The existing (and ongoing) massive expansion of base money into the banking systems of the US, England, and Japan is without precedent. As Nomura's Richard Koo notes, at 16x statutory reserves, the liquidity 'should' have led to unprecedented inflation rates of 1,600% in the US, 970% in the UK, and 480% in Japan. However, it has not, yet. In short, Koo explains, businesses and households in these economies have stopped borrowing money even though interest rates have fallen to zero. There is little physical or mechanical reason for the BOJ’s easing program to work. But the program could also have a psychological impact - and Japanese media is on an 'inflation' full-court press currently. The risk here is that not only borrowers but also lenders will start to believe the lies. No financial institutions anticipating inflation could ever lend money at current interest rates. No actual damage will be done as long as the easing program remains ineffective. But once it starts to affect psychology, the BOJ needs to quickly reverse the policy and bring the monetary base back to 'normal'. If the policy reversal is delayed, the Japanese economy (and inflation) could spiral out of control.
Update: 87 year old Giorgio Napolitano has been reelected as president of Italy during the 6th consecutive vote. He becomes the first Italian president to serve two terms.
Earlier today the fifth consecutive round of presidential voting in Italy failed to produce the sufficient majority for the country to elect a president courtesy of its fractured political system, especially following the announcement last night from the PD's leader Pier Luigi Bersani that he would quit his post after a president is elected. More than 440 blank ballots were cast in the fifth ballot today, with the leading vote-getter Stefano Rodota -- the candidate of Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement -- at 210. Shortly thereafter an ingenious solution has emerged: reelect the current figurehead president Giorgio Napolitano for a second consecutive 7 year term so if not a prime minister, Italy, which has devolved into total political chaos since the February 25th inconclusive elections, would at least has a president. There is one problem: Napolitano is 87 years old.
As another woeful week wends to a weary close... what we got to look forward to? Although markets appeared to be shooting off in every direction, we do expect we'll see clearer direction soon. Despite the noisy criticism earlier this week of Yen "competitive" devaluation, the G20 meeting said nothing. We suspect certain individuals were quietly sat in the comfy chair, had global reality gently explained to them with the aid of some rusty dental equipment, were slapped around a bit and told to shut it. As long as Japan can sign the pledge on “no competitive depreciation” without giggling we’ll be ok. We do suspect the warmest circle of financial hell is being reserved for those populist European politicians who've tried to appeal to voters with efforts to stem the financial tides, and punished markets for being markets.
There had been some hope that the political vacuum in Italy would normalize after the fourth balloting round of presidential voting, in which the candidate agreed upon by both Bersani and Berlusconi, former trade union leader Franco Marini, would be elected with a simple majority, following a failure to elect one in the first three rounds. Marini had been in the lead with 521 votes but short of the two-third majority needed, or 672, to win the vote. Those hopes have now been dashed following news, coming from a tweet by the PDL's Maurizio Gasparri, that Berlusconi's PDL and its ally Northern League will not take part in the vote. This means that Marini will no longer have even the 504 votes needed to get elected with a simple majority and that the entire spectacle was nothing but empty theater. And so the ongoing total political chaos and vacuum in Italy remains.
With the entire world's attention focused on Boston, the FX carry pair traders knew they had a wide berth to push futures, courtesy of some EURUSD and USDJPY levitation overnight, which started following news out of Japan that the G-20 would have no objection to its big monetary stimulus - of course they don't: they encourage it: just look at the levitation in the global wealth effect stock markets since it started. The Friday humor started early: "Japan explained that its monetary policy is aimed at achieving price stability and economic recovery, and therefore is in line with the G20 agreement in February," Aso told reporters. "There was no objection to that at the meeting." "We explained (at the G20 meeting) that we're convinced that the measures we're taking will be good for the global economy as they will help revive Japanese growth," Aso said. And by global economy he of course means stocks. Shortly thereafter, when Europe opened, the real levitation started as someone, somewhere had to offset what would otherwise be a 100 point plunge in the DJIA just on IBM's miserable results alone. Sure enough what better way to do that than with a wholesale market "tide" offsetting one or two founder boats.
Get that “extra space” to move ready, Mr. Draghi. Your promise to provide unlimited buying of bonds might get put to the test!
Yesterday it was headlines from Bini-Smaghi and Weidmann punching the lights out for the Euro (which as we have been saying all along, needs to be lower not higher to promote some glimmer of hope for Europe). Moments ago it was two new headlines, which if not market crushing on their own, show how increasingly precarious Europe is.
- ITALY PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ELECT PRESIDENT IN FIRST BALLOT
- MERKEL FALLS SHORT OF COALITION MAJORITY ON CYPRUS VOTE
In other words, despite hopes that the Italian political chaos would stabilize following a compromise presidential candidate (which we noted earlier today we would believe when we saw), Italy continues to be an ungovernable chaos. As for Germany, Merkel was forced to rely on opposition votes to pass the critical Cyprus rescue package on which she has literally bet the future of Germany and her political career. While not unexpected, this portends poorly for the Chancellor's September reelection chances, especially if the German anti-Euro party continues its recent surge in popularity in the past few weeks.
Following yesterday's most recent Europe-led rout, the market is attempting a modest rebound, driven by the usual carry funding currency pair (EURUSD and USDJPY) levitation, although so far succeeding only modestly with not nearly enough overnight ramp to offset the bulk of yesterday's losses. In a centrally-planned, currency war-waging world, it is sad that only two key FX pairs matter in setting risk levels. But it is beyond hypocritical and highly ironic that according to a draft, the G-20 will affirm a commitment to "avoid weakening their currencies to gain an advantage for their exports." So the G-20 issues a statement saying nobody is doing it, when everyone is, thus making it ok to cheapen your exports into "competitiveness"? In other words, if everyone lies, nobody lies. Of course, also when everyone eases, nobody eases, and the world is back to square one. But that will only become clear eventually.
Switzerland is the place that has traditionally stood above all the rest in its reputation for financial stability. Why? Because the currency was well-managed, the banking system was sound, and the country had a long tradition of treating capital well. Over the last few years, however, these advantages have collapsed. Just a small handful of countries inspire confidence in the marketplace. And the most popular seems to be Australia. Now, there’s really no such thing as a “good” fiat currency. But given such fundamentals, it’s easy to see why Australia is replacing Switzerland as a global safe haven.
Time after time, it appears, in Europe 'beggars can be choosers'. That is, it seems, until Cyprus, when the Merkel hammer was brought down and a new 'template' to avoid German taxpayers implictly taking on the burden of southern European largesse. The initial pro-Euro indifference to the bailouts has turned increasingly to resentment in Germany - and, as we noted here, the rise of anti-Euro parties in the very heart of the political project. The following Bloomberg Briefs chart explains the tension and why the German 'five-wise-men' are pushing for a broad-based 'wealth tax' across Europe's periphery. Simply put, the Germans bearing the burden are 'poorer' than the peripheral nations as the chart of median wealth so clearly indicates. Combine this with the fact that Germany has the lowest rate of home ownership in Europe and it is little wonder that 'Alternative-for-Germany' party is already at a 3% polling? However, as discussed below, this is misleading since wealth is very unequally distributed in Germany, creating a perception among less wealthy Germans that these transfers are unfair.
The debate about the usefulness of sovereign credit default swaps (SCDS) intensified with the outbreak of sovereign debt stress in the euro area. SCDS can be used to protect investors against losses on sovereign debt arising from so-called credit events such as default or debt restructuring. With the growing influence of SCDS, questions arose about whether speculative use of SCDS contracts could be destabilizing - and this caused regulators to ban non-hedge-related protection buying. The prohibition is based on the view that, in extreme market conditions, such short selling could push sovereign bond prices into a downward spiral, which would lead to disorderly markets and systemic risks, and hence sharply raise the issuance costs of the underlying sovereigns. The IMF's empirical results do not support many of the negative perceptions about SCDS. In particular, spreads of both SCDS and sovereign bonds reflect economic fundamentals, and other relevant market factors, in a similar fashion. Relative to bond spreads, SCDS spreads tend to reveal new information more rapidly during periods of stress, admittedly with overshoots one way or the other. Given the current apparent 'stability' in many nations' bond market spreads, the chart below suggests an alternative way of judging what the credit market thinks - the volume of protection bid - and in this case some interesting names emerge.
As we have vociferously warned since September 2011, and most recently as the Cyprus debacle exploded explained why it is just beginning, Germany's Council of Economic Experts (or so-called 'Five Wise Men') just confirmed a wealth tax is coming. As the Telegraph reports, confirming our expectations, Germany warns that states in trouble must pay more for their own salvation, arguing that there is enough wealth in homes and private assets across the Mediterranean to cover bail-out costs. They further added that targeting deposit-holders is also a mistake, since the "resourceful rich just move their money to banks in northern Europe and avoid paying," preferring instead taxes on property or other less-mobile assets, "for example, over the next 10 years, the rich should give up a portion of their assets." As we noted here and here, the differences between mean and median wealth in the peripheral nations suggest that people in the bailed-out countries are often better-off than those in Germany - - "this shows that Germany has been right to take a tough line of euro rescue loans." However, the implications of a wealth tax - implicitly impacting the pro-euro Southern European uber-rich - raises the specter of EU breakup once again.
A discussion of gold and US Treasury report on foreign exchange.
Getting a second passport is just part of a larger "permanent traveler" strategy. The ideal is to live in one place, have your citizenship in another, your banks and brokers in other jurisdictions, and your business dealings in yet others. That makes it very inconvenient for any one government to control you. You don't want all your eggs in one basket – that just makes it easier for them to grab them all. I understand it may not be easy for most people to structure their affairs that way. That's exactly why most serfs stayed serfs; it was hard and scary to think of anything other than what they were told they should do.