Just as the president reminded us yesterday we are not a deadbeat nation, merely borrowing money today to pay the bills of yesterday, so, as the NY Times reports in this all-too-real article, many of the citizens of the US are also living not just paycheck-to-paycheck but short-term-loan-to-short-term-loan. As one debt-consolidation service noted "They've been borrowing just to meet payments on previous loans; it builds on itself." Rings an awfully loud bell eh? (and yes, we know the government's finances are not run like a households - though at some point the check book needs to balance). People in tough 'economic' situations fall into the 'poverty trap', borrowing money at ever higher interest rates in a shell game to keep previous borrowers at bay. The average debt for households earning $20,000 a year or less more than doubled to $26,000 between 2001 and 2010 - as people dig deeper, precisely because they long to escape. As the focus of the article notes, "the belt-tightening was the easy part... the larger problem was cash-flow." Critically, experiments show that 'economic' scarcity by itself - independent of personality or any other factors - fuels a drive to borrow recklessly.
In what could be a watershed moment for the price, provenance, and future of physical gold, not to mention the "stability" of the entire monetary regime based on rock solid, undisputed "faith and credit" in paper money, German Handelsblatt reports in an exclusive that the long suffering German gold, all official 3,396 tons of it, is about to be moved. Specifically, it is about to be partially moved out of the New York Fed, where the majority, or 45% of it is currently stored, as well as the entirety of the 11% of German gold held with the Banque de France, and repatriated back home to Buba in Frankfurt, where just 31% of it is held as of this moment. And while it is one thing for a "crazy, lunatic" dictator such as Hugo Chavez to pull his gold out of the Bank of England, it is something entirely different, and far less dismissible, when the bank with the second most official gold reserves in the world proceeds to formally pull some of its gold from the bank with the most. In brief: this is a momentous development, one which may signify that the regime of mutual assured and very much telegraphed - because if the central banks don't have faith in one another, why should anyone else? - trust in central banks by other central banks is ending.
The punchlines: "...the issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation... And if the Republicans in Congress have made a decision that they want to shut down the government in order to get their way, then they have the votes, at least in the House of Representatives, probably to do that.... So we've got to pay our bills. And Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly, and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy ... We've got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis when there's this clear path ahead of us that simply requires some discipline, some responsibility, and some compromise. That's where we need to go. That's how this needs to work.".... Yet should the "worst" (i.e. living within its means) happen to the US, then "Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed. We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialist who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn't get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money. Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire.... As the speaker said two years ago, it would be, and I'm quoting Speaker Boehner now, "a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.""
Still think "we are not a deadbeat nation"?
That China openly manipulates its economic data, especially around key political phase shifts, such as one communist regime taking over for another, is no secret. That China is also the marginal economic power (creating trillions in new loans and deposits each year) in a stagflating world, and as such must be represented by the media as growing at key inflection points (such as Q4 when Europe officially entered a double dip recession, and the US will report its first sub 1% GDP in years) as mysteriously reporting growth even without open monetary stimulus (something we have said the PBOC will not engage in due to fears of importing US, European and now Japanese inflation) is critical for preserving hope and faith in the future of the stock market, is also very well known. Which is why recent market optimism driven by "hope" from Alcoa that China is recovering and will avoid yet another hard landing, and Chinese reports of a surge in Exports last week, are very much suspect. But no longer is it just the blogosphere that is openly taking Chinese data to task - as Bloomberg reports, even the major banks: Goldman, UBS and ANZ - are now openly questioning the validity and credibility of the goalseek function resulting from C:\China\central_planning\economic_model.xls.
The question many of us had going into today was whether the no follow-through allowed rule would be implemented yet again by The Gold Cartel for the zillionth time in a row.
In the past few weeks there has been a veritable explosion of White House petitions ranging from the bizarre to the surreal to the outright absurd, including such demands as Texas (and other southern states) seceding, deporting Piers Morgan, not deporting Piers Morgan, creating a Joe Biden sitcom, and even making a total mockery out of the US, and global, monetary system and evading the debt ceiling using a cheap, platinum coin-based parlor trick. All of these are, for lack of a better word, a la carte distractions launched by bored American citizens, meant to evade the menial drudgery of everyday life, and, generally, reality. In short: entertainment. And, logically, virtually none have so far contained actual, actionable provisions, that stood to benefit all Americans, instead of just one half of the ideological or party split. At least not until a new petition appeared two days ago, one demanding that the administration do something that has never been done on the public record: perform an assayed public audit of all the 8,100 tons of gold owned by the US Treasury. And not just any audit, but one including "professional auditors outside of the Mint, Treasury, GAO, Inspector General and Federal Reserve system."
Previously, in our first two editions of FleeceBook, we focused on "public servants" working for either the Bank of International Settlements, or the Bank of England (doing all they can to generate returns for private shareholders, especially those of financial firms). Today, for a change, we shift to the private sector, and specifically a bank situated at the nexus of public and private finance: JP Morgan, which courtesy of its monopolist position at the apex of the Shadow Banking's critical Tri-Party Repo system (consisting of The New York Fed, The Bank of New York, and JP Morgan, of course) has an unparalleled reach (and domination - much to Lehman Brother's humiliation) into not only traditional bank funding conduits, but "shadow" as well. And of all this bank's employees, by far the most interesting, unassuming and "underappreciated" is neither its CEO Jamie Dimon, nor the head of JPM's global commodities group (and individual responsible for conceiving of the Credit Default Swap product) Blythe Masters, but one Matt Zames.
All hell broke loose on 8/16. The stock droped a mind numbing 75% in a single day - (the widows and orphans got taken to the cleaners)
When people talk about "cash in the bank", or "money on the sidelines", the conventional wisdom reverts to an image of inert capital, used by banks to fund loans (as has been the case under fractional reserve banking since time immemorial) sitting in a bank vault or numbered account either physically or electronically, and collecting interest, well, collecting interest in the Old Normal (not the New ZIRPy one, where instead of discussing why it is not collecting interest the progressive intelligentsia would rather debate such trolling idiocies as trillion dollar coins, quadrillion euro Swiss cheeses, and quintillion yen tuna). There is one problem, however, with this conventional wisdom: it is dead wrong. Tracking deposit flow data is so critical, as it provides hints of major inflection points, such as when there is a massive build up of deposits via reserves (either real, from saving clients, or synthetic, via the reserve pathway) which can then be used as investments in the market. And of all major inflection points, perhaps none is more critical than the just released data from today's H.6 statement, which showed that in the trailing 4 week period ended December 31, a record $220 billion was put into savings accounts (obviously a blatant misnomer in a time when there is no interest available on any savings). This is the biggest 4-week total amount injected into US savings accounts ever, greater than in the aftermath of Lehman, greater than during the first debt ceiling crisis, greater than any other time in US history.
What will the world look like two decades from now? Obviously, nobody knows, but some things are more likely than others. Companies and governments have to make informed guesses, because some of their investments today will last longer than 20 years. In December, the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its guess. The NIC foresees a transformed world, in which “no country – whether the US, China, or any other large country – will be a hegemonic power.” This reflects four “megatrends”: individual empowerment and the growth of a global middle class; diffusion of power from states to informal networks and coalitions; demographic changes, owing to urbanization, migration, and aging; and increased demand for food, water, and energy.
President Obama is due to speak at 130pmET on what we pre-suppose is his introduction of Jack Lew as the new Treasury Secretary. As Geithner steps aside to take up his rumored role as Citigroup Chair (although more realistically to write a book over the next 12 months, bashing none other than Tim Geithner), he leaves behind a legacy of opacity that we are sure the incoming "political guy" will be all too happy to continue until his chairmanship is ready...
Every nation-state has a body of laws woven into the fabric of society. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has commented on extensively, the stronger the rule of law, the stronger the economy. And by "stronger" laws, I mean laws that are impervious to tampering for personal or political gains. The connection between a sound judiciary and economic health is readily comprehensible, except maybe to a politician... businesses and individuals are far more likely to invest capital in a country with understandable laws that are impartially and universally enforced than if the opposite condition exists. That's because the lack of a consistent body of law breeds uncertainty and adds a huge element of risk for entrepreneurs. Which brings us back to the matter at hand – American justice on a slippery slope.
Update: those (few) worried if America's overactive Attorney General, best known for soon to be confiscating guns and perhaps shipping them off to Mexico, and doing nothing else in the past 4 years, will stick around for Obama's second term.
And no, before the questions pile in, she was not fired, as poetic as that would be (nor was she replaced by a 65 year old, part-time worker as is the case with the vast majority of the US labor force). She quit, saying "decided to begin a new future, and return to the people and places I love" and that as the product of "a large Mexican-American family I never imagined that I would...serve in a president’s Cabinet." From WaPo: "Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a letter to colleagues Wednesday she was stepping down from her post." Of course, using the BLS' own policies and "logic", this means the unemployment rate just ticked even lower. We look forward to Hilda's book due out in 6-12 months bashing, who else, Tim Geithner.
As we warned on December 26, when the stock was trading in the mid 20's the pain for shorts is horrible and getting worse (courtesy of the best and always absolutely certain contrarian signal - the involvement of Whitney Tilson) and is about to send the stock into the stratosphere following a very surprising announcement by none other than Bill Ackman buddy Dan Loeb, who just filed a 13F reporting a 8.24% passive stake in Herbalife sending the stock surging. In other news: this may be Herbadeath for Whitney Tilson, who may well be on track to blow up a second fund in under a year.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the usual cadre of politicians, pundits and commentators are hitting the airwaves and condemning believers of the “guns don’t kill” rationale. This exercise in demonization is being followed with pleas to strip Americans of their guns and place a ban on vaguely-defined “assault” weapons. What’s been lacking in the flurry of proposals that inevitably followed a catastrophe like Sandy Hook has been a deeper look at the kind of environment impressionable minds are coming of age in. Far too often, politically-minded observers fall back on reactionary emotion for the solution to problems without actually engaging in critical thinking as to the root of what they are trying to solve. What must be considered is why some individuals are so drawn to violence, what effect has the increased prescription rate of antidepressants had, and why casualties in war have become so dehumanized. There is an uncomfortable but common denominator in all these factors. I would hope anti-gun zealots notice it before they ramp up their War on Firearms.