In August 2011, while undergoing cancer treatments that ultimately failed him, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez began withdrawing 160 tons of gold from U.S., European and Canadian banks. “It’s coming to the place it never should have left. ... The vaults of the central bank of Venezuela, not the bank of London or the bank of the United States. It’s our gold,” he said on national television as crowds cheered armored trucks carrying an initial bullion shipment to the central bank. The Caracas hoard would today be valued at around $9 billion, were it not for the fact that Venezuela has been selling it — about $550 million worth in the first eight months of 2012, according to the IMF. Did further sales follow over the past six months, with proceeds partly paying for the public largesse that helped fuel Chávez’s victorious up-from-the-sickbed presidential run? Thus, there is something less than $8.5 billion in untraceable gold bullion stashed in an extremely politicized city that’s simmering with grudges and dreams. Physical gold is modestly short of priceless to a criminal. What mala gente or dissident generals wouldn’t want some of Chávez’s rich legacy?
We can only imagine the lines around the block in readiness for this Chicago Booth lecture "Career Advice From Hank Paulson" urging students not to obsess about positioning themselves for the top job - or perhaps, as we might sub-title it, "Don't obsess - your efforts to make $478m tax-free like me are completely futile."
Over the weekend we learned that the most indebted nation in the world (net of unfunded liabilities), that would be the US, just hit an all time high in foodstamp recipients, which when added to record disability recipients, and various other programs providing for free benefits and entitlements, means that just as the US hit a record Dow Jones (and total Federal debt) print, it at least had a record amount of welfare recipients to show for it. In this context it is probably to be expected then, that that other hyperdebtflationary Keynesian basket case, Japan, just reported that the number of people receiving entitlement benefits just hit an all time high as well. Because the one thing insolvent misery certainly loves is company. Preferably globalized company, just so when the global statist syndicate needs to threaten a record number of people with pulling their welfare privileges should it not get its now periodic taxpayer-funded bailout every several years, it gets a very enthusiastic and prompt global response.
The markets have begun to wonder whether the Fed (and other central banks) will ever be able to exit from its Quantitative Easing policy. We believe there is only one reasonable exit the Fed can take. Rather than sell its portfolio of bonds or allow them to mature naturally, we believe the Fed’s only practical exit will be to increase the size of all other balance sheets in relation to its own. This “exit” will be part of a larger three-part strategy for resetting the over-leveraged global economy, already underway...
Here we go again. As we reported yesterday, Greece was due to present to the Troika "how to cut a massive 150,000 public sector jobs: a move which will result in an immediate surge in public unrest, and an exponential jump in strike activity.... Greece is locked in talks with international creditors in Athens about shrinking the government workforce by enough to keep bailout payments flowing. Identifying redundant positions and putting in place a system that will lead to mandatory exits for about 150,000 civil servants by 2015 is a so-called milestone that will determine whether the country gets a 2.8 billion-euro ($3.6 billion) aid installment due this month. More than a week of talks on that has so far failed to clinch an agreement." Fast forward to today when we learn that any hopes a last minute solution would materialize, allowing the monetary spice to flow and the €2.4 billion loan to be paid, were just dashed following a breakdown in talks between Greece and the Troika. Deja vu all over again.
President Cristina Fernandez has a stranglehold over what's left of the Argentine economy. Inflation is rampant, corruption is incorrigible, and freedom is waning. Price controls, media controls... they're all part of the same tired playbook that morally bankrupt politicians in financially bankrupt countries have routinely fallen back on for centuries. Fernandez's most insidious move has been to FORCE Argentines to hold the rapidly depreciating Argentine peso. She has restricted her people from changing pesos into other currencies, including gold, as well as created obstacles to move funds abroad. Many Argentines have reached their breaking points and are doing something about it - no more evidenced than by a local tour operator and rental car agency there has started accepting Bitcoins.
Years after the CFTC, under the leadership of Goldman's Gary Gensler, theatrically agreed to investigate whether the price of precious metals was manipulated during trading - whether systematically or ad hoc - only to let that inquiry fizzle and drop the whole idea proclaiming there is manipulation, the commodity futures regulators are once again taking a look at shady activities originating at London. Or rather, it is "discussing internally" whether the daily London gold and silver price fixing is open to manipulation.
Gasoline prices in the U.S. Midwest have pulled back from the seasonal highs reported in February. Motor group AAA reported Monday that U.S. commuters paid, on average, $3.69 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline, just over 1 percent less than they paid last week. For some markets, that's the first time gasoline prices have declined this year. A series of refinery issues, coupled with higher oil prices, left some motorists in February paying the highest they've ever paid seasonally for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. By the end of February, some drivers in the Midwest were paying nearly $4 per gallon on average, sparking congressional debate over the impact of speculation in the energy market. Given concerns over costs associated with healthcare, insurance and other issues not related directly to energy, it's curious why there aren't hearings when prices begin to fall.
The Dow managed its ninth green close in a row - its best in 16 years - and obviously closed at all-time new highs. The Trannies were the real winner though as they are now up over 4% in March (considerably outperforming the rest of the major indices), and up 29% since mid-November (a 120% annualized return) with no more than a 2.5% retracement in that period. Four stocks dominated TRAN today JB Hunt, Alaska Air, CH Robinson, and Ryder accounting for half the index's gains. Volume was its lowest of the year (ex President's Day). Average trade size was low. On the week, financials and energy are the underperformers. Treasury yields spiked on retail sales, dropped on the auction and go out very modestly higher on the day but not confirming the equity exuberance again. FX markets also pointed to a less sanguine view of the world as the USD rallied and EURJPY (carry) provided little support. VIX held up for most of the day but collapsed into the close back under 12%. Commodities gave back earlier (weaker USD) gains to close at the lows of the day.
Our last discussion of the miracle of earnings expectations focused on the bottom-up hockey-stick that it seems the consensus believes is ahead (always out there in the future). Today's 'factual' and 'empirical' whiteboard lecture on the 'miracle' comes courtesy of CNBC's Rick Santelli, who appears as frustrated at his co-correspondents permabullishness (see Liesman's flip-flopping views on retail sales today) as the implicit disconnect between the market and fundamentals. To wit, the fact that expectations for GDP growth and earnings are so divergent. With earnings growth expected to be +14.7% this year and nominal GDP around +3-4%, Santelli asks his guest where nominal GDP 'normally' is for such strong earnings expectations - the answer 7.6% nominal GDP growth... reality discussion ensues...
A surprising pick for Pope, Argentina's 76 year old Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was not among the front-runners, is now the Pope of the Catholic Church. His chosen name is Pope Francis. He is the first non-European pope since 741.
Moments ago white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel which means that the Cardinals of the Catholic church have elected a new pope on the second day of Conclave. The identity will be revealed shortly. Stocks take this as a bullish signal and hit intraday highs, and for the DJIA, new all time record highs. All is well in the world.
Despite the plethora of propagandist panderings, the reality of the Business Roundtable (BRT - an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies) findings are far less enthralling than the headlines might suggest. In fact, despite the protestation that their economic outlook ticked up - which as the chart below shows so evidently - is merely a reversion to the lows of 2011; the sad 'fact' is that expectations for higher Sales, CapEx, and Employment are as bad as they have been since early 2010. CapEx, the much-vaunted miracle driver of revenues this year, is below Q4 2009 levels of expectation. Even the BRT itself offers up the words 'moderate' when describing the changes and yet the mainstream media pounce on an uptick like cardinals to the new Pope. It appears that we will have to wait another quarter to see what the CEOs of the nations largest companies are really doing as their stocks soar to record highs.
Bhutan's guiding national policy is Gross Domestic Happiness, as a reference point for Net Value. Here in the U.S., we give lip-service to all these values, but ask yourself: where do we spend most of our time? Serving our masters in the State/market economy, creating Net Worth for ourselves or someone else. Yes, we all still need to earn a livelihood, but imagine a society constructed around generating Net Value and Gross Domestic Happiness instead of Net Worth. The power structure would collapse because none of these activities or accomplishments generate enough profits or taxes to keep the Machine operational. A brush with mortality has a way of stripping away the superficial and the false. How many ghosts are we living with while our real lives have been abandoned as insufficiently ambitious and net-worthy?
Aside from a very much vacated President's Day trading market, for 1400ET, today is the lowest volume day of the year (in line with Monday's scarcity)... given this lack of real market, the algos are let loose to ply their levitation magic - and sure enough, Dow Transports reach new highs and the S&P pushes on towards that record...