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On The Morality Of Choice





Picture yourself walking into a department store to purchase some laundry detergent.  As you approach the aisle stocked full of brightly-labeled containers, you come face to face with a crucial decision.  Which detergent do you choose?  Do you go with the tried-and-trusted brand?  Do you save money with the generic variety?  What’s on sale?  What about the high-efficiency kind? The choice between something as inexpensive as laundry detergent seems trivial in a modern economy marked by mass production and the division of labor.  But the large selection of goods that consumers are faced with today is an incredible betterment relative to the past thousand years of human existence.  Indeed, the lives of even the most impoverished in Western economies far surpasses that of kings centuries ago. For all the condemnation it receives by those considered on the forefront of intellectual thought, capitalism is responsible for lifting mankind out of a dreary life of hand to mouth survival.  Economic freedom is ultimately to blame for the higher standard of living the West enjoys compared to the once Communist East.  Material prosperity is a phenomenon not brought to the world by governments but by entrepreneurial spirit.  The state just is a reactionary institution that derives its power from the gun it puts to the back of public’s head.  Those who succeed in the marketplace only do so by appealing to consumers.  Businessmen force no one to purchase their wares less they play footsie with the political class for special privilege.  The pursuit of profit is what drives competition and expanded choice.  Without it, societal progress stagnates as living standards lower.

 
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Barclays Wins Euromoney's Best Global Debt, Best Investment Bank, And Best Global Flow House Of The Year Awards





Financial magazine Euromoney, which in addition to being a subscription-based publication appears to also rely on bank advertising, has just held its 2012 Awards for Excellence dinner event. And in the "you can't make this up" category we have Barclays winning the Best Global Debt House, Best Investment Bank, And Best Global Flow House Of The Year Awards. Specifically we learn that "the bank’s commitment to the US is exemplified by the addition of another global senior manager to the country – Tom Kalaris is now going to be splitting his time between New York and London as executive chairman of the Americas as well as overseeing wealth management. Jerry del Missier, who has overseen the corporate and investment bank through its Lehman integration and was recently appointed COO of the Barclays group, says the bank is well positioned. "We came out of the crisis in a stronger strategic position and that has allowed us to continue to win market share and build our franchise. Keep in mind that the US is the largest investment banking, wealth management, credit card and investment management market in the world, and in terms of fee share will remain the most dynamic economy in the world for many years. As a strong global, universal bank operating in a competitive environment that is undergoing significant retrenchment, we like our position." That said, with the Chairman, CEO and COO all now fired, just who was it who accepted the various award: the firm's LIBOR setting team? And if so, were they drinking Bollinger at the dinner?

 
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Equities Fumble As Broke Banks Mounting





Volumes were not that far below average today as the Dow and the S&P (but not the miraculous NASDAAPL - not that story again please!) ended the day lower after some significant intraday volatility early (around the ECB/BoE decisions and jobs/ISM data in the US). S&P 500 e-mini futures levitated off the day's early lows to stabilize around VWAP before testing up to unchanged and then losing it all into the close on heavy volume and larger average trade size. Financials were the biggest losers, as the big banks dumped off most of their EU-Summit gains (with JPM and MS down over 4% today), followed closely by Energy names - even with WTI basically treading water close to close (despite some +/-2% swings early on). USD strength saw Silver lagging on the day and gold dropped a little but rather notably since the EU-Summit, gold and the S&P have been trading more in lockstep (with Treasuries and the USD pointing to more risk-off perspectives). Elsewhere in commodity-land, corn continues its upsurge - now up 40% in the last 3 weeks. After falling off the 1.25 cliff as Draghi disappointed, EURUSD tracked sideways just under 1.2400 for the rest of the day; carry FX pairs tended to drift lower most of the day but the afternoon was quiet. Treasuries limped a little higher in yield into the close - led by the long-end - but ended the day down a few bps from Tuesday's close (with 7/10Y outperforming). Treasuries are unch from the last NFP report (as is EURUSD) while ES is 55pts higher - hhmm. VIX ended the day up almost 1 vol accelerating above 17.5% as futures dived after-hours and cross-asset class correlation remained relatively low today - though ES traded with CONTEXT - as Europe's tensions were once again shrugged off once it had closed and then remembered into the US close.

 
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RANsquawk US Market Wrap - 5th July 2012





 
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Putting BoE Tucker's Call To Diamond In Context





By now the world and their cat knows that Barclays' Lie-bor submissions were 'too high' for the powers that be in Whitehall and we suspect that given any chance or an 'out' to massage the numbers in order to appear stronger) just as they headed into a financing, the Barclays execs figured 'why not?'. For some context on just how much this mattered - quite a significant amount as it turns out - and upon which the basis of many bullish theses were based at the time (despite the fact that CDS markets were gapping wider and screaming reality), Bloomberg's Chart of the Day shows the huge variations from the BBA's LIBOR relative to the UK bank submissions (most notably Barclays) around the time of Paul Tucker's intervention.

 
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The Next Imminent Bailout: Eminent Domain





It seems that governmental efforts to save the underwater and ineligible homeowner from his own fate are reaching fever pitch. Not only do we hear today of the up to $300mm in Agriculture Department Rural Housing Service loans that may have financed ineligible projects or borrowers with a high potential inability to repay the loans; but yesterday's WSJ reports on the growing call for 'eminent-domain' powers to be used by local government officials in California to stop the "housing bust's public blight on their city". In yet another get-out-of-jail-free card, the officials (helped by a friendly local hedge-fund / mortgage-provider) want to use the government's ability to forcibly acquire property to remove underwater homes, restructure the mortgage (cut principal), and hand back the home to the previously unable to pay dilemma-ridden homeowner. As PIMCO's Scott Simon puts it: "I don't see how you could find it anything other than appalling", as this would crush property prices further and drive up borrowing costs. As we noted earlier, until these mal-investments are marked to market, there will be no useful growth in our credit-bound economy but transferring wealth to the 'mal'-investor seems like a terrible idea.

 
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80% Of The World's Industrial Activity Is Now Contracting





Tomorrow's NFP may or may not beat expectations, following some modestly better than expected employment-related data points (then again last month NFP was again supposed to come in solidly above 100K only to cross below the critical threshold), but keep one thing in mind: with the average June seasonal adjustment being a deduction of over 1 million jobs, several tens of thousands in marginal absolute job numbers + or - will be nothing but statistical noise. Furthermore, with seasonality playing such a huge role tomorrow, it is quite likely that merely the ongoing seasonal giveback will result in June being yet another subpar month. And that does not even take into account the quality assessment of the job number, which if recent trends are any indication, will be another record in part-time jobs at the expense of full-time jobs. Yet no matter where the NFP data ends up, the following chart from David Rosenberg puts a few thousand job into perspective, showing that regardless of how many part-time jobs the US service industry has added, there is a far greater problem currently developing in the world: "We now have 80% of the world posting a contraction in industrial activity." This is the second worst since the great financial crisis and only matched by last fall, when in response Europe launched a $1.3 trillion LTRO and the Fed commenced Operation Twist. Now except the occasional rate drop out of the PBOC or modest QE expansion out of the BOE (not to mention the Bank of Kenya's rate cut earlier), there is no real, unsterilized flow of money coming from central bank CTRL-P macros to stabilize the global economy. Which leaves open the question: just where will the latest spark to rekindle global growth come from? And no, 10 hours a week waitressing jobs in Topeka just won't cut it.

 
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Guest Post: Is Marxism Coming Back?





The system of corporatism we have today has far more akin with Marxism and “social management” than Marxists might like to admit. Both corporatism and Marxism are forms of central economic control; the only difference is that under Marxism, the allocation of capital is controlled by the state bureaucracy-technocracy, while under corporatism the allocation of capital is undertaken by the state apparatus in concert with large financial and corporate interests. The corporations accumulate power from the legal protections afforded to them by the state (limited liability, corporate subsidies, bailouts), and politicians can win re-election showered by corporate money. The fundamental choice that we face today is between economic freedom and central economic planning. The first offers individuals, nations and the world a complex, multi-dimensional allocation of resources, labour and capital undertaken as the sum of human preferences expressed voluntarily through the market mechanism. The second offers allocation of resources, labour and capital by the elite — bureaucrats, technocrats and special interests. The first is not without corruption and fallout, but its various imperfect incarnations have created boundless prosperity, productivity and growth. Incarnations of the second have led to the deaths by starvation of millions first in Soviet Russia, then in Maoist China... As the financial system and the financial oligarchy continue to blunder from crisis to crisis, more and more people will surely become entangled in the seductive narratives of Marxism. More and more people may come to blame markets and freedom for the problems of corporatism and statism. This is deeply ironic — the Marxist tendency toward central planning and control exerts a far greater influence on the policymakers of today than the Hayekian or Smithian tendency toward decentralisation and economic freedom.

 
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The Cacophony Of Markets





Seven out of the seventeen economies that belong to the European Union that need to be bailed out. This is 41% of the Euro-17 that is in trouble. The second indication of decline is the recessions in Europe. In fact virtually all of Europe is in a recession and while Germany has held its head above the water I think by the third or fourth quarter that she is also mired in an economic decline. Europe is 25% of the global economy and this is beginning to affect the United States as exemplified by the declining revenues and profits of many American corporations that have so far reported out this quarter. The axes of the financial markets are America, Europe and China and with Europe in serious decline and China also contracting the strings are vibrating so that all of the markets are likely to go down. Even without some cataclysmic shock, realization is coming. The debts of Europe are being paid off with ever more debt and the can kicking will find its walls and as the European recession deepens it will be felt in America and then adjustments will have to be made - as fact overbears fantasy.

 
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Guest Post: Guess Who’s Bailing Out Bankrupt Western Governments Now...





Fourteen years ago during the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia endured a currency collapse, a severe 2-year recession, and an embarrassing IMF bailout. Western bureaucrats wagged their fingers incessantly at Indonesia, lecturing the country about the dangers of excess and fiscal irresponsibility. How sweet the irony is. In a stunning rags-to-riches story, Indonesia contributed US$1 billion to the IMF last week in order to help bail out bankrupt Western nations. Unlike Japan, the US, and Europe — which all seem to think the answer to an economic bust brought on by a debt-binge is to borrow and spend even more money– Indonesia took its medicine when its economy collapsed back in 1998. Ironically, US President Barack Obama spent some of his childhood in this same suburb of Jakarta. Unfortunately, as he pulls out all stops to cling to power for a second term, the kind of tough decisions that could help the US emerge from its economic malaise have no chance of being made. It’s the ENTIRE system that’s the problem. And that goes for nearly every Western, “free market,” democracy out there.

 
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Scorching Summer Heat Pushes Nat Gas Back Up To $3.00, Chesapeake Over $20





Several months ago, as John Arnold was terminally unwinding long gas positions into an illiquid market, sending natgas as low as  $1.80, various pundits called for a bidless market in natgas. Today they are silent, because 3 months later, nat gas is 60% higher, and is on the verge of crossing the $3.00 psychological barrier, and going unchanged on the year, in the process pushing Chesapeake energy above $20 for the first time since the vendetta-like Reuters battery of negative articles allowed such activists as Carl Icahn and Dan Loeb, not to mention Zero Hedge readers, to accumulate a position in the name in the mid-teens.

 
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On Malinvestment And A Weak Economy Getting Weaker





The only reason the real wage and salary growth has improved at all this year (a real growth rate of 1.1%) is because inflation has been declining since January as TrimTabs' Madeline Schnapp notes specifically "the price of gasoline has dropped sixty cents a gallon since April giving consumers about $60 billion in extra cash to save or spend". While good news, it is hardly sustainable and acts as a much weaker boost to the economy where balance sheets are still crammed with trillions of dollars of mal-investments left from the real estate bubble that have not been marked-to-market. These non-performing assets are like a ball-and-chain around the neck of the economy and the quicker they are liquidated the quicker the economy can get back on its feet. Schnapp sees lower job growth than consensus for June and while her pre-July-4th ebullience is clear, her less-than-sanguine view on the economy and the "purging of mal-investments - destroying wealth and contracting credit" means wage-and-salary growth will be anemic at best.

 
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Guest Post: The Real-World Middle Class Tax Rate: 75%





For those Americans earning between $34,500 and $106,000, the real-world middle class tax burden in high-tax locales is 15% + 25% + 5% + 15% + 15% = 75%. Yes, 75%. Before you start listing the innumerable caveats and quibbles raised by any discussion of taxes, please hear me out first. Let's start by defining "taxes" as any fee that is mandated by law or legal necessity. In other words, taxes are what is not optional.  If we include all taxes, the real-world tax rate is much higher than the "official" income tax rate.

 
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Obama Discusses Escalation Of Chinese Trade War: Live Webcast





Earlier, we noted that Obama is about to take the trade war with China on car duties to a whole new level, be decrying "unfair" Chinese trade duties (which in turn were implemented only in response to US tire tariffs imposed in 2009 but you won 't hear about that). Now watch the president live from Ohio, telling his unionized voters precisely what they want to hear.

 
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ECB Margin Calls Surge And Basis-Swaps Plunge





Despite the easing of collateral standards, ECB Margin Calls surged last week by their most in over 9 months (ex-Greece). As yields rose (and prices fell) pre-summit, so the collateral that European banks have lodged with the ECB fell in value and thus, the banks had to find cash to cover those margin calls. The rally from Friday may have eased that strain a little but today's give-back of all those gains (and in fact to a worse level) suggests that these margin calls will continue to rise and put further liquidity stress on cash-strapped European banks. Most critically, the ECB (while extending some of its collateral) reduced banks' ability to self-reference and post ponzi-bonds as collateral (i.e. a Spanish bank cannot get a government guaranteed issue off and then turn round and pledge it with the ECB). Between negative Swiss interest rates (and Denmark), stressed basis-swaps, and now rising ECB margin calls, things are going from bad to worse behind the scenes in Europe - no matter what reflexive perspective an equity market rally is telling you. Yet another unintended consequence of the LTRO/MROs as the most-stressed banks come under more liquidity stress - as evidenced by today's biggest deterioration in EUR-USD basis swaps in 7 months.

 
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