There is no reason to assume that this time will be different. These boom-bust sequences will continue until the economy is structurally undermined to such an extent that monetary intervention cannot even create the illusory prosperity of a capital-consuming boom anymore. The bankers applauding Draghi’s actions today will come to rue them tomorrow.
After first falling ill and being hospitalized in December, Saudi Arabia officials have announced:
*SAUDI ARABIAN KING ABDULLAH DIES, CROWN PRINCE SALMAN SUCCEEDS: STATE TV
As we noted previously when considering this possibility, "a new King can do (almost) anything he wants, including changing oil policy." 79-year-old Crown Prince Salman has been named succesor (and has his own health issues - reportedly suffering from Dementia). Oil prices popped around 80c on the news.
As we noted last week, the Swiss National Bank's decision to un-peg from the Euro (thus strengthening the CHF dramatically) will have very significant repercussions - not the least of which is for Hungarian and Polish Swiss-Franc-denominated mortgage-holders. The 20% surge in Swiss Franc translates directly into a comparable jump in the zloty value of loan principles and and monthly payments for about 575,000 Polish families owing a total $35 billion in mortgages denominated in the Swiss currency which has prompted calls for Poland's government to bail them out. Never mind the FX risk, the low-rates were all anyone cared about and now yet another 'risk-free' trade has exploded, Deputy PM Piechocinski says, if the franc "remains above the 4 zloty level, the government may provide support" to debtors but Poland's Central Bank is not supportive of the bailout.
Once again the mainstream media peddled the spoon-fed propaganda that world leaders "led the march" to honor the victims of the Paris shootings last week. Glorious photo-ops of Merkel, Hollande, Poroshenko, David Cameron (oh, and not Barack Obama) were smeared across front pages hailing the "unity in outrage." However, as appears to be the case in so many 'events' in the new normal managed thinking in which we live, The Independent reports, French TV has exposed the reality of the 'photo-op' seen-around-the-world: the 'dignitaries' were not in fact "at" the Paris rallies but had the photo taken on an empty guarded side street...
We’re getting back to normal, and though normal’s going to hurt – and far more than you realize yet - it’s hugely preferable to upside down; you hang upside-down long enough, it makes your brain explode. The price of oil was the first thing to go, central banks are the next. And then the whole edifice follows suit. The Fed has been setting up its yes-no narrative for months now, and that’s not without a reason. But everyone’s still convinced there won’t be a rate hike until well into this new year. And the Swiss central bank said, a few days before it did, that it wouldn’t. And then it did anyway. The financial sectors’ trust in central banks is gone forever. And none too soon. Now they’ll have to cover their own bets. If anything spells deflation, it’s got to be that. But not even one man in a thousand understands what deflation is.
What we see now is the recovery of price discovery, and therefore the functioning economy, and it shouldn’t be a big surprise that it doesn’t come in a smooth transition. Six years is a long time. Moreover, it was never just QE that distorted the markets, there was – and is – the ultra-low interest rate policy developed nations’ central banks adhere to like it was the gospel, and there’s always been the narrative of economic recovery just around the corner that the politico/media system incessantly drowned the world in. That the QE madness ended with the decapitation of the price of oil seems only fitting.
As of November, oil and gas companies employed 543,000 people across the U.S., a number that’s more than doubled from a decade ago, but as Bloomberg reports, thousands of energy industry workers are now getting their pink slips as crude prices have plunged to less than $50 a barrel. "For the oil and gas industry, it’s scary," explains one worker, adding "I was blind to the ups and downs associated with the industry." Can we blame him, watching business media and one could be forgiven for believing this plunge is "unambiguously awesome." As the following chilling chart shows, however, it is not...
Thing is, that whole line about how lower oil prices were going to be a boost for our economies was ignorant from the start. And there’s still plenty people believing just that. That may explain those EU stock exchange gains. That sort of thing all comes from people who don’t understand to what extent oil is pivotal to our societies. We’re not in 2008 anymore, when an oil price drop actually helped us crawl out of a tight spot. We’re $50 trillion down the road, and there won’t be another $50 trillion, or another road. For all intents and purposes, we are the center today, and we cannot hold this way.
The circle of life in today's new normal...
The structure of history is held together by two essential and distinct kinds of links, two moments in time to which no one is immune: moments of epiphany, and moments of catastrophe. Sometimes, both elements intermingle at the birth of a singular epoch. Men often awaken to understanding in the midst of great crisis; and, invariably, great crises can erupt when men awaken. These are the moments when social gravity vanishes, when the kinetic glue of normalcy melts away, and we begin to see the true foundations of our world, if a foundation exists at all. That time is now...
No reason to sell. No reason to buy. That about sums it up. Unfortunately, that is about as optimistic a scenario as we can come up with, supported by equally optimistic growth expectations. In reality, the market has no support. We can only hope that it will not crash at the first sign of trouble. There are always good reasons to own a home, a place to raise a family. However, home ownership via extremely leveraged financing carries enormous and unprecedented risk. We think many potential buyers recognize the risk and are correctly staying out of the market. The new normal in real estate terms is unlikely to be what the market is hoping for.
Something stunning and unexpected took place in the third quarter: Citigroup, or rather its FDIC-insured Citibank National Association entity, just surpassed JPM and is now the biggest single holder of total derivatives in the US. Furthermore, as the charts below show, while every other bank was derisking its balance sheet, Citi not only increased its total derivative holdings by $1 trillion in Q2, but by a whopping, and perhaps even record, $9 trillion in the just concluded third quarter to $70.2 trillion!
If technology requires a complex society to build and maintain it, and our dreams and hopes are pinned on even more complex and useful technology in the future, but net energy from new oil plays is shrinking, then it might not be wise to pin all our hopes on technology. Perhaps there should be some other plans in the works too.
For just the 5th time since 1950, the S&P 500 dropped at least 1% on the last trading day of the year... and then continued that weakness on the first day of the current trading year. So what happened next?