- Obama budget defeated 414-0 (Washington Times) yes, the Democrats too...
- German Central Banker: ECB Loans Only Buy Time (AP)
- Baku grants Israel use of its air bases (Jerusalem Times)
- Japan May Understate Deflation, Hampering BOJ, Economist Says (Bloomberg)
- BRICS flay West over IMF reform, monetary policy (Reuters)
- Five Portugal Lenders Downgraded by Moody’s (Bloomberg)
- SEC Registration Captures More Hedge Fund Advisers (Bloomberg)
- EU Nears One-Year Boost in Rescue Fund to $1.3 Trillion (Bloomberg)
- Consumers plot emergency oil release as Saudi decries high prices (Reuters)
- Japan Plans to Draft Stopgap Budget for First Time in 14 Years (Bloomberg)
The price of gold is being actively managed by central planners and their proxies. The main culprit here appears to be the US authorities, as the manipulation is most apparent in the US open gold market. For the most part, this 'management' has resulted in letting the price of gold rise, but not too much, or too quickly. The price of gold has always been an object of interest for governments and central bankers. The reason is simple enough to understand: Gold is an objective measure of the degree to which fiat money is being managed well or managed poorly. As such, whenever paper money is being governed poorly, the price of gold becomes an important barometer. And this is why the actual price of gold is a strong candidate to be 'managed.' Or 'influenced'. Or 'manipulated'. Whichever word you prefer, they all convey the same intent. Some who are reading this are likely having an eye-rolling moment because they hold a belief that there is no conspiracy to manage the price of gold. This is an interesting belief to hold because it runs heavily against the odds. We could spend a lot of time discussing how a belief such as 'gold is not being manipulated' gets promoted and inserted into the popular consciousness, but we won't. Instead, we'll simply note that the people who hold this belief -- and you may be among them -- react to the concept at a visceral level, often with strong emotions such as anger or contempt, and even anxiety. When a strong emotional response surfaces during a conversation of ideas, it usually means that beliefs are in play -- neither facts nor logic. Experience has taught me that when someone becomes dismissive or angry or hostile when the idea of price manipulation is discussed, it's best to simply drop the conversation and move on. No combination of logic or facts is effective against a deeply-held belief. It's better to wait until some new evidence calls that belief into question, opening the door for revisiting the topic. But for those with an open mind, there is a very interesting trail of dots to connect.
For every semi-positive data point the bulls have emphasized since the market rally began, there's a counter-point that makes us question what all the fuss is about. The bulls will cite expanding US GDP in late 2011, while the bears can cite US food stamp participation reaching an all-time record of 46,514,238 in December 2011, up 227,922 participantsfrom the month before, and up 6% year-over-year. The bulls can praise February's 15.7% year-over-year increase in US auto sales, while the bears can cite Europe's 9.7% year-over-year decrease in auto sales, led by a 20.2% slump in France. The bulls can exclaim somewhat firmer housing starts in February (as if the US needs more new houses), while the bears can cite the unexpected 100bp drop in the March consumer confidence index five consecutive months of manufacturing contraction in China, and more recently, a 0.9% drop in US February existing home sales. Give us a half-baked bullish indicator and we can provide at least two bearish indicators of equal or greater significance. It has become fairly evident over the past several months that most new jobs created in the US tend to be low-paying, while the jobs lost are generally higher-paying. This seems to be confirmed by the monthly US Treasury Tax Receipts, which are lower so far this year despite the seeming improvement in unemployment. Take February 2012, for example, where the Treasury reported $103.4 billion in tax receipts, versus $110.6 billion in February 2011. BLS had unemployment running at 9% in February 2011, versus 8.3% in February 2012. Barring some major tax break we've missed, the only way these numbers balance out is if the new jobs created produce less income to tax, because they're lower paying, OR, if the unemployment numbers are wrong. The bulls won't dwell on these details, but they cannot be ignored.
Having been heralded around the world for solving Europe's crisis, ECB head Mario Draghi confidently states (as does every other central banker in the world) that "should the inflation outlook worsen, we would immediately take preventive steps". However, a recent analysis by Tornell and Westermann at VOX suggests the ECB has hit its limit with regard to its anti-inflationary fighting measures. The ECB appears to have lost control over standard measures of tightening: short-term interest rates (since short-term lending to banks has dropped to practically zero), increase in minimum reserve requirements (practically impossible withouit crushing the banks that they have propped up due to the sharp asymmetries - the recent cut from 2% to 1% minimum reserves saw a remarkable EUR104bn drop), and finally asset sales (the quantity of 'sensitive' or encumbered assets on the ECB's books has reached such a scale - due to LTRO, SMP, and ELA programs - leaving the 'sellable' non-sensitive assets at a level below excess deposits for the first time in ECB history). As the authors note, while this does not immediately produce an inflation flare, the lack of maneuvering space will induce an inflationary bias to ECB monetary policy as Draghi will find it increasingly expensive at the margin to hit the anti-inflationary brakes. "This bias puts the Eurozone at risk of de-anchoring long-run inflationary expectations. The danger is not inflation today, but the de-anchoring of expectations about future inflation." As we have noted many times before, the ECB (and for that matter most central banks in the world) need Goldilocks.
Going into the US open, European equity markets are trading slightly lower with some cautious trade observed so far. In individual equity news, France’s Total have shown some choppy trade following reports from their Elgin gas field in the North Sea, shares were seen down as much as 3% but the company have played down the gas leak and have regained slightly in recent trade; however they remain down 1.4%. In terms of data releases, the final reading of Q4 GDP from the UK has recorded a downward revision to -0.3%. Following the disappointing release, GBP/USD spiked lower 20pips and remains in negative territory. In the energy complex, WTI is seen on a downward trend following last night’s build in oil reserves shown by the API data. Earlier in the session French press reported that France had made contact with the UK and the US regarding the release of emergency oil stocks, following this, WTI spiked lower around USD 0.30 but quickly regained. Looking ahead in the session, international market focus moves to the US, with durable goods orders and the weekly DOE oil inventory due later today.
While much has been made of the public side the ECB's money-printing facade whereby any and every piece of junk collateral can be lodged with the lender-of-first-last-and-only-resort in return for shiny new Euros to spend on government bonds (or save as the case seems to be), there is another facility - the Emergency Liquidity Assistance program (ELA) - that skirts under the radar. As Goldman notes today, the ELA enables the National Central Banks (NCBs) to provide 'liquidity' beyond and above the regular refinancing operations. While the amounts are not quite on the scale of the LTRO, they are large and continue to play a crucial role in stabilizing certain segments of the Euro area banking sector. But, of course, as seems always to be the case, the unintended consequence of this temporary emergency facility is that it appears to have become a permanent facility. This consequence has two rather ugly consequences, it removes still further collateral (assets encumbered) from bank balance sheets and further delays the needed adjustment process (read deleveraging) across the banking sector.
John Taylor, of the Taylor-Rule, who has not been sheepish with his views towards the Fed openly questioned the Fed's independence during a speech to the Joint Economic Committee today. During his testimony at the hearing on the 'Sound Dollar Act of 2012', Taylor noted: "The discretionary interventions of the Federal Reserve have been ratcheted up in such unprecedented ways in recent years that they raise fundamental questions about the future of monetary policy." Perhaps more pointedly, especially given Bernanke's speech today on the Fed's extreme actions and given the hope for a constant interventionist role for the Fed to keep our economy market afloat "The fact that the Fed can, if it chooses, intervene without limit into any credit market - raises more uncertainty, and of course raises questions about why an independent agency of government should have such power."
All you need to read and some more.
Gold Nears $1,700/oz After Bernanke QE Hints, OECD $1.3 Trillion Eurozone ‘Firewall’ And Despite Indian Gold StrikeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/27/2012 07:43 -0400
Gold is targeting $1,700/oz after yesterday’s Bernanke QE hints and today’s urging by the OECD to boost the Eurozone ‘firewall’ by another $1.3 trillion. Gold is consolidating on yesterday’s gains today above the 200 day moving average (simple) at $1,687/oz after yesterday’s biggest daily gain since January. The gains came after Ben Bernanke warned of the risks to the fragile US economic recovery and signalled the Fed would keep interest rates low and further debase the dollar – boosting gold’s inflation hedging appeal. Gold is also likely being supported by the OECD’s warning that the debt crisis is far from over. The OECD said today that the euro zone's public debt crisis is not over despite calmer financial markets this year and warned that Europe's banks remain weak, fiscal targets are far from assured and debt levels are still rising. The OECD said that the eurozone needs to boost crisis ‘firewalls’ to at least $1.3 trillion. Gold likes the ‘trillion’ word and talk of ‘trillions’ and will be supported by the risk of the creation of trillions of more euros, pounds and dollars in the coming months. Indian jewellers are on strike to protest against a government levy on gold and the strike is entering its 11th day in most parts of India. It has brought gold imports to a near standstill from the world's biggest buyer of bullion in the peak wedding season. The Indian government for the second time in 2012 doubled the import tax on gold coins and bars to 4% along with an excise duty of 0.3 percent on unbranded jewellery.
The Fed is clearly worried about the economy. Ben Bernanke's latest speeches aren't exactly inspiring. It is as if he thinks the rosy(ier) numbers are some prank being played upon him by the gods; that soon this will all be taken away. He is right. He admits he doesn't understand why the economy is the way it is. Reality doesn't fit his theory. ("It's supposed to work, dammit!") So, what do you do when you are the head of the world's biggest printing press, and don't know what else to do? Why QE3 of course.
Earlier we presented the view by one of the TBAC's co-chairmen, Goldman Sachs, former employer of such NY Fed presidents as Bull Dudley. Now we present the only other view that matters - that of Fed boss (recall the JPM dividend announcement and how Jamie Dimon pushed Ben B around like a windsock) JP Morgan, and specifically chief economist Michael Feroli who is a little less sanguine than the market about interpreting Bernanke's promise to always support stocks, using the traditional stock vs flow obfuscations which is about as irrelevant as they come. To wit " How one views the word "continued" in this context depends in part on whether it is the stock (or total announced amount) of asset purchases that matter for financial conditions, or whether it is the monthly or weekly flow of those purchases.... according to the stock effect view the end of Twist purchases in June does not amount to a tightening, but rather is a continuation of the current accommodative stance of monetary policy. Thus, "continued accommodative policies" for a stock effect adherent would not necessarily imply an extension of asset purchases beyond June." That said, all of this is semantics. Recall that the US has $1.4 trillion in debt issuance each and every year. Unless the Fed steps in to buy at least a material portion, this debt will never be parked, rendering all other plot lines, narratives and justifications for QE moot.
While it appears to us that Bernanke's message was loud and clear, there are those who need validation and peer-confirmation. Such as that from the firm whose alumni run the Fed, namely Goldman Sachs. Below is Jan Hatzius' take on the "surprising" Chairman speech which essentially said QE can and will come at any time there is a downtick in the market, masked by the unemployment rate rising to its fair value, as estimated by Gallup, somewhere around 9%.
- BOJ Crosses Rubicon With Desperate Monetary Policy, Hirano Says (Bloomberg)
- Europe’s bailout bazooka is proving to be a toy gun (FT)
- Monti Signals Spanish Euro Risk as EU to Bolster Firewall (FT)
- Merkel set to allow firewall to rise (FT)
- Banks set to cut $1tn from balance sheets (FT)
- Supreme Court weighs historic healthcare law (Reuters)
- Spain PM denied symbolic austerity boost in local vote (Reuters)
- Anti-war movement stirs in Israel (FT)
- Obama to Ask China to Toughen Korea Line (WSJ)
- Pimco’s Gross Says Fed May ‘Hint’ at QE3 at April Meeting (Bloomberg)
Last week, Bernanke's first (of four) lecture at George Washington University was entirely dedicated to attempting to discredit gold and all that sound money stands for. The propaganda machine was so transparent that it hardly merited a response: those away from the MSM know the truth (which, simply said, is the "creation" of over $100 trillion in derivatives in just the first six months of 2011 to a record $707 trillion - how does one spell stability?), while those who rely on mainstream media for the news would never see an alternative perspective - financial firms are not among the top three sources of advertising dollars for legacy media for nothing. Still, for those who feel like the Chairman's word need to be challenged, the following extensive and annotated reply by QBAMCO's Paul Brodsky makes a mockery of the Fed's full on assault on gold, and any attempts by the subservient media to defend it. To wit: "Has anyone asked why so many powerful people are going out of their way to discredit an inert rock? We think it comes down to maintaining power and control over commercial economies. After professionally watching Fed chairmen cajole, threaten, persuade and manage sentiment in the markets since 1982, we argue this latest permutation is understandable, predictable and, for those willing to bet on the Fed’s ultimate success in saving the banking system (as we are), quite exciting.... Gold is no longer being ignored and gold holders are no longer being laughed at. “The Powers That Be” seem to have begun a campaign to discredit gold."