Wealth has become stateless, and as a consequence it is becoming increasingly less accountable to any state’s laws or tax codes. Over the last quarter century it has become increasing easier to transfer large sums of money, what is more, large financial institutions find it far easier today to relocate to a different legal and tax jurisdiction than at any previous time, because it is easier to re-establish the necessary business infrastructure, the cost of relocation has lessened. Recognising this trend over the last quarter century, and being desirous of any slice of revenue they can get their hands on, governments around the world have competed with each other, to provide the ‘best business environment’ for those financial institutions. Let’s not delude ourselves about this, the ‘best business environment’ is the least regulation and the most advantageous tax breaks. And by competing with each other in this way, governments around the world created the regulatory environment which was, in part, responsible for the current financial crisis. And then there are the ‘Tax Havens’
Equities managed to rally after slumping on heavy volume to the 1340 level (scene of crime for Greek election, Spanish bailout, and EU-Summit) pushing up to close at the mid-June swing high levels and post EU-Summit close levels around 1358 (back over its 50DMA). Total volume for the S&P 500 e-mini (ES) was just below average but the average trade size was dismal - around the lowest of the year. Whether due to VIX options expiration squeeze sending VXX and other derivatives tumbling (with VIX almost testing a 15 handle intraday); or a safety 'algo' running things up and over VWAP; or a reflexive reaction to bad is good and Bernanke has our backs no matter what happens, equities pushed 20 points off their lows but stagnated for much of the afternoon. The surge in stocks far outpaced risk-assets and what was more worrisome was the notable divergence in gold as the afternoon wore on - if this was QE-hope then the main QE-sensitive asset class of choice was not playing along at all into the close. Gold and Silver ended the day down modestly, Copper worse, but WTI ended the day up 2.3% on the week and back over $89. Treasuries pushed higher in yields (oh yes very QE-on?) - no higher in yield on the week with the long-end underperforming. FX markets were a little more aggressive - like Treasuries - and extended their rallies relative to USD with AUD now up almost 1% and the USD now down 0.36% on the week - which is interesting given Gold is also down around 0.5% on the week.
There have been quite a few stories comparing the post-WWII American economic "renaissance" with expectations that the same confluence of beneficial circumstances may repeat now, resulting in the same benign outcome. Many of these stories touch upon the key points debated in today's everyday politics: taxes, massive debt overhang, and the treatment of private business. Sadly, most of these stories are also just that: mythical representations of an idealized reality, which however have no analogy to what actually happened in the 1950s. In other words, none of the conditions that were in place in 1950 which allowed net US debt to decline from 80% of GDP to just 46% in one decade, are here now.
Since the financial crisis hit and exposed the reality of a credit-fueled economic growth strategy, Americans have tried to maintain any kind of quality of life. With the HELOC ATM empty, they switched to Credit Cards and once limits were full, there was only one place left - their retirement plans. As the LA Times reports today, Americans are borrowing huge amounts of money from their 401(k) retirement plans - and then having big trouble paying off their debt. Stunningly, in recent years 20% to 28% of people eligible to borrow from their 401(k) accounts have an outstanding loan at any given time, the Navigant Economics study said, having borrowed a collective $105 billion from their 401(k) accounts as of 2009 - and likely considerably more since. Estimating the 'leakage' from these retirement funds, they see loan-loss rates typically double that of the average unemployment and estimate up to $37 billion of loan defaults per year. In the 12 months through May 2012, they estimate the 401(k) default rate hit 17.4% - more than double its pre-crisis average and only marginally lower than its peak in 2009. As they note, many people use the money to pay off other debt or to meet day-to-day expenses, and "Of course, participants are not deliberately defaulting," the study said. "They only do so when they have no other option." As unemployment rates look set to rise, one can only imagine that these 401(k) loan losses, based on their study, are set to rise significantly.
Peugeot, Its Record High Default Probability, And A Brief Primer On Corporate Viability Under SocialismSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 07/17/2012 13:41 -0400
With central bankers dominating the airwaves, and the only thing that matters is who prints where and how much, most can be forgiven to have missed one of the more important micro developments in the past few weeks: namely the case study of emblematic French automaker Peugeot, which just happens to be Europe's second largest, and its Credit Default Swaps, which have doubled in the past 4 months, to a record high spread of 813 bps, which means the probability of default for the company has nearly doubled from 29% to 52% in a few short months. Yet what is it about Peugeot that is interesting - well the fact that the biggest spike in its default risk has taken place in the last few days, which have seen a nearly 100 basis point spike. The catalyst: "French President Francois Hollande, elected in May after pledging to block a “parade of firings,” said July 14 he would lean on Peugeot to rework the plan intended to stem losses and trim production capacity. The government will report the findings of a review later this month, as well as measures to prop up the French auto sector." The problem is that this type of state intervention into corporate viability and profitability is precisely what precipitates wholesale bankruptcy. And this is precisely what the bond market has reacted to. Because while Hollande is doing all he can to pander to populism, and to recreate America's epic failure involving GM, the reality is that by enforcing what he thinks is "right" and "fair" dooms not only Peugeot and its 200,000 employees, but millions of upstream and downstream workers.
In a follow-up to Liesman's earlier rebuttal, CNBC's Rick Santelli just reiterated his earlier sentiment that the comments that Mr. Bernanke made earlier were indeed the "Libor Smoking Gun". While Bernanke tried to eschew the matter by claiming the low-level Fed employee was clueless (which from the transcript she was seemingly clued in enough to understand the rate was not 'accurate'). As Rick notes in Bernanke's own words: "the manipulation of rates was a little bit low by certain banks but they just wanted to show they were healthy during the crisis" - unbelievable! "What are regulators for?", Santelli exclaims: "manipulation is manipulation!" Indeed, Rick, indeed.
As S&P 500 e-mini futures (ES) slumped this morning as Bernanke appeared to disappoint (and the rest of the risk-on asset classes all tumbled with it), we saw heavy volume and relatively large average trade size. Once the edge of glory from Friday at 1340 was hit, it seemed the magic Potter-esque fairy was back at play. Immediately, VIX was hammered from 17.5% to 16.1% - its lowest in almost 3 months as the bottomless pit of capital that feels comfortable selling vol (or perhaps using a levered approach to ramping stocks) drive ES back up an impressive 14 points on low volume and low average trade size. Yes, we crossed VWAP, yes we crossed unch, and now we are testing highs back above the 50DMA. It seems VIX once again is the ramping tool - and now is significantly dislocated from any equity or credit sense of reality. We presume that OPEX will clean up some of this exuberance but for now, it is the tail wagging everything's dog.
Quickly following up on Rick Santelli's epic rant (which CNBC decided not to publish) on the 'smoking gun' reality of Bernanke's testimony this morning: that they knew that rates were being manipulated but it was for the good of the people - and asking rhetorically, we assume, "Why Do We Have Regulators? Manipulation Is Manipulation!"; Steve Liesman has been brought out to relay the party line to the citizenry - that there is no smoking gun. Furthermore, Liesman sees a 1-2bps compression in Treasury yields as signalling the market's belief that NEW QE is indeed still on and the drop in stocks is merely a lack of instant gratification. It seems to us that Santelli's perspective that Bernanke knows he is at his limit with regard to efficacy of measures seems much more realistic than Liesman's re-iteration of the Fed-Watcher's desires and his own incredible cognitive dissonance - just what happens if the Fed is not omnipotent?
The can has been kicked. The austerity has been implemented. The revenues have fallen. And as we see in the chart below, the pace of local government distress is accelerating. As has been made so clear in the past, defaults cluster; and sure enough it is starting, as tensions between unions and city managers become irreconcilable.
While there was little surprise in today's Industrial Production report, which rose 0.4%, on expectations of a 0.3% rise, however offset by last months' revision from -0.1% to -0.2%, it was the critical Capacity Utilization data that has some analysts concerned. But first, and continuing with the theme of "housing has bottomed", it is worth noting that of all the major market groups contributing to the overall index, only Construction saw a decline in June industrial production, dropping by 0.3%, following another drop of 1.4% in May. As for Capacity Utilization, it missed expectations materially, printing at 78.9% on expectations of the first 79%+ print (post revision) in 2012. In other words, the June number is the same as February's, following full year revisions that have taken down the maximum to 78.9 reached in February and April, and now June. In yet other words, even as the US continues stocking up on record amounts of inventory month after month, the business verticals are simply unable to expand. So with Cap Utilization having plateaued, will all the excess LIFO inventory be remarked to fair value? And what happens to corporate equities when a valuation allowance is taken to finally reflect reality?
Folks, the political game has changed in the US. The Fed is no longer invulnerable. In this climate more QE cannot possibly happen. End of story. Indeed, if the Fed were to launch QE at any time between now and the election, Obama is DONE. The last possibly chance for QE without it being a clear hand-out to Obama (and a gift from the political gods to Romney) was June. The Fed passed on that.
Do the good citizens of the Wall Street establishment broadly defined understand the risks taken by the House of Morgan?
While bad news may be good news for the market hoping that it will spur more stimulative measures from the Fed to boost asset prices - for Main Street America bad news is just bad news. More importantly, the decline in consumer confidence continues to perpetuate the virtual economic spiral. As the consumer retrenches the decline in aggregate end demand puts businesses on the defensive who in turn reduces employment. The reduction in employment, and further stagnation of wages, puts the consumer further onto the defensive leading to more declines in demand. It is a difficult cycle to break.
To those on the hill and elsewhere who suggest this growing 'fiscal cliff' and 'debt ceiling' crisis will all get solved, former Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director David Stockman tells Bloomberg TV that "they will punt, punt, punt and kick the can with partial solutions driven by eleventh hour crisis-based extensions that will go on for the whole of the next term!" When asked whether this economy will be mired in the doldrums, he rather ominously states "it will be worse, because we will be in recession" and notes that when the lame ducks re-look at the budget numbers with a realistic recession (instead of the current assumption of no recession within 12 years) it will be far worse and in a political environment where 'we cannot possibly raise taxes - and we cannot possibly cut spending'. With a 78% disapproval rating for the 'do nothing' Congress, Stockman is surprised that 16% somehow approve - approve of what? His warning is that unlike in past periods, today "we are completely paralyzed, there is an ideological divide on taxes and entitlement like we've never had before" and while he realizes that "the debt problem doesn't become a debt problem until the market suddenly have a wake up call and realize that if the Fed doesn't keep printing, it's game over."
Just under two years ago, when we mocked then Morgan Stanley's analyst Jim Caron's call for a surge in long-dated yields on the back of an improvement in the economy (not something more realistic like the Fed losing all control of the TSY curve), we penned "Visualizing The Past Of The Treasury Yield Curve, And Deconstructing The Great Confusion Surrounding Its Future" in which we said that contrary to pervasive expectations of a bull steepener, the treasury curve would continue flattening more and more, until the whole thing would become one big pancake. Today, we have decided to revisit that post: in short - Jim Caron was fired by Morgan Stanley as head of rates following 3 consecutive years of bad calls starting in 2009 (only to be rehired in June as a Portfolio Manager... oops), while our view that sooner or later the 2s30s will be 0 bps is over one third complete.