Over a year ago, we first explained what one of the key terminal problems affecting the modern financial system is: namely the increasing scarcity and disappearance of money-good assets ("safe" or otherwise) which due to the way "modern" finance is structured, where a set universe of assets forms what is known as "high-quality collateral" backstopping trillions of rehypothecated shadow liabilities all of which have negligible margin requirements (and thus provide virtually unlimited leverage) until times turn rough and there is a scramble for collateral, has become perhaps the most critical, and missing, lynchpin of financial stability. Not surprisingly, recent attempts to replenish assets (read collateral) backing shadow money, most recently via attempted Basel III regulations, failed miserably as it became clear it would be impossible to procure the just $1-$2.5 trillion in collateral needed according to regulatory requirements. The reason why this is a big problem is that as the Matt Zames-headed Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC) showed today as part of the appendix to the quarterly refunding presentation, total demand for "High Qualty Collateral" (HQC) would and could be as high as $11.2 trillion under stressed market conditions.
Curious how Abenomics is progressing six months after its announcement? These charts courtesy of Diapason should provide a convenient status update.
There was little in terms of overnight newsflow to spook algos, but the tone is decidedly sour this morning following a lack of either the now traditional Japan or Europen-open buying ramps. The primary reason for this may well be the ongoing decline in the USDJPY which failed to breach the 100 barrier yesterday, coming as close as 99.95 before the Mrs. Watanabe onslaught had to be called off despite some more jawboning from Kuroda whose headlines are now summarily ignored, and which appears to have set a line in the sand for Japan, whose market naturally closed lower following this strengthening in its currency. Similarly troubling was the dip in the SHCOMP which closed down -0.58%, this despite the epic M2 and credit injection reported yesterday: if new liquidity can't send the market higher, what can?
Futures green? Check. Overnight ramp in either the EURUSD or USDJPY carry funding pair? Check? Lack of good economic news and plethora of economic misses? Check. In short, all the ingredients for continued New Normal record highs, driven only by the central bank liquidity tsunami are here. The weakness started with Australia's stunning unemployment jump overnight which saw a 36,100 drop in jobs on just 7,500 expected. A miss in Chinese auto sales was next, with 1.59MM cars sole in March, below the 1.596 expected, and even despite the surge in M2 and loan data, the Shanghai Composite closed down once again, dropping 0.29% to 2219.6. Nikkei continued its deranged liquidity-fueled ways, rising 1.96% even as Kuroda is starting to become quite concerned about the rapid move in the Yen, saying he "may adjust policy before the 2% target is reached if the economy and other indicators are growing rapidly." They aren't, and won't be, but if the Nikkei225 is confused for the economy, he just may push on the breaks which would send the only reason for the latest rally, the USDJPY tumbling. Finally, looking at Europe, Italy sold well less than the maximum €6 billion targeted in 2016, 2017 and 2028 bonds, which dented some of the enthusiasm for Italian paper although with Japanese money desperate to be parked somewhere, it will continue going into European and all other fixed income, distorting market signals for a long time. In short, expect the central-bank risk levitation to continue as all the deteriorating fundamentals and reality are ignored once more, and hopium and P/E multiple expansion are the only story in town.
Forget Cyprus. A much bigger story in the coming weeks and months will be in Japan, where one of the greatest economic experiments in the modern era is about to begin.
Last November, in an act of sheer monetary desperation, the ECB issued an exhaustive, and quite ridiculous, pamphlet titled "Virtual Currency Schemes" in which it mocked and warned about the "ponziness" of such electronic currencies as BitCoin. Why a central bank would stoop so "low" to even acknowledge what no "self-respecting" (sic) PhD-clad economist would even discuss, drunk and slurring, at cocktail parties, remains a mystery to this day. However, that it did so over fears the official artificial currency of the insolvent continent, the EUR, may be becoming even more "ponzi" than the BitCoins the ECB was warning about, was clear to everyone involved who saw right through the cheap propaganda attempt. Feel free to ask any Cypriot if they would now rather have their money in locked up Euros, or in "ponzi" yet freely transferable, unregulated BitCoins. And while precious metals have been subject to price manipulation by the legacy establishment, even if ultimately the actual physical currency equivalent asset, its "value" naively expressed in some paper currency, may be in the possession of the beholder, to date no price suppression or regulation schemes of virtual currencies existed. At least until now: it appears that the ever-benevolent, and always knowing what is "in your best interest" Big Brother has decided to finally take a long, hard look at what is going on in the world of BitCoin... and promptly crush it.
Why is the global economy in so much trouble? How can so many people be so absolutely certain that the world financial system is going to crash? Well, the truth is that when you take a look at the cold, hard numbers it is not difficult to see why the global financial pyramid scheme is destined to fail. In the United States today, there is approximately 56 trillion dollars of total debt in our financial system, but there is only about 9 trillion dollars in our bank accounts. So you could take every single penny out of the banks, multiply it by six, and you still would not have enough money to pay off all of our debts. Overall, there is about 190 trillion dollars of total debt on the planet. But global GDP is only about 70 trillion dollars. And the total notional value of all derivatives around the globe is somewhere between 600 trillion and 1500 trillion dollars. So we have a gigantic problem on our hands. The global financial system is a very shaky house of cards that has been constructed on a foundation of debt, leverage and incredibly risky derivatives.
The Status Quo is shameless when it comes to hyping the recovery by whatever metric is most positive. Recently, that has been the stock market, but if GDP rises significantly (and recall GDP increases if the government borrows and blows money), then that number is duly trotted out by politicos and Mainstream Media toadies. If we scrape away this ceaseless perception management, we find that legitimate broadbased prosperity is always based on rising employment and increased purchasing power of wages. The phantom wealth that is conjured by asset bubbles vanishes when the bubbles inevitably pop, leaving all those who borrowed against their ephemeral bubble wealth hapless debt-serfs. If prosperity ultimately depends on employment and earned income (wages), how are we doing as a nation? Unfortunately, the answer is "terrible." As a percentage of the population, full-time employment is down. Only 36% of the population has a full-time job.
In the upcoming week the key focus on the data side will be the US February retail sales figures on Wednesday, which should provide clearer evidence on how the tax increases that took place on January 1 have affected the consumer. In Europe, industrial production and inflation data will be the releases to watch. On the policy side, the focus will be on the BoJ appointments in an otherwise relatively quiet week for G7 central banks. Italy’s newly elected lawmakers convene for the first time on Friday 15 March and the expectation remains that President Napolitano will formally invite Mr Bersani to try and form a new government. He may also opt for a technocrat government. Although clearly preferred by markets, winning political backing may prove challenging.
The Fed Doves are not thinking of that outcome. If they did, they would be not so confident on their ability to control the outcome. That, or they're bluffing.
The most notable overnight event was the release of the Chinese Government Work Report as part of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress which kicked off today and runs until March 17. This is the Chinese equivalent of the US State of the Union address, delivered in this case by the outgoing premier Wen Jiabao. In it, Wen summarized his administration’s achievement in the past ten years in some detail, but still voiced a sense of crisis when talking about existing social and economic problems. The key highlights were the closely watched economic targets for 2013, which while not surprising, were at the lowest levels in the past decade, confirming that the Chinese slowdown in both economic and loan growth is likely here to stay as the economy downshifts from its mercantilist approach, even while pesky inflation pressures persist.
Central bankers have been counting on "the wealth effect" to lift their economies out of the post-2009 global meltdown slump. The wealth effect concept is simple: flooding the economy with credit and zero-interest money boosts the value of assets such as housing, stocks and bonds. Those owning the assets feel wealthier, and thus more inclined to borrow and spend more money. This new spending creates more demand which then leads employers to hire more employees. Unfortunately for the bottom 90% who don't own enough stocks to feel any wealth effect, the central bankers got it wrong: wages don't rise as a result of the wealth effect, they rise from an increased production of goods and services. Despite unprecedented money-printing, zero interest rates and vast credit expansion, real wages have declined.
Selling snake oil and issuing unbacked paper currency are not so different. They're both wildly successful ploys for the guys pulling the strings. And they're both complete scams that depend solely on the confidence of a willing, ignorant public. But once the confidence begins to erode, the fraud unravels very, very quickly, and the perpetrators resort to desperate measures in order to keep the party going. In the case of fiat currency, governments in terminal decline resort to a very limited, highly predictable playbook in which they try to control... everything... imposing capital controls, exchange controls, wage controls, price controls, trade controls, border controls, and sometimes even people controls. These tactics have been used since the ancient Sumerians. This time is not different.
"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
Since Alan Greenspan became the Fed chairman in 1987, there has been a policy consensus on the primary role and effectiveness of monetary policy in cushioning an economic downturn and kicking it back to growth. Fiscal policy, due to the political difficulties in making meaningful changes, was relegated to a minor role in economic management. Staving off crisis and reviving growth still dominate today's conversation. The prima facie evidence is that the experiment has failed. The dominant voice in policy discussions is advocating more of the same. When a medicine isn't working, it could be the wrong one or the dosage isn't sufficient. The world is trying the latter. But, if the medicine is really wrong, more and more of the same will kill the patient one day. The global economy was a debt bubble, functioning on China over-borrowing and investing and the West over-borrowing and consuming. The dynamic came to an end when the debt crises exposed debt levels in the West as too high. The last source of debt growth, the U.S. government, is coming to an end, too, as politics forces it to reduce the deficit. Trying to bring back yesterday through monetary growth will eventually bring inflation, not growth.