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Frontrunning: February 20

  • Germany FinMin: More Talks Needed On 2nd Greece Bailout Plan (MarketNews)
  • You stand up to the bankers, you win - Icelandic Anger Bringing Record Debt Relief in Best Crisis Recovery Story (Bloomberg)
  • Iranian ships reach Syria, China warns of civil war (Reuters)
  • Men's suit bubble pops? Zegna CEO Says China Sales Slowing (WSJ)
  • German presidency row shakes Merkel's coalition (Reuters)
  • Greece must default if it wants democracy (FT)
  • Decision day for second Greek bailout despite financing gaps (Reuters)
  • So true fair value is a 30% discount to "market" price? Board of Wynn Resorts Forcibly Buys Out Founder (WSJ)
  • Spain Sinks Deeper Into Periphery on Debt Rise (Bloomberg)
  • Walmart raises stake in China e-commerce group (FT)
  • Iron Lady Merkel Bucks German Street on Greek Aid (Bloomberg)
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Presenting The Goldman Wall Of Worry, And The One Key Item Missing

Now that the bipolar market has once again resynced general risk appetite with the EURUSD (high Euro -> high ES and vice versa), everything in the macro front aside from European developments, is noise (and the occasional reminder by data adjusting authorities in the US that the country can in fact decouple with the entity responsible for half the world's trade. This will hardly come as a surprise to anyone. In fact, the conventional wisdom as shown by Goldman's latest client poll has European sovereign crisis worries far in the lead of all macro risks. Behind it are Iran and nuclear tensions, China hard-landing, the US recovery/presidential election and the Japanese trade deficit/record debt/JGB issues. Which for all intents and purposes means that the next big "surprise" to the market will be none of the above. What are some of the factor not listed as big macro risks? According to David Kostin 'Risks that clients did not mention include late March US Supreme Court review of health care reform (implications for 12% of S&P 500); mid-year deadline to implement Dodd-Frank financial reform (14% of market); and the French Presidential election on April 22nd where polls show incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy trails opposition candidate Francois Hollande." Oddly enough, one very crucial item missing is once again surging inflation courtesy of trillions in stealthy central banks reliquification, sending crude to the highest since May 2011, and the most expensive gas price in January on record.

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China Cuts RRR By 50 bps Despite Latent Inflation To Cushion Housing Market Collapse

It was one short week ago that both Australia surprised with hotter than expected inflation (and no rate cut), and a Chinese CPI print that was far above expectations. Yet in confirmation of Dylan Grice's point that when it comes to "inflation targeting" central planners are merely the biggest "fools", this morning we woke to find that the PBOC has cut the Required Reserve Ratio (RRR) by another largely theatrical 50 bps. As a reminder, RRR cuts have very little if any impact, compared to the brute force adjustment that is the interest rate itself. As to what may have precipitated this, the answer is obvious - a collapsing housing market (which fell for the fourth month in a row) as the below chart from Michael McDonough shows, and a Shanghai Composite that just refuses to do anything (see China M1 Hits Bottom, Digs). What will this action do? Hardly much if anything, as this is purely a demonstrative attempt to rekindle animal spirits. However as was noted previously, "The last time they stimulated their CPI was close to 2%. It's 4.5% now, and blipping up." As such, expect the latent pockets of inflation where the fast money still has not even withdrawn from to bubble up promptly. That these "pockets" happen to be food and gold is not unexpected. And speaking of the latter, it is about time China got back into the gold trade prim and proper. At least China has stopped beating around the bush and has now joined the rest of the world in creating the world's biggest shadow liquidity tsunami.

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From Atlas To Capital - Everyone Is Shrugging

Today, Rand’s fictional world has seemingly become a reality – endless bailouts and economic stimulus for the unproductive at the expense of the most productive, and calls for additional taxation on capital investment. The shrug of Rand’s heroic entrepreneurs is to be found today within the tangled ciphers of corporate and government balance sheets. The US Federal Reserve has added more than $2 trillion to the base money supply since 2008 – an incredible and unprecedented number that is basically a gift to banks intended to cover their deep losses and spur lending and investment. Instead, as banks continue their enormous deleveraging, almost all of their new money remains at the Fed in the form of excess reserves. Corporations, moreover, are holding the largest amounts of cash, relative to assets and net worth, ever recorded. And yet, despite what pundits claim about strong balance sheets, firms’ debt levels, relative to assets and net worth, also remain near record-high levels. Hoarded cash is king. The velocity of money (the frequency at which money is spent, or GDP relative to base money) continues to plunge to historic lows. No wonder monetary policy has had so little impact. Capital, the engine of economic growth, sits idle – shrugging everywhere.

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Bank Bonds Not Buying The Rally

Financial credits remain the big underperformer hinting at much less risk appetite than USD-based stocks would indicate for now but broad risk assets staged an impressive bounce recovery on better than average volumes today as early weakness in Europe was shrugged off with better-than-expected macro data in the US (claims and Philly Fed headlines) and then later in the morning the story in the ECB Greek debt swap deal. We discussed both the macro data and the debt swap deal realities but the coincident timing of the ECB story right into the European close (when we have tended to see trends reverse in EUR and risk anyway) helped lift all risky asset boats as USD lost ground. The long-weekend and OPEX tomorrow likely helped exaggerate the trend back today but we note HYG underperformed out of the gate and while credit and stocks did rally together, the afternoon in the US saw stocks limp higher on lagging volumes (and lower trade size) as credit leaked lower. Treasuries sold off reasonably well as risk buyers came back (around 8bps off their low yields of the day pre-ECO) but rallied midly into the close (as credit derisked). Commodities all surged nicely from the macro break point this morning with Copper best on the day but WTI still best on the week. Silver is synced with USD strength still (-0.25% on the week) as Gold is modestly in the money at 1728 (+0.4% on the week) against +0.47% gains for the USD still. FX markets abruptly reversed yesterday's USD gains with most majors getting back to yesterday's highs. GBP outperformed today (at highs of the week) and JPY underperformed (lows of the week). VIX shifts into OPEX are always squirly and today was no different but we did see VIX futures rise into the close. We wonder if the last couple of days of Dow swings and vol spikes and recoveries will remind anyone of the mid-summer day swings last year?

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America's Discretionary Spending Well Has Run Dry

The more we dig into the bones of President Obama's new budget plan, the more it becomes clear that, as JP Morgan's Michael Cembalest notes, the battles of the future (among our peak-polarized political class) will be between raising taxes and cutting entitlements as the discretionary spending well is empty. As the Budget Control Act cuts this discretionary spend to a 50-year low (close to only 5% of GDP), it is the rise in entitlements (and of course interest costs) that appear mandatory for now and will need to be 'balanced' with tax revenue growth that is expected to rise from 15% of GDP to 20% of GDP by 2022 (thanks largely to a belief that cyclical recovery will save us). As the real ranks of the long-term unemployed and now disabled benefits receivers swell, it seems clear how the entitlement-taxation see-saw will swing unless there is change everyone can believe in.

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Americans Dump The World, As The World Dumps America

It is only appropriate that in the days after Valentine's day, the theme of dumping is revisited. Specifically that of securities. As was pointed out yesterday following the latest TIC data, there was a lot of dumping of US Treasurys by foreign official authorities, with both China and Russia (but not only) proceeding to sell a demonstrative amount of US paper. However, that is not all. As the first chart below from today's Bloomberg Brief shows, foreign purchases of US corporate bonds has once again rolled over and remains quite week. As Bloomberg notes: "Foreign investors appear to have little faith in the U.S. economic recovery. They sold $20.7 billion of corporate bonds in December, leaving the one-year mean at minus $3.6 billion. That compares with a 12-month average of $47.3 billion in May 2007. Acquisitions of U.S. stocks were also weak. They totaled minus $11 billion versus a 12-month average of $2.1 billion." And in a stunning display of reciprocity, US residents, not content with selling of US stocks as retail outflows soared in December, also proceeded to dump the rest of the world en mass, as the net sale of foreign securities by US Residents soared to an all time high.

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Today's Events: Housing Starts, Jobless Claims, PPI And Philly Fed

Busy day in the economic headlines arena, with Housing Start, Claims PPI and Philly Fed all on deck. Goldman summarizes the expectations and the upwardly biased consensus.

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Frontrunning: February 16

  • Europe Demands More Greek Budget Controls in Bid to Forge Rescue (Bloomberg)
  • Moody's Warns May Downgrade 17 Global Banks, Securities Firms (Reuters)
  • Officials at Fed Split on More Bond Buys (Hilsenrath)
  • Greek deal delays pressure periphery (Reuters)
  • Talk, but No Action, to Break US Grip on World Bank Job (Reuters)
  • Greek Rhetoric Turns Into Battle of Wills (FT)
  • Greece Seeks Monday Bailout Deal, EU Questions Remain (Reuters)
  • US Lawmakers Announce Payroll Tax-Cut Deal (Reuters)
  • China Leader-In-Waiting Xi Woos and Warns US (Reuters)
  • China's FDI falls 0.3% in Jan (Reuters)
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Greek President (And Nazi Resistance Fighter) Lashes Out At "German Boot" For Pushing Country To The Brink

The following extract from a Bloomberg article suggests that the German mission of getting Greece to file for bankruptcy on its own, thus removing the perception that Europe has given up on the first (of many) terminal patient, own has almost succeeded. "Greek President Karolos Papoulias slammed Germany’s finance minister for recent comments about his country as stalled bailout talks stoked tensions between Greece and the northern European countries funding its rescue. “I don’t accept insults to my country by Mr. Schaeuble,” Papoulias, who fought in the resistance against the Nazis during World War II, said in a speech today. “I don’t accept it as a Greek. Who is Mr. Schaeuble to ridicule Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finns? We always had the pride to defend not just our own freedom, not just our own country, but the freedom of all of Europe."

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Guest Post: Bad Week For Freedom

It was a bad week for freedom loving people, but I believe there are enough patriots left in this country to change our course. We are being buried under a blizzard of lies on a daily basis. We have a choice. We can support the existing corrupt crony capitalist establishment (Obama & Romney) or we can declare war on lies, deceit and misinformation by rallying behind the only person who would truly attempt to reverse decades of corruption, sleaze, incompetence, bloat, debt accumulation, and a warped version of free market capitalism – Ron Paul. He is the only public figure willing to level with the American people and tell them the truth. Will we let the concept of truth fade out of the world? The choice is ours. 

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” –   George Orwell

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FOMC Minutes: "More Bond Buying May Be Necessary"

Some of the key headlines from the just released FOMC minutes via Bloomberg, which however don't show anything out of the ordinary:

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Point Out The Housing Recovery On This Chart

No this is not a trick question... well maybe a little. Minutes ago the National Association of Home Builders announced that its Housing Market index soared from 25 to 29, trouncing not only expectations of a 26 print, but just like the Empire Fed, the highest forecast. This was supposedly the highest since May 2007. In other words, everyone is confident, and the commentary is that this print is "reinforcing optimism that the housing market is finding a bottom" and that "this consistency suggests that the housing market is moving toward more sustainable growth." That at least is the spin. Below we show the reality, in the form of the Mortgage Brokers' Association mortgage applications index. We somehow fail to see just where the onslaught of demand for new home loans is, and just where all this optimism comes from.

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