Unlike under a gold standard, in paper money the rate of interest is subject to massive volatility. Sometimes, the government has its way, fueling rising prices and interest rates. Other times bond speculators front-run the central bank’s unlimited appetite for purchasing government bonds and the rate of interest falls. We are now in year 31 (so far) of this latter phase. As the total accumulated debt increases (feature #450 of irredeemable money is that total debt cannot go down), the effect of a change in the rate of interest becomes larger and larger. Today, even very small fluctuations have a disproportionate impact on the burden of debt incurred at every level, from consumer to business to corporate to government at every level. To say that this is destructive is a great understatement. This, rather than the quantity of money, is what people and especially economists should be focused on.
The link between government spending cuts and social unrest is highly non-linear and extremely troublesome. We first noted the must-read quantification of the relationship between so-called CHAOS of social unrest and spending cuts back in early January and this brief lecture reiterates some of the frightening conclusions. Critically, small spending cuts impact social unrest in very marginal ways but once the cuts begin to rise to 2-3% of GDP then the probability of considerable and painful social unrest becomes much higher. As Hans-Joachim Voth points out in this INET lecture, analogizing between a burning cigarette as a catalyst for a forest fire in an arid landscape, he suggests the rapid build up of combustible material caused by austerity (youth unemployment in Spain perhaps?) could be inflamed by a seemingly small catalyst that would otherwise be ignored in general (a poor immigrant being shot or motorist murdered in a bad part of town) when spending cuts are at the extremes we see across Europe currently. The frightening reality of the non-economic, real social costs of the Troika's handiwork look set to be tested going forward as the link between periods of very heavy unrest (clusters of rioting for instance) and austerity is very strong. His findings on the post-chaos fiscal policies, (what does the government do once social unrest explodes) are perhaps more worrisome in that governments will immediately withdraw from austerity patterns which leads to some tough game-theoretical perspectives on the endgame in Europe in a 'lose-lose proposition' for austerity as the uncertainty shock of these events cause dramatic drops in Industrial Production.
The iconoclastic rating agency, and fully recognized NRSRO to the dismay of some tabloids, which just refuses to play by the status quo rules, and which downgraded the US for the second time last Friday, to be followed soon by other rating agencies as soon as US debt crosses the $16.4 trillion threshold in a few short months, has just done the even more unthinkable and downgraded Fed boss JPMorgan from AA- to A+.
Addressing his perception of lessons learned from the financial crisis, Ben Bernanke is speaking this afternoon on poor risk management and shadow banking vulnerabilities - all of which remain obviously as we continue to draw attention to. However, more worrisome for the junkies is the total lack of QE3 chatter in his speech. While he does note the words 'collateral' and 'repo' the proximity of the words 'Shadow, Institutions, & Vulnerabilities' are awkwardly close.
From the first day of 2012 we predicted, and have done so until we were blue in the face, that 2012 would be a carbon copy of 2011... and thus 2010. Unfortunately when setting the screenplay, the central planners of the world really don't have that much imagination and recycling scripts is the best they can do. And while this forecast will not be glaringly obvious until the debt ceiling fiasco is repeated at almost the same time in 2012 as it was in 2011, we are happy that more and more people are starting to, as quite often happens, see things our way. We present David Rosenberg who summarizes why 2012 is Deja 2011 all over again.
Whether its rating downgrades (which are much more critical than one would imagine given haircuts and collateral shortages), anxiety-inducing elections that could bring tensions in the 'party' that is Europe's political union, or referenda, the next few months have more than their fair share of event risk to navigate. Starting with Italian (and then Spanish banks) next week, it seems the market is starting to sense the squeeze that events could cause.
It appears the chaotic volatility of last Summer is rearing its ugly head once again as credit and equity markets in Europe flip-flop from best performance in months to worst performance day after day. With Spain front-and-center as pivot security (as we have been aggressively noting for weeks), sovereigns and financials are lagging dreadfully once again. The Bloomberg 500 (Europe's S&P 500 equivalent) back near mid January lows, having swung from unchanged to pre-NFP levels back to worst of the week at today's close, European banks are leading the charge lower as the simple fact that liquidity can't fix insolvency is rwit large in bank spreads and stocks. Treasuries have benefited, even as Bunds saw huge flows, outperforming Bunds by 18bps since pre-NFP but it is Portugal +33bps, Spain +22bps, and Italy +9bps from then that is most worrisome. LTRO Stigma remains at its 4 month wides but financials broadly are under pressure as many head back towards pre-LTRO record wides. Europe's VIX is back up near recent highs around 30%. With too-big-to-save Spain seeing record wide CDS and even the manipulated bond market unable to hold up under the real-money selling pressure, the ECB's dry powder in SMP looks de minimus with only unbridled QE (since banks have no more collateral to lend) and the ECB taking the entire Spanish debt stock on its books as a solution, access to capital markets is about to case for Spain (outside of central-bank-inspired reacharounds) and as we noted earlier - every time the ECB executes its SMP it increases the credit risk for existing sovereign bondholders (and implicitly all the Spanish banks). Spain's equity market is a mere 5% above its March 2009 lows (55% off its highs).
Courtesy of the class division SWAT team, we already know all too well that Buffett had a lower tax rate than this secretary. We however have a question: according to just released data, the Obama's paid $789,674 in taxes in 2011...
- OBAMAS PAID 20.5% IN TAXES ON $789,674 IN 2011
So... inquiring minds want to know if the Fairness Expert in Chief paid less than his secretary in 2011?
...Add all these charts up and we get a snapshot of a housing recovery that seems to have stalled or rolled over. The reasons why are apparent: mortgage debt remains elevated, a vast "shadow inventory" of underwater or foreclosed homes remains off the market and household income has stagnated or declined, as reported in What If Housing Is Done for a Generation?.
UPDATE: Break out your Spain CDS 500bps Hats! All-time record wides.
Spanish CDS, at 493bps, have just pushed above their previous record wide closing levels (though remain a few bps below their record intraday wides at 499bps from 11/17/11). The Spanish bond market, which we have numerous times indicated does not reflect the economic realities since it is so dominated by LTRO-buying and government reach-arounds, remain 45bps off their record wide spreads to Bunds. BBVA (430bps) and Santander (415bps) are also close to their record wides back in late November as their stock prices plummet.
Art Cashin goes through the history of Friday the 13th on Wall Street, and tells us it has a slight upward bias, being "up 55% to 60% of the time." Just don't tell that to Europe today, and especially Spain and Italian banks, both of which are getting monkeyhammered at this moment.
UMichigan Confidence Drops For The First Time Since August 2011, Below Expectations - Drop Not Big EnoughSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/13/2012 10:05 -0400
As predicted earlier, UMich had no choice but to miss, because in centrally planned Bizarro markets only weak economic data leads to a rise in risk. Sure enough, with expectations of 76.2, the same as the March print, Consumer Confidence posted only its first decline since August, while missing expectations, printing at 75.7. And while a miss on its own would have led to a surge in stocks as NEW QE WOULD BE IMMINENT ANY SECOND NOW, the miss was less than the whisper number of 73.2 predicted, and as such this was merely one month of coincident data propaganda flushed down the drain. Also not helping things is that the Expectations index printed at 72.5, up from 69.8 and the highest since September 2009. With hope still so high it is hardly likely that the Fed will go ahead and appease everyone. Hope first has to be brutalized before Bernanke comes in to save the day and make the Fed appear like the 401(k)night in shining armor.
As Spanish CDS surge and bonds shrug off the very recent gloss of a 'successful' Italian debt auction, the sad reality we pointed out this morning is the increasing dependence between Spanish banks, the sovereign's ability to borrow, and the ECB. As ING rates strategist Padhraic Garvey notes this morning, the bulk of the LTRO2 proceeds were taken down by Italian (26%) and Spanish (36% of the total) and the latter is even more dramatic given the considerably smaller size of Spanish banking assets relative to Italy. The hollowing out of the Spanish banking system, via encumbrance (ECB liquidity now accounts for 8.6% of all Spanish banking assets), is a very high number - on par with Greek, Irish, and Portuguese levels around 10% where their systems are now fully dependent on the ECB for the viability of their banks. His bottom line, Spain is not looking good here and while plenty of chatter focuses on the ECB's ability to use its SMP (whose longer-term effectiveness is reduced due to scale at EUR214bn representing just 3% of Eurozone GDP), consider what happened in Greece! The ECB did not take a Greek haircut and so the greater the amount of Greek debt the ECB bought, the greater the eventual haircut the private sector was forced to take. By definition, every Spanish bond that the ECB buys in its SMP program increases the default risk that private sector holders are left with.