A month ago we chronicled what we consider one of the biggest problems for America's long-term viability in "No Country For Thin Men: 75% Of Americans To Be Obese By 2020" which goes straight to the heart of the biggest shortfall in America's balance sheet: the net present value of future spending associated with Medicare and various other healthcare related programs, which will sadly only rise as more and more Americans become morbidly obese, and demand more expensive health service out of the piggy bank that even now has tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities. And while the future is certainly not bright, the past and present are just as bleak. A Reuters report focuses on just how it is that America got to where it is today (most likely sitting in front a computer, eating potato chips and drinking sugar-laden soda): "The percentage of Americans who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) has tripled since 1960, to 34 percent, while the incidence of extreme or "morbid" obesity (BMI above 40) has risen sixfold, to 6 percent. The percentage of overweight Americans (BMI of 25 to 29.9) has held steady: It was 34 percent in 2008 and 32 percent in 1961. What seems to have happened is that for every healthy-weight person who "graduated" into overweight, an overweight person graduated into obesity." Which is not surprising: with pink and white slime food substitutes (as an example) allowing more and more low income individuals to drown their sorrows in fat (aka high calorie dollar meals) it was only a matter of time. Sadly, there is nothing in the equation that indicates this is set to change any time soon, even as the all too real costs, to both the individual and to society, mount in an exponential manner.
As noted earlier, and in the aftermath of both the UK and Spain officially double dipping, very soon a majority of Europe will be submerged under the latest recessionary tide which has already engulfed Spain, UK, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia. The primary wildcard remains Germany, although there is a more than 50% chance that following some very weak PMI data, the country will follow up its already negative Q4 GDP print with another decline, officially pushing the European growth dynamo into recession as well (as for France which reps and warrants that everything is great, it is not as if anyone actually believes those numbers, especially after Hollande becomes president in one week). For everyone who wants to track the European double dip tsunami in real time, the following interactive chart from Reuters is just for you.
CFTC data from Friday showed that money managers cut long positions on Comex gold futures and options in the week ended April 24 to the lowest level in more than three years. Managed funds slashed 2,225 long positions, or bets prices will rise, and added 2,450 short positions, or bets prices will fall. The managed-fund net long position was cut by 4% and now represents around 10.7 million troy ounces of gold. This took their net position down 4% to 107,600 long contracts, from 112,275 long contracts. That's the lowest in CFTC data since the week ended Jan. 20, 2009. The low in January 2009 corresponded with the low in the gold price for 2009 - monthly low of $807/oz - prior to seeing gains which saw the gold price rise more than 50% to above $1,200/oz in late November 2009 (see chart below). A similar price gain would see gold rise from $1,663/oz today to $2,494.50/oz in the coming months. Also of note is the fact that large commercial traders have greatly cut back their short positions in gold and especially in silver. This has often been a sign of a bottom and suggests that they do not expect gold and silver to fall much further. In Comex silver futures and options, these traders added 248 long contracts and 2,883 short contracts. This reduced their net long position by 20% to 10,756 contracts, from 13,390 contracts the previous week. The net silver position represents around 53.7 million troy ounces of silver.
- Only the cattle cars are missing: Greece opens detention camp for immigrants as election looms (Reuters)
- China really wants that Iran oil - China mulls guarantees for ships carrying Iran oil (Reuters)
- U.S. eyes testy China talks, Chen backer expects Chinese decision (Reuters, FT)
- Possible arsenic poisoning probed in death of coroner's official (LA Times)
- Europe’s Anti-Austerity Calls Mount as Elections Near (Bloomberg)
- Law firm Dewey dumps executive; talks with rival end (Reuters)
- Greek bank appeals for fresh equity (FT)
- Banks seek to put pressure on small rivals (FT)
- Obama falls short of meteoric expectations abroad (Reuters)
While Greece has had its fair-share of EURs funneled to it and through it over the course of the last year or two, it appears they have now created their first 'internal' bailout as things go from bad to worse. As Athens News reports, Greece will provide EUR250mm in emergency funds to its ailing electricity providers to prevent a California-style energy crisis. This liquidity injection to the country's power utlities was yet another unintended consequence of government intervention action. An increasing number of consumers stopped paying their electricity bills following the TROIKA's Greek government's infliction of EUR1.7bn property taxation via the electricity providers. The main power utility PPC had a liquidity hole blown through it as non-payments mounted and while regulators claimed the system needed at least EUR350mm to stay afloat, the government has agreed to allow PPC to hold EUR250mm of the property tax it has collected on behalf of the state until June 30 - by which time, it is hoped the utility will have managed to secure other lending facilities. Quite an incredible move - to force the electricity provider to gather the property taxes - and while this attempt clearly failed we suspect the next move will be food-and-water-rationing without proof of tax payment.
It must be difficult for the BRICS countries today. On one hand, they continue to jockey for respect among the Western powers, insisting on participating in quasi-European bailout funds like the IMF. On the other hand, they are also clearly aware of the Western nations' continuing efforts to surreptitiously devalue their domestic currencies, and the pernicious effect that has had on them as exporters and as lenders of capital. In that vein, it was interesting to note that during the latest BRICS Summit held this past March in New Delhi, the main topic of discussion centered on the creation of the group's first official institution, a so-called "BRICS Bank" that would fund development projects and infrastructure in developing nations. Although not openly discussed, reports suggest what they were really talking about was creating a type of BRICS central bank - an institution that could facilitate their ability to "do more business with each other in their local currencies, to help insulate from U.S. dollar fluctuations…" Given the incredible scale of western central bank intervention over the past six months, the BRICS' increasing frustration with their printing efforts should be a given by now. The real question is what they're doing about it, and what assets they're accumulating to protect themselves from the inevitable, which brings us to gold.
Better late than never. All you need to read.
The Fed’s promise to use more QE should the economy falter is supporting gold.
The global economic picture remains grim, with euro zone economic sentiment falling more than
expected in April and the US job market recovery showing signs of a slowdown.
Apple earnings and the tech boom and indeed possible tech bubble remains one of the primary
drivers of continuing irrational exuberance and risk appetite.
The poor and deteriorating economic backdrop is gold supportive.
- Hollande Says Germany Can’t Make Europe’s Decisions Alone (BBG)
- Monti Hits at Eurozone Austerity Push (FT)
- Firm that made loans to Chesapeake CEO defends them (Reuters)
- Bo Xilai's Son Doesn't Drive a Ferrari. He drives a Porsche (WSJ)
- Geithner Urges China to Loosen Hold on Finance System (BBG)
- and yet... Son of Bo Xilai Says Father’s Ouster ‘Destroyed My Life’ (BBG)
- U.S. growth slows as inventory accumulation wanes (Reuters)
- S&P 500 Dividend Payers Climb to Highest in 12 Years (BBG)
- Lacker Sees Fed May Need to Raise Rates in Mid-2013 (BBG)
- Ireland Passes Latest Bailout Review (WSJ)
While Europe is still keeping up a facade that all is well in the aftermath of the Spanish downgrade, but far more importantly its sheer economic collapse as noted earlier, just so Italy could price €4.916 billion in two On The Run 5 and 10 year bond issues (compared to a target of €5 billion), the tension is there, as can be seen in a decidedly week Italian bond auction, which saw yields soar, Bids to Cover slide, and tails spike. Italy also sold less than the maximum in off the run 2016 and 2019 bonds. All in all, while the market may experience a brief recovery rally that Italy managed to sell anything at all (that was not a Bill of course - that gimmick always does the trick), the reality that these yields are not sustainable will slowly seep in within a few hours.
In a week that Spain can't wait to end, the country was just hit with the bad news bears Trifecta, starting with the Real Madrid loss, following with the second S&P downgrade of Spain's credit rating for the year last night (or is that now SBBB+ain?), and concluding with economic data released this morning which showed that the economy is in a free fall that is approaching that of Greece, after retail sales fell for the 21st consecutive month, while Q1 unemployment soared to, drumroll please, one quarter of the working population or 24.44% to be specific, trouncing consensus estimates of 23.8%, and up nearly 2% from the 22.85% as of December 31. Which likely means that the real unemployment is far higher, and confirms not only that the economy is in free fall mode, but that Moody's, which delayed its downgrade of the country's banks to May, will proceed shortly.
The Social Security Administration made an alarming announcement recently that they will exhaust their funding capability by 2033 which was several years earlier than originally projected. As millions of baby boomers approach retirement more strain is put on the fabric of the Social Security system. The exact timing of this crunch is less important than its inevitability. The problem that Social Security has is "real" employment. I say "real" employment simply to sidestep the ongoing arguments about the validity of government employment survey's from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Federal Government receives income from the Social Security "contribution" from employee's paychecks. Social security "contributions" have decreased sharply by almost $70 billion from its peak. This is due to two factors. The first is that the number of "real" employees, while growing, is in lower income producing and temporary jobs. The second factor is that a larger share of personal incomes is made up of government benefits which does not affect social security contributions. The entire social support framework faces an inevitable conclusion and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.
Support for gold is at $1,612/oz and resistance is at $1,663/oz and $1,684/oz.
- Fed Holds Rates Steady, But Outlooks Shift (Hilsenrath)
- Has Obama Stacked the Fed? Not Really (Hilsenrath)
- High Court Skeptical of Obama’s Use of Power as Campaign Starts (Bloomberg)
- Europe Seen Adding Growth Terms to Budget Rules as Focus Shifts (Bloomberg)
- China Reaches Out to Its Adversaries Over Rare Earths (WSJ)
- Iran Says It May Halt Nuclear Program Over Sanctions (Bloomberg)
- Europe Shifts Crisis Focus to Growth as Merkel Backs Draghi Call (Bloomberg)
- Merkel Wants Rules for Raw Material Derivative Trade (Reuters)
- Evercore Profit Falls 62% as Investment Banking Expenses Rise (Bloomberg)
Following this week's ongoing battery of abysmal economic news out of Europe it will hardly come as a surprise that yet another indicator has been released and is pointing to a multi-year low in the deleveraging (elsewhere called incorrectly austere) continent, namely the Euro-area wide confidence index which just slide to the lowest leve since 2009, missing every single estimate and declining sequentially across the board... And with the UK, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia now in re-recession, and Spain a definitive shoo in next week, the kicker is that German GDP will almost certainly now report a second consecutive GDP print in a few days, thus pushing the entire European continent in a double dip.