Back in June, we wrote an article titled "On The Verge Of A Historic Inversion In Shadow Banking" in which we showed that for the first time since December 1995, the total "shadow liabilities" in the United States - the deposit-free funding instruments that serve as credit to those unregulated institutions that are financial banks in all but name (i.e., they perform maturity, credit and liquidity transformations) - were on the verge of being once more eclipsed by traditional bank funding liabilities. As of Thursday, this inversion is now a fact, with Shadow Bank liabilities representing less in notional than traditional liabilities.
"what you realize is that the lessons of ’08 will actually result in a much quicker process, a process that I would describe as a “black hole” if and when there is the next financial crisis.... Nobody in America has actually seen, or most people probably can’t even contemplate, what an actual loss of confidence may look like. What I’m trying to struggle with as a money manager, who really seriously doesn’t like to lose money, is how to protect our capital and how to think about the next crisis."
UBS and Nomura have suggested that gold could rise next week as the Federal Reserve may announce further easing at the FOMC meeting – on Tuesday (11/12/12) and Wednesday (12/12/12). Nomura said it is worth considering whether the FOMC will announce further easing to replace so called ‘Operation Twist’. The research house noted that gold remains at the same level as during the October meeting, which suggests gold has not yet priced in any move by the FOMC – creating an opportunity for gold bullion buyers. Regardless of whether the FOMC actually eases at this point – Nomura thinks there is a non-negligible probability – gold is likely to rise. Therefore, Nomura expects gold to rise and prices in this probability as the December meeting approaches, just as gold rose when the September meeting was approaching.
Late last night S&P placed Greece into “Selective Default” again, raising the issues, once again, of the $90 billion in Greek derivatives, the Greek bank bonds guaranteed by the country and now at the ECB, some central banks and some commercial banks where some clause may get triggered, various clauses in repos, inter-bank lending contracts and guarantees by Athens of various corporate entities all potentially seeing triggers. In the meantime, because Americans hate to be left out of anything, we continue to behave like fools. The raising of the tax rate on the wealthy will operate the country for about eight days and it seems like the savants in Washington have forgotten that there are three hundred and forty-eight days left in the year. Secretary Geithner’s ,“We are prepared to go over the fiscal cliff,” has all of the dramatics of some bluff on World Wide Poker. The focus on redistribution of wealth is a secondary consideration when you cannot pay your bills. We propose that unhappy Americans unite, buy the Abaco islands from the Bahamas, they need the money, and begin our own island nation and let the 46.5 million on food stamps fend for themselves. We honestly feel that way some days as the idiocy in Washington D.C. seems to recognize no boundaries.
Japan's years of quantitative easing, forced financial repression, and Koo-nesian stimulus efforts are an altogether too accurate test-tube for the accelerated policies that Bernanke has engaged. A glance at the charts below and one wonders how many times did Japanese investors look at the equity market's exuberance relative to bond yields and scoff greedily; how many times did Japanese equity managers ask "what are you gonna do, buy JGBs?" But time and again, the Japanese equity market realized the errors of its ways and attempted to 'creatively destruct' the status quo - only to be dragged kicking and screaming into the next bubble. What awaits the US?
Beggaring thy neighbour has consequences. Neighbours might turn around and bite back. How long until other nations join with Brazil in declaring trade measures against the United States is uncertain, but there may be few other options on the table for creditors wanting to get their pound of flesh, or nations wishing to protect domestic industries. After all, the currency wars won’t just go away; competitive devaluation is like trying to get the last word in an argument. The real question is whether the present argument will lead to a fistfight.
The Great Depression brought about the Keynesian Revolution, complete with new analytical tools and economic programs that have been relied upon for decades. In dampening each successive downturn, authorities accumulated increasingly larger deficits and brought about a debt supercycle that lasted in excess of half a century. The efficacy of these tools and programs has slowly been eroded over the years as the accumulation of policy actions has reduced the flexibility to deal with crises as we reach budget constraints and stretch the Fed’s balance sheet beyond anything previously imagined. Some have referred to this as reaching the Keynesian endpoint. Keynes would barely recognize where we now find ourselves. In this ultra loose policy environment we are limited by our Keynesian toolkit. Without a new economic paradigm, the deleterious consequences of the current misguided policies are a foregone conclusion.
Many people, and erroneously, think that all of the purchasing by the Fed will go to both markets in equal amounts but this is not the case. More money for the stock markets would have to come from asset reallocations by money management firms, insurance companies, pension funds and the like and this is not going to happen anytime soon given the 2008/2009 experience. Consequently the greatest flows generated by the Fed’s recent and forward actions will affect the bond markets much more than the equity markets. Between the MBS purchases and the next upcoming stimulus push, the Fed would account for 90% of all new debt issuance and leading to a demand imbalance between $400 billion to almost $2 Trillion depending upon the actual Fed announcements. The Fed currently holds about 18% of the U.S. GDP on its books and it could bulge to 23-28% a few years out. This all works, by the way, only because all of the world’s central banks are working in concert so that there is no imbalance and money cannot be invested off-world. Yields will not make sense empirically because of the actions of the Fed but it will make no difference, because their intentions and goals are vastly different from investors.
We find ourselves more amazed than ever at the ability of those in power to lie, misinform and obfuscate the truth, while millions of Americans willfully choose to be ignorant of the truth and yearn to be misled. It’s a match made in heaven. Acknowledging the truth of our society’s descent from a country of hard working, self-reliant, charitable, civic minded citizens into the abyss of entitled, dependent, greedy, materialistic consumers is unacceptable to the slave owners and the slaves. We can’t handle the truth because that would require critical thought, hard choices, sacrifice, and dealing with the reality of an unsustainable economic and societal model. It’s much easier to believe the big lies that allow us to sleep at night. The concept of lying to the masses and using propaganda techniques to manipulate and form public opinion really took hold in the 1920s and have been perfected by the powerful ruling elite that control the reins of finance, government and mass media. How many Americans are awake enough to handle the truth? Abraham Lincoln once said that he believed in the people and that if you told them the truth and gave them the cold hard facts they would meet any crisis. That may have been true in 1860, but not today.
There is only one problem with the home builders - expectations are way too high. The builders are not only priced for perfection (as we noted here) by the market, the builders themselves have business strategies that are modeled for perfection. We believe the bar is set at an unattainable level. In summary, the building model is flawed. Here is why.
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision is an exclusive and somewhat mysterious entity that issues banking guidelines for the world’s largest financial institutions. The Committee’s latest ‘framework’, is referred to as “Basel III”. The regulators have stubbornly held to the view that AAA-government securities constitute the bulk of those high quality assets, even as the rest of the financial world increasingly realizes they are anything but that. As banks move forward in their Basel III compliance efforts, they will be forced to buy ever-increasing amounts of AAA-rated government bonds to meet liquidity and capital ratios. Add to this the additional demand for bonds from governments themselves through various Quantitative Easing programs, and we may soon have a situation where government bond yields are so low that they simply make no sense to hold at all. This is where gold comes into play. If the Basel Committee decides to grant gold a favourable liquidity profile under its proposed Basel III framework, it will open the door for gold to compete with cash and government bonds on bank balance sheets – and provide banks with an asset that actually has the chance to appreciate. The world’s non-Western central banks have already embraced this concept with their foreign exchange reserves, which are vulnerable to erosion from ‘Central Planning’ printing programs. After all – if the banks are ultimately interested in restoring stability and confidence, they could do worse than holding an asset that has gone up by an average of 17% per year for the last 12 years and represented ‘sound money’ throughout history.
In a recent article at the NYT entitled 'Incredible Credibility', Paul Krugman once again takes aim at those who believe it may not be a good idea to let the government's debt rise without limit. In order to understand the backdrop to this, Krugman is a Keynesian who thinks that recessions should be fought by increasing the government deficit spending and printing gobs of money. Moreover, he is a past master at presenting whatever evidence appears to support his case, while ignoring or disparaging evidence that seems to contradict his beliefs. Krugman compounds his error by asserting that there is an 'absence of default risk' in the rest of the developed world (on the basis of low interest rates and completely missing point of a 'default' by devaluation). We are generally of the opinion that it is in any case impossible to decide or prove points of economic theory with the help of economic history – the method Krugman seems to regularly employ, but then again it is a well-known flaw of Keynesian thinking in general that it tends to put the cart before the horse (e.g. the idea that one can consume oneself to economic wealth).
Harry Reid’s publicly displayed dismay at the lack of progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations finally injected a dose of realism into the process after investors threw caution to the wind and seized on the optimism offered by the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker Boehner on November 16. We view yesterday’s sound bite as more negative than the aforementioned statement on the White House Lawn, for we now sit 11 days closer to the New Year’s deadline. Despite this asymmetry, equities suffered only moderate losses giving up just a modicum of the gains from last week. The relative lack of a response to the comments seem puzzling given the price action from the prior several days; however with month end looming, enough buyers kept stocks from selling off violently. My November 13 “Missive” outlined a game theory exercise that suggests this rancor will continue until very late into December and/or the capital markets dislocate thereby ensuring either a falling over the cliff or a band aid solution to avoid the crisis temporarily. Both parties unfortunately may assume that by agreeing to postpone the tough decisions, they will have prevented a rout in equities; however, the August, 2011 precedent of raising the debt ceiling out of desperation hints otherwise.
Those with vested interests in the Status Quo tout data that supports the claim the "recovery" is now "self-sustaining," meaning that the economy is now expanding fast enough to fuel new growth. In this view, the Federal Reserve's extraordinary policy interventions (zero interest rate policy, $23 trillion in support provided to the global banking system, 3.4% mortgage rates, etc.) and the Federal government's unprecedented fiscal stimulus (borrow and blow $1.3 trillion a year) have done their job; the economy is now "self-sustaining," meaning that it can continue growing as Federal deficits shrink and the Fed trims its quantitative easing policies. Those looking at fundamentals such as household income/debt and sales see more of a Mind Trick being played on the weak-minded. If you can convince me the economy is expanding and inflation is rising, I will be more likely to risk borrowing and spending more than I can afford. The "real" economy might be sputtering, but my belief in the "recovery" will support my confidence in the wisdom of leveraging more of my (shrinking) income into debt-based consumption.
Those with vested interests in the Status Quo tout data that supports the claim the "recovery" is now "self-sustaining," meaning that the economy is now expanding fast enough to fuel new growth. Those looking at fundamentals such as household income/debt and sales see more of a Mind Trick being played on the weak-minded. So the task of the Status Quo shifts from actually expanding the economy to persuading us the economy is expanding. With debt levels still high and income sagging, where is the higher income needed to support higher debt and spending? Lowering the interest rate has enabled higher debt, but now that interest rates are negative (below the rate of inflation),they can't go any lower: the Status Quo has run out of "stimulus" and now must rely on manipulation and artifice--Mind Tricks--to persuade people a stumbling, stagnant economy is growing robustly enough that they should risk their future prosperity on debt-based consumption in the present.