Meet General Keith Alexander, "a man few even in Washington would likely recognize", which is troubling because Alexander is now quite possibly the most powerful person in the world, whom nobody talks about. Which is just the way he likes it. ... And also meet Bonesaw: "Bonesaw is the ability to map, basically every device connected to the Internet and what hardware and software it is."
Our "silver lining" concluding remark to last week's lackluster 10 Year bond reopening auction was that "the good news is that with the reopening, dealers should have some additional collateral for a while, or at least until the Fed monetizes it. Look for this CUSIP - VB3 (On The Run) to remain on the POMO exclusion lists for white a while." Sure enough, following the Friday settlement of this auction, things in the Treasury repo market have normalized somewhat after hitting very dangerous levels. How bad did it get? The following chart of failures to deliver from the NY Fed shows just how acute the shortage of "high quality collateral" (where the 10 Year is the fulcrum instrument) got in the past two months, with the total rising to $129 billion, or the biggest freeze in the repo market since the debt-ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011 when this number hit $280 billion.
"Part of my advantage, is that my strength is economic forecasting, but that only works in free markets, when markets are smarter than people. That’s how I started. I watched the stock market, how equities reacted to change in levels of economic activity and I could understand how price signals worked and how to forecast them. Today, all these price signals are compromised and I’m seriously questioning whether I have any competitive advantage left. Ten years ago, if the stock market had done what it has just done now, I could practically guarantee you that growth was going to accelerate. Now, it's a possibility, but I would rather say that the market is rigged and people are chasing these assets, without growth necessarily backing confidence. It's not predicting anything the way it used to and that really makes me reconsider my ability to generate superior returns. If the most important price in the most important economy in the world is being rigged, and everything else is priced off it, what am I supposed to read into other price movements?" - Stanley Druckenmiller
There is no way the pensions and benefits promised in an era of financialized abundance can be paid once the wheels of financialization fall off. During the past 30 years of financialized abundance, the benefits and pensions promised to public employees were increased substantially. Public unions are a powerful political force in many states, and in eras of rising tax revenues, it's an easy political decision to increase public employee benefits and pension payouts. The rising stock and bond markets generated huge profits for the public-employee pension funds, enabling them to grow without taxpayer contributions. Alas, the 8+% annual growth rate of the boom era is now structurally unrealistic. The New Normal is bond yields of 2% or 3% at best, and equities markets that are increasingly at risk of significant sell-offs. The endgame of promises made in an era of illusory, financialized abundance will be hurried along by a collapse in the equities and bond markets.
And so the next casualty of the inevitable municipal collapse appears, which is, as expected, that one-time symbol of all that was right with a (once upon a time) manufacturing America, having since been replaced with the anti-symbol of all that is broken: Detroit. DETROIT BEGINS MORATORIUM ON ALL DEBT SERVICE PAYMENTS FOR UNSECURED FUNDED DEBT; DETROIT TO DEFAULT ON CERTIFICATES OF PARTICIPATION DUE TODAY. And, true to from in the New Normal America, where the "fairness doctrine" rules supreme under Big Brother's watchful eye, the premise of the upcoming glorious recovery is a well-known one: "the shared-sacrifice." To wit: "The City currently faces approximately $17 billion in total liabilities. Detroit is insolvent and cannot meet its financial obligations without a significant restructuring. Mr. Orr's plan provides for shared sacrifice among all creditor groups – from Wall Street and Main Street consistent with their legal rights – in order to return Detroit to a sustainable financial foundation and to permit much-needed reinvestment in the City." The punchline: "Detroit's road to recovery begins today"... By defaulting.
There can be no doubt that the global growth, earnings, incomes and fundamental story remains very subdued. But at the same time financial markets, hooked on central bank ‘heroin’, have created an enormous and – in the long run – untenable gap between themselves and the real economy’s fundamentals. This gap is getting to dangerous levels, with positioning, sentiment, speculation, margin and leverage running at levels unseen since 2006/2007. ‘Tapering’ is going to happen. It will be gentle, it will be well telegraphed, and the key will be to avoid a major shock to the real economy. But the Fed is NOT going to taper because the economy is too strong or because we have sustained core (wage) inflation, or because we have full employment - none of these conditions will be seen for some years to come. Rather, we feel that the Fed is going to taper because it is getting very fearful that it is creating a number of significant and dangerous leverage driven speculative bubbles that could threaten the financial stability of the US. In central bank speak, the Fed has likely come to the point where it feels the costs now outweigh the benefits of more policy.
"Information about the usage of chemical weapons by Assad is fabricated in the same way as the lie about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.” Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian lower house of parliament’s international affairs committee, said on Twitter.
When it comes to the validity, accuracy and honesty of government-sourced data, sadly there is much to be desired in the time of the New Normal, when governments have made it very clear they will resort to any measure to boost confidence - from the wealth effect to flagrantly doctoring economic (dis)information. Luckly for now at least, the private sector provides a somewhat credible alternative, although even that is rapidly being subsumed by the government apparatus (see ADP morphing into BLS-lite). Still, it is a useful data point for those who still care about the anachronism known as "fundamentals." So in order to supplement the retail data disclosed earlier which according to some was the "most important retail spending" report in years, one useful counterpoint is sales data as disclosed by credit card processors such as MasterCard (sadly often hiding behind subscription paywalls). Here are some highlights of what a parsing such a recent report reveals, courtesy of Bloomberg.
- Pimco Sees 60% Chance of Global Recession in Five Years (BBG)
- Global Tumult Grips Markets (WSJ)
- NSA Secrecy Prompts a Pushback (WSJ)
- ANA Scraps 787 Dreamliner Flight as Engine Fails to Start (BBG) - one of these days, though, it shall fly
- Kuroda’s April-Was-Enough Message Faces Markets Wanting More (BBG)
- S&P warns top US banks are still ‘too big to fail’ (FT)
- Democracy for $500 per plate (Reuters)
- Iran, the United States and 'the cup of poison' (Reuters)
- Japan grapples with lack of entrepreneurs (FT)
- Greece First Developed Market Cut to Emerging at MSCI (BBG)
- Asia's ticking time bonds; time to cut and run? (Reuters)
- Sony Outduels Microsoft in First PS4-Xbox One Skirmish (BBG)
First it was the conspiracy theory that Li(e)bor traders were manipulating the entire rates market which a year ago became conspiracy fact. Then it was commodities with an emphasis on the energy market (but not gold - gold is never, ever manipulated) with even such luminaries as JPMorgan's Blythe Masters, subsequently implicated. And moments ago, via Bloomberg, to absolutely nobody's surprise, we learn that that final market which so far had not been exposed as the "wild west" of manipulators, the FX market, is part of the conspiracy "fact" too. According to Bloomberg, "employees have been front-running client orders and rigging WM/Reuters rates by pushing through trades before and during the 60-second windows when the benchmarks are set, said the current and former traders, who requested anonymity because the practice is controversial. Dealers colluded with counterparts to boost chances of moving the rates, said two of the people, who worked in the industry for a total of more than 20 years."
For a long time we have been seeking a chart that captures the pure essence of America's transition into its "new normal" mutant clone, in which record high stock markets coexist with record high foodstamp usage; in which record public debt amounts coexist with record low interest rates; in which the Fed is responsible for 20% of the US GDP but which is forgiven if it means the second coming of a housing bubble giving people the false hope of another "flip that house" get rich scheme. We believe we have found it. On the chart below we show the number of US manufacturing workers over the past decade (currently at levels first seen in 1941) on one axis; and the number of bar and restaurant employees - currently at an all time high - on the other. For those asking, in the past year the US has added 366,700 "food service and drinking places" employees and a whopping... 41,000 manufacturing workers.
"People say you should do what you love," but in the new normal reality, it appears - based on the flagging applications at Harvard's humanities division - that oft-used phrase has been appended with, "but, I don't want to be doing what I love and be homeless." As The WSJ reports, among recent college graduates who majored in English, the unemployment rate was 9.8%; for philosophy and religious-studies majors, it was 9.5%; and for history majors, it was also 9.5%. By comparison, recent chemistry graduates were unemployed at a rate of just 5.8%; and elementary-education graduates were at 5%. Students have taken note. At Harvard, humanities majors have fallen to 20% in 2012 from 36% in 1954. School presidents and administrators at liberal-arts colleges have already started to take a more job-oriented approach to a liberal-arts education, but face an uphill battle in the wake of stepped-up global economic competition, a job market that is disproportionately rewarding graduates in the hard sciences, rising tuition and sky-high student-debt levels.
By now it should come as no surprise to anyone that in a Keynesian world in which the aggregate increase in credit levels is the only necessary and sufficient driver for "growth", as admitted repeatedly by Europe which has blamed its longest ever recession on "(f)austerity" and the inability to issue debt like a drunken-sailor, that the only thing that matters is how much credit money (i.e., liabilities) are created in the banking sector, either organically by creating loans, or through the Fed's low-power "reserve" money creation. If there is any confusion, we present Exhibit A: the chart that strips away all the conventional GDP = C+I+G+(X-M) abracadabra and cuts to the chase - US GDP has tracked the change in traditional bank liabilities for the past 50 years on an almost dollar for dollar basis.
"I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good... The NSA routinely lies in response to Congressional inquiries about scope of surveillance in America. The NSA is intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them.... What they're doing" poses "an existential threat to democracy."
- Edward Snowden, 29, PRISM Whistleblower