The whole fulcrum of the bloated American state is beyond ready for a radical deconstruction. The same goes for most nation-states in the West. The continual borrowing, serviced indiscreetly by an accommodating central bank, has made an entirety of the populace fat and happy off of debt. This is no realistic method for operating any institution. Something has to give eventually. Any conservative who places high value on civil society over the intrusion of government should balk at the prospect of a higher debt load. It makes certain that the ruling political class will not cease in their effort to infiltrate private life. Unfortunately it appears as if some otherwise sharp minds have fallen prey to the liberal device of alarmism.
In and of itself, the government shutdown appears to be a limited market event. The indirect effect, however, is on the other main risk scenario for markets – the deal on the debt ceiling (which will need to be in place before October 17). An increase in the probability of breaching the debt ceiling would likely be destabilizing for the market. For one, the effect on growth will be far larger – our economists estimate that it would imply an immediate cut in spending equal to 4.2% of GDP (4Q average of the fiscal deficit). Second, it would raise the risk of a US sovereign default because the Treasury does not believe it has the authority to prioritize interest payments above other obligations. As such, with markets firmly focused on US fiscal matters - so where to from here?
No, we are not talking the stock market reaction, which is driven purely by trillions in excess global, fungible liquidity sloshing around and as a result stocks are up on government shutdown day in a complete mockery of, well, everything. Instead, this is what Wall Street sellside strategists believe will be the impact of the shutdown (and how it ties in with the far more important debt ceiling negotiation). It should not be at all surprising that to virtually everyone, the shutdown (or any other negative development) is a "buying opportunity" which makes sense: after all the person who is truly in charge of the "wealth effect" will be up and running uninterrupted and there is no risk today's $2.75 - $3.50 billion POMO will be even modestly delayed.
With rumors this evening of the White House calling around for support for Yellen, Marc Faber's comments today during a Bloomberg TV interview are even more prescient. Fearing that Janet Yellen "would make Bernanke look like a hawk," Faber explains that he is not entirely surprised by today's no-taper news since he believes we are now in QE-unlimited and the people at the Fed "never worked a single-day in the business of ordinary people," adding that "they don't understand that if you print money, it benefits basically a handful of people." Following today's action, Faber is waiting to seeing if there is any follow-through but notes that "Feds have already lost control of the bond market. The question is when will it lose control of the stock market." The Fed, he warns, has boxed themselves in and "the endgame is a total collapse, but from a higher diving board."
Today’s bizarre confluence of negative real interest rates, money printing, eurozone sovereign default, aberrant asset prices, high unemployment, political polarization, growing distrust… none of it was supposed to happen. It is the unintended consequence of past crisis-fighting campaigns, like a troupe of comedy firemen leaving behind them a bigger fire than the one they came to extinguish. What will be the unintended consequences of today’s firefighting? We shudder to think.
Global conditions in early 1928 were oddly similar to today (Benjamin Strong puzzling over a strange brew of rising stock prices, uneven economic recovery, suspect banking practices and unusual strains in Europe’s monetary system), but skewed in a direction that would cause our current policymakers to apply even stronger stimulus than we’ve seen in 2013. The analogy suggests to us that today’s Fed is threatening mistakes that aren’t unlike those of the 1920s Fed. But what about the stock market? Unfortunately, a few market characteristics fit the late 1920s timeline pretty well... There can be little doubt that today’s Fed-fueled asset price rallies merely bring future price appreciation forward to the present. Asset prices eventually return to fundamental values, and as they do the Fed’s cherished wealth effects work in reverse. This is another risk that should be considered when you decide whether to take Bernanke’s bait and “reach for yield” in stocks and other risky assets.
On occasion of an address to economists at a conference in France, Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann reminded the audience that 'the ECB cannot solve the crisis', because it is due to structural reasons and therefore requires structural reform. Weidmann rightly fears that governments will begin to postpone or even stop their reform efforts now that the ECB has managed to calm markets down. In a Reuters article on the topic, a number of people are quoted remarking on ECB policy. What is so interesting about this is how far removed from reality general perceptions are when it comes to judging current central bank policies. In short, Weidmann wants to end the three card Monte, whereby commercial banks buy the bonds issued by governments because they don't have to put any capital aside for the purpose, which bonds they then can in turn pawn off to the central bank for refinancing purposes. Weidmann wants to see the connection between banks and sovereigns severed, a connection that has been fostered by governments over many centuries in order to enable them to spend more than they take in through tax revenues.
The volatility of recent weeks is but a mere small taste of the volatility in store for all markets in the coming months and years. The global debt crisis is likely to continue for the rest of the decade as politicians and central bankers have merely delayed the day of reckoning. They have ensured that when the day of reckoning comes it will be even more painful and costly then it would have been previously.
Earlier this month, in an article for “Project Syndicate” famous American economist Nouriel Roubini joined the chorus of those who declare that the multi-year run up in the gold price was just an almighty bubble, that that bubble has now popped and that it will continue to deflate. Gold is now in a bear market, a multi-year bear market, and Roubini gives six reasons (he himself helpfully counts them down for us) for why gold is a bad investment. His arguments for a continued bear market in gold range from the indisputably accurate to the questionable and contradictory to the simply false and outright bizarre. But what is most worrying, and most disturbing, is Roubini’s pathetic attempt to label gold bugs political extremists. It is evident from Roubini’s essay that he not only considers the gold bugs to be wrong and foolish, they also annoy him profoundly. They anger him. Why? – Because he thinks they also have a “political agenda”. Gold bugs are destructive. They are misguided and even dangerous people.
Starting today, and continuing through tomorrow, the German Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) will consider the legality and conformability of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transaction programme (OMT) in particular. What does the press expect will be the outcome of the FCC's deliberations (spoiler alert: nobody will dare to threaten Deutsche Bank's towering mountain of derivatives, all $56 trillion of them, but let's pretend it is exciting). Here is a brief recap via Bruegel Think Tank.
"While I think this policy is fundamentally right, I think [austerity] has reached its limits," was EU President Barroso's firestarter comment yesterday. As the WSJ reports, the IMF also said last week that the bloc should ease back on austerity, while a number of governments outside the EU have made the same call, arguing that its belt-tightening is holding back the global economic recovery and could end up being self-defeating. Of course, the beggars are once again trying to be choosers as Spain's de Guindos pushes his agenda along this 'growth vs austerity' path, "What we are going to do now is strike a better balance between deficit reduction and economic growth," but it is the bagholders (or money-men) of Europe that has the last word. As we noted yesterday, Merkel's expectations are no more money without ceding sovereignty, this morning it is German MPs who are up in arms as Nobert Barthle condemns Barroso's statements on austerity and Hans Michelbach flatly rejects this path of no resistance as it "undermines fiscal consolidation efforts." Perhaps the most clear message was from Volker Wissing who added, "demanding more money or time would send a 'fatal' signal to financial markets on reforms." With German PMIs so bad this morning, we are reminded of Bill Blain's comment, that ultimately growth is about confidence - and right now, Europe is a very unhappy place.
As Cyprus has shown us, when push comes to shove, rule of law goes out the window. I fully expect that when things get really bad in the financial system the money grabs will come fast and furious. Foreign accounts, including possibly even Gold held aboard, will come under attack. Heck, the US got Switzerland to throw its 300-year-old banking secrecy out the window…
Much has been said about "the Cyprus Template" (the so-called bail-in, where deposits are expropriated to recapitalize the insolvent banks), but virtually nothing has been written about the Real Cyprus Template. It appears the key preliminary step of the Real Cyprus Template is that money-center banks in Germany and other "core" Eurozone nations pull their money out of the soon-to-implode "periphery" nation's banks before the banking crisis is announced, "...this explains a lot about something that has always puzzled us: why the delay in resolving Cyprus after the Greek haircut?" We can now see there are two Cyprus Templates: 1. The public-relations/propaganda model; 2. The real one, that enables "core" eurozone banks to pull their deposits out of periphery banks before the deposit expropriation and capital controls kick in. Why are we not surprised the entire charade and expropriation is rigged to benefit the core banks?
The present confusion is legitimate: it is far too early to be projecting much from Cyprus except a continued erosion of faith in Eurozone banks and leadership, and by default, the euro as a placeholder of purchasing power.
The wave of social unrest that rumbled across Europe between 2008 and 2011 has become less intense. This has come as a cause for relief in financial markets, as it has helped to underpin the marginalization of ‘tail risk’ already addressed by the ECB and the Greek debt restructuring. And yet the latest crisis over the Cyprus bail-out/bail-in not only shoots an arrow into the heart of the principles of an acceptable banking union arrangement, if it could ever be agreed, but also signifies the deep malaise in the complex and fragile trust relationships between European citizens and their governments and institutions. Some people argue that protest, nationalist and separatist movements are just ‘noise’, that the business of ‘fixing Europe’ is proceeding regardless, and that citizens are resigned to the pain of keeping the Euro system together. UBS' George Magnus is not convinced, even if public anger is less acute now than in the past, it is far from dormant, and its expression is mostly unpredictable. So is the current lull in social unrest a signal that the social fabric of Europe is more robust than we thought, or (as we suggested 14 months ago) is the calm deceptive?