Recent news about Federal plans to "help" manage private retirement accounts renewed our interest in the topic of capital controls. One example of capital control is to limit the amount of money that can be transferred out of the country; another is limiting the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from accounts; a third is the government mandates private capital must be invested in government bonds. Though presented as "helping" households, the real purpose of the power grab would be to enable the Federal government to borrow the nation's retirement accounts at near-zero rates of return. As things fall apart, Central States pursue all sorts of politically expedient measures to protect the State's power and the wealth of the political and financial Elites. Precedent won't matter; survival of the State and its Elites will trump every other consideration. All this raises an interesting question: what would America look like at $5000 an ounce gold?
If the new year started off with a bang, March is setting up to be quite a whimper. In the first news overnight, we got the "other" official Chinese PMI, which as we had predicted (recall from our first China PMI analysis that "it is quite likely that the official February print will be just as weak if not more") dropped: while the HSBC PMI dropped to 50.4, the official number declined even more to just barely expansionary or 50.1, below expectations of a 50.5 print, and the lowest print in five months. This was to be expected: Chinese real-estate inflation is still as persistent as ever, and the government is telegraphing to the world's central banks to back off on the hot money. One country, however, that did not have much hot money issues was Japan, where CPI declined -0.3% in January compared to -0.1% in December, while headline Tokyo February data showed an even bigger -0.9% drop down from a revised -0.5% in January. Considering the ongoing surge in energy prices and the imminent surge on wheat-related food prices, this data is highly suspect. Then out of Europe, we got another bunch of PMIs and while French and Germany posted tiny beats (43.9 vs Exp. 43.6, and 50.3 vs 50.1), with Germany retail sales also beating solidly to cement the impression that Germany is doing ok once more, it was Italy's turn to disappoint, with its PMI missing expectations of a 47.5 print, instead sliding from 47.8 to 45.8. But even worse was the Italian January unemployment rate which rose from 11.3% to 11.7%, the highest on record, while youth unemployment soared from 37.1% to 38.7%: also the highest on record, and proof that in Europe nothing at all is fixed, which will be further confirmed once today's LTRO repayment shows that banks have no desire to part with the ECB's cash contrary to optimistic expectations.
Owners of bank debt were sacrificed
Horsemeat Scandal Goes Global As World's Largest Food Maker Pulls Tainted Pasta From Spain And ItalySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/18/2013 22:44 -0400
First it was Ireland, then the entire UK, then Germany, and gradually it spread to all of Europe (except for France of course, where it was always a delicacy). But it was only once its finally crossed the Alps and made its way to the Swiss factories of Nestle, the world's largest food maker, did the horsemeat scandal truly go global. The FT reports that "the escalating horsemeat scandal has ensnared two of the biggest names in the food industry, Nestlé, the world’s number-one food maker, and JBS, the largest beef producer by sales. Switzerland-based Nestlé on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestlé said it had informed the authorities....Nestlé withdrew two chilled pasta products, Buitoni Beef Ravioli and Beef Tortellini from sale in Italy and Spain. Lasagnes à la Bolognaise Gourmandes, a frozen meat product for catering businesses produced in France, will also be withdrawn."
Keep your eyes on the prize. The important part of the G20 statement had nothing to do with currency wars.
Because “there’s no difference in the taste”
The European Commission formally endorsed the financial transaction tax agreed to by eleven of the 27 members. The tax will be set at 0.1% for stocks and bonds and 0.01% for derivatives. The tax will go into effect at the start of 2014, by which time the participating countries will give it formal approval.
There seems to be two purposes of the tax. The first is to raise revenue. The EC projects the tax will raise 30-35 bln euros annually where ever and whenever an instrument from eleven is traded. This would seem to block the ability to avoid the tax by moving transactions out of the eleven countries. It reinforces the "residence principle". This essentially means that if some one is a resident of the eleven countries, or acting on behalf of a resident, the transaction will be taxed anywhere it takes place. The other purpose is to deter the high frequency trading, which some officials see as largely unnecessary and potentially destabilizing.
Europe Q4 GDP declines 0.6%, and economy contracts 0.9%. No one should be surprised at the latest disappointing European GDP numbers, but they hide important trends – Germany’s Q4 0.6% GDP drop was worse than expected, although the expectations remain for growth later this year. For the rest of Europe the numbers were generally worse than expected – and no one credible is talking about significant growth prospects. (Sure, the Euro Elites are telling us they see growth tomorrow.. but tomorrow is always tomorrow..) My current interest in Spain was pricked by Blackrock CEO Larry Fink’s comments to ABC following a visit to Madrid. He reckons “Spain will be a star economy if reforms continue.” Spain last ran a balanced budget in Q1 2008 when growth was 2%. Now the economy is shrinking 1.7% on an annualised basis.” That’s a massive amount of catch up to be achieved. We are looking at another 3-4 years of economic misery just to get the Spanish economy back into the EU’s 3% deficit/GDP groove. Then we’re looking at on-going relative poverty for Spanish workers within Europe. At some point... something has to give...
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.