Several hours ago, Syrian president delivered his first public speech in months, addressing the internal military conflict that has gripped his country, and whose key excerpts can be found here. In it he called for a "full national mobilisation" to fight against rebels he described as al Qaeda terrorists. "We meet today and suffering is overwhelming Syrian land. There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country," Assad said in a speech at the opera house in central Damascus. "The nation is for all and we all must protect it." Assad once again blamed the west for provoking and "facilitating" the rebellion, which even the NYT admits is being orchestrated by Al Qaeda, which naturally begs the question: just what is Al Qaeda to the US and to its intelligence agencies - foe or ally? But while providing fodder for the pundits, the speech was largely irrelevant. What does merit attention is the follow up to the story from two weeks ago the Russia sent two squadrons of ship to Syria in mid-December. It appears they have arrived, and just in time to offset the positioning of NATO Patriot missiles along the Turkish-Syria border.
In the eyes of those who run financial markets - not just in the US but all over the world - a “dysfunctional” government is one which puts any impediments whatsoever on unlimited credit creation. Given the $US hundreds of TRILLIONS of “derivatives” extant, any such “limits” or even the thought that there ARE any limits is dangerous in the extreme. These same “markets” get awfully nervous when there is any discussion about “limits” to the issuance of US Treasury debt because that same debt is the ONLY underpinning for the US Dollar which is in turn the ONLY underpinning for the global financial system.
While 88% of hedge funds underperformed in 2012, no doubt relying on tried and true analysis of fundamental valuation, macro-economic trends, and flows (as opposed to a 12-inch ruler), it would appear one young chap by the name of Ken Griffin is doing rather well. As Bloomberg reports, the Citadel LLC fund founder (now gated since 2009) just purchased his second luxury oceanfront property in Palm Beach Florida in less than two months. In fact, Griffin bought the two lots for a total of $79.6mm. The compact-and-bijou house of a mere 6,055 square feet was built in 1988 and previously sold for $29mm in May 2011, was Zestimated at $33.75mm (by Zillow), meaning Mr. Griffin only 'overpaid' by a mere $8mm as he snipped it up a smidge under $42mm. The grander house, of a perfectly reasonable 9,111 square feet previously sold for $20mm in May 2000, was Zestimated at $21mm, and was bid at $38mm by the deal-making Citadel founder. It seems, given Citadel's 21% return through November, that being the Fed's alleged willing HFT-router-of-last-resort in times of 'market' need, has its handsome rewards - though all that sand would just get annoying.
Why must the debt grow every year? To keep the debt-servitude paradigm going. To increase economic activity in a country operating in this type of system, you need to increase the level of credit and thus debt grows in tandem. This is self serving: if debt is the “fuel” to increase economic activity, interest payments will become larger and larger, until eventually it reaches a point where debt can no longer be increased. This point is known as the Minsky moment–when there is no net benefit to extra debt. So there we have it, in our “creditopia” world, if debt does not expand, the economy cannot grow and jobs cannot be created. In order to increase debt, foreigners have to continually finance the ever growing debt by purchasing government bonds and selling consumer products to the US. In turn, the US must increase the level of consumption, decrease savings, and eliminate the threat of any nation posing a risk to the US dollar hegemony. Is this a symbiotic or a parasitic relationship? Is is certainly a relationship that cannot grow forever. It poses an economic risk for ALL nations due to the interconnectedness of the global economy.
With gold prices dropping (notably divergent from the ever expanding global central bank balance sheets) but record-breaking levels of physical gold being purchased, we continue to reflect on the other 'Great Rotation' that we suspect is occurring as the New Year begins - that from paper gold to physical gold. Who better to discuss the nuances of this dilemma than Eric Sprott as he outlines to TrimTabs' Charles Biderman the relative strengths and weaknesses of ETFs like GLD and SLV, physical-based ETFs such as PHYS and PSLV, and physical holdings themselves. While the new meme is that the Fed may be considering pulling back (on its 'flow') sooner than expected, reality is far different (as Bill Gross recently agreed with us) and that fact makes the following brief clip even more compelling.
Back on December 23, we presented one of the past year's most disturbing reports, the BCG's "Ending the Era of Ponzi Finance" which explained, quite succinctly, why the economy of the developed world, which is nothing but one big ponzi scheme, is approaching its inevitable end, in which existing principles will no longer be applicable nor available to kick the can down the road. The drivers for this are numerous (and all listed in the report), with soaring public and private debt only one of the main forces behind the coming collapse into a Keynesian singularity. Yet perhaps the biggest threat of all has nothing to do with the world's balance sheet, but its income statement, and specifically the category for Research and Development, or, as it is better known in refined economic circles, "productivity" - it is here that things are rapidly turning from bad to worse, and why the chart below (which we felt a need to emphasize, hence the repost) is probably the best summation of what the world has to look forward to, or, as the case may be, not.
First it was a German, then an Italian, and now, two months, later, the European self-immolation wave has spread to the country that many expect will be the next one to follow Greece into effective debt default. El Pais reports that an impoverished 57-year-old man who set himself on fire in Málaga Thursday, and subsequently died of his injuries at Carlos Haya hospital. He had third-degree burns on 80 percent of his body and suffered a multi-organ failure. The victim, thought to be of Moroccan origin, had worked in construction for years but was out of a job now, said people who knew him. In the last few months he had been scraping a living with the small change he made guiding cars into parking spaces near the hospital, an illegal practice that is usually overlooked by authorities. The police, who have not yet located his relatives, are not ruling out the possibility of an accident just as the man was lighting up a cigarette. Just two minutes before the event, he bought a pack of cigarettes from a local newsstand whose owner asked him how he was doing.
2012 is a year most asset managers would like to forget. With the S&P returning 16% and Russell 2000 up 16.3%, on nothing but multiple expansion in a world where risk has been eliminated despite persistently declining revenues and cash flows, a whopping 88% of hedge funds, as well as some 65% of large-cap core, 80% of large cap value, and 67% of small-cap mutual funds underperformed the market, according to Goldman's David Kostin. The ongoing absolute outperformance of mutual funds over their 2 and 20 fee sucking hedge fund peers is notable, as this is the second or perhaps even third year in a row it has happened. And while the usual excuse that hedge funds are not supposed to beat the market but a benchmark, and generally protect capital from downside risk is valid, it is irrelevant if any downside risk (see ongoing rout in VIX and net position in the VIX futures COT update) is now actively managed by central banks both directly and indirectly, their HF LPs no longer see the world in that way. In fact as Bloomberg Market's February issue summarizes, some 635 hedge funds closed in 2012, 8.5% than a year earlier, despite a far stronger year for the general indices. The reason: LPs and MPs have simply had enough of holding on to underperformers and get swept up in the momentum of performance chasing, and the result is redemption requests into funds who may have had a positive benchmark year, but underperform relative to the S&P for two or more years, which nowadays is the vast majority of funds.
While prosecuting the wrongdoers is clearly not part of the new normal (see Sokol et al.), what Nanex found this morning beggars belief - both in its method of manipulation and clarity that our regulators are clueless. As they note, the high frequency traders (HFT) are at it again. Contorting the spirit of the rules, because those who wrote the rules aren't technically savvy. On January 4, 2013, we found another instance of HFT morphing their manipulative and illegal quote stuffing strategy in an effort to fly under the radar. Why they don't just stop this manipulative practice altogether tells us a few things. First, this isn't some coding error, this is sophisticated cheating. And second, because they are spending valuable programming time on this strategy, there must be some real economic advantage. Which mean a disadvantage to everyone trading against them.
Central Planners are trying with all their might to force people into behaviors and financial assets that are in direct contrast to their logic as well as long term financial well being. This is the height of immorality, not to mention hubris.
“In general [traders/economists] are trained to analyze the economic data, balance sheets and so on. They’re not trained to predict political decisions. These factors have ruled the lives of fund managers in a more significant manner than what used to be over the past 20 or 30 years.”
The paragraph above pretty much sums it up. There are no markets, there are manipulations.
Ex-Barclays chief 'Austrian' economist Thorsten Polleit provides a few clarifying thoughts on the hyperinflatory endgame (and democracy-crushing impact) of the fiat currency environment. Critically, Polleit notes that fiat currency tends to result in "collective corruption" in societies, and how this then leads to hyperinflation, despite the dangers to society that hyperinflation always brings. Ring some bells? This brief interview (with more detailed article below) stretches from the development of the global fiat currency regimes over the last 40 years to the increasing levels of debt that may (just as Kyle Bass and others have noted) mark the terminal decline of the fiat regime and the self-serving majority electing themselves into a vicious circle. Mises noted:
"The masses... do not conceive any ideas, sound or unsound. They only choose between the ideologies developed by the intellectual leaders of mankind. But their choice is final and determines the course of events. If they prefer bad doctrines, nothing can prevent disaster." If these "uncommon men" become "court intellectuals," the door will be opened for effectively spreading of false theories, supporting government-friendly ideas."
Fed mouthpieces Bullard and Lacker are out in force this morning talking the market back from the edge of yesterday's FOMC Minutes and reassuring us that the economy is going to be weak enough for a lot longer to justify the Fed's actions. However, right at the end of Jim Bullard's interview with CNBC's Steve Liesman, we got a glimpse of the reality behind the curtain as the St. Louis Fed president threw Bernanke under the purge-ry perjury bus... Following a discussion of fiscal policy uncertainty and the need to carefully spend what money we have, Liesman jokingly commented to Bullard that it is "Easy for you to say, you have a lot of dollars to spend; you get to print them!" To which the now foot-in-mouth Bullard replied, "Aaahh; indeed we do." This seems a little different from what Bernanke previously told Congress.
Friday Night Dump: CBO Admits Error, Now Expects Another $600 Billion In Deficits From Obama Tax CutsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/04/2013 18:59 -0400
Two weeks ago, when we commented on the biggest farce in financial thinking at the time (promptly replaced by the even more lunatic platinum coin "idea"), namely that one of the main "spending cut" proposals of the Obama administration, one amounting to $290 billion, was the assertion that the US will save hundreds of billions because, get this, interest rates are now lower than they were before. We commented as follows: "this is where one's Excel refs out, because the interest payment on Treasurys, at least in a non-banana republic, one set to see 120 debt/GDP in 3-4 years, is a function of fiscal decisions (central-planning notwithstanding), and to make the idiotic assumption that one can control interest rates for 10 years (central-planning notwithstanding), just shows what a total farce this whole exercise has become, and also shows that nobody in the administration, or the GOP for that matter, has even modeled out the resultant budget pro forma for the proposed tax hikes and budget "savings" as that would blow up said excel model immediately." We now learn that one other entity that did not fully model out the last minute Fiscal Cliff deus ex, and especially not the recursive debt relationship in a country where half the government spending is funded by debt, is the always amusing CBO (whose epic prediction failure rate has been discussed here on numerous occasions). It appears that they just did, after the close, on Friday. The outcome? Their initial estimate of a $4.0 trillion budget increase was wrong and when one factors in the fact that this incremental spending would have to be funded by, you guessed it, debt, debt which has interest, the full impact of the Obama tax cut rises deficits by 15% to $4.6 trillion over the next decade.
S&P 500 futures lurched in a vol-driven mania above their implicit QE3 highs (stop-run) and yay verily there was much rejoicing as cash S&P 500 reached closing levels not seen since December 2007. The only trouble with all this jubilation - Treasuries rallied all day (so no 'Great Rotation'), high-yield credit was having none of it, and AAPL positively hated it (though financials had their best week since the stress tests in March). Average trade size surged as did volume into these highs and as we noted before, the VIX term-structure is now at its steepest in 5 months - as hedgers shift their positions out past the debt-ceiling deadline (and implicitly crush short-term vol spurring the rally further). But, into the close, S&P 500 futures were decidedly skittish as it appeared we ran out of greater fools for a few seconds at the close (via @nanexllc $1.1B worth of $SPY and 25,000 eMinis in last few seconds). Equities pulled away from the rest of risk-assets in the last 30-minute ramp closing the week right at the QE3-day highs, with the USD +1% on the week.
Wondering where the somewhat out-of-character economic improvements of Q4 2012 data came from - given Sandy and the fiscal cliff uncertainty? Wonder no longer. Charles Biderman, CEO of TrimTabs, has done the data-mining and explains, quite succinctly in this clarifying clip, just what happened in Q4 2012. To wit, after-tax income saw a somewhat impressive (but "don't get too excited" he adds) post-election spike as individuals (and small businesses) front-ran expectations of tax-rises in 2013 by pulling forward income and bonuses etc. into 2012. Q4 income rose by over 6% YoY, which , he believes means Q1 2013 income will be correspondingly lower. Following an epic rant/exposition of the higher taxes US citizens will be paying, Biderman batters GDP (and the government's infinite idiocy) instead focusing on the real recession of lower after-tax take-home-pay and expects Q1 to see the US plunge with the "US economy starting out the new year on its butt!" Then, as a bonus, he destroys the nonsense myth that the US housing recovery is leading us forward.