It is no secret that when it comes to attention spans and 'deep thought', Americans would rather be at the movies. After all, for a country which prides itself on its distractability and sales of ADHD medications, the only thing that matters is the line up of entertainment. Perhaps one reason why last summer's debt ceiling fiasco ended up being such a popular thriller with the masses is that the movie lineup at the time was less than inspiring, leading to a 1.4% decline in summer theater attendance. Which begs the question: what is in store for this year? Because as we have noted, we already know that the US debt ceiling will likely be breached sometime in September, leading into the presidential election, and as a result Americans will demand distraction, or else there is an all too real possibility the same market crash as happened in August of 2011, may recur. So what are the distractions in store for the herd? Courtesy of BofA and the Hollywood Stock Exchange, here is the complete summer lineup, coupled with the HSX movie stock price (an indicator of expected revenues). Will it be enough to offset reality setting in with a thud? You decide.
As Europe's exuberance from the LTROs fades (with Italian banks now negative YTD, Sovereigns wider than LTRO2 levels, and financials desparately divided by the LTRO Stigma) Jefferies David Zervos uncovers the sad reality that faces peripheral creditors and Northern Europeans - as we noted a month ago here. The 'success' of the LTRO monetization scheme (as opposed to EFSF/ESM transfer dabacles) is what enabled the Greek restructuring, and as Zervos notes, the losses that the big boys (Spain and Italy) need to take will not be taken via a haircut but a monetization as the number 1 rule is we must always assume that losses will be taken in a way that protects the large northern banks, northern jobs and most importantly Northern politicians. If the loss realization is not managed correctly (and losses there will be), then the ugly truth will escape but the North's large-scale vendor-financing scheme with the periphery will have to continue - even in the knoweldge that the debt will never get paid back.
The income and savings of Northern workers must be ploughed (directly or indirectly) into the rest-of-Europe or the entire structure becomes insolvent and the breaking of that social contract (that they will be looked after when they are old) will inevitably lead to revolt and nasty nationalist political forces being unleashed. The hope to avoid this is the 'wealth illusion' as the workers of the north can never be allowed to realize they have only 50% of their worth in reality. Ireland will be next on the loss-realization-monetization path but as we move from relatively small and containable sovereigns to the big-boys, the idea that Spain and Italy will roll over and accept a decade of austerity in exchange for a haircut is pure folly. These countries hold too much clout in the Eurozone and their threat of exit is a material threat to the northern jobs and hence northern politicians. The only way the northern politicians will be able to save face when it comes to Spain and Italy is through massive monetary policy accommodation. Inflation will rebalance Europe; but let's hope that the process of restating northern wealth and wage rates does not lead to revolt in the northern streets. The politicians will need to carefully execute this trade.
The only European "thinktank" that has been more correct about predicting developments in the continent than any of its peers ("Greece will never default" - nuf said), has released a new briefing, this time looking at the latest European hotbed of trouble (which is not new at all, just the realization that the LTRO benefit has faded has finally set in), Spain, and specifically if its bank will be forced to seek a Eurozone bailout. OpenEurope is diplomatic about it but the conclusion is that all signs point to yes. Furthermore, as recent general strikes across the country, coupled with occasional rioting, showed, Rajoy's agenda of enacting austerity which will be critical to receive German assistance simply to make Spain the latest German debt slave, may have some problems being enacted. Yet the biggest catalyst for the housing-heavy exposed Spanish banks is that, as Open Europe finds, of the €400 billion in loans made to residential sector, €80 billion is toxic. And only €50 billion in reserves are available. Hence the simple math: at least a €30 billion shortfall will need to come from Europe. And this assume no further declines in home price, which however are set for a record price drop this year. So... LTRO 3 anyone as the focus once again shifts to "deja vu Greece?"
Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev, a non Executive member of the GoldCore Investment Committee, has again analysed the data of US Mint coin sales in Q1 2012 and has looked at the data in their important historical context going back to 1987. He finds that the data regarding gold coin sales in Q1 2012 confirms that there is “no hysteria and no bubble here”. Dr Gurdgiev finds that while volume of sales in Q1 2012 fell from the quite high levels seen Q1 2009, 2010 and 2011, demand was much stronger than “in the pre-crisis average for 2000-2007.” Also of note is the fact that despite the worst financial and economic crisis the modern world has ever seen being experienced since 2008 demand has remained below the record levels seen in the aftermath of the Asian debt crisis and unfounded Y2K concerns. Interestingly, Dr Gurdgiev finds that the historic data (since 1987) shows that the "gold price has virtually nothing to do with demand for US Mint coins - in terms of volume of gold sold via coins." He finds that the demand for gold coins has little to do with the price in general and that “something other than price movements drives demand for coins”.
When one cuts out all the noise, the only true purpose of aggressive (or not) central bank asset expansion, is to be a "buyer" of last resort of sovereign debt funding. Think of it as the source of credit money demand (and hence supply) when every other sector is deleveraging, and when a given Treasury authority needs to pump trillions in debt into the market but when nobody can afford to lever up and buy said incremental debt. Call it monetization, call it funding the deficit, call it whatever: that's what it is. And when people think of monetization, they think, first and foremost of the Chairman, who recently was caught praising the fiat system at a university named for a person who said the following prophetic line: "Paper money has had the effect... it will ever have, to ruin commerce, oppress the honest, and open the door to every species of fraud and injustice." Irony aside, when one cuts to the chase, and ignores even further noise about monetization being direct, indirect, sterilized, shadow, etc, there are just two metrics that are relevant: change in sovereign debt and change in Central Bank Assets. In this regard, of the US' $5.5 trillion in sovereign debt increase, the Fed matched Geithner for $2.0 trillion of the total, or 37%. An admirable number and certainly better than the BoE's 29%. Yet who gets the absolute top prize? Why none other than the ECB, which with $2 trillion in expansion (of which about 60% took place under Goldman apparatchik Mario Draghi in just the past 6 months) represents a whopping 63% of total Eurozone sovereign debt expansion of $3.1 trillion!
European cash equities are trading in the red heading towards the US session, with particular underperformance in the periphery as financials continue to remain the biggest laggard. The EU session so far has consisted of downbeat commentary in regards to both Ireland and Portugal. An EU/ECB report noted that, Portuguese debt is now predicted to peak at 115% of GDP in 2013 and that contraction in 2012 is likely more pronounced than thought. Elsewhere, the Irish Fiscal panel said Ireland may need extra budget cuts to reach its 2012 target and 2012 growth has weakened. In terms of economic releases the UK observed a stronger than expected reading on its Construction PMI hitting a 21-month high, which saw some brief strength in GBP.
- China's Central Banker to Fed: Act Responsibly (WSJ)
- Spain's debt to jump to 78 percent of GDP: De Guindos (Reuters)
- Rajoy Needs All the Luck He Can Get (WSJ)
- Spain Faces Risks in Budget Refit (WSJ)
- Top JP Morgan banker resigns to fight abuse fine (Reuters)
- Reinhart-Rogoff See No Quick U.S. Recovery Even as Data Improve (Bloomberg)
- Program to help spur spending in domestic sector (China Daily)
- Barnier hits out at lobbying ‘rearguard’ (FT)
- U.S. CEOs' take-home pay climbs on stock awards (Reuters)
The "down in European hours, and surge as soon as Europe is closed" trade is once again so well telegraphed even Mrs. Watanabe is now in it. Sure enough US futures are red as European shares slide for the second consecutive day, with 16 out of 19 sectors down, led by banks, travel and leisure. Spanish and Portuguese bond yields are up. Not much data overnight, except for Chinese Non-manufacturing PMI which rose modestly from massively revised numbers: February adjusted to 57.3 from 48.4; January to 55.7 from 52.9 - and that, BLS, is how you do it. European PPI rose 3.6% Y/Y on estimates of a 3.5% rise, while the employment situation, or rather lack thereof, in Spain gets worse with an 8th consecutive increase in jobless claims, rising by 38,769 to 4.75 million. Bloomberg reports that Spanish home prices are poised to fall the most on record this year, leaving one in four homeowners owing more than their properties are worth, as the government forces banks to sell real-estate holdings. Francois Hollande, France’s Socialist presidential candidate, widened his lead over President Nicolas Sarkozy in voting intentions for the second round of the 2012 election, a BVA poll showed. Italian bank stocks are notably down and today seems set to be the third consecutive day in which we see trading halts in Intesa and Banca Popolare. Few more weeks of this and the financial short-selling ban is coming back with a vengeance. Yet all of this is irrelevant: the bad news will simply mean the global central banks will pump more money, putting even more cracks in the monetary dam wall, and the only question is how long before US stocks decide to front-run the European close, and whether European stocks will rise in sympathy, just because they get to close one more day.
You have publicly gone on record with some off-the-wall assertions about the gold standard. What made you think you could get away with it? Your best strategy would have been to ignore gold. Although I concede that with the endgame of the regime of irredeemable paper money near, you might not be able to pretend that people aren’t talking and thinking about gold. You can’t win, Ben. In this letter I will address your claims and explain your errors so that the whole world can see them, even if you cannot.
World's Largest Solar Plant, With Second Largest Ever Department of Energy Loan Guarantee, Files For BankruptcySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/02/2012 - 19:14
Solyndra was just the appetizer. Earlier today, in what will come as a surprise only to members of the administration, the company which proudly held the rights to the world's largest solar power project, the hilariously named Solar Trust of America ("STA"), filed for bankruptcy. And while one could say that the company's epic collapse is more a function of alternative energy politics in Germany, where its 70% parent Solar Millennium AG filed for bankruptcy last December, what is relevant is that last April STA was the proud recipient of a $2.1 billion conditional loan from the Department of Energy, incidentally the second largest loan ever handed out by the DOE's Stephen Chu. That amount was supposed to fund the expansion of the company's 1000 MW Blythe Solar Power Project in Riverside, California. From the funding press release, "This project construction is expected to create over 1,000 direct jobs in Southern California, 7,500 indirect jobs in related industries throughout the United States, and more than 200 long-term operational jobs at the facility itself. It will play a key role in stimulating the American economy,” said Uwe T. Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Solar Trust of America and Executive Chairman of project development subsidiary Solar Millennium, LLC." Instead, what Solar Trust will do is create lots of billable hours for bankruptcy attorneys (at $1,000/hour), and a good old equity extraction for the $22 million DIP lender, which just happens to be NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, another "alternative energy" company which last year received a $935 million loan courtesy of the very same (and now $2.1 billion poorer) Department of Energy, which is also a subsidiary of public NextEra Energy (NEE), in the process ultimately resulting in yet another transfer of taxpayer cash to NEE's private shareholders.
As it now stands, the US economy faces a “fiscal cliff” in early 2013 – meaningful Government spending cuts AND tax increases at the household level. Nothing like a double whammy, now is there? Unquestionably this is one of the reasons why the Fed has pledged to leave short-term interest rates low for some time. So what happens if nothing is changed and both tax increases and spending cuts are allowed to materialize? Although it’s an approximation, the deadly combo could shave 1.5% plus from US GDP next year. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office are for a more meaningful contractionary impact. And that’s before the ultimate global economic fallout influence of Europe and China slowing. But there is a larger and very important issue beyond this, although the “cliff” is something investors will not ignore and could be very meaningful to forward economic and financial market outcomes, especially given the relative complacent market mood of the moment.
In the first of two major bankruptcy stories du jour (the next one coming up shortly), we learn that AFA Foods, best known for being the maker of "pink slime", and a portfolio company of labor unions and Clinton afficionado Ron Burkle and his PE firm Yucaipa, has just filed for bankruptcy. The reason? The sudden public realization what pink slime is, and just how prevalent it is - perhaps it is best to think of it as the Bernie Madoff of the food industry - it was always there, yet it took a wholesale shift in public awareness and consciousness for the firm to realize it would have been prudent to come up with a slightly different name for its ground-beef product. As for whether or not the company is going to the pink sheets, well no. But one thing is certain: the management team is about to get a pink slip.