As we noted last month, President Obama sat down for an interview with Chuck Todd on November 7 and said: "When we buy I.T. services generally, it is so bureaucratic and so cumbersome that a whole bunch of it doesn’t work or it ends up being way over cost." Well, this week we learned that the gap’s been closed. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told us so. In its official report, HHS not only announced that it had “met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users,” but wrote that “the team is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness.” That sure was quick. Reviewing these facts, we suppose HHS could support their claim to “private sector velocity and effectiveness” with some semantic tricks. If you interpret that phrase as referring to the principle contractors’ adeptness at winning huge, no-bid contracts through personal connections, donations, fund raising and lobbying, then it all adds up.
Even if you don't have a Nobel Prize, it should be glaringly apparent to anyone with half a brain - the financial markets have been soaring while the overall economy has been stagnating. Despite assurances from the mainstream media and the Federal Reserve that everything is just fine, many Americans are beginning to realize that we have seen this movie before. We saw it during the dotcom bubble, and we saw it during the lead up to the horrible financial crisis of 2008. So precisely when will the bubble burst this time? Nobody knows for sure, but without a doubt this irrational financial bubble will burst at some point. Remember, a bubble is always the biggest right before it bursts, and the following are 15 signs that we are near the peak of an absolutely massive stock market bubble...
A new opportunity to play "What's wrong with this picture" arose recently, with Larry Summers’ recent speech at the IMF and Paul Krugman’s follow-up blog. The two economists’ messages are slightly different, but combining them into one fictional character we shall call SK, their comments can be summed up "...essentially, we need to manufacture bubbles to achieve full employment equilibrium." With this new line of reasoning, SK have completely outdone themselves, but not in a good way. Think Jamie Dimon’s infamous “that’s why I’m richer than you” quip. Or, Bill Dudley’s memorable “but the price of iPads is falling” excuse for increases in basic living costs. Dimon and Dudley managed to encapsulate in single sentences much of what’s wrong with their institutions. Yet, they showed baffling ignorance of faults that are clear to the rest of us.
The most important question we should be asking is not the one that Stewart repeated several times while grilling Sebelius: “Businesses were given a delay of a year, but individuals were not given that option, why is that?” The bigger question is: “If the administration messed up so badly on the seemingly mundane task of building a website, how much will Obamacare damage the broader economy and the nation’s long-term fiscal health?” The Stewart-Sebelius interview drew attention to the second question only briefly, when Stewart mentioned that employers were converting full-time workers to part-time due to the ACA. But he failed to challenge Sebelius’ weak response that “economists – not the anecdotal folks – but economists say there’s absolutely no evidence that part-time work is going up.” This is exactly where an informed and unbiased interviewer would have dug further to expose the truth.
Mass Surveillance Destroys Innovation, Trust, the U.S. Internet Market and Other Foundations of Prosperity
Don't Blame Free Market Capitalism ... We Haven't Had It for a While
The hullabaloo over the Fed’s communications should be the least of our concerns. It’s outranked by actual policies, which seem to be once again destabilizing markets, encouraging reckless behaviors, perpetuating global imbalances and enriching the parasitic practitioners of so-called financial innovation at the expense of the middle class. On the other hand, Chairman Bernanke claims that clear communications are a key part of his approach, forward guidance being one example of how he manipulates the economy by telling us what to expect. And yet, it sure seems like the more he and his colleagues talk, the less we know about what they’ll do next. In light of this, the best explanation for the Fed’s surprising untaper last week appears to be from Vince Reinhart’s musings and inside information about the Fed. He offers a short but interesting history on the FOMC’s attempts to increase transparency, and then goes on to share some thoughts on how the decision making has evolved and why it tends to confuse us.
As we wrap up a most interesting, and volatile, week there are some things that we have discussed previously that are now brewing, interesting points to consider and risks to be aware of. In this regard we thought we would share a few things that caught our attention:
1) Angela Merkel Election No So Assured
2) The Debt Ceiling Debate
3) The "Taper" Indecision Is Back
4) In The "Economy Is Improving" Camp
5) Syria Already Set To Miss A Deadline
6) Everything Else...
Simply put, complacency is not an option; Stocks are overvalued, rates are rising, earnings are deteriorating and despite signs of short term economic improvements the data trends remain within negative downtrends. Investors, however, have disregarded fundamentals as irrelevant as long as the Federal Reserve remains committed to its accommodative policies. The problem is that no one really knows has this will turn out and the current assumptions are based upon past performance.
Excessive monetary stimulus and low interest rates create financial bubbles. This is the biggest debt bubble in history. It is a potent deflationary force and central banks are forced into deploying increasingly aggressive (offsetting) inflationary forces. The avoidance of a typical deflationary resolution to this economic long (Kondratieff) wave is pushing the existing monetary system beyond the point of no return. The purchasing power of the developed world’s currencies will have to bear the brunt of the “adjustment”. Preparations for this by the BRICS nations, led by China, are advancing rapidly. The end game is an inflationary/currency crisis, dislocation across credit and derivative markets, and the transition to a new monetary system. A new “basket” currency is likely to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The “Inflationary Deflation” paradox refers to the coming rise in the price of almost everything in conventional money and simultaneous fall in terms of gold.
Imagine a football coach who hasn’t caught onto the game’s complexities and continues to run the same play - call it a fullback dive - over and over. When we read calls for more monetary stimulus, we feel as though we're listening to that coach’s brethren in the economist community. These economists argue that the Fed should simply ramp the money supply higher and higher for as long as some economic statistic - GDP is a popular one - remains below a targeted outcome. Dive, dive, dive, punt and repeat. There’s an important difference between football and economics, though. One-dimensional approaches are quickly exposed in football, whereas economies don’t yield clear and timely verdicts on whether policies are effective. There are far too many moving parts to prove cause and effect in a way that everyone can understand and agree. Therefore, bad economic policies persist for a long time before they’re finally found out, and this may be the best way to describe the last 100 years or so of America’s economic history.
It’s amazing what people can trick themselves into believing and even shout about when you tell them exactly what they want to hear. It was disappointing to see Brad DeLong’s latest defense of Fed policy, which was published this past weekend and trumpeted far and wide by like-minded bloggers. If you take DeLong’s word for it, you would think that the only policy risk that concerns hedge fund managers is a return to full employment. He suggests that these managers criticize existing policy only because they’ve made bad bets that are losing money, while they naively expect the Fed’s “political masters” to bail them out. Well, every one of these claims is blatantly false. DeLong’s story is irresponsible and arrogant, really. And since he flouts the truth in his worst articles and ignores half the picture in much of the rest, we’ll take a stab here at a more balanced summary of the pros and cons of the Fed’s current policies. We’ll try to capture the discussion that’s occurring within the investment community that DeLong ridicules. Firstly, the benefits of existing policies are well understood. Monetary stimulus has certainly contributed to the meager growth of recent years. And jobs that are preserved in the near-term have helped to mitigate the rise in long-term unemployment, which can weigh on the economy for years to come. These are the primary benefits of monetary stimulus, and we don’t recall any hedge fund managers disputing them. But the ultimate success or failure of today’s policies won’t be determined by these benefits alone – there are many delayed effects and unintended consequences. Here are seven long-term risks that aren’t mentioned in DeLong’s article...
The latest personal income and expenditure report for March was of particularly interesting reading. However, as opposed to the mainstream headlines that immediately reported that despite higher payroll taxes consumers were still spending, and therefore a sign of a strong economy, it was where they were spending that was most telling. In reality, The personal income and spending report does little to brighten the economic picture. The reality is that we now live in a world where "freely traded markets" are an anachronism and fundamental rules simply no longer apply. However, the problem is that such actions continually lead to asset bubbles, and eventual busts, that not only impact economic stability but destroy the financial stability of families. The consumer is clearly delivering a message about the state of the real economy. Eventually, the disconnect between the economy and the markets will merge. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence of such reversions being a positive event.
As of later this month, we’ll receive the final picture on China’s U.S. bond sales over late 2011 and early 2012, and the reaction isn’t likely to be much different than it was last year. But, we argue that there’s actually quite a lot to see. Namely, there’s a brand new reason to be concerned about America’s access to foreign capital. In a nutshell, America needs foreigners to be both willing and able to buy its bonds. China is able but much less willing than it used to be. (Treasury data that isn’t shown here suggests its interest in U.S. securities recovered somewhat in late 2012, but remains far short of the levels of two years ago.) Other countries are willing but not nearly as able as China, notwithstanding the sharp increase in purchases in the recent period. And overall, the message in the preliminary TIC data is more worrisome than it may appear on the surface. Should the final report on April 30th confirm the message, consider it a warning of a potentially disastrous future decline in foreign purchases of U.S. debt.
Data are hard to deal with when your vision is on the wrong side of it. Those wanting to claim there is a recovery underway are having just this problem. These people either have no understanding of economics or they believe falsely that they can inflate “animal spirits” with their hyped reports and that will initiate a recovery. There will not be an economic recovery given the economic policies of this country. A recovery is not unlikely, I would argue it is closer to impossible if not impossible. The reasons for this position are not complicated. In short, the nation has become an out-of-control welfare state that is rapidly destroying the incentives to work or create jobs. Government policies appear designed toward this end. One doesn’t need a high IQ or an advanced degree in economics to understand the problems. There are innumerable factors responsible for the decline of the US. These three important ones will convey why the economy is dying...
There is a chance that something can be done to stop what looks like a slide into an abyss. Those chance are now well below 50-50.