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?
John Tamny of Forbes is one of the more informed contributors in the increasingly dismal state of economic commentating. Tamny readily admits he is on the libertarian side of things and doesn’t give into the money-making game of carrying the flag for a favored political party under the guise of a neutral observer. He condemns the whole of the Washington establishment for our current economic woes and realizes that government spending is wasteful in the sense that it is outside the sphere of profit and loss consideration. In short, Tamny’s column for both Forbes and RealClearMarkets.com are a breath of fresh air in the stale rottenness of mainstream economic analysis. Much to this author’s dismay however, Tamny has written a piece that denies one of the key functions through which central banks facilitate the creation of money. In doing so, he lets banks off the hook for what really can be classified as counterfeiting. In a recent Forbes column entitled “Ron Paul, Fractional Reserve Banking, and the Money Multiplier Myth,” Tamny attempts to bust what he calls the myth that fractional reserve banking allows for the creation of money through credit lending. According to him, it is an extreme exaggeration to say money is created “out of thin air” by fractional reserve banks as Murray Rothbard alleged. This is a truly outrageous claim that finds itself wrong not just in theory but also in plain evidence. Not only does fractional reserve banking play a crucial role in inflationary credit expansion, it borders on being outright fraudulent.
Two weeks ago we observed that the broadest money aggregate tracked by the Fed, M2, was less than $10 billion away from crossing the historic $10 trillion mark. As of this week, this number now officially has 14 digits for the first time ever, or $10,035,100,000,000 to be precise (technically the non-seasonally adjusted number crossed $10T last week, but for some reason bank deposits need to be seasonally adjusted, so waiting for the traditionally fudged data seemed appropriate). And we have a $50 billion increase in savings deposits, aka deferred buying power to those who still have the capacity to save, in one week to thank for putting $10 trillion in the rearview mirror.
As we wait anxiously for the not-too-hot and not-too-cold but just right GDP data from China this evening, we thought it instructive to get some sense of the reality in China. From both the property bubble perspective (as Stratfor's analysis of the record high prices paid just this week for Beijing property - by an SOE no less - and its massive 'microcosm' insight into the bubbliciousness of the PBOC's attempts to stave off the inevitable 'landing'); to the rather shocking insight that Diapason Commodities' Sean Corrigan offers that 'Hot Money Flows' have left China at a rates exceeding that during the worst of the Lehman crisis; take a range of key indicators – from electricity usage, to Shanghai container throughput, to nationwide rail freight ton-miles, to steel output – and you will notice that none of these shows a rate of growth during the second quarter of more than 4% from 2011, and some are as low as 1%. Whatever fictive GDP number we are presented with this week, the message is clear: “Brace! Brace! Brace!”
European equities are seen softer at the North American crossover as continued concerns regarding global demand remain stubborn ahead of tonight’s Chinese GDP release. Adding to the risk-aversion is continued caution surrounding the periphery, evident in the Spanish and Italian bourses underperforming today. A key catalyst for trade today has been the ECB’s daily liquidity update, wherein deposits, unsurprisingly, fell dramatically to EUR 324.9bln following the central bank’s cut to zero-deposit rates. The move by the ECB to boost credit flows and lending has slipped at the first hurdle, as the fall in deposits is matched almost exactly by an uptick in the ECB’s current account. As such, it is evident that the banks are still sitting on their cash reserves, reluctant to lend, as the real economy is yet to see a boost from the zero-deposit rate. As expected, the European banks’ share prices are showing the disappointment, with financials one of the worst performing sectors, and CDS’ on bank bonds seen markedly higher. A brief stint of risk appetite was observed following the release of positive money supply figures from China, particularly the new CNY loans number, however the effect was shortlived, as participants continue to eye the upcoming growth release as the next sign of health, or lack thereof, from the world’s second largest economy.
European equities in both the futures and the cash markets are making significant gains after a mornings’ trade, with financials, particularly in the periphery, leading the way higher following the weekend reports of the Eurogroup confirming aid for the Spanish banking sector. With data remaining light throughout the day, its likely investors will remain focused on the macro-picture, seeing some relief as the Spanish financials look to be recapitalized. At the open, risk sentiment was clear, with EUR/USD opening in the mid-1.2600’s, and peripheral government bond yield spreads against the German bund significantly tighter. In the past few hours, these positions have unwound somewhat, with EUR/USD breaking comfortably back below 1.2600 and the Spanish 10-yr yield spread moving through unchanged and on a widening trend across the last hour or so against its German counterpart, and the yield failing to break below the 6% mark.
It may feel like I'm out of touch with the precious metals markets to broach the subject of a mania today, but I think the table is being set now for a huge move into gold and silver. There are, however, very valid reasons to reasonably expect a mania in our sector. For one thing, manias have occurred many times before, but the main issue is that a mania in gold and gold stocks is the likely result of the absolute balloon in government debt, deficit spending, and money printing. Saying all that profligacy will go away without inflationary consequences seems naïve or foolish. Inflation may not attract investors to gold and silver as much as force them to it. Now, one could make the argument that any rush into gold and silver will be muted if no one has any savings, especially given that demographers say a quarter of the developed world will soon be retired. But even if individuals are wiped out, the world's money supply isn't getting any smaller, and all that cash has to go somewhere. I wanted to look at cash levels among various investor groups to get a feel for what's out there, as well as how money supply compares to our industry. Data from some institutional investors are hard to come by, but below is a sliver of information about available cash levels. I compared the cash and short-term investments of S&P 500 corporations, along with M1, to gold and silver ETFs, coins, and equities. While the picture might be what you'd expect, the contrast is still rather striking.