The graphic below, which presents an unvarnished picture of Europe's true economic state, needs no explanation:
Many people, and erroneously, think that all of the purchasing by the Fed will go to both markets in equal amounts but this is not the case. More money for the stock markets would have to come from asset reallocations by money management firms, insurance companies, pension funds and the like and this is not going to happen anytime soon given the 2008/2009 experience. Consequently the greatest flows generated by the Fed’s recent and forward actions will affect the bond markets much more than the equity markets. Between the MBS purchases and the next upcoming stimulus push, the Fed would account for 90% of all new debt issuance and leading to a demand imbalance between $400 billion to almost $2 Trillion depending upon the actual Fed announcements. The Fed currently holds about 18% of the U.S. GDP on its books and it could bulge to 23-28% a few years out. This all works, by the way, only because all of the world’s central banks are working in concert so that there is no imbalance and money cannot be invested off-world. Yields will not make sense empirically because of the actions of the Fed but it will make no difference, because their intentions and goals are vastly different from investors.
Bill Gross' latest monthly missive begins with some political commentary on the latest presidential election, pointing out the obvious: after the euphoria comes the hangover, completely irrelevant of what happens to the Fiscal Cliff: 'whoever succeeds President Obama, the next four years will likely face structural economic headwinds that will frustrate the American public. “Happy days are here again” was the refrain of FDR in the Depression, but the theme song from 2012 and beyond may more closely resemble Strawberry Fields Forever, as Lennon laments “It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out.” Why is it so hard to be someone these days, to pay for college, get a good-paying job and retire comfortably?" And while political campaigns were just that, the truth is that nobody has the trump card to a perfect quadrangle of problems which will mire the US economy for years to come, among which i) debt/deleveraging; ii) globalization, iii) technology, and iv) demographics. Gross' outlook is thus hardly as optimistic as all those sellside reports we have been drowned by in the past 2 weeks, hoping to stir the animal spirits one more time: 'We may need at least a decade for the healing.... it is getting harder to maintain the economic growth that investors have become accustomed to. The New Normal, like Strawberry Fields will “take you down” and lower your expectation of future asset returns. It may not last “forever” but it will be with us for a long, long time." Sad: looks like it won't be different this time after all...
Confused by the recent surge of capital into Europe (which somehow is supposed to indicate that all is well because local stock and bond markets are faring better)? Don't be: it is merely the latest and greatest manifestation of that most prevalent of New Normal investment strategies: hope. Hope that this time it is different, and that the latest injection of capital from the Fed via QE3 coupled with the OMT perpetual backstop of liquidity via the ECB (still merely at the beta stage: expansion to actual gold/production phase TBD) will kick start the European economies. Alas, it won't, at least not until Europe actually undergoes the inevitable internal devaluation which we described over the weekend (since an external one is impossible) and crushes local wages of the PIIGS, which in turn would lead to revolution, and thus will never happen. That, or somehow discharges about 40% of consolidated Eurozone debt/GDP, which it also won't as it would wipe out the global banking system. So what does this mean? Well, as Deutsche Bank explains looking simply at manufacturing output in the developed world, global markets are now overvalued anywhere between 15% and 35%. This is the hope premium now embedded in stock prices.
Warren Buffett’s General Re-New England Asset Management has warned that until central bank monetary policies around the world change “there will be a tendency to higher gold prices.” General Re-New England Asset Management, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said gold may advance as businesses temper spending and central- bank stimulus measures fall short. Gold’s climb last year to more than $1,900 an ounce was fuelled by the expectation that government spending cuts in Europe would reduce demand for goods and services, GR-NEAM Chief Investment Officer John Gilbert wrote in a newsletter posted on the unit’s website today, as reported by Bloomberg. “There is growing evidence that the rising price of gold is a statement about the discouraging prospects for returns on productive investments,” Gilbert said. “We hope that this analysis is wrong. We fear that it is not.”
- Two weeks ago here: The Latest Greek "Bailout" In A Nutshell: AAA-Rated Euro Countries To Fund Massive Hedge Fund Profits... and now on Bloomberg: "Hedge Funds Win as Europe Will Pay More for Greek Bonds" (BBG)
- Oracle sends shareholders cash as tax uncertainty looms (Reuters)
- GOP Makes Counteroffer In Cliff Talks (WSJ)
- Iran says captures U.S. drone in its airspace (Reuters)
- IMF drops opposition to capital controls (FT)
- Vogue Editor Wintour Said to Be Possible Appointee as U.K. Envoy (BBG)
- Juncker Stepping Down French Finance Minister to Head Euro Group? (Spiegel)
- Australia cuts rates to three-year low (FT)
- Europe’s banking union ambitions under strain (Reuters)
- EU Nations Eye New ECB Bank Supervisor Amid German Doubts (BBG)
- Frankfurt's Ambitions Get Cut Back (WSJ)
- House Republicans Propose $2.2 Trillion Fiscal-Cliff Plan (BBG)
Three months ago, as part of our ongoing explanation of what happens next to the Fed's balance sheet (which is now established as official canon in advance of the December 12th FOMC, when Bernanke will effectively announce QE4 consisting of $40 billion in MBS and $45 billion in unsterilized TSY purchases as we predicted the day QE3 was announced), we said that "the Fed will continue increasing its 10 Yr equivalents by roughly 12% (of the total market) per year, for at least the next 3 years, at which point it will own 60% of the entire Treasury market. It means that the Fed will monetize all gross long-term issuance every year for the next 3 years." Most looked at the bold sentence without it registering just what it means. Perhaps, now that the "serious" media has finally taken on the topic of applying a calculator to the one driver of all marginal risk demand, it will register a little better: in a Bloomberg story titled, appropriately enough "Treasury Scarcity to Grow as Fed Buys 90% of New Bonds" we read that "the Fed, in its efforts to boost growth, will add about $45 billion of Treasuries a month to the $40 billion in mortgage debt it’s purchasing, effectively absorbing about 90 percent of net new dollar-denominated fixed-income assets, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co." Actually that's incorrect and it is more like 100%. What is however 100% correct is what the bolded means in plain language: it is now accepted that the Fed will outright monetize all gross US issuance. Let us repeat this sentence for those who just had flashbacks to Adam Fergusson's "When money dies." The Fed is now monetizing practically all net new debt. So what did the Chairman say about this absolutely certain eventuality back in 2009 to Congress...
Quiet session so far, with a notable move higher in the last block of trading in China pushing the SHCOMP for its first gain in 6 days, and off post-2008 lows. What precipitated the buying is irrelevant, although we got a good glimpse into the state of the Chinese economy thanks to Australia prior where the RBA cut rates by 25 bps to a historic low 3.00% (a move that sent the AUD higher), a level last seen during the financial crisis, and confirming that not all is well for the Chinese derivative economy despite loud promises from the Chinese politburo that growth is back. Bypassing the bullish propaganda were Renault Nissan's Chinese car sales for November which fell by 29.8% Y/Y. Some "recovery" there too. In Europe, the status quo continues, with chatter out of Germany's Merkel who begins her 2013 election campaign today, that Germany wants a strong Eurozone (it doesn't), and a strong Euro (it doesn't), but that nobody can predict when the Eurozone crisis will end (not even Hollande or Monti who did just that yesterday?). Otherwise sentiment there is still driven by the formal Spanish re-request of aid (and imminent receipt of €39.5bn in bank recap funds) from the EU by mid-December. As a reminder Spain did this originally in June but the algos were so confused yesterday they thought this was an official sovereign bail out request sending risk soaring only to tumble later (only in the New Normal is admission of sovereign insolvency a "good thing"). Nonetheless, despite the massive overvaluation of European markets (more on that later), the EURUSD continues to the upward momentum (in the process further curbing German exports and assuring the German recession), and was last seen trading up to 1.3075, about 30 pips higher.
Investors once knew: Focusing on assets without understanding monetary matters can get you into trouble. They have since forgotten this. Ironically, then, there’s great value in remembering it. As “Vermont Ruminator”, Humphrey B. Neill, wrote in The Art of Contrary Thinking: "[Money] is a study in itself and one which still confuses the great minds of the world... ...because monetary problems are not comprehended by the public or by the average businessman, “money management” will continually cross up public opinions concerning economic trends... ...If you make it a point to become posted on some of the more common practices of monetary management you will …be able to discern trends that are opposite to those commonly discussed..." This addogram delves into the evolution of the two most prominent reserve currencies of the past 350 years: The pound sterling and the dollar.
We find ourselves more amazed than ever at the ability of those in power to lie, misinform and obfuscate the truth, while millions of Americans willfully choose to be ignorant of the truth and yearn to be misled. It’s a match made in heaven. Acknowledging the truth of our society’s descent from a country of hard working, self-reliant, charitable, civic minded citizens into the abyss of entitled, dependent, greedy, materialistic consumers is unacceptable to the slave owners and the slaves. We can’t handle the truth because that would require critical thought, hard choices, sacrifice, and dealing with the reality of an unsustainable economic and societal model. It’s much easier to believe the big lies that allow us to sleep at night. The concept of lying to the masses and using propaganda techniques to manipulate and form public opinion really took hold in the 1920s and have been perfected by the powerful ruling elite that control the reins of finance, government and mass media. How many Americans are awake enough to handle the truth? Abraham Lincoln once said that he believed in the people and that if you told them the truth and gave them the cold hard facts they would meet any crisis. That may have been true in 1860, but not today.
Although its interests in the continent are broadly similar, India’s engagement with Africa differs significantly from China. Will it prove sustainable? Close ties between India and Africa are not new. Trade has flourished between East Africa and India’s west coast for centuries. New Delhi’s interest in Africa waned in the 1990s, but rapid economic growth and soaring energy requirements, however, forced India at the turn of the new millennium to rethink its neglect of Africa. The domination of oil and natural resources in India’s imports from Africa and of manufactured goods in its exports to the continent has drawn criticism that India is indulging in a “neo-colonial grab” for Africa’s resources. "This is an uninformed view. Africa of today is not the same as during colonial times. When countries exploit the resources of Africa today, the terms are set by the African nations and not by outsiders. The deals are mutually beneficial." India hopes that its capacity building, people-centric approach and efforts to build a sustainable partnership with Africa will keep such allegations at bay.
Much has been made of the rise in relative positive surprises in US macro data as a support for the equity market (even as bottom-up earnings and outlooks suggest otherwise). This has as much to do with macro-strategists overly-emotional downgrades and upgrades as the data itself (in all its manipulated glory). However, four times in the last six years, the macro surprise index for the US has reached two-standard deviations above its mean - and each time has marked a top in macro surprises. Just this past week, the US macro surprise index reached two-standard deviations from its mean once again - and while bond markets have started to reflect that reality (as we noted here), the rest of the market appears not to have got the message that, perhaps, this iss as good as it gets this cycle around.
Obama has always claimed to want to spread the wealth around. Yet, as I stressed this June (and in my first ever blog post way back in July 2011!) that’s the exact opposite of what he has achieved. And it’s getting worse, not better. The truth of Obama’s policies (and successive administrations prior to Obama) is more concentrated wealth within the financial elites and Wall Street. Banks get bailed out. Campaign donors get stimulus money. And the middle class and future generations pay for it in taxation and the Cantillon Effect. The Obama reinflation is a rotten bubble built on rotten foundations. And the growing gap between the rich and the poor is steadily beginning to resemble neofeudalism.
N as in "Nominal". Nominal GDP targeting, the latest burlesque of monetary fiction. But first things first. There is a land, where people calculate a "potential GDP". How do they do that? By simply extrapolating trends. Potential GDP is "the level of economic activity achievable with a high rate of use of its capital and labor resources". In the past, the differences from observed GDP were not very large, though now we are growing "below trend". But what if that trend has changed? With a flawed measurement of economic activity, leading to an imaginary output gap, what else might our economic elite come up with? Stagnating real GDP and high unemployment are no fun. After exhausting every traditional and non-traditional tool of monetary and fiscal policy, what else could be done to make that GDP grow? Nominal GDP equals real GDP plus inflation. So if real GDP doesn't want to grow... Eureka! you just have to cause more inflation, and nominal GDP will obediently join its potential GDP. Except for one little error of judgment: if elevated inflation led to wealth creation and jobs, Zimbabwe would be the richest country on earth. As real incomes of US employees have stagnated for more than a decade, rising prices would either lead to falling volumes, or force households further into debt. Also, how would this be different from a communist command-style economy?