As if our recent discussion of Austerity were not enough, Citi's Steve Englander invokes 'String theory' to open the door to multiple universes, and in one of them Paul Krugman is undoubtedly Fed Chairman. Start with the assumption that a Paul Krugman Fed would advocate strong fiscal and monetary measures and tolerate a significant run-up in inflation. The question is how the USD would respond in this world. The presumption is that the Krugman Fed would cooperate by financing the fiscal expansion, allowing government spending or (or in a very strange Republican Krugman parallel universe) tax cuts to have a real impact without affecting government debt, making a strong distinction between pumping liquidity into the banking system and directly into the real economy. In conventional terms, this is Financial Repression 101, but inflation is desired, achieved and beneficial. As Krugman points out there is a cost to an extended period of long-term unemployment. The bottom line is that unless you make low inflation a canonical virtue, you have to compare the long-term losses from lower credibility (if they exist) against the long-term gains from moving to full employment quicker (if they exist).
I was approached recently by a member of our Sovereign Man community who filed the paperwork to relinquish US citizenship some time ago. Long story short, after an incomprehensibly long wait, the US government finally sent him a reply: Application DENIED. Absolutely shocking. That you even have to ‘apply’ to relinquish what you never signed up for is intellectually insulting. That you cannot do so freely, and immediately, is nothing short of totalitarian. It’s still an embryonic movement, though more and more US citizens are being driven to divorce their country. Last year nearly 1,600 people gave up US citizenship, up from 1,485 in 2010, 731 in 2009, and 226 in 2008. While some renunciants have philosophical misgivings about being American, most do it for tax reasons. There’s a growing number of expats who, despite living abroad for years, are still paying huge portions of their income to Uncle Sam.
Just as we predicted this morning, as soon as Europe FX/Credit markets closed, US equities proceeded to meltup celebrating the claims data 'improvement week-over-week' in this bizarro world we live in. ES (the S&P 500 e-mini future) has broken up and out of its 3-week range to run the stops above the pre-Non-Farm-Payroll close levels from 4/5. Gold has been relatively outperforming today and on a beta-adjusted basis, the S&P has just melted up to meet Gold's enthusiasm. Ahead of tomorrow's GDP data, it seems the worst-case scenario (from a market meltup momentum perspective) is a small miss - not quite cool enough to kick Bernanke into QE action and not quite warm enough to juice the self-sustaining recovery bulls into action (especially as the earnings picture is starting to fade a little here). 1400 next? 1404 for April green? ES volume is considerably lighter than average once again - as it has been for the last 3 days of exuberance.
Suddenly, everywhere you look, “austerity” has become a 4 letter word. Clearly it wasn’t excessive spending that caused too much debt. Surely we didn’t hit a financial crisis in spite of excessive spending, nope, it is all the fault of austerity. In the rush to avoid supporting anything that could be viewed as “austerity” we have lost sight of what austerity is, and how it can impact the economy. Let’s not let politicians get away with claiming everything that is “austerity” is bad. We too often confused “conjecture” with “fact”. Lately I have seen a lot written about how much better the job situation is today than it would have been without all the policies of Obama, Geithner, and Bernanke. It is treated as fact, yet it is merely conjecture.
The symbiosis between the Keynesian expansion of the economy and the growth of suburbs in US cities has been ably discussed by Beauregard (2006). Sprawl was driven by the flow of money, the "American dream" of owning a home in the suburbs, and facilitated by the widespread ownership of cars. The suburbs were designed with cars in mind. The growth of suburbs fulfilled two roles. Lots of houses were available for new buyers, which kept prices down; and city governments discovered that developer's fees and the new land taxes initially exceeded the maintenance cost of the new roads and infrastructure built to support them,. Unfortunately, as time passed and the infrastructure aged, soon maintenance costs exceeded tax revenues, necessitating another round of growth. Suburbs were able to maintain the required level of growth for a few decades, but we are reaching the point everywhere (it seems) where there cannot be enough new growth to maintain our crumbling infrastructure. The mindset of the "ownership society" really drove demand for housing, and the best places to expand were in the southwest, so that cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas really grew. Low interest rates plus easy money led to a bubble in house prices and an explosion of sprawl. The Austrian school of economics teaches us that easy money leads to malinvestment. Suburban growth certainly seems to qualify. Our urban sprawl malinvestment has left us with the interwoven problems of unlivable cities, financial crisis, and increased death and destruction from natural disasters.
As we noted (here and here) earlier this week, the world increasingly looks like 'Japan' with little aggregate way out. The following chart perhaps confirms the repressive wave of ongoing intervention across the developed world. Extrapolating trends into the future implies that since the world's central banks will need to have a short-term rate of negative 2% by 2020, there is a lot of QE-equivalent easing still to come. As Simon Black noted, "The ironic triumph of the Keynesians means that, in trying to save the economy, our central banks may end up destroying it completely by means of the printing press; as a consequence, we now get to experience some of the full-on horror of the Japanese malaise."
Holland entered the bond vigilantes' radar screens abruptly this weekend, following some vague rumbling that it may be downgraded if it doesn't get its deficit in order, and culminating with a cabinet collapse once the critical austerity deal was unable to be reached. Subsequently the cabinet resigned en masse. It seems it may have to be now reappointed en masse with headlines blasting that...
- DUTCH PARLIAMENT MAJORITY BACKS BUDGET DEAL, ANP REPORTS
The paradox is that in this market, in which more European turbulence is actually good for risk assets as it brings the inevitable next LTRO/easing event closer, any diffusion of Dutch tensions would be market neutral. Yup: enjoy the Constanza market.
Confirming the lack of decoupling in major developed economies (which we noted yesterday), US macro data (as tracked by Citigroup's ECO Surprise Index) has turned negative for the first time in six months. Having trended lower (i.e. missed expectations to the downside) for much of the last few months, this shift now puts aggregate US macro data in the deteriorating case and infers considerable risks of downside to equity prices in the next three months - or did Bernanke raise his put strike yesterday?
Common sense suggests that if employment is rising, the stock market should follow as more jobs means more wages, sales and profits. We see this correlation in the overlay of the S&P 500 (SPX) and employment until the latest recession and stock market Bull run-up: this is clearly a jobless "recovery" yet the stock market has more than doubled. Is this decoupling of employment from the stock market "the new normal" or an aberration that's about to revert to historical correlation? To do that, the market would need to fall in half or the economy would need to add 10+ million jobs in short order. If we combine Peak Oil with Peak Credit, we get a household sector with stagnant disposable income burdened by servicing monumental debt loads. Here is a chart of household liabilities and wages/salaries, unadjusted for inflation. Household debt has completely outstripped income. These charts do not paint a picture of robust recovery, they sketch a grim picture of stagnant household incomes and rising costs for fuel and debt service.
There is no shortage of money in the world. Thanks to global Central Banks' extreme activism money supply has exploded. Since August 2011, the Fed has been less of a full-time player in this effort but in passing the baton, the rest of the world did not let them down with most notably the ECB having taken over with its own version of free-money printing for much of the first quarter - driving the ratio of outside (central-bank-driven) money relative to inside (the bank themselves creating money via credit) to record highs as a stealth nationalization of credit is underway (though as we noted earlier this morning - the transmission mechanism is not working). So where oh where is all that hard-earned free-money going? The story bifurcates here. In the US, non-financial corporates have grown their war-chests as high as they have ever been (and continue to do so) after being burned by short-term financing stresses and knowing (despite all outward media appearances) that the next abyss is potentially around the corner (given real-life growth estimates becoming more and more binary/extreme as opposed to normalized with a range). In Europe, the 'excess' has flowed to the core driving, as Sean Corrigan notes, what some surveys suggest is a consumer and housing boom (read mal-allocation of capital once again) in the decade-long stagnant German real-estate market. All that extra cash, however, while helping revenues and margins for non-financial corporates in the US has left wage growth languishing. So the sad reality of the Keynesian 'multiplier' dogma is that rather than garbage-in, garbage-out - it is freshly printed money-in, nothing-out-to-the-real-economy as each actor in the game becomes increasingly driven by a sense of self-preservation. Is it any wonder that energy/raw materials prices (as evidenced most recently by Whirlpool's comments this morning) are rising when firms are awash in cash? But of course, as the old-saying goes, a-biflation-a-day-keeps-the-Fed-hawks-at-bay.
The Bailout Of The US Postal Service Begins: Cost To Taxpayers - $110,000 Per Union Vote "Saved Or Gained"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/26/2012 10:16 -0400
A week ago, when reading between the lines of what had heretofore been considered an inevitable USPS episode of austerity in which hundreds of thousands of labor union workers would lose their jobs but in the process would streamline a thoroughly outdated and inefficient US Postal Office bureaucracy, we asked if a US Postal Service bailout was imminent, focusing on the following: "Enter Ron Bloom, Lazard, and the very same crew that ended up getting a taxpayer funded bailout for GM. From the WSJ: "The Postal Service's proposal to close thousands of post offices and cut back on the number of days that mail is delivered "won't work" and would accelerate the agency's decline, according to the six-page report by Ron Bloom, President Barack Obama's former auto czar, and investment bank Lazard Ltd., LAZ who were hired by the union in October." That's right: after all the huffing and puffing about "sacrifice" and austerity, the labor union took one long look at the only option... and asked what other option is there." The other option, it turns out courtesy of news from AP, is the first of many incremental bail outs of the US Postal Office, better known in pre-election circles as hundreds of thousands of unionized votes up for the taking, and which could be bought for the low low price of $11 billion in taxpayer money, or $110,000 per vote! And so the latest bailout of yet another terminally inefficient and outdated government entity begins.
H.L. Mencken was a renowned newspaper columnist for the Baltimore Sun from 1906 until 1948. His biting sarcasm seems to fit perfectly in today’s world. His acerbic satirical writings on government, democracy, politicians and the ignorant masses are as true today as they were then. I believe the reason his words hit home is because he was writing during the last Unraveling and Crisis periods in America. The similarities cannot be denied. There are no journalists of his stature working in the mainstream media today. His acerbic wit is nowhere to be found among the lightweight shills that parrot their corporate masters’ propaganda on a daily basis and unquestioningly report the fabrications spewed by our government. Mencken’s skepticism of all institutions is an unknown quality in the vapid world of present day journalism.
H.L. Mencken understood the false promises of democracy 80 years ago:
“Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. It is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
We deserve to get it good and hard, and we will.
It has long been known that the United States Postal Service, in its current money-losing format, is unsustainable. The media has reported in the past that in order for this bloated government anachronism to be remotely competitive in the age of email and FedEx, it would need to cut hundreds of thousands of its workers. Even the USPS, via its largest union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, has admitted that the organization will need to undergo "tough sacrifices" although as the WSJ noted, "It didn't specify what concessions it would seek from members." And this is where it gets fun: because "just the tip", or even just talking about the tip, apparently is more than labor unions in this country can stomach. Enter Ron Bloom, Lazard, and the very same crew that ended up getting a taxpayer funded bailout for GM. From the WSJ: "The Postal Service's proposal to close thousands of post offices and cut back on the number of days that mail is delivered "won't work" and would accelerate the agency's decline, according to the six-page report by Ron Bloom, President Barack Obama's former auto czar, and investment bank Lazard Ltd., LAZ who were hired by the union in October." That's right: after all the huffing and puffing about "sacrifice" and austerity, the labor union took one long look at the only option... and asked what other option is there.
While the LTRO was heralded as a success for a month or so with the implicit money-printing-and-sovereign-reacharounds involved at the cost of senior unsecured bondholders, the sad reality is that not only are the effects of LTRO now almost entirely gone in both sovereign and financial funding costs but the massive 'injection' of freshly printed encumbrance did nothing for the real economy. In fact, as Barclays notes in these charts from the ECB bank lending survey, not only is demand weaker for credit (i.e. the consumer is pulling back in classic balance sheet recessionary style) but the banks themselves are tightening credit conditions (reducing supply) - the exact opposite of what the ECB had in mind. There is one exception to this vicious cycle - German real estate loan demand picked up modestly - we assume reflecting their flat housing market for the last 15 years and extremely low rates). Oh well, we are sure the next ECB action will be different in its banking reaction.