Talks on the fiscal cliff have resumed, but as of this writing there is not yet an agreement. The current negotiations focus on the income threshold under which tax cuts should be extended, among other topics. As we have noted, the sides seem as far apart as ever, and as Goldman notes, while it is still possible that an agreement will be reached by year end, a retroactive deal in January looks more likely. The eventual resolution still looks likely to be a scaled down agreement that addresses only the policy changes scheduled for year-end and omits other issues, such as an increase in the debt limit or longer-term fiscal reforms. The greatest area of uncertainty is whether the spending cuts scheduled under the sequester will be addressed. The fiscal policy timeline below shows how we are rapidly approaching the more ominous debt ceiling debate and Goldman's Q&A asks and answers provides context for where we are from both an economic and ratings agency impact basis.
Keynesian economists believe, regardless of logic and data, that economies can be managed from the top down. In their world, economies are little different than machines. Change some inputs here, speed them up over there, add some lubrication, etc. and the machine will respond in the fashion desired. Output can be “managed” to whatever level needed purely by adjusting the parts of the machine. Austrian economists on the other hand do not see a machine. They see millions of individuals all making decisions to improve their own lives. The price system provides the coordination among these separate pieces, performing a function no human, supercomputer or government could ever accomplish. For Austrians, economics is a bottom up approach. To effect change, you must change the incentives and disincentives that individual decision makers are afforded. “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana. Ideology is powerful, capable of masking unpleasant facts. Whether we recognize it or not, we are all slaves to ideology.
The politicization of central banking continues unabated. The resurrection of Shinzo Abe and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party – pillars of the political system that has left the Japanese economy mired in two lost decades and counting – is just the latest case in point. He argued that a timid BOJ should learn from its more aggressive counterparts, the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. But will it work? Unfortunately, it appears that Japan has forgotten many of its own lessons – especially the BOJ’s disappointing experience with zero interest rates and QE in the early 2000’s. Not only is QE’s ability to jumpstart crisis-torn, balance-sheet-constrained economies limited; it also runs the important risk of blurring the distinction between monetary and fiscal policy. Massive liquidity injections carried out by the world’s major central banks – the Fed, the ECB, and the BOJ – are neither achieving traction in their respective real economies, nor facilitating balance-sheet repair and structural change. That leaves a huge sum of excess liquidity sloshing around in global asset markets. Where it goes, the next crisis is inevitably doomed to follow.
Even if the US economy really takes off in 2013, don`t look for oil and gasoline demand to overtake supply in the equation.
The holiday week saw the dollar consolidate against most of the major currencies. The yen was the main exception as its losses were extended under the aggressive signals coming from the new Japanese government.
At the end of the week, the other key consideration, the US fiscal cliff made its presence felt. The recent pattern remained intact. News that gives the participants a sense that the cliff may be averted encourages risk taking, which means in the foreign exchange market, the sale of dollars and yen.
News that makes participants more fearful that the political dysfunction failed to avert the cliff and send the world's largest economy into recession, generally see the dollar and yen recover. This is what happened in very thin markets just ahead of the weekend as Obama's ling last ditch negotiating stance seemed to reflect a retreat from his earlier compromises.
“Postponed” is the official stamp across the world. This is the operative word of governmental policy. Whether Europe or America, whether capitalist or socialist government; this is the credo, the banner, the flag waving in the wind for dealing with economic problems. Throw more money at it and barrels of it, have the central banks print and defer any pain much less any tough decisions. We live in a state of postponement, defer and delay which cancels the consequences of the moment but places more severe consequences, greater pain and tougher choices but moments out into our future. Make no mistake; the world has become a more dangerous place either haunted by the specter of rampant inflation or haunted by valuations of debt and currencies that could turn the financial markets into a swirl of dislocation where a plunge into a freezing sea of disarray awaits as capital goes to gold, senior debt regardless of yields and nations deemed to be safe havens.
The problem with democracy.
Despite the fact that myself and everyone else acting like they know what lays ahead are proven wrong time and time again, we continue to make predictions about the future. It makes us feel like we have some control, when we don’t. The world is too complex, too big, too corrupt, too lost in theories and delusions, and too dependent upon too many leaders with too few brains to be able to predict what will happen next. This is the time of year when all the “experts” will be making their 2013 predictions - but few will address where they were wrong in previous predictions. I’m more interested in why I was wrong. It seems I always underestimate the ability of sociopathic central bankers and their willingness to destroy the lives of hundreds of millions to benefit their oligarch masters. I always underestimate the rampant corruption that permeates Washington DC and the executive suites in mega-corporations across the land. And I always overestimate the intelligence, civic mindedness, and ability to understand math of the ignorant masses that pass for citizens in this country. It seems that issuing trillions of new debt to pay off trillions of bad debt, government sanctioned accounting fraud, mainstream media propaganda, government data manipulation and a populace blinded by mass delusion can stave off the inevitable consequences of an unsustainable economic system. Will 2013 be the year it all collapses in a flaming heap of rubble? I don’t know. Maybe you should ask an “expert”.
Enjoy your job in North Dakota while you can as in four years, those shale oil projects are no longer sustainable.
The U.S. federal deficit is now exceeding $1 trillion dollars every year —up from $161 billion in 2007, the last year before the financial crisis. Spending is up some $1 trillion, as outlays for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements have increased by an amount equal to the entire 2013 military budget – a budget which may again surpass the combined military expenditure of every other nation in the world. U.S. unfunded liabilities are now estimated at between $50 trillion and $100 trillion and by the end of the decade (in less than just 7 years), runaway entitlement spending will require shutting down the military or crippling many other vital domestic spending programs to head off massive deficits that will likely lead to a dollar crisis and significant inflation. No matter what deal is eventually agreed, whether before or after the new year, it will at best nibble at the edges of the trillion dollar annual deficits that are being piled up. While all the focus has been on the so called U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’, amnesia has taken hold and many market participants have forgotten about the far from resolved Eurozone debt crisis – not to mention looming debt crisis in the UK and Japan.
The death of the 'cult of equities' was a popular topic this year among both fringe blogs and the best-known institutional asset managers and sell-side strategists. As AP discusses in this excellent article, ordinary Americans - defying decades of investment history - are selling stocks for a fifth year in a row. It's the first time ordinary folks have sold during a sustained bull market since relevant records were first kept during World War II. The answer is both complex and simple but summed up best by a former stock analyst's comment that in order to buy stocks "You have to trust your government. You have to trust other governments. You have to trust Wall Street, and I don't trust any of these." With Fed policy trying to force investors back into stocks (at any cost), a former fund manager notes, presciently that, "When this policy fails, as it will, baby boomers will pay the cost in their 401(k)s." Are we the new 'Depression Babies'? We suspect so.
While the decline in initial jobless claims from a historical perspective should be a positive for economic growth in the future - it is likely to only be the case if employers began to convert part-time employees to full-time hires. This has been the hope since the end of the "Great Recession" yet subpar economic growth, increased productivity and weak consumer demand has kept businesses on the defensive to maintain profitability. The disappointment, from an economic standpoint, is that jobless claims could well hit much lower levels without a translation into stronger economic growth or significantly increased incomes.
Two interesting infographics were published recently that make it so easy to see the decline of the West, even a caveman can do it. Both of these infographics point to the same conclusion: the west is living far beyond its means and is struggling with pitifully anemic growth. This is a long-term trend, and one that is only going to accelerate. Yet as obvious as the indicators may be, few people will actually do anything about it.
- U.S. Family of Mao’s General Assimilates, Votes for Obama (Bloomberg)
- Iron ore prices hit eight-month high (FT)... four months after plunging and crushing iron ore miners
- Obama seeks 60 Senate votes for cliff deal (MarketWatch)
- Need. Moar. InfinitQEeee: Japan PM adviser urges unlimited BOJ easing, higher price goal (Reuters)
- Yen Touches 16-Month Low Versus Euro Before Japan CPI (BBG)
- China consumers driving economic rebound (Reuters) - ot just year end window dressing to accompany the new Politburo
- Rajaratnam agrees to pay $1.5 million disgorgement in SEC case (Reuters)
- France should review 2013 deficit target with EU partners (Reuters)
- Monti-led poll alliance takes shape (FT)
- Bersani wants growth-oriented Europe (FT)
Just because the Fiscal Cliff was not enough...
- GEITHNER SAYS U.S. WILL REACH STATUTORY DEBT LIMIT ON DEC. 31
- GEITHNER: WILL USE `EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES' TO AVOID DEBT LIMIT
- TREASURY: SPECIAL MEASURES TO MAKE $200 BLN ROOM UNDER LIMIT
- GEITHNER: $200 BLN TO LAST TWO MONTHS IN `NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES'
- GEITHNER: TAX, SPENDING `UNCERTAINTY' MAKES DURATION NOT CLEAR
- GEITHNER SAYS ALL MEASURES HAVE BEEN USED IN PRIOR IMPASSES
- GEITHNER OUTLINES PLANS IN LETTER TO SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
So since America's dysfunctional congress failed to "rise above" the Fiscal Cliff, it at least succeeded to "rise above" the debt ceiling. One out of two is not too bad...