tools or a certain reserve currency (the US dollar) is equally dangerous. The battle between Keynes and Friedman has long proven the only consensus is to adapt and change. Right now China needs to adapt and change fast. Or this will be the best time in history to short China.
Can Austerity Work?
What can go wrong, almost always goes wrong. Some thoughts on how this will play out.
(my effort at levity)
Curious how the US, on a state by state basis, stacks up against the rest of the world, in terms of economic (and population) prowess? The following interactive graphic from the Economist should answer all questions about what state is equivalent to what country. With some surprises: as the Economist points out: "Who would have thought that, despite years of auto-industry hardship, the economy of Michigan is still the same size as Taiwan's?" On the other hand Montana Grungeville being equal to Greece in GDP - that we could live with...
We have now entered the fifth year of this Fourth Turning Crisis. George Washington and his troops were barely holding on at Valley Forge during the fifth year of the American Revolution Fourth Turning. By year five of the Civil War Fourth Turning 700,000 Americans were dead, the South left in ruins, a President assassinated and a military victory attained that felt like defeat. By the fifth year of the Great Depression/World War II Fourth Turning, FDR’s New Deal was in place and Adolf Hitler had been democratically elected and was formulating big plans for his Third Reich. The insight from prior Fourth Turnings that applies to 2012 is that things will not improve. They call it a Crisis because the risk of calamity is constant. There is zero percent chance that 2012 will result in a recovery and return to normalcy. Not one of the issues that caused our economic collapse has been solved. The “solutions” implemented since 2008 have exacerbated the problems of debt, civic decay and global disorder. The choices we make as a nation in 2012 will determine the future course of this Fourth Turning. If we fail in our duty, this Fourth Turning could go catastrophically wrong. I pray we choose wisely. Have a great 2012.