Short answer: we don't know.
We do, however, know something we have been pointing out since early 2012 - when it comes to the funding strcuture of European banks, there is a dramatic difference between the US and Europe. In the US, as we showed most recently two months ago, the Big Three depositor banks (JPM, Wells and Bank of America, excluding the still pseudo-nationalized Citi), have a record $858 billion in excess deposits over loans. So what about Europe? Here things get bad. Very bad. So bad in fact that we covered it all just one short year ago. What is the reason for this? Well, as readers can surmise based on what just happened in Europe, it once again has to do with deposits, and specifically the loan-to-deposit ratios of European banks. Because if the US has an excess of deposits over loans, Europe is and has always suffered from the inverse: a massive excess of loans (impaired assets) compared to the most critical of bank liabilities - deposits... One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that in a world in which European loans are massively mismarked relative to fair value, and where bad and non-performing loans are an exponentially rising component of all "asset" exposure, it will be the liabilities that are ultimately impaired. Liabilities such as deposits.
While offering up some 'hope' that the unprecedented tax on Cypriot deposits will not spark "massive" contagion (due to the ECB's "promise"), it appears from this summary of sell-side opinion on this weekend's European developments that the sell-side is starting to panic... it would appear the European credit markets, that have been so skittish in recent weeks (especially the financials), had it right all along? whocouldanode? It seems, as the head of the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, no less, said: "The lesson here is that the EU's single-market rules will be flouted when the Eurozone, ECB, and IMF say so."
China’s economic model, which has delivered a genuine economic miracle over the last 30 years by lifting more people out of poverty than ever before in human history, is increasingly tapped out. While the authorities have been talking about rebalancing the economy since at least 2006, BNP Paribas' Richard Iley notes that China’s macroeconomic imbalances have become progressively more extreme. The economy now has an investment share of ~48% of GDP, which, Iley explains, no other economy has been able to reach, let alone sustain. Unsurprisingly diminishing returns are increasingly apparent. Largely uneconomic investments in sectors already suffering overcapacity, such as real estate and steel, continue to accelerate, fuelling exponential growth in energy consumption and producing increasingly unbearable levels of pollution as we discussed here. Despite the long-term gulf between reform rhetoric and concrete action, ‘hype’ at least continues to spring eternal.
The logical question comes next: why is there a massive bulldozer parked outside a (just "bailed out") Cypriot bank? Well, if up to 9.9% of your money was suddenly and without warning stolen by your bank (pardon, forcefully "reinvested" in the equity of the same bank) and the rest was completely inaccessible, you too would probably park your bulldozer in front of said bank.
"In the early hours of Saturday, the Eurogroup agreed an adjustment programme of up to €10bn for Cyprus, the first under the ESM. Eurogroup President Dijsselbloem referred to the “exceptional nature” of the situation that required “unique measures”. In the special case of Cyprus, this is a upfront one-off “stability levy” of 6.75% on all bank deposits of 100K or less and 9.9% for deposits over 100K, with the aim to raise €5.8bn. A MoU will be finalised shortly. The national approval processes of the euro area member states will then be launched and final agreement should be reached in the second half of April. The IMF is also expected to offer financial support. The package for Cyprus still comes with tough conditionality and the risk is that introducing a new “unique” bank levy measure – despite the many reassurances - could trigger renewed concerns."
The state, crippled by massive deficits, endless war and corporate malfeasance, is clearly sliding toward unavoidable bankruptcy. It is time for Big Brother to take over from Huxley’s feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumble-puppy. We are transitioning from a society where we are skillfully manipulated by lies and illusions to one where we are overtly controlled. We are one crisis away from a police state. All the powers are in place. Someone will flip the switch. Whether a Cyber Attack, escalating Currency War tensions or a 'terrorist' attack by indebted college youth, it is only a matter of time and circumstance... We are one crisis away from a police state. All the powers are in place. Someone will flip the switch. Whether a Cyber Attack, escalating Currency War tensions or a 'terrorist' attack by indebted college youth, it is only a matter of time and circumstance.
Following Part 1's discussion of America's Dangerous Drift, and Part 2's succincy summation of why America needs a Grand Strategy, today's Part 3 concludes with a discussion of the 'choice' American leaders have: "A decline in America’s leadership role and the emergence of a highly unstable world is a serious possibility. In reality, decline is not a foregone conclusion but a deliberate political choice that builds from a failure to define what matters most to the nation." When we step back from the language and imperatives of grand strategy, the case for the United States to rethink its grand strategy is fundamentally simple. It is designed to meet serious threats while creating and taking advantage of strategic opportunities. To continue on the present course of "drifting" from crisis to crisis effectively invites powers to believe that America is in decline. Worse, Americans, too, might believe wrongly that the nation’s decline is inevitable. If we are to assure America’s future security and prosperity, we need a new national grand strategy that harnesses America’s spirit, sense of optimism, and perseverance to help the nation meet the challenges and grasp the opportunities of this era. When we think about the alternatives, the United States simply has no choice.
Despite the all-knowing Alan Greenspan confirming there is no irrational exuberance currently, Oaktree Capital's Howard Marks is less convinced. Though he is not bearish, he lays out rather succinctly the current pros and cons for equities - based on the various 'valuation' arguments, discusses the folly of the equity risk premia, and highlights the dangers of extrapolation and what history can teach us... "appreciation at a rate in excess of the cash flow growth accelerates into the present some appreciation that otherwise might have happened in the future... it isn't just a windfall but also a warning sign."
When you get into too much debt, eventually really bad things start to happen. This is a very painful lesson that southern Europe is learning right now, and it is a lesson that the United States will soon learn as well. It simply is not possible to live way beyond your means forever. You can do it for a while though, and politicians in the U.S. and in Europe keep trying to kick the can down the road and extend the party, but the truth is that debt is a very cruel master and at some point it inevitably catches up with you. And when it catches up with you, the results can be absolutely devastating. Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal all tried to just slow down the rate at which their government debts were increasing, and look at what happened to their economies. I have always said that the next wave of the economic collapse would start in Europe and that is exactly what is happening. So keep watching Europe. What is happening to them will eventually happen to us.
It seems an obvious question but from the top down, based on the great and good leaders of the United States of America, it appears from their State of the Union speeches that 'War' indeed trumps 'Peace'. Of course, whether this is a reflection of the ultimate in Keynesian policy dreams of manufacturing ammunition just to be thrown away in non-inflationary ways (or to drive energy demand) is still in discussion.
Earlier in the week, we wrote about an Argentine car rental agency that had started accepting Bitcoins as a means to bypass local capital controls. We received a lot of questions about the article, the most common of which was "What in the world is a Bitcoin?" Let’s start by looking at our current monetary system. In most countries, a small tiny banking elite exercises total control over that nation’s money supply. And we’re just supposed to trust them to be good guys. Yet central bankers around the world have conjured trillions of dollars out of thin air, debasing the money’s value. It’s a concept any six-year old can understand. If money grew on trees, it wouldn’t be worth very much. This is one of the key reasons why people buy gold. You can’t just conjure gold out of thin air. It takes years of exploration and investment to pull it out of the ground. In the information age, though, we have an alternative. Bitcoin is digital currency. It doesn’t actually exist in our physical world... only in computers...
There is one problem with relentlessly ramping markets (whether due to four years of liquidity injections by the Fed, or due to four years of liquidity injections by the Fed) - they make all those who by definition have to be hedged, seem stupid by comparison. In this case, this means that for the fifth year in a row, the vast majority of brand name hedge funds are once again underperforming the S&P, even though most of them have shifted to the highest net long exposure in history, while charging their increasingly more angry investors 2 and 20 for the privilege of underperforming the most micromanaged asset of all - the S&P500, and its unpaid portfolio manager, Ben Bernanke. And while there are three certain things in life: death, taxes and Paulson being one of the worst performers in the world (perhaps he is moving to Puerto Rico not to avoid paying taxes but to escape furious LPs), as he indeed is for the third year running what is most surprising is that through the middle of March, according to HSBC, every single brand name hedge funds is once again underperforming the S&P.
The streak is dead - long live the streak - for the first losing Friday of the year. A sad day among the media though Maria B did proclaim "today was a victory even though we were down," so we can rest assured that all is well. While equities ending off their highs, the week was still positive 1-2% - especially for the Trannies - but rather oddly (well not really anymore) Treasuries are going out at the low yields of the week - down 7bps. The USD lost 0.7% with AUD and GBP strength weighing most and a decent surge higher in JPY today's day session. Oil prices jumped 1.7% on the week back over $93.50 (as RBOB and retail prices start to rise once again). Gold and Silver diverged with the former up 0.8% and the latter -0.7%. Volume today was very heavy (and it was a down day) but the quad-witching is to blame as opening an closing trading was huge as S&P 500 futures tagged new highs overnight but couldn't escape the lows of VWAP at the close. So far 2013 has been a perfect replay of 2012 - Is this it?
We have one simple question - does the following small drop (which we happen to have seen before) in Gold ETFs, which at least according to the mainstream media, has been responsible for the recent slide in the price of gold, appear to justify the absolute surge in gold futures and options short exposure as per the Commitment of Traders report, which for yet another week, saw the biggest net short positioning since 1999. And no, we are not really confused - as we said "according to the mainstream media"...
The short answer, despite the pleadings of an over-stuffed body of ex-students facing inexorable debt loads, is "no". However, as Professor Daniel Lin notes in this brief clip, debt forgiveness does not resolve the underlying causes of rising student debt, and therefore cannot prevent future debt problems. Instead of debt forgiveness, he suggests making student loans like other types of loans: dischargeable in bankruptcy. This places the burden on lenders to ensure that students are not taking on more debt than they can handle. While it would lead to a reduction in the amount of loan dollars awarded and theoretically increase interest rates (as 'risk' is priced in from the current no collateral, no underwriting, no credit check idiocy currently), these are good things - naturally incentivizing borrowers to be more careful right now, and in the future, which puts pressure on colleges and universities to control their costs.