John Adams famously described the American government as being “of laws and not men.” The managerial state has wiped clean that wisdom in favor of countless and arbitrary dictates enforced by worthless bodies. The narcolepsy-inducing USA Today recently reported the Federal Bureau of Investigation granted informants immunity to break government law in certain circumstances. Newly disclosed documents reveal that thousands of so-dubbed “crimes” were committed in 2011 by the FBI’s pet players. The misdeeds include drug trafficking, plotting robberies, and bribery. Last year, the New York Times published a damning report on how the good-natured agents of Washington’s infamous law investigator work tirelessly at foiling terrorist plots they go to great lengths at concocting. These faux plots of destruction are used to beef up the reputation of the agency so as to solidify its monopoly of police power. The selective enforcement of law negates the very purpose of social order. How can there be a universally recognized limits to mankind’s behavior if a minority are permitted to disregard governing laws? The result is a contradiction – either the law applies everywhere or it does not.
A recent survey of asset managers globally, managing USD 27.4 trillion between them, found that 78% of defined-benefit plans would need annual returns of at least 5% per year to meet their commitments, while 19% required more than 8%, "a target of 5% per year can be reached but only by using leverage, shorting, and derivavtives." And sure enough, as Deutsche Bank (DB) reports, in short, investors have rarely been more levered than today! According to DB, a MoM change in NYSE margin debt >10% has to be taken as a critical warning signal as there are astonishing similarities in the sequence of events among all crises. As the S&P 500 just hit a new all-time high, investors might want to ask themselves when it is a good time to become more cautious – yesterday, in our view. Simply put, the higher margin debt levels rise, the more fragile the underlying basis on which prices trade; with even a less severe sell-off in equities capable of triggering a collapse.
Traders and investors do not respond to sea changes instantly. The smart ones take note and begin adjusting their portfolios and hedging their bets. This doesn’t result in massive market moves as these investors are sophisticated enough to move out of old positions and into new ones without drawing too much attention
The “QE generates economic growth” story is officially dead. This will have severe repercussions throughout the financial system.
In a 43-page research report, the Federal Reserve has authored a rather concerning tome warning that the mechanical positive-feedback rebalancing of Leverage ETFs (LETFs) resembles the portfolio insurance strategies, which contributed to the stock market crash of October 19, 1987. The impact of LETFs on broad stock-market indexes become significant during periods of high volatility (shown empirically in 2008/9 and H2 2011) as they show that LETF rebalancing in response to a large market move could amplify the move and force them to further rebalance which may trigger a “cascade” reaction. Furthermore, executing orders within a short period of time, such as the last hour of trading, may cause disproportionate price changes (especially in financial stocks). The Fed warns that a significant price reduction at market close may also impair investor confidence with accelerating depressed prices at the close potentially driving large investor outflows overnight.
It is well-known that as part of the S&P500's ascent to new records, investor margin debt has also surged to all time highs, surpassing for the past three months previous records set during both prior, the dot com and the housing, stock market bubbles. And as more attention has shifted to the topic of speculator leverage once more, inquiries into the correlation between bets upon bets and stock performance are popping up once more, in this case in a study by Deutsche Bank titled "Red Flag! - The curious case of NYSE margin debt." Of particular note here is a historical comparison of margin-debt warnings that have recurred throughout history but especially just before major stock bubble crashes, such as in the period 1999/2000, 2007/2008 and of course today, which have time and again been ignored. Here is what was said then, what is being said now, and what is ignored always.
This insane world was created through decades of bad decisions, believing in false prophets, choosing current consumption over sustainable long-term savings based growth, electing corruptible men who promised voters entitlements that were mathematically impossible to deliver, the disintegration of a sense of civic and community obligation and a gradual degradation of the national intelligence and character. There is a common denominator in all the bubbles created over the last century – Wall Street bankers and their puppets at the Federal Reserve. Fractional reserve banking, control of a fiat currency by a privately owned central bank, and an economy dependent upon ever increasing levels of debt are nothing more than ingredients of a Ponzi scheme that will ultimately implode and destroy the worldwide financial system. Since 1913 we have been enduring the largest fraud and embezzlement scheme in world history, but the law of diminishing returns is revealing the plot and illuminating the culprits. Bernanke and his cronies have proven themselves to be highly educated one trick pony protectors of the status quo. Bernanke will eventually roll craps. When he does, the collapse will be epic and 2008 will seem like a walk in the park.
There is one vitally important number that everyone needs to be watching right now, and it doesn't have anything to do with unemployment, inflation or housing. If this number gets too high, it will collapse the entire U.S. financial system.
In the classic fantasy rom-com The Princess Bride, the beautiful maid Buttercup orders the farm boy Westley to perform numerous tasks to test his servitude. No matter the magnitude of the request, Westley simply answers "As you wish" and makes it so. Buttercup eventually comes to view Wesley with similar devotion, and true love is born. Similarly, investors have fallen back in love with the capital markets, whose continual response their increasingly irrational hopes has been "As you wish." It's inconceivable!
Marc Faber noted recently, "markets will punish the interventionists one day," and while we are already seeing 'accidents' occurring in JGBs, Gold, EM debt, and now US Treasuries; US equities remain immune. However, given the current uncertainty of macro-economic data, high-leverage, fear of rising interest rates, and instability of currency markets, all of the same conditions that led to the 1987 crash are now present in financial markets. Does this mean the markets are going to crash? Certainly not; but the conditions may be right for another 'market accident' to happen.
The volatility of recent weeks is but a mere small taste of the volatility in store for all markets in the coming months and years. The global debt crisis is likely to continue for the rest of the decade as politicians and central bankers have merely delayed the day of reckoning. They have ensured that when the day of reckoning comes it will be even more painful and costly then it would have been previously.
At the end of the day, Friedman jettisoned the gold standard for a remarkable statist reason. Just as Keynes had been, he was afflicted with the economist’s ambition to prescribe the route to higher national income and prosperity and the intervention tools and recipes that would deliver it. The only difference was that Keynes was originally and primarily a fiscalist, whereas Friedman had seized upon open market operations by the central bank as the route to optimum aggregate demand and national income. The greatest untoward consequence of the closet statism implicit in Friedman’s monetary theories, however, is that it put him squarely in opposition to the vision of the Fed’s founders. As has been seen, Carter Glass and Professor Willis assigned to the Federal Reserve System the humble mission of passively liquefying the good collateral of commercial banks when they presented it. Consequently, the difference between a “banker’s bank” running a discount window service and a central bank engaged in continuous open market operations was fundamental and monumental. In short, the committee of twelve wise men and women unshackled by Friedman’s plan for floating paper dollars would always find reasons to buy government debt, thereby laying the foundation for fiscal deficits without tears.
How bad is the situation? Quite bad. As as of last night, courtesy of SMRA, we know that the amount of ten-year equivalents held by the Fed increased to $1.608 trillion from $1.606 trillion in the prior week, which reduces the amount available to the private sector to $3.603 trillion from $3.636 trillion in the prior week. There were $5.211 trillion ten-year equivalents outstanding, down from $5.242 trillion in the prior week. After the Treasury issuance, maturing securities, rising interest rates, and Fed operations during the week, the Fed owned about 30.86% of the total outstanding ten year equivalents. This is above the 30.63% from the prior week, and the percentage of ten-year equivalents available to the private sector decreased to 69.14% from 69.37% in the prior week.
Gold has gone down Friday to under $1, 200 an ounce and that means it’s reached its lowest point for the past three years. Worse than that: it’s been the worst quarterly performance for gold for 45 years!