The Dow is at a record high and so are corporate profits - so why does it feel like most of the country is deeply suffering right now? Real household income is the lowest that it has been in a decade, poverty is absolutely soaring, 47 million Americans are on food stamps and the middle class is being systematically destroyed. How can big corporations be doing so well while most American families are having such a hard time? Isn't their wealth supposed to "trickle down" to the rest of us? Unfortunately, that is not how the real world works. But now we have replaced capitalism with something that we like to call "corporatism". In many ways, it shares a lot of characteristics with communism, and that is why nations such as communist China have embraced it so readily. Today, most big corporations are trying to minimize the number of "expensive" American workers on their payrolls as much as they can. Right now, the system is designed to continually funnel more money and more power to the very top of the pyramid. The global elite are becoming more dominant with each passing day. The idea of a very tiny elite completely dominating all the rest of us goes against everything that America is supposed to stand for. In the end, it will result in absolute tyranny if it is not stopped.
With the growing popularity and perhaps relevance of a globally decentralized currency system in a world adrift in fiat devaluation death-matches, it is perhaps interesting to understand just who these Bitcoin'ers are? The ongoing survey of Bitcoin users (here) has some intriguing results already: The 'average Bitcoin user' is male (96%), 32.7 years old, libertarian / anarcho-capitalist (37%), non-religious (61%), with a full time job (43%), and is in a relationship (56%). The biggest motivation for new users are curiosity, profit, and politics; and 39% of users do not drink, smoke, gamble, or take drugs. Just over half of users have mined bitcoins and the greatest community fear for Bitcoin is “regulatory/legal intervention” followed by ”reputation problems”. Overall more people seem to find Bitcoin intellectually rewarding (70% have learned more about cryptography) than socially rewarding (22% have made friends).
In recent days, FX desk chatter has been of rising concerns over "Germany’s New Anti-Euro Party." 'The Alternative for Germany' party is set to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections in September with a clear goal: "the dissolution of the EUR in favor of national currencies or smaller currency unions." It also demands an end to ESM payments. As evidenced by the recent vote in Italy, voting intentions in Europe are not just ultra-left or ultra-right wing anti-European, but increasingly mainstream. "Democracy is eroding. The will of the people regarding (decisions relating to the EUR) is never queried and is not represented in parliament. The government is depriving voters of a voice through disinformation..." Ultimately, as Der Spiegel notes, however, the party's success will likely have more to do with the state of the common currency as the election approaches. Should the crisis flare up, so too could anti-euro sentiment. That sentiment in Germany now has a political home.
The current globally-coordinated central bank ZIRP/bailout policies are destroying the world's saving class. As Jim Rogers notes, "For the first time in recorded history, we have nearly every central bank printing money and trying to debase their currency. This has never happened before. How it’s going to work out, I don't know." The bigger danger that concerns him is the "hollowing out of the 'saving class'" resulting from this situation. Central planners' policies are "punishing the prudent in favor of rescuing the irresponsible." Rogers owns gold, silver, and other precious metals and commodities - as a better way to play the debasement of currencies - and concludes rather ominously that, "this has happened before in world history, and the aftermath has always had grievous economic, social - and often human - costs."
Much virtual ink has been spilled over the decline of the mainstream media, measured by circulation, advertising revenue, or a general sense of irrelevance. Furthermore, news consumers increasingly recognize that the mainstream media outlets are basically public relations services for government agencies, large companies, and other influential organizations. Journalists do very little actual journalism — independent investigation, analysis, reporting. A news outlet that deviates from the Narrative by doing its own investigation or offering its own interpretation risks being cut off from the flow of anonymous briefings which means a loss of prestige and a lower status. In exchange for sticking to the Narrative, they get access to official sources. Give up one, you lose the other. Readers are beginning to recognize this, and they don’t want to pay. Nowhere is this situation more apparent than the mainstream reporting on budget sequestration.
It is not Keynes or Kuznets to whom should be looking, much less the ineffable Krugman, but the shining example of Sir John Cowperthwaite whose enlightened strategy of what he called ‘positive non-interventionism’ in 1960s Hong Kong— coupled with a near blanket ban on the collation of official statistics for fear their provision would tempt men into meddling (“If I let them compute those statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.’’)—allowed the entrepôt to more than quadruple its GDP per capita (it really is a hard habit to break, isn’t it?) in comparison with its colonial masters in Britain, in the space of single generation. A man who eschewed tariffs in an era of protection; who abstained from government borrowing at a time when his peers were fast becoming ’all Keynesians now’; who capped income taxes at a modest 15% in an age when the rich were being ‘squeezed until their pips squeaked’; and who refused all acts of corporate welfare, Cowperthwaite’s assessment of his own role was characteristically modest, once declaring that, as regards his contribution to Hong Kong’s success, "I did very little. All I did was to try to prevent some of the things that might undo it."
Sequesters; continuing resolutions; "spending brakes"; government shutdowns; fiscal restraint..... austerity. For all the ceaseless talk about the "prudent", "responsible" action out of Congress, even if it is a result of the president-proposed, and Congress endorsed automatic spending cuts enacted as a result of the August 2011 debt ceiling fiasco, we have a minor problem identifying just where this so-called spending restraint is manifesting itself. Perhaps that is because we look at the facts, not the propaganda, or the empty rhetoric. Here as the facts: in the year to date period of the past four fiscal years, starting October 1 and going through the current day in March, the current year has seen the issuance of exactly $635 billion in Federal Debt, which as of Friday crossed the "psychological barrier" of $16.7 trillion. This is the second highest cumulative debt issuance in one fiscal year, surpassing both 2010 and 2011, and lower only compared to the $726.7 billion raked up in Fiscal 2012... just after President and Congress swore to cut back on spending following the US downgrade by S&P.
Those who have been following our exclusive series of the Fed's direct bailout of European banks (here, here, here and here), and, indirectly of Europe, will not be surprised at all to learn that in the week ended February 27, or the week in which Europe went into a however brief tailspin following the shocking defeat of Bersani in the Italian elections, and an even more shocking victory by Berlusconi and Grillo, leading to a political vacuum and a hung parliament, the Fed injected a record $99 billion of excess reserves into foreign banks. As the most recent H.8 statement makes very clear, soared from $836 billion to a near-record $936 billion, or a $99.3 billion reserve "reallocation" in the form of cash - very, very fungible cash - into foreign (read European) banks in one week.
Whether it is a reflection of the inflated price of regular edibles thanks to Abe's Yen devaluation escapades, or simply more evidence of the greater fool theory playing out among a mesmerized world, the latest gourmet eating experience in Japan highlights the human ability to follow a herd in spite of all common sense. As CBS reports in this somewhat remarkably not The Onion clip, the highest delicacy among Japanese diners is now - dirt. Of course, no-one would be expected to eat, chew, gnaw on any old garden variety, umm, garden; this is potting soil that is boiled, grilled, steamed, and pureed and then dribbled on creme brulee, rolled over mashed potatoes, and drizzled over arugula. Is it any wonder that consumer confidence in Japan is soaring, despite their currency's dismal demise and soaring prices for energy; as even the ever-calm-and-polite host of this clip is 'surprised' at the taste (hint: not in a good way). Of course, there is nothing new in this world as geophagy (eating dirt) is a traditional cultural activity in Africa for pregnant and lactating women. So perhaps, this is Japan's subliminal message to their people to start procreating a little more - as that demographic cliff is getting very close.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Saturday that "Japan needs to face up to reality, and take real steps to correct its mistakes... so as to prevent a further escalation," with regard the demand that Japan reverse its nationalization of the small islet chain of the Senkakus. In some of the strongest rhetoric yet, The Japan Times reports that the Chinese minister said Japan's 'single-handed' actions so far have "caused great damage to China-Japan relations and undermined stability in the region," and urged Tokyo to "make concrete efforts" to prevent fraught bilateral ties from spiraling out of control. As the reigns of control in China continue to be handed over (with Yang expected to become state Councillor for foreign affairs), we suspect the situation is far from resolved - especially with Shinzo Abe fighting a war on another front (that China is likely not pleased with either).
We posted this chart previously, but it deserves repeating, for one reason: whereas conventional wisdom in the past was the due to the mutual assured trade destruction between China and the US (with China overly reliant on the US consumer and market for its exports, and the US desperate for Chinese purchases of US bonds as a USD-recycling and, more importantly, deficit-funding pathway), perhaps now that exports to the US as a percentage of total Chinese exports have fallen to an all time low, and with Chinese purchases of US bonds stagnant of 18 months in a row as the Fed's monetization of US paper has replaced the marginal Chinese demand, perhaps it is time to rethink the increasingly unstable MAD Nash Equilibrium that exists between the countries: first in trade, and soon in all other aspects of socio-economic relations.
First it was a sudden bout of tightening following a series of record liquidity withdrawing repos, then it was two disappointing PMIs, then it was a warning that China's property market is (as usual) overheating and major curbs were being implemented, then it was China's "state of the union" address in which the country trimmed substantially its outlook for the remainder of the year, predicting well below trendline economic growth, inflation and credit expansion, then we got an absolute collapse in Chinese imports indicating the domestic economy had gone into a state of if not shock then outright stasis, and finally overnight we got an update on China's retail sales and industrial output which both had their weakest combined start to a year since the global recession in 2009, leading Bloomberg to title its summary article, "China’s Economic Data Show Weakest Start Since 2009", and further adding that the data is now "adding to signs of a moderating rebound in the world’s second-biggest economy." Luckily, in the new batshit normal, who needs the fastest growing marginal economy: the weight of the growing world can obviously be dumped on the shoulders of the savings-less, part-time working US consumer, accountable for 70% of US GDP, and thus about 20% of the global economy. What can possibly go wrong?
Why are citizens of the developed world looking a gift horse in the mouth? The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied beyond 14,300 points this week, passing the highs it reached in 2007 just as the world economy was starting to wobble. And yet, this week, investors and pundits warned us not to read too much into it. They have a point. In the half-decade since the western financial system almost collapsed, the relationship between stock markets and the “real” economy has seemed more tenuous. Part of the reason people get less giddy about the Dow than they did five years ago is because they have learnt a bit about inequality. What looks like a recovery, a rally or an increase in consumer confidence may just be the effect of elites passing money among themselves. The US Federal Reserve has added more than $2tn to its balance sheet since 2007. In general, that tide of liquidity ought to lift all boats in the harbour. But when the harbour is an equity market, you won’t find your yacht lifted unless you own one.
South Dakota is the first state, since the Newtown tragedy, to enact a law allowing teachers to carry guns in school. As Fox News reports, Governor Dennis Daugaard signed the bill that allows school districts to arm teachers and other personnel. Unsurprisingly, the measure prompted intense debate as many feared it "could make schools more dangerous, lead to accidental shootings," and potentially put guns into untrained hands, as well as previously dismissed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan as "a marketing opportunity" for the industry to sell more guns. South Dakota, apparently, doesn't stand alone on this issue (Utah has allowed teachers to wear concealed weapons for 12 years) but as Washington pushes forward on its gun control legislation, other states including Georgia, New Hampshire, and Kansas are working on similar measures. Rep. Scott Craig - the bill's main sponsor - has received support from rural districts who do not have the funds for full-time law enforcement. While the Great Depression promised a 'chicken in every pot', our current repression appears to be heading towards a 'gun in every classroom'.
"US equities, what is there to say? Successive new highs; record buybacks (Miller-Modigliani and ESOP rules, OK!); multi-year heaviest mutual fund buying; vol a whisker off its Crisis Era lows; margin debt rising as fast as in 2000 and 2007; put-call ratios depressed; cumulative A/D in the stratosphere; junk bonds near yield lows; leveraged loan prices back at Blue Sky, mid-2007 levels—and now the jobs numbers giving everyone an all over warm glow"