When one puts aside all the histrionics, all the melodrama, all the irrelevant secondary bullshit such as appearance, charisma, ability to tele-evangelize, all the irrelevant policies such as what planet the US should colonize or how women should procreate, and focuses on just one thing: which presidential candidate (not to mention president) will do the right thing for America, which is to make sure that it doesn't collapse under a record debt load, there is just one answer. And it is not even ours: it comes from the impartial Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Project, aka US Budget Watch ("U.S. Budget Watch neither supports nor opposes any candidate for office. Its reports are intended to promote understanding and discussion of the federal budget and how specific policy proposals would affect the deficit") which today released an analysis on debt sustainability titled "The GOP Candidates and the National Debt." The answer is in the chart below.
2012 is proving to be the 'Year of the Central Bank'. It is an exciting celebration of all the wonderful maneuvers central banks can employ to keep the system from falling apart. Western central banks have gone into complete overdrive since last November, convening, colluding and printing their way out of the mess that is the Eurozone. The scale and frequency of their maneuvering seems to increase with every passing week, and speaks to the desperate fragility that continues to define much of the financial system today.... All of this pervasive intervention most likely explains more than 90 percent of the market's positive performance this past January. Had the G6 NOT convened on swaps, had the ECB NOT launched the LTRO programs, and had Bernanke NOT expressed a continuation of zero interest rates, one wonders where the equity indices would trade today. One also wonders if the European banking system would have made it through December. Thank goodness for "coordinated action". It does work in the short-term.... But what about the long-term? What are the unintended consequences of repeatedly juicing the system? What are the repercussions of all this money printing? We can think of a few.
Overnight action saw EURUSD surging over 1.33 and retracing back into the US open as broadly European equity markets started to play catch up to European credit's recently weak performance. Couple that with a miss in jobless claims and the rise in WTI and Brent prices and shortly after the US open S&P futures fell 9pts rather rapidly. However, fears of margin compression or consumer spending impacts were quickly dismissed as every asset class took off and never looked back - as only one thing matters (and USD weakness and commodity strength confirmed that belief). Having underperformed the last day or two, HY credit jumped higher, catching up with IG and HYG's recent performance and over-taking stocks, as high beta took over again on the heels of what can only be assumed is central bank largesse as financials and energy names outperformed. There were some 'odd' disconnects among the broad asset classes today with Treasuries rallying euphorically after the strong 7Y auction, Gold rallying well and then losing a lump on a Zero Hedge margin rumor, and up-gaps in EUR (and down in USD) into the close to sustain the rally. While Oil was notably higher on the day, Silver took the honors - now up over 6% on the week - as Brent-WTI compressed this afternoon as the latter pushed above and held $108.5. The Treasury-Stock disconnect continues to grow, and yet when we adjust for the USD-numeraire, the two asset classes agree wholeheartedly on low-/no-growth - perhaps it is time for the 'transitory' word to re-appear.
AIG just conducted a two-fold master class of i) how to confuse Wall Street of having "superb" earnings, and ii) how to avoid paying any corporate taxes for years to come. Because as part of the company's just announced massive $19.8 billion profit, a whopping $17.8 billion was nothing short of the oldest tax accounting gimmick in the book - the release of a valuation allowance (i.e., deferred tax liability vs deferred tax asset conversion). In other words, apples to apples, the real Net Income attributable to shareholders was not $19.8 billion but realistically $2 billion, which would compare to last year's $11.2 billion if only it was not for a $13.5 billion gain on divested business posted in Q4 2011, when the company again was fudging numbers like a drunken sailor. Anyway, we are confident even the algos will figure it out eventually. But the real slap in the face coming from this bailed out company is that as a result of this accounting change, AIG will essentially not pay any taxes for years to come, most likely until its next insolvency.
We need to look to Europe now to see what TPTB have in store for us. This is the consummate problem, reaction, solution game being played for all the marbles. First, you get the problem “spiking interest rates for the peripheral countries.” Then the “reaction,” financial panic and fear. Finally the “solution.” The placement of unelected technocrats as the leaders of Greece and Italy with ties to all the power structure’s institution such as the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg group and of course Goldman Sachs. It is like a coup that takes the shadow government from the shadows and puts them in your face. The reason that this is so key is because we are next. They don’t want to roll up everything at once. If they can get Europe safely consolidated then they will move here. That is when interest rates in the U.S. will spike (problem), and we get panic (reaction) and then the solution (bankster technocratic committees in charge and the IMF to the rescue, ie loss of sovereignty). This is the plan and I see it as clear as day.
While the headline-chasers will allocate cause to effect for every twitch and ditch in asset prices, JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest appears to agree with us that nothing else matters but central bank balance sheet expansion. As we discussed earlier in the week, major central banks have injected nearly $7tn into world markets since 2007 and while the obscene rise in gas prices should somewhat self-limit the print-fest, it appears not before another bubble has burst as central bankers feel safe on this path given their microscopic focus on their own inflation-measures. Whether it be asset-reflation, boosting bank capital, pulling forward consumer demand, or government-reacharound financing, Cembalest sums up: super-easy monetary policy supports markets right now, prompting his question: "Who knew that unlimited money printing would be such a clean and simple solution to the world’s problems? I would love to read a book called “Reliable Central Bank Exit Strategies”, but I don’t think it has been written yet. Enjoy the ride."
We have only one question: "If a 20% rise in global stocks required a $2 trillion expansion in aggregate assets, which also took EUR-Brent to all-time record highs and WTI to over $107 $108, where will the next 20% come from, and how will the economy fare with $150 WTI?"
Americans participating in a recent Gallup poll showed the highest level of confidence in an economic recovery in a year. Sounds great, but you can’t ignore the nearly 13 million unemployed, the 46 million people on food stamps and the roughly 29% of the country’s homeowners whose mortgages are under water. They would find it hard to subscribe to the poll’s sunny conclusion. On the other hand, there’s no getting away from a bevy of seemingly increasingly favorable economic data, which, more recently, includes falling weekly jobless claims, four consecutive monthly gains in the leading economic indicators, somewhat perkier retail sales and a pickup in housing starts and business permits. Pounding home this cheerful view is the media’s growing drumbeat of increased economic vigor....Confused? How can you not be?
Record Direct Takedown Leads To Huge Demand For 7 Year Bond Auction, Disproves "Rotation From Bonds Into Stocks "Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/23/2012 14:19 -0400
While this week's two previous auctions were uneventful and very much unimpressive, today's 7 Year $29 billion issue continues to show that the bulk of the curve action continues to be at the belly. Unlike January's spotty 7 Year auction which saw a massive 56.64% in Primary Dealer take down, today's was the opposite, with the auction pricing a whopping 3 bps inside of the When Issued at 1.418%, with Dealers taking down just 38.89%, well below the TTM average 47.46%. This was the lowest Dealer take down since December 2010. The Indirect Bid was well higher than in January when as we already noted previously foreign investors were dumping US paper, yet at 41.85% was just in line with the TTM average of 41.54%. The big outlier however was the Direct Bid take down which soared from 11.59% to a massive 19.27% take down - a low 44% hit rate on the Direct Bid. Why the huge shift in sentiment toward US paper? It hardly has anything to do with the yield rising from a meager 1.36% to a just barely higher 1.42%. And yet, there was a tangible change in Direct interest - is it merely PIMCO buying up more paper? Most likely - this is perfectly aligned with the fund's recent average effective duration so we would not be surprised if Bill Gross is now loading up on the belly. The result of the super strong auction is the entire treasury curve sliding in yield, as it indicates that the wholesale expectation of a shift away from Treasurys and pushing into stocks, is nowhere to be seen. And stepping back from the tree, the forest now stands at just under 101.5% debt/to US GDP. Many more auctions coming.
The scale, speed, and time of the equity rally of the last five months or so echoes loudly the post-Jackson Hole rally in 2010 (from AUG10 to FEB11) and while the aggregate money pumpers of the world have done their best to keep the pedal to the metal (gold?), we worry that just as before we are running out of greater fools to buy assets at the margin in the hope that they will be first through the gates when the spigot gets turned off (or at minimum turned down). Sentiment is peaking, the number of bulls in the AAII survey is rolling over (just like in DEC10/JAN11), the number of bearish respondents is troughing (just like in DEC10) and the ratio of Bulls to Bears (having approached record highs) is now rolling over (just like in DEC10/JAN11). With energy prices surging (as they did in Q4 2010/ Q1 2011) and expectations high for the next round of gross money-printing (forget supposedly better US fundamentals, QE3 is here any minute apparently and LTRO 2 will be enough to build a real Death Star), we fear once again that hope has exceeded its credibility and with financials showing some cracks in their armor (in credit for sure and now in stocks too), perhaps the less-than-greatest fools are leaving the building early.
Too bad not every hedge fund can be long Apple (even if as Goldman points out, they sure are trying - "One out of five hedge funds has AAPL among its ten largest long positions" - a truly stunning observation and one which means that if Apple, which is priced to absolute perfection, has even one hiccup, we would see an absolutely epic bloodbath in the market). Because if 2011 was a horrible year for hedge funds which closed the year well below, or -10%, their respective benchmark - the S&P (unch for the year), the last thing hedge fund LPs can afford is another year in which they pay 2 and 20 to generate a return lower than the S&P. Yet to their horror, this is precisely what is happening. According to Goldman's latest Hedge Fund Tracker, "The typical hedge fund generated a 2012 YTD return of 3% through February 10th compared with 7% gains for both the S&P 500 and the average large-cap core mutual fund." Yes, there are outliers, but far and wide this means that even more redemptions are about to hit the hedge funds space, where jittery investors will no longer show any restraint before sending in that redemption letter. It gets worse: "The 60-fund Dow Jones Credit Suisse Blue Chip Hedge Fund IndexSM has returned 3% YTD, in line with our sample average.... The distribution of YTD performance indicates that 50% of hedge funds have generated returns between -2% and +2%." And the absolute kicker: "Only 10% have returned more than 7%, outperforming the S&P 500." Another way of saying that is that 90% of hedge funds are generating negative alpha! If that is not the signed, sealed and delivered notice of death of the hedge fund industry courtesy of not ubiquitous central planning, we don't know what is.