To some, such as those few whose daily net worth is still a function of the policy vehicle formerly known as the 'market', it is a merry Christmas (at least until such time as the recoupling between central planning and reality once again inevitably occurs). To others, such as the 50 million (by now) Americans on food stamps, and billions of others around the world living in conditions of poverty, it is not so merry. But no matter one's current state of one's mind, there is always hope that the future will bring better days: after all that is what reflective holidays such as today are all about. We too hope that there is hope, if at the same time realizing that ever more of the promise of the future is packaged away in chunks of debt and securitized in order to fund an unsustainable present. We open up this open thread to readers to share their hopes and concerns about the present and the future.
Aside from the occasional deranged FX algo which today has decided to take out all its pent up binary anger on the GBPUSD, everything else today is closed. Everything, except, of course, for InTrade which come holiday, rain or apocalypse, is a true OTC market and is open all the time 24/7, non stop. Of particular interest is InTrade's market on "The US debt limit to be raised before midnight ET 31 Dec 2012" which moments ago once again came closer to reflecting reality and not the clueless gibberish of "expert" political pundits, and plunged to a contract low 10.1% probability (and price) which considering the late stage in the game, and that at this point the Fiscal Cliff is beyond any 2012 resolution, let alone the debt ceiling, is 10.1% too high (as forecast here nearly two months ago). And like a true market, one can naked short on InTrade. So for all the habitual gamblers out there just itching for some global futures market to reopen somewhere: have at it (but mind the brief squeeze at the next appearance of the "we have a deal" rumor, only to be refuted by the sad political reality of this country moments later).
Equity futures closed at their lows (after cash ended nearer its highs) amid deathly quiet volume with VIX at 6 week highs and HYG underperforming. Much was made Friday about the compression in VIX from its early spike highs - with those that have the microphones explaining how this must be a bullish sigh - surely, and that this also means the cliff resolution is merely hours away. Unfortunately, as we noted at the time, both VIX's behavior (and the reality of our politicians) means that resolution is nowhere near (and the options market remains priced for more pain). In fact the rolling of hedges in VIX futures (and Friday's quad-witching) almost forced spot VIX to drop; today we see spot VIX rising (towards its now anchored January futures levels) and still pointing to significantly more 'concerned' pricing than the market would suggest. We go back to what we have been saying - managers know that selling down their exposure into this thin market creates a bid vacuum (a la Thursday's flash-crash) and so bidding option protection is the only way to survive (meanwhile dribbling down the underlying exposure). During this holiday week, with its low volumes, it would surprise us to see VIX rising further as algos take advantage of low volumes to tickle stocks higher - but the vacuum underneath grows larger by the day.
One of the biggest complaints about gold - always a parallel currency to paper, and soon to be serial, once the world shifts to a post-paper currency reality in which faith in infinitely creatable electronic paper money is finally destroyed - is that it would be an impractical medium of exchange, as the traditional denominations are so large one would be unable to trade one ounce (and certainly one bar) for every day needs. This is also one of the main reasons various retail investors prefer silver over gold. All this may be changing courtesy of Swiss refiner Valcambi which has created a CombiBar, a credit-card sized, 50 gram block of 99.9 gold, which is precut, and which can easily be broken into one gram pieces which can then be used as forms of payment in an emergency. And since one gram of gold has roughly the value of two ounces of silver, it is a far more practical lowest common denominator unit of exchange than the traditional one ounce minimums in broad circulation.
It seems a few humans have read a little this weekend and sold into the algo-induced euphoria from Friday's close. S&P 500 futures are down around 9 points - at the lows from Friday's day-session. EUR is bleeding modestly and JPY is weakening as equities appear to be recoupling with FX as a risk-driver (following EUR's dislocation two weeks ago). Cash Treasuries are yet to open but futures infer 2-3bps compression in yields. Much was made of VIX's 'strength' on Friday as some kind of tell; unfortunately misunderstanding is rife and it is evident that hedges were in fact rolled out into January (rather than lifted in any bullish manner). So far stocks are pushing back down to recouple with VIX's view of the world. Silver is flat at $30, Gold and Oil down a little. 6 more hours til Europe opens.
A Cassandra is a hopelessly honest person, while a Pollyanna is an incredibly hopeful person, the incurable optimist. Cassandras are often disparaged as "nattering nabobs of negativism/negativity," instead of being looked upon as prophetic realists, while Pollyannas are deservedly dismissed as the "pandering puppies of positivity/positivism." To wit, this wondrously self-satirical clip pitting Marc Faber's doom-and-gloom reality with Becky Quick's boom-and-boom status quo.
Yesterday, the man planted by Goldman to be Italy's unelected leader in November 2011, officially stepped down and shortly thereafter his government was dissolved in advance of the February 25, 2013 elections. Yet Monti, under whose helm Italy has been in deep recession since the middle of last year, where consumer spending is falling at its fastest rate since World War Two and unemployment has risen to a record high above 11 percent, and whose candidacy is vastly unpopular with the Italian population, moments ago generously offered to continue being Italy's unelected leader: just the way Europe's political masterclass and its central bankers want it, if not so much Italy's people.
The collapse of the Fiscal Cliff talks should come as no surprise to anyone (except, of course, for all those "expert" political commentators virtually all of whom saw a deal by December 31: a full list of names is forthcoming). The reason: a simple one - a House torn, polarized to a record extreme, and a political environment in which the two parties, in the aftermath of a presidential election humiliating to the GOP, reached unseen before antagonism toward each other. In this context, it was absolutely inevitable that America would see a replica of last summer's debt ceiling collapse, which mandated a market intervention, in the form of a crash, and the wipeout of hundreds of billions in wealth - sadly the only catalyst that both parties and their electorate, understand. We had prefaced this explicitly in early November when we said that "the lame duck congress will posture, prance and pout. And it is a certainty that in the [time] remaining it will get nothing done. Which means, that once again, it will be up to the market, just like last August, just like October of 2008, to implode and to shock Congress into awakening and coming up with a compromise of sorts." Which of course brought us to Thursday night's mini-TARP moment. With all that said, there are those forensic detectives who are addicted to every single political twist and turn, and who are curious just where and when the Fiscal Cliff talks broke down in the past week. In this regard, the WSJ provides a useful timeline.
Presenting Dave Collum's now ubiquitous and all-encompassing annual review of markets and much, much more. From Baptists, Bankers, and Bootleggers to Capitalism, Corporate Debt, Government Corruption, and the Constitution, Dave provides a one-stop-shop summary of everything relevant this year (and how it will affect next year and beyond).
There is a reason why the monthly BLS JOLTS jobs supply/demand survey - which supposedly shows an "improving" labor picture because more people are willingly leaving their (temporary) jobs, and there are more job openings - is so laughable it is not even worth reporting. The reason is the following: practical, non-massaged reality, such as this report confirming how great the demand for any real job openings is. According to Bloomberg Delta, the world’s second-largest carrier, received 22,000 applications for about 300 flight attendant jobs in the first week after posting the positions outside the company. The applications arrived at a rate of two per minute, Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson told workers in a weekly recorded message. Applicants will be interviewed in January and those hired will begin flying in June, for the peak travel season. Said otherwise, the previous few lucky hires will have overcome an acceptance ratio of 1.3%. Putting this into perspective, the acceptance ratio at Harvard, the lowest of any university, is 5.9%. In other words, it is 4.5x easier to enter Harvard than to get a job at Delta. As an attendant. And there is your jobs supply-demand reality in one snapshot.
Facing reality is positive. That's the upside to the fiscal cliff. The last decade's fantasy that we could borrow our way to prosperity while lowering taxes on upper-income earners (because it's so cheap to borrow trillions at near-zero interest rates) is finally running into reality-based resistance.
It may not be apparent immediately, but in the aftermath of last night's epic collapse in fiscal cliff negotiations, which incidentally was perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain and who experienced last summer's debt ceiling fiasco, which sadly excludes all paid political and financial - including sellside - commentators, all of whom expected a prompt resolution to this polarized issue as recently as a week ago, there is major behind the scenes panic. Because while banks would write profuse, long-winded essays to explain the logic and rationality of the "deal", now that they are all faced with adjusting their narrative the best they can come up with are two sentence fragments such as this one from Citi's Steven Englander "Problem is that it is the right wing of the Republican Party that wouldn’t give Boehner their support, making it less likely that he could win broad support among Republicans for a compromise with the White House. Also he will have to spend next couple of days negotiating with both his own party and the Democrats without knowing how much he can deliver." The answer: nothing at all. In fact as Scott Rigell said “I’m not sure the people who have been up here 20 or 30 years really understand what the next iteration of this process is”. He is speaking for pretty much everyone else who has now been made a total fool by the Black Swan that is Congress. As a reminder a 3 month delay resolution assures a US recession, and a ~20% or so minimum correction in the stock market, which has been priced for absolute perfection for months, and which will once again have to be used by Wall Street as a means to get a consensus out of DC. Just as we predicted over a month ago. Finally while we may have avoided the Mayan apocalypse, we do have a quad witching and a NASDAQ rebalance to look forward to. Enjoy!
It had seemed that many participants were looking past the US fiscal cliff and were to be content taking on more risk. However, yesterday's late developments have provided a cold slap of reality. Our base scenario, under which the US does in fact go over the cliff appears more likely now that Speak Boehner's "Plan B" failed to draw sufficient Republican support to allow a vote. Indeed, there is some speculation that the failure of Boehner's gambit may see a leadership challenge right after the New Year.
The lack of a coherent Republican strategy has prompted a large unwind of risk-on and thin holiday market conditions may be exacerbating the price action. In the risk-off mode, the US dollar and yen have performed best. The dollar-bloc, which has generally lagged in recent days, remains under pressure.
As unemployment rose toward 10%, the January 1975 cover of Ramparts magazine blared: The End of Affluence: The Last Christmas in America. (TLCIA). Now statistics are echoing that last great recession: rising prices for essentials, systemically high unemployment and stagnant wages. So how does a society deal with the End of Work when it also means The End of Affluence, even for many of those with jobs? How does government deal with declining tax revenues and rising interest rates? The death throes of the debt-based consumerist lifestyle are already visible beneath the glossy propaganda of "rising revenues this Christmas season." The Fed is desperately attempting to re-inflate the debt bubble by lowering interest and mortgage rates and buying up all sorts of semi-toxic/impaired debt. What the Fed dreads is the reality we all feel and see: fear of the future due to diminished wealth and shaky incomes.
What creates real efficiency and competition are not eras of wealth and largesse, but eras of scarcity and change. A good analogy is that war creates better armies and better weapons, not prolonged periods of peace. Bernanke of course has zero understanding of what happens to large companies when financial reality is made irrelevant, and capital is made plentiful. (Growth and efficiency are by no means a logical result). This is what happens when academics who are deeply inexperienced in business run monetary policy designed to stimulate business. The market is going to bend him over the table and humiliate him eventually. And then all that capital that he injected into the market is going to evaporate, and a generation of Americans will be financially obliterated.