The publication, earlier this week, of the FOMC minutes seemed to have a similar effect on equity markets as a call from room service to a Las Vegas hotel suite, informing the partying high-rollers that the hotel might be running out of Cristal Champagne. Around the world, stocks sold off, and so did gold. The whole idea that a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington scans lots of data plus some anecdotal ‘evidence’ every month (with the help of 200 or so economists) and then ‘sets’ interest rates, astutely manipulates bank refunding rates and cleverly guides various market prices so that the overall economy comes out creating more new jobs while the debasement of money unfolds at the officially sanctioned but allegedly harmless pace of 2 percent, must appear entirely preposterous to any student of capitalism. There should be no monetary policy in a free market just as there should be no policy of setting food prices, or wage rates, or of centrally adjusting the number of hours in a day. But the question here is not what we would like to happen but what is most likely to happen. There is no doubt that we should see an end to ‘quantitative easing’ but will we see it anytime soon? Has the Fed finally – after creating $1.9 trillion in new ‘reserves’ since Lehman went bust – seen the light? Do they finally get some sense? Maybe, but we still doubt it. In financial markets the press, the degrees of freedom that central bank officials enjoy are vastly overestimated. In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.
Equities have rallied to all-time highs, sovereign debt is still just off their all-time lows and risk assets have compressed to their benchmarks in ways not dreamed about five years ago. The absence of hyper-inflation, once thought to be the consequence of this type of behavior, is nowhere to be seen and this has befuddled many economist and money manager alike. In other words, what most people thought would happen has not happened and there is a lesson here which rests upon all of the Central Banks acting in concert. Money is always put to use, it is never idle because it then earns nothing, but since it cannot be invested off-world it must go into the spaces that are provided and so it has. One can honestly say that the game has been rigged and this is an accurate statement but it makes no difference; this is the game that we have been given to play. Investors get to make all kinds of choices but we do not make the rules and arguing with reality may be an interesting academic exercise but it changes nothing in the end.
With recent (post-Minutes) chatter of a gradually-tightening Fed since curtailed by a plethora of Federal Reserve market savants jawboning us back to creditopia - "the liquidity must flow"; we thought a gentle reminder of what Quantitative Easing really is was worthwhile. Whether goldbug, bond-vigilante, or permabull-stock-muppet; two-and-a-half minutes of reality (or comedy) depending on your perspective.
Gold has come under pressure from heavy liquidation by hedge funds and banks on the COMEX this week. The unusual and often 'not for profit' nature of the selling, at the same time every day this week, has again led to suspicions of market manipulation.
Gold’s ‘plunge’ is now headline news which is bullish from a contrarian perspective. As is the fact that many of the same people who have been claiming gold is a bubble since it was $1,000/oz have again been covering gold after periods of silence.
Please do not adjust your monitors: that strange, non-green color greeting you this morning is not a "glitch." Following yesterday's market drubbing, in which a modest 1% decline in the S&P ended up being the biggest market drop of 2013, we next got a wipe out in China, where the SHCOMP plunged by 3% the most in 15 months, down the third day out of four since the start of the year of the Snake on renewed concerns around home purchase restrictions urged by the government, but mostly driven by rampant liquidations of commodity-related stocks following yet another liquidity withdrawing repo (not reverse) by the PBOC which took out even more money out of the market. We then continued to Europe where despite the near-record surge in German optimism (because in the New Normal hope is a strategy - the only strategy), German manufacturing PMI missed expectations of a rise to 50.5 from 49.8, instead printing at 50.1, while the Services PMI outright declined from 55.7 to 54.1 (55.5 expected). We wonder how much higher this latest economic disappointment will push German investor confidence. Not too unexpectedly, Europe's suddenly weakest economy France also disappointed with its Mfg PMI missing as well, rising from 42.9 to 43.6, on expectations of a 43.8 print, while Services PMI declined from 43.6 to 42.7, on "hopes" of a rise to 44.5. The result was a miss in Europe's composite PMIs with the Manufacturing posting at 47.8 on expectations of 48.5, while the Services PMI was 47.3, with 49.0 expected, and a blended PMI missing just as much, or 47.3 with 49.0 expected, and down from 48.6. The news, which finally reasserted reality over hopium, immediately pushed the EURUSD to under 1.32, the lowest print since January 10. Therefore while Germany may or may not escape recession in Q1, depending on how aggressively they fudge their export numbers, for France it seems all hope is now lost.
While the rest of the developed (read trade deficit) world's foray into the currency wars was completely predictable and expected, there was one country that had so far kept very silent on the topic of Japan's attempts to crush its currency: its main export competitor, South Korea. Recall that for this Asian nation exports are everything, and as Yonhap reminds us, "exports of goods and services amounted to 538.5 trillion won (US$506 billion) in the January-September period, or 57.3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the data by the Bank of Korea. The reading was higher than 56.2 percent tallied for all of 2011 and the highest since the central bank began compiling related data in 1970, and South Korea's exports accounted for 13.2 percent of its GDP." The reason for South Korea's relative silence is that, as we showed yesterday, in the global race to debase launched with the end of the Bretton Woods, it was the undisputed leader, outdoing even the US. Moments ago South Korea may have just had enough and broke the seal on its code of silence. As Reuters reports, "South Korea said that while the Group of 20 nations at their meeting last weekend did not single out Japan for monetary and fiscal measures that have weakened the yen, the group did not exactly endorse Japan's quantitative easing policy, which in fact stirred controversy."
Curious why nobody at the G-7 or G-20 had the gall to outright accuse Japan of currency manipulation? Simple: because everyone else in the G-7 and G-20 has been doing precisely what Japan only recently started doing a few months ago. As such, it would be outright "glass house" hypocrisy if there was a formal Japanese condemnation by the group of overlevered nations, which moments ago released its draft communique not naming the island nation outright as was widely expected. Of course, that the G-20 did not accuse Japan of engaging in what everyone clearly knows is currency war, does not mean that everyone else is not doing this. To the contrary: they are, and the lack of a stern rebuke of Japan simply means the currency wars will now intensify, devolving into the same protectionism and trade wars as the first Great Depression was so familiar with, which to borrow a parallel from history again, will end with the kind of war that ultimately ended the first Great Depression.
Hard assets are gaining momentum once again as market participants digest the potential impact of central bank printing initiatives. After last year's record level of central bank intervention, 2013 is gearing up to be an even more prolific year on the money-printing front. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently unveiled Japan's tenth Quantitative Easing program to follow the country's current $224 billion stimulus announced on January 11th. The US Federal Reserve is steadily printing US$85 billion a month under its QE3 & QE4 programs, and reports indicate that the European Central Bank is close to launching its much-awaited Open Market Transaction (OMT) program to purchase European sovereign debt. It's a money-printing party and everyone's invited. Even the new Bank of England head, Mark Carney, has hinted of plans to launch more monetary stimulus. Professional investors have noticed and are expressing concern over the consequences of concerted currency devaluation and the continuation of zero-percent interest rates. Despite being long-time precious metals enthusiasts and active investors in gold and silver, we did not focus on "the other precious metals", platinum or palladium, until very recently.
As the charts below show, more quantitative easing is unlikely to have a beneficial effect. The transmission mechanism is broken. What good is new money if it’s just sitting unused on bank balance sheets? What new productive or useful output can be summoned simply by stuffing the banks full of money if they won’t lend it? The sad truth is that a huge part of the financial sector has failed. Its inefficiencies and fragilities were exposed in 2008, as a default cascade washed it into a liquidity crisis. And yet we have bailed it out, stuffed it full of money in the hope that this will bring us a new prosperity, in the delusional hope that by repeating the mistakes of the past, we can have a prosperous future. The sad truth is that the broken, sclerotic parts of the financial sector must fail or be dismantled before the banks will start lending again, start putting monies into the hands of people who can create, innovate and produce our way to growth.
Even Democrats Are Starting to Admit It
Latest from my friend David Kotok. I think both he and Meredith Whitney are too bullish on the banks
It started overnight in Japan, where Q4 GDP posted a surprising and disappointing 3rd quarter of declines, then quickly spread to France, whose Q4 GDP declined -0.3% Q/Q missing expectations of a -0.2% drop, down from a +0.1% increase, then Germany, whose GDP also missed expectations of a -0.5% drop, declining from a +0.2% increase to a -0.6% drop, then on to Italy (-0.9% vs Exp. -0.6%, last -0.2%), Portugal (-1.8%, Exp. -1.0%, last -0.9%), Greece (down -6.0%, previously -6.7%), Hungary (-0.9%, Exp. -0.3%), Austria (-0.2%, down from 0.1%), Cyprus (-3.1%, last -2.0%), and so on. To summarize: Eurozone GDP dropped far more than expected, or posting a -0.6% decline in Q4, worse than the -0.4% expected, which was the largest drop since Q1 2009, and down from the -0.1% posted in Q3. And since this was a second consecutive negative quarter of GDP decline for the Eurozone, the technical recession (double dip? triple dip? is anyone even counting anymore?) in Europe too is now official.
As debate about currency wars heats up, there's been little talk about which currencies will prove safe havens. We think the Singapore dollar tops the list.
China has been a very active purchaser of gold for its reserves in the last few years, as we extensively covered here and here, but another nation has taken over the 'biggest buyer' role (for the same reasons as China). Central banks around the world have printed money to escape the global financial crisis, and as Bloomberg reports, IMF data shows Russia added 570 metric tons in the past decade. Putin's fears that "the U.S. is endangering the global economy by abusing its dollar monopoly," are clearly being taken seriously as the world's largest oil producer turns black gold into hard assets. A lawmaker in Putin's party noted, "the more gold a country has, the more sovereignty it will have if there’s a cataclysm with the dollar, the euro, the pound or any other reserve currency." It appears Russia-China is now the 'hard-money' axis and perhaps, to some extent, it is the relative price of oil that defines their demand for the barbarous relic.