As we described in detail yesterday, things are going from worse to worserer as the problems in Spain - more specifically in its banking sector - are deepening as deposit flight accelerates, and "the private sector is leaving the banking system." But the Bank of Spain isn't leaving anything to chance. The WSJ disconcertingly highlights that last month the central bank appears for the first time to have activated an emergency lending program that will enable its banks to borrow from the Bank of Spain directly, bypassing the ECB's relatively tough collateral demands. That would make Spain at least the fourth euro-zone country - following Greece, Ireland and Portugal - to use the ELA, which generally is reserved for situations when banks have exhausted all other financing options. As we pointed out yesterday, this would appear to confirm a "full-blown bailout" is imminent, as the collateral problems mount.
It is amazing how big an effect a rambling, sleep-inducing speech by a chief central planner can have on financial markets in the short term. Nonetheless, the speech contained a few interesting passages which show us both how Bernanke thinks and that people to some extent often tend to hear whatever they want to hear. Bernanke noted that although he cannot prove it, econometricians employed by the Fed have constructed a plethora of models that show that 'LSAP's (large scale asset purchases, which is to say 'QE' or more colloquially, money printing) have helped the economy. In other words, although no-one actually knows what would have happened in the absence of the inflationary policy since we can't go back in time and try it out, the 'models' tell us it was the right thing to do. However, some indications would suggest that mal-investment is higher than ever - and accelerating - as the production structure ties up more consumer goods than it releases, an inherently unsustainable condition; additional expansion of money and credit will only serve to exacerbate the imbalance.
In two days Mario Draghi may, although without Germany's blessing most likely will not, announce vague terms of how the ECB plans on monetizing hundreds of billions in short-term (sub-3 Year) bonds by Spain and Italy, which according to the ECB is not really monetization, and the only thing that is needed is for the two countries to admit they are insolvent, something which paradoxically will never happen as long as the ECB does everything in its power to spook markets away from fair clearing levels, and to keep the cashflow implied price at record divergence from the centrally-planned "valuation" determination. But let's assume Draghi does go ahead and one up Bernanke, announcing the next easing round a week ahead of the September FOMC meeting, as both central banks take the lunge into the latest lap of currency devaluation. What happens then? Well, as JPM's Michael Cembalest puts it quite succinctly, Draghi will unleash nothing short of the transformation of the ECB from the European Central Bank to the European Creosote Bank (see below for the reason). Numerically, this will mean that once the ECB is done monetizing another €1 trillion or so in bonds in the next year, the ECB will then hold just shy of a unimaginable 50% of the entire Eurozone GDP, taking the New Normal monetary world well beyond the rabbit hole and deep inside the twilight zone.
It’s perhaps no co-incidence that the trend towards persistent deficits started around the final collapse of the last link to a quasi-Gold standard back in August 1971. As Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid notes, in a world of the Gold Standard or equivalent, those countries loosening policy too much would have seen a rush to convert their currencies into Gold thus destabilising their economic policy framework. Multi-year (let alone multi-decade) deficits and the GFC could not have occurred under a gold standard. So with the shackles off and with nothing backing paper money, the post-1971 period has seen a uniquely long period of fiat currencies globally with a beggar-thy-neighbour rolling period of credit creation. Never before in observable history have so many countries been off a precious metal type currency system for so long. So after 41 years of global fiat currencies and an unparalleled amount of debt that is proving very difficult to shift, we really are venturing into the unknown.
Mario Draghi Reprises Hank Paulson: Demands Full Monetization Authority Or Else Threatens With End Of EuroSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/04/2012 11:21 -0400
Yesterday's "leak" of Draghi's comments that it is not monetization if just the tip only bonds with a maturity of 3 years or less are monetized, aka, legitimate monetization does not cause inflation was so horribly handled that the ECB huffed and puffed in a desperate attempt to appear angry, even though it was absolutely delighted that it had even more ammo in its war against Germany. Today, the leakage continues only this time nobody cares that Draghi's desperation is hitting the headlines left and right. As a result, Draghi literally pulled a carbon copy of Hank Paulson, and while he did not have a three page term sheet in hand, threatened that the Euro would end unless he was allowed to monetize short-term bonds. Here's looking at your Germany. From Bloomberg: "European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the bank’s primary mandate compels it to intervene in bond markets to wrest back control of interest rates and ensure the euro’s survival. Mounting his strongest case yet for ECB bond purchases, Draghi told lawmakers in a closed-door session at the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday that the bank has lost control of borrowing costs in the 17-nation monetary union."
Gold’s seasonality is seen in the above charts which show how March, June and October are gold’s weakest months with actual losses being incurred on average in these months. Buying gold during the so-called summer doldrums has been a winning trade for most of the last 34 years. This is especially the case in the last eight years as gold averaged a gain of nearly 14% in just six months after the summer low. We tend to advise a buy and hold strategy for the majority of clients. For those who have a bit more of a risk appetite, an interesting strategy would be to buy at the start of September, sell at end of September and then buy back in on October 31st.
Europe took August off. Today, it is America's turn, as the country celebrates Labor day, although judging by recent trends in the new 'Part-time" normal, a phenomenon we have been writing about for years, and which even the NYT has finally latched on to, it would appear the holiday should really be Labor Half-Day. After today the time for doing nothing is over, and with less than one month left in the quarter, and trading volumes running 30% below normal which would guarantee bank earnings in Q3 are absolutely abysmal, the financial system is in dire need of volume, i.e. volatility. Luckily, things are finally heating up as the newsflow (sorry but rumors, insinuations, innuendo, and empty promises will no longer cut it) out of various central banks soars, coupled with key elections first in the Netherlands and then of course, in the US, not to mention the whole debt-ceiling/ fiscal cliff 'thing' to follow before 2012 is over. So for those who still care about events and news, here is the most comprehensive summary of the key catalysts over the next week and month, which are merely an appetizer for even more volatile newsflow in October and into the end of the year.
At the end of December 2010, Philipp Bagus (he of the must watch/read 'Tragedy of the Euro') provided a clarifying and succinct rebuttal or Bernanke's belief in the extreme monetary policy path he has embarked upon. Bernanke's latest diatribe, or perhaps legacy-defining, self-aggrandizing CYA comment, reminded us that perhaps we need such clarification once again. Critically, Bagus highlights the real exit-strategy dangers and inflationary impacts of Quantitative Easing (a term he finds repulsive in its' smoke-and-mirrors-laden optics) adding that:
Money printing cannot make society richer; it does not produce more real goods. It has a redistributive effect in favor of those who receive the new money first and to the detriment of those who receive it last. The money injection in a specific part of the economy distorts production. Thus, QE does not bring ease to the economy. To the contrary, QE makes the recession longer and harsher.
Or we might name it after the intentions behind it: "Currency Debasement I," "Bank Bailout I," "Government Bailout II," or simply "Consumer Impoverishment."
Corporates are in relatively good financial shape and theory says should respond to high profits and cheap debt by investing more. However, while high 'profits' and low cost of debt are reasons for capex and opex to be rising more quickly than they are, these two critical drives of recovery show no signs of responding to these profit/debt incentives - and so as Citigroup notes "recovering is not booming". Top-down, compared to history, capex is low, following P/E's sentiment - especially in Europe (indicating a lack of confidence in the future). However, at the sector level this reverses: high capex has been given a low PE, while low capex has a high PE. The market is effectively encouraging companies to invest less and return more money. Longer term the consequences for economic growth, inflation and earnings growth are negative - as we trade (once again) short-term equity gain for long-term sustainable economic gain.
Poison the country's well.
While many claim that inflation is at historic lows, those who spend a large share of their income on necessities might disagree. Inflation for those who spend a large proportion of their income on things like medical services, food, transport, clothing and energy never really went away. And that was also true during the mid 2000s — while headline inflation levels remained low, these numbers masked significant increases in necessities; certainly never to the extent of the 1970s, but not as slight as the CPI rate — pushed downward by deflation in things like consumer electronics imports from Asia — suggested. This biflationary (or polyflationary?) reality is totally ignored by a single CPI figure. To get a true comprehension of the shape of prices, we must look at a much broader set of data.
Iron Ore inventories to the roof; steel production still ramping; food and energy prices soaring; economy deteriorating rapidly. So why no major stimulus from the PBoC? Too busy in-fighting or perhaps waiting on The Fed or The ECB to rescue us all; we suspect neither of the above. This chart, via Goldman Sachs, indicates the relative looseness of financial conditions (easing / tightening) compared to China's current activity. These two proprietary indicators provide a 'cleaner' view of the various aspects of China's monetary/fiscal policies (from fiscal stimulus to RRR hikes or reverse repos) and its 'real' level of economic growth (unbiased by political need). As is extremely evident, since the initial collapse and huge stimulus in 2008/09, the PBoC has become less and less capable of generating any additional economic activity. Whether this is due to the same shadow-banking effect Europe and the US suffer from in their transmission channels; or more simply that the Chinese may have also hit their bubble-created balance-sheet-recession debt-minimization limit (no matter how mandated from the top-down that spending is).
Upcoming calls from Ben and Mario to the governments?
Get your act together, there’s just so much that can be done.
Odd and contradictory ROn / ROff close
In the immortal words of the Jackson 5: "I'll Be There" seems to be the meme du jour - which appears to us to be the same message that Bernanke (and his proxy Hilsenrath) have been on for a few years now. However, in case you hadn't had enough sycophantic central-bank-fellating 'hope', the WSJ's front-man just reiterated for one and all that Ben's our man. In our subtle opinion, it seems however that perhaps Bernanke was a little disingenuous with his talk of 'policy tool effectiveness' - as clearly his efforts have not had the desired economic effect so far (or he would not need to reiterate the ability to do more of the same).
Ben's prepared remarks went off embargo at 10:00 am Eastern. The text (just the body, excluding appendices) had 4,549 words, 254 commas and 173 periods. It took Goldman 40 minutes to read it, write a 579 word response, proofread, get it through compliance, and shoot it to all clients. The title? "Bernanke Makes Case for Effectiveness of Unconventional Easing" of course, even though the real shocker in the speech was that Bernanke for the first time as far as we recall admitted that the sentiment that QE is not working may result in a Catch 22 where every incremental and larger QE episode has diminishing returns (just as we have been warning for years).