Individually, it seems, most Fed officials accept the chief recommendation of monetary theorists, such as Michael Woodford of Columbia University, about how to conduct policy when the nominal federal funds rate is stuck at its zero lower bound. The problem they face rather explicitly, as Morgan Stanley's Vince Reinhart points out, is how to translate the advice from economic textbooks to the application of policy by the diverse group of people on the FOMC. Reinhart goes on to ask, rhetorically, if a conditional policy rule works so well in theory, why has it not been put into practice? Congress instructs the Fed to foster maximum employment and price stability but gives no guidance on weighing deviations from those goals in the short run. If the FOMC cannot agree on the weights, then they cannot agree on a rule. As a result, the Fed is living out a collective action problem, in that officials individually support a rule but collectively cannot agree to a single rule. This leaves Fed officials are now in the improvisation phase of their monetary policy experiment. That does not seem to us like a 'good' thing for the most powerful entity in the world.
While everyone and their pet rabbit 'Dave' in the media seems to 'believe', there’s plenty of debate about—and money riding on—the question of whether we are in the midst of a sustainable recovery in the housing market. Nobody knows for sure, of course, but there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. While it is easy to focus on the traditional indicators of supply and demand and start believing that the long-awaited recovery in the property market has arrived at last, the fact is that much has changed in the wake of the events of the past decade, a development that is likely to weigh on prices for many years to come.
We have extensively discussed the size (here - must read!) and growth (here) of the Fed's largesse in soaking up massive amounts of the primary and second Treasury (and now MBS) markets with the ongoing theme of 'what about the exit strategy?' among other things. The onset of QEternity likely means the Fed's balance sheet will grow to over $4 trillion within the next year and, as UBS notes, although the Fed has suggested that it will not begin an exit strategy until 2015, the magnitude of the excess balance sheet argues for considering whether the Fed has the ability to unwind their balance sheet. We, like UBS, believe that the Fed will find it far more difficult to exit than they have found it to enter given the limitations of the exit tools frequently cited. There are three main tools for reducing the Fed’s balance sheet: asset sales/maturation (bad signaling), reverse repurchase agreements (size constraints), and interest on reserves (inflationary).
It will come as no surprise to any ZeroHedge readers but High Frequency Trading (HFT) deeply concerns Erik Hunsader, founder of Nanex. He worries that today's investors, our regulators, -- heck, even the HFT algorithms themselves -- don't fully understand the risks market prices face in the brave new era of bot-dominated trading. For instance, Hunsader estimates that HFT algorithms are responsible for 70%(!) of all completed transactions on our exchanges, and for 99.9%(!!!) of all exchange quotes. The pictures of trading floors you see on TV, where the people in bright jackets appear frantically busy in making their trades, have no bearing -- claims Hunsader -- on the actual trading action. The real action happens across fiber-optic cables, on racks of servers in cooled rooms; where an arms race defined by cable length and switching speeds is being waged. The reality is that the machines have taken over.
Europe, and its apparent Union, is rapidly fragmenting as tensions mount on large and small scales across all of its regions and nations. From Scotland's independence referendum to Flanders' autonomy and now Catalonian separatism on the rise once more, this is no longer a north-south divide, but a rich/poor, debt/no-debt divide. As the NY Times notes, this seems to emerge from the ebbing of the concept of shared sovereignty (richer - or less debt-saturated - nations increasing anger at having to bail out their poorer neighbors), or as Stratfor describes it - the paradox of integration - as 'more Europe' means vastly different things depending on which side of the fence you sit on. Now, as Russia Today reports, Venice is pushing for independence from Rome and there is increasing independence movements in Sicily and Sardinia. As old battles and historical grievance come back to the fore, "when it comes to the crunch, while money may be the catalyst (who commits what to central budgets); it is, as the NY Times puts it, "the meta-narrative and emotions of 'do we feel oppressed?... as the ghosts of history return." From Bannockburn to WWII, "Europe seems shakier; some of the taboo questions are coming out again!"
In lieu of a missing Friday humor piece, here is the Saturday edition, which is merely a non-fiction based compilation of this week's Top 10 Bloomberg headlines as they crossed the tape. The conclusion here is that The Onion has now permanently missed its IPO window, as reality is now in no need of embellishment.
You read about it earlier here. Now see how it happened in real time. The identity of the "transgressor(s)" has still not been released.
We have covered the great California gas rush in the past few days, and here is the confirmation. According to the AAA fuel gauge report, the average California gas price just hit an all time record of $4.614, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Much has been said about yesterday's laughable jobs report. Here is a little more, only this time not from some politicized CTRL-C/CTRL-V major who was forced to take out the HP-12C for the first time from their storage closet and pretend they have any idea about finance and economics, but from David Rosenberg.
Over the past few weeks, Spain has received worldwide attention due to its deteriorating economy and growing outbursts of massive social protests. Most notably, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in his debate with President Barack Obama last week that he did not want his country to “go down the path to Spain.” As the world fixes its eyes on the eurozone’s fourth largest economy, analysts continue to offer suggestions as to how to best tackle the Iberian country’s economic woes. However, the reason why Spain is a riot both financially and socially goes beyond matters of economic policy. Spain faces a graver problem, its political institutions. Perhaps the most lamentable element in Spain’s political class is that it is hard, almost anecdotal, to find elected officials with a track record outside the public sector. For too many years, the country has been governed by bureaucrats who have no experience whatsoever in the real world of business. The majority of Spain’s politicians do not know what it is to conceive an idea, to risk one’s own wealth, to deal with banks, workers and suppliers, and, ultimately, to experience failure and success. Sadly, the Spanish taxpayer-financed political establishment understands failure and success only in terms of which side of the aisle their members are seated in parliament.
There is a popular belief in the Middle East that Washington’s foreign policy, particularly as it relates to this precarious region, is largely driven by America’s dependency on, and insatiable appetite for Arab oil. One can make a good argument for that. Had Syria been a major oil producing country chances are the US would have already dispatched military forces to impose a pax Americana and to put a stop to the horrific fighting that has been slowly, but without any doubt, ripping Syria apart and dismantling the infrastructures that make the Syrian state what it is today. Even if the war was to end today it would take years for Syria to return to its pre-war position from an economic and military perspective.
Back in October of 2010, when we first exposed Bank of America as massively underreserved for putback, Rep and Warrant and various other forms of litigation, we predicted that once the precedent is set for ever escalating litigation against transgressions banks committed in the Old Normal (the biggest of which was the worst M&A deal of all time: BofA buying Countrywide and with it hundreds of billions in contingent liabilities), very soon banks would be swamped with a tsunami of litigation. And after all, it's only "fair" - the banking industry would not exist if its wasn't for the Fed and government's bailout and backstop of tens of trillions in liabilities at the peak. Now it's time for some "wealth redistribution" - only instead of said government-funded wealth tricking down to the common man, the only social group set to benefit are America's lawyers. Fast forward two years to October 2012, and what we predicted is precisely what has happened. As the chart below shows various "environment charges" aka charges related to mortgage put-backs, legal and foreclosure related issues, have soared to a record 16% of pre-provision earnings. As Goldman calculates, this is reducing EPS and returns by an average 17%! Where it this "profit" going? Mostly to various class cation suit organizing law firms and to pay for $800/hour legal retainers.
Just because the middle east did not have enough countries and/or terrorist organizations shooting at random things, in outright attempts of provocation or otherwise, here comes Israel to join the party. From Reuters: "The Israeli air force shot down a drone after it crossed into southern Israel on Saturday, the military said, but it remained unclear where the aircraft came from. "An unmanned aerial vehicle was identified penetrating Israeli air space this morning, and was intercepted by the Israeli Air Force at approximately 10 a.m. (0700 GMT)," the military said in a brief statement. Soldiers were searching the area where the drone was downed - in the northern part of the Negev desert - to locate and identify the drone, the statement said. The Negev desert is near Israel's southern borders with the Gaza Strip, Egypt, Jordan and the occupied West Bank."
While the 0.4% perfectly unmanipulated and totally coincidental swing in the unemployment rate in an Obama favorable direction one month before the election came at a prime time moment for the market, one hour ahead of the open, setting the market mood for the rest of the day (which despite all best efforts still closed red, valiant efforts by Simon Potter and the FRBNY's direct pipe to Citadel notwithstanding), there was one other, far more important data point released by the government's department of agriculture, sufficiently late after the market close to impact no risk assets. That data point of course was foodstamps (or the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka SNAP), and we are confident that no readers will be surprised to learn that foodstamp usage for both persons and households, has jumped to a new all time record.... Finally, and putting it all into perspective, since December 2007, or the start of the Great Depression ver 2.0, the number of jobs lost is 4.5 million, while those added to foodstamps and disability rolls, has increased by a unprecedented 21 million.