Real Interest Rates
So far there are no dramatic consequences of the Greek default. The ECB did say they couldn’t accept it as collateral, but national central banks (including Greece’s somehow solvent NCB) can, so no real change. We will likely get a Credit Event prior to March 20th once CAC’s are used to get the deal fully done. Will the market respond much to that? Probably not, though there is a higher risk of unforeseen consequences from that, than there was from the S&P downgrade. It just strikes us that Europe wasted a year or more, and has created a less stable system than it had before. Tomorrow’s LTRO is definitely interesting. It seems like every outcome is now bullish – big take up is bullish because of the “carry” trade. Low take up is bullish because “banks are okay”. Any weak bank looking to borrow from the LTRO to buy sovereign debt would be insane to buy bonds longer than 3 years and take the roll risk, but on the other hand, the weakest and most insolvent, got there by doing insane things in the first place.
Bill Gross' monthly letters are always a fresh source of jovial imagery, although the bond king may have outdone himself in his latest monthly letter which collapses the principles of investing onto the football field: "My point about pigskin offense and defense is the perfect metaphor for the world of investing as well. Offensively minded risk takers in the markets have historically been the ones who have dominated the headlines and won the hearts of that beautiful gal (or handsome guy).... Canton, however, has an approximately equal number of defensive in addition to offensively positioned inductees, so there must be a universally acknowledged role for both sides of the scrimmage line. What fan can forget Mean Joe Greene, Deion Sanders or Mike Ditka? The old, now politically incorrect showtune laments that “you gotta be a football hero, to fall in love with a beautiful girl,” but football and any of life’s heroes can play on either side of the line, it seems." And it only gets better. While at its heart Gross' latest is merely yet another lamentation against the confines of the financially suppressive regime that arises from ZIRP and ends with what many expect is a whimper (when in reality they all forget to factor in the facility of hitting the CTRL+P keys as many times as necessary), the flourish of abandon this time around is palpable. We would not be surprised to soon see Gross hang up his offensive (and defensive) jersey, and sit back and enjoy the coming lunacy from a distance (but hopefully not before he allocates just a little to the Ron Paul SuperPAC).
Could Sweden or Finland be the scene of the next European financial crisis? It is actually far likelier than most people realize. While the world has been laser-focused on the woes of the heavily-indebted PIIGS nations for the last couple of years, property markets in Northern and Western European countries have been bubbling up to dizzying new heights in a repeat performance of the very property bubbles that caused the global financial crisis in the first place. Nordic and Western European countries such as Norway and Switzerland have attracted strong investment inflows due to their perceived economic safe-haven statuses, serving to further inflate these countries’ preexisting property bubbles that had expanded from the mid-1990s until 2008. With their overheated economies and ballooning property bubbles, today’s safe-haven European countries may very well be tomorrow’s Greeces and Italys.
We have been saying it for weeks, and today even the WSJ jumped on the bandwagon: the sole reason why crude prices are surging (RIP European profit margins: with EUR Brent at a record, we can only assume the ECB will pull a 2011 and hike rates in 3-4 months even as it pumps trillions in PIIGS, banks bailout liquidity) - is because global liquidity has risen by $2 trillion in a few short months, on the most epic shadow liquidity tsunami launched in history in lieu of QE3 (discussed extensively here in our words, but here are JPM's). Luckily, the market is finally waking up to this, and just as world central banks were preparing to offset deflation, they will instead have to deal with spiking inflation, because the market may have a short memory, it can remember what happened just about this time in 2011. And the problem is that when it comes to the inflation trade, the market, unlike in most other instances, can be fast - blazing fast, at anticipating what the central planning collective's next step will be, after all there is only one. And if Bank of America is correct, that next step could well lead to the same unprecedented economic catastrophe that we saw back in 2008, only worse: $200 oil. Note - this is completely independent of what happens in Iran, and is 100% dependent on what happens in the 3rd subbasement of the Marriner Eccles building. Throw in an Iran war and all bets are off. Needless to say, an epic deflationary shock will need to follow immediately, just as in 2008, which means that, in keeping with the tradition of being 6-9 months ahead of the market, our question today is - which bank will be 2012's sacrificial Lehman to set off the latest and greatest deflationary collapse and send crude plunging to $30 just after it hits $200.
Highly paid shills for the status quo on Wall Street have recently been wheeled out to observe the fundamental ugliness of western government bonds. They are correct. This is an asset class that has managed to defy the laws of economics in becoming ever more expensive even as its supply swells. Their response has been to recommend piling into stocks instead. The logic here is not so pristine. If Napier's thesis is correct, the West faces a period of outright deflation, which will be deeply traumatic for exactly the sort of speculative stocks that have lately done so well. Admittedly, the picture is confused, and prone to all sorts of political horseplay, as observers of the long-running euro zone farce can attest. Nevertheless, when faced with a) huge underlying uncertainties; b) structurally unsound banking and government finances; and c) central banks determinedly priming the monetary pumps, we conclude that the last free lunch in investment markets remains diversification. G7 government bond markets are a waste of time (though you may end up being cattle-prodded into them regardless). But there are still investment grade sovereign markets offering positive real yields. Stock markets are partying like 1999. Which, in many cases, it probably is. We would normally advise to enjoy the party but dance near the door.
Global Gold Demand in 2011 Rises 0.4% To $200 Billion - Central Banks, Asia and Europe Diversifying Into GoldSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/16/2012 09:25 -0400
Global demand for gold reached 4,067.1 tonnes last year, the highest tonnage since 1997, due in large part to a nearly 5% increase in investment demand, which hit a record 1,640.7 tonnes. Asian countries like China, India, Vietnam, Thailand and others see bullion as a store of value against the growing inflation and the ongoing debasement of their currencies. The fundamentals for gold in 2012 look good. Continuing low and often negative real interest rates will continue to support gold’s safe haven status. The Fed’s statement that it will continue to see rates remain very low until 2014 is very bullish for gold. Central banks were net buyers of gold and their demand surged nearly 6 fold (570%) to 439.7 tonnes in 2011 (compared with 77 tonnes in 2010), more metal than at any time since the end of the gold standard in 1971. The World Gold Council noted that, “The buyers are all ... in Latin America, Asia and the Far East and they are basically enjoying strong growth, fiscal surpluses and growing foreign exchange reserves."
Market focus tends to be almost solely on Chinese and Indian demand but demand is broad based throughout increasingly important Asian gold markets. Demand for gold remains robust in most Asian countries where consumers are buying gold as a store of wealth due to concerns about their local paper currency. This phenomenon is happening throughout Asia including in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam and other large Asian countries (see news below regarding demand for gold by investors in Thailand). AFP have a very interesting article on Vietnamese ‘gold fever’ which recounts how “stashing gold at home rather than having cash in the bank is a generations-old habit in communist Vietnam”. And old habits are dying hard even if an ounce of gold bullion can now cost up to US $100 more in Hanoi than anywhere else in the world due to government meddling in the gold market. AFP quote 60-year-old retiree Truong Van Hue “I still like to keep my savings in gold. It's safe for retired people like me. I can sell the gold any time, anywhere, when I need cash,” he told AFP. Although the treasure has long been perceived as a safe haven, the recent gold rush has alarmed Vietnam's government, which is faced with an 18 percent inflation rate and an unstable national currency, the dong.
For the last thirty years economic policy makers have been in the business of promoting asset prices higher through easy credit. Global policy makers are meddling in markets so that the economies they feel responsible for can achieve what seems to be a consensus objective of muddling through. A policy of meddling to muddle, if you will. QBAMCO's critical 'inflation' insights, and Tourette's-ridden ranting, reflect the simple realities of what real-world consequences occur when policy makers succumb to the perceived political imperatives of perverting economic data. In this combined note, Brodsky and Quaintance scrub away at the misconceptions related to inflation, raise doubts as to the incentives of central banks to share the true loss of their currencies' purchasing power with the public, and extend this to try and get a truer sense of money, inflation, and real value today - all of which seem grossly misunderstood, despite our best efforts, in the marketplace. Simply put, they point out that, "It should not be considered acceptable to be in a profession – as a political economist, policy maker or investor – in which self-delusion has become a necessary requirement for success and perpetuating that delusion is harmful to the broad economy over time. Yes, but the “public good” you say? Ah, but for how long?"
One of the few sane economists out there is Michael Pento of Pento Portfolio Strategies (formerly of Peter Schiff's Euro Pacific Capital).
Here is an interesting interview he did with Bloomberg back in December where he discusses his typical range of topics: Gold, Inflation, and Interest rates
Presenting The Interactive "Wiggle-Room Index" Or Which Countries Will Be Forced To Bail Out The Developed WorldSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/26/2012 17:13 -0400
Update: literally seconds after this article was posted, we receive news that the IMF will seek Saudi contribution to the European bailout fund. There you have it - you enjoy that implicit US protection Saudi emirs? It is about to cost you.
While it is best to pray that NASA will find some very rich and not so intelligent life on Mars so it can bail out the world as it sinks deeper and deeper into a untenable debt hole (which somehow can be "filled" only by issuing more debt at least according to tenured economists at ivy league institutions), a strategy of planning for a realistic outcome may not be a bad idea. The question then is who in the world has some/any spare leverage capacity to incur even more debt and use the proceeds to fund a Eurozone-American-Chinese collapse. Enter the Economist's "wiggle-room index." The publication, best known for recently introducing the "shoe thrower index" (remember the Arab Spring and how Fed induced runaway inflation generated a "democratic" revolution across MENA?) has compiled a list of those developing world countries which still have capacity to provide credible global bailout capital (in fiat form of course - after all that is the only thing that the Ponzi understands) or as the Economist says, the "emerging economies that have the most monetary and fiscal firepower." So if you are on this list (ahem China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia) - our condolences - you are about to be dragged into the epic slow-motion ongoing collapse of the developed world, kicking and screaming, with some 44 caliber persuasion if needed, but you will be there, before it all falls apart. The time to repay all favors to Uncle Sam is coming.
Gold rose 2.5% yesterday and broke $1,700/oz to $1,712.80, its biggest one-day gain in the past 4 months, as the US Federal Reserve’s 11 out of 17 members voted that interest rates would likely remain near zero into late 2014. Investors sought safe haven refuge into gold fearing their portfolios would lose value as Central Banks flood the markets with loose monetary policies and more cash for governments that can't seem to manage their balance sheets. A group of 7 major economies now have interest rates that average .5%. Silver also rallied up 4%. Today's Comex February gold option expirations will show more activity in the gold markets. One trader stated that gold's gains on Wednesday could be due to a huge cover on a short position before today's option expiration.
While lately not much, if anything, has changed in our and the broader secular outlook on gold, which has been and continues to remain the only currency equivalent that isolates devaluation risk, and excludes counterparty risk while being an implicit bet on the stupidity of those in charge (the fact that various tenured "Ph.D. economists" hate what it represents for their tenure prospects of course only makes the bullish case far stronger). True, in the past month it has surged from $1520 to $1660 but only Ph.D. economists (indeed, that 200 DMA proved to be a complete non-event) could not have foreseen that year end liquidations in a desperate drive to shore up liquidity (as explained here) by institutions, always end, and the reversion to the above thesis sooner or later reappears. So while it won't say much new, below we present Nomura's just released Gold Sector Initiation, which is a must read for new entrants to the field of physical and paper representations of gold, as well as a timely reminder for everyone else that in the past 3 years nothing has changed with the fundamental thesis, and in fact recent actions have merely reinforced it (and if we indeed have a €1 or €10 trillion LTRO, then watch all resistance levels in the metal get blown off).
Last week we heard from Nomura's bearded bear as Bob Janjuah restated his less-then-optimistic scenario for the global economy. Today his partner-in-crime, Kevin Gaynor, takes on the bullish consensus cognoscenti's three mutually supportive themes in his usual skeptical manner. While he respects the market's potential view that fundamentals, flow, valuation, and sentiment seem aligned for meaningful outperformance, it seems actual positioning does not reflect this (yet). Taking on each of the three bullish threads (EM policy shift as inflation slows, ECB has done and will do more QE, and US decoupling), the strategist teases out the reality and what is priced in as he does not see this as the March-2009-equivalent 'big-one' in rerisking (warranting concerns on chasing here).
Gold coin purchases gained 13% last year and will increase 2.7% in the first half. Purchases of gold bars increased by 36% to nearly 2,000 (1,194) metric tonnes, concentrated in China, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. East Asia demand for gold bars rose 53% to 456 metric tonnes. India rose 9% to 297 metric tonnes and western markets demand for gold bars rose 41% to 335 metric tonnes. Central banks increased net purchases by a massive fivefold to 430 tons last year, and may buy another 90 tons in the first half, GFMS said. Combined official holdings stand at 30,788.9 tons, data from the London-based World Gold Council show. “Attitudes among central banks haven’t really changed,” Thomson Reuters GFMS annual survey said. “There’s still that desire to come into the gold market to diversify some of the assets away from foreign exchange and to boost gold holdings.” The Thomson Reuters GFMS annual gold survey also predicts that gold will struggle in the first half of the year, increasing in the later half towards $2,000. It also says the gold bull market is losing steam and predicts an end to the run as economies recover next year and interest rates begin to rise.
"What we have on our hands is a good old fashioned quagmire" is how Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson sets up his surprisingly non-sheep-like perspective on the troubles that US equity investors may be about to face. Expanding on MS's bearish strategic (fundamental) forecast, that we discussed earlier in the week, Wilson combines the 'liquidity vs negative-real-rate' thesis (that the Fed's liquidity is perhaps no longer 'good' for stocks) with his own views on ECRI's weakness (very 2008-like in relation to ECO surprises), household debt deleveraging (more and longer), how much QE3 is already priced in and what will its effect be when it comes (less and less positive in nominal and real terms), investor sentiment (very bullish), long-term technicals (weak breadth), and short-term earnings expectations (deteriorating and weighted to 'weak' financials to end with the pragmatic realist perspective that perhaps 'the gig is up'.