Lately there has been an amusing and very spurious, not to mention wrong, argument among both the "serious media" and the various tabloids, that US households have delevered to the tune of $1 trillion, primarily as a result of mortgage debt reductions (not to be confused with total consumer debt which month after month hits new record highs, primarily due to soaring student and GM auto loans). The implication here is that unlike in year past, US households are finally doing the responsible thing and are actively deleveraging of their own free will. This couldn't be further from the truth, and to put baseless rumors of this nature to rest once and for all, below we have compiled a simple chart using the NY Fed's own data, showing the total change in mortgage debt, and what portion of it is due to discharges (aka defaults) of 1st and 2nd lien debt. In a nutshell: based on NYFed calculations, there has been $800 billion in mortgage debt deleveraging since the end of 2007. This has been due to $1.2 trillion in discharges (the amount is greater than the total first lien mortgages, due to the increasing use of HELOCs and 2nd lien mortgages before the housing bubble popped).
Just when the channel-stuffed world was hoping for some good news, European car registrations pop up to smack the dream back to reality. A 10.8% YoY decline, the biggest drop in two years, makes it 11 months-in-a-row of dropping YoY comps. Before the crisis began, car registrations had risen on average 1.7% YoY each month; in the 4.5 years since they have dropped on average 4.7% YoY each month. The Eurozone year-to-date is -10.5% with Cyprus (-19.4%), Greece (-42.5%), Italy (-20.5%), Portugal (-39.7%), and Spain -11.0%. However, Spain's very recent past has been extreme to say the least with a 36.8% YoY drop from last September. Interestingly, Land Rovers are up 42.3% YTD while Alfa Romeos are down 31.6% YTD (and Mercedes and BMW down around 1% YTD). But apart from that, Europe is doing great - just look at earnings expectations for Q4.
As the Chinese transition from healthy working individuals to couch-potato-like consuming-monkeys, we wonder just what the China of tomorrow will look like. To wit, Shanghai Daily reports that the world's largest online game-maker Blizzard Entertainment (World of WarCraft and StarCraft II) just announced that the number of Chinese online game players has surged to a new high after the upgrading of China's broadband services. There are 120 million online game players in the country, up 4.6% from last year, of the 538 million internet users in mainland China. What will the marginal wage for an iPhone-maker be now that leisure time is becoming more valuable? And what will the average weight and BMI of the young Chinese male be in five years time? We suspect higher than the current 145lbs...
CEOs suggest a major reason they are not spending is 'policy uncertainty', politicians blame the other side for stifling growth because of 'policy uncertainty', and brokers, bankers, & economists whine that the only reason the Dow is not at Bernanke's goal-seek'd 36,000 is the 'policy uncertainty'. If only the 'fiscal cliff' issue would go away - we'd all have a pony and life could go on. Sorry to burst that bubble; as we noted here, the market is priced for a total compromise and earnings expectations appear to imply a full fiscal cliff resolution in Q4. The hope remains that 'even if we were to go off the fiscal cliff, the political reaction will be swift and vengeful and we will see a 'V'-shaped recovery - so do not worry'. There are two small (ok, very large) problems with that thesis: 1) the self-reinforcing shadow-banking collateral squeeze that would occur as asset values dump again and liabilities remain; and 2) the record-high polarization among our political class. Something to ponder as earnings outlooks continue to drop...
This summer Roger Bootle won Lord Wolfson's £250,000 prize for the best advice for a country leaving the European Monetary Union (one may assume that this advice is aimed at Greece). Despite his lengthy and repetitive prize submission, Mr. Bootle's recommendations can be summarized in this one sentence: In complete secrecy and with no prior discussion, redenominate all Greek euro-denominated bank accounts into drachma-denominated accounts and devalue the drachma. That's it! There is no need to cut public spending. Quite the contrary, because public spending adds to the Keynesian concept of aggregate demand, and aggregate demand cannot be allowed to fall. Dr. Philipp Bagus offered the truly liberal alternative. He proposed a long period of public discussion about alternatives to leaving the euro, which would allow ample time for Greeks to move their property out of the greedy reach of their own government, should they decide to do so. The currency crisis might be solved in this manner as Greek banks closed and the Greek government shut down its welfare and regulatory system for lack of funds. The Greek government could repeal legal-tender laws, which currently require Greek citizens to transact business in one currency only — always that issued by the state itself. Concomitantly it could reinstate the drachma as a strong currency backed by gold. Then good money would drive out bad, as people freely chose which currency to use.
There was a time when US schoolchildren, a few short years before they were loaded up with $60,000 a year in unrepayable federal debt (used mostly to purchase various iTrinkets) to pay for community college, were taught that all those people outside the continental US hate its residents "for our freedoms." It must then come as quite a shock for all these kids to learn that what they really meant is that "they hate us for our prisons."
It has been our contention for a very long time now, that the reason most people in positions of power do absolutely nothing for the good of their respective societies even in the face of total systemic collapse is not simply greed, corruption and stupidity. They are totally compromised. As we see in this amazing article from the NY Times, former IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, lived a decadent lifestyle straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut...
UPDATE: Nigel Farage 'Must-See' rant on the' destruction of nation state democracy'
The need to convince any and all that will listen (and one's own self) that the Euro project must be preserved at all costs has never been so obviously politicized as the Nobel crony committee 'blessing' the European Union for bringing peace to a continent at war. While a laudable thing of itself, as JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest notes, by 1954, Germany had already become a stable, liberal, democratic society in one of the most amazing transformations in history given what preceded it ten years earlier. Whether the Marshall Plan helped this, it seems indisputable that conditions for a lasting peace in Europe were already in place by 1954. The notion that the Euro is needed to cement these gains appears to be more about the ambition of specific political movements in Europe/Brussels than anything else. The irony of the Nobel Peace Prize for Europe is that as shown below, it comes at a time of rising social stress, extremist politics, and a deterioration of trust in the very union that is supposed to be providing the social cement.
"The consensus view was that QE3 was going to send the stock market to the moon. Yet the peak level on the S&P 500 was 1,465 on September 14th, the day after the FOMC meeting. The consensus view was that the lagging hedge funds were going to be forced to play some major catch-up and take the stock market to the moon too. Surveys show that the hedge funds have already made this adjustment...Q3 EPS estimates are still coming down and now stand at -3% YoY from -2% at the start of October....this is the first time the Fed embarked on a nonconventional easing initiative with the market overbought and with profits and earning expectations on a discernible downtrend. Not only that, but the fact the pace of U.S. economic activity is still running below a 2% annual rate, which is less than half of what is normal at this stage of the business cycle with the massive amount of government stimulus, is truly remarkable. Keep an eye on the debt ceiling being re-tested — the cap is $16.394 trillion and we are now at $16.119 trillion. This is likely to make the headlines again before year-end — the rating agencies may not be taking off much time for a Christmas break."
While earlier we were presented with an extra serving of hypocrisy courtesy of the Fed's James Bullard who lamented the lack of income for America's "savers", next we get a less than random selection of US CEOs, those of UPS Scott "Logistics spending would be great if only world trade hadn't completely collapsed" Davis, Honeywell's David "Look over there, Isn't Iran bombing something" Cote, NASDAQ's Bob "I destroyed IPOs" Greifeld, and, of course, Larry "About to switch jobs with Tim Geithner" Fink, who via Bloomberg TV get to opine on such issues as the fiscal cliff and America's $16.2 trillion, and very rapidly rising debt. Some of their views: "It's Washington's fault we're not hiring and not spending." Honeywell's Cote says, "If we were playing with fire in the debt ceiling, we'll be playing with nitroglycerine now when it comes to the fiscal cliff." Larry Fink says, "We need to speak out as CEOs…Politicians generally address things when their back's against the wall…We have the threat of going into a recession in the first quarter…This is a very uncertain moment." And thanks to the Fed, which has come at just the wrong moments, and always bailed out Congress every time a difficult decision had to be taken, the likelihood of a benign outcome on the fiscal cliff is far worse, than even Goldman's latest worst case scenario which sees just a 33% probability of resolution before the year end.
Several years ago Jeff Macke had his brief run in with comedic immortality courtesy of the "Car People" Fast Money episode which promptly cost him his job, if generating countless hours of Wall Street laugh out loud humor in the process. Ever since then he has more or less fallen off the financial pundit horizon, which in retrospect is sad, because as he shows here, he still has a fascinating ability to cut through the BS. Because while earlier we explained why Citi's numbers were nothing short of garbage, with the headline spin being used just to fool algos and various other non-carbon based trading lifeforms, using run-on sentences and pretty charts, Macke does this far, far more efficiently, and with far more exuberance than even we thought possible: "There's a genius to it. These numbers mean NO-THING, because they can report whatever they want." The man's still got it, even if no car people were destroyed in the filming of this segment.
One place where the S&P level still does have a modest influence is the number of shorts in the market, which are strategically used by repo desks and custodians (State Street and BoNY), to force wholesale short squeezes at given inflection points, usually just when the bottom is about to drop out. The problem is that even short squeezes are increasingly becoming fewer and far between, for the simple reason that the Fed has managed to nearly anihilate shorters as a trading class with its policy of Dow 36,000 uber alles. This was demonstrated with the latest NYSE Group short interest data, which tumbled to 13.6 billion shares short as of the end of September, or the lowest since early May, just as the market was swooning to its lowest level of 2012 to date.
Let’s step away from the noise for a moment and look at the big picture. This isn’t about doom and gloom, or fear, but objective facts. Undoubtedly, the Western hierarchy dominated by the United States is in a completely unsustainable situation. Across the West, national governments have obligations they simply cannot meet—both to their citizens and their creditors. Once again, this is not the first time history has seen such conditions. In our own lifetimes, we’ve seen the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the tragi-comical hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, and the unraveling of Argentina’s millennial crisis. Plus we can study what happened when empires from the past collapsed. The conditions are nearly identical. Is our civilization so different that we are immune to the consequences?
However, one of the things that we see frequently in history is that this transition occurs gradually, then very rapidly.
Jim Bullard, of the St. Louid Federal Reserve, is currently answering questions following the delivery of prepared remarks. As a reminder, Bullard is a non-voting member of the FOMC this year who in 2010 was the first Fed official to call for a second round of QE. He just said the following:
- Fed’s Bullard Says He’s Concerned About Low Returns to Savers
Now this is beyond mere sheer hypocrisy and pathetic "good Fed cop, bad Fed cop" routine (still waiting for Bill Dudley to disclose what is the deflating hedonic equivalent of food inflation in a NEW iPad world). This is similar to Stalin saying, several days after completing the purges which saw tens of millions of people quietly "disappeared", that he is concerned that the price of graveyard real estate might be in a bubble.
Timberrrrr!... Will Be The Best Performing Asset In Next 7 Years Per Jeremy Grantham; Large Caps To Return 0.0%Submitted by Tyler Durden on 10/15/2012 13:30 -0400
Going forward, when traders yell "Timberrrrrr!" it just may mean the diametrical opposite of what said announcement has traditionally implied. At least according to the latest just released 7 year forecast of various asset class returns as per Jeremy Grantham's GMO. In it, the $100 billion asset manager sees Timber returning an annualized 6.5% over the next 7 years (as of September 2012), outperforming virtually every other asset class tracked by GMO, with Emerging Market stocks (supposedly Africa is envisioned here, as China's debt encumbrance is almost maxed out) second at 6.1%, and International Large stocks in third place. Those who hope to retire with their holdings of US Large Cap firms may want to reconsider, following a 0.0% return in 7 years, underperforming such simple things as cash which GMO sees as returning 0.1% (arguably this implies modest to quite modest deflation in the future). The worst of the worst? US and International bonds, with Inflation Linked bonds underperforming virtually everything with a -2.7% return.