Yes, we all know that Europe is in deep, deep, trouble, and we all know that Europe has a major fiscal deficit issue which is why well over half of the Eurozone is effectively locked out of the capital markets, and only has funding courtesy of various back door Ponzi schemes funded by the ECB, and we also all know that on a consolidated basis Europe's debt/GDP is very high. But the truth is that at least Europe is taking small steps to rectify its historic profligacy and is at least pretending to be implementing austerity (in some cases actually truly doing so). How about the US. Well, the chart below should answer that particular question. Because while the consolidated GDP of the US and Europe are nearly identical, they differ very materially in terms of both fiscal deficit, and total Debt/GDP. The chart below shows precisely where the differences lie between the United States of Europe and the United States of America.
There are already three former European central bankers who criticize more or less openly the European Central Bank (ECB). All these older central bankers experienced the inflationary periods in the 1970s in detail, whereas the younger ones seem not to grasp what inflation means. Modern central bankers seem to think that monetary inflation will not lead to price inflation in the long-term. This might be true in countries where asset prices need to de-leverage after the bust of real-estate bubbles. But it is certainly not true in states like Germany, Finland or Switzerland, that did not have a real-estate bubble till 2008. With current low employment and the aging population, qualified personnel who speaks the local language will get rare. PIMCO’s Bill Gross might be right saying that soon employees want to get a part of the cake and not only the stock holders. This essentially implies wage inflation, the enemy of the 1970s.
Today was the lowest volume in S&P 500 e-mini futures (for a non-holiday trading day) in, well, bloody years (and NYSE volume was as dire as Monday's). Today's ES range, under 9 points, was the lowest in the last eight days of low ranges and in fact the eight-day range has only been this low a few times in the last few years and all but one of those marked a significant top. The S&P wavered around unch for most of the day with a US day-session-open ramp, post weak-data that signaled bad-is-good buying in Gold and stocks. Treasuries kept on leaking higher in yield, now up 12-16bps on the week as the USD meandered around unch on the week - with EUR weakness pulling it also back to unch on the week. VIX limped lower by 0.25 vols to 14.6 (after touching unch) but we do note that VVIX (the implied vol of VIX) has been diverging higher in the last two days but it's getting kinda crazy when we are looking at compound options for any signal. HY credit underperformed once again - with a quite ugly flush into the close (on heavy volume).
It was not enough that the Fed's Richard Fisher was 'allowed' on CNBC this afternoon to expropriate himself and his merry-Fed-men from his 'fanatical' colleague nemesis Rosengren; but Maria B., for one glorious moment, asked a question so sensible it was stunning: "Is The Fed Bailing Out The White House?" The notably business-man-background Fisher was wonderfully heretical in explaining that additional stimulus would have little impact, that the Fed's action would indeed 'look political', and that "US lawmakers need to get their fiscal act together." While he doesn't see a high likelihood of a recession in 2013, he comprehends clearly the wait-and-see 'defensive crouch' that businesses are in given the huge uncertainty. On a slow day, with so much print-and-it's-all-fixed hope, the clarifying vision of at least one man on the FOMC is perhaps worth holding onto.
Think the US has it bad with its "soaring" gas price, which is now back to $3.75 per gallon? Think again. Here, courtesy of Bloomberg, is a list of the countries whose gasoline cost puts what Americans pay at the pump to shame. In order of descending gas prices, below are the 20 places in the world where one does not want to "fill 'er up."
From HFT to LIBOR manipulation and European bond legal-covenants, and now Auto-manufacturer channel-stuffing; all conspiracy 'theories' proved conspiracy 'facts' - as Gabby Douglas might say "Nailed It!" We have been vociferously pointing out the incredible levels of channel-stuffing occurring at GM in the US, then China, and most recently into Europe (must read here) and now the WSJ confirms the latter; as sales of BMW and Mercedes, helped by heavy discounts and contingencies to dealers, are being questioned. Kenn Sparks, a BMW spokesman, said its July sales total includes vehicles that were purchased by its dealers for use as what are known as "demos"— cars used on lots for test drives. He declined to say how many reported sales were demos, saying BMW doesn't release the figure. "These vehicles may stay on the lot because they are used as demo models," he said. BMW's incentives appeared to help propel the car maker to a 1,900-vehicle lead over Mercedes-Benz (as stunningly ridiculously surprisingly 7-Series sales tripled MoM, and 3-Series doubled).
Traditional legal principles are seemingly pretty clear and straightforward on how a good faith acquisition of stolen goods is to be treated: the buyer, even though he is not criminally liable, can not acquire title to stolen property. The failed futures brokerage Sentinel Management Group lost the money of its clients in when it went into bankruptcy in 2007. According to the SEC, the firm misappropriated the funds belonging to its clients. Since then, creditors of the company have been fighting over who has title to certain assets. On the one side are the customers of Sentinel, whose funds and accounts were supposed to have been segregated from the company's assets. On the other side there is New York Mellon Bank, which lent Sentinel $312 million that were secured with collateral mainly consisting of said – allegedly 'segregated' – customer funds. The result: 'Banks that received what were essentially misappropriated goods as collateral do not have to return them to their original owners as long as they are deemed to have acted in good faith'. Legal questions aside, one thing is already certain: customers of futures brokerages can no longer have faith that their assets are in any way segregated or protected. This is yet another chink in the 'confidence armor' that has propped up the financial system to date.
With the Fed lowering interest rates and flattening the curve in an effort to squeeze any- and every-one into risk-assets and mal-investment; the sad truth of this action is that it forces a drastic unintended consequence on the growing population of people that actually care about the future. Critically, as Citi points out, lower yields require much higher rates of saving (both corporates and households) and while 10% of salary allocated to 'retirement savings' will meet its goals with a 4% return hurdle, at current low yields, the average-joe in the street will need to 'save' 25% of his income - cutting heavily into his current consumptive and discretionary iPad needs.
No commentary necessary.
Paint is drying, so what is the best way to break the monotony? Why with renewed Iran war speculation of course. Sure enough, here comes Saudi Arabia to the rescue. From Reuters: "Saudi Arabia has ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon “immediately”, the state news agency reported in an SMS alert on Wednesday. “The Saudi Arabian embassy in Lebanon calls all Saudi citizens to leave Lebanon immediately,” the alert said, without elaborating." Making an imminent Iran attack far less likely, however, is an article in Bloomberg titled "Israel Plans Iran Strike; Citizens Say Government Serious." Of course anyone expecting Israel to launch a strike with every paper in the world blasting the above title as a headline may as well buy some Las Vegas 10,000 square foot haciendas because housing has "bottomed." For now however Brent is leaning on the side of caution, and is back to all time highs in EUR terms.
Muppets only complain when the prop jobs and skimming fail to deliver fat gains to their accounts. But being a muppet is being a mark: it's the muppets who are being milked and skimmed. Being a participant in a hopelessly compromised, rigged market makes us marks because we're ultimately providing liquidity and capital for the players to skim. When the officially sanctioned intervention finally fails and the market leaks 40% of its current value, the muppets will finally understand the "outsized returns" were just a con used to entice them into playing digital 3-card monte. The game is rigged, but the greed of the player overrides his skepticism and caution. The same can be said for pension funds and all the other institutional players. Desperate for yield, they've foolishly ponied up hundreds of billions of dollars to play 3-card monte with crooked dealers and a crooked house.
Two weeks ago, PIMCO's Bill Gross stirred up a few ivory-tower academics, permabull sell-side commission-makers, and bloggers pressured by Series [X] investors to generate maximum page views when he called for the death of the cult of equities. His main point was the apparent paradox that the total return on equities can outpace GDP growth over long periods. While there has been much gnashing of teeth over this comment, Morgan Stanley has very succinctly clarified and confirmed that this is not so much a paradox as a Catch-22. The key point is that, in aggregate, investors do not typically reinvest their dividends (or coupons); and akin to Keynes' paradox of thrift, if investors actually tried this en masse then the historical returns reported in total return indices would be unachievable. So here’s the Catch-22: over the long run theoretical total returns can exceed GDP so long as investors don’t actually try to capture those returns. But if ever investors try to achieve such GDP-plus total returns, it will be impossible for returns to stay above GDP growth. Hence, equities for the short- and long-term, are essentially a Ponzi scheme - as long as everyone buys-and-holds - but if 'someone' decides (or is forced) to take-profits, equity ROE will rapidly game-theoretically collapse to GDP growth.
Nigel Farage, looking tanned and refreshed, is back and as he tells FOX Business in this brief clip "nothing has changed" from his views of Europe as the Titanic and its unelected officials dragging it down to the depths of the ocean. Citing Mario Monti specifically with his concerns over allowing politicians to 'decide' anything he notes the leader's demeanor is "We must not let democracy interfere with our great Grand Project." With European GDP negative, and group-hugs all around as Europeans are herded towards a European social state, Farage analogizes that "we are living in Noddyland" where economic reality and day-to-day life are as distant as they could be as he warns that they are becoming part of something that is increasingly resembling Communism. He dismisses the growing belief that "the state and government creates jobs" noting that "it doesn't, it destroys them!" With two wrongs (Spain ad Italy) not making a right; Farage is clear that breaking up the EU is necessary now and it is critical to recognize that "you don't get something for nothing" as Europe is increasingly de-industrialized.
The National Association of Home Builders just released it latest monthly housing market index, which rose from 35 to 37. As headlines proudly blast, this is the highest level of confidence since February 2007. The NAHB chairman was positively giddy: "From the builder’s perspective, current sales conditions, sales prospects for the next six months and traffic of prospective buyers are all better than they have been in more than five years,” said Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. “While there is still much room for improvement, we have come a long way from the depths of the recession and the outlook appears to be brightening." Sadly, as the chart below proves, it doesn't take much to get the NAHB confident these days. We present the fudge free data on housing completions: not starts, not permits, completions, which is what you get on the other side of the homebuilding process once all i and t's have been dotted and crossed, because one can fudge both the start and permit metric more than Bank of Spain's X-13-ARIMA seasonal "models" can make MS' IPO track record successful. We leave it up to readers to decide just what homebuilders are so very confident about. Residual record hopium sloshing in the system notwithstanding.