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.
Those who think back to November 2011 will recall that it wasn't Jon Corzine's wrong way bet on Italian bonds that ultimately led to the bankruptcy of MF Global, well it did in part, but the real Chapter 11 cause was the sudden liquidity shortage due to the way the trades were structured as a Repo To Maturity, where the bank had hoped to collect the carry from the bond coupons, thereby offsetting the nominal repo cost of funding. The kind of deal which is the very definition of collecting pennies in front of a steamroller, as while the funding cost may be tiny and the capital allocated negligible (due to the nearly infinite implied leverage involved when using repo), when the underlying instrument crashes, and the originating counterparty has to fund a massive variation margin shortfall, that is when the shadow transformation cascade triggers an immediate liquidity crisis, which can result in liquidation cascade in a few brief hours. It happened with MF Global, it happened with Lehman too. And, we now learn, it also happened with Italy's most troubled and oldest bank, Monte Paschi (BMPS), whose endless bailouts, political intrigue, depoit runs, and cooked books have all been covered extensively here previously.
The paper price of gold crashed to $1,325 in the wake of this huge trade. It is now hovering around $1,400. Our first reaction is to suggest that this is only an aberration, and that the fundamentals of the depreciating value of paper currencies will eventually take the price of gold much higher, making it a buying opportunity. But what we can't predict is whether big players might again deliver short-term downturns to the market. The momentum in the futures market can make swings surprisingly larger than the fundamentals of currency valuation would suggest; but the fundamentals will drive the long-term market more than these short-term events. The fight between pricing from the physical market for bullion and that from the "paper market" of futures is showing signs of discrimination and disagreement, as the physical market is booming, while prices set by futures are seemingly pressured to go nowhere. In short, we think this is a strong buying opportunity.
Just about a year and a half after the bankruptcy filing of MF Global, the first real lawsuit that directly names former MF Global (and Goldman) CEO Jon Corzine and his cronies, has hit the docket with MFG Holdings bankruptcy trustee Louis Freeh as plaintiff. The complaint: breach of fiduciary duty. Of course, when one is a bundler for the president, such trivial concepts as duty to anyone else, be it fiduciary or otherwise, naturally does not exist.
The swindling art is in his tentacles...
Yesterday we reported that the conclusion of the MF Global Trustee's 124 page report is that the collapse of MF Global, and the illegal commingling of billions in customer funds which may or may not have been recovered yet from JPMorgan and others, was all Jon Corzine's fault. Of course, courtesy of his special rank in the Obama administration, Corzine will never go to jail: after all justice in the crony states of America is only for the little people - those who don't bundle millions for the president, and those who don't run Too Big To Prosecute banks, or both at the same time, get a get out of jail card (literally). So if he isn't in minimum security prison, where on earth is Mr. Corzine to be found these days? The WSJ answers.
- George Soros: 'What Japan is doing is actually quite dangerous because" (BBG)
- North Korea lacks means for nuclear strike on U.S., experts say (Reuters)
- Yellen latest to hint about slowing of QE3 (FT)
- Hollande approval rating hits new low (FT)
- Hollande Dismisses Reshuffle as Crisis Hits Popularity (BBG)
- Japan Upper house approves full 5 year term for BOJ gov. Kuroda (BBG)
- US: Plan to Cap Tax Breaks Is Gaining Steam (WSJ)
- BOE Says Investors May Be Taking ‘Too Rosy’ a View of Stress (BBG)
- Kiwis Say ‘Ni Hao’ as China Ties Trump Australia Sales (BBG)
- Obama Avoids Trading Threats With North Korea’s Kim (BBG)
In the somewhat unsurprising conclusion of former FBI Director Louis Freeh's investigation into the MFGlobal collapse, Jon Corzine's aggressive bets on European sovereign debt led to the firm's dramatic collapse. The 124 page report (below) is extensive; noting, as Reuters reports, that Corzine's single-handed "negligent conduct" contributed to the company's failure. It was also "almost impossible to properly monitor the liquidity drains... caused by Corzine's proprietary trading strategy," the report said, adding that the "glaring deficiencies" in the firm's internal reporting were, "long-known to Corzine and management, yet they failed to implement sufficient corrective measures promptly." The investigation, based on interviews with former MF Global employees, board members and the review of hundreds of thousands of documents, concludes, "The risky business strategy engineered and executed by Corzine and other officers and their failure to improve the company's inadequate systems and procedures so that the company could accommodate that business strategy contributed to the company's collapse." Obviously, Corzine has denied any wrongdoing.
Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling may be the latest beneficiary of the culture of pervasive permitted, even at times encouraged, crime. After being sentenced to prison for 24 years in the aftermath of Enron's spectacular 2001 bankruptcy, the former CEO may be released after serving well less than half of his term. As a result his prison term, which scheduled to end in 2028, may be cut by more than half as a result of a new agreement with the Department of Justice. It appears that AG Eric Holder is so busy not prosecuting Wall Street for being Too Big To Prosecute, he has decided it is far wiser to spend his time productively by commuting the sentences of convicted financial felons, because apparently there is nothing more important to do.
In the theory of rational expectations, human predictions are not systematically wrong. This means that in a rational expectations model, people’s subjective beliefs about the probability of future events are equal to the actual probabilities of those future events. Now, we think that rational expectations is one of the worst ideas in economic theory. It’s based on a germ of a good idea - that self-fulfilling prophesies are possible. Mainstream economic models often assume rational expectations, however. And if rational expectations holds, we could be in for a rough ride in the near future. Because an awful lot of Americans believe that a new financial crisis is coming soon - 75 percent of respondents said that it’s either very or somewhat likely that the country could have another financial crisis in the near future.
David Stockman’s New York Times Op-Ed has ruffled a lot of feathers. Paul Krugman dislikes it, saying Stockman sounds like a cranky old man, and criticising Stockman for throwing out a load of meaningless numbers that sound kind of scary, but are less scary in context. What Krugman overlooks is Stockman’s excellent criticism of crony capitalism, financialisation, systemic rot and Wall Street corruption of Washington, something Stockman has seen from the inside as part of the Reagan administration. There are plenty of other writers who have pointed to this problem of propping up casino finance, including myself. But very few of them are doing so on the pages of the New York Times. In the long run, I think it will become patently clear that throwing liquidity at the financial system won’t solve anything other than immediate liquidity concerns. The rot was too deep. The financial sector needed real reform in 2008. It still needs it today.
Gold rose 1.1% in March, its first monthly rise in six.
For the quarter, gold was 4.5% lower in dollar terms and 1.4% lower in euros. However, signalling that the demise of gold is greatly exaggerated, gold is 3.7% higher in Japanese yen and 2.6% higher in sterling.
As one astute financial journalist said to me “ ‘cash in the bank’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it anymore.”
Investors take note: a major development is at hand. As bankrupt nations and banks continue to spiral downward there will be more and more desperate attempts to plug the holes in their balance sheets by any means necessary. And it will be a LOT more than they claim,
We cautioned readers in 2011 that in a broke world in which the ridiculously named "muddle-through" has miserably failed, a global wealth tax seeking to expropriate some 30% of all financial assets is coming. Few took it seriously, and why should they - after all the market has been blissfully rising before and ever since then, which implies everything was ok, right? Wrong, as those who are lining up right now in the Cyprus late of night not to buy a shiny new iTrinket, but to access a measly €300 of their own money would promptly admit. Naturally, if more of our Cypriot readers had paid attention, they would have far more of their own money at their disposal right now, instead of having to beg Merkel's emissaries for a €300 handout tomorrow. Now, a year and a half later, the realization that the global wealth tax is not only coming but is inevitable in practically every developed country, is finally sinking in, as this interview with Marc Faber confirms: "Until now, the bailouts in Europe and the U.S. were at the expense of the taxpayer. And from now onwards, in my view, the bailouts will also be at the expense of the asset holders, the well-to-do people. So if you have money I am sure the governments will one day take away 20-30% of my wealth."
He is correct, but probably optimstic.