"History is replete with examples of societies whose downfalls were related to or caused by the destruction of money. The end of this phase of global financial history will likely erupt suddenly. It will take almost everyone by surprise, and then it may grind a great deal of capital and societal cohesion into dust and pain. We wish more global leaders understood the value of sound economic policy, the necessity of sound money, and the difference between governmental actions that enable growth and economic stability and those that risk abject ruin. Unfortunately, it appears that few leaders do."
- Paul Singer, Elliott Management
Keynesian stimulus policies (deficit spending and low-interest easy money) create speculative credit bubbles. The U.S. economy is a neofeudal debt-serf wasteland with few opportunities for organic (non-Central Planning) expansion. The velocity of money is in free-fall, and borrowing, squandering and printing trillions of dollars to prop up a diminishing-return Status Quo won't reverse that historic collapse. Put another way: we've run out of speculative credit bubbles to exploit.
When people talk about "cash in the bank", or "money on the sidelines", the conventional wisdom reverts to an image of inert capital, used by banks to fund loans (as has been the case under fractional reserve banking since time immemorial) sitting in a bank vault or numbered account either physically or electronically, and collecting interest, well, collecting interest in the Old Normal (not the New ZIRPy one, where instead of discussing why it is not collecting interest the progressive intelligentsia would rather debate such trolling idiocies as trillion dollar coins, quadrillion euro Swiss cheeses, and quintillion yen tuna). There is one problem, however, with this conventional wisdom: it is dead wrong. Tracking deposit flow data is so critical, as it provides hints of major inflection points, such as when there is a massive build up of deposits via reserves (either real, from saving clients, or synthetic, via the reserve pathway) which can then be used as investments in the market. And of all major inflection points, perhaps none is more critical than the just released data from today's H.6 statement, which showed that in the trailing 4 week period ended December 31, a record $220 billion was put into savings accounts (obviously a blatant misnomer in a time when there is no interest available on any savings). This is the biggest 4-week total amount injected into US savings accounts ever, greater than in the aftermath of Lehman, greater than during the first debt ceiling crisis, greater than any other time in US history.
Earlier today, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and CNBC's Steve Liesman got into a heated exchange over a recent Frezza article, based on some of the key points we made in a prior post "A Record $2 Trillion In Deposits Over Loans - The Fed's Indirect Market Propping Pathway Exposed" in which, as the title implies, we showed how it was that the Fed was indirectly intervening in the stock market by way of banks using excess deposits to chase risky returns and generally push the market higher. We urge readers to spend the few minutes of this clip to familiarize themselves with Frezza's point which is essentially what Zero Hedge suggested, and Liesman's objection that "this is something the banks don't do and can't do." Liesman's naive view, as is to be expected for anyone who does not understand money creation under a fractional reserve system, was simple: the Fed does not create reserves to boost bank profits, and thus shareholder returns, and certainly is not using the fungible cash, which at the end of the day is what reserves amount to once dispersed among the US banks, to gun risk assets higher.
Alas, Steve is very much wrong.
Why must the debt grow every year? To keep the debt-servitude paradigm going. To increase economic activity in a country operating in this type of system, you need to increase the level of credit and thus debt grows in tandem. This is self serving: if debt is the “fuel” to increase economic activity, interest payments will become larger and larger, until eventually it reaches a point where debt can no longer be increased. This point is known as the Minsky moment–when there is no net benefit to extra debt. So there we have it, in our “creditopia” world, if debt does not expand, the economy cannot grow and jobs cannot be created. In order to increase debt, foreigners have to continually finance the ever growing debt by purchasing government bonds and selling consumer products to the US. In turn, the US must increase the level of consumption, decrease savings, and eliminate the threat of any nation posing a risk to the US dollar hegemony. Is this a symbiotic or a parasitic relationship? Is is certainly a relationship that cannot grow forever. It poses an economic risk for ALL nations due to the interconnectedness of the global economy.
Overnight, Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger released an epic magnum opus titled "What's Inside America's Banks", in which they use over 9000 words, including spot on references to Wells Fargo, JPM, Andy Haldane, Kevin Warsh, Basel II, Basel III (whose regulatory framework is now 509 pages and includes a ridiculous 78 calculus equations to suggest that banks have to delever by some $3 trillion, which is why it will never pass) to give their answer: "Nobody knows." Of course, while this yeoman's effort may come as news to a broader cross-section of the population, is it well known by anyone who has even a passing interest in the loan-loss reserve release earnings generating black boxes formerly known as banks (which once upon a time made their money using Net Interest margin, and actually lending out money to make a profit), and now simply known as FDIC insured Bank Holding Company hedge funds. This also happens to be the second sentence in the lead paragraph of the story: "Sophisticated investors describe big banks as “black boxes” that may still be concealing enormous risks—the sort that could again take down the economy." So far so good, and again - not truly news. What however may come as news to none other than the author is that the first sentence of the lead-in: 'Some four years after the 2008 financial crisis, public trust in banks is as low as ever" is, sadly, wrong.
In a sharp turn around from the open, Italian and Spanish 10yr government bond yield spreads over German bunds trade approx. 10bps tighter on the day, this follows several market events this morning that have lifted sentiment. Firstly from a fixed income perspective, both Spain and Greece managed to sell more in their respective t-bill auctions than analysts were expecting and thus has eased concerns ahead of longer dated issuance from Spain this Thursday. In terms of other trigger points for today's risk on tone the December headline reading in the German ZEW survey was positive for the first time since May 2012 coming in at an impressive 6.9 M/M from previous -15.7 with the ZEW economists adding that Germany will not face a recession. Finally, reports overnight have suggested that Italian PM Monti could be wooed by Centrist groups which means that if he wanted too the technocrat PM could stand for elections next year albeit under a different ticket. As such yesterday's concerns over the Italian political scene have abated and the FTSE MIB and the IBEX 35 are out performing the core EU bourses. Looking ahead highlights from the US include trade balance, wholesale inventories and a USD 32bln 3yr note auction, however, volumes and price action may remain light ahead of the key FOMC decision on Wednesday.
Back in June, we wrote an article titled "On The Verge Of A Historic Inversion In Shadow Banking" in which we showed that for the first time since December 1995, the total "shadow liabilities" in the United States - the deposit-free funding instruments that serve as credit to those unregulated institutions that are financial banks in all but name (i.e., they perform maturity, credit and liquidity transformations) - were on the verge of being once more eclipsed by traditional bank funding liabilities. As of Thursday, this inversion is now a fact, with Shadow Bank liabilities representing less in notional than traditional liabilities.
Sixteen years ago today, Alan Greenspan spoke the now infamous words "irrational exuberance" during an annual dinner speech at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Much has changed in the ensuing years (and oddly, his speech is worth a read as he draws attention time and again to the tension between the central bank and the government). Most critically, Greenspan was not wrong, just early. And the result of the market's delay in appreciating his warning has resulted in an epic shift away from those same asset classes that were most groomed and loved by Greenspan - Stocks, to those most hated and shunned by the Fed - Precious Metals. While those two words were his most famous, perhaps the following sentences are most prescient: "A democratic society requires a stable and effectively functioning economy. I trust that we and our successors at the Federal Reserve will be important contributors to that end."
The other day the Huffington Post ran an article by a Bonnie Kavoussi called “11 Lies About the Federal Reserve.” And you’ll never guess: these aren’t lies or myths spread in the financial press by Fed apologists. These are “lies” being told by you and me, opponents of the Fed. Bonnie Kavoussi calls us “Fed-haters.” So she, a Fed-lover, is at pains to correct these alleged misconceptions. She must stop us stupid ingrates from poisoning our countrymen’s minds against this benevolent array of experts innocently pursuing economic stability. Here are the 11 so-called lies (she calls them “myths” in the actual rendering), and Tom Woods and Bob Murphy's responses.
We believe an unsustainable new global financial architecture that arose in response to the US and European financial crises has replaced an older, more sustainable, architecture. The old architecture was crystallized in Washington- and IMF-inspired policy responses to the numerous sovereign defaults, banking system failures, and currency collapses. Most importantly, the previous architecture recognized limits on fiscal and central bank balance sheets. The new architecture attempts to 'back', perhaps unconsciously, the entire liability side of the global financial system. This framing is consistent with a purely political—institutional stylized—fact that it is nearly impossible to penetrate the US political parties if the message is that there are limits to their power…or that their power requires great effort and sacrifice. This is why Keynesians (at least US ones) who argue there are no limits to a fiscal balance sheet are so popular with Democrats, and why monetarists (at least US ones) who argue there are no limits to a central bank balance sheet are popular with (a decreasing number of) Republicans. Party on! Again, nobody chooses hard-currency regimes – they are forced on non-credible policymakers. Let me put it more positively. If politicians want the power of fiat money, let alone the global reserve currency, they need to behave differently than they have - or the consequences for Gold are extraordinary.
The great day has come and gone when the Fed would once again ride to the action, not daring to be left behind by the ECB’s perverse vaunting of its new ‘unlimited’ programme of bond purchases. But the few, brief sentences from Bernanke contain such a miasma of error that it is hard to know where to begin if we are to restore a fresh breeze of economic rationale to this swamp of non sequiturs and wilful misunderstandings. It is not enough that crude, Krugmanite Keynesianism clings to the cheap parlour trick of using money illusion to fool unemployed wage-earners into lowering the reservation price of their labour, but now we must battle against banal, Bernankite Bubble-blowing – the hope that money illusion will fool cash-constrained asset owners instead. It is not only that Bernanke’s policies will inevitably assist the zombie companies and the obsolescent industries to absorb scarce resources (not least on bank balance sheets) to a much greater degree than is justified, there is also the danger that lax money misleads even today’s supramarginal businesses into over-estimating the depth and duration of demand for their products, ultimately undermining many otherwise sound undertakings and reducing these, too, when the cycle next turns, to the ranks of the Living Dead.
Pump it up, until you can feel it, Pump it up, when you don't really need it...
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?