Remember when the retail investor was the butt of all jokes, abused by the "smart money" hedge funds and prop desks to soak up hot potatoes and even hotter grenades? Well, to quote Matthew, those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last: because the dumb money just got very smart. As the latest update from ICI shows, in the last week of May, when all the "smart" money was selling hand over fist, it was the retail investor who bottom-timed the market perfectly.
It may feel like I'm out of touch with the precious metals markets to broach the subject of a mania today, but I think the table is being set now for a huge move into gold and silver. There are, however, very valid reasons to reasonably expect a mania in our sector. For one thing, manias have occurred many times before, but the main issue is that a mania in gold and gold stocks is the likely result of the absolute balloon in government debt, deficit spending, and money printing. Saying all that profligacy will go away without inflationary consequences seems naïve or foolish. Inflation may not attract investors to gold and silver as much as force them to it. Now, one could make the argument that any rush into gold and silver will be muted if no one has any savings, especially given that demographers say a quarter of the developed world will soon be retired. But even if individuals are wiped out, the world's money supply isn't getting any smaller, and all that cash has to go somewhere. I wanted to look at cash levels among various investor groups to get a feel for what's out there, as well as how money supply compares to our industry. Data from some institutional investors are hard to come by, but below is a sliver of information about available cash levels. I compared the cash and short-term investments of S&P 500 corporations, along with M1, to gold and silver ETFs, coins, and equities. While the picture might be what you'd expect, the contrast is still rather striking.
Despite the failure of the generous offer of Spiderman towels from the recently 'stress-test'-proof-but-now-busted Bankia, today's market suggests there is still hope. The public estimate of loan losses for Spanish banks stands around EUR225 billion (EUR 125bn known and an additional EUR100bn estimated) which, as Charles Biderman of TrimTabs notes "is so big as to be practically unsolvable" as he details the total and utter lack of trust of Spain and Spanish banks that is spreading not just across Europe but around the world. The installation of six of the largest global consulting firms (and the IMF) to begin audits of the Spanish banks, as Reuters reports today, should tell everyone (especially those who bid them up 7-10% today) just how terrible the situation is. Biderman begins to go ultrasonic as he expects real losses for Spain to be in excess of EUR300 billion and this is just Spain! Who knows how big the losses are for the rest of Europe? He does not believe Germany, or anyone else, will put up the EUR300 billion for Spain (or a trillion for the rest of Europe) and sees at best a 50% chance that the entire Euro banking system will go down leaving a much smaller Euro-zone behind (and a 25% chance of a non-panic mode restructuring).
Today, short-term interest rates are set by the diktats of the central bank. And long-term interest rates are set in a “market” in which the central bank is obliged to keep coming back to buy ever more bonds, and speculators front-run the central banks to buy ahead of them. The result has been that, for 30 years and counting, the bond price has been rising, which is the same as to say that the rate of interest has been spiraling into the black hole of zero. When it gets there (and probably sooner) the entire monetary system will collapse. This is the terminal stage of the disease of irredeemable paper currency. They have banished money (gold) from the monetary system, and the result is a positive-feedback-loop that destabilizes the rate of interest. The rate of interest has a propensity to fall, just like the value of the paper currency itself. This leads to the question of how interest rates are set by a free market under a gold standard. This is a non-trivial question, and the answer is profoundly important as we debate what sort of role gold ought to play and evaluate the various gold standards being proposed.
We have quite vehemently reminded readers of the dismal drop in US (and global) macro data over the past few months. These disappointing economic surprises and the ensuing global growth weakness will, Morgan Stanley believes, lead to a global policy response (rate cuts where rates can be cut and QE where they can't) and while they expect this monetary policy to work in many important emerging economies, they are doubtful as to whether it will make a material difference to growth in developed economies. Certainly, there are obvious risks to growth (Euro rupture and US fiscal cliff) that could counteract any QE effect but they rather critically note that unconventional policy is effective when the issue is systemic stress; it is less so when growth is the concern. The QE2 rally was largely due to better macro data, which coincidentally started right after Bernanke hinted at QE2. If macro data stays weak, they expect any 'Pavlovian' QE3 rally to last hours or days, not weeks or months. The bull case for a tradable rally is one of simple observation that prior central bank action has coincided with important market turning points but the more skeptical MS strategists suspect this more correlation than causation as they point to the muted effect monetary policy has in an extended deleveraging to stimulate activity.
As noted earlier, Europe has been so obviously crippled by years of brutal austerity (which, as we pointed out before never actually happened), that it has had to experience the supreme indignity - a miserable two years of plunging flat GDP growth. Because under the old normal, it appears that unless one is issuing massive debt, pardon "growing", society grinds to a halt. Well, it appears that France has finally had enough, and as of today, "the French government approved a measure Wednesday that will lower the retirement age to 60 from 62 for a narrow group of workers, partly reversing unpopular pension reforms made by former President Nicolas Sarkozy as he sought to improve France's public finances." Obviously, this means that more welfare funding will have to be sourced as all else equal, this means less money will be produced by the country's workforce, and more money will be consumed by its retirees. Who will do it? Why German of course. Because after Merkel caved first on Greece, and then on Spain, it is now game over for German "prudence" and everyone will line up at the trough. Congrats Berlin: we can only hope you have discovered those magical money-growing trees. You will need them.
Everyone will be scouring for apocalyptic suggestions (need.moar.NEW Kew - EEE) in the following...
- FED SAYS `HIRING WAS STEADY OR SHOWED A MODEST INCREASE'
- FED SAYS ECONOMY EXPANDED AT `MODERATE PACE' LAST MONTH
- FED SAYS `AUTOMOBILE SALES GENERALLY REMAINED STRONG'
- FED: `CONTACTS WERE SLIGHTLY MORE GUARDED IN THEIR OPTIMISM'
- FED SAYS `INFLATION REMAINED MODEST ACROSS DISTRICTS'
- FED SAYS MANUFACTURING EXPANDED, CONSUMER SPENDING WAS STEADY
- FED ECONOMIC SURVEY COVERS PERIOD FROM LATE APRIL UNTIL MAY 25
- FED SAYS DEMAND WAS STRONGEST IN AUTO AND STEEL MANUFACTURING
...And won't find them. So: just what basis will the Fed have to do more QE again? Paging Jon Hilsenrath: Jon? Jon?
From early October of last year (Grand Plan and Global CB intervention) until the start of the LTRO program in Europe, Gold and Stocks (and Treasuries and the USD) all traded in sync with one another. Since the LTRO program, the equity market has generally been on its own in terms of belief. While growth hope, Europe's recovery, and the Bernanke Put (as well as a short-squeeze of epic proportions) were at play, it seems to us that the Fed's Twist program has been ignored by the money-printing crowd (since Twist was sterilized and did not expand the monetary base (excess reserves) - which gold reacts to; but did provide flow - helping stocks - as the Fed's DV01 increased; implicitly devaluing the currency even though Fed's efforts to dissuade have worked) while the ECB's LTRO provided a liquidity overhang that at-first-glance removed one short-term structural risk from US markets (the Europe contagion). Since we made clear that LTRO is in fact an encumbrance and not 'clean' debt monetization (which fits with gold not moving as much), equity markets in Europe have retraced all of those gains - leaving US still elevated. The last few days, gold and stocks have surged together as hope for LTRO3 (seemingly gone now) and Fed QE3/4 (not sterilized; with ES -7.75% from its highs?) has become imminent. However, Gold and stocks remain very far apart in the medium-term and Rick Bensignor sees trendline support and DeMark TD Setups providing an excellent risk-reward for a Short Stocks, Long Gold trade from here.
While the Reuters story, which we noted earlier, and which speculated that a no-strings attached bailout of Spanish banks may be coming courtesy of a German stealth funding of the nearly empty Spanish bank bailout fund, has been making the rounds over and over, the latest incarnation of the underlying narrative, brought to us courtesy of the FT, has a novel twist: "EU officials are also debating the size of the loans needed. Senior Spanish banking executives have put the figure at about €40bn, but EU officials have been looking at plans that are at least double that, according to people briefed on the discussions." In other words, just as we speculated, Goldman's big picture estimate of Spanish bank funding needs was woefully inadequate, and once the dirty truth is uncovered, it will become apparent that losses, which at this point are nothing more than capital shortfalls from deposit runs, are far, far greater than anyone speculated. It also means that the disconnect between the European reality, and what the media and politicians are spoonfeeding the gullible public, has hit unprecedented levels. Finally, once Germans once again realize they have been lied to, what happens then: will they simply fork over the cash as rumored, or will they finally say enough? According to this lead article in German Welt, the answer is not looking too good for the broken European monetary experiment.
The big news out of New York City these days is Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the sale of soda drinks over 16-ounces (about 1/2 liter) at restaurants, movie theaters, sports stadia, street carts, fast food chains, etc. Bloomberg stressed that we have a responsibility to combat obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and that the government must consequently regulate what people can/cannot put in their bodies. Michelle Obama even came down to applaud the idea.“Excuse me,” I asked, “but who exactly is ‘we’…? I certainly didn’t come into this world born with a burden prevent obesity. And I’m pretty sure nobody else signed up for it either.” ‘We’ is one of the most dangerous words in the English language, particularly when bandied about in Western representative democracy. It’s a term often used when a politician wants to thrust a burden or obligation onto everyone else’s shoulders, but without being too direct about it... Such policies, however, fall on a very slippery slope. When government begins regulating X, the regulation of Y and Z will follow by extension. This is how frogs are brought to a boil– slowly, deliberately, gradually, and grounded in good intentions. The real question is whether you want to be trapped in the same pot as everyone else.
With all proposed Spanish bank bailout plans so far either shot down, or found to be inadequate, the question always has boiled down to whether Germany, which as we have noted in the past is the true lender of last resort in Europe, not the ECB, will agree to the trade off of preserving the Eurozone, i.e. temporarily ending the latest Spanish risk flare out, in exchange for the risk of political disgrace domestically, where more and more people are against sweeping European bail outs, due to soaring "contingent liabilities" which increasingly more people on the street are realizing are all too real (see: TARGET2). On the other hand, a direct bank bailout request for Spain using traditional European channels, which would fund the government, would result in a deterioration in the Spanish sovereign leverage, and make the country even riskier, thereby putting more pressure on the banks, and so in a toxic loop. It now seems that this dilemma may have been resolved, at least on paper. As Reuters reports, "A deal is in the works that would allow Spain to recapitalize its stricken banks with aid from its European partners but avoid the embarrassment of having to adopt new economic reforms imposed from the outside, German officials say. While Berlin remains firm in its rejection of Spain's calls for Europe's rescue funds to lend directly to its banks, the officials said that if Madrid put in a formal aid request, funds could flow without it submitting to the kind of strict reform program agreed for Greece, Portugal and Ireland."
What's the difference between today's global finance system and a Ponzi scheme? This is the question that a 56-year-old veteran Russian financial scammer has been asking his victims. As Bloomberg points out, chillingly, he almost has a point. Sergei Mavrodi is one of the most infamous names in Russia's recent history. Back in February 1994, amid the turmoil of the country's transition to a market economy, the mathematician organized a Ponzi scheme called MMM. Now he's back with an even more audacious endeavor: the honest scam. Last year, he announced the new project, MMM-2011, by stating boldly that it would be another Ponzi scheme. Depositors would be paid solely from funds invested by other depositors. There would be no attempt to generate income in any other way. This, he said, was perfectly all right, and no different than the way some of the largest institutions in global finance operated, from the Russian pension fund to the U.S. Federal Reserve. Perhaps most notably, Bloomberg reports his perspective on "What is money?" he wrote. "Nothing! Nihil. A phantom. … It is backed by nothing at all and printed by the masters in any quantity, at will."
Between Hilsenrath's humoring, Draghi's 'ready-to-act', and Merkel's 'fold', it appears all-is-well once again in the world. European banks are soaring - especially the most recently devastated as the broad European bank index jumps its most in 5 months. Italian and Spanish sovereign bond spreads compress notably, perhaps on hope of a renewed SMP - even as LTRO3 seems to have lost favor with the ECB (effectiveness?). Basis-swaps popped higher (better), Bund yields rose, Swiss 2Y was flat (but low) and Crossover spreads (high-beta credit) are outperforming. It seems that markets are pricing in a best-case scenario. EURUSD is oscillating higher but stocks remain notable underperformers over the last few weeks and frankly this feels more like a short-squeeze bounce than a renewed rally as we know all too well that nothing has been solved (even if Germany is caving on Spanish banks). With the long-weekend and lack of liquidity, it seems markets have simply round-tripped to pre-NFP levels and now it gets interesting - context, as always, is critical.
On our current course, there is no other choice for the average American but to say no, regardless of the law, or the threat of its violent enforcement. Rebellion, in all its forms, is as natural as the cycles of the Earth. It reoccurs time and again, sometimes suppressed, but not for long. The horrors of governments gone rogue are no secret. We have so many examples in history to draw from it is hard to imagine any crime despots have NOT visited upon innocents. Frankly, if control thirsty elites can refine tyranny down to a science by examining the mistakes of the past, there is nothing stopping us from refining defiance down to an art form as well. Again, what other choice do we have, but to take heart in the knowledge that though there is no assurance of victory, there is also no assurance of defeat.