The most vocal justification provided for the disappointing Q4 GDP print by the mainstream was an increase in US government "austerity" resulting in a decline in the government contribution to the economic bottom line in the last quarter (or first fiscal quarter of 2013). Ironically, both total spending and total debt issuance in the past quarter increased, which means that far from being austere, the US actually spent more, not less, i.e., the opposite of austerity. And while it is true that Defense spending declined by a tiny amount in the past quarter compared to the year ago, it was more than offset by a surge in Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Social Security, or, as they are better known, welfare. And, as the CBO yesterday showed, these two components of US spending, which together account for half of all US spending and which couldn't be funded by all US revenues even if the government spent $0.00 for all other programs, which will soar in the coming years as US society ages, as more workers retire, and as more are reliant on Uncle Sam for the payment of every bill. So the next time someone say that the US has a defense spending problem and nothing else, show them this chart.
Yesterday we had our 15 minutes of fun with the CBO's latest budget forecast, which, while wrong as always, provided the mainstream media with its dose of propaganda optimism, by "forecasting" that the baseline 2013 budget deficit will be some $845 billion, well below the $1+ trillion deficit in 2012 (and quite a bit above the CBO's last year 2013 deficit forecast of $585 billion). It will be higher. And we know that not only because the CBO is a complete and utter failure when it comes to predicting the future (which as Rajoy would say would be "just as forecast, except for everything that does happen"), but because earlier today the Primary Dealers that make up the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (a topic we have written extensively about in the past), released their own 2013 budget deficit forecast. The picture there is far less optimistic: the median estimate is some $929 billion, however it is the upside range that is where reality lies, and this number is, according to the likes of Goldman and JPM (who head the TBAC) as well as the 18 other Primary Dealers, as high as $1.037 trillion.
Some phrases are endowed with immediately recognizable symbolism. When we hear them, we instantly know who and what the phrases are referring to, and can even gain a greater depth of understanding to a particular situation just by applying them. Throughout history there have always been people who were right, and usually a “majority” that were wrong, on any single issue. Defenders of institutionalized ignorance argue constantly that truth is “relative”, and that they should not be criticized for having their own "opinions". They use this relativism as a cover for their unwillingness to admit a lack of knowledge. What they fail to understand is that their “opinions” were never theirs to hold. What they believe has merely been conditioned into them. They are willing to embrace the system no matter how unjust, because their entire identity is predicated on its continued existence. We call them sheeple... Sheeple are puppets in the game of political reconstruction, and their job is to cheerlead the establishment and to drown out all honest voices.
Both the recent increase in interest rates and renewed questions about the duration of QE3, sparked by the release of the December FOMC minutes, have raised concerns about a 'Great Rotation' out of credit and into stocks. Barclays notes that the story goes something like this: negative total returns in fixed income and increasing equity prices will drive investors to sell the fixed income assets they have accumulated over the past several years and buy stocks. This “Great Rotation” will force investment grade corporate spreads wider. However, in nearly 100 years of data, Barclays finds no evidence of a period when rates rose, spreads widened, and equity returns were positive. Risky assets are generally correlated. The few times that higher rates were accompanied by wider spreads happened in the 1970s and early 1980s, when inflation was accelerating. In each of these periods, equity prices fell sharply. As we have been warning, credit spread deterioration has tended to front-run equity weakness (with some false positives) but never with the divergence remaining consistent as a 'rotation' would suggest.
Some thought the irony of a Treasury Secretary who cheated on his taxes was extreme but Germany has gone one better as the nation's Education Minister has just been stripped of her PhD due to plagiarism. As Spiegel Online reports, the University of Düsseldorf has revoked German Education Minister Annette Schavan's degree because "she systematically and deliberately presented intellectual efforts throughout her entire dissertation that were not her own." As such, she was guilty of "intentional deception through plagiarism." Schavan is yet to resign from Merkel's Cabinet. What next? A skeet-shooting gun tzar, a job tzar responsible for thousands of jobs losses while in the private sector, or a Nobel Peace Prize winner building a drone army.
While it is a time-honored tradition that every single person who worked with Tim Geithner, usually on spotless terms, never daring to say one word out of place for fears of offending the former Treasury Secretary and jeopardizing their government salary, has upon exit from the public sector penned a book bashing none other than the Tax-challenged former head of the New York Fed (whose leaks of imminent Fed activity will never be investigated by any US judicial body), it is certain that Tim Geithner's upcoming book will have a different subject. And since the centrally-planned US population is always glad to help out with ideas, today's key trending hash-tag in twitter is none other than #geithnerbooktitles, which as the name implies, is the collective twitter subsonciousness' proposal for what Timmy's new book should be called. The real time list is presented below. Readers are naturally encouraged to provide their own suggestions.
16 point 7 trillion dollars. That is our current national debt. 12 point 8 trillion dollars. That is the amount households carry in mortgage and consumer debt. We are now addicted to debt to lubricate the wheels of our financial system. There is nothing wrong with debt per se, but it is safe to say that too much debt relative to how much revenue is being produced is a sign of economic problems. At the core of our current financial mess is how we use debt as a parachute for any problem. We’ve been masking the shrinking of the middle class by allowing households to take on too much debt for a couple of decades. The results were not positive. People think that this recovery has come from organic forces when in reality, it has come because of number games and also the Fed injecting trillions of dollars into the banking industry. Ironically these banks are using this money to speculate in markets like stocks and housing where they are now crowding out working and middle class Americans. When you have access to a printing press with no restraints, it becomes too tempting to spend into oblivion. Addictions are never easily cured and we have yet to come to terms with our insatiable appetite for debt.
The coincidental resurrection of Bunga Bunga boy Berlusconi, amid financial and political fraud allegations (and facts), appears to have struck fear into the heart of European investors. The Draghi 'promise' seems to be getting ready to be tested as 'populist' Berlusconi closes the gap on his adversaries in Italy's election - and with it brings the threat of an end to austerity and any sense of stability in the new normal fiscal and political calmness that has 'apparently' existed for a few months. As the chart below indicates, via Bloomberg, as interest has risen in Berlusconi, so stocks (and Italian credit markets) have plunged at their fastest pace in five months. Recent polls by Sky Italia show the gap narrowing every week as the Monti Paschi debacle drags more and more of Europe's elite into its quagmire. The critical aspect of this renewed 'fear' is the thesis supporting much of the world's risk-assets is predicated on a few fulcrum securities in Europe indicating a cessation of tail risk - with Italian bond yields at six-week highs, concerns are starting to show.
Nearly a month ago, the first expose on a previously secret money-losing derivative at Italy's Banca dei Monte Paschi emerged and nobody took notice. A few days later a second derivative emerged, and the market finally paid attention sending the stock plunging and political spirits in Italy stirring due to the repeatedly bailed out bank's close ties to the leading Italian Democratic Party. Then a third and a fourth derivative emerged. This, of course was just after Italy's Finance Minister Grilli assured everyone that Monte Paschi is "solid", that oversight of the bank was "continuous and thorough", that "aid was not to help an insolvent bank" and most hilariously, that "the Italian banking system is unique for no bailouts" (except for all the bailouts as Rajoy might add). It was also after various assurances that the first two derivatives were all there was, that Mario Draghi did not know about any of this, until it was revealed he knew years ago, and that no other banks would be impaired. Well, while we still don't know how deep the derivative rot has spread in Italy, but it is guaranteed it does not stop at BMPS, we have now learned of yet another derivative, this time with JPM, that the bank had lied even more, and also that the previously loss estimates for Monte Paschi were, naturally, optimistic and that the final loss may be up to (or over) €1 billion.
It seems the repayment of LTRO funds had quite a significant 'deleveraging' effect on the world's easy policy central bank balance sheet expansion. In USD terms, global central bank balance sheets have just experienced their biggest 4-week plunge since July 2009. Gold, like credit markets and European stocks, which have all underperformed US stocks, it appears merely discounted expectations of a drop in liquidity. We humbly suggest the momentum fueled, rotation-meme-driven, retail-is-in-now, US equity markets are due to meet their liquidity-maker sooner rather than later - if history is any guide. While, of course, the central banks' balance sheets are expected to expand (infinitely if they are to be believed), it would appear markets are stuck in the short-term for now (as opposed to discounting the future). Certainly the dramatic drop in central bank liquidity has had an effect in Europe as (led by credit) equity markets are well off their highs.
Down over a point in the long bond. Up almost a point in the long bond. Equities down more than 100 points. Equities up almost 100 points. All of this in the span of two days. Nothing was particularly new; no event popped up on the radar screen, no black swan swopped in from the horizon to startle the markets and anyone observing the markets may well ask, reasonably ask, just what the heck is going on. First, in my mind, we are getting a pretty good signal that the markets are running out of steam and that the collective vision of the way forward is murky. We are in a fragile state; near a tipping point. Please remember, however, that there are two components to additional debt and the markets have only focused on one side of the equation which is the interest rate variable.
We had to reread this DOJ statement on today's RBS wristslap twice, as the hypocrisy was literally mind-blowing: “As we have done with Barclays and UBS, we are today holding RBS accountable for a stunning abuse of trust,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “The bank has admitted to manipulating one of the cornerstone benchmark interest rates in our global financial system, and its Japanese subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty to felony wire fraud. The department’s ongoing investigation has now yielded two guilty pleas by significant financial institutions. These are extraordinary results, and our investigation is far from finished. Our message is clear: no financial institution is above the law.”
Conjuring Kyle Bass' recent explanation of the massive surge in the nominal price of the Zimbabwean stock market enabling the purchase of only 3 eggs, much is being made of the surge in Japan's Nikkei index (overnight up ~3.8% and the last few months). It would appear that, as we noted recently, the world forgets (quite readily) that 'real' and 'nominal' returns are quite different. With JPY collapsing at its fastest rate in a decade (relative to fiat and hard currency) to 33-month lows, is it any wonder that the nominal price of the stocks that represent the nation are surging to keep their 'value'. In nominal terms, NKY is at its highest since 2008; in real (gold) terms, it is laboring at its lowest since 1984 - which do you trust to judge your wealth?