There have been many grand experiments in social engineering during the past several centuries. We have witnessed the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, Communism and finally 1999 and the founding of the European Union. It is an interesting exercise to consider the long view as I have wondered what the world looked like in 1789 which was thirteen years after the commencement of the American experiment. It seems then historically that thirteen years after America began we were in a process of formation and working towards national goals as a coalition of individual States while we find the European Union, thirteen years after its inception, following quite a different route. May 6 may mark the date when the sleeper finally awakens as Greece and France may both vote in such a manner as to significantly change the political landscape on the Continent. We submit that we are quickly coming to a major reversal in both equities and in credit/risk assets and that instead of being aggravated that it took so long that you should be thankful that you had the luxury of time to prepare for it.
Relative to their positively exuberant +2.7% GDP growth expectation, Goldman opines on the below consensus print for today's Real GDP growth. The composition of growth was seen as weak, with a larger add from inventories and less momentum in domestic final sales than they had expected. There is a silver-lining though as they suggest the weakness in national defense spending that explained part of the miss will possibly reverse next quarter (or not we hesitate to add). BofA adds that the strength in consumer spending and contribution from motor vehicle output look unlikely to repeat in future quarters. Auto production added more than a percentage point to growth. At least half of that is due to the recovery from Japan supply chains and is not sustainable. Outside of autos, GDP growth would have been just 1.1% - thank goodness for all that channel-stuffing.
Futures are unchanged after dropping steeply overnight following the Spanish re-downgrade as the Italian 5/10 year bond auction was bad, but still passed (somehow the lack of the European bond market ending is good news). This is ironic with Europe very much on edge following the release of very disappointing EU data, with German confidence, French consumer spending, Spanish unemployment all worse than estimates. Offsetting all of the negativity to some extent is the gross JPY10 trillion and net JPY5 trillion injection by the BOJ, which is a harbinger of what will happen west of Japan when push comes to shove. And so now all eyes turn to US GDP, which, continuing the Constanza bizarroness, better miss for stocks to surge, as a beat of consensus of 2.5% will mean the Chairman was not joking when he told the world he was morphing from a dove to a hawk (if only for theatrical purposes).
In a week that Spain can't wait to end, the country was just hit with the bad news bears Trifecta, starting with the Real Madrid loss, following with the second S&P downgrade of Spain's credit rating for the year last night (or is that now SBBB+ain?), and concluding with economic data released this morning which showed that the economy is in a free fall that is approaching that of Greece, after retail sales fell for the 21st consecutive month, while Q1 unemployment soared to, drumroll please, one quarter of the working population or 24.44% to be specific, trouncing consensus estimates of 23.8%, and up nearly 2% from the 22.85% as of December 31. Which likely means that the real unemployment is far higher, and confirms not only that the economy is in free fall mode, but that Moody's, which delayed its downgrade of the country's banks to May, will proceed shortly.
The bow-tie-and-bespectacled Jim Grant once again takes the centrally-planned 'Office of Unintended Consequence' (aka The Fed) to task in a thoughtful exchange with Capital Account's Lauren Lyster. Reflecting on his recent opportunity to speak directly to various Fed officials, he found one particular question (on the perceived 'mass starvation' that occurred in the brutal earlier Depression beginning in 1920 which ended rapidly without the need for monetary stimulation) most disturbing in its summation of the central bank's 'Atlas Complex' - or how would we get up and go to work in the morning without them. The attitude of our Monetary Priesthood, he analogizes, is that unless they are active in their prayers and devotions, who knows what might happen? Grant goes on to discuss the hypocrisy of Bernanke (noting the importance of free market prices to his students and yet controlling interest rates overtly in the market-place) and highlights interest rates role as the traffic light signal in a market economy providing a critical input to our perception of value in stocks, bonds, real estate, Silicon Valley Startups, and so on and because these rates are manipulated we live and invest in a hall-of-mirrors leaving us with a distorted vision of the real-world. He notes that Americans, as typically recklessly joyous investors in growth, "remain in a miasma of anxiety due to the extreme unpredictability of policy action and this is what creates the tail risk of doubt and apprehension." Looking to the future he sees the constitutionality of Obamacare and the elections as a critical test in the war against supply and demand that is being waged by our central bankers and government.
UPDATE: *S&P TO ASSESS EFFECTS OF SPAIN DOWNGRADE ON SPANISH ISSUERS
Adding insult to Bayern Munich injury, we just got S&P which did the impossible and cut Spain to BBB+ from A (outlook negative) not on Friday after hours. Kneejerk reaction is a 30 pip drop in EURUSD. Oh, and most amusing, those witches among men, Egan Jones, downgraded Spain from BBB to BBB-.... a week ago. Crush them, destroy them... How dare they be ahead of the pack as usual: after all their NRSRO application was missing a god damn comma.
While the LTRO was heralded as a success for a month or so with the implicit money-printing-and-sovereign-reacharounds involved at the cost of senior unsecured bondholders, the sad reality is that not only are the effects of LTRO now almost entirely gone in both sovereign and financial funding costs but the massive 'injection' of freshly printed encumbrance did nothing for the real economy. In fact, as Barclays notes in these charts from the ECB bank lending survey, not only is demand weaker for credit (i.e. the consumer is pulling back in classic balance sheet recessionary style) but the banks themselves are tightening credit conditions (reducing supply) - the exact opposite of what the ECB had in mind. There is one exception to this vicious cycle - German real estate loan demand picked up modestly - we assume reflecting their flat housing market for the last 15 years and extremely low rates). Oh well, we are sure the next ECB action will be different in its banking reaction.
Pretend, from now on, that when you see this word it is written in Moldavian and needs to be translated. France and the periphery nations are screaming this word now while almost all of Europe is in recession and one that we believe will be much deeper than forecast. Consequently “growth” does not mean “growth” and the correct translation is “Inflation.” We have long said it would come to this in Europe and here we go. The troubled countries are going to beg and plead for Inflation and Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Finland are going to resist. With Hollande the most likely next President of France you are going to see a stand-off between the socialist and the centrist countries so that a log jam will develop and the consequences of its uncoupling are anyone’s guess except that it will be likely violent and an extreme series of events. The governance of Europe on May 5 will not be what is found on May 6 and preparation for this should be high upon everyone’s list.
In the science of physics, we know that ice freezes at 32 degrees. We can predict with immense accuracy exactly how far a rocket ship will travel filled with 500 gallons of fuel. There is preciseness because there are constants, which do not change and upon which equations can be constructed.. There are no such constants in the field of economics since the science of economics deals with human action, which can change at any time. If potato prices remain the same for 10 weeks, it does not mean they will be the same the following day. I defy anyone in this room to provide me with a constant in the field of economics that has the same unchanging constancy that exists in the fields of physics or chemistry. And yet, in paper after paper here at the Federal Reserve, I see equations built as though constants do exist. It is as if one were to assume a constant relationship existed between interest rates here and in Russia and throughout the world, and create equations based on this belief and then attempt to trade based on these equations. That was tried and the result was the blow up of the fund Long Term Capital Management, a blow up that resulted in high level meetings in this very building. It is as if traders assumed a given default rate was constant for subprime mortgage paper and traded on that belief. Only to see it blow up in their faces, as it did, again, with intense meetings being held in this very building. Yet, the equations, assuming constants, continue to be published in papers throughout the Fed system. I scratch my head.
The always-outspoken Doug Casey addresses a broader view of taxation and its costs to both individuals and society in general in this interview with Louis James. The Taxman can and will come for you, no matter how great or small the amount of tax he expects to extract from you. The IRS can impound your assets, take your computers, freeze your accounts, and make life just about impossible for you, while you struggle to defend yourself against their claims and keep the rest of your life going. But people should not just bow down and lick the boots of our masters. They can and should do everything they can to pay as little in taxes as possible. This is an ethical imperative; we must starve the beast.
I have to confess, I am tired of writing "structured" articles, the ones where I have to limit my thoughts to 800 words. So with this one I am taking a break. This is an unstructured stream of thought, in no particular sequence.
Fading Shiller and why.
Leading neoconservative (read “closet Trotskyite“) commentator Charles Krauthammer’s latest Washington Post editorial pays homage to the glory days of NASA and the retirement of the space shuttle Discovery. Titled “Farewell, the New Frontier,” the piece evokes mental images of Uncle Sam losing his international prestige as President Obama scales down NASA’s space exploration endeavors. Contrary to Krauthammer, NASA has never represented America’s collective vision of frontier exploration. It has been just another bureaucratic black hole for Washington to throw dollars at in hopes of buying reelection. Because one of the main tenets of economics is considering the unseen, then it can be assumed that space exploration would very well be advanced far beyond what we see today if it was left completely out of the hands of the state. If Krauthammer truly wished the human race capable of traveling into the new frontier of the stars, he would welcome NASA cuts rather than lament. How ironic then is today's news of Planetary Resources as investor and avowed anarchist Doug Casey thoughtfully observes on the inefficiency of NASA: "We should have colonies on the moon by now, and more: We should be mining the asteroids and developing real estate on Mars."