That the fine economists at the San Fran Fed are known to spend good taxpayer money in order to solve such challenging white paper conundrums as whether water is wet, or whether a pound of air is heavier than a pound of lead (see here and here) has long been known. Furthermore, since the fine economists at said central planning establishment happen to, well, be economists, they without fail frame each problem in such a goal-seeked way that only allows for one explanation: typically the one that economics textbooks would prescribe as having been the explanation to begin with. Today, is in some ways a departure from the default assumptions. In a paper titled "Why is Unemployment Duration so Long", a question which simply requires a brief jog outside of one's ivory tower to obtain the answer, Rob Valleta and Katherin Kuang, manage to actually surprise us. And while we will suggest readers read the full paper attached below at their leisure, we cut straight to the conclusions, which has some troubling observations. Namely, they find that "the labor market has changed in ways that prevent the cyclical bounceback in the labor market that followed past recessions... In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that recent employer reluctance to hire reflects an unusual degree of uncertainty about future growth in product demand and labor costs."Oddly enough, this is actually a correct assessment: the mean reversion "model" no longer works as the entire system has now broken, and since the administration changes rules from one day to the next, companies are not only not investing in their future and spending capital for expansion, and hoarding cash, but have no interest in hiring: an observation that previously led to a surge in profit margins, yet one which as we pointed out over the weekend, has now peaked, and margins have begun rolling over, even as the rate of layoffs continues to be at abnormally high levels, meaning all the fat has now been cut out of the system. Yet it is the following conclusive statement that is most troubling: "These special factors are not readily addressed through conventional monetary or fiscal policies." And that is the proverbial "changeover" as the Fed has just acknowledged that both it, and Congress, are completely powerless at fixing the unemployment situation. In which case is it fair to finally demand that the Fed merely focus on just one mandate - that of controlling inflation, and leave the jobs question to the market, instead of making it worse with constant central planning tinkering which only makes it worse by the day?
Following the Fed's somewhat downbeat perspective on growth, confidence in investors' minds that the US can decouple has been temporarily jilted back to reality. It is of course no surprise and as the World Bank points out half of the world's approximately $15 trillion trade in goods and services involves Europe. So the next time some talking head uses the word decoupling (ignoring 8.5 sigma Dallas Fed prints for the statistical folly that they are), perhaps pointing them to the facts of explicit (US-Europe) and implicit (Europe-Asia-US) trade flow impact of a deepening European recession/depression will reign in their exuberance.
And like that, this year's Davos World Economic Forum has come and gone, having achieved nothing except allowing a bunch of representatives of the status quo to feel even more self-righteous and important in the world's biggest annual circle jerk, in which fawning journalists ask the questions their cue cards demand, knowing too well their jobs are on the line if they ask anything even remotely provocative (and with the price of admission in the tens of thousands of dollars, one wonders just how many Excel classes these "journalists" could have taken as an alternative, in order to actually do some original math-based research, yes, shocking concept, to present to their readers instead of merely regurgitating others' talking points). Bloomberg TV has compiled the best video summary of the highly irrelevant soundbites by economists, CEOs and other people of transitory power, who provide absolutely no original insight into anything, and in which ironically it is Mexico's Felipe Calderon who summarizes it best: "we have a timebomb the bomb is in Europe and we are working together to deactivate it before it explodes over all of us." Lastly, we provide a quick glimpse into current and previous guests of Davos to show just how utterly worthless is the "braintrust" of those present.
A brief and comprehensive summary of the main events in the past week, both good and bad.
Festive Friday fun:
- FITCH TAKES RATING ACTIONS ON SIX EUROZONE SOVEREIGNS
- ITALY LT IDR CUT TO A- FROM A+ BY FITCH
- SPAIN ST IDR DOWNGRADED TO F1 FROM F1+ BY FITCH
- IRELAND L-T IDR AFFIRMED BY FITCH; OUTLOOK NEGATIVE
- BELGIUM LT IDR CUT TO AA FROM AA+ BY FITCH
- SLOVENIA LT IDR CUT TO A FROM AA- BY FITCH
- CYPRUS LT IDR CUT TO BBB- FROM BBB BY FITCH, OUTLOOK NEGATIVE
And some sheer brilliance from Fitch:
- In Fitch's opinion, the eurozone crisis will only be resolved as and when there is broad economic recovery.
And just as EUR shorts were starting to sweat bullets. Naturally no downgrade of France. French Fitch won't downgrade France. In other news, Fitch's Italian office is about to be sacked by an errant roving vandal tribe (or so the local Police will claim).
With everything from stocks and bonds to 'roo bellies rising as one trade, it may be a good time to ask: what's priced into the market's uptrend? We say "bad news is priced in" when negative news is well-known and the market has absorbed that information via the repricing process. When the market has absorbed all the "good news," then we say the market is "priced to perfection:" that is, the market has not just priced in good news, it has priced in the expectation of further good news. Markets that are priced to perfection are fiendishly sensitive to unexpected bad news that disrupts the expectation of continuing positive news. So what have global markets priced into this uptrend across virtually all markets?
That Europe has been unable to do the simplest thing, and come to a conclusion in its negotiation with Greek creditors, now running into its six month, is not very surprising. After all this is Europe, where nothing gets done before the deadline, only in the case of Greece the deadline also means the risk of runaway contagion. And as of today there are about 53 days left before the March 20 Greek D-Day. Yet the one thing European should at least be able to do is to have their story straight on what happens once Greece defaults. If nothing else, to show solidarity for optics' sake. Alas, it can't even do that. Because just overnight we have two diametrically opposing stories hitting the tape. On one hand we have Spanish economic minister Luis de Guindos telling Bloomberg TV in Davos that the euro region could withstand a Greek default. This is very much in line with the Jamie Dimon line of thinking that there will be limited fallout. Yet on the other hand, it is that perpetual bag of hot air, Europe's very own head propaganda master Jean Claude Juncker, who ironically told Le Figaro that a Greek default must be avoided at all costs as it would lead to Contagion (read tipping dominoes all over the place). Too bad that both Fitch and S&P said that a Greek default at this juncture is inevitable. And while Juncker's statement in itself is absolutely true, the fact that discord is appearing at the very core of European propaganda - the one place it can afford to stay united until the very end - is troubling indeed. Especially since Juncker also told Le Figaro that Germany can not be asked to do everything alone. Is that a quiet request for the Fed to keep bailing out Europe since the ECB apparently has no interest in doing so?
"Bernanke is betting the ranch on open-ended QE and zero interest rates and it worries me" is how Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley starts this must-see reality-check interview with Bloomberg TV's Tom Keene. The reason for his concern is simple, the current Fed modus operandi is a framework for rescuing economies in crisis but does little to sustain economic recovery. Roach agrees with Cal's Eichengreen that the European and US central banks are indeed in a policy trap, committed to a path of action that has to be perpetually ante'd up to maintain the dream. With Europe in recession already in his view, Roach does not expect the tough structural action until we see greater social unrest or overwhelming unemployment and reminds us of how close we got when Greece threatened the referendum in the late summer. He goes on to discuss China (positive on their efforts and 'solid strategy') and it's relative success as a regime which he contrasts with our "central bankers who pull the wool over our eyes with ZIRP and magical QE". Taking on the mistakes of Greenspan, letting capitalism go unchecked, and his incredulity at the 'glide-path' charts we were treated to yesterday by the Fed's bankers ('accountability'), Roach sees the painful process of deleveraging from excess debt, insufficient savings, and over-consumption as likely to take a long time as we should not assume investment will be the driver as Obama goes 'protectionist' (in the SOTU) on our 3rd largest export partner - yes, China.
GGP part deux, as the hopium high sold by US regulators that allowed banks and borrowers to pretend bad loans were good wears off and reality sets in..
¥1,086,000,000,000,000 (Quadrillion) In Debt And Rising, And WhyThe ¥ Will Soon Be A $: "A Lost Decade... Or Two"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/26/2012 09:31 -0500
Yesterday the Japanese Finance Ministry made a whopper of an announcement: in the year ending March 2013, total Japanese debt will surpass one quadrillion yen, or ¥1,086,000,000,000,000. This is roughly in line with the Zero Hedge expectations that by this March total Japanese debt would surpass one quadrillion yen. In USD terms, at today's exchange rate, this is precisely $14 trillion. And while smaller than America's $15.4 trillion (net of all post debt ceiling breach auctions), which was $14 trillion about a year ago, the GDP backing this notional amount of debt, which just so happens is greater than the GDP of the entire Euro area, is a modest ¥481 trillion, so by the end of the next fiscal year, Japan will have a Debt to GDP ratio of 225%. And that's not counting all the household and financial debt. So prepare to add quadrillion to the vernacular. At this exponential rate of increase quintillion will appear some time in 2015 and so on. Yet the scariest conclusion is that as Bloomberg economist Joseph Brusuelas points out, America is not only next, it already is Japan. Actually scratch that, America is worse than Japan, which at least generated a real housing bubble in the years just preceding the onset of its multi-decade credit crunch, something not even America could do in comparable terms. More importantly, "the debt-to-GDP ratio of the U.S. recently surpassed 100 percent, and it did so in the four years after the onset of the recession, compared with the six years it took the Japanese debt-to-GDP ratio to do so." The Japanese may be better than America in most things, but when it comes to destroying its economy, the US has no equal. Brusuelas' conclusion: "If below trend growth is the most probable scenario in the U.S., the most likely alternative is that the U.S. economy is headed for a lost decade… or two." So... go all in?
Our discussions (here, here, and here) of the dispersion of deleveraging efforts across developed nations, from the McKinsey report last week, raised a number of questions on the timeliness of the deflationary deleveraging process. David Rosenberg, of Gluskin Sheff, notes that the multi-decade debt boom will take years to mean revert and agrees with our views that we are still in the early stages of the global deleveraging cycle. He adds that while many believe last year's extreme volatility was an aberration, he wonders if in fact the opposite is true and that what we saw in 2009-2010 - a double in the S&P 500 from the low to nearby high - was the aberration and market's demands for more and more QE/easing becomes the volatility-inducing swings of dysphoric reality mixed with euphoric money printing salvation. In his words, perhaps the entire three years of angst turned to euphoria turned to angst (and back to euphoria in the first three weeks of 2012?) is the new normal. After all we had angst from 1929 to 1932 then ebullience from 1933 to 1936 and then back to despair in 1937-1938. Without the central banks of the world constantly teasing markets with more and more liquidity, the new baseline normal is dramatically lower than many believe and as such the former's impacts will need to be greater and greater to maintain the mirage of the old normal.
The fear of 'turning-Greek', which is now apparently worse than 'turning-Japanese', is the anchoring bias that seems to be driving more and more countries to dramatically adjust their fiscal affairs. However, Nomura's Richard Koo (whose blood pressure was already elevated last week at the ignorance of many nations to his balance sheet recession diagnosis and treatment protocol) points out in a note this week that Greece's problems stem from fiscal profligacy, a lack of domestic savings, and dishonest reporting by the government (it does kind of ring a bell). His point being that the rest of the eurozone - not to mention Japan, US, and the UK - are suffering balance sheet recessions (unlike Greece), which occur when the collapse of an asset price bubble drives sharp increases in private savings. His problem is that traditional economists are not taught of a situation in which private sector deleveraging (which we discussed last week also) leaves fiscal stimulus as the only way to stabilize an economy and in the currrent environment of deficits being watched and denigrated by any and all politician, market participant, and talking head, Koo's borrow-and-spend 'all deficits are good deficits' medicine is hard to swallow. Koo believes that the post-Lehman world was saved by fiscal stimulus, that Greece is different, and that the anti-Koo austerity actions have 'thrown a large wrench into the works of many world economies' and while the UK is coming around to the notion that austerity is not working, he worries on recent actions in the US and Japan at a time of excess private saving. It seems to us that his argument boils down to - given the system's fragility - an Austrian solution to the broken Keynesian problem is unworkable (without depression), and he hopes that the growing doubts (recessions popping up left, right, and center) about an overriding focus on fiscal consolidation will bring people back to Keynesian (Kooian) fold. He concludes with a worrying reflection on his countrymen in the MoF that seem to have learnt none of his lessons as they look to raise the consumption tax and Japan's rising sun sets.
European Stress Reemerges As Risk Off Epicenter Following Portugal Admission It Needs €30 Billion BailoutSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/25/2012 07:47 -0500
Even as the Euro-Dollar 3 Month basis swap has contracted to a nearly 6 month low at -75 bps, on residual hopes that the LTRO will do anything to fix Europe (it won't - just compare it to the €442 billion 1 year LTRO from June 2009 which worked until it didn't for the simple reason that Europe does does not have a liquidity problem), Europe has once again reemerged as a source of risk off (not least of all because the fulcrum security benefiting from the LTRO - the Italian 2 year BTP is for the first time in weeks wider by 17 bps). Why? The same reason as always: Greece, with a touch of Portugal. As BBG observes the positive sentiment in Asia earlier was retraced in the European session, with commodities, FX, equities lower, especially after ECB demurred from accepting losses on its Greek bond holdings. What that means is that as we patiently explained over the weekend, the imminent Greek default (just listen to Soros over in Davos spewing fire and brimstone on Europe for allowing the situation to get to a place where a Greek default is inevitable) will create so many subordinated junior tranches of Greek debt it will make one's head spin. But while the fate of Greece is all but sealed, and a CDS triggered virtually factored in (note: a Greek CDS trigger, in isolation, won't have much of an impact as repeated here before - in fact it will return some normalcy to the market as CDS will be a hedging vehicle once again over ISDA's corrupt trampled corpse), it is what happens to Portugal and its bonds that has the market gasping for air. Because as Zero Hedge pointed out first, a Greek default will be impossible to be enacted in Portugal in its currently envisioned format, as stupid as it may be. In fact, due to the pervasive and broad negative pledges in most medium-term Portuguese bonds, any priming Troika bailout is impossible without providing matching collateral for everyone else under UK indenture bonds!