Perhaps those sage English philosophers 'The Vapors' were on to something 32 years ago when they asked if we were "Turning Japanese" for it seems the following charts from Nomura certainly suggest the US bond market is heading in that direction. From demographics to monetary policy; from investor allocations to flows; and from bond bubbles and volatility to long-term interest-rate paths, it seems we share a lot more than a love for sushi and pachinko with our neigbours across the ocean as we seem to be chasing after many Japanese models (of asset allocation and macro-economics).
In what may be the most disturbing news of the day, moments ago the BOE announced it is halting its own version of QE3, and capping the asset purchase program at £375 billion after "some policy makers questioned its effectiveness in supporting a recovery that remains lackluster." Could it be that even that peculiar Homo Sapiens subspecies known as "economist" is starting to realize that when applying the same "remedy" time after time to absolutely no avail, and where even the market no longer responds to unlimited injections of liquidity, then perhaps it is time to end said "remedy" altogether? And how long until the voodoo shamans in the dark lit room at Marriner Eccles follow through? Sadly, if Japan, and its 9 (so far) rounds of easing, is any indication, we have a lot more pain to go before what has been glaringly obvious to every hotdog vendor and shoeshine boy is also understood by Economics Nobel prize winners.
The much anticipated Greek vote on "self-imposed" austerity came, saw and passed... and nothing: the EURUSD is now well lower than before the vote for one simple reason - the vote was merely a placeholder to test the resiliency of the government, which following numerous MP terminations, has seen its overall majority drop to 168 of 300, which includes the members of the Democratic Left who voted against the Troika proposal. Which means any more votes on anything split along austerity party lines and the vote will likely no longer pass. And, as expected, Germany already picked up the baton on kicking the can on funding the Greek €31.5 billion payment (due originally many months ago) when Schauble said that it will still be too early to make a Greek decision net week. Market-wise, Europe is limping into the US open, with the EUR weaker again due to a report that Spain may not seek an ECB bailout this year (as said here over and over, Spain will not seek a bailout until the 10 Year SPGB is back at or above 7%). Paradoxically, Spain also sold €4.76 billion in 2015, 2018 and 2032 debt (more than the expected €4.5 billion) at muted conditions, thereby the market continues to encourage Spain not to request a bailout, although this may not last, as promptly after the bond auction Spanish debt tailed off, the 2Y and 10Y both sold off, and the Spain-Bund spread is back to 445 bps, the widest since October, and means Spain can finally be getting back in selloff play: and probably not at the best possible time just as everything else, which was in suspended animation until the Obama reelection, also hits the tape. Today we get two key, if largely irrelevant, central bank decisions come from the BOE and ECB, both of which are expected to do nothing much. Finally, the most important event going on right now, is the Chinese Congress. For those who missed it, our previews are here: The Far More Important 'Election' Part 1: China's Political Process and The Far More Important 'Election' Part 2: China's Market Implications.
John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, yet another noted dove, thinks nothing can go wrong by printing gobs of money. There is no inflation, and there never will be. They have the 'tools' to avert it. Never mind the explosion of the money supply over the past four years – it is all good. Have no fear though, as Williams notes: "Once it comes time to exit its super-easy monetary policy, the Fed will target a 'soft landing,'" The hubris of these guys is jaw-dropping. We are struck by the continued refusal by Fed officials to even think for a second about the long range effects of their policies. In the meantime, money printing continues to undermine the economy. Wealth cannot be generated by increasing the money supply – all that can be achieved by this is an ephemeral improvement in the 'data' even while scarce capital continues to be malinvested and consumed.
Investors should prepare for rising prices and more expansionary monetary policy now that President Barack Obama has won re-election, investor Jim Rogers told CNBC on news of the election. The co-founder with George Soros of the Quantum Fund said he expected Obama’s policies to drive up commodities and drive down the U.S. dollar. As the Federal Reserve moves to ‘stimulate’ a stalled economy through debt purchases, Rogers says markets should expect the status quo to remain the same. “If Obama wins, it’s going to be more inflation, more money printing, more debt, more spending.” Rogers told CNBC, saying he expected to sell U.S. government debt and buy precious metals, such as silver and gold. “It’s not going to be good for you me or anybody else.”
Of all the hollow and uninspired elections that this country has suffered through over the past several decades, one might think that at some point long ago the American public would have finally struck a plateau of disenfranchisement; that we could sink no further into despondency, that there is a saturation limit to the corruption of our voting process. Unfortunately, there has been no such luck. We have to say that in all honesty we have never seen more people gut jumbled and disgusted with our electoral system than we have in 2012. In 2012, it will not be about voting. It will not be about “winning”. It will not even be about getting to the next election. It will be about survival. We're sorry to say that the idea that one man will do less damage than the other is a naïve sentiment. Democrat? Republican? Obama? Romney? The crimes and calamities wrought will be exactly the same. Take a look into our crystal ball and see the future. Here is how the winner will destroy America.
"Obama/Romney, Romney/Obama – the most important election of our lifetime? Fact is they’re all the same – bought and paid for with the same money. Ours is a country of the SuperPAC, by the SuperPAC, and for the SuperPAC. The “people” are merely election-day pawns, pulling a Democratic or Republican lever that will deliver the same results every four years. “Change you can believe in?” I bought that one hook, line and sinker in 2008 during the last vestige of my disappearing middle age optimism. We got a more intelligent President, but we hardly got change. Healthcare dominated by corporate interests – what’s new? Financial regulation dominated by Wall Street – what’s new? Continuing pointless foreign wars – what’s new? I’ll tell you what isn’t new. Our two-party system continues to play ping pong with the American people, and the electorate is that white little ball going back and forth over the net. This side’s better – no, that one looks best. Elephants/Donkeys, Donkeys/Elephants. Perhaps the most farcical aspect of it all is that the choice between the two seems to occupy most of our time. Instead of digging in and digging out of this mess on a community level, we sit in front of our flat screens and watch endless debates about red and blue state theologies or listen to demagogues like Rush Limbaugh or his ex-cable counterpart Keith Olbermann."
Other than some obligatory arrests for disorderly conduct, the Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated its one year anniversary this past September with little fanfare. While the movement seems to have lost momentum, at least temporarily, it did succeed in showcasing the growing sense of unease felt among a large segment of the US population – a group the Occupy movement shrewdly referred to as “the 99%”. The 99% means different things to different people, but to us, the 99% represents the US consumer. It represents the majority of Americans who are neither wealthy nor impoverished and whose spending power makes up approximately 71% of the US economy. It is the purchasing power of this massive, amorphous group that drives the US economy forward. The problem, however, is that four years into a so-called recovery, this group is still being financially squeezed from every possible angle, making it very difficult for them to maintain their standard of living, let alone increase their levels of consumption.
It seems the market - or the collection of pre-programmed heuristic biases that make up the equity investing public (and machines) - is slowly but surely realizing the confidence trick that is the Fed's Quantitative Easing programs. The following chart should clarify - to anyone placing their gambling chips on the hopes of another round of easing from the Fed - why the game is up. To wit, the reverse geometric progression of S&P 500 performance during each Fed action: QE1 +50%, QE2 +30%, Twist +18%, QE3 & Twist +8%... so QE4 +4%, QE5 +2%, and QE6 +1%...
Plenty of talk has gone into the rising income inequality that America has experienced since the early 1970s. But income is merely a wealth flow, and the truer measure of equality is the distribution of net worth and financial wealth (the wealth stock). The historical change is clear: the bottom 80% have gotten considerably poorer both in financial wealth and in terms of total net worth.
What this data does not show are the reverse transfers via interest payments. There is no data (that I can find) on treasury interest payments received by income quintile, but assuming that the top quintile dominates income from interest (as they dominate ownership of financial assets, owning over 95% of all financial assets) this leaves the lower income quintiles benefiting from transfer payments, the top quintile benefiting from interest (as well as policies like bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, and quantitative easing, whose benefits overwhelmingly benefit the top quintile), and squeezing the taxpaying middle quintiles who receive neither the benefits of interest payments, nor significant welfare transfers. To misquote George Orwell, when it comes to the national debt and who takes its burden, some pigs are definitely more equal than others.
Two of the saving features that allowed Japan to internalize 30-some years of failed fiscal and monetary policy (and yes, not one, not two, but now 8 failed iterations of quantitative easing) and to offset one relentless deflationary vortex was i) its demographics coupled with an investing culture that favors deposits and bonds over equities, which incentivized its aging population to invest its savings into government bonds, and ii) its trade surplus which led to foreign capital flows to enter the country. Well, as far as i) is concerned, Japan may have reached its demographic limit, since as reported several months ago, Japan's pension funds are now not only selling JGBs to meet redemption and cash needs, but forced to do truly stupid things like investing in the riskiest of assets to generate a return at any cost. In other words, demographics will no longer be a natural source of demand for deficit funds. As for ii), well... here is what has happened with Japan's trade surplus status in recent weeks following the collapse in the country's foreign relationship with China.
There is an interesting dynamic unfolding in the housing market. Real estate agents in places like California are arguing that there is a lack of inventory and are also generally against the government unloading blocks of properties to big investors. Why? There has been bulk selling and buying to the investor class and a large amount of crowding out has occurred. This brings about an interesting set of problems for your average buyer in the current market. They are competing with swaths of big investors but also local flippers trying to make a quick buck once again courtesy of low interest rates and another mania in some markets. SoCal is now in a mania again as you will see with some of the patterns occurring. This is also happening in many other states as well. A new feudal system has emerged. The banks were bailed out by the Fed, were allowed to circumvent accounting standards, and now deep pocket investors in the financial class are buying up these places either to increase prices on flips or to hike up rents. In the end, if you want to compete in today’s market you need to bow down to the Fed, put on a football helmet and go head-to-head with big investors, flippers, suckers, and take on a massive mortgage.