Since the end of the Second World War, the major powers of the world have lived in relative peace. While there have been wars and conflicts — Vietnam, Afghanistan (twice), Iraq (twice), the Congo, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, the Iran-Iraq war, the Mexican and Colombian drug wars, the Lebanese civil war — these have been localised and at a much smaller scale than the violence that ripped the world apart during the Second World War. Hopefully, the threat of mutually assured destruction and the promise of commerce will continue to be an effective deterrent, and prevent any kind of global war from breaking out. Nothing would be more wonderful than the continuing spread of peace. Yet we must be guarded against complacency. Sixty years of relative peace is not the end of history.
The majority of Americans seem OK with just waddling through life, accepting the lies and misinformation blasted from the boob tube and their various iGadgets by their owners, gorging themselves to death on Twinkies and Cheetos, paying 15% interest on their $10,000 rolling credit card balance, and growing ever more dependent on the welfare/warfare state to provide and protect them from accepting personal responsibility for their lives. A minority of critical thinking people have chosen to question everything they see and hear being spewed at us by the propagandist mainstream media. What do 'we, the people' want? As it seems the entitlement “free shit” mentality permeates our culture. The question is whether we will stand idly by, fiddling with our gadgets, tweeting about Honey Boo Boo, or will we regain our sense of duty to the future generations of this country.
When fringe-blogs highlight the reality of the US banking system and its financial engineering as nothing but overly complex three-card-Monte, it can be shrugged off; but when the head of China's sovereign wealth fund (yes the same one that will bail the world out) notes that the JPMorgan loss highlights a system that has become too complex, perhaps some should listen. As Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports, Gao Xiqing of CIC stated that "I think we do need to slow down a little bit instead of rushing up to all these fancy derivatives." The fact that the 'whale' loss was not a rogue trader but a systemic decision gone wrong on weak risk management of an overly-complex position was "the single most revealing thing" to Gao as he expressed concern about a society in which "all the best engineers are engineering financial products." Summing up the entire ethos of US financial innovation he concluded: "You have all the smartest kids to design these products, the only purpose of which is to get money out of other people’s pockets, that is not very good."
As we all await the next, next, next meeting of the European Finance Ministers and our eyes are turned to Spain and what machinations are going to be brought to our attention, we wonder if actual decisions are going to actually be forthcoming. These people “applaud and hail and congratulate” each other on various non-accomplishments and they tap dance on the world’s stage as if each and every problem is not only solved but light years behind them while there are giant dificulties to their forefront that are largely ignored in the continuing attempt to obscure everyone’s field of vision. We remain skeptical however; we can see just fine thank you and it is not the poppy fields of Oz at which we stare.
Whether you believe China is an economic miracle - or a government-sponsored fraud; and can ignore the broken growth model or believe that the CCP can bailout the world; Michael Pettis, of China Financial Markets, provides a much-needed dose of reality for bulls and bears when it comes to the future of the global growth engine. After summing up (and laying-waste to) the three mainstays of China bulls' arguments: he asks the three toughest questions any China bull must be able to answer. Analogizing China's position perfectly he cites Mills: "Panics do not destroy capital; they merely reveal the extent to which it has been previously destroyed by its betrayal into hopelessly unproductive works." Simply put, the bull argument cannot ignore the hidden bad debt.
With the S&P 500 once again testing multi-year highs, forward P/Es over 14 in a real-rate environment which suggests single-digit P/Es, abnormal micro-structure (mega-caps outperforming and high-beta fading in an up-tape), and a buy-the-f$$king-'dream' mentality soaking in everywhere, we take a close-up view of the earnings season reality that is about to come crashing down on multiple-expansion hopes. Following on from the five most ridiculous charts in US equity markets, these five 'facts' will be assuaged by every long-only manager as 'priced-in' - we suspect otherwise.
Whether it is a fringe-blog pointing out the statistical un-possibility (here and here), or a previously well-respected 'elite' pointing out the suspiciousness (here), most of the general public (or their media-based oracles) prefer not to swallow the red pill of reality with regard Friday's data SNAFU. However, given the political (and economic) consequence of a single-number, Gallup has decided to weigh in on reality as they note "even though the Household survey tends to be very volatile, this decline seems to lack face-validity, particularly after the prior month's numbers" as they analyse why the household results should be discounted heavily. Critically, they, like us, suggest the 'unemployment rate' needs to be replaced as a measure of joblessness, suggesting a far simpler (and more transparent) measure - Payroll-to-Population - would avoid the 'adjustments' and 'biases' that are inherent in the BLS's bafflement. The Gallup measure suggests, as one would perceive using common-sense, that the real jobs situation was essentially unchanged last month.
It will come as no surprise to any ZeroHedge readers but High Frequency Trading (HFT) deeply concerns Erik Hunsader, founder of Nanex. He worries that today's investors, our regulators, -- heck, even the HFT algorithms themselves -- don't fully understand the risks market prices face in the brave new era of bot-dominated trading. For instance, Hunsader estimates that HFT algorithms are responsible for 70%(!) of all completed transactions on our exchanges, and for 99.9%(!!!) of all exchange quotes. The pictures of trading floors you see on TV, where the people in bright jackets appear frantically busy in making their trades, have no bearing -- claims Hunsader -- on the actual trading action. The real action happens across fiber-optic cables, on racks of servers in cooled rooms; where an arms race defined by cable length and switching speeds is being waged. The reality is that the machines have taken over.
In lieu of a missing Friday humor piece, here is the Saturday edition, which is merely a non-fiction based compilation of this week's Top 10 Bloomberg headlines as they crossed the tape. The conclusion here is that The Onion has now permanently missed its IPO window, as reality is now in no need of embellishment.
Over the past few weeks, Spain has received worldwide attention due to its deteriorating economy and growing outbursts of massive social protests. Most notably, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in his debate with President Barack Obama last week that he did not want his country to “go down the path to Spain.” As the world fixes its eyes on the eurozone’s fourth largest economy, analysts continue to offer suggestions as to how to best tackle the Iberian country’s economic woes. However, the reason why Spain is a riot both financially and socially goes beyond matters of economic policy. Spain faces a graver problem, its political institutions. Perhaps the most lamentable element in Spain’s political class is that it is hard, almost anecdotal, to find elected officials with a track record outside the public sector. For too many years, the country has been governed by bureaucrats who have no experience whatsoever in the real world of business. The majority of Spain’s politicians do not know what it is to conceive an idea, to risk one’s own wealth, to deal with banks, workers and suppliers, and, ultimately, to experience failure and success. Sadly, the Spanish taxpayer-financed political establishment understands failure and success only in terms of which side of the aisle their members are seated in parliament.
Good news, bad news, it doesn't matter. Making money on "news" requires knowing it first.
A number of macro-issues could "go the right way" in the coming months. However, nothing good can possibly come from artifice, propaganda, misdirection and simulacra "fixes." Something must break through the facade for good things to happen. It's a long shot, but we can always hope. Without truth, there is truly no hope.
The new-normal bizarro world in which we live and trade requires a new set of un-common-sensical thinking to succeed. As we noted earlier, perception is far more important than reality (at least in the short- to medium-term), and tomorrow's payroll report could well be the most egregious example of this yet. Citi's Steven Englander agrees, noting that it seems very possible that the focus will be on the unemployment rate (UR), because of its political importance, rather than the non-farm-payroll (NFP) change, despite its greater economic importance. Given the high correlation to equity (risk) price movements and the focus of market movements likely being driven by the unemployment rate - the question becomes to what degree political factors will offset the negatives typically associated with economic slowing - and what the USD reaction will be to various ranges of NFP and UR.
The Federal Reserve is probably not ready to take the aggressive plunge into Nominal GDP Targeting, but it likely will. But if you think these measures are desperate, we have only just begun to push energy and financial systems beyond their capability. The launch of QE3 (and similar measures by the European central bank (ECB) in Europe) is like the crack! of a starting-gun to human psychology that carries the following, urgent message: Hey, humans – go get those resources quickly, before someone else does! Indeed, the most powerful lever for monetary policy remains our capacity for social competition. The open-ended promise to pursue a faster rate of growth at the expense of inflation, mal-investment, bubbles, and the environment places a new and fast pressure on human economies to perform.
A common theme among many of our insights is the reality that lurks behind the proposed perception of many of our economic, financial, and political leaders' projections. From Spain not needing a bailout to Juncker's lies, from Bernanke's transitory inflation to Dimon's not needing TARP, the list is endless. Artemis Capital, whose insights we have discussed here and here, use the metaphor of the impossible object (e.g. Penrose Triangle or Necker's Cube) to explore the role of perception in modern markets, monetary policy, and risk. In a world where global central banks manipulate the cost of risk, the mechanics of price discovery have disengaged from reality resulting in paradoxical expressions of value that should not exist according to efficient market theory. Fear and safety are now interchangeable in a speculative and high stakes game of perception. The market is no longer an expression of the economy... it is the economy; and common sense says do not trust your common sense.