Almost a year ago, in February 2012, Zero Hedge decided to "think outside the box" and take Keynesianism and post-Chartalism (or whatever three letter acronym it is better known as these days) to their absurd, thought-experimental limits with "A Modest Proposal To Boost US GDP By $852 Quadrillion: Build The Imperial Death Star" - a suggestion that instead of growing US debt in dribs and drabs (because as any Ivy league tenured econ Ph.D will tell you, "debt is wealth"), that the US should go the whole hog and just splurge some $852 quadrillion in new debt (don't worry, MMT says that's just a token, no pun intended, amount) to build an Imperial Death Star, a project that would immediately hike US GDP by a factor of 56,000 and create several trillion new jobs, ensuring economic utopia in perpetuity, not to mention galactic dominance. We were mostly joking. We also assume that the creator of a White House petition launched in November to "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016" was also mostly joking. However, as that petition promptly accumulated well over 34,000 signatures, the White House had no choice but to respond. Here are the White House's thoughts on becoming the next iteration of the Galactic Empire (and, by implication, Barack Obama becoming Emperor Palpatine reincarnated).
It's been a while since the Syntagma square riotcam was broadcasting live from Athens. After all, despite the ongoing collapse in its economy, where only 3.7 million people have jobs compared to 4.7 million who are unemployed or inactive, the general sentiment was that "austerity" measures have been put on hiatus, and no more tax, pension, or benefits cuts are on the table. That changed last night when Greece was the latest country to become the US, following a tax hike on its highest earners. However, unlike the US, this increase in "rich" taxes is being offset by at least some spending cuts such as tighter control of the budgets of ministries and state utilities, and the reduction of parliamentary employees’ wages in line with cuts to the wages of other civil servants. In other words, it is almost time for the Syntagma square daily pay-per-view daily webcast. The good news, at least for Greece, is that it does not have a debt ceiling to worry about. Then again, when all your debt is zero coupon perpetuals in the hands of the ECB and other "official" institutions, the balance sheet is the last thing you have to worry about. It's the income statement, one where not even all the one-time charges or loan loss reserve releases in the world will do any difference, that suddenly matters far more.
In the past few weeks there has been a veritable explosion of White House petitions ranging from the bizarre to the surreal to the outright absurd, including such demands as Texas (and other southern states) seceding, deporting Piers Morgan, not deporting Piers Morgan, creating a Joe Biden sitcom, and even making a total mockery out of the US, and global, monetary system and evading the debt ceiling using a cheap, platinum coin-based parlor trick. All of these are, for lack of a better word, a la carte distractions launched by bored American citizens, meant to evade the menial drudgery of everyday life, and, generally, reality. In short: entertainment. And, logically, virtually none have so far contained actual, actionable provisions, that stood to benefit all Americans, instead of just one half of the ideological or party split. At least not until a new petition appeared two days ago, one demanding that the administration do something that has never been done on the public record: perform an assayed public audit of all the 8,100 tons of gold owned by the US Treasury. And not just any audit, but one including "professional auditors outside of the Mint, Treasury, GAO, Inspector General and Federal Reserve system."
"So this is what it looks like when a society is starting to collapse," the man standing behind the counter at the hardware store said matter-of-factly. The remark had been directed at no one in particular, but generally at anyone standing nearby. As I was among that audience, I looked at him inquisitively, eliciting in return a look indicating that his observation should be intuitively obvious to even the casual observer. "We should not be this busy," he continued. "People are normally out Christmas shopping for the latest tech gadgets for their kids, but instead they are spending their hard-earned money here." I had to agree with his observation, because the place was packed, and it was obvious that his inventory was disappearing from the glass showcases and from the wall behind the counter quicker than the store could replenish it.
To all Americans in their twenties, thirties, forties, or even fifties, naively looking forward to their retirement, we have two words: "good luck."
Between 30 and 50 percent of all food produced globally, equivalent to two billion tons, is thrown away each year according to a recent report written by the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME), titled ‘Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not’. The Guardian states that overly-cautious sell by dates, buy one get one free deals, and an obsession with only consuming fruit and vegetables that look perfect are some of the main reasons for this colossal waste of, not only food, but also the water, energy, and arable land used in the creation of the food.
Instead of a full recap of the market today, which did nothing all day on the lowest NYSE volume day of the year, we will present just one chart to show how it is that once again the market got its nearly miraculous green close and last hour ramp to avoid a red close for the day, and possibly week. The chart is, as has been so very often the case recently, that of the spot VIX, where the now usual gimmick of dumping oodles of VIX futures served to do one thing only: bang the close (a technical term, one which used to be illegal) so hard that the market's algos took the reflexivity signal implied by the evaporation in volatility as an all clear signal and bought risk in what is becoming an expected daily occurrence. And while the spot slid to close at 13.36, the lowest closing print since June 19, 2007, it was the dump in the last 25 seconds of trading that just had to be seen to be believed. Luckily, it can be seen below on the Bloomberg QR page showing it taking a step move lower from 13.38 to 13.22 at 15:59:35, before "recovering" to 13.38 just after the close.
Almost a year ago, we identified what the main stumbling block facing US (and global) corporations is in the New Normal ZIRP regime: namely corporate cash mismanagement, capital misallocation, and a serious lack of CapEx spending which leads to lack of revenue growth, secular declines in profits, further layoffs, and a broad contraction in corporate returns (absent the endless deus ex which is central-bank assisted multiple expansion). We also identified what in our view was the primary reason for this misallocation, which said simply, is the Fed's monetary policy which forces corporate executives to focus on short-term gratification of shareholders via prompt return of cash instead of reinvestment into the business - a critical requirement to assure top-line stability and growth. Today, we were happy to see that the issue of the disappearing CapEx -both in the US and globally - is the main topic of an analytical piece from UBS titled, simply enough, "Will capex come back?" And while we disagree with UBS, who has a more optimistic conclusion than ours, which we believe is a function of incorrectly identifying the reason for plunging CapEx, we are happy that more and more strategists have narrowed down what is without doubt the main hurdle to promoting a true, sustainable corporate recovery, instead of one where the only EPS beats are driven from one-time restructuring charges (which are now recurring on a quarterly basis), non-cash items, and most of all, even more layoffs of workers: something which in turn continues to eat away at the heart of any given economy, forcing even more monetary intervention, and even more CapEx spending cuts.
We were surprised to learn that according to at least one model created by Goldman, the total consumption hit for all of 2013 (not just H1), may well be higher than what most people assume (roughly 1.5%). In fact, as Goldman shows, based on a model conceived by Christina and David Romer, it is possible that US GDP growth in the second half is slashed by an additional 2-2.5%, something which very likely will tip the country into recession as the combined impact over the entire year could be as high as 3.5%, eliminating even the most optimistic forecasts for organic growth in the US for the new year. But it gets worse. As Goldman observes, "based on our reading of the debate in Washington, we have become more concerned about our assumption that the automatic spending cuts (or "sequester") will be delayed into 2014. If the sequester takes effect as scheduled from March 1, this would present an additional downside risk to our growth forecast in the later part of the year." So the worst case scenario for GDP growth from tax hikes alone is already 3.5%, and one may have to add to that another several percent in GDP reduction from an spending cuts, which might well lead to a 4-5% GDP drop in 2013 in the worst case, a case determined solely by the dysfunction in Washington.
The flu will come and go, but another, far more troubling epidemic appears to have gripped New York: one which, in a post Sandy Hook world, probably needs as much discussion as tragic mass murders conducted by deranged lone gunmen, especially since absolutely nobody appears to be addressing this particular issue. Why? Because, frankly we think the two kinds of tragedies are very intimately connected.
Previously, in our first two editions of FleeceBook, we focused on "public servants" working for either the Bank of International Settlements, or the Bank of England (doing all they can to generate returns for private shareholders, especially those of financial firms). Today, for a change, we shift to the private sector, and specifically a bank situated at the nexus of public and private finance: JP Morgan, which courtesy of its monopolist position at the apex of the Shadow Banking's critical Tri-Party Repo system (consisting of The New York Fed, The Bank of New York, and JP Morgan, of course) has an unparalleled reach (and domination - much to Lehman Brother's humiliation) into not only traditional bank funding conduits, but "shadow" as well. And of all this bank's employees, by far the most interesting, unassuming and "underappreciated" is neither its CEO Jamie Dimon, nor the head of JPM's global commodities group (and individual responsible for conceiving of the Credit Default Swap product) Blythe Masters, but one Matt Zames.
Economic weakness in November was blamed on Hurricane Sandy. Economic weakness in December was blamed on the Fiscal Cliff. Now, we know what economic weakness in January will be blamed on: the flu. And, as the old saying goes: "Flu got you down? Take two QEs and see the chairman in the morning."
Look forward to hope being forced to surge even more to offset for this cut by nearly 50% ot the consensus Q4 GDP estimate of 1.5% prior to today. And while we wait for Bloomberg to compile today's massive downward revision to economic growth, this is how Q4 GDP tracking estimates looked like in the past 6 months before today's downward revision which will take the consensus line to 1% or under.
The latest escalation in the seemingly neverending saga over a strategically located rock in the East China Sea, came hours ago, when Xinhua reported that Beijing has scrambled two J-10 jets to counter "Japanese military aircraft disrupting the routine patrols of Chinese administrative aircraft."The result: "The Chinese military will be on high alert and China will resolutely protect the security of its air defense force and uphold its legitimate rights, the official said."