Real Interest Rates
Gold fell $3.10 or 0.18% in New York yesterday and closed at $1,693.60/oz. Silver climbed to $33.24 then slid to $32.51, but finished after an afternoon rally with a loss of 0.33%.
Gold inched down on Thursday, near the monthly low reached in the prior session under pressure from a stronger greenback as players await the European Central Bank rate decision at 1245 GMT and US Initial Jobless Claims at 1330 GMT.
Physical buying of gold bullion has increased on the dip, particularly in Asia, and many are seeing these levels as a floor for prices.
If truth in advertising were being strictly enforced, the BLS might be renamed the BS.
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.
We remain in the throes of a secular era of disinflation. We also are in a long-term period of sub-par economic growth and below-average returns. This has become so well entrenched that U.S. pension plans now have more exposure to bonds than to stocks, as we highlighted two weeks ago. Look, this is not about being bearish, bullish or agnostic. It's about being realistic and understanding that in our role as market economists, it is necessary to provide our clients with information and analysis that will help them to navigate the portfolio through these stressful times. Our crystal ball says to stick with what works in an uncertain financial and economic climate — in other words, maintain a defensive and income-oriented investment strategy.
The JPY dropped 1.3% against the USD this week for a greater-than-6% drop since its late-September highs as it appears the market is content pricing Abe's dream of a higher inflation-expectation through the currency devaluation route (and not - for now - through nominal bond yields - implicitly signaling 'real' deflationary expectations). In a 'normal' environment, Barclays quantified the impact of a 1ppt shift in inflation expectations from 1% to 2% will create a 'permanent inflation tax' of around 18% (which will be shared between JPY and JGB channels). However, as we discussed in detail in March (and Kyle Bass confirmed and extended recently), the current 'Rubicon-crossing' nature of Japan's trade balance and debt-load (interest-expense-constraint) mean things could become highly unstable and contagious in a hurry. When the upside of your policy plans is an 18% loss of global purchasing power, we hope Abe knows what he is doing (but suspect not).
Bridgewater's Ray Dalio believes four factors drive relative economic growth: competitiveness, indebtedness, culture, and luck. The returns from his machine-like investment process clearly indicate he is on to something as he notes that the most powerful influences of this relative income (and power) are 1) the psychology that drives people’s desires to work, borrow and consume and 2) war (which we measure in the “luck” gauge). Throughout history, Dalio advises these two influences have changed countries’ competitiveness and indebtedness which have caused changes in their relative wealth and power. He goes on to add that since different experiences lead to different psychological biases that lead to different experiences, etc., certain common cause-effect linkages drive the typical cycle of a nation's growth, power and influence - and that countries typically evolve through five stages of that cycle.
Well, my fellow Slope-a-Dopes, you may have noticed that I have been completely turned upside down by this week's developments. Let me be clear, my crazed compromised counter comportment has nothing to do with the fact that the sitting U.S. president was re-elected. After all, every single national poll, swing state survey, and comprehensive electoral college considerations, had the President as the winner by a cushy considerably comfortable count. In this age of definitive digital data mining, why anyone would have been surprised by the well known outcome entirely eludes even eye. The only truly shocking surprise, would have been if the dastardly dog delivery dirtbag had beaten the coy corrupt community creep. So what has utterly upset & upended your favorite Idiot Savant's uneven universe?
Against the backdrop of a tepid US recovery, Eurozone recession and stuttering growth across emerging markets, investors are beginning to focus on how the 'status quo' outcome impacts the odds of cliff-avoidance; which after all, if there is one thing economists agree on, it is that a US and global recession will ensue if the legislated tax increases and spending cuts worth roughly 3.5% of US GDP take effect next year. UBS believes that if the US economy dips into recession, operating earnings -which are near peak levels - could easily plunge by a fifth. Risk premia would climb, particularly because the US and the world have run out of policies that could lift their economies out of recession. Those factors point to significant downside risk (at least 30%) for global equity markets if the US falls off the 'cliff'. Yet the S&P500 remains within a few percentage points of its cyclical highs. Accordingly, as we have previously concluded, investors assign a very low probability to the ‘cliff’ and a 2013 US recession, which UBS finds 'darn surprising' that this much faith in common sense prevailing in Washington amidst such divisive politics. But for all the attention the ‘cliff’ deserves, UBS notes the fundamental challenge for the US (and many other countries) is to address fiscal stability as a long-term necessity, not a short-term fix.
There is a possibility that the realm of monetary policy could increasingly merge with that of fiscal policy and national debt management policy. Globally, UBS believes, central banks are edging down monetary policy paths that can be viewed as increasingly backstopping budget deficits as lawmakers of respective governments continue to fail to make progress toward fiscal consolidation. As we have vociferously stated, a progression down this road could lead to many unsavoury outcomes, as fiscal and monetary policies entwine themselves in an increasingly negative dynamic - coining the term “Fonetary-policy” – fiscal policy plus monetary policy.
Gold climbed $11.80 or 0.69% in New York yesterday and closed at $1,712.70. Silver surged to a high of $32.232 and finished with a gain of 1.36%.
While the media continues to push the idea that the housing market is on the mend the data really doesn't yet support such optimism. The current percentage of the total number of housing units available that are currently occupied remains at very depressed levels. When it comes to the reality of the housing recovery the 4-panel chart (below) tells the whole story. There is another problem with the housing recovery story. It isn't real. The nascent recovery in the housing market, such as it has been, has been driven by the largest amount of fiscal subsidy in the history of world. The problem, however, is that for all of the financial support and programs that have been thrown at the housing market - only a very minor recovery could be mustered. With household formation at very low levels and the 25-35 cohort facing the highest levels of unemployment since the "Great Depression" it is no wonder that being a "renter" is no longer a derogatory label.
In what follows, we will examine the adjustment process necessary to shift from a system with fiat money and a reserve ratio below 1 (reserve requirement under 100%). Let’s begin clarifying that this proposed delevering process is an ideal situation, applicable if one had the luxury of planning the shift. There is not always time to do so and, if we ever had any, we’re running out of it pretty fast. The adjustment process below could only be done very gradually, by adjusting the reserve requirement and gold holdings by the central bank a few bps every year (say 200bps). The ultra-necessary condition here is that the nation undergoing this process be able to generate an equivalent fiscal surplus, in percentage terms. For instance, the process could demand to cover 2% per year of the gap in the reserve ratio to reach 1 (50 years long!!!). This means that if the reserve ratio is 10%, the gap is 90% and narrowing it over 50 years would require to increase reserves by 1.8% every year (90%/50). Because the delevering process should be accompanied by a pari passu reduction in the fiscal deficit and sovereign debt, that 2% annual adjustment, in the US, this would require a surplus of $324BN every year, over 50 years ($16.2 trillion in national debt x 2%). In 2012 terms, spending would have to be cut by $1.52 trillion ($324 billion + $1.2 trillion annual deficit), if the numbers we have are correct. We suspect they are not: The situation is even worse. But, the bottom line is that, once you see these numbers, you realize that going back to a world of no leverage is politically impossible. Even though it is technically feasible, just like the European Monetary Union was planned and built over decades, it is still politically impossible.
While it is easier to listen to the narrative from world leaders and feel numb to the reality of it all, The Economist has decided enough is enough. Just as we earlier explained in simple bullet points the reality of the last few years in Europe (here), so The Economist provides this handy 'be your own global macro strategist' tool to comprehend just what magic the markets believe will occur going forward to keep debt levels under control across the world's governments... (e.g. all things equal, the country would need to grow by 7.7% a year, or nominal bond yields to fall to a Teutonic 0.5% to stabilize government gross debt at its 2011 level of 70% of GDP).
As we have painstakingly pointed out, rising equity markets in 2012 have mostly been a function of rising multiples applied to relatively stagnant earnings. While JPMorgan's CIO Michael Cembalest would have given odds no better than 1 in 4 of a 17% advance in the S&P this year, he does note that forecasting annual equity returns is an entirely treacherous (and we add foolish) exercise as real return variation has completely swamped industry expectations for the last 60 years. The traditional Graham-Dodd/Shiller valuation model makes equities look expensive currently, but Cembalest notes, valuations might not be the driving factor at this point. The debasement of money by the Fed has altered the calculus of investing for many participants, and not necessarily for the better. Of course, by driving interest rates down and promising to keep them there, a 7% nominal equity earnings yield (i.e., a 14 P/E) is transformed into a more compelling investment - but critically (especially for social and political reasons) the 'value' of this adjusted earnings yield is questionable given the earnings boom is derived from extraordinarily weak labor compensation and potentially unsustainable demand from Europe/China.