The employment numbers that came out Friday were very bad and caught most economists and analysts by surprise. Nothing the Fed has done has worked. Once again the ranks of the unemployed grow, wages flatten out, manufacturing weakens, GDP declines, and savings are spent to maintain lifestyles. The U.S. and much of the rest of the world is heading toward stagnation, if not recession. Yet, despite the failures of central bank policies, they will persist in doing the same wrong thing again. Here we review the data and explain why things are heading south.
It's one thing for liberals to demand one group of Americans pay for another group of Americans, with a third group's money of course (until it runs out), but when a progressive think tank actually has the temerity to tell Bernanke that Europe is not socialist enough, and thus needs liberal US support, that's when things just get plain old silly. Which incidentally, is precisely what the progressive brains of Mark Weisbrot and Dean Baker, co-directors of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, have done. Naturally, we are all for a humanistic effort; we also believe in leading by example. If Messrs. Weisbrot and Baker would first be kind enough to divest themselves of all their earthly possessions and bank account contents, which should be Fedexed and wired in the direction of Spain post haste, it would make their transparently theatrical pursuit of pseudo-noble causes just that more palatable to the masses who already are on the verge of poverty, and are now being asked to bail out other countries.
Marc Faber brought his typical sense of reality and truthfulness to CNBC's Squawk Box this morning and in doing so managed to stop Jeremy Siegel saying long-term-buy-and-hold for more than 7 minutes. Siegel represented the 'new-hopers' with his insight that if the ECB would just guarantee all euro-wide deposits then all would be well in the world. Faber comes over-the-top in his gentle European accent reminding the academic that "it is hard to guarantee something you have no control over". Faber then proceeds to state his view that Europe is in a deepening recession and more importantly that China is growing at a far lower pace than official statistics would infer. Reminding viewers that about 40% of US corporate profits are from outside the US and the 'vicious spiral chain reaction' from slowing demand in China for industrial commodities has lagged effects on producing countries and then aggregate demand globally, Faber fears broad-based risk sell-offs but remains notably less sanguine on US Treasuries.
We have recently witnessed a boom-and-bust cycle in Real Estate in Europe that overcame the banks of several nations including Ireland and Portugal. Now Spain is about to show up to be counted in my view. The issue all across Europe is that the sovereign does not have enough assets or capital to bailout their banks and many European banks are impaired; make no mistake. The first move was to lay off a lot of non-performing assets in securitizations at the ECB but the price always gets paid which will either be severe losses at the ECB requiring re-capitalization or the ECB handing back the collateral to the various banks which would probably bankrupt some of them especially in Spain, France and Italy. The ECB maneuver brought early success but now, as loans become due and as non-performance builds and losses must be recognized; the real truth forces itself upon balance sheets. There is a day when the auditors say, “Show me the money” and when it isn’t there the infamous “Oh My God” moment begins. Now Bubba, when you use the screwdriver and release the air from the tires it causes all of those little lights on the dashboard to begin to flash and then if you try to drive the car it goes “bump-bump” down the road. No Bubba, get off of your knees and get your mouth off of the thingy; you cannot blow air back into the tires that way.
One word explains the overnight action: confusion. After opening down 10 points just shy of unchanged for the year following fearful Asian trade, futures have rebounded and are now almost unchanged courtesy of a UK-market which is offline for the next two days, letting Europe take advantage of another day of impotent rumor-mongering and wolf-crying, this time focusing on a 7pm press conference in which Merkel will say more of the same vis-a-vis Europe's non-existence Banking Union, but at least Europe will have closed at the highs. Not much on today's docket so expect more kneejerk reactions to rumors, which have a positive half-life measured in the minutes.
The past two weeks it was Spain, now it is back to Portugal, which overnight announced it is bailing out three banks to the tune of €6.65 billion. If at this point who is bailing out whom is becoming a confusing blur - fear not: that is the whole point. From AAP: "Portugal will inject more than 6.65 billion euros ($A8.49 billion) into private banks BCP and BPI, and the state-owned CGD to meet criteria established by the European Banking Authority. "In all, the state will inject more than 6.65 billion euros in these banks," though five billion euros is to come from an envelope worth 12 billion included in a financial rescue plan drawn up in May 2011, the finance ministry said. Portugal last year became the third eurozone country after Greece and Ireland to be bailed out, receiving an EU-IMF package worth up to 78 billion euros in return for a commitment to reform its economy and impose austerity measures." And surely that will be it, and Portugal will be fixed. Just like Spain was fixed, until someone actually did some math and found a hole up to €350 billion out of left field. Funny how those big undercapitalization holes just sublimate into existence, usually moments before client money is vaporized.
If the U.S. Federal Reserve were a hedge fund, its phones would be ringing off the hook with prospective investors wanting fresh allocations and Ben Bernanke would be zipping around the French Riviera in a gold-plated helicopter. The Fed’s multibillion-dollar position in Treasuries is nicely in the money with the recent moves to record lows risk-free yields, after all. But it’s policy outcomes, not returns, that the Fed is after. By that measure, the current record low payouts in “Safe Haven” bonds (U.S., Germany, U.K, for example) are troublesome. There is, of course, the worry that they portend a global recession. This concern cannot be waved away with the notion that a worldwide flight to quality totally upends the bond market’s historical function as a weather-vane of economic expansion and contraction. Beyond this concern, however, Nic Colas of ConvergEx sees two further worries. The first is that the Fed has needlessly compromised its independence by pursuing bond purchases that, in hindsight, were unnecessary in the face of the current economic outlook and investment environment. The second is that interest rates have been demoted to a supporting role in kick starting any global economic recovery. As with unfriendly aliens unpacking their bags at a landing site, the move to record low rates around the world is a truly menacing development. Historically, low interest rates have generally sparked economic recovery. In the current environment, this gas-down-the-carb approach seems to have simply flooded the engine of growth. Other factors are at play, as I have outlined here. The real answer is simply more time.
Confused by the latest developments, headlines, stories, counterstories, denials, counterdenials and rumors, but mostly prayers out of Europe? Here is your one stop shop of everything that has transpired in the Eurocrisis most recently.
10 Questions ...
We have reached a point where the shepherd has shouted “wolf” one too many times, where the theatre goer has shouted “fire” one too many times and the crowd no longer believes the jargon and is standing pat. From one politician to the next in Europe the words are strikingly the same; “bold actions, courageous decisions, decisive plans” which are meant to stoke the propaganda machine and assure the world that all is well. We have had the bank stress tests; the first pockmarked by inaccurate data checked by no one and the second humiliated by an inaccurate construct which discredited it by its own shameless manipulation. We face a world where contingent liabilities, promises to pay and guarantees of debts are NOT counted and where asset guarantees, illusionary firewalls and unfunded rescue programs ARE counted and in some cases counted more than once. Europe has, in fact, provided a complex system of hoaxes, inaccurate data and false financial reports that have been for the most part believed but that belief system is now crumbling as every quarter presents new data that proves the inaccuracy of what we have been told.
Dodge City, Kansas is a lovely place. The home to 26,101 people regularly enjoy old west casinos, old west rodeos and old west movies. Like we say – it is a lovely place. Yet years ago when it was still cool to be a cowboy, cowboys of all types were getting’ out of Dodge. And who could blame them - bullets flew around town on a regular basis. As we look across the globe today, Dodge City’s are popping up all over the place across America, Europe and Asia. However, within the World of financial markets, government sponsored economic policies are desperately trying to keep everyone in the 2012 financial version of Dodge. Today’s question of the century is which market is the equivalent of Dodge? One thing is for sure, financial bullets are flying fast and furious these days forcing every sane investor to keep their head down. For all other investors, be a good cowboy and be sure to have an exit plan – you never know when you’ll need it.
Excuse a rant...
Despite - or because of - years of ineffectual gyrations by the Fed
The balance sheet recession that seems to have correctly diagnosed the problem facing Japan (and now Europe and the US) - explicitly causing debt minimzation as opposed to profit maximization - seems to be taking hold. However, it appears this death-knell for credit-created growth is now being seen in China - as AlsoSprachAnalyst interprets "people are not borrowing, but selling assets to pay down debts, and/or holding cash". What is most worrisome is that while the focus of the world has been on European bank runs (for fear of bank failure and redenomination risk), 21st Century Business Herald now notes that these bank runs have spread to China's industrial and construction-heavy city of Wuyishan. Queues were seen on various branches of China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. One local resident told the reporter that the city “has gone crazy”.
Just in case someone did not get the earlier BLS-doctored message, the final two economic indicators of the day just printed and were... drumroll... misses. Because remember: not only the 1%ers but the 99ers have to be begging Bernanke to print. And so he will: ISM Manufacturing prints at 53.5, down from 54.8, and expectations of 53.8. Prices Paid plunge by 13.5, but the kicker: 5 out of the ISM's 10 sub indices are now in contraction territory.. And the cherry on top: Construction Spending unchanged from an upward revised 0.3 to 0.3, obviously, missing expectations of a jump to 0.4. Looking forward to the Tim Geithner Op-Ed: "Welcome to the recession."