Egan-Jones may have been barred from rating sovereigns for 18 months due to missing a comma here or there in its NRSRO application (when everyone knows this was merely retribution for downgrading the US ahead of all the other rating agencies), but now the time has come for that other rating agency which dared to follow in EJ's footsteps and downgrade the US of AmericaAA+ in August 2011 to be punished: Standard & Poors. Moments ago we learned that federal and state prosecutors will five civil charges against S&P for its mortgage bond ratings during the housing crisis.
After two consecutive down days in the market, it was time to get real, and like clockwork the dollar and yen devastation started right out of the gate in overnight trading, when first the USDJPY exploded higher, followed promptly by the EURUSD, both of which hit new period highs, of over 92, and just why of 1.37 respectively. And with not one funding currency around to push risk higher, but two, futures have ramped enough to undo all of yesterday's losses and then some. Bad news was either promptly ignored, such as China's official PMI coming in at 50.4, below expectations of the 50.6 print, or offset by conflicting data, with the HSBC China PMI print moments after at 52.3, higher than the 52.0 expected, taking us back to early 2012 when the Chinese PMI was contracting and expending at the same time.
When the Republican party agreed last week to a push back on the debt ceiling discussion by three months to May 19, virtually without a fight in a move that may presage what is set to become a quarterly can kicking exercise on the US credit card max, some were curious what the quo to this particular quid may be. Earlier today on Meet the press Paul Ryan explained: the pound of spending flesh demanded by the GOP in exchange for caving on yet another key GOP hurdle is, as our readers have known for over two weeks, the Sequester, which is set to hit on March 1 and possibly the stop-gap government funding on March 27, after which various government agencies will start shutting down. Both programs are set to kick in automatically as incremental spending cuts, chopping away even more basis points from the 2013 US GDP, unless the GOP votes affirmatively to extend them in what would then be seen as a move that destroys any last trace of leverage and credibility that GOP may have had.
One of the first axioms of analysis is: "Garbage In, Garbage Out"! If your data is flawed, everything you do with it and the decisions stemming from it are flawed and dangerous to your financial health. Experienced analysts will often be found relentlessly checking, rechecking and validating their inputs and assumptions. If only our economists and the sell side analyst community were this diligent. But then it isn't their money. Only a year-end bonus for the 'extras' in their life is at risk. If economic practitioners were held to higher standards of accountability, they simply wouldn't accept the raft of fundamental data points that are the pillars of most economic assessment. Markets have become so dysfunctional with so much cheap money chasing so few real opportunities, that collateral values within the rehypothecation process are now in jeopardy and exposed to collateral contagion. The question is - what would things look like if the Fed wasn't engaged in Monetary Malpractice?
The 2008 crash resulted from the bursting of the biggest bubble in financial history, a ‘credit super-cycle’ that spanned more than three decades. How did this happen? Some might draw comfort from the observation that bubbles are a long established aberration, arguing that the boom-and-bust cycle of recent years is nothing abnormal. Any such comfort would be misplaced, for two main reasons. First, the excesses of recent years have reached a scale which exceeds anything that has been experienced before. Second, and more disturbing still, the developments which led to the financial crisis of 2008 amounted to a process of sequential bubbles, a process in which the bursting of each bubble was followed by the immediate creation of another. Though the sequential nature of the pre-2008 process marks this as something that really is different, in order to put the 'credit cuper-cycle' in context, we must understand the vast folly of globalization, the undermining of official economic and fiscal data, and the fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamic which really drives the economy.
Early in the 4th century, Emperor Diocletian issued an infamous decree to control spiraling wages and prices in the rapidly deteriorating Roman Empire. As part of his edict, Diocletian commanded that any merchant or customer caught violating the new price structures would be put to death. This is an important lesson from history, and a trend that has been repeated numerous times. When nations are in terminal economic decline, governments will stop at nothing to keep the party going just a little bit longer. I thought of Diocletian’s desperation a few days ago when I read about the recent sanctions imposed on US rating agency Egan-Jones. Given that all this is happening at a time when Congress is voting to suspend the debt ceiling entirely, these actions are the clearest sign yet of just how desperate the government has become. Could the warning signs be any more obvious?
It is refreshing to see that the SEC has taken a much needed break from its daily escapades into midgetporn.xxx and is focusing on what is truly important, such as barring outspoken rating agency Egan-Jones from rating the US and other governments. From the SEC: "EJR and Egan made a settlement offer that the Commission determined to accept. Under the settlement, EJR and Egan agreed to be barred for at least 18 months from rating asset-backed and government securities issuers as an NRSRO. EJR and Egan also agreed to correct the deficiencies found by SEC examiners in 2012, and submit a report – signed by Egan under penalty of perjury — detailing steps the firm has taken." Hopefully the world is no longer insolvent in July of 2014 when this ban runs out.
From Goldman Sachs: "Allowing the sequester to hit would, in our view, have greater implications for growth than a short-lived government shutdown, but would not be as severe as a failure to raise the debt limit. Although Republicans in Congress generally support replacing the defense portion of the sequester with cuts in other areas, there is much less Republican support for delaying them without offsetting the increased spending that would result." And in bottom line terms: "Sequestration would reduce the level of spending authority by $85bn in fiscal year (FY) 2013 and $109bn for subsequent fiscal years through 2021. The actual effect on spending in calendar 2013 would be smaller--around $53bn, or 0.3% of GDP--since reductions in spending authority reduce actual spending with a lag. The reduction in spending would occur fairly quickly; the change would be concentrated in Q2 and particularly Q3 and could weigh on growth by 0.5pp to 1.0pp." In other words: payroll tax eliminates some 1.5% of 2013 GDP growth; on the other side the sequester cuts another 1%: that's a total of 2.5%. So: is the US now almost certainly looking at a recession when all the fiscal components to "growth" are eliminated? And what will the Fed do when it is already easing on "full blast" just to keep US growth barely above 0%?
With precisely one month left until the early bound of the debt ceiling crunch and a possible US government shut down and/or technical default, and with M.A.D. warnings from the president and treasury secretary doing nothing to precipitate a sense of urgency (which will not arrive until there is a 20% market drop, so far consistently delayed but which will eventually happen), here comes the most toothless of rating agencies, French Fitch which somehow kept its mouth shut over the past 18 months, when US debt rose by over $2.1 trillion and debt to GDP hit 103%, shaking a little stick furiously, no doubt under guidance by its corporate HoldCo owners: French Fimilac SA.
With Alcoa kicking off the earnings season with numbers there were in line and slightly better on the outlook (as usual), attention will largely shift to micro data and disappointing cash flows over the next two weeks, even as the countdown clock to the debt ceiling "drop dead" D-Day begins ticking with as little as 35 days left until debt ceiling extension measures are exhausted and creeping government shutdowns commence. There was little in terms of macro data from the US, even as a major datapoint out of Germany, November Industrial Production, missed expectations of a 1% rise, pushing higher by just 0.2% M/M (up from a -2.0% revised October print), once again proving that "hopes" (as shown by various confidence readings yesterday) of a boost to the European economy are wildly premature. This disappointing print comes a day ahead of the ECB conference tomorrow, when the governing council may or may not cut rates, although it is very much unlikely it will proceed with the former at a time when at least the narrative is one of improvement - pursuing even more easing will promptly dash "hopes" of a self-sustaining trough (forget improvement) for yet another quarter. Putting the German number in context, Greek Industrial Output slid 2.9% in November, down from a revised 5% rise, refuting in turn that this particular economy is anywhere near a trough.
Bank Of America On The "Trillion Dollar Tooth Fairy" Straight "From The Land Of Fiscal Make Believe"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/08/2013 20:47 -0400
A year ago, out of nowhere, the grotesque suggestion to "resolve" the US debt ceiling with a platinum dollar coin came, and like a bad dream, mercifully disappeared even as the debt ceiling negotiations dragged until the last minute, without this idea being remotely considered for implementation, for one simple reason: it is sheer political, monetary and financial lunacy. And yet there are those, supposedly intelligent people, who one year later, continue dragging this ridiculous farce, as a cheap parlor trick which is nothing but a transparent attempt for media trolling and exposure, which only distracts from America's unsustainable spending problem and does nothing to address the real crisis the US welfare state finds itself in. And while numerous respected people have taken the time to explain the stupidity of the trillion dollar coin, few have done so as an integral part of the statist mainstream for one simple reason - it might provide a loophole opportunity, however tiny, to perpetuate the broken American model even for a day or two, if "everyone is in on it." Luckily, that is no longer the case and as even Ethan Harris from Bank of America (a firm that would be significantly impaired if America was forced to suddenly live within its means), the whole idea is nothing more than "the latest bad idea" straight "from the land of fiscal make believe." We can only hope that this finally puts this whole farce to bed.
The debt limit was formally reached last week, and we expect the Treasury's ability to borrow to be exhausted by around March 1 (if not before) and while CDS are not flashing red, USA is at near 3-month wides. Like the previous debt limit debate in the summer of 2011, the debate seems likely to be messy, with resolution right around the deadline. That said, like the last debate we would expect the Treasury to prioritize payments if necessary, and Goldman does not believe holders of Treasury securities are at risk of missing interest or principal payments. The debt limit is only one of three upcoming fiscal issues, albeit the most important one. Congress also must address the spending cuts under sequestration, scheduled to take place March 1, and the expiration of temporary spending authority on March 27. While these are technically separate issues, it seems likely that they will be combined, perhaps into one package. This remains a 'very' recurring issue, given our government's spending habits and insistence on its solvency, as we laid out almost two years ago in great detail.
The main events of this week, monetary policy meetings at the BoE and the ECB on Thursday, are not expected to bring any meaningful changes. In both cases, banks are expected to keep rates on hold and to hold off on further unconventional policy measures. While significant economic slack still exists in the Euro area, and although the inflation picture has remained relatively benign, targeted non-standard policy measures are more likely than an interest rate cut. As financial conditions are already quite easy in the core countries, where the monetary transmission mechanism remains effective, the ECB’s first objective is to reverse the segmentation of the Euro area’s financial markets to ensure the pass-through of lower rates to the countries with the most need for further stimulus.
Having passed the 'easy-do-nothing' bill that created a 5% uplift in US equities, D.C. have left the most difficult set of issues for last: entitlement reform, which Republicans have said they will insist upon in return for raising the debt limit, and tax reform, which the President has said he will insist on in return for entitlement reform. The upshot is that reaching an agreement on the next debt limit increase could be at least as difficult as the last increase in August 2011. As Goldman notes, the next debate on the debt limit will be the fifth "showdown" on fiscal policy in the last two years. Adding further angst, in the summer of 2011 politicians had started the debate some three months prior to the real deadline. This time it appears that nothing serious will happen until the 11th hour as usual, meaning far more last minute volatility. However, one new twist to this now familiar routine may come from the rating agencies, which look likely to be more active in 2013 than they have been since 2011.
"The scaled-down deal passed in the Senate addressed the fiscal cliff but did nothing to address longer term fiscal health of the nation. This puts the US rating at risk for a downgrade. However, credit rating agencies may decide to wait and see what emerges from the subsequent talks. There is an implicit new cliff at the end of February related to the sequester and to the expected exhaustion of extraordinary measures related to the debt ceiling. This date is expected to be used by Republicans as leverage for spending cuts. President Obama has already signaled that a new round of spending cuts – those related to the sequester as well as entitlement spending – will have to be matched by additional revenue increases. Therefore entitlement and tax reform are likely to be at the center of discussions over the next two months."