When two weeks ago Mark Carney was appointed head of the Bank of England (despite his firm denials of any interest in the position) many were surprised. Not us: we were certain the former Goldmanite, and incidentally current head of the Bank of Canada, would lead the world's oldest central bank. We were even more convinced Carney would become BOE head after on November 8 the Bank of England halted QE as its "potency was questioned." Needless to say to the banker sponsors of the MIT monetary genius diaspora (as profiled previously), there is nothing more terrifying than the prospect of an end of electronic money conceived literally out of thin air, and debiting it into perfectly willing excess reserve accounts at any/all banks. So what is a statist financial system caught in the final days of its existence and desperate to extend its life as long as possible to do? Why, appoint the one person who would turn this "disastrous" conclusion on its head, and promptly proceed with doing exactly the opposite: printing like a drunken Hewlett Packard laserjet.
There are five distinct stages in the life cycle of sovereign nations. These life cycle stages map to generational cycles and to Long Cycles such as the Kondratieff Cycle. Since these cycles are fundamentally behavioral shifts, they consequentially take the nations economic and political process with it. Democracies become exposed and borderline ungovernable in Stage V. This is a result of the electorate's expectations, entitlements and James Madison's "Complicity from the Tyranny of the Majority", as outlined in the "Federalist Papers". Success breeds complacency and complacency breeds leverage. Fiat currency enables a late stage country to delay the realization that it is no longer rich, but not avoid it. In a period of major Global Imbalances, which the world presently faces, this will make democratic policy setting extremely difficult and in fact will show democracies to be borderline ungovernable. In cases of grossly distorted expectations, such as the US, it will be found to be ungovernable.
We face one of the deepest crises in history. A prognosis for the economic future requires a deepening of the concepts of inflation and deflation. Inflation is a political phenomenon because monetary aggregates are not determined by market forces but are planned by central banks in agreement with governments. Inflation is a tax affecting all real incomes. Inflation is a precondition of extreme deflation: depression. Should in fact the overall debt collapse, there would be an extreme deflation or depression because the money aggregate would contract dramatically. In fact the money equivalent to the defaulted debt would literally vanish. It is for this reason that central banks monetize new debt at a lower interest rates, raising its value. All the financial bubbles and the mass of derivatives are just the consequence of debt monetization. How will this all end? In history, debt monetization has always produced hyperinflation. In Western countries, despite the exponential debt a runaway inflation has not yet occurred. Monetary policy has only inflated the financial sector, starving the private one, which is showing a bias towards a deflationary depression. Unfortunately governments and banks will go for more inflation. As history teaches, besides money the freedom of citizens can also be the victim.
N as in "Nominal". Nominal GDP targeting, the latest burlesque of monetary fiction. But first things first. There is a land, where people calculate a "potential GDP". How do they do that? By simply extrapolating trends. Potential GDP is "the level of economic activity achievable with a high rate of use of its capital and labor resources". In the past, the differences from observed GDP were not very large, though now we are growing "below trend". But what if that trend has changed? With a flawed measurement of economic activity, leading to an imaginary output gap, what else might our economic elite come up with? Stagnating real GDP and high unemployment are no fun. After exhausting every traditional and non-traditional tool of monetary and fiscal policy, what else could be done to make that GDP grow? Nominal GDP equals real GDP plus inflation. So if real GDP doesn't want to grow... Eureka! you just have to cause more inflation, and nominal GDP will obediently join its potential GDP. Except for one little error of judgment: if elevated inflation led to wealth creation and jobs, Zimbabwe would be the richest country on earth. As real incomes of US employees have stagnated for more than a decade, rising prices would either lead to falling volumes, or force households further into debt. Also, how would this be different from a communist command-style economy?
Somewhere in the deep bowels of Brussels bureaucratic labyrinth, a murder of European ministers (as they most closely approximate the Corvus Corvidae Genus/Species) currently sitting down and trying to come with a solution that "fixed" Greece. It will do no such thing: in fact, all that the Eurogroup is doing today, in addition to trying to do with it already did twice before without success, is to find a socially palatable way to disclose a policy that will see Greek debt haircut by a very modest amount (modest enough to be considered prohibited under Article 123, but who is counting any more), either through an outright haircut of official sector debt (something Germany has repeatedly said "9" to), or through a debt buyback of existing private debt (something which will have no impact now that the debt has soared following a long-running political leak which has allowed bondholders to trade accordingly). Aside for applying lipstick on a dead pig, what Europe is doing is focusing on the numerator in the all critical debt/GDP ratio. Sadly, this is just half of what Europe should be focusing on. The other half? Why GDP of course. Because it is here that things get truly hilarious.
In summary: Greek 2022 debt/GDP will be 115% if and only if Greece not only cuts its debt by EUR50 billion, but manages to grow its GDP by EUR60 billion.
On the basis of a joint press conference following a one-hour chat, the S&P 500 is up over 2.5%; it seems there is little doubt that the fiscal cliff is front-and-center in people's minds. And yet, positioning is far from biased towards negativity and sentiment remains positive - the 'they will fix it; they have to, right?' meme is everywhere. As Morgan Stanley notes, however, a smooth resolution requires some of the same public officials who created the cliff to cooperate to avoid it. As far as hope of a short-term solution, Obama's Burma trip aside, Speaker Boehner has already indicated that it would be inappropriate to pass comprehensive legislation in the Lame Duck session, given that more than 100 current members of the House will not be returning next year; and as for any actual substantive change: the sequence most talked about is patch (stop-gap legislation) and promise (ten-year budget reduction), followed by a plan. In that regard, politicians’ solution to the 2012 fiscal cliff will be to create another one in 2013. Thus, only a portion of the uncertainty about policy will be resolved by the patch and promise, as much could go wrong with the plan.
Will Congress go over the fiscal cliff? Yes, we've been going for decades, really since the social unrest of the 1970s.
Bridgewater's Ray Dalio believes four factors drive relative economic growth: competitiveness, indebtedness, culture, and luck. The returns from his machine-like investment process clearly indicate he is on to something as he notes that the most powerful influences of this relative income (and power) are 1) the psychology that drives people’s desires to work, borrow and consume and 2) war (which we measure in the “luck” gauge). Throughout history, Dalio advises these two influences have changed countries’ competitiveness and indebtedness which have caused changes in their relative wealth and power. He goes on to add that since different experiences lead to different psychological biases that lead to different experiences, etc., certain common cause-effect linkages drive the typical cycle of a nation's growth, power and influence - and that countries typically evolve through five stages of that cycle.
Against the backdrop of a tepid US recovery, Eurozone recession and stuttering growth across emerging markets, investors are beginning to focus on how the 'status quo' outcome impacts the odds of cliff-avoidance; which after all, if there is one thing economists agree on, it is that a US and global recession will ensue if the legislated tax increases and spending cuts worth roughly 3.5% of US GDP take effect next year. UBS believes that if the US economy dips into recession, operating earnings -which are near peak levels - could easily plunge by a fifth. Risk premia would climb, particularly because the US and the world have run out of policies that could lift their economies out of recession. Those factors point to significant downside risk (at least 30%) for global equity markets if the US falls off the 'cliff'. Yet the S&P500 remains within a few percentage points of its cyclical highs. Accordingly, as we have previously concluded, investors assign a very low probability to the ‘cliff’ and a 2013 US recession, which UBS finds 'darn surprising' that this much faith in common sense prevailing in Washington amidst such divisive politics. But for all the attention the ‘cliff’ deserves, UBS notes the fundamental challenge for the US (and many other countries) is to address fiscal stability as a long-term necessity, not a short-term fix.
Trish Regan and Adam Johnson do their best to hold themselves together in this sublime rant by 'Gloom, Boom & Doom's Marc Faber on Bloomberg TV as he sees Obama's re-election as "very negative for the economy". From his view that the market should be down at least 20% - and maybe 50%, to the implied ignorance of both of the candidates, he believes fervently that the "standards of living of people in the western hemisphere will continue to decline." Faber views Obama's re-election as one of many unintended consequences of market manipulation (since Democrat attacks on the wealthy were 'enabled' by their profiteering from Bernanke's money printing) and sees the need to protect one's assets "with a gun, a machine gun... or perhaps a tank." He concludes with a stunner as he exclaims his view doubting Obama will make it through the whole four-year term because "there will be so many scandals" since "there is so much smoke, there must be some fire!"
With Greece and Spain (and arguably Portugal and a few others) stuck in dramatic debt-deflation spirals, the political need for maintaining these nations in the euro far outweigh the economic 'benefits'. As UBS notes, looking at the euro area today, one cannot help but notice the parallels to Japan of the early 1990s. Europe today, as with Japan a generation ago, is an aging society with structural rigidities, pockets of corporate excellence, but wide swathes of inefficiency; but the two most striking similarities (and not in a good way) lie in the banking system (bloated from over-leveraging, under-capitalization, and bad loans); and fiscal policy (which is inherently pro-cyclical - as the politics of monetary union preclude national level stimulus - leaving ineffective monetary transmission channels unable to help fiscal failure). As UBS concludes, the current euro's similarities to Japan are key impediments to growth - and as such we should expect sclerotic economic activity for a five-year period.
The increasingly short-termist attitudes of both policy-makers, analysts, and investors leaves market and economic indicators in the US and Europe all anticipating some magic in 2013. If only we can get through the elections, the fiscal cliff, a banking union, a Spanish bailout request, Greek extensions; not to mention another round of weak earnings and a sliding Chinese demand backdrop. As SocGen's FX and Rates desk notes, the battle against disinflation in Europe is not over and nominal GDP outlooks remain far too optimistic - only highlighted by the morning's weak lending data. The moribund growth backdrop also begs the question what palpable difference any relief over Spain or Greece (if it comes) will do to the long end. The answer is probably not a whole lot.
The deleveraging has a long-way to go!
There were two major datapoints overnight: the first one came out early in the session, when the Chinese Flash HSBC PMI (not the official one), printed in contraction territory for a 12th consecutive month but jumped sufficiently to 3 month highs to give the algobots hope that China may be turning (it isn't: China, like the US has a major political event early November and all its data is more manipulated than ever). Regardless, this sent future rising to session highs until virtually yesterday's entire gap down was eliminated. The euphoria continued until several hours later we got composite European (as well as the most important German PMI data, and to far less relevant extent France, which always has been the dynamo in European economic growth), manufacturing and services PMI, both of which missed expectations or declined substantially, reaffirming that the German economy is getting dragged down more and more into recession even as continues funding the rescue of the periphery. As the chart from Markit below shows, German PMI is hinting at a solidly negative German GDP print, further confirmed by the German IFO business print which came at 100, a drop from 101.4 and below expectations of 101.6. Other secondary macroeconomic data was just as bad, which explains why futures are now well on their way to dropping back to their lows. Finally, today we get the FOMC statement, which will be much ado about nothing, and will merely serve as an appetizer to the December FOMC meeting, when Goldman (and Zero Hedge) now expected the Fed to expand unsterilized monthly monetization to increase from $40 billion to $85 billion (more on the shortly). Yet perhaps the biggest shift in mood has been coming out of our old friend Greece, where Troika negotiations, largely under the radar, are progressing from bad to worse, where the bond buyback plan was scuttled last night (as ZH reported sending Greek bonds 70 bps wider on the day and rising), and where the probability of another flash election, which can crash the precarious European balance in an instant, is rising with each passing day.
Entering the final quarter of the year, Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington (H&H) describe domestic and global economic conditions as extremely fragile. New government initiatives have been announced, particularly by central banks, in an attempt to counteract deteriorating economic conditions. These latest programs in the U.S. and Europe are similar to previous efforts. While prices for risk assets have improved, governments have not been able to address underlying debt imbalances. Thus, nothing suggests that these latest actions do anything to change the extreme over-indebtedness of major global economies. To avoid recession in the U.S., the Federal Reserve embarked on open-ended quantitative easing (QE3). Importantly, in their view, the enactment of QE3 is a tacit admission by the Fed that earlier efforts failed, but this action will also fail to bring about stronger economic growth. H&H go on to break down every branch that Bernanke rests his QE hat on from the Fed's inability to create demand, to the de minimus wealth effect, and most importantly the numerous unintended consequences of the Fed's actions.
The ability of reflationary policy to mute the worst risks of debt deflation has been a source of enormous frustration for stock market bears ever since the 2008 collapse. Yes, the initial moderate rally out of the S&P500’s black hole was perhaps not so surprising in 2009. Bombed-out stock markets can always manage some sort of rally. But the ability of the rally to continue through 2010, and then 2011, and now 2012 has been quite vexing and painful for bearish investors. Indeed, the entire post-2008 market phase has now produced an era of consistently poor performance for hedge funds. Recent data, for example, shows that an incredible 90% of hedge funds are underperforming the S&P500 through mid-September. Will the pain continue? If OECD policy makers do in fact lose stock markets as the main transmission mechanism for reflationary policy, then trouble of a very serious nature will make itself known in the biggest way imaginable since the 2008 crisis began.