Now that the USPS is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy every day, there are those who say the post office is simply not charging enough for its services. On the other hand, there are those who say no matter what the USPS charges it would always, being a government institution, immediately drown out any revenue increase with a more than commensurate surge in headcount (i.e., expenses) that offset any increase in postage stamp prices, and drown out any possibility for it to stay cash neutral (being non-profit), forget turning a profit. So at the end of the day the age old question arises: should the USPS merely keep hiking prices, or should it do what the US government should have done long ago and cut overhead across the board. Because as the chart below shows, while the nominal surge in stamp prices is more than obvious, it has managed quite successfully to stay indexed with inflation. In which case the question becomes: what would Americans be willing to pay for a stamp?
While we are not completely shy of saying we-told-you-so, in the case of the players in Solyndra's fantastic rise and fall, we are more than happy to. Back in September we highlighted Goldman Sachs' key role in the financing rounds of the now bankrupt solar company and this evening MarketWatch (and DowJones VentureWire) delves deeper and highlights how the squid has largely stayed out of the headlines (what's the opposite of lime-light?) in this case despite its seemingly critical assistance and support from inception to pre-destruction. Goldman's involvement in Solyndra, and its lofty valuation projections, lent credibility to the company and helped rouse investor interest and it was this private interest that was cited by DoE officials as a considerable factor in its loan guarantee program. As we said before, anywhere you look, Goldman has been there and left its mark...
Gallup Finds Recent Job Boost Due To "Temp And Part-Time" Hiring; Underemployment Greater Than Prior YearSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/05/2011 20:10 -0400
While the BLS unemployment number, fudged strategically to lower the denominator, or the total labor force, may have come well better than expected (as somehow miraculously ever more people find the shadow economy a more hospitable place where to make their money and drop off the BLS roll forever) we once again go to that trusty fallback, the monthly Gallup poll of underemployment. What we find here is rather different from what the BLS, and the administration would like us to believe, namely that "underemployment, a measure that combines the percentage of workers who are unemployed with the percentage working part time but wanting full-time work, is 18.1% in November, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment. That is up from 17.8% a month ago and 17.2% a year ago." Said simply, "many employers appear to have chosen to hire part-time rather than full-time employees for this holiday season." Naturally, this should come as no surprise: it was first discussed here in May, when we said: "As the attached chart shows, since the start of the depression, America has lost 9.1 million full time jobs, offsetting this by a gain of 2.3 million part time jobs. No need to outsource to Asia any more: America now outsources jobs to temp agencies. And so the transition of America into a part-time worker society, first discussed in December of 2010 continues." (the attached chart can be seen here). As for the Gallup chart which comes from the real economy, not from some seasonally fudged, birth/death adjusted grotesque model deep in the bowels of 2 Massachusetts Ave NE Washington, here it is.
Prior to 2008 it was generally understood that the profession hardly merited its claims of its own predictive utility. So the failure to assign enough risk to such a crisis as befell the developed world in 2008 was, frankly, no surprise. But in the aftermath of the crisis, economics, in its professional form, has revealed itself to be damagingly disconnected from observable reality. A glaring example of this is how it cannot come to any agreement as to how the debt crisis occurred, and accordingly remains quite confused in its proffered solutions. Mostly the profession remains curiously naive about the nature of debt, an understanding of which is more critical than ever as the developed world enters a 'slow' to 'no-growth' phase of its history. Indeed, many of the papers, interviews, and op-eds from central bankers and economists in the face of our present-day sovereign debt crisis are little more than an eerie restatement of the discussions which took place about private-sector debt from 2006-2008.
While we will leave readers alone when reading what the GMO head has dubbed the "shortest quarterly letter ever", we want to emphasize one point, namely Grantham's projection of how the market will perform in the next 10 years. The squeamish may want to look away: "No Market for Young Men.” Historians would notice that all major equity bubbles (like those in the U.S. in 1929 and 1965 and in Japan in 1989) broke way below trend line values and stayed there for years. Greenspan, neurotic about slight economic declines while at the same time coasting on Volcker’s good work, introduced an era of effective overstimulation of markets that resulted in 20 years of overpriced markets and abnormally high profit margins. In this, Greenspan has been aided by Bernanke, his acolyte, who has continued his dangerous policy. The first of the two great bubbles that broke on their watch did not reach trend at all in 2002, and the second, in 2009 – known by us as the first truly global bubble – took only three months to recover to trend. This pattern is unique. Now, with wounded balance sheets, perhaps the arsenal is empty and the next bust may well be like the old days. GMO has looked at the 10 biggest bubbles of the pre-2000 era and has calculated that it typically takes 14 years to recover to the old trend. An important point here is that almost no current investors have experienced this more typical 1970’s-type market setback. When one of these old fashioned but typical declines occurs, professional investors, conditioned by our more recent ephemeral bear markets, will have a permanent built-in expectation of an imminent recovery that will not come. For the record, Exhibit 1 shows what the S&P 500 might look like from today if it followed the average fl ight path of the 10 burst bubbles described above. Not very pretty."
Last week, while the market was soaring as news of the upcoming Fed's FX swap lines was being leaked, the general media's narrative goalseeked to the stock spike was that it was a function of "record" Black Friday sales. Alas, as often the case, there is some unpleasant fine print to go alongside this seemingly bullish proclamation. David Rosenberg explains why the shopping bonanza hangover is coming, and why, just like in the cash for clunkers case, it means that a late November shopping record means an imminent plunge in retail traffic...as soon as the bills come in.
Here Comes The S&P Downgrade Barrage - Full Statement, In Which S&P Says France May Get Two Notch DowngradeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/05/2011 17:26 -0400
From S&P: "Standard & Poor's Ratings Services today placed its long-term sovereign ratings on 15 members of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU or eurozone) on CreditWatch with negative implications. .. We expect to conclude our review of eurozone sovereign ratings as soon as possible following the EU summit scheduled for Dec. 8 and 9, 2011. Depending on the score changes, if any, that our rating committees agree are appropriate for each sovereign, we believe that ratings could be lowered by up to one notch for Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and by up to two notches for the other governments. [THIS MEANS FRANCE]"
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services today placed the 'AAA' long-term sovereign credit ratings on the Republic of Austria on CreditWatch with negative implications....weakening asset quality in Austrian banks' securities and loan portfolios, particularly in Central and Eastern European subsidiaries, could in our view increase the risk of the need for additional capital injections by the Austrian government, or similar interventions.
The CreditWatch placement is prompted by our concerns about the potential impact on France of what we view as deepening political, financial, and monetary problems within the eurozone. To the extent that these eurozone-wide issues permanently constrain the availability of credit to the economy, France's economic growth outlook--and therefore the prospects for a sustained reduction of its public debt ratio--could be affected. Further, it is our opinion that the lack of progress the European policymakers have made so far in controlling the spread of the financial crisis may reflect structural weaknesses in the decision-making process within the eurozone and European Union. This, in turn, informs our view about the ability of European policymakers to take the proactive and resolute measures needed in times of financial stress. We are therefore reassessing the eurozone's record of debt-crisis management and its implications for our view on the effectiveness of policymaking in France....If we change one or more scores, we could lower the long-term rating by up to two notches. Conversely, if the above concerns were mitigated by what we consider to be appropriate policy action, we could affirm the long-term rating at 'AAA'.
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services today placed its 'AAA' long-term unsolicited sovereign credit rating on the Federal Republic of Germany on CreditWatch with negative implications. At the same time we affirmed the 'A-1+' short-term unsolicited sovereign credit rating on Germany.... The CreditWatch placement is prompted by our concerns about the potential impact on Germany of what we view as deepening political, financial, and monetary problems within the eurozone. To the extent that these eurozone-wide issues permanently constrain the availability of credit to the economy, Germany's economic growth outlook--and therefore the prospects for a sustained reduction of its public debt ratio--could be affected. Further, it is our opinion that the lack of progress the European policymakers have made so far in controlling the spread of the financial crisis may reflect structural weaknesses in the decision-making process within the eurozone and European Union. This, in turn, informs our view about the ability of European policymakers to take the proactive and resolute measures needed in times of financial stress. We are therefore reassessing the eurozone's record of debt-crisis management and its implications for our view on the effectiveness of policymaking in Germany.
High yield credit spreads were the first to show signs of disappointment this morning but this seemed more due to technical relationships in the CDS index market as HYG stormed ahead with stocks. Commodities had notably cracked early on this morning and were trending lower already as we broke the FT rumor of broad S&P downgrades in euro sovereigns. All markets reacted instantly, no questions asked, and while IG, HY, and the S&P dropped together, it was the drops in commodities as the USD strengthened that were optically of the highest magnitude. TSYs also instantly reacted and were another major outperformer - drastically beating Bunds on the day. ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) was much less volatile than broad risk assets overnight but as Europe opened markets started to move closely together in a positive risk mode. CONTEXT (the broad risk basket) was less positive that ES in the US morning session but as we sold off and closed they were closely in sync once again as every member of the basket was contributing to risk aversion. Financials outperformed but were well off their intraday highs as a sector with the majors closing mixed (e.g. BAC near lows and MS near highs) but we note that financials were the most net sold (especially the majors) in corporate bond land.
Some late day covering lifted 30Y TSY yields and EUR strengthened against the USD (European banks repatriating ahead of their open?) helping CONTEXT and elevating ES into the close. ES was on its own relative to credit though as it tore back up to try and regain VWAP.
Just as we noted earlier from the leak to the FT, Bloomberg is now reporting further that
S&P Said to Place All 17 Euro Nations on Rating Downgrade Watch
The AAA aspect is probably the most critical still and the differentiation between Austria and France and the rest of the AAA European sovereigns has been plain to see for a while but the major direct impact of this move will be on EFSF bonds (and the entire support structure) which managed to rally back from just over 200bps to 148bps close today.
EUR Tumbles: S&P About To Put Europe's AAA Club (Including Germany, France And Austria) On "Creditwatch Negative"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 12/05/2011 14:41 -0400
Here it comes. From the FT: "Standard and Poor’s has warned Germany and the five other triple A members of the eurozone that they risk having their top-notch ratings downgraded as a result of deepening economic and political turmoil in the single currency bloc. The US ratings agency is poised to announce later on Monday that it is putting Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Luxembourg on “creditwatch negative”, meaning there is a one-in-two chance of a downgrade within 90 days. It warned all six governments that their ratings could be lowered to AA+ if the creditwatch review failed to convince its experts. Markets have been braced for a potential downgrade of France but few expected Germany’s top rating to be called into question. With regard to Germany, S&P said it was worried about “the potential impact (...) of what we view as deepening political, financial, and monetary problems with the European economic and monetary union.” Standard and Poor’s has warned Germany and the five other triple A members of the eurozone that they risk having their top-notch ratings downgraded as a result of deepening economic and political turmoil in the single currency bloc." How this critical news was leaked, we have no idea. However, what is important is that now may be a good time to panic, unless Allianz has another CDO Quadratic plan up its sleeve...