One of the recurring memes of the now nearly 4 years old "bull market" (assuming the recession ended in June 2009 as the NBER has opined), is that corporate profits are soaring, and that despite recent weakness in Q4 earnings (profiled most recently here), have now surpassed 2007 highs on an "actual" basis. For purely optical, sell-side research purposes that is fine: after all one has to sell the myth that the US private sector has never been healthier which is why it has to immediately respond to demands that it not only repatriate the $1+ trillion in cash held overseas, but to hand it over to shareholders post-haste (see recent "sideshow" between David Einhorn and Apple). However, a problem emerges when trying to back this number into the inverse: or how much money the US government is receiving as a result of taxes levied on these supposedly record profits. The problem is that while back in the summer 2007, or when the last secular peak in corporate profitability hit, corporate taxes peaked at well over $30 billion per month based, the most recent such number shows corporate taxes barely scraping $20 billion per month!
China has been a very active purchaser of gold for its reserves in the last few years, as we extensively covered here and here, but another nation has taken over the 'biggest buyer' role (for the same reasons as China). Central banks around the world have printed money to escape the global financial crisis, and as Bloomberg reports, IMF data shows Russia added 570 metric tons in the past decade. Putin's fears that "the U.S. is endangering the global economy by abusing its dollar monopoly," are clearly being taken seriously as the world's largest oil producer turns black gold into hard assets. A lawmaker in Putin's party noted, "the more gold a country has, the more sovereignty it will have if there’s a cataclysm with the dollar, the euro, the pound or any other reserve currency." It appears Russia-China is now the 'hard-money' axis and perhaps, to some extent, it is the relative price of oil that defines their demand for the barbarous relic.
Citi's Willem Buiter sums it all up: "...the improvement in sentiment appears to have long overshot its fundamental basis and was driven in part by unrealistic policy and growth expectations, an abundance of liquidity and an increasingly frantic search for yield. The key word in the recovery globally, and in particular in Europe, growth is fragile. To us the key word about the post summer 2012 Euro Area (EA) asset boom is that most of it is a bubble, and one which will burst at a time of its own choosing, even though we concede that ample liquidity can often keep bubbles afloat for a long time." His conclusion is self-evident, "markets materially underestimate these risks," as the EA sovereign debt and banking crisis is far from over. If anything, recent developments, notably policy complacency bred by market complacency, combined with higher political risks in a number of EA countries highlight the risks of sovereign debt restructuring and bank debt restructuring in the EA down the line.
Two examples today of the strange way things work here in the Netherlands regarding conflicts of interest. Of course we know that things are getting increasingly blurry whereever you are between government, regulators and corporations. I'll be interested to hear what you think about the whole issue.
The first example is for a business that tests LED lamps and publishes the results on the internet. The people that run the tests both work full time at Philips. Maybe not on the lamps themselves.
So there's a politician from Groenlinks who had a few good one liners for PM Mark Rutte on the radio here Saturday in rain drenched Netherlands. He said Rutte insulted his own "Ministercrew" by offering big bucks to Gerard van Olphen to run now state owned SNS Reaal. Rutte says the market must continue to determine salaries(?). Rutte is from VVD which is not an STD but a political party standing slightly to the right of the jellyfish known as Dutch politics.
Deutsche Bank co-CEO: “In this uncertain world, I cannot exclude anything."
Here is an oveview of the forces that are driving the foreign exchange market and price targets for the euro and yen. We identify the ECB meeting as a potential challenge to the existing price trends, but expect it to see the tightening of financial conditions in the euro area as partially a reflection of positive forces, especially that banks have reduced, on the margins, the reliance on ECB for funding. Draghi will likely attempt to calm the market down with words not a rate cut. Also we see the "currency wars" as being exaggerated, not just because the foreign exchange market has alsways been an arena of nation-state competition, but that it is primarily in the realm of rhetoric among the G7 countries. Few, including Germany, who have expressed concern about what Japan is doing, have objected to the Swiss currency cap. There is not a bleeding over into a trade war. The push back against the Japan (among the G7) appears to have slakcened a bit. Officials prefer Japan not provide price targets for bilateral exchange rates (like dollar-yen), but if stimulative monetary and fiscal policy weakens the yen, that is ok.
Earlier today we got one hint that not all is well in the European banking system, as far less than the expected €200 billion was tendered back to the ECB in the second LTRO repayment operation, when just 27 banks paid back some €3.5 billion. Another, perhaps far bigger one, comes courtesy of AAA-rated Netherlands, which just experienced its first bank failure since 2008 following the nationalization of SNS Reall NV, as the previously announced bad loan writedown finally claimed the bank. As a reminder, half a month ago we got news that "SNS Reaal NV (SR), a Dutch bank and insurer struggling to wind down a money-losing real estate lending unit, fell the most in more than two months after a report said it may have to post a 1.8 billion-euro ($2.4 billion) writedown on property-finance loans." Today we got the inevitable conclusion: nationalization, one which will cost taxpayers about $5 billion to avoid contagion to what many see as Europe's "strongest" banking system.
On the surface, it may seem innocuous for Germany to move some pallets of gold closer to home. But most economists can't see the bigger implications and frequently miss the forest for the trees. What your friendly government economist doesn't reveal and the mainstream journalist doesn't report (or doesn't understand) is that in the event of a US bankruptcy, euro implosion, or similar financial catastrophe, access to gold would almost certainly be limited. If other countries follow Germany's path or the mistrust between central bankers grows, the next logical step would be to clamp down on gold exports. It would be the beginning of the kind of stringent capital controls Doug Casey and a few others have warned about for years. Think about it: is it really so far-fetched to think politicians wouldn't somehow restrict the movement of gold if their currencies and/or economies were failing? Remember, India keeps tinkering with ideas like this already.
Following yet another quiet overnight session, futures have surprised many walking into work today as the traditional overnight levitation is strangely missing. The reason for that may be the lack of the traditional for 2013 lift in various funding currency pairs, with both the USDJPY and the EURUSD lower. While there was no major macro news, the former may have been dragged lower by various comments from the German BDI industry federation chief who said he is worried about the devaluation race stemming from Japan's central bank policy echoing Merkel's comparable sentiment and revealing that the EURUSD may have topped out, while the latter was pushed lower following today's 7 day ECB MRO, which saw some €124.1 billion allotted at a 0.75% yield. This was largely in line with expectations, with Barclays seeing some €135.4 billion maturing, while BNP had expected modestly more, or some €150 billion. The MRO is the first such operation, with tomorrow's 3 month refinancing operation likely to give a better glimpse of the bank's post-LTRO repayment funding needs. Whether it is this, or the market finally demanding some action out of central banks which, except for the Fed, have been in constant promise mode, or just a random walk, is unknown, but for now the carry funded nominal devaluation of risk may have topped out.
In yet another victory for not bowing to the great-and-good of modern orthodoxy, Iceland has won a court ruling that enables it to repay billions of Euros (in failed bank deposits to the UK and Holland) on its own terms. Icesave collapsed in 2008 and left thousands of depositors, who had chased higher yielding deposits, with losses. The Dutch and British governments demanded prompt payment; Iceland denied, preferring (rationally) to repay what they could from the then-bankrupt entity. As RTE notes, Icelanders in referenda twice voted against repayment schemes drawn up by their government to satisfy the British and Dutch claims, leaving the estate of Landsbanki to pay back the funds, which it has steadily done, instead of the taxpayers of Iceland being force per se to fund this shortfall. The implication being: Bank deposit insurance schemes in the European Economic Area are NOT backed by government liability, neither explicitly nor implicitly - which could well reignite concerns of the much-hoped-for Europe-wide deposit-guarantees.
The 2008 crash resulted from the bursting of the biggest bubble in financial history, a ‘credit super-cycle’ that spanned more than three decades. How did this happen? Some might draw comfort from the observation that bubbles are a long established aberration, arguing that the boom-and-bust cycle of recent years is nothing abnormal. Any such comfort would be misplaced, for two main reasons. First, the excesses of recent years have reached a scale which exceeds anything that has been experienced before. Second, and more disturbing still, the developments which led to the financial crisis of 2008 amounted to a process of sequential bubbles, a process in which the bursting of each bubble was followed by the immediate creation of another. Though the sequential nature of the pre-2008 process marks this as something that really is different, in order to put the 'credit cuper-cycle' in context, we must understand the vast folly of globalization, the undermining of official economic and fiscal data, and the fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamic which really drives the economy.
James Turk: "My guess is that 2013 and 2014 are going to be big up year for the precious metals, but we still have to contend with the central planners and the various government policies, which have been actively trying to keep the gold and silver prices from reaching fair value. The central planners are losing the war. They may win an occasional battle or two, but they’re losing the war, and eventually gold and silver are going to go higher.... I can’t say that trust between central banks is waning, but you have to recognize that there are two categories of central banks: There are central banks that are in the U.S. circle of control and dominance, and then there are central banks outside the circle of U.S. control and dominance. The ones that are outside of the U.S. control and dominance are accumulating physical gold. The ones within the U.S. control tend not to do that, although it’s interesting that Germany, Netherlands, and now Austria, too, are talking about bringing their gold back."
The market gets smoked for 1/4 Trillion in a single name, and we're trading at the highs. Go figure.
For the first time this year, Brussels is awash with the opulent optimists of Europe as the finance ministers meet to decide how much of the EUR500bn ESM funds can be funneled direct to their banks and bypass the greedy governments. However, at the core is an uncomfortable reality that all is not well, one Brussels-based think-tank noted: "It’s really about signaling, the only thing that really has an impact on markets is when the word unlimited is uttered by somebody in charge, so in the end it’s not a question of how high the big number should be." The dilemma is Draghi's 'unlimited' promise, which has now been adopted by the Fed and the BoJ, has been hailed as the "breakthrough in tackling the causes of the euro-zone crises" but has instead unraveled into a combination of "complacency and political resistance" from creditor countries.