Minutes before Michigan Governor Snyder signed the 'Right-To-Work' bill into law, Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa appeared on CNN,as seen in the clip below, warning that: "This is just the first round of a battle that's going to divide this state. We're going to have a civil war," as the bill to weaken unions' power is passed.
Here are two short clips to serve as a harbinger of what may and most likely will happen in the US as labor unions are stripped of even more power in the coming months and years, showcasing their reluctance to go gentle into that good night. This is how close the US is from violence at any one moment. Luckily, nobody was seriously hurt this time.
There was a time when working on Wall Street, either on the sell or buy side, was the dream of every able-bodied worker who could do simple addition in their head and wasn't afraid to cut the occasional corner in exchange for a bottle of Bollinger and a sizable year end bonus. That, however, was so 2006 and with the long overdue conversion of the banking sector into a utility the stratospheric compensation payments from the peak of the credit bubble are long gone. So what is the New Normal dream job? Become a California state worker, preferably one who deals with neurotic and/or crazy people (i.e., a psychiatrist), and rake it in. The following chart from Bloomberg shows just how generous the otherwise insolvent state of California is when it comes to paying its public servants, and the 100%+ increase in California employee state pay since 2005. Needless to say, this is a rate of increase in compensation that 99% of workers in the private sector would die for.
In a session that has been largely quiet there was one notable macro update, and this was the German ZEW Economic Sentiment survey, which after months in negative territory, surprised to the upside in December, printing at 6.9, on expectations of a -11.5 number, and up from -15.7. This was the first positive print since May, and in stark contrast with the dramatic cut of German GDP prospects by the Bundesbank from last Friday, which saw 2013 GDP slashed by 75% from 1.6 to 0.4%. In fact, moments after the ZEW report, which is mostly driven by market-sentiment, in which regard a soaring DAX has been quite helpful, the German RWI Institute cut German 2012 and 2013 GDP forecasts from 0.8% to 0.7% and from 1% to 0.3%. In other words, any "confidence" will have to keep coming on the back of the market, and not the economy, which is set to slow down even further in the coming year. But for a market which will goalseek any and all data to suit the narrative (recall the huge miss in US Michigan consumer confidence which lead to a market rise), this datapoint will undoubtedly serve as merely another reinforecement that all is well, when nothing could be further from reality. Also, since we live in interesting "Baffle with BS" times, expect the far more important IFO index to diverge once again with its leading ZEW indicator (as it did in November) - after all everyone must be constantly confused and live headline to positive headline.
These three letters - C.A.B. - might just be the Dis-Humor story of the day. NPR reports that more than 200 schools across California are coming to the shocking realization that the upfront cash they needed so badly came at quite a price. These 'Capital Appreciation Bonds' are unlike normal bonds (requiring regular coupon payments and principal repayment); instead they provide the 'lent' money upfront and defer all interest and repayment to some magical faery land time in the future (by which time the interest accrued has grown exponentially as the interest accrues on the rising 'principal plus previously accrued interest'). Brilliant - as the Guinness chaps might say. So California schools are now undertaking PayDay or loan-shark style loans defending the idiocy of super-short-term thinking with such statements as "Why would you leave $25 million on the table?" referring to the upfront cash that one Treasurer was able to get his hands on - with clearly no comprehension of the financial instrument's massive convexity. California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said "It's the school district equivalent of a payday loan or a balloon payment that you might obligate yourself for, so you don't pay for, maybe, 20 years - and suddenly you have a spike... It's so irresponsible."
"They say this is not massive money printing, but first they are wrong; and second, monetary authorities in the United States did not see the crash coming and the unsoundness of the financial system. In fact, right up until the crash they were saying that nothing like what happened could ever happen... This monetary policy, $3 trillion of bond buying in the United States, $3 trillion in Europe and another $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion in Japan, is unprecedented. ... If and when people lose confidence in paper money because of repeated bouts of quantitative easing and zero-percent interest rates—it could happen suddenly and in a ferocious manner in the commodity markets, in gold, possibly in real estate—interest rates could go up at the long end by hundreds of basis points in a very short time. I’m quite concerned as a money manager that we have to manage money, not just for the boundaries of what’s in front of our faces—maybe we’ll have a little tax increase or not, the fiscal cliff, or the stock market might go up or down 10% or 15%—but for a basic shift. The thing that scares me most is significant inflation, which could destroy our society."
- Central Banks Ponder Going Beyond Inflation Mandates (BBG)
- Bloomberg Weighs Making Bid for The Financial Times (NYT)
- Hedge Funds Fall Out of Love with Equities (FT)
- Obama and Boehner resume US fiscal cliff talks (FT)
- Italy Front-Runner Vows Steady Hand (WSJ)
- Spanish Bailout Caution Grows as Business Lobbies Back Rajoy (BBG)
- Japan sinks into fresh recession (Reuters)
- China economic recovery intact, but weak exports drag (Reuters)
- Greece extends buyback offer to reach target (Reuters) ... but on Friday they promised it was done
- Basel Liquidity Rule May Be Watered Down Amid Crisis (BBG) ... just before they are scrapped
- Irish, Greek Workers Seen Suffering Most in 2013 Amid EU Slump (BBG)
Hmmm… Need to find another way to kill time until Year End. Morning highs, lunch time lows and then trailing the US. EGBs on the stronger side with augurs seeing a weakening Germany and calls for lower rates putting the EUR under pressure. Ok, Germans: now work! Somebody has to pay the bills!
"Bruttosozialprodukt " (Bunds 1,3% +1; Spain 5,45% -1; Stoxx 2597 -0,3%; EUR 1,295 -20)
- Bundesbank cuts growth outlook as crisis bites (Reuters)
- Strong quake hits off Japan near Fukushima disaster zone (Reuters)
- Greece to Buy Debt It Already Owns to Reach Target (BBG)
- Draghi’s Go-to ECB Seen Risking Credibility Through Overload (BBG)
- Judge urges Apple and Samsung ‘peace’ (FT) ... Alas only the US government has a Magic Money Tree; others need profit
- Fed Exit Plan May Be Redrawn as Assets Near $3 Trillion (BBG)... make that $5 trillion this time in 2014
- Level Global, SAC Fund Managers Ruled Co-Conspirators (BBG)
- Egypt demonstrators reject Mursi call for dialogue (Reuters)
- Japanese Dealerships in China Retrench in Wake of Dispute (BBG)
- Apparel factory fire reveals big brands' shadowy supply chainsa (Reuters)
- Republican Defectors Weigh Deal on Tax-Rate Increase (BBG)
No politics, no "death crosses" - just simple fundamentals.
Strong start in Risk to take out new 2012 highs in Equities and trying to retrace near 2012 Credit lows, too. Core EGBs cool. Bunga Square’s rug pulling scuttled all that easy living by noon, weighting on the Periphery and boosting Core EGBs. ECB gloomy. Equity – bond divergence not a flyer yet, though… US sideways and Risk Watchers back to scanning European politics. EUR falling of the carpet.
"Magic Carpet Ride" (Bunds 1,29% -6; Spain 5,46% +8; Stoxx 2605 +0,6%; EUR 1,297 -100)
November sales of U.S. American Eagle gold coins are on track to be the best in 14 years as uncertainty surrounding the U.S. fiscal cliff and the election of President Obama led to safe haven buying. Buyers timing the market also increased coin sales by buying during sharp price movements that occurred in the beginning and end of November, coin dealers noted. Bullion dealers in the U.S. report an influx of high net worth individuals that are buying gold coins in volume and taking physical possession of their bullion. Month to date 131,000 ounces of American Eagles sold, that tripled last year's November sales and is the strongest November since 1998, data from the U.S. Mint's website shows. In October, the U.S. Mint sold 59,000 vs 50,000 ounces the previous year, while November marked its 2nd successive monthly rise. Coin banks have come in to buy the stock as the mint usually ends 2012 coin production in early December so it can begin minting the 2013 coins.
As Washington hunts ill-defined al-Qaeda groups in the Middle East and Africa, and concerns itself with Iran’s eventual nuclear potential, it has a much more pressing problem at home: Its energy grid is vulnerable to anyone with basic weapons and know-how. For the past two months, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been tasked with creating a security strategy for the electric grid and hydrocarbon facilities through its newly created Office of Energy Infrastructure Security. So far, it’s not good news. “There are ways that a very few number of actors with very rudimentary equipment could take down large portions of our grid.” Forget about cyber warfare and highly organized terrorist attacks, a lack of basic physical security on the US power grid means that anyone with a gun could do serious damage.
Harry Reid’s publicly displayed dismay at the lack of progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations finally injected a dose of realism into the process after investors threw caution to the wind and seized on the optimism offered by the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker Boehner on November 16. We view yesterday’s sound bite as more negative than the aforementioned statement on the White House Lawn, for we now sit 11 days closer to the New Year’s deadline. Despite this asymmetry, equities suffered only moderate losses giving up just a modicum of the gains from last week. The relative lack of a response to the comments seem puzzling given the price action from the prior several days; however with month end looming, enough buyers kept stocks from selling off violently. My November 13 “Missive” outlined a game theory exercise that suggests this rancor will continue until very late into December and/or the capital markets dislocate thereby ensuring either a falling over the cliff or a band aid solution to avoid the crisis temporarily. Both parties unfortunately may assume that by agreeing to postpone the tough decisions, they will have prevented a rout in equities; however, the August, 2011 precedent of raising the debt ceiling out of desperation hints otherwise.
We remain in the throes of a secular era of disinflation. We also are in a long-term period of sub-par economic growth and below-average returns. This has become so well entrenched that U.S. pension plans now have more exposure to bonds than to stocks, as we highlighted two weeks ago. Look, this is not about being bearish, bullish or agnostic. It's about being realistic and understanding that in our role as market economists, it is necessary to provide our clients with information and analysis that will help them to navigate the portfolio through these stressful times. Our crystal ball says to stick with what works in an uncertain financial and economic climate — in other words, maintain a defensive and income-oriented investment strategy.