We have written extensively over the course of the last few weeks on the increasing rhetoric from Asia over currency fluctuations and furthermore how China was playing the US and Europe off against one another in a quasi-trade-war gambit. A flurry of headlines today/tonight via Bloomberg reminded us to revisit what is also a very worrying trend in Chinese CDS (and more broadly Asian sovereigns), as perhaps sophisticated investors look for the cheapest low cost long vol trades on a non-decoupled world devolving to its lowest common denominator. Between Carney's 'substantially undervalued Yuan' comments, record slides in Dim Sum Bonds, growing concerns over growth longevity, Japanese retail sales, Aussie home prices, Sony's troubles in currency-land, and Barclay's warning of a restart to the Yuan peg in the case of global recession - contagion and transmission channels appear alive and well in global trade.
Nine months after the very same quartet of republicans, headed by John Boehner, sent a letter to Bernanke protesting the launch of QE2, this time the GOP has waited until a mere 24 hours before the actual announcement with an identical, if preemptive, message, namely: don't print, or stated differently, "we submit that the board should resist further extraordinary intervention in the U.S. economy, particularly without a clear articulation of the goals of such a policy, direction for success, ample data proving a case for economic action and quantifiable benefits to the American people." And while the political undertone of the letter is all too obvious: i.e. prevent any additional Obama-benefiting stimulus in the economy through the only conduit Obama has left, courtesy of Fiscal stimulus being snarled for good due to the republican majority in the House, Boehner et al bring up a valid point, which is that the Fed policy now accentuates market uncertainty and promotes trade wars: precisely the topics discussed in an earlier article today. As stated by Boehner: "Our long-term growth depends on restoring confidence and certainty in our fiscal, regulatory, and trade policies -- and not on government’s willingness to engage in additional stimulative measures. When asset prices increase due to anticipated Federal Reserve policy rather than economic fundamentals, it increases the potential for speculative action and erodes confidence in the economic outlook, making it more difficult to generate sustainable growth." Regardless of its actual merit, one thing is without doubt: QE3, and the Fed, just become once again critically politicized, and as such, even more market uncertainty is imminent. All that said, the theatrical optics of this action are quite glaring.
Shrugging off Italy's rating downgrade (somewhat expected but continued negative outlook), funding stress in Europe (Libor levitating and Swiss/French banks divergent), cuts in global growth expectations (IMF and World Bank), concerns over systemic risk contagion (ESRB and World Bank), and escalating rhetoric in Sino-US trade wars, US equities have managed to reach up to Friday's highs as rumors of AAPL being added to the Dow seemed enough for hapless traders. But, like a broken record, we note that the new highs in ES are being accompanied by new lows in 2s10s30s, near day's low yields in TSYs, day's highs in gold and silver, and multi-day lows in copper - all seems to make perfect sense...
Uncertainty. That has become the key word of the day, the month, and of 2011 in general. And while broad uncertainty has manifested itself most notably in the capital markets, it has a far more practical representation in labor markets, where the main reason why employers are not hiring more people, arguably the primary scourge of the Obama administration's record low approval rating, is due to corporate uncertainty about the future: about taxes, about government demanding its pound of flesh when the time comes, and about the economy in general. Ironically, as PIMCO speculates in its daily note authored by Tony Crescenzi, probably the primary driver of global uncertainty is the increasingly uncoordinated response by monetary policy authorities (read Central Banks) in which where before all had cooperated in the global game theory, now increasingly it is every printer for himself, as the default response turns to one of defection. And as everyone who has studied Game Theory knows, it is only the first defection that provides the biggest return, with each subsequent act generating far less benefits to the uncooperative actor, forcing even more uncooperative irrationality, and so on in a toxic spiral until outright belligerent action develops. For now said belligerence has begun to manifest itself in plain vanilla trade wars, such as that pointed out last night with the Chinese response to Europe's lack of response to its "bailout" overtures, and following up with the just announced complaint filed by the US against China on chicken prices. Naturally this is just the beginning. The real concern is that where trade wars end (which in turn begin when FX wars end), real ones start. When a year ago we first branded the Chairsatan as "genocidal" we were mostly joking. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate our definition, as it is far less comical under the current environment. Here is what Pimco has to say on the issue.
While last night's quid-pro-quo from Chinese officials will likely be remembered as the start of escalating trade wars, Wikileaks has uncovered a declassified cable from John Huntsman indicating China's clear understanding of the growing tension and comprehension of the ability of the US to entirely destroy it economically with one swipe of the Presidential pen via a massive devaluation of the USD or repegging to gold. Choice quotes include: "The U.S. has almost used all deterring means, besides military means, against China. ", "United States is determined to beggar thy neighbor", "Chinese must be very clear what the key to victory is. It is by no means to use new foreign exchange reserves to buy U.S. Treasury bonds.", and "[when] the new U.S. dollar is pegged to the gold - we will be dumbfounded."
When in doubt, recycle... In this case the rumor that China would bail out Europe is about to get second billing. From Bloomberg, quoting Wen Jiabao at the Dalian World Economic Forum:
- WEN SAYS CHINA WILL CONTINUE TO INCREASE INVESTMENT IN EUROPE
- WEN SAYS CHINA IS WILLING TO EXTEND HELP TO EUROPE
Granted, nothing new here, and it simply means that China will be happy to buy European assets at firesale prices and invest in 20%+ IRR projects, but the algos, which have not yet seen this news, are expected to kneejerk higher, regardless of how short the latest intervention halflife will be (recall that China already has sizable investment in Greece, Portugal, the EFSF and the EUR). Call it what it is - doubling down, all over again. That said, the bailout for Europe will not come free, and once that realization hits the market, this may have a completely opposite reaction that the one intended...
Timber time. Next up: another round of hopeless and very much helpless BOJ intervention. Because after the FX wars come the trade wars, and after the trade wars come the shooting wars.
In my opinion, the Swiss and Brazilian moves signaled the true beginning of the global currency wars. The depreciation race to the bottom has begun. Trade wars will be next. This is just getting started. Once FX interventions fail, governments suffering from falling exports will attempt to protect local champions via protective taxes, tariffs and the limiting of certain imports. Affected governments and industries will retaliate for their own loss of exports and so on and so forth. Welcome to the currency wars....Bottom line: now is a great time to get out of govt paper and many miles away from the large US and European banks. I am a broken record on this but you should own gold and silver miners, fertilizer companies, oil companies and water companies. Some technology stocks could make sense and reasonable exposure to Asia and Latam. Corporate bonds of companies providing any of the products listed above (gold/silver, fertilizers, oil and water) makes a ton of sense. I would avoid the large multi-nationals here as I think trade wars are coming and their cash flows from foreign operations are about to come under fire.
...Taking a step back, we are looking at potential Nations defaulting, plus augmenting further austerity measures to try and reduce debt (which will stifle any growth for years to come), the spiral of banks coming close to nationalisation across the developed world, consumer deleveraging, rising unemployment, falling house prices and a rising loss of faith with government along with discontent and civil unrest. Why on earth would you sell gold when the outlets for safe havens are being radically reduced since the SNB move and the threat from Japan to intervene? Plus the fact that currencies offer less in the form of stores of value also. A massive shift from currency investment to precious metals could take place. Currency wars will exacerbate this and whilst the SNB move is from a small nation, what happens if one of the big boys like Japan join in? Carnage basically and trade wars and border issues will ignite and G20 could implode. Just what the world is ill-prepared for but it looks like it is brewing. Civil unrest and regime changes around the world will add to the soup.
Gold Falls 2% in Minutes In Asian Trade – Global Currency Wars Resume and Markets Digest German DecisionSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/07/2011 07:25 -0400
Gold closed in New York at $1,870.70/oz yesterday and then traded sideways prior to sharp selling in Asian trading saw gold fall 2.3% or nearly $50 in minutes ($1,871/oz at 0514 GMT to a low of $1,827/oz at 0523 GMT). The price fall was odd as there was no breaking news or ostensible reasons for the sell off and other markets were unchanged at the time. Speculation was that the falls were technical in nature after stop losses were triggered. However, Asian traders spoke of some 4,000 lots of gold being ‘dumped’ on the COMEX and of a “large sell order”. This would suggest that the sellers may not have been profit motivated and official selling may have been involved. After the Swiss franc intervention and currency debasement yesterday, market participants are wary of further official government and central bank intervention. With further gains for the Swiss franc artificially capped (at least in the short term), it would be naïve to exclude the possibility of intervention in the gold market and a continuing strategic capping of the price. “The start of full-on currency wars has started in earnest,” said Maurice Pomery, chief executive at Strategic Alpha, quoted in the front page of the Financial Times today. “After currency wars come trade wars and as we see the exporting world pressured as the developed world contracts, tensions will rise.” Central banks, from the SNB to the Bank of Japan, are openly intervening in the currency markets and devaluing their currencies and therefore may be surreptitiously intervening in the gold market.
In plain terms, we’re entering a period in history that will rival the Revolutionary war. This country will be very very different by the time it has ended. Many people will lose everything in this mess. Yes, everything.
Here is an exclusive interview forwarded to me by German investigative journalist Lars Schall conducted with James G. Rickards. The interview with Mr. Rickards covers a variety of topics including his thoughts on quantitative easing, the currency wars of the past and the present, and central banks’ views towards gold.
Regardless or Bernanke’s personal qualities, the fact is that it doesn’t matter what he does next. Whether or not he issues QE 3, raises interest rates, references inflation differently, or what have you is irrelevant. We will see some kind of Crisis in the near future because of his policies. If he raises interest rates, the debt market and derivative implodes. If he launches QE 3, the Dollar collapses and trade wars erupt. If he doesn’t launch QE 3, the stock market collapses.
A butterfly flapped its wings in Tunisia creating a hurricane that is swirling across the globe, wreaking havoc with the existing social order and sweeping away old crumbling institutions and dictatorships. The linear thinking politicians, pundits and thought leaders have been knocked for a loop. They didn’t see it coming and they don’t know where it’s leading. An examination and understanding of history would have revealed that we have been here before. We were here in 1773. We were here in 1860. We were here in 1929. We are here again. The Fourth Turning has returned in its predictable cycle, just as Winter always follows Fall.
Social unrest has already unseated several regimes in the Middle East. And the same formula that created those situations (tons of poor, repressed folks no longer able to afford food) exists today in China as well. With that in mind, expect the relationship between the US and China to deteriorate in the coming months. The flirtation underlying trade tensions (steel and tires) we’ve already seen will erupt into full-scale trade wars. We could very well even see an actual physical war the way things are heading.