Summary of the yawn-inducing minutes via Bloomberg:
- SEVERAL ON FOMC FAVORED CHANGE TO MID-2013 RATE VOW BEFORE LONG
- FOMC SAID GLOBAL FINANCIAL STRAINS POSE `SIGNIFICANT' RISK
- FED PLANS TO RELEASE OFFICIALS' FED FUNDS RATE FORECASTS (this is not news, and if the Fed is as accurate in "predicting" - note not setting - FF rates as it is in forecasting everything else, woe is us)
- FOMC MEMBERS SAW LONG-TERM INFLATION EXPECTATIONS AS STABLE
- FOMC MEMBERS SAW ECONOMY `EXPANDING AT A MODERATE RATE'
- FOMC MEMBERS SAID CONSUMER SPENDING `STRONGER THAN EXPECTED'
- MOST FOMC MEMBERS PREDICTED INFLATION WOULD `MODERATE'
- 'A NUMBER' OF FOMC MEMBERS SAW POSSIBLE NEED FOR MORE EASING
When it comes to the fabled President's Working Group on Capital Markets, also known as the Plunge Protection Team, the myths about the subject are certainly far greater than any underlying reality. To be sure, vast amounts of popular folkflore has been expounded into the public arena, with most of it being shot down simply due to it assuming conspiracy theories of such vast scale that the human mind is unable to grasp the complexity, and ultimately the inverse Gordian Knot makes an appearance with the claim that vast conspiracies are largely untenable simply because it is impossible to keep a secret from so many people for so long. Yet what if the secret is not a secret at all but is fully out in the open, and is only a matter of interpretation, and contextualizing? Why just 3 years ago it would appear preposterous to allege the capital markets are a ponzi and that the Fed does everything in its power to keep stocks higher. Well, what a difference three years make: now the Chairman himself in a Washington Post OpEd has admitted that the sole gauge of Fed success is the loftiness of the Russell 2000, neither unemployment nor inflation really matter now that the Fed's third mandate has been fully whipped out. Furthermore, Keynesian economics, and the entire top echelon of the educational system have also been accurately represented as a paradigm which merely perpetuates the status quo as the alternative is the realization that the whole system is a house of cards. As for the global capital markets being nothing short of a ponzi, we merely point you to the general direction of Europe, the ECB and the continent's banks, where the monetary interplay is nothing short of the world's biggest pyramid scheme. Yet the PPT, or whatever it is informally called, does not exist? Consider further that only recently did it become known that the former SecTres Hank Paulson himself was exposed as presenting material non-public information to a bevy of Goldman arb desk diaspora hedge funds, headed by with none other than the head of the President's Working Group on Capital Markets Asset Managers committee David Mindich. So, if contrary to all the evidence that there is some vast underlying pattern, if not a conspiracy per se, one were to take the leap of faith and take the next step, where would one end up? Well, most likely looking at the Exchange Stabilization Fund, or ESF, which Eric deCarbonnel has spent so much time trying to unmask. Is it possible that the ESF, located conveniently at the nexus between US monetary policy, foreign policy and last but not least, a promoter of the interests of the US military-industrial complex, is precisely the organization that so many have been trying to expose for years? Watch and decide for yourself.
Continuing our tradition of listing what according to Zero Hedge readers were the key news events of the year for the third year in a row (2009 and 2010 can be found here and here), we present, as is now customary, the most popular posts of the year as determined by the number of page views, or said otherwise - by the readers themselves. So without further ado, here are this year's top 20.
Last week the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England announced plans to tighten the control over the balance sheet management and the risk-taking of private banks. This is just the beginning, believe me. The nationalization of money and credit will intensify in 2012 and beyond. More regulation, more restriction, more control. Not only in defence of the bankrupt banks but also the bankrupt state. We will see curbs on trading, short-selling restrictions and various forms of capital controls. A system of state fiat money is incompatible with capitalism. As the end of the present fiat money system is fast approaching the political class and the policy bureaucracy will try and defend it with everything at their disposal. For the foreseeable future, capitalism will, sadly, be the loser. The conclusion from everything we have seen in 2011 is unquestionably that the global monetary system is on thin ice. Whether the house of cards will come tumbling down in 2012 nobody can say. When concerns about the fundability of the state and the soundness of fiat money, fully justified albeit still strangely subdued, finally lead to demands for higher risk premiums, upward pressure on interest rates will build. This will threaten the overextended credit edifice and will probably be countered with more aggressive central bank intervention. That is when it will get really interesting. We live in dangerous times. Stay safe and enjoy the holidays. In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.
In its "pre-Christmas" note, it is somehow appropriate that Goldman's Jose Ursua reprises the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, and explains how, in this contemporary Christmas Carol, "The world economy is struggling: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that" and, logically, gets a visit from the three ghosts of the world's past, present and future. However, while the narrative is similar for the most part to the Carol morality play, where it diverges is in the Hollywood ending: "As in Dickens’ story, avoiding this outcome will require decisive actions. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge’s overnight redemption, however, we believe the solution to the current global problems will potentially take much longer. So, although some steps are clearly visible in the right direction, the post-holiday environment will likely continue to be challenging for both policymakers and markets alike." And that's only for the macro; the "micro", as Morgan Stanley explained yesterday, is already slipping regardless of how long the US pretends that Europe is irrelevant for the big picture. The only question is whether the macro follows suit (which in Morgan Stanley's case was left as the optimistic case with full resolution), in which case the ghost of the coming "Great Stagnation" will be one scary dude.
In a must read Op-Ed in the WSJ, Mark Spitznagel, founder of "fat tail" focused hedge fund Universa, where Nassim Taleb has been known to dabble on occasion, explains the fundamental flaw with central planning, and specifically why "moral hazard" or the attempt to avoid the destructive part of natural cycles, is the greatest unnatural abomination ever conceived by man. His visual explanation should be sufficient for even such grizzled academics who have no clue how the real world works, as the Chairsatan, to comprehend why what he is doing is an epic abomination of every law of nature: "Suppressing fire, creating the illusion of fire protection, leads to the wrong kind of growth, which then invites greater destruction. About 100 years ago, the U.S. Forest Service took a zero-tolerance approach to forest fires, stamping them out at the first blaze. Fast forward to 1988 when a massive wildfire at Yellowstone National Park wiped out more than 30 times the acreage of any previously recorded fire." Another way of calling this, is what we have been warning about for years: delaying mean reversion does nothing but that. And when the Fed finally fails to offset the inevitable, and it will - it is a 100% certainty - the collapse and destruction will be unprecedented. Ironically, the only way the system could have been saved would be by letting it fail in 2008. Now, we are sorry to say, it is too late.
On the day of the 3 Year European LTRO, in a whim of fancy we wondered if contrary to all expectations, the European banks would not instead of using the money for any real releveraging (carry Trade) or deleveraging (switching out of expensive into cheaper debt) purposes, just park it with the ECB's deposit facility, an outcome which would be the worst possible case as it simply recycles ECB cash from on pocket into another without any incremental velocity. As it turns out, we were only half kidding: as of yesterday, the day after the LTRO, European banks parked almost half of the free €210 billion (recall that while gross LTRO proceeds were €489 billion, only €210 billion was net), or €82 billion, with the ECB's deposit facility, which incidentally brought the cumulative total to a new 2011 record of €347 billion, from €265 the day before. And that is what monetary policy failure is all about.
PIMCO Releases 2012 Economic Forecasts; Presenting The Wall Street 2011 Market Forecast Track RecordSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/22/2011 11:42 -0400
A major inflection point?
No, it's not Friday and no, it's not a total joke, but UBS' Stephane Deo takes a retrospective look at what his firm's economists were saying back in 1996 about who should be in and who should not be a part of the Euro 'project'. Given the growth and performance of the 'ins', it seems perhaps we should, as Deo says, always pay attention to economists for a happy and prosperous existence but it is somewhat insightful that as far back as the beginning of this experiment, it was relatively clear (in 1996) that proximity to Maastricht rules, political flexibility, and real economic prospects separated the 17 nations, leaving an at-the-time optimal five (or maybe six) nations. There are many yeah-but comments with this look-back, but for sure, it provides a quick-and-dirty view on what these countries looked like before whatever integration they have now, and maybe what they should revert to once again - it is certainly cathartic to see the peripherals already standing so far from the core. The growth differential for the Euro 17 is huge, unmanageable, and symptomatic of an entirely dysfunctional monetary union. The growth difference for the Euro 6 is steady, modest, and entirely manageable.
Rather than focus simply on the actual adjustments in the real effective exchange rates which shows the UK and US as having used monetary policy to devalue/weaken their currencies since the 2008 crisis really took shape, we look at an intriguing chart from Nomura's EEMEA FX research team. Google Trends shows, that in the year since Brazil's finance minister Mantega warned of a currency war's immediacy, a dramatic pickup in searches for both 'Currency Wars' and 'Recession' and we believe, like them, that 2012 will see further engagement of the vicious circle of antagonism around the world (with the EUR the obvious next chapter). Only EUR, USD, and TRY are actually weaker since the 2009 lows with most of the Emerging Market over 16% higher on average. It would appear that whether Europe escalates or US retaliates, gold will eventually benefit from this fiat fiasco and the search patterns set a rather nasty precedent. Simply put, you can't grow fast enough, you can't cut rates, that leaves only one option (call it what you want), currency devaluation.
The Fed can’t possibly claim it’s trying to lower interest rates with the short end of the curve essentially offering 0% and Operation Twist 2 focusing on getting the long-end even lower (at a time when the 30-year is already under 3% and the 10-year under 2%)?
On November 25, Moody's cut Hungary to junk. Now it is S&P's turn: "The downgrade reflects our opinion that the predictability and credibility of Hungary's policy framework continues to weaken. We believe this weakening is due, in part, to official actions that, in our opinion, raise questions about the independence of oversight institutions and complicate the operating environment for investors. In our view, this is likely to have a negative impact on investment and fiscal planning, which we believe will continue to weigh on Hungary's medium-term growth prospects. Moreover, in our opinion, the downside risks to Hungary's creditworthiness have also increased as the global and domestic economic environments have weakened."
There are clear signs of a liquidity crunch in the asset markets right now, and the question I keep hearing is, Is this 2008 all over again? No, it’s worse. Much worse. In 2008 there was a lot more faith and optimism upon which to draw. But both have been squandered to significant degrees by feckless regulators and authorities who failed to properly address any of the root causes of the first crisis even as they slathered layer after layer of thin-air money over many of the symptoms. Anyone who has paid attention knows that those "magic potions" proved to be anything but. Not only are the root causes still with us (too much debt, vast regional financial imbalances, and high energy prices), but they have actually grown worse the entire time. As always, we have no idea exactly what is going to happen and when, but we can track the various stresses and strains, noting that more and wider fingers of instability increase the risk of a major event. Heading into 2012, there's enough data to warrant maintaining an extremely cautious stance regarding holding onto one's wealth and increasing one's preparations towards resilience.
Stock markets globally had a torrid year with the S&P500 down 1.3%, the FTSE down 8% and the CAC and DAX down 19% and 15% respectively. Asian stock markets also fell with the Nikkei down 17%, the Hang Seng 20% and the Shanghai SE down 22%. The MSCI World Index fell 9%. Thus, gold again acted as a safe haven and protected and preserved wealth over the long term. While gold reached record nominal highs at $1,915/oz in August, it is important to continually emphasize that gold remains well below the real high, adjusted for inflation, in 1980 of $2,500/oz. Gold today at $1,625/oz is 18% below the record nominal high of $1915/oz in August 2011. More importantly, gold remains 46% below its real high of $2,500/oz. Global money supply continued to rise in 2011 and helped push gold prices to all-time highs on the fear of currency debasement. If accommodative monetary policies continue as the dominant tool for central banks, precious metals will almost certainly continue to benefit. Were this trend to turn, responsible monetary policy actions could hinder returns. We see no prospect of this in the short term – and little prospect in the medium term.